Mondays & Memories of My Mom – Bring on the Holidays!

Happy Monday, everyone; and happy November, too! Thank you for visiting and…

The fall/winter holidays are upon us now. For many, the countdown to “the holidays” began with the onset of the autumn solstice. Now that Halloween has passed us by, it’s only 24 more days until Thanksgiving! About four weeks after that, is the start of our winter solstice, Hanukkah (also spelled Chanukah or Chanukkah), Christmas and Kwanza celebrations – all within a few days of each other.

Not only that, but in the week following those events, the 2020 new year’s festivities begin. Blink your eyes again and suddenly the Super Bowl festivities will be here, followed by Valentine’s Day a couple of weeks later and, then, St. Patrick’s Day a few more weeks after that – and all before the spring solstice arrives in March!

Nonetheless, all of those many fall/winter holidays that are still to come will, seemingly, be here and gone before you know it – so, start preparing now by making checklists and you won’t forget or miss anything. Even Santa makes lists (and checks them twice) to stay organized during the hustle-and-bustle of the holidays. In addition, you’ll also be better able to enjoy the holidays and the gatherings, yourself. After all, who wants to feel stressed out and/or left out during the holidays, while trying to “get it all done” at the last minute?

Illustration by Gloria Pitzer

ADVICE FROM MOM’S MEMORIES…

As seen in…

Gloria Pitzer’s Secret Recipes Newsletter (Secret RecipesTM, St. Clair MI; Nov-Dec 1989, p. 4)

THANKSGIVING

The make-ahead dishes for the thanksgiving dinner will help to relieve the cook of those last-minute chores and this leaves more time to enjoy the company. After all, the reason we gather together on this occasion is not to make the food more important than those with whom we share the feast.

A list of what you intend to serve is the first thing to take care of. From this you make up the grocery needs and the dishes that can be prepared…in advance…and then checked off the list so [you] can see [of] what is left to take care. It sounds to some like ‘work’ but cooking for a big group is not as much WORK as it can be a LABOR of love and the efforts you put into the party will be well-appreciated when the day arrives. These occasions are what memories are made of and memories can be quite comforting!

Mom made creative cooking a new art form when she pioneered the copycat cookery movement over 45 years ago. Before Mom began writing and publishing her own newsletters and cookbooks, she wrote many satirical stories in her syndicated food columns about not being a good cook when she and Dad were first married.

I only knew Mom as a great cook, myself; so I don’t know how much was fabricated for humor’s sake and how much was based on truth. But, like any craftsman, Mom was always fine-tuning her kitchen skills with all of her experiences over the decades.

For every holiday gathering she hosted or to which she took a dish-to-pass – even with only a few ingredients on hand – Mom was a combination of Copperfield and DaVinci (creating, both, magic and art) in the kitchen! There’s a great article called “Cooking Is An Art: What Makes A Chef An Artist, Craftsman And Visionary” by Colt Taylor (Jul 3, 2014) that I enjoyed reading. Check it out at https://www.elitedaily.com/life/culture/chef-artist-craftsman-visionary/632690!

Illustration by Gloria Pitzer

MORE PASSAGES FROM MOM’S MEMORIES…

As seen in…

Gloria Pitzer’s Secret Recipes Newsletter (Secret RecipesTM, St. Clair MI; Sep-Oct 1987)

MADE WITH LOVE

When you cook with skill, you need experience and knowledge – plus, courage to risk various combinations of ingredients of what you might only suspect will be compatible enough to produce a harmonious result. The divine principle of good cooking is not a secret! It is taking pleasure in the activity, in the information previously retained and called upon through the facilities of memory. The spirit of good cooking is individualistic. It is not shrouded in mystery – but in love, for what you are doing and for whom you are doing it! (p. 1)

SOMETHING MORE

No two cooks are ever going to have identical results with the same recipe. If such a promise accompanied all recipes, cooking would be an exact science – which it is not. Cooking is an art BASED on science. A recipe is a guideline, not a litigation! Just as you can’t tell which way the train went by looking at the tracks, neither can you tell how difficult a dish is by looking at the recipe! (p. 2)

Illustration by Gloria Pitzer

FAMOUS DISHES AREN’T REALLY ALL THAT DIFFICULT TO DUPLICATE

The first thing you have to do is stop thinking of yourself as a COOK and start thinking as a CHEMIST! You want to take a substance and try to discover its individual components – whereas, most cooks make the mistake of starting with one ingredient and building around it.

Your task is to take the final result and break it down… working backwards from the creations of the skilled cook, who usually stirs up a piece of culinary artistry with just a ‘pinch’ of this and a ‘dollop’ of that and a ‘dash’ of something else.

Start with questioning yourself about the food you wish to duplicate… What color is it? What’s the texture like? How is it flavored? And, how is it prepared? [Also,] you must have something to which you can compare it – a basic recipe from which you can draw the ingredients that lay the groundwork for a duplicated masterpiece. [At that point,] the only way to duplicate a dish is, really, to taste and test – over and over, until you eventually achieve what you feel are satisfactory results. (p. 6)

Photo by Susan L. Tusa for an article about Mom in People Magazine (May 7, 1990; p. 81)

Mom inspired many reluctant cooks with her reliable recipes. Having the Secret RecipesTM detective as my mom certainly made my learning experiences in the kitchen, experimenting with food and seasonings, exciting and rewarding!

I rarely ever cook the same dish the same way, twice because I love to try out different food and seasoning combinations. Especially now, with my low-carb life-style. I’m so delighted and proud to have learned the art of cooking from one of the best – I love you, Mom!

I am often hearing wonderful memories from others who’ve shared the same fantastic learning experiences, with their own moms, through my mom’s cookbooks and newsletters. I love to hear how much Mom touched the lives of others and created special memories on which they can reminisce and recreate for future generations to experience – almost like traditions!

Illustration by Gloria Pitzer

MORE FOOD-FOR-THOUGHT FROM MOM’S MEMORIES…

As seen in…

The Secret Restaurant Recipes Book (National Homemakers Newsletter, Pearl Beach, MI; January 1977)

COOKING IS BOTH, ART & SCIENCE

Cooking is not only an art, but also a science; and, when you’re trying to imitate the recipe secrets of famous restaurant and fast food chain dishes, you must work like a chemist – not a cook! You don’t have to have a background in food chemistry to identify various ingredients. The only thing I have in common with a chemist is curiosity…

Some of the famous dishes of the food industry, today [1976-1977], are vastly oversold to a very gullible public. We’ve become a television oriented society and, because the commercials are, sometimes, so much better than the programs they sponsor…

While the products don’t really come out of test tubes and laboratory beakers, they do come from combinations of ingredients that produce desired results. What you have to strive for, in imitating any recipe, is the right combination. Trial and error is the only way to arrive at a satisfactory result! (p. 1)

AN ENCOR OF PASSAGES FROM MOM’S MEMORIES…

As seen in…

Gloria Pitzer’s Secret Recipes Newsletter (Secret RecipesTM, St. Clair MI; Nov-Dec 1989, p. 1)

WHOLESOME, HEALTHY, HEARTY MEALS…

[Those] pretty well describe the heart and soul of good home cooking! We’re reminded of warm, roomy kitchens full of wonderful mingling aromas – where our mothers and grandmothers made marvelous meals from scratch [and] when cooking was not as much a job as it was a joy! What we seem to have forgotten is that the art of good basic cooking practices has not been lost because we have less time.

The art has been lost because the interest in it has dwindled. We still have the same number of hours in our day that Grandma had in hers. We even have less manual labor to perform than she did in her day, but we don’t always think so. Making the time is what it really takes when reluctance sets in. However, when the chips are down, the reluctant cook wants reliable recipes to work with – not masterpieces…

As seen in…

Eating Out at Home Cookbook (Nat’l Home News, St. Clair, MI; Sep. 1978, p. 1)

A PHILOSOPHY

A whole approach to life, can be expressed in a bowl of soup. For ‘cooking’, as everyone is so fond of saying, ‘is an art.’ It’s an art we all can learn. As with the other arts, practicing it competently requires care, patience and the skill that comes with experience. But, above all else, to be a good cook, you must WANT to.

At one time or another, most of us have had the experience of cooking when we really didn’t feel like doing it, Then, even our tried-and-true recipes are apt to be disappointing [and] lifeless. Something just isn’t there.

What’s missing is the spirit of the cook. For food is more than a physical substance. It has an intangible quality that nourishes our spirits. A good dish, lovingly prepared, at some point in the process of tasting and blending, becomes more than the sum of its ingredients. Its flavor [and] its uniqueness are created by the cook.

YOU WILL FIND PLEASURE AND EXCITEMENT IN COOKING, IF YOU PUT THEM INTO IT…

There’s no limit to the satisfaction you can gain. Taste as you go. Experiment with a little with seasonings. Try new foods and new combinations [of food]. The results will have ‘you’ in them. You will face the job with a feeling of freedom, with a feeling of creativeness; and, both, you and your family will be constantly increasing the enjoyment of living.

When you cook this way, with warmth and active pleasure, your meals will be more than just food. Your zest and your spirit will be in them – and some of the radiance of Life, itself.

‘[At a potluck,] the best way to tell how successful a dish will be is to look for the first one to disappear. Find the cook & get the recipe!’ – Gloria Pitzer, Gloria Pitzer’s Secret Recipes Newsletter (Secret RecipesTM, St. Clair MI; Sep-Oct 1990)

Mom would always describe her newsletter issues as being “like getting together…for coffee with friends.” Writing was Mom’s “happy place”. She often said, of her newsletters, “it’s like getting together…for coffee with friends.”

I can certainly relate to that now. I love writing these weekly blog entries about my memories of Mom and how she’s impacted my life, as well as so many others’ lives. As I said above, I love hearing from others about their memories in the kitchen with their moms, creating special dishes or treats from my mom’s recipes.

Please continue to send me your memories and stories of how Mom touched your lives at therecipedetective@outlook.com – I look forward to hearing from you!

IN CLOSING…

When I think of November, feel-good, warm-up-the-innards kind of meals, I often think of hearty soups. The following is Mom’s copycat imitation for a cheesy potato soup like the one she enjoyed at a local Bob Evans restaurant. Mom called her imitation “Bob Oven’s Potato & Cheese Soup”.

Gloria Pitzer’s Cookbook – The Best of the Recipe Detective is available for sale, at $20.99 each, through the publisher, Balboa Press, at https://www.balboapress.com/Bookstore/BookDetail.aspx?BookId=SKU-001062252; it’s also available in eBook form, for $3.99, at https://www.balboapress.com/Bookstore/BookDetail.aspx?BookId=SKU-001062253

Beginagain’s Awesome Potato Cheese Soup

Beginagain’s Awesome Potato Cheese Soup

By Gloria Pitzer,  as seen on her Fall Media Free Offer sheet (2002-2004)

Ingredients:

14-oz. can drained, whole potatoes (cut up)

2 cans (10-oz. each) Campbell’s Chicken Broth

10-oz. can cream of chicken soup

12-oz. tub whipped cream cheese (original)

1 TB dry minced onion

16 square saltine crackers, blender-ground to fine powder

season salt and pepper, to taste

Instructions:

In medium sauce pan, on medium heat, combine all but the cracker crumbs, stirring until cheese melts. Bring to serving temperature, then stir in cracker powder and heat for 3 minutes or so to let crumbs dissolve to thicken the soup. Add season salt and pepper, to taste. Divide between 6 soup bowls and garnish the top of each with 1 TB Hormel’s Real Bacon Pieces, scissor-snipped green onions and 1 TB shredded sharp cheddar cheese.

Mondays & Memories of My Mom – The Secret Recipes Detective

Happy Monday, everybody!

Tomorrow is the 1-year anniversary of my launching this blog, Mondays & Memories of My Mom. I started this to honor my mom’s legacy as the ORIGINAL Secret RecipesTM Detective. The title, Recipe DetectiveTM, which Mom eventually trademarked, was bestowed on her in the mid-1970s by the Detroit area radio listeners of Bob Allison’s “Ask Your Neighbor” show, as she continuously called in with answers to recipe quandaries on how to make just about anything; and she, forever, savored the honor!

Early on, as a mother of five ravenous, young children on a tight household budget, Mom had a knack for discovering ways to imitate fast food and junk food, as well as famous restaurant dishes and grocery items right at home, in her own kitchen, with what she had on hand – no fancy gadgets or expensive, hard-to-find ingredients. Mom liked to claim that her gadgets were always hard to find because we kids would take them for playing with in the sand box.

But, I think Mom’s pioneer trailblazing of the copycat recipes movement for imitating fast food and junk food, in particular, was the ultimate carving out of a totally unique niche that no other person, at that time, had ever attempted. For decades, great restaurants have put out cookbooks of recipes of their famous dishes – The Blueberry Hills Cookbook by Elsie Masterton was probably Mom’s favorite – but, no one else was doing recipes to mimic the fast food and junk food markets that were considered taboo by the food critics!

