American Novelties

For one reason or another, I always get really into old timey music around this time of year. Last year, I made a playlist of (mostly) ’30s, ’40s and ’50s music after watching Hannah and Her Sisters during Hurricane Sandy. I started out with music from that film and others by Woody Allen and kind of went from there. It became my go-to mix for the holiday season. (You can listen to it here.) I played it while cooking two different Thanksgiving dