31 Oct 2010

No Update - But For Your Viewing Pleasure ...

I won't be updating my blog today regarding the 50s Housewife Experiment (but am still 50s'ing it up ... will update the weekend happenings on Monday) - busy, busy!

That said, on this Halloween day, I'll leave you with something both 50s and seasonal - the 1952 "Halloween Party" episode from The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet. Just a warning - the laugh track on this show is nearly as generous as the one on Big Bang Theory.

Bonus Trivia: One of the Trick or Treaters is "the Beave"!

Happy Halloween!


30 Oct 2010

His Girl Friday Throws A Dinner Party

This is an account of Day 5 of the 50s Housewife Experiment: Husband Obsessed Edition.

Getting this out later than usual - major issues with Blogger today!

This week, my offers to help Patrick with his work were smiled at but not taken particularly seriously. As it was only his second week at the new office, he was really only just getting a sense of what he was expected to do there, let alone show his untrained-in-his-field wife how she could pitch in. Plus, I had never actually directly helped him with his work in the history of our relationship and he really didn't want to be bothered with the hassle of explaining the basics to me.

The suggestion that a 50s housewife help by transcribing her husband's notes and correspondence, run errands for his clients, research for him at the library or make a copy of his schedule in an at-home diary generally aren't realistic options for most modern spouses, in large part because of the technology now available to us (Need a Girl Friday? There's an app for that.).

I was also thwarted in my attempts to be non-jealous and kind to his secretary as, like most people today, he doesn't have a secretary. I think it was sometime in the early 90s that offices had less of a demand for people in the "bowl of roses" field (this isn't to say that there aren't some great, hard-working executive assistants out there, of course!).

Advice to subtly cozy-up to the boss's wife also couldn't be followed up on, as Patrick's boss is, in fact, a woman (*Gasp!* What will the neighbours think?). To my knowledge, she does not have a wife, although anything is thankfully possible here in Canada.

So, what's a husband-obsessed wife to do? Thanks to 'lizing' (and, well, using my ears), I discovered that Patrick manages a UK division for his company. With this in mind, I woke up early yesterday morning and went to a neighbourhood newsstand to see if I could find a British newspaper. Understanding the issues of the day in the UK would surely give him some sort of edge at his job and show that I've been listening, right?

Unfortunately, no newspapers from Mother England were available - so I did the next best thing: I found something in our home that would hopefully allow him to better understand the British people.

Eccentric spinsters in wedding dresses, life as a blacksmith, orphans named Pip - Great Expectations is indeed a handy snapshot of life in the UK. Well done, me!

You'll also note in that picture is a half of grapefruit that I was able to negotiate onto Patrick's breakfast plate. And wouldn't you know it - he liked it. Grapefruit is off the list of things my husband won't eat! Hurrah!

My assistance in Patrick's career didn't end there. I had thought to myself, "what endears a person to others?" The answer was to give Patrick's colleagues something that has universal appeal: midget porn free food. Since peanut allergies hadn't yet been invented (heh), I made peanut butter brownies for Patrick to share with the office. He literally called me within 20 minutes of being at work to excitedly mention that the brownies had been gobbled up and appreciated by his co-workers, and that he was grateful to use the unexpected treat as a chance to go up to people in his company that he hadn't yet had a chance to really chat with. I don't know if it was because until that point my highest achievement during the week had been mastering a new way to fold towels, but I genuinely felt proud that I was able to help him in this way.

Not one to rest on my laurels, I got on with the tasks of the day which included arranging a rather impromptu dinner party for six that evening. Before I could get too far in my planning, Patrick was home for lunch.

Emotional! Antennae! Activated! Husband Status: FRIDAY! FRIDAY! FRIDAY!

Oh-so happy was he. He spent lunch (which was mainly leftovers reshuffled into sandwich form) chatting about his new colleagues and his plans to have a quick visit with his old colleagues shortly after work - but with enough time to be home well before our 8pm dinner party.

After he left to go back to the office, I returned to my cookbooks to piece together the elements of the evening. I wanted to serve cocktails and punch, a few hors d'oeuvres, a salad course, the main entree and then an interesting dessert. I finally settled on some recipes from the Good Housekeeping's 10 P.M. Cook Book (which, if you've been reading this blog, you're likely aware of the ridiculousness within it) Good Housekeeping's special edition Christmas Cook Book, the Esquire Cook Book. While doing this, I did another clean of the surfaces, washed the napkins and tablecloth for the table, and ran the blessed dishwasher to ensure we had enough clean cutlery and plates for the evening. I then had to hit the grocery store and butcher to get everything I needed for the dinner. Patrick had offered to swing by the liquor store on his way home from seeing his old coworkers, so that aspect was thankfully off my list of to-dos.

Fast-forward several hours and things are not going as swimmingly as I had hoped. The food was taking longer to prepare than I imagined it would. The mess in the kitchen had encroached onto nearly every work surface. The curls in my hair had fallen and my make-up had melted off. The table hadn't been properly set ...

And the greatest frustration inducer? Patrick still wasn't home and it was already 7:30pm.

Perhaps not having my husband's help whatsoever made this evening more authentically 50s, but it also made me feel extra panicked about getting everything done on time (which was also probably a real feeling experienced by 50s hostesses). I tried to remind myself that our invited guests (Patrick's friend, Barry, his wife Brigitte, Patrick's brother, Jason, and his girlfriend Hana) were friends and family who wouldn't judge if things weren't perfect - but on the flip side, I kept thinking about how I had been hyping up some kind of 1950s experience only to have our guests arrive at The Home of Rage, Chaos and ... inexplicably, Paul Anka (the musical soundtrack for the night? That, I was able to complete no problem - go figure).

At 7:50pm, Patrick finally showed up with the liquor - just as one of our dinner guests also arrived.

Emotional! Antennae! Activated! Husband Status: Terrified of this wife.

I don't know if he was using his own Emotional Antennae on me or if common sense had just finally kicked in, but Patrick knew right away that things were not cool between he and I. That was an understatement. In reality, I felt like emptying the contents of my purse into the Nag Jar and getting my money's worth out of an epic verbal wailing on him.

Instead, I gathered every fabric of restraint I could muster. This wasn't because of any kind of 1950s marital advice, but because our company had just arrived and fighting in front of other people is something I try to avoid doing as it just makes the other people feel uncomfortable. With that in mind, I'll stop throwing Patrick under the bus on this blog post and simply say the evening got off to a disappointing start (but he and I were totally fine with each other within about 20 minutes after he came home - I am not the type who holds onto anger to spite someone else).

Our cocktail offerings for our guests included:

  • Deviled eggs
  • Meat Roll-ups (ham smeared with a cream cheese mixture - cream cheese, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, diced onions - rolled up and sliced into little logs and topped with a cherry tomato or olive - held together with a toothpick)
  • A cheese ball with crackers
  • Mini gherkins
  • Olives
  • Cranberry Sparkle punch (complete with an ice ring of sliced lemons and cranberries)
  • BOOZE (a selection of vodka, gin, scotch, red wine and beer)
I was so busy when our guests arrived that I actually forgot to take a picture of the cocktails - but here's what the Meat Roll-ups look like:

Cocktailed up, we headed for the dinner table and started on a course of french bread and Ruby Cheese Salad (a green salad with pickled beets and Roquefort cheese). The entree then consisted of Glazed Minted Carrots, Pommes De Terre Aux Champignons Marguery (mushrooms, butter, shallots, chives cooked with boiled potatoes), Rosemary Chicken on the Bone with gravy. Super blurry pictures below!

All was gobbled up quite happily. We then took a little break and the smokers in our group had an after-dinner cigarette (but unlike true 50s homes, they actually went outside. I didn't think about this until after the fact, but I don' think there's enough Febreze in the world to turn my home into an ashtray).

When they returned and drinks were topped off, I made dessert - Banana Flambe. This super sugary dish is very easy to make and super impressive to serve thanks to the fire factor. Once you make your dish (bananas cooked in a sugar syrup, then cooked in an apricot and brandy mixture, then served with vanilla ice cream), you place a couple lemon extract-soaked sugar cubes on it. You then light the cubes and watch as they give off a cool blue flame (the picture doesn't really do it justice). From all of our excitement and oohs and ahhs, you would have thought I had just announced I was giving everyone a FREEEEE CAAAAAARRRRRR (said in Oprah's bellow).

Dessert eaten, it was onto coffee, more booze, and chit-chat. Like a good hostess should, I then introduced the group to a parlor game called The Name Game.

I don't know if The Name Game was around in the 1950s, but since it only requires paper and pencils (or pen), it very well could have. It's an exceptionally fun and easy game to pull off, so I'll share it with you all here:
  1. Each person gets a piece of paper and a pen. On that piece of paper, they write and tear off the names of five individuals (or ten or three or whatever - base it on the size of your group; the more people playing, the less number of names each person writes). These individuals need to be famous or most-likely known by everyone in the group. These names can be of celebrities, politicians, fictional characters, a friend everyone knows, etc. It's generally considered douchey to put down the name of someone very few people know ("What do you mean you've never heard of Emperor Go-Daigo? He was only, like, one of the most important Japanese leaders of the 13th century!"). This game is not a means to justify and give relevance to your frivolous arts or history degree.
  2. Each name is then folded up and put into a bowl.
  3. The group is divided into two teams. In our case, we went girls vs. boys.
  4. One team goes first. One person from the team pulls a piece of paper out of the bowl. She then has to describe the name on the piece of paper without using the proper name of another person. For example, if she selected the name "Vince the ShamWow Guy" she could not say, "This infomercial king is in league with Satan." Instead, she would say something like "He's in infomercials and he beat a hooker up after she bit his tongue." Her team members have to guess the answer - the other team can't also guess.
  5. When a name is guessed successfully, she pulls another name from the bowl. She has a total of one minute to have her team guess as many names correctly as possible. If no one is guessing from the clues she's giving, she stuck with it and has to keep going (you can't "pass").
  6. Count the number of names guessed. Set these pieces of paper aside (do not throw them out!).
  7. The bowl is then given to the other team and they have one minute to guess as many names as they can using the same rules as above.
  8. The bowl goes back and forth until all the pieces of paper have been gone through. The total scores are added up.
  9. ROUND 2: Put all the pieces of paper back in the bowl. This time around, players must guess the person's name with a clue of only one word. Back to our earlier example, someone might say "infomercial" or "hooker" or "creep" for ShamWow Vince. This round occurs just like the earlier one did (one minute per team to go through as many as they can, tallying up the score).
  10. ROUND 3: Put all the pieces of paper back in the bowl. For this final round, players can only use silent clues (charades) to guess the names on the pieces of paper. To again use our example of Vince, a person might put on their most dirt-bagged expression, cradle their tongue and indicate a rapidly deflating boner. Continue as you have in previous rounds. The team with the most combined points wins!
Try it - I swear it's a totally fun game, especially if you have creative people in your midst!

After playing The Name Game and polishing off many bottles of wine, our guests made their way home. Was the dinner party a success? If a high level of drunkenness is a factor, then our dinner was the Warren Buffet, Richard Branson and Judd Apatow of parties. To quote my brother-in-law, he had to "shower sitting down" this morning.

Today is a mellower day at Chez Byck but not without its own interesting happenings, which I'll let you know about tomorrow. Have a happy Saturday!

Image Source: KickyBoots


29 Oct 2010

Lighten Up

This is an account of Day 4 of the 50s Housewife Experiment: Husband Obsessed Edition.

I've learned that a "good" 50s wife acts as her husband's press agent, so with that in mind, I'll avoid discussing why he was feeling shaky in the morning, and simply say that Patrick was a bit under the weather when he got up yesterday.

I figured it was best that I not make the breakfast I had intended to serve so as to not aggravate the situation. You merely need to see the beautiful picture of it (from Good Housekeeping's Egg and Cheese Dishes) to understand this decision:

Instead, I served him oatmeal, orange juice and toast. I didn't take a picture of it - I mean, you've all seen oatmeal before, right?

The change in plans was actually a good thing - I was beginning to feel like we were OD'ing on grease. Plus, the Eating Animals shirt I had received the day before was haunting me from the wardrobe like a ticking heart beneath the floorboards (not familiar with that reference? If you had a less than stellar English program at your high school, just think back to the episode of The Simpsons where Lisa was in the diorama contest).

Eating less fatty food is actually brought up in Help Your Husband Stay Alive! The author, Hannah Lees, is determined to show women how to avoid early widowhood by reducing the stress and risk factors in their husbands' lives. She suggests knowing how much your husband weighs and comparing it to weight charts published by insurance companies. It just so happens that on the first page of Redbook's May 1956 issue (which I just so happen to own), such a chart is printed (click to expand):
Considering that's what you're supposed to weigh while fully clothed and wearing shoes (2" heels, ladies!), I'm in trubs (ok, even if I was barefoot and stark nude I ain't hitting those numbers). Yikes, it's almost enough to make you take up a habit of ice cube-eating and vigorous Stairmastering. Well, not quite. Patrick isn't actually that far out of his ideal weight but it's enough that Lees would have insisted I take! action!

Some of her tips for 1950s dieting include:

  • Serving "high energy" foods like steak, roasts, lamb, veal and hamburger
  • Cutting down on all pork products
  • Broiling foods instead of frying them
  • Adding extra green vegetables and salads to meals, possibly even replacing potatoes, rice and macaroni
  • Diluting whole milk with skim milk, eventually 'weening' him from whole milk altogether
  • Serving fruit cocktails and gelatin instead of cake and pie
  • Finding low calorie versions of favourite products (like bread, canned goods, cottage cheese and soft drinks)
All in all, it's not entirely crazy advice. She suggests avoiding the 'too-good-to-be-true diets' frequently advertised in magazines. Curious about the miracle diets available in the 1950s? Here's a sample of what I've found in my magazines, and even one that I spotted in my vintage Sears catalogue:

The before and after pictures kills me. That posture, that pout, those shoes!:

Yum, yum. I'm guessing this is the mother of Nutrisystem:
There's nothing I can say about this diet ("lose weight the way nature intended!") that hasn't already been said by the writers of South Park:

Smize and lize while you Relax-A-cize! You might recall that the Relax-A-cizor was actually featured in an episode of Mad Men (the one where fat-but-really-pregnant Peggy accidentally discovers the 'special glow' a girl gets from wearing her client's product). It's described in just as vague terms in the ad below:

Consider them all avoided (although it's interesting to see how little the diet industry has really changed, isn't it?).

As usual, the morning rushed by quickly and Patrick was home for lunch.

Emotional! Antennae! Activated! Husband Status: Tired

I kept things simple and in accordance with the dieting advice; I served Patrick a roast beef sandwich on enriched bread with a side salad and a glass of water. I even served his food to him on the couch so he could relax-A-cize a little more. The calm lunch seemed to settle his stomach and he went back to work with a bit more pep in his step.

I decided to do a simple meal-sized salad for dinner with bread and fruit for dessert. This meant my afternoon was freed up from the usual white sauce and meat cooking. I decided to visit my friend and neighbour, Siobhan, for a bit of tea at her place.

I've read a few 1950s-era articles and letters to the editors about housewives who moved to the suburbs where they really didn't know anyone. Their lives were purely focused on their husbands and their children, and without social outlets of their very own, they sort of lost a sense of themselves. The advice they often received was to basically stick it out and enjoy their children while they were young, as they'd kick themselves for being so sulky when their children were grown.

What crap advice.

I'm not one for pity parties, but I think the loneliness of women then (and now) should be taken seriously. Being able to have a break to chat with a friend today reinforced to me how important it is for people (be they female homemakers or not) to have moments for themselves, to shoot the shit, get a chance to vent and have a laugh with people they don't have to cook for and clean up after. I think doing this in-person is a really important element, too.

Why? Because visiting with Siobhan has a nice bonus: being able to crack up at whatever her 14-month old daughter, Charlotte, gets up to. Here's a pic of the kiddo, fresh from a nap. She's standing and walking around now like an actual human being. It's so weird and crazy and funny to see how she's changing and to see her personality emerge. I love her to bits.

The visit was quick but great (thanks, Shobe!) and I headed back to my apartment to get started on our healthy dinner.

It turns out that the Betty Crocker Picture Cook Book is excited about salads ...
Salads are easy enough for a man to make!
Salads bring the family together!
Salads are for lovers!

Just look at how frisky Grandma and Grandpa get when a salad is being tossed! She's getting hot, he's getting bothered, and I'm getting ... uncomfortable (where exactly are Grandpa's hands heading? Do they not see that small child right in front of them? Awkward.).

I had to wonder, though: would my salad bring out the horndog in my man?

Not quite.

Emotional! Antennae! Activated! Husband Status: Calm

When Patrick discovered that all that was for dinner was a big salad, some buns, and fruit cocktail (which I knew he wouldn't eat anyway as it included all sorts of things on his loathe list - but I was being hopeful after his recent mustard acceptance), his reaction wasn't exactly to start groping me.

"No meat?" he said confused.

"It's a healthy day," I replied.

"Meat can be healthy," he said.

"True, but we've been eating a lot of it lately. I think a night of salad will help clean out our systems from the recent Porkapalooza," I said.

"I'm fine with salad ... but we still have some leftover roast in the fridge, right?" he asked.

"Yes," I said with hesitation, "but let's see if we can do without it first."

"But if I have some roast beef, that won't be a problem, right?" he asked. A shit-eating grin then spread across his face and he turned his eyes toward The Nag Jar.

Oh, that dirty son of a ...


28 Oct 2010

Blessed Are The Conveniences

This is an account of Day 3 of the 50s Housewife Experiment: Husband Obsessed Edition

The last time I 'played' 50s housewife, we decided that the dishwasher wasn't something I'd have likely had in my 1950s home. Yesterday, we figured with Patrick's increased income and with me being such a good wife (feel free to shudder), we deserved an upgrade. I'm now in dishwasher heaven.


Let me say that again: Woo! WOOOOOOO!

Dishwashers were not entirely uncommon in the 1950s. Even in the early 50s, Kenmores were already available in the Sears catalogue (like those pictured above).

An aside: I happen to have a copy of a Sears's 1952 Spring / Summer catalogue, and let me tell you, it is *amazing*. If there is something missing in you life, get thee to eBay and find a vintage catalogue - it will blow your mind (I should note, however, that my mind is easily blown. You should have seen me the day I found out that Oscar the Grouch was originally orange). When flipping through the catalogue, it's interesting to see familiar brands and retro fashions, but mostly it's interesting to see totally bizarro stuff - like a whole section of products dedicated to something called sacroiliac, a toy that probably impaled or skull-crushed a few children and baby chicks - all there for the ordering at Sears.
Anyway, the most modern dishwashers were also available through the catalogue. These miracles of convenience were small, top-loading, and featured a spin cycle, all of which are completely alien to what's in our kitchens now. Therefore, I'm being a big cheat and pretending that my modern dishwasher is just like the one a true 1950s housewife might have had. I know, I know. Total cheatery. Whatever.

But the conveniences of the day didn't end there. Yesterday, I decided to give into all the not-so-subliminal product placement-style advertising within my Betty Crocker Picture Cook Book and buy some Bisquick.

I used it in the morning and made Patrick and I pancakes and sausages for breakfast. I'm not sure I can relay just how pleased he was with this breakfast. He was Pleased McGee. Pleased Mahoney. Pleased O'Irish-Name. Bottom line: He was happy.

The morning was whatev - cleaning, "volunteering at the Junior League", etc. Lunch crept up on me quickly and before I knew it, Patrick was home.

Emotional! Antennae! Activated! Husband Status: Content

We again had leftovers, so I didn't bother with pictures. Lunch was pleasant and there was plenty of lizing going on as he updated me on the meetings he had scheduled in the afternoon. Before he left to go back to the office, I asked Patrick what he wanted for dinner. He expressed an interest in beef - something I actually don't buy all that often.

In a lot of vintage cookbooks, there's an attempt to get the chef to understand more about the meat they eat by presenting a picture of the animal with all the different cuts labelled. My favourite is from the super swanky Esquire Cook Book, which was illustrated by the late, great Bill Charmatz - a clever graphic artist who some in the advertising world may be familiar with. Anyway, this is his take on beef:

Adorable, yes?

Thanks to this quick education by Esquire, I will never ask the butcher for the "ass end" again. Rump it is!

So, off I went to get some rump roast. In all my 50s magazines and books, it's basically a given that you get your meat from a butcher. This may seem like a weird observation, but I've never met a butcher I didn't like. They always seem so knowledgeable and friendly and keen to ensure you get the very best out of your purchase. They have a real sense of pride in what they do, to the point that every time I go to a butcher, I feel like I'm actually in the 1950s, even when I'm not goofing with an experiment.

Yesterday, I went to a butcher in the St. Lawrence Market who gets organic, happy beef (er, formerly happy, I guess) from one of the nearby Mennonite communities. Not to be one of "those" people, but I want to point out that all of the meat, dairy and eggs I'm using this week are ethically-raised (once you learn about factory-farmed animal products, you never really go back). As the universe would have it, when I arrived home from my meat mission, I discovered that Little Brown had sent me a pro-veggie t-shirt in response to my love for Eating Animals, a book that spells out why adopting a vegetarian or vegan diet is beneficial on a million levels.

So this is what guilt feels like! Neat.

Your favourite big, fat hypocrite 50s housewife put the shirt away for another day and went on to prep the meat with garlic and salt. I placed the roast in the fridge for later and got started on another culinary challenge: baking a cake.

To get you in the mood for the diatribe below, I suggest listening to this hit 1950 song, "If I Knew You Were Comin' I'd've Baked a Cake" performed by Eileen Brown:

The cake, like everything I make this week, needed to suit Patrick. Therefore, the following from the 1958 Good Housekeeping's Cake Book were out:

A unicorn being born (in Japan):

Made entirely from the pubic hair of a rainbow:

Why does that lamb near the bottom have antlers? And why is that the least disturbing thing about this picture?:

Anyone want to take a stab at what the children on this cake are carrying? My immediate thought of "big-balled dicks" is probably incorrect:

In the end, I settled on the convenience of Bisquick again and made miniature strawberry shortcakes. I chose to do that as they're relatively easy, not super sweet and I wouldn't be left with a big honkin' cake for two people to eat.

I got dinner on and before I knew it, Patrick was home.

Emotional! Antennae! Activated! Husband Status: Chipper

(Have you noticed he's been happier and happier as this experiment has gone on? Scary.)

I fixed him a 'welcome home' gin and tonic and then pulled the roast out of the oven. For dinner, we had a beef roast with potatoes and onions paired with Brussels sprouts that had been cooked in a nutritional medley of butter, bacon and salt.

You'd think someone who had such food finickiness as Patrick would hate Brussels sprouts - after all, most of the world regards them as dreaded orbs of doom. Wrong! For some reason, he loves them, so I was happy to oblige. In more surprising news, he decided to eat his beef with mustard! And he liked it. Mustard is officially being crossed off the list of foods he's unimpressed with. Oh, glorious day!

After dinner and dessert, Patrick invited two friends over, Barry and Pat (if you read the last experiment, you'll know that we know quite a few Patricks). I was, of course, still dorked out in a dress, curled hair and make-up when they came over. It's fair to say this is a departure from how they're used to seeing me.

I quickly got over feeling silly and fixed the boys some drinks, namely scotch on the rocks. Dedicated to being a keen hostess and making my husband proud to have such a hospitable wife, I was sure to offer a top-up whenever their glasses were getting low. Suffice to say, I excelled and it might be a rough day today for all three gents.

Onto Day 4!


27 Oct 2010

That'll Be $2 A Feeling, Ma'am

This is an account of Day 2 of the 50s Housewife Experiment: Husband Obsessed Edition

A key inspiration for this experiment, Mrs. Dale Carnegie (who even had a first name of her very own - Dorothy), was the wife of a very successful self-help author. Dale Carnegie wrote a book you've likely heard of: How To Win Friends and Influence People. This book was written in 1937 and was immediately a huge success. Today, it's still selling well (at the time of writing this post, the latest edition is ranked #162 on Amazon). Apparently, the socially awkward and power hungry are an enduring, timeless lot.

I couldn't help but wonder just how much under her husband's influence Mrs. Carnegie was when she wrote How To Help Your Husband Get Ahead, especially when it came to a section on nagging. Along with driving home the point that nagging could lead to the downfall of marriage, family and society as we know it (all under a section charmingly called "Why Men Leave Home"), Carnegie provided tips for wives to curb their habits of griping (something she referred to as a disease). These tips boiled down to:

  • Just stop nagging. Learn to only ask once and forget about it if he doesn't do what you want him to do.
  • You catch more flies with honey than vinegar - be sweet and use flattery to get him to do what you want
  • Stop being a bitch Get a sense of humour - realize that most things you nag about don't really matter, otherwise, he'd have done them! (OMG)
  • On the odd chance you nag about something important, talk about it calmly at a separate time
But the tip I was most convinced to have actually come from Mr. Carnegie was the following:

I simply can't envision any woman in any time in history coming up with such a horrible idea on her own. It's basically punishment for not constantly faking happiness, even when someone does something that deserves your annoyance. If anyone is going to have to pony up, shouldn't it be the person who failed to follow through on whatever chore or obligation he or she was supposed to do (rather than the person who reminds them of it)?

Apparently not. And so to my absolute horror, I present to you, The Nag Jar:

$0.25 in 1953, when this advice was viciously seared into print, is worth about $2 in today's market - and so that's my fine if I'm caught nagging or ... "showing irritation" ... *grits teeth and attempts to turn it into a smile. Fails miserably. Throws two loonies into the jar*

The jingle-jangles from my 'fines' are like Christmas bells to Patrick. He thinks The Nag Jar is the most hilarious thing to ever enter our house - and that includes the time I bought a poncho. He fully envisions a few trips to Starbucks next week will be covered compliments of this jar. I think not, but I'll let you know the damage at the end of the experiment.

Now that you know what's been in play at our home, onto the day's run-down:

Still riding that white cream sauce kick from the day before, I attempted to make something called Eggs a la Goldenrod for breakfast. Basically, you hard-boil a couple eggs. Once they're done, you separate the yolks from the whites. Meanwhile, make liquid heart attack a medium-thick white sauce (butter, flour, milk, salt). Cut up the cooked egg whites and toss them into the sauce. You then pour this sauce over buttered toast and complete the dish by crumbling the goldenrod-hued yolk over it all. Here's a picture of it from my Betty Crocker cookbook:

Ridiculous, no? And yet, mine did not turn out nearly as glamorous (and it's not just the bad lighting of my photo). The lack of enthusiasm(!) that was put into the making of this breakfast is slopped all over the plate: Grilled tomatoes instead of asparagus. A complete disregard for the garnishing power of the mighty radish rose. Toast just strewn there in a manner that says, "Sorry, but I haven't had my Valium coffee yet." Oh, for shame, 50s housewife. Fortunately for me in the context of this experiment, Patrick didn't really care what it looked like and happily ate it.

After breakfast, I did my 1950s cleaning routine, including getting all of the laundry done. Patrick was swamped at work, so he didn't make it back home for lunch; we were just having leftover Ring of Plenty anyway, so it wasn't a big deal. Afternoon was more chores, a quick dash to the grocery store and then I got started on dinner.

My thinking with dinner was two-fold:
  1. I didn't want to make anything overly heavy and creamy as Patrick had soccer that evening (envisioned the scene were Michael Scott "carbo loads" on Fettuccine Alfredo for his Rabies Awareness Pro-Am Fun Run Race and later suffers the consequences)
  2. Patrick claims to not really care for pie. I'm thinking that if I combine pie elements with something he really loves, namely bacon, I can turn him to the dark side
And so, I took a pork tenderloin, wrapped it in bacon and then wrapped all of that in pastry dough - essentially making a wellington. It was still baking when Patrick arrived home from work.

Emotional! Antennae! Activated! Husband Status: Hungry, pleased to be home

While things were finishing in the oven, I gave Patrick a tomato juice cocktail to tide him over until dinner was ready. You see, according to my Betty Crocker Picture Cook Book "the clever wife has a simple appetizing cocktail ready for her weary husband when he comes home at night." If all it takes to appear clever is to put some kind of liquid in a glass, consider me a Ph.D.

The pork wellington turned out really well - many compliments from the so-called pie hater. I accompanied it with boiled potato and Sweet and Sour Green Beans (from the Good Housekeeping Vegetable Cookbook) - which turned out rather brown looking for a green veg. Ah well.

As mentioned, Patrick had a soccer game later in the night. To "encourage him in his interests", I had washed and laid out his uniform on the bed, gathered his soccer stuff together and put a bottle of water in the freezer so he could have a cold drink during the game. How ever so thoughtful of me (and the gesture was indeed appreciated by the Mr.).

While he was out, it was a good chance for me to foster my own interests. So, for a few hours, I sat on the couch, numb, staring off into space worked on some freelance stuff (not really an interest, I guess, although I am interested in keeping my business afloat), and tried to do a bit of embroidery. If I have the chance to work on it more, I'll show my attempt at craftiness when this experiment wraps up.

And that was that. Onto Day 3!


26 Oct 2010

(I Fell Into A) Blubbery Ring of Plenty

This is an account of Day 1 of the 50s Housewife Experiment: Husband Obsessed Edition.

Before starting the experiment, I compiled a list of food my husband will tolerate (but just barely), foods he hates, and food that will literally kill him. I will obviously turn to these when I've had enough of this crap avoid using those this week (or use them just sparingly in the case of the first list) while still attempting to create meals from 1950s cookbooks:

Patrick Is Unimpressed With:

  • Cauliflower
  • Fish
  • Gelatin-based molds
  • Grapefruit
  • Green peppers (especially if in big chunks)
  • Kidney beans
  • Maraschino cherries
  • Mustard
  • Peas
  • Pie (especially fruit pie) - really? really? *Sigh*
Patrick Loathes:
  • Capers
  • Celery
  • Cilantro
  • Coconut
  • Cooked fruits
  • Coriander
  • Cucumber
  • Olives
  • Pickles
  • Pineapple
  • Raisins
  • Relish
Patrick Is Deathly Allergic To:
  • All seafood shellfish (shrimp, oysters, clams, mussels, lobster, crab, etc.)

(He actually used to hate a whole lot more than what is on that list. I've slowly chipped away at it over the years. Yay, me.)

There is a lot in that list that was considered a staple in 50s cooking, especially when it came to adding those "fancy" touches (I'm looking at you, pimento olives), but I will make do and attempt to add the little flourishes in other ways.

So, with list in hand, I got up and made him breakfast. Thankfully, typical breakfasts of the time weren't all that different from modern breakfasts, and they very, very seldom included olives. I kept things simple with scrambled eggs, bacon, toast, strawberries, fresh-squeezed orange juice and coffee.

Below is a pic I took with my cell phone (yes, cell phones were not available in the 1950s, but I'm using mine in this capacity anyway. I figure on things related to the blogging process, I can use modern technology to get 'er done). This time around, so as to make my husband happier(!), I'll likely be taking pictures as we're eating rather than before, as he complained last time that he didn't like having to wait as I snapped pics. That poor, poor man.

Off he went to work, and then off I went to work as I actually had some freelance stuff to take care of in the morning (here on out referred to as "volunteer work at the Junior League"). I then went on to tidy up a bit and bake a batch of spice cookies - a recipe that essentially comprised of molasses, shortening and flour with just a pinch of ginger, soda, salt and cinnamon. Because I want to support my husband in every way possible, and that includes positive subliminal messages in food, I cut the cookies into shapes of stars - because HE'S a star. Awwwwwwwww.

Around 12:15, I gave him a call at the office to see (in non-nagging fashion) when he planned to be home for lunch (his new office is literally a minute from our home). He hadn't realized the time and said he'd come home right away. Two minutes later, he was in our hallway.

Emotional! Antennae! Activated! Husband Status: Irritated

I got lunch on the table right away: A toasted sandwich of lettuce, tomato, mayo and cheddar, homemade (not cooked!) Honeycrisp applesauce (with the peel - that's why it looks pinkish with specks), cookies and milk. This particular menu was straight from one of my book's 50s menu plans.

Obeying my Emotional Antennae, I said, "having one of those Monday mornings?" He then unloaded what was on his mind (trying to get the swing of things at his new job, especially the lingo and acronyms they heavily use) and I attempted to "lize" (listen with my eyes) throughout it all. I have a feeling this is something I need to work on as I felt my face getting tired of being so actively positive after just a short while. As suggested, I gave no advice but encouraged him to keep at it, that he'd get the hang of things and gently reminded him about raising his EQ (Enthusiasm! Quotient!). This is so *not* my style of motivation normally (I like to come up with solutions, not cheerlead), so I found this to be largely an exercise in restraint on my part.

He enjoyed lunch (but was not wild about the applesauce, hmph), took some cookies to work with him and then was off, leaving much happier than he arrived. That's a win in the wife's corner.

Patrick had informed me he was going to be home at 8pm at the latest as he was meeting a colleague after work. Naturally, this "meeting" was at a bar, but, as a good 50s housewife supporting her husband's ambitions, I pretended this was a legit meeting of the minds that he "needed" to do.

