Friday, May 13, 2016

"No Time for Cooking" by Arlene Francis - Sweet and Sour Skillet - for Mother's Day (with a word or "two" about game shows)

Date I made this recipe:  May 8, 2016 – Mother's Day

No Time For Cooking by Arlene Francis
Published by:  Danfoods Co.
© 1961
Recipe:  Sweet and Sour Skillet – p. 29

And so Mother's Day.  This is one of those "holidays" that leaves me overwhelmed because I could go in so many different directions with my cookbook collection in order to honor my mother that I almost have a complete brain shutdown.  Sadly, very few cookbooks are titled something like "Mother's Day Cookbooks" because that would be too easy, right?

That said, I thought I had a cookbook picked out but then changed my mind after watching late night/early morning episodes of the (vintage) TV show, What's My Line, on BUZZR cable station.  And this explanation will be long so get yourself a beverage and get cozy.

BUZZR is one of those stations that I swear just appeared overnight on my cable lineup and it's all about game shows (thus, "BUZZ[E]R") that ran from the mid-50's (shortly after television started become a household item) to the late 80's.

Included in the lineup of shows are three vintage shows that I watched as a kid:  To Tell the Truth, What's My Line and I've Got a Secret.  Mind you, the episodes I'm currently watching are mostly from before I was born but no matter.  I tuned in from an early age and was fascinated even then. 

Actress Arlene Francis, the author featured here today, was one of four celebrity panelists on What's My Line and I think she holds the record for length of appearances – 25 years.  Wow!  I had no idea.

The premise of What's My Line (CBS -1950-1967), as well as To Tell The Truth (1956-1968 on CBS, 1968-1975 in syndication) and I've Got a Secret (CBS -1952-1967), is simple:  a single guest or a panel of guests (2 fake, 1 real) appear before a panel of four celebrities (celebrities at the time the show aired) and the panel has to decide a) who is telling the truth (To Tell the Truth); what someone's occupation is (What's My Line) or what someone's secret is (I've Got a Secret).  The ones who fake out the panel get money. 

The shows are all hosted by celebrity hosts (again, of the era), are all produced by venerable game show producers, Mark Goodson and Bill Todman.  And because they all ran on CBS and because CBS was the only channel we got for a long, long time (in black and white, no less), we watched these shows.

And since these shows were early evening entertainment, the panelists as well as the guests usually dressed to kill.  The women wore beautiful evening dresses (although some might have worn evening gowns) with beautiful jewelry and the men wore suits, often with bow ties that were all the rage. But it was really the women I wanted to see and who I remembered, especially Kitty Carlisle who appeared on To Tell the Truth.

Now, Arlene Francis (today's cookbook author) was quite beautiful yet the person who sticks in my mind as the embodiment of poise and elegance was Kitty Carlisle. She wore the most beautiful gowns, the most beautiful jewelry, never had a hair out of place and spoke so eloquently that it was hard not to fall is line with her. Kitty Carlisle was an actress, singer and a major patron of the arts in NYC.  I believe she was photographed at one of the New York Public Library fund raisers that I discussed in a blog a few weeks ago.  Kitty was married to playwright and theater director, Moss Hart and for some reason, I keep mixing him up with composer Lorenzo Hart of Rodgers and Hart fame (before Rodgers became Rodgers and Hammerstein). I shall have to work on that.  No doubt if Kitty was alive, she'd set me straight; she passed away in 2007.

If Kitty Carlisle commanded center stage on To Tell The Truth, then Arlene Francis did the same on What's My Line.  On that show, whenever they had a mystery guest (i.e. someone famous and recognizable), the panelists had to put on blindfolds and Arlene's was always so fancy in satin and sequins.  Loved that. 

