Mondays & Memories of My Mom – For the Love of Writing

Greetings! Welcome to my blog home, Mondays & Memories of My Mom! My name is Laura Emerich and these blogs are dedicated to the memory of my mom, Gloria Pitzer, because she left behind such an incredible legacy when she went to be an angel last year.

Most knew her as the ORIGINAL Recipe DetectiveTM, investigator AND imitator of the food industry’s “secrets” behind the well-known products and dishes from famous companies and franchise chains like Olive Garden, Olga’s, Applebee’s, TGIF, Ruby Tuesday, Bob Evans, Big Boy Restaurants, Chi-Chi’s, Cracker Barrel, KFC, Wendy’s, White Castle, McDonald’s, Burger King, Taco Bell, Sanders, Famous Amos, Mrs. Field’s, Kraft, Heinz, Nabisco, Keebler, Sara Lee… and the list goes on!

I’ve been writing these blogs on a weekly basis since last September, to channel the many wonderful memories I have of my mom and, also, to share her astonishing legacy – her special story – with a new, digital generation. Like Mom, I’ve always loved to write. One of my youngest memories are of Mom & I, when she was first teaching me how to write my name. I was going on 4 years old and about to start Kindergarten that fall. Mom sparked my love for writing, which she stoked in me throughout my life.

Mom left her mark on many from her over 60-year writing career, to her famous Secret RecipesTM profession to her personal loves of faith, family and life; all of which she always found a way to intermix in her creations, like the ingredients of a great recipe.

My mom’s first and last love (besides my dad) was with writing. She had always loved to write short stories and poetry since she was a young girl, as did I. She told me many stories of how she dreamed of writing “the great American novel” when she was a teenager. But, Mom’s childhood dream never came to fruition, as events in life took her in a slightly different direction with writing.

As a teenager and young adult in the 1950s and 1960s, she entered and won multiple contests, on radio shows and in magazines, usually winning cash or some sort of prize for her essays. However, every winning achievement that Mom had in authoring, usually included food in some manner.

Mom was creatively gifted, not just as a writer, but also as a publisher, advertiser/marketer, artist, crafter, homemaker, cook… and the list just goes on. Combined with a clever and satirical wit, all these ingredients uniquely formed Mom’s own special recipe for success – like a “super-power”! (FYI – yesterday was National Super Hero Day!)

Similar to stand-up comedians, Mom found her ‘family life’ to be the best source on which to base her cleverly witted cartoon panels and stories. In the course of her syndicated writing of “food-for-thought-and-table” columns, Mom found a unique niche that her readers wanted – even if the newspapers’ editors and their food industry advertisers didn’t.

Mom called it “eating out at home”! She set out to discover how to imitate the popular fast food & fine dining dishes in her own kitchen; as well as, some shelf-stable grocery items too. If it saved her household money, my mom wanted to share it with the world to help others save money also. Mom was a trail-blazer and pioneer for copycat cuisine, as no one else was doing this – imitating the fast food and junk food dishes/products that people craved, but critics constantly warned us were unhealthy!

Illustration by Gloria Pitzer

From 1973 through 2004, Mom wrote and self-published hundreds of newsletters and at least 40 books filled with not only thousands of these “secret” recipe imitations that she personally developed and tested, but also with her humorous stories and anecdotes, helpful kitchen and household tips, as well as some background or history about many of the companies and products being imitated.

Mom put so much love and passion into the recipes she developed and wrote, testing them over and over again (which was a labor of love all its own) until she felt they were good enough to share. In addition, Mom found that by promoting the making of these “taboo” foods at home, it gave the cook control over the ingredients that went into the recipes; thereby, debunking the “junk” to which the critics referred!

Her food-for-thought editorials were always written from her heart, with a devotion and hunger for helping and informing her readers, as well as entertaining them. Mom designed each of her books and newsletters, to be as much a coffee-table or bedside-table read as it was a recipe collection for the kitchen. No other such products on the market, at that time, could do that and Mom’s compositions took the monotony out of meal time!