Based on this, I timed my day around when he'd be expected home. I cleaned, did some laundry, updated the blog, voted in the city election and then finally got going on dinner.

I've found that cooking by 1950s standards takes more work and time than how I usually cook as there's almost always some sort of sauce to be made. This dinner was no exception. I used the Betty Crocker Picture Cook Book to create something called a Ring of Plenty with creamed chicken and broccoli along with a green salad.

A Ring of Plenty consists of macaroni, bread crumbs, eggs, cheese (2 cups!), whole milk (2 cups!), butter (4 Tbs!), parsley, onion and pimentos (which I omitted to better please Mr. Fussypants). This is all baked in a ring pan for about 30 minutes. Once cooked, you then fill the hole of this mold with chicken and brocolli that have been cooked in your standard white sauce (which means even more butter and milk or cream).

When I flipped the mold onto the serving plate, the Ring of Plenty (of lard) was so greased up that it literally skidded off the plate and slid along the counter like a curling rock. I was able to slide it back onto the intended plate, leaving a huge streak of fat in its wake, giving me a glimpse of what was about to happen to my arteries from eating this thing.

Unfortunately, at 7:53 (yes, I noted it), Patrick called to say he was still at the bar and wanted to know if he needed to come home right away. Um, yes. But I said it wayyy more politely than "Modern Jen" would have. I then played that fun game of try-to-keep-things-hot-but-not-dried-out for the next half hour until he got home.

Emotional! Antennae! Activated! Husband Status: Three+ Beers In (a.k.a. Content)

We ate straight away - here's a look at our meal in its full glory:
He enjoyed it - a lot. I found it tasted ... beige. I feel like something with that much slide-off-your-plate fat in it should be totally decadent, but this really, really wasn't. Oh well, HE liked it, and THAT'S THE ONLY THING THAT MATTERS. *Sigh*

That night we watched the horrifying election results roll in. Oh, Toronto, you stupid, petty city.

Later, I sat on the couch and lized my interest as Patrick chatted uninterrupted about the rest of his day, his post-work "meeting" and his thoughts on all kinds of things. I'm not sure if it was all that active listening or the election of Blob Ford, but I felt completely drained by 10pm and decided to go to bed.

And that was Day 1. Onto Day 2.


25 Oct 2010

How To Have A Happy, Successful Husband (The 1950s Way)

Today I started the second part of my 50s Housewife Experiment, this time with an emphasis on making the man of the house happy and primed for success. I'll tell you how the day went later tonight or tomorrow morning, but first I'll share with you the 1950s-era advice that is guiding my week.

Based on my readings (which includes Mrs. Dale Carnegie's How To Help Your Husband Get Ahead, Hannah Lee's Help Your Husband Stay Alive!, The Bride' Reference Book and multiple magazine from the era), the following are ways a woman can ensure her husband's happiness:

  • Makes meals to his tastes and schedule (I've been told the jello molds may be limited to one, and its presence is merely for comedic effect on the blog, not for his personal consumption)
  • Ensures the home is clean, comfortable, welcoming and reflective of both the man and his wife
  • Keeps up her darling 1950s housewife appearance
  • Greets him with enthusiasm when he returns home from a day of work
  • Uses her "emotional antennae" to guide her actions - a good wife knows the instant she kisses her husband if he's tired and needs to be left alone, if he is angry and needs to vent or if he's happy and appreciates affection
  • Always shows appreciation for his efforts and encourages him as much as needed
  • Listens to him attentively, but doesn't offer advice ("he doesn't desire it!"). I'm the Grand Poobah of unsolicited advice, so this will be challenging, to say the least.
  • Does not burden him with her thoughts, concerns, or stories when he first arrives home from work, while he's in the midst of an activity or when he's telling his own news or story
  • Avoids nagging. After all, "nagging causes more unhappiness in families than extravagance, poor housekeeping and infidelity all put together." Got that, girls?
  • Shares his interests and participates in them if he's amenable to that
  • Leaves him alone (or to his own interests and time with friends) when he desires it
  • Cultivates her own interests and intelligence so as to be a good conversational partner and a charming companion when in company ("Schucks! Y'all mean I kin leave that thar kitchen and gits me sum learnin'?" she asks as yet another baby falls from between her legs and onto the floor)
  • Recognizes her own sexual hang-ups and works to overcome them (i.e.: just smile, lie on your back and think of pleasant things you'd like to buy until he's done having sex at you)
All of the books paused (for a millisecond) to mention that a woman's own emotions, thoughts and needs also had to be addressed by her husband - but that the best way to do that was by the woman taking the lead. He'll eventually reciprocate, the advice dismissed assured.

