Coming Soon!

It’s slowly coming together.

What?

mossbackcove

Why, THE MOSSBACK INN COOKBOOK!  

What is it?

Well, what I’ve tried to do is create a 1980s look in a cookbook, based on a fictional eatery that figures largely in my Traces of Treasure novel series.  Hey, I collect cookbooks I know what it’s supposed to look like.
The Mossback Inn is a recurrent setting in both books, a local sort of greasy spoon, a throwback to the fifties and sixties, trying to hang on in the eighties.  The owner, Smidgeon Toll, is a feisty businesswoman, a romantic foil to the hero of the books but she, in fact, carries a good bit of that load herself in the second book of the series.

It’s not going to be huge, but it will look like the type of cookbook a place like I’ve created in the book might publish privately, just as a sort of tourist keepsake.
Except — for now — it will only be an ebook and a pdf one at that.

Sure, the place is fictional, and the characters are fictional, but the recipes you’ll find inside are real.  The setting is in the southwest, so the focus is on recipes one would find in the southwest.  All are good, and some are surprising.  Best of all, this will be a freebie.

Here’s a preview from my web site.  While you’re there click on the “subscribe” tab and subscribe to my maiing list.  Subscribers will get first notice when it is ready.
Don’t worry, I think I’ve sent ONE mailing in the last several months, so I won’t be slamming your inbox.  But the next mailing will be about the book release.  Trust me, you don’t want to miss this.

http://thefensk.com/cook.html

You might also want to click around and see what the books are about.  You’ll be glad you did and I’ll be happy if you buy them.

Treasure!

This was book sale weekend at my favorite used bookstore.  Sadly, this weekend’s haul cost me about a buck more than in the past due to their huge price increase last month.  Just kidding … thirty-five cents a book on sale weekends is still an incredible deal, it’s just that Quarter Book Sale sounded so good — Thirty-Five-Cent Book Sale doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as nicely.

img_7474But I found treasure, literally.  The GOLDEN TREASURY OF COOKING, a Better Homes and Gardens publication from 1973.  The gleaming golden cover doesn’t photograph well, but, in a bit of irony, bad photography is why I love older BH&G books and this one does not disappoint in that respect.

You see, one common element of most 1950s-1960s-1970s cookbooks is the truly awful food photography.  img_7475I can not in any way, shape, or form imagine a book editor looking at some of these things and say “Yes, that’s exactly what I’m looking for.”  It isn’t just me.  James Lileks has created an industry out of making fun of these sorts of photos.  I just regret that he got there first.  Still, I can not resist picking up a BH&G book from that era. I probably have most of them. It’s like a horrible accident, you don’t want to see it but you can’t help but take a peek.  Then another. I’ll laugh out loud in the used bookstore aisle, even if I already have the book.

img_7486I mean, look at this Beef Wellington.
Just look at it!  Bleh.

Gordon Ramsay, if you’re by some accident reading my blog, I apologize.  It isn’t me … it’s in the book.  I’m just the messenger, please!
If I were served this in Hell’s Kitchen I would rush over to the window and yell out, “Shut it down!”

img_7478Here we have a marvelous example of truly bad food photography. I know what the top picture looks like. What it actually might be, really doesn’t matter, but what the heck?  I mean, remember what I said about photo editors?  Did they see this?  Why didn’t they say, “don’t give me a plate of crap, give me something that looks like food!”

The bottom picture doesn’t fare much better in the imagination.  Well, in my imagination it is a group of people in life jackets trying to survive the Titanic and failing.

img_7479Oh, one thing this book does is arrange itself chronologically.  To that end, as a first in modern (ala’ 1973) cookbooks, is include what amounts to a few centerfolds chronicling the various decades.
CENTERFOLDS!
I don’t know about you but the last thing I want in a cookbook is an extra-long page slipping out all over my countertop.  What were they thinking? Oddly, they are still pretty interesting, like a series of Sgt. Pepper montages. I love the propeller hat in this one … ah, those were the days.

img_7480I guess, for me, the most disturbing thing about their food photography is the abusive use of color.
Well, the fanciful pineapple on the ham is pretty bizarre too, but this entire scene is like some strange nightmare.
They often seemed to want to overuse the same colors “Let’s see … we’ve got reddish and brownish food, by golly I guess we need a reddish and brownish background.”

 

This is so common I’ve included two more examples. ugh.

img_7484img_7483

Then, there are some things that are just bizarre.

img_7481What is this … a mound of something?  … reminds me of the Blancmange from Monty Python, you know, when they came from the Andromeda Galaxy and sought to take over the world by winning at Wimbledon?
img_7482And what on earth are those things sitting in a skillet? Obviously, they are intended to be served in individual skillets.
Do I have to go out and buy four identical skillets now?   Is that a thing?

I guess, just maybe, possibly, that is a lemon cake?

Question: do I really want actual lemons on my cake? Inquiring minds want to know!

img_7477I’m convinced that these  last two food pictures inspired Dr. Suess in Grinch.
This simply HAS to be roast beast … two ways!

Well, the ham is okay, I guess, but I’m not sure what the garnish is.  Raw apple with lemon jello?

On top?  That has to be the foulest piece of fowl I’ve ever seen.  I’m surprised they gave it an honor guard.  Or did they?  I have no idea whatsoever what those little flowery things between the pseudo tomatoes are.

 

img_7485I’ll close with the classic 1970’s kitchen.  They included kitchen shots for each era. I don’t know, maybe we all were on drugs or something.  This sort of image comes up from time to time … listen, I lived in the 1970s and even look back on those years with some nostalgia.  If my kitchen had looked like this, well … hey, maybe it did and I’ve just blocked it out or something.  Although I do kinda like that light fixture …

So, it’s a good sized book, 302 pages with the index.  It is much bigger than the themed books BH&G put out in the era, but it is folio sized like them.  Lots of laughs all around.  Surprisingly, despite the unintended humor of the photography, the recipes in BH&G book aren’t that bad.  Most are simple and down to earth, easily approachable.  So, this is a double-sided treasure I guess.  Well worth the thirty-five cents I paid for it, don’t you think?

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In real life, That Crazy Cookbook Guy is writer Thomas Fenske.  You can find out more about him and his books at http://thefensk.com

 

 

Sad to Report …

I’ve talked a lot about my favorite used book store and their fabulous twenty-five cent sales one weekend a month. We just went to this month’s sale this past weekend only to find out that, sadly, the twenty-five cent sale is no more.  ☹️

The price on sale weekends is now THIRTY-FIVE cents.  Oh, well. I’ll just have to somehow accept the change. 

In other news. 

Merry Christmas to you and yours. I hope you get some nice cookbooks this year! 

That Crazy CookBook Guy also lurks as author Thomas Fenske.  To find out what he is up to:  http://thefensk.com

Chance Encounters

A while back, I was wandering through a gourmet food store in Chapel Hill, NC.  My lovely bride and I were on a quest for candy … and Southern Season has an awesome candy department.  We had decided to spend a small fortune on candy for a “candy bar” at our daughter’s upcoming wedding.  Ah, that’s a different story.  On our way to the candy, we passed by a book signing table.  Let me rephrase … a COOKBOOK signing table.

Now from past posts, we all know your Crazy Cookbook Guy can’t resist a signed book … no matter who signed it or when.  On the used cookbook circuit that could be anybody at any time, usually a nobody from years ago.  I am not a big fan of “celebrity” cookbooks but thumb through them looking for signed copies.

img_7223That “I am not a fan” thing might change.  This signing table was populated by an engaging young woman named Fanny Slater.  The cookbook?  ORANGE, LAVENDER & FIGS.  A couple of years ago, Fanny was the winner of Rachel Ray’s Great American Cookbook Competition.

Book signings can be a lonely thing.  Well, I was there close to the end, but she and her dad were just sitting there looking bored when the half-blind Crazy Cookbook Guy walked up.  We had quite an enjoyable conversation, me hawking my book and her hawking her book.  I guess she won.  I think she was teaching a cooking class just after that. 

Fanny is quite the entrepreneur, catering, book signings, cooking shows, appearances, cooking classes … just reading the schedule on her website tired me out.

The cookbook is very dynamic, full of personal stories and interesting recipes.  I know I usually copy recipes into my reviews but given the cookbook’s status (i.e. currently published … we all know I usually pull recipes from vintage cookbooks) I’ll do nothing more than mention a few that caught my eye.  The personal stories are what drew me in.  I love a cookbook with personal stories.

The recipes are modern but she has a unique take on modernizing  old favorites.  For instance, Spicy Pulled Chicken And Roasted Garlic Soup is a take-off on a classic tortilla soup.  And there are a few eye-catching newbies, like what she calls FAN Sauce.  I guess “FAN” refers to her … I couldn’t quite figure it out but I won’t be surprised to see FAN SAUCE on the shelf one of these days.   I don’t care, it looks delicious.   I can’t wait to try it.

Her Herby Buttermilk Dill Dressing is a healthier reboot of a ranch dressing.  That’s another one I’m going to have to try.  Her Creamy Pulled Chicken Salad and Bacon Wraps is another one … well, I could go on and on.  If I lived next door to her I know I’d weigh 1000 pounds!

img_7224I bought this cookbook several months ago, but I had a problem with cataracts at the time … I kept putting off reading the cookbook simply because I couldn’t read.  For a collector of vintage cookbooks, buying a new one is always an interesting opportunity.  Okay, she was funny and cute and we talked about a lot more than just cooking … like book marketing.  All authors struggle with that.  And it was an opportunity to get a really nice cookbook signed … to ME!  That is actually a unique addition to my collection.  Looks good, right?

Now it is even more special  … Fanny has just announced a new endeavor.  Food Network TV Star.  In January she’ll be part of a new show … The Kitchen Sink!  And to think, I met her when she was just … well, she’s been on TV a lot already, guest shots on Rachel Ray and other shows and she has her own segments on local TV in Wilmington NC … so in my book,  she’s already a star.  More info on Fanny Slater can be found at her website … http://fannyslater.com/

I give this cookbook two thumbs up … if you are looking for a last minute gift idea this year, this might be a good option for you.

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That Crazy Cookbook Guy’s alter ego is Author Thomas Fenske … his latest novel, A CURSE THAT BITES DEEP, is currently available too … another fine gift idea.  More info at http://thefensk.com

 

 

Caramel Knowledge

Yeah, that’s the title, Caramel Knowledge.   Published in 1988, it’s a little newer (28 years ago?) a book than I like to collect but as we all know, I’m a sucker for a catchy title.  Author Al Sicherman was a long time Food Writer/Food Editor for the Minneapolis Star & Tribune and this book pulls from his work on the newspaper.

I’ve got a collection of old food section cutouts, mostly saved from my dad, and I can tell you from experience that the recipes in this book are from the heyday of food sections.  You see, children, in them olden daze we didn’t have no new-fangled corn-pewters, or the world-wide-webernet to read about food or recipes or cooking.  We had the food section of the newspaper.  It WAS our internet.

Today the food section is a tiny vestigial part of the already diminished entity we know as a newspaper, but in the 60s/70s/80s, it was a big deal.  You looked forward to the food section, especially as holidays like Thanksgiving approached.  It was a selling point of subscriptions, it was informative, entertaining, and, as we see from Sicherman’s work here, a lot of fun.  This is not just a cookbook, it is a collection of the accompanying articles and it is a fun read.

He’s got standards, like Impossible Pumpkin Pie and Sauerkraut Fudge Cake, but he’s also got a lot of fun and interesting recipes highlighted in this book, like Choclava, Bostess Bupcakes, Herring in a Cloud, Chuck & Chick, Orange You Glad We Have Turkey?, and Mockaguole.  I often take pictures of recipes I mention but the format, embedded as part of the various articles, makes that impractical.  You’ll just have to take my word for it.

I wish I could have experienced the world of Al in his heyday but I found him on Facebook, I think I might drop him a message.  Fun, fun stuff.

A Cake Walk

img_6129

This book was almost an afterthought.  It’s big.  I don’t go in much for large format books.  They take up a lot of shelf space and shelf space is one thing lacking in my house.  But I thumbed through it and … well, I immediately told myself the same thing I’m going to tell you right now:  “You gotta get this book!”

The Victorian Book of Cakes is a reprint of a book from over a hundred years ago, and it was probably THE guidebook for exquisite cake baking around the latter part of the Victorian era.  There are recipes and guides, lovely color plates, illustrations, and a treasure-trove of ads for ancient baking equipment.

Here are just a couple of pictures from within.  I could go on and on about what I like about this book but once again, if you collect cookbooks, this is probably one you want to get for yourself.

img_6130I’ll leave you with two pictures, one a multi-tiered cake … I want a piece right now.   The other is one of the ads inside the book … for a piece of industrial strength cake mixing equipment.  Wasn’t this the same mixer Charly learned to use in the movie “Charly,” the film remake of “Flowers for Algernon?”img_6132

No matter.

If you are interested in baking, cakes, frosting, pastries -or- if you just like to collect cool cookbooks, find a copy.  Buy this book!

 

 

 

Thomas Fenske is a novelist living in North Carolina.  He also collects cookbooks.  For more information:  http://www.thefensk.com

 

Cereal Killing

The bookstore where I browse now has five aisles with a jumbled up mess of cookbooks.  There is no rhyme or reason to the book placement, but sometimes when I am scanning the shelves I get the hint of a theme for the day’s search.  This past weekend I hit on such a theme when I found three breakfast cereal-themed cookbooks!

img_6108

The first was “Cooking With Snap, Crackle, Pop & _____”

It’s a small book, kid-oriented.  Let’s face it, Rice Krispie Treats are one of the first things a kid learns to cook, or at least used to be before they started marketing them commercially.  Now?  Why bother, I guess.  Still, this 1998 publication tries to keep the tradition alive.  The “recipes” are basically variations on their own theme.

Still, it is an ingenious little book … starting from the cover which allows young cooks to personalize their book with their name and their picture if they want to … see the cutout?

img_6110I chose only one of the variations … little baskets.  Basically, you use a muffin tin to form your treats into little basket shapes.  My wife made these one Easter … made them into little Easter baskets with jelly beans as eggs and even added a pipe cleaner for a handle.  They were pretty cool.  All of the recipes follow this same theme … making things with Rice Krispie treats … Well, ya gotta start somewhere, right?

Well-made, with nice production values and high-quality stock which is a good plan when you are expecting little kids to be cooking.  It also has a nice intro to what one will need, and some basic cooking tools and stresses safety very strongly on the first page.  Kid’s book,  yes, but it’s a nice book.

img_6107Moving on to another flashy, eye-catching commercial book, trying to capitalize on the supposed novelty of using breakfast cereal as anything but … well, breakfast cereal.  The Breakfast Cereal Gourmet hardly lives up to its name.  It has one redeeming feature, it has a lot of images of classic box covers, and intersperses the text with “interesting” facts like, like the information that former president George H. W. Bush likes to crumble chocolate candy bars on his cereal.

It’s a “hype” book that doesn’t live up to its hype.  It includes a lot of blank space, which is irritating.  It is almost like a kid book, but unlike the previous book, which IS a kid book and is delightful, this one is way overdone and, really, although I guess a kid could enjoy some of the useless factoids, even they would get tired of flipping pages to see more of nothing.

img_6111A cursory examination of the recipes left me similarly disappointed.  They get lost in the overly-glitzy presentation … it seems the authors almost included them as an afterthought like “Oh, yeah, this is supposed to be a cookbook.”

Take this one … and I just picked one at random.  Mocha-cocoa Towers made with Cocoa Puffs.  You might notice that the entire recipe is not featured.  That’s because, in the interest of wasting space, most of the recipes span multiple pages.  I call this poor cookbook production.  There might be a reason to cut a recipe in two but they so waste space stretching this book out they did it like it was a bodily function.  If you really want this horrendous recipe, I’ll include it in the comments.  If you really want it.  Trust me, you don’t.

img_6105Now we get to what is, surprisingly, a real cereal cookbook.  The Kellogg’s Cookbook, from the Kellogg Kitchens edited by Judith Choate, is a 2006 publication that is a real cookbook with real recipes.