Illustrations by Gloria Pitzer

Additionally, more of Mom’s memories about writing are in the following excerpts from of her own story, as seen in her last cookbook, Gloria Pitzer’s Cookbook – The Best of the Recipe Detective, (Balboa Press; January 2018, pp. 292-297). This book was actually a re-write by me of Mom’s favorite and most famous, self-published cookbook, Gloria Pitzer’s Better Cookery Cookbook (Secret Recipes, St. Clair, MI; May 1983, 3rd Printing):

I enjoy working with these recipe secrets, but most of all, I enjoy writing about them. I’ve been writing all my life… Going way-back to when I was in grade school. I was always writing a book, or a poem or a short story. It was a way of life from my earliest memories – a way over which I seem to have no personal control! I had to write… Preferably about what I knew best at the time. Little did I know that what I would come to know best would be cooking!

… I met my husband, Paul… We started dating and one year later we were married. That was 1956. Bill was born over a year later and, then, Mike came 20 months after that, and Debbie came along 20 months after that. I lost 3 babies in the next 3 years, but Laura was born in 1964 and Cheryl came 20 months after that.

That reminds me of one summer in my teen years, as our family was traveling on vacation to Cedar Point in Sandusky, OH – during the long, 3-hour drive, Mom sat in the back of the van with me and helped me work on a poem that I was inspired to write about her and our family. Another cherished memory! I’ll include the poem at the end of this blog. But, for now, here is the continuation of Mom’s memories about writing…

During those years…I kept up with my writing, always working for one of the suburban papers and constantly free-lancing to magazines. When Redbook sent me $500 for my ‘Young Mother’s Story’ submission in February 1963, called ‘We’ll Never Live with In-Laws Again’, I put part of the money into a typewriter, as I had always had to borrow one before that. I wanted a typewriter more than Reagan wanted to be president!

I put a lot of miles on that $39.95 machine – I designed a column for weekly newspapers and mailed out samples to over 300 newspapers. Within a year, I had acquired 60 regular papers for my ‘No Laughing Matter’ column and another column I called ‘Minding the Hearth’. Columbia Features in New York offered me a contract, and, for a year, I allowed them to syndicate the column in competition with a new humorist, Erma Bombeck! (Right church, wrong pew for me!)

When Columbia Features and I parted company…within 6 months I had regained all my original papers and was syndicating the column from our dining room table…I rode a bike to and from the Pearl Beach post office every day, where I mailed out my columns and looked for responses to ads I had placed… for [my] recipes on 4×6” cards that enabled you to imitate famous dishes at home.

1972 advertisement that Mom designed and mailed out regularly, to papers’ and magazines’ editors, for syndication.

At the suggestion… that I should put all my column’s recipes into a book, I wrote my 1st edition called ‘The Better Cooker’s Cookbook’ [1973]. In less than a month, I had sold 1000 copies. I wasn’t satisfied with the book, so I didn’t reprint it – but, decided that it might work out better if I could do those recipes monthly…I put together my 1st issue of what came to be my ‘Secret Recipe Report’, a newsletter that… brought me in contact with the many so-called secrets of the commercial food and restaurant industry.

It was a perfect storm – from the unique subject matter of her books and newsletters to the media exposure of them through radio, newspapers, magazines and TV – which, all together, brought about Mom’s fame as the Recipe DetectiveTM.

I’m currently working on a time line of her appearances and interviews to add to this website’s tabs, gathering most of the information through her books, newsletters and other works as best as I can. However, I haven’t decided on a title for the new tab yet. I’m also still working on updating the “Recipes” tab with more of Mom’s creations. Before closing, here is the poem I mentioned above:

The poem, on which Mom helped me in 1979; along with a cartoon panel she drew in 1969!

Shortly after starting these blogs, I decided to include one of Mom’s recipes with each one. For the 35-plus years that Mom “worked her business”, she offered (in exchange for a SASE) a sheet of free recipes, along with information on how to order her currently available (at that time) self-published cookbooks; as well as how to subscribe to her newsletter.

I’ve recently exhausted all the recipes from the information sheets of which I have copies. However, this website, originally developed by my brother, Michael Pitzer (for internet exposure to our parents and their Secret RecipesTM business), used to offer other “free” recipes that Mom authorized; some of which weren’t on those information sheets.

Since my brother transferred the website to me, with which to carry on Mom’s legacy through these blogs, I’ve been working on updating the “Recipes” tab to include all the free recipes that were on the site to begin with (as they didn’t transfer to the new host), as well as the ones on Mom’s information sheets. It’s taking some time because I only have a printed list of the original 34 recipe titles that were offered on the website. As times change, so do some companies’ recipes; thus, Mom has had a few different versions of some of her recipes. I’ve found almost half of the original list so far. Stay tuned for more updates!