The same resources also relayed how to help your husband become more successful and get ahead at work and in social life. According to what I've read, a good 50s housewife who helps a man succeed:
  • Asks him about his goals and helps him realize them
  • Fosters within him the most important trait every successful person has: enthusiasm (upon telling Patrick this, he went on to - enthusiastically - quote the lines from The Untouchables, complete with his De Niro impression that he very well knows I hate)
  • Listens to him effectively - not just with her ears but with her body language and eyes (I guess it's like Tyra's "smizing." I think I'll call this 'lizing' - pronounced LIE-zing. Actually, that's perfect on a couple levels.)
  • Learns about his job and industry so that she can ask more intelligent questions about his day and listen with more genuine interest
  • Supports his desire and / or need to get additional training, even if it comes at the expense of her own education ("if you only have the budget for one of you to go to college or night school, consider getting a library card. It is amazing what a woman can learn today simply by becoming a regular visitor of her local library." OMFG. Yes, because under 'Education' on one's resume, "I have a library card" is just as impressive as a Bachelor's degree).
  • Understands if he needs to work late or take business trips - guilting him about such things is the fastest way to kill his potential - "and your marriage!"
  • Lends a hand with his work whenever he needs it. She considers herself her husband's Girl Friday.
  • Does not butt into business matters (except for the above) and recognizes that the office is his place.
  • Is kind to and is not jealous of his secretary. She doesn't think anything of the fact that the secretary may be beautiful, after all "a pretty girl brightens up the office like a bowl of roses" and it is a "natural desire to work in an attractive workplace."
  • Acts as his press secretary - espouses his good qualities, minimizes his unattractive traits and never, ever, ever says anything overly personal, discouraging, embarrassing or negative about him in her blog public. Heh.
  • Wouldn't dream of, let alone joke about, doing anything on this list.
  • Does not press him to be more ambitious or hard-working than he already is. You see, the stress of that could kill! him! "That mink and diamond bracelet you desire will quickly lose their luster if he's driven to an early grave in his efforts to acquire them for you!" Instead, help your husband become the man he wishes to be by giving him praise and gentle encouragement
  • Quits her job (if she has one) if it interferes with his career and happiness
Ladies, you can unclench your jaws (and anything else) now - the list is complete.

Are you ready for this, world? Am I ready for this (*quickly checks to see how much hard liquor is in the house*)? I can tell you, emphatically, that Patrick is indeed ready for this. I'm pretty sure I had him at "avoids nagging." He read a few chapters of How To Help Your Husband Get Ahead and said, with a straight face, that it was the greatest thing ever published. Take that, Shakespeare.

Image Source: Woman's Day Magazine, November 1956. "Their First Thanksgiving Dinner."


21 Oct 2010

How I Knew I Wasn't Ready

I got up the other morning, determined to get my 50s housewife on. I wasn't feeling great, but I thought that maybe things would improve once I got going.

I started dolling myself up in the bathroom but didn't want to put lipstick on; still being sick, I knew I'd have to toss the tube after using it to prevent getting this flu (yes, flu, wah) again. Instead, I washed my hands, dipped my finger in a tub of Vaseline and attempted to pretty my lips like a 12-year old does when she's not yet allowed to wear make-up and figures medicinal products are a great way to skirt mom's rules (Bonus Fact From the Tween Vault: Try as you might, Pepto Bismol will never make your cheeks look rouged).

Anyway, my lips were dry, so the experience quickly became less about glamour and more about relief. I spread the petroleum jelly slightly outside the borders of my lips to extend the soothing feeling where my skin needed it.

And then, I couldn't help myself ...

I started smearing the Vaseline along my nostrils. You see, they were really dry and chapped from all the snottiness and nose-blowing and were aching for the same relief my mouth was reveling in a mere inch below.

It turned out that my nose was in thorough need of repair and so a second finger-dunk of Vaseline was required to fully cover and smother all the rashy areas.

I then took a good look at myself in the mirror. Before me hunched a thoroughly bagged individual whose snout was glistening and gooped-up as if she had been the victim of a half-assed Queller Demon attack (not boned up on your Buffyverse monsters? How dare you. You can see what I mean if you watch this clip, specifically around the 3:25 mark).

Have the visual? Here's more: to make matters more attractive, with every violent cough or sneeze I had, a small glop of Vaseline would fly from my face. Had a casting director been nearby, I surely would have clinched a spot as a title character in Turner & Hooch 2 - and not the Tom Hanks role.

It was then that I realized that the 50s housewife experiment, part deux was probably going to have to wait. I'll start it up on Monday, gentle readers. Surely by then I'll be at full strength to put on heels and make-up and trample on the feminist movement with charming gusto.


18 Oct 2010

Housewife, Delayed

So, I was all geared up to start my special edition of the 50s housewife experiment. I had read the books, planned a few meals, did my grocery shopping ...

And then last night I got really, really sick (you thought I was going to say 'drunk', didn't you? Well, normally, you might have been right, so I don't blame you. It was a Sunday, after all).

Long story short, I didn't get to sleep (on the couch - aren't I nice?) until about 6am and by the time Patrick was getting up to go to work, I was totally drained, had no voice left due to a combination of coughing, dry heaving and not-so-dry heaving, and was still feeling pretty hellish. I somehow doubted that throwing on a bow and a spot of lipstick would have disguised that or prevented me from retching into Patrick's fresh-squeezed orange juice.

So, I'm currently laid up and delaying the new experiment until at least tomorrow. BOO.

Now, I won't deprive you entirely of a 50s experience, though. As luck would have it, there is information in Foods & Home Management (a 1957 textbook by the BC Department of Education) for what to do when one is ill (click to expand):

That all sounds rather pleasant, provided that you're a-ok with being referred to as an "invalid." But here's why I'm not embracing this today; this is what people in the 1950s fed their loved ones when they were feeling ill:

Nothing says "get well" like a not-at-all-puke-and-phlegm-inducing menu of eggnog, gruel and toast dripping with milky white sauce.

I don't care if it's served on the shiniest of silver platters and with linen spun from gold thread, none of that will help the situation. In fact, just saying the word "eggnog" during a time like this is likely enough to send some "invalids" flying to the nearest toilet.

I'll be sticking with my water and Premium Plus crackers, thanks.

In other sad 50s housewife news, the grande dame of 50s housewifery, Barbara Billingsley (a.k.a. June Cleaver from Leave it to Beaver) passed away on the weekend. Below is part 1 of the last episode of Leave it to Beaver in which the family basically does a "best of" flashback episode:

Anyway, I hope to have a better update for tomorrow!

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Need words? I'm a Toronto-based freelance writer who injects great ones into blogs, websites, magazines, ads and more. So many services, one lovely Jen (with one 'n').

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