Mom and Phil Donahue, 1993

Mom’s copycat recipes revolution took the nation by storm and washed over the world – thanks to the Phil Donahue Show – like a tidal wave! Ever since her early cookbooks on the subject were first released in the mid-1970s, Mom referred to her copycat imitations as her solutions to “eating out – at home”, and that, she’d add, no longer meant hot dogs on the grill, outside, in the yard!

Word spread like a wildfire that a small town, Michigan housewife was duplicating famous foods from famous places and sharing her secrets in her self-published newsletter issues and cookbooks! Radio stations, newspapers, magazines and television – they all picked up on the story and it snowballed from there.

Sometimes, Mom received letters from her readers, people across the country and around the world, who didn’t have the same products in their area that Mom used in some of her recipes, asking what they should use in its place. That inspired her to create even more recipes for ingredients that were expensive or hard to find in certain regions. She was always focused on saving families money because that also benefitted her own family.

Secret RecipesTM was Mom’s legacy of love – even before it actually became Secret RecipesTM. It all stemmed from her passion for writing. Although, Mom’s original writing aspirations, when she was a young girl (influenced by a movie about the Bronte sisters), was to write a great American novel; she believed that Devine Intervention detoured her to write about other things, but never away from writing, itself.

Every success Mom had in writing, was usually centered around cooking and homemaking – from the many essay contests that she entered and won to her multiple careers in the newspaper field to writing her own columns and cartoon panels and, then, her own newsletter publication, along with multitudes of cookbooks (which she also published and promoted herself).

Writing was never a hobby to Mom. She used to say that being a writer isn’t what she did but, rather, who she was! In a lot of her publishings, Mom loved to say that, while she made a worthwhile living at writing, it was her writing that made living worthwhile. My mom had a special talent for combining food for thought with food for the soul, as well as food for the table – usually sprinkled with a dash of sarcastic humor – in almost all of her publishings.

FROM MOM’S MEMORIES…

As seen in…

Gloria Pitzer’s Cookbook – The Best of the Recipe Detective (Balboa Press; Jan. 2018, p. 6)

IT ALL STARTED WITH THE STROKE OF A PEN

I DO, WITH RECIPES, WHAT RICH LITTLE DOES WITH VOICES! Imitating the ‘Secret Recipes’ of the food industry has been an exciting experience for me. The critics felt that “fast foods” and restaurant dishes were not worth the effort to duplicate at home, when you can just as easily buy the products already prepared!

The critics who contend that ‘fast foods’ are ‘junk foods’ and not good for us, have probably never prepared these foods themselves. Certainly, they have no access to the closely guarded recipes from the food companies that created these dishes, as there are only a few people in each operation that are permitted the privilege of such information! So, 99% of the critics’ speculations are based on their own opinions.

To know what these dishes contained, they’d have to be better chemists than I, as I have tested over 20,000 recipes with only the finished product as my guide to determine what each contained. ‘Fast foods’ are not ‘junk foods’ unless they’re not properly prepared. Any food that is poorly prepared (and just as badly presented) is junk!

Unfortunately, ‘fast food’ has carried a reputation, by default, of containing ingredients that are ‘harmful’ to us. Yet, they contain the same ingredients as those foods served in the ‘finer’ restaurants with wine stewards, linen tablecloths, candlelight, coat-check attendants, and parking valets; which separate the plastic palaces of ‘fast food’ from the expensive dining establishments.

One ‘eats’ at McDonald’s, but ‘dines’ at The Four Seasons. Steak and potato or hamburger and French fries – the ingredients are practically the same. How they are prepared makes the difference!

In the early 70s, I was trying to juggle marriage, motherhood, homemaking and a newspaper column syndicated through Columbia Features, when it seemed obvious to me that there wasn’t a single cookbook on the market that could help me take the monotony out of mealtime. There was not a single recipe in the newspaper’s food section that did not smack of down-home dullness!

‘Okay,’ they said at the newspaper I worked for, ‘YOU write the column on foods and recipes that YOU think would really excite the readers and make them happy!’ I did, but that didn’t make the Editors happy, because it made their [food industry] advertisers miserable. When I was told that I’d have to go back to monotonous meatloaf and uninteresting side-dishes that made mealtime a ritual rather than a celebration or pick up my check, I told them to ‘MAIL it to me!’ I went home to start my own paper!

