Lately I’ve been on a bit of a vintage cookbook jag. I know, I know. Vintage cookbooks seem like such a hokey thing to go on a jag about. Perhaps it’s a sign that I’m getting older. My boyfriend is slated to turn 30 in less than two weeks. Then again, maybe it’s just another symptom of my current frustration with the modern world. I’ve been longing desperately to retreat into some ancient civilization that was more, I don’t know, civilised, maybe?
Doesn’t this whole scene just feel so utterly and completely charming?
This was the book that spurred this whole jag I've been on in the first place. Although, my interest in old cookbooks began a bit earlier, one very hungover morning at a girlfriend’s house when, unable to do anything else, we decided to read aloud from an old copy of the new york times cookbook and found it quite hysterical. I quickly forgot that incident, however, as my boyfriend and I were just becoming involved and as romance tends to do, that sort of took over for a while.
But then, right as the marshmallow and I were settling into a cozy period of domestic bliss, this gem of a book came along and reminded me of that morning and before I could even try to stop it, the obsession took hold. I’ve since found myself devouring all manner of cheesily photographed guides to cooking and eating and entertaining in another era. I’ve even read some without photographs. That’s when you know you’re really in trouble.
Still, the LIFE book is, by far, the best. It’s stunning, not only for it’s outdated photography, but also for the drama and theatricality it encourages in simple entertaining. Flaming food, watermelon sculptures, meats roasted in their whole form and served on gleaming silver platters.
Obviously, a flaming cabbage with meatballs would not be received quite as well at a dinner party today, as it would have in 1958, but it’s fun to think about nonetheless and infinitely more entertaining to look at than Osama Bin Laden’s death photos or Charlie Sheen’s latest breakdown. (Please excuse my angsting. I’m just so fed up with like, everything lately).
Now, the big question is of course, about the recipes, the food itself; does any of it actually taste good?! I wouldn’t know, because I haven’t actually cooked any of the recipes. If I do I promise I’ll report back with details. What I did do though, is that I took this book at it’s recommendation and dined at the legendary Trader Vik’s. See, at the end of the book, there is a small section on restaurants, and of the restaurants listed in San Francisco, two are closed, one costs approximately a million dollars and only serves brunch or tea, and Trader Vik’s despite having moved across the bay to Emeryville, is still intact. So, after we finished our cleanse last week, we decided to give it a try. They do after all, have mai tais and crab ranggon on the menu, and seriously, after a week of subsisting on raw veggies and cashew cream cheese, I couldn’t think of anything I wanted more.
The decor is, as you would expect, all cheesy faux-polynesian, and the female servers wear flowers in their hair. The drinks arrive in big bowls or ceramic goblets with fresh flowers or paper umbrellas. The table next to us even ordered a drink that the waiter set on fire right at their table. What can I say, I really am a sucker for a bit of drama with my meal.
The crab rangoons were just alright (the best crab rangoons are still at Luen Hop in Cromwell, CT, I swear it!), but our salad and main courses were good. Not just guilty-pleasure good, legitimately good. Not innovative, certainly not intellectual, probably not even organic or sustainable (a rare case in the Bay Area), but nonetheless, good. Well-prepared, comforting, classic even. And sometimes, like when you’re coming off of a week-long cleanse or feeling angsty about your generation, that’s better than anything else you could have hoped for.