Illustration by Gloria Pitzer

The following recipe may not be the same one that used to show for free on this website before last September, but this is the recipe I found for the same or similar title – as always, asking only for proper credit if you care to share it:

Olive Garden-Style Alfredo Fettucine

By Gloria Pitzer, from My Personal Favorites (Secret RecipesTM, Marysville, MI; Nov. 2000, p. 19)

Ingredients:

8-oz cream cheese, in bits

¾ c grated Parmesan

8 TB butter

½ c milk

1-lb box fettucine, prepared as box instructs

Instructions:

Put first 4 ingredients in a saucepan on medium heat, stirring until smooth and piping hot – but, don’t let it boil or it might scorch! Spoon sauce mixture over 4 portions of prepared fettucine. Serves 4 sensibly or 2 foolishly!

#NationalShrimpScampiDay

For all of you shrimp-loving foodies out there, this happens to be National Shrimp Scampi Day! Shrimp Scampi was one of Mom’s many favorite dishes at Olive Garden. It goes awesome with her imitation of their Alfredo Fettucine, as given above! The National Day Calendar website has a link to a great shrimp scampi recipe by Elise Bauer on “Simply Recipes”. Enjoy making this wonderful dish, along with the pasta, for dinner to celebrate the day and use #NationalShrimpScampiDay to post about it on social media.

P.S.

#NationalGardeningMonth

This week also brings an end to National Gardening Month. So, as we come from celebrating Earth Day and Arbor Day last week, now it’s Stewardship Week – one of the world’s largest conservation-related observances… this year’s theme is “Life In the Soil: Dig Deeper.” Since conservation is the preservation of resources, it sounds like a great segue from April into May! So is this old proverb…“April showers bring May flowers” – people have quoted this for centuries; but, as we approach May, I find it ironic that the first week is also National Wildflower Week! Additionally,  Wednesday, the 1st, is “May Day”, as well as “Bird Day”!

In honor of Saturday, May 4th, being National Star Wars Day…

Mondays & Memories of My Mom – How Not to Lose it While Trying to Lose It!

Happy Monday, everybody! Welcome to my blog!

I’m Laura Emerich and this blog home is dedicated to my mom, Gloria Pitzer, the famously renowned “Recipe Detective”TM. I started writing these blogs to honor my mom’s memory and the legacy she left, not just for me, but also for the world – from her life-long writing affair to her secret recipes profession to her other personal loves of life, family and faith.

As I’ve often mentioned in my blogs, Mom was a trailblazer and pioneer of the “fast food copycat” movement. She was reportedly included in the 1976 Guinness Book of World Records for being the first to recreate “fast foods” at home. They were particularly interested in her make-alike versions of “The Colonel’s” secret spices, McDonald’s-style “special sauce” and Arthur Treacher’s-style fish batter; all of which were among Mom’s first deduced, “fast food”, secret recipe imitations, starting back in the early 1970s. You’ll find copies of those recipes in some of my other blogs on this website, as well as under the “Recipes” tab.

This week’s blog subject is inspired by all the nutritional and get-fit type of celebrations going on right now. In fact, there’s so much to write about on this topic that I find myself writing a lot more than the normal blog length should contain. Therefore, this subject will be continued on next week’s blog, “A 2nd Helping of Not Losing It!”

According to the National Day Calendar website , some of the things being celebrated today, this week and this month include many food/nutrition and fitness related things – such as today, March 4th, is National Pound Cake Day among other things.

The NDC website offers visitors the full, “traditional” recipe and this little fact: “the traditional recipe for pound cake makes a cake much larger than most families can consume, as it calls for a pound each of flour, butter, eggs and sugar. Hence the name Pound Cake.” Okay – so, pound cake is not exactly nutritional; but, it is food related, therefore, I couldn’t help mentioning it. Plus, after all, it is “Fat Tuesday Eve”! Thus, if you want to get the temptation out of your system now…Enjoy! For tomorrow is another day – but, obviously, so is the next one! Just remember the old adage, “everything in moderation!”

The first full week of March is recognized as, among other events, national “Read an eBook Week”  – in case you didn’t know, Mom’s last cookbook, Gloria Pitzer’s Cookbook – The Best of the Recipe Detective (Balboa Press, January 2018), which has over 300 pages full of great reads as well as over 500 index listings of “secret” fast food and grocery imitations, is also available as an eBook for only $3.99 at: https://www.balboapress.com/Bookstore/BookDetail.aspx?BookId=SKU-001062253.