It was probably a dumb thing to do, amid an economic recession with the highest rate of unemployment I had ever experienced, but it was worth the risk. I was a dedicated writer that new someone had to give homemakers something more than what they were being given in the colored glossy magazines, where a bowl of library paste could even be photographed to look appetizing!

…THEY LAUGHED! THEY DOUBTED! They even tried to take me to court when some famous food companies insisted that I stop giving away their secrets. They couldn’t believe me when I said that I did NOT know, nor did I want to know, what they put in their so-called secret recipes. I did know that there are very few recipes that can’t be duplicated or imitated at home. And we could do them for much less than purchasing the original product. I proved…it can be and should be done!

FAMOUS FOODS FROM FAMOUS PLACES have intrigued good cooks for a long time… There is speculation among the critics as to the virtues of re-creating, at home, the foods that you can buy ‘eating out’, such as the fast food fares of the popular franchise restaurants. To each, his own! Who would want to imitate ‘fast food’ at home?

I found that over a million people who saw me demonstrate replicating some famous fast food products [the FIRST time I was] on The Phil Donahue Show (July 7, 1981) DID – and their letters poured in at a rate of over 15,000 a day for months on end! And while I have investigated the recipes, dishes, and cooking techniques of ‘fine’ dining rooms around the world, I received more requests from people who wanted to know how to make things like McDonald’s Special Sauce or General Foods Shake-N-Bake coating mix or White Castle’s hamburgers than I received for those things like Club 21’s Coq Au Vin.

I inherited Mom’s love for writing (among other things) and, now, that has become my legacy of love also, as I carry on her torch, telling her story in this blog. It really became my own legacy of love in 2015, when I began helping Mom rewrite her favorite, self-published cookbook, Gloria Pitzer’s Better Cookery Cookbook. Shortly before Mom passed away in January 2018, it was published by Balboa Press, under the title Gloria Pitzer’s Cookbook – The Best of the Recipe Detective, in hopes to inspire a new generation – especially the digital generation, as it’s now available as an eBook too!

I can only hope that I’ve made my mom proud of how I’ve been keeping her torch lit and shining bright by telling her story… her legacy of love… with regards especially to this blog series, as well as to the website and her last cookbook; developing and promoting them, in her memory and honor, with all of the love and passion that she inspires in me.

Mom was such a huge influence on who I grew to be that I feel compelled to keep her torch lit and shining bright! Her love of writing and cooking and inspiring others in the same was, to me, one of the biggest parts of her legacy. It wasn’t something she did just for our family, but for all families.

My mom continues to inspire me every time I read her works… every time I write an entry for this blog… every time I hear from a reader who remembers Mom and has a story to tell me about their memories of her. It all inspires me to take this blog and her website to new heights in her honor. It’s still a work in progress. I’ll be honest – it’ll probably always be a work in progress, as I’ll always continue to evolve as a writer/blogger.

One of my favorite and youngest memories of Mom & I is from the summer before I turned 4 and she was teaching me how to write my name and address before I went to school that September – from showing me how to hold the pencil in my little fingers to how to draw the letters and form the words by putting those wonderful letters together…I can remember it well.

Something else Mom inspired in me is my passion to continually learn new things. Besides being grateful for something every day, Mom would also promote learning something new every day. From that, I’ve determined, every day is a defining moment for each and every one of us, in which experience, faith and knowledge, all together, influence our personal evolutions. That’s why we should seize those moments and those days and do our best to make the most out of them!

IN CLOSING…

Although, Labor Day was a couple weeks ago, marking the unofficial start to the fall season; next Monday is actually the official first day of Autumn 2019! When I think of the fall season, I think of warm, slow-cooker meals, soups and chili. With that in mind, I want to share Mom’s recipe for a potato-cheese soup like Bennigan’s, which Mom called “Beginagain’s Awesome Potato Cheese Soup”.

Gloria Pitzer’s Cookbook – The Best of the Recipe Detective is available for sale, at $20.99 each, through the publisher, Balboa Press, at https://www.balboapress.com/Bookstore/BookDetail.aspx?BookId=SKU-001062252; it’s also available in eBook form, for $3.99, at https://www.balboapress.com/Bookstore/BookDetail.aspx?BookId=SKU-001062253