Sure, there are traditional uses for a lot of cereals, like bran muffins and coating for fried chicken.  They’re in the book … but they are not flashy “let’s see what else we can do” things to catch your eye.  They are “I’ve got this on the shelf and I’ll get some added value from this ingredient” sort of recipes, the kind Kellogg would include on the box!  In fact, that’s probably where most of these came from.

 

img_6113What I chose to include, and it was difficult to make a choice, was Corn Flake Banana Bread.  Something reasonable, using an unusual ingredient but it is mainstream enough that I thought … well, hey, I’d like to try it.  As you can see it looks like a cookbook recipe, all on one page, clearly defined …  it tells the reader you want to make this recipe.

We make a green bean casserole for holidays, a family favorite, that includes Corn Flakes as part of the topping (Not THE green bean casserole everybody makes, this one is much better) and I always have about 3/4 of a box of corn flakes left.  Now I know what I’m going to use them for.

So, maybe I didn’t make a cereal killing this weekend, but I’m out, what, seventy-five cents?  The Krispies cookbook is unique and I love the Kellog’s cookbook, so I’ll keep the other one around as part of a set.  Who knows, maybe I’ll find more and can build another mini-collections on the same theme

Lowcarb Cake and Donuts

Okay, let me admit up front, the headline is a total lie, but I thought it was a good intro for today’s cookbook. I picked up Dorothy Horn’s Christmas Treats Cook Book from Guam U.S.A. during this weekend’s monthly quarter sale.  Okay, I guess the title isn’t technically being deceptive. It was indeed penned by Dorothy Horn. It does contain dozens of recipes for Christmas treats. Oh, and, Dorothy is famous as a Guam based food writer. In fact, I’ve been told by a friend from Guam, that Dorothy’s SPAM cookbook is a must (sigh, something else to look for).

But make no mistake, this is not a Guamanian Christmas treat cookbook. It is not a bad Christmas treat cookbook, but it was not what I was expecting. Okay, the bad news is out of the way … there are no low carb cakes & donuts here and there are preciously few Guamanian recipes.

Ah, but it IS a pretty fair little Christmas cookbook.

I Picked four recipes to share.

 These Stained Window Cookies are a version of a cookie we make almost every year in our house, but we call them Cathedral Windows. The “stained glass” effect is due to the multi-colored marshmallows that comprise the bulk of the cookie. They are pretty and delicious but alas, around here brightly colored marshmallows seem to have been forever replaced with pastel. Still nice, but not like they used to be.
This page was a two-fer, mostly because they are at such widely divergent sides of the spectrum of reality.
ITALIAN RUM CAKE … okay, I can see that as a holiday treat. But on the same page with SCRAPPLE? I picked these just because of the complex association of these two recipes in close proximity. Must be a Guam thing.
This last recipe was chosen just for the name … who could resist something with a name like AUNT BEAT’S BORSHCH?  Get it? Beat’s? Borshch was her spelling, not mine. Who knows, it might be Aunt Beat’s spelling.

So, in short, if you want a Guamanian cookbook, get another one.  Sure, I’d still like to get my hands on that SPAM cookbook but for a quarter I guess this one will do.

Huevos Rancheros Especial

 I came up with the idea for this dish in my novel, The Fever.  It was a gooey, cheesy, combination of enchiladas and eggs.

My friend, Hilah, over at the Hilah Cooking YouTube channel, decided to do me one better by not only making it, but improving it.

Check out her video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uddl-KOO2-s

Then … go buy my book to find out what it’s all about.

http://www.thefensk.com

There are nineteen good reviews over at amazon, and, hey, I’ve only got three sisters and almost no, friends so somebody’s got to like it, right?

Fickle Finger of Fame

Originally posted on my other blog, http://thomasfensk.wordpress.com

I’ve always secretly wished someone would name a sandwich after me. That has long been my theoretical high-water mark of fame. I’ve just about given up on that one, but I’ve always subscribed to the notion that if the wind is just right, sometimes a wisp of fame might blow across one’s brow. I feel […]

https://thomasfenske.wordpress.com/2016/04/07/fickle-finger-of-fame/