In addition, the country is also observing National Procrastination Week, which is actually observed for the first two weeks in March –  According to the website link, “the goal for [National Procrastination Week] is to celebrate the act of procrastinating by leaving necessary tasks to be done at a later time… However, the holiday does not advocate sloth, laziness or inaction. Instead, it emphasizes accomplishing tasks, and leisurely activities that could not be completed while one had other responsibilities. These may include reading, cooking, cleaning, and exercising.”

In other words, if you’ve put off reading a good book because you’re so busy with responsibilities; then, you can “have your cake and eat it too” by procrastinating on a responsibility this week and reading an eBook instead! This can also have a hidden advantage as a stress reliever!

 

Another double-benefited activity includes: if you’ve put off initiating a “get fit/exercise” type of plan, now is a great time to procrastinate on the “excuse” or “conflicting responsibilities” and just do it. Correspondingly, share it on social media with the hashtag: #NationalNutritionMonth, because it’s also National Nutrition Month , among other things!

According to the NDC website, emphasis of this month long, March event focuses on… “the significance of physical fitness as well as eating nourishing meals. Taking charge of your health contributes to overall well-being; as well as losing weight…which reduces risks of chronic illness such as heart disease and diabetes… This year’s theme is ‘Bite into a Healthy Lifestyle’, focusing on exercising regularly and making the best food choices…”

As mentioned above, the website also recommends that everyone who observes and participates in this event: “use #NationalNutritionMonth to post on social media. Spread the word about how you are boosting your nutrition this month! Eat healthy and get exercising… You’ll be glad you did!” Even if you’ve already started a diet and/or exercise routine but failed to follow it through – remember the old adage, “if, at first, you don’t succeed, try and try again!” Now, this sounds like a worthwhile challenge to have go viral on social media, as opposed to some of the dangerous challenges that go around on there!

”Success is not in never failing, but in never fearing to begin again.” – Gloria Pitzer, This is not a Cook Book! It’s Gloria Pitzer’s Food for Thought (Secret Recipes, St. Clair, MI; Oct. 1986, p. 14)

The most common New Year’s resolutions are, more often than not, to lose weight and exercise more (or get healthy/fit). These decrees also happen to tie in with the National Nutrition Month observance. We’re 9 weeks in to the new year now! How many resolutions do you think are already broken? If you’ve already given up on your own, it might feel comforting to know that it’s extremely rare to keep a New Year’s resolution all year, let alone all Winter. In fact, according to The U.S. News (Dec. 29, 2015) , around 80% of resolutions fail by mid-February. So, if you’re still sticking to your New Year’s resolution as of today, then you’re further ahead of the game than most of us; therefore, rejoice!

One of Mom’s cartoon panels from her syndicated series, “Full House as Kept by Gloria Pitzer”

Stress and anxiety often accompany lifestyle changes like starting a new diet or exercise regimen, which is why it’s so important to be in the right frame of mind, so you don’t lose it – whether “it” is your focus or your inspiration or your emotional stability – while you’re trying to lose it (which could refer to weight or some other health issue)! Nowadays, in order to calm and focus myself, I just try to remember the silly term “goosfraba” from the hilarious movie, Anger Management (starring Jack Nicholson & Adam Sandler).

”Having a goal gives us hope and it’s hope that keeps us going, enabling us each to meet whatever the world dishes out.” – Gloria Pitzer [This is not a Cook Book! It’s Gloria Pitzer’s Food for Thought (Secret Recipes, St. Clair, MI; Oct. 1986, p.24)]

Furthermore, breaking my plan down into a manageable series of short, daily steps/goals seems like it will help make it simpler for me to remain better focused and more continuously motivated as I reach each step/goal and persevere in moving forward to the next one – one day at a time, one step at a time. Thus, relieving my stress to reach the final finish line, by stopping to smell each rose along the way and rejoice in it. At least, I think, the plan looks good on paper.

I also find comedy to be a huge stress reliever. I remember a funny example of one of Mom’s positive thinking “one-liners” – in the face of tension or stress she’d say, “…be a tea kettle! I could be up to my neck in hot water and still be able to whistle!” For some reason, it makes me picture her as Mrs. Potts in Disney’s movie, Beauty & the Beast, whistling the theme song to The Andy Griffith Show! I will draw on that comedic visual as often as I need a giggle and smiling thought.