And since we are walking down memory lane, I hope you indulge me a minute as I have to talk about these three shows:

On To Tell the Truth, three people walked onto the stage and then the announcer said "WHAT Is your name please?"  The force with which he said "What" just slays me.  And so all three said "My name is [fill in the blank].  Then the host, in this case Bud Collyer, asked the four celebrity panelists to read along with an affidavit in which the "real" person said what he or she did.  Then the three guests were asked questions by the panel, said questions designed to trip up the fakers by drilling deep into the topic.  Then the panel voted for who they thought was telling the truth, and then the announcer said "Will the REAL [insert name] please stand up?" and the person did and if the panel got all or some votes wrong, the guests got money as well as "lovely" gifts from the sponsor—things like nasal decongestants and deodorants, I kid you not!

Although many guest panelists appeared on the show, the ones I remember the most (and am watching now) were Tom Poston, Peggy Cass, Don Ameche, and Kitty Carlisle.  A very young Johnny Carson sat in on the panel a few times as did the ageless Betty White.

One interesting note about this show that ties to this blog:  last week, I was watching an episode and after the real person was revealed, the other two stated their names and what they really do for a living and one of them said "My name is Bunny Day and I'm a cookbook writer" and folks, I almost fell out of my chair.  Bunny Day?  THE Bunny Day? (Do we not love that name?)  Oh my gosh, I have two of her cookbooks and cooked from one of them – Crazy-Quilt Cookery – for this blog.  Wow!  I tell you what, I was impressed with myself that I knew who she was!

On What's My Line, the guest has an interesting line of work, ranging from nuclear physicist to female bull fighter to this hilarious one:  sells glasses to chickens (don't ask) and the panel of four has to guess what that line of work is. Each guest is asked to sign in on a chalk board, then the host reads the name, and then the guest is asked to shake hands with the panel so that they can "get a better look at you" which always stops me short because these are humans, not horses!  But anyway...

Sometimes a famous celebrity appears on the show in which case, they are introduced as a "mystery" guest and the panel has to put on blindfolds.  As I mentioned above, Arlene Francis and fellow panelist, Dorothy Kilgallen, have the most lovely blindfolds; the men stick to basic black eye shades.

Most of the "mystery" guests disguise their voices so the panel won't guess who they are but that usually fails and Arlene is often the one to figure it out.  In one instance, the mystery guest was Wilt Chamberlain and the panel guessed who he was right away, likely because the disguised voice was coming from so high up!  The mystery guest is usually someone who is currently starring in a TV show, movie or on Broadway and the panel often keys questions to ascertain who they are – "Are currently in a movie?"  "Have you just arrived in New York?" and the like.  For the regular Joe Schmoes of the world, questions usually start with "Do you work outdoors?"  "Is a product involved in what you do?," or "Do you provide a service?"  The panel often has a harder time figuring the person's line of work just because it's hard to narrow things down in the allotted time. (And in the case of guy who sold glasses for chickens, the panel finally figured out it had to do with chickens but likely never would have figured out the eyeglass part.  I know I wouldn't!)

The "regular" panelists on the episodes I've watched so far are Dorothy Kigallen, Fred Allen, Arlene Francis and Bennett Cerf.  The show's host was John Daly.

And then on I've Got a Secret, the guest(s) do indeed have a secret that they whisper to the host and the panel also has to guess at what the secret is. On this show though, celebrities often appear as themselves and then share a secret about themselves to the show's host (Garry Moore, who also helped give actress Carol Burnett her start when she appeared on The Garry Moore Show.)  On one recent episode, actress Kim Novak appeared and her secret was that she designed the dress that panelist Bess Meyerson was wearing.  Backstage before the show began though, Bess told Kim that she hated the dress, not knowing that Kim designed it.  Apparently, it was quite itchy.  Talk about your awkward moment!

And speaking of awkward, the thing I constantly have to keep in mind about these shows is that the panelists often said things we would now consider to be politically incorrect, such as jokes about ethnic groups or even comments about women.  Sometimes the show hits its own "awkward pause" moment and sometimes I create one by gasping at the comment.

The panelists I've seen so far on I've Got A Secret have been Bill Cullen (who later went on to host other game shows), Betsy Palmer, Henry Morgan (not to be confused with M*A*S*H star, Harry Morgan) and Bess Meyerson.  Bess was also Miss  America 1945 and was the first and only Jewish woman so far to win that title.

Now then, you're probably thinking what does any of this have to do with Mother's Day, my mother in particular, or Arlene Francis?  Well kids, my mother loved watching these shows.  I loved watching these shows with my mother, ergo my walk down memory lane.  But these shows also make me reminisce about my mom's sense of style and how she always dressed to impress.  And when I see all these women wearing beautiful evening dresses, I think of her and it makes me miss her and also long for the day when people dressed up.  Yes, jeans and t-shirts are comfy, no doubt about it, but when people dressed up, it just changed the game.  They walked more elegantly, talked more elegantly and looked like a million bucks.  When mom died, I took a lot of her favorite dresses and eveningwear plus some jewelry to few vintage stores so that they could be worn by someone who could appreciate them.  Sadly, I was a couple inches taller than my mom so nothing of hers fit me.  Happily, I kept some of her vintage jewelry and evening bags though and wear them if the occasion fits.

And so just before Mother's Day, I was watching these shows which air early in the morning, one behind the other, and there was Arlene Francis and I remembered that I had a cookbook by her on my shelf.

So asking myself WWML (What Would Mother Like), I perused the cookbook and after much hemming and hawing, decided on tonight's Sweet and Sour Skillet. I'd have to look but I swear I saw a similar recipe in my mom's handwriting on a recipe card in the  card collection I now own.  Mind you, I have no recollection of her actually making it, but details, details.

Aside from the fact that this recipe was easy to make, it was also somewhat healthy; I can't say that about a lot of other dishes in this cookbook.  It's not that they were loaded with calorie-laden ingredients, it's just that my mom leaned toward leaner recipes.  In fact, I know she would not have made this recipe with salami as called for so I substituted ham.

One dish that I almost made was called "Sunday Cassoulet," a fancy name for baked beans with hot dogs but that just felt too heavy even though mom sometimes made a similar dish. And a "Date Drop Cookies" recipe that sounded similar to mom's was bounced because dates are very expensive. Very.  Sorry, mom!

Two dishes that I could have made had I stopped laughing in time for dinner were "Hurry Curry" and "Delicious Quickie" which, of course, is not what you think but rather a mixture of cream of mushroom soup, diced lunch meat, onions and olives over biscuits.  Don't think so.  And I also passed on "Savory Tongue on Toast" because mother would have as well.  Ew.

The last section of this book – "Arlene's Diet Tips" – made me chuckle because my mother also had a diet tip and it was pretty simple:  "Just push yourself away from the dinner table, Ann."  She wasn't kidding and you know what?  It worked!

In the end, Andy and I were quite happy with the dish (which I served over rice) and I think mom would have been happy as well.  And that's what Mother's  Day is all about, right – making mom happy?  In my family, we also had another rule – "Don't Embarrass Mother" but that's another story for another day.

This dish is no embarrassment to anybody so go ahead and make it and if you get the chance, check out these vintage game shows.  I now dream of evening dresses and glittery jewelry...

Sweet and Sour Skillet – Serves 4
2 tablespoons butter or cooking oil
1 medium onion, chopped
½ cup green pepper
1 teaspoon cornstarch
2 tablespoons vinegar
1 9-ounce can pineapple tidbits, undrained
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 6-ounce package sliced salami, diced (Ann's Note:  I substituted diced ham)
Salt and pepper to taste
Cooked rice, if you wish

In a large skillet melt butter or oil.  Add onion and green pepper and sauté for 5 minutes.  Blend cornstarch and vinegar and stir into vegetables.  Add pineapple tidbits (and juice), soy sauce, salami (or ham) and salt and pepper.  Bring to a boil, stirring, and simmer for 5 minutes.

Ann's Note:  I served this over rice.

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