”Start Now! Good thoughts and good feelings reinforce each other…When you hold on to one good thought, the better you’ll do things that make you feel good about yourself…Nothing will work for you unless you work for it.” – Gloria Pitzer [This is not a Cook Book! It’s Gloria Pitzer’s Food for Thought (Secret Recipes, St. Clair, MI; Oct. 1986, p.32)]

Mom and I, both, struggled most of our lives with yo-yo weight, going up and down. Diet after failed diet left us wondering why they seemed to work for other people, but not for us! Unfortunately, our mindsets (like many others’) were to only diet until we got to our desired goals. Thus, once there (if we ever reached “there”), we’d slowly forget about the discipline and start allowing ourselves to slack a little. Before we knew it, we’d just sink back into our old habits; immediately regaining what we had lost, and sometimes more, as we further sabotaged ourselves for the failure.

Nevertheless, we found one diet that actually did help us – Dr. Atkins’ Diet Revolution by Robert C. Atkins, M.D. (1972). We both found, from Dr. Atkins’ description in his book, that we have a carbohydrate intolerance. Dr. Atkins’ Diet Revolution is not a quick “weigh-fix” solution. It’s actually a low-carb lifestyle commitment. Thus, it only works if you work it! And, truth be told, neither of us made the lifetime commitment to it.

 ”Nothing worthwhile comes easily. Half effort does not produce half results. It produces no results! Work, continuous work and hard work, is the only way to accomplish results that last.” – Hamilton Holt

Therefore, as I did when I quit smoking cigarettes on May 1, 2006 (based on Carr’s book), I need to get my mind into a certain frame of thought – a commitment – one geared towards a new lifestyle of healthy living! Once I get that frame of mind set, then, I need to pick my change-of-life-style “start date” and just stick to it! Yes, it is easier said than done; but still doable! Consequently, I think, if I could use the mind-over-matter process to quit smoking and stay such for almost 13 years, so far; then, I should also be able to apply it to changing my lifestyle to a healthier one that includes regular exercise and better nutritional choices.

”Live up to the best you can see yourself to be, never compromising with excuses and examining every reason for not doing what you are capable of doing…If, every day, we find a way to contribute our best efforts in thought, in action and with no regrets, we’ll never have to fear the future.” – Gloria Pitzer, This is not a Cook Book! It’s Gloria Pitzer’s Food for Thought (Secret Recipes, St. Clair, MI; Oct. 1986, p. 14)

Positivity is believing that every day is a good day – some are just better than others. Mom wrote: “Keeping good thoughts is a healthy exercise all the way around; but, like any form of exercise, you do have to work at it. And, like any other exercise, the more you work at it, the better it works for you.” – Gloria Pitzer [This is not a Cook Book! It’s Gloria Pitzer’s Food for Thought (Secret Recipes, St. Clair, MI; Oct. 1986, p. 32)] Mom also journaled, as opposed to saying, “have a good day”, she suggested saying, “keep good thoughts”, instead; deducing, “How can you not have a good day, if you’re keeping good thoughts?”

I’ve tried the “fake it ‘til you make it” approach many times – it just doesn’t work for me in the long run. I’ve discovered within myself that I’m not going to change anything – not for very long anyway – if I don’t truly want to change it in the first place (as it needs to be from myself and for myself.) It takes the power of positive thinking, among other things, to succeed. But, according to my Mom, it’s not a “will” power that leads to that diet/fitness success, it’s a “won’t” power. I’ll write more about that next week. I hope you come back and check it out!

In closing, as I do each week, I’d like to leave you with one of the recipes that Mom gave out for free on her product-ordering information sheets. Mom often used the following low-carb, Olive Garden-Style, house dressing imitation when watching her carb intake. This updated version is from her “Free Recipes/Information” sheet (2000):

Note: This particular copycat recipe is not included in Mom’s last book, Gloria Pitzer’s Cookbook – The Best of the Recipe Detective (Balboa Press, January 2018); however, there is a whole selection of other wonderful copycat recipes in the “Salads and Salad Dressings” chapter of the book. Remember, this book is also available in eBook format AND it is national “Read an eBook Week”! Enjoy!

Totally unrelated, is this fun little fact about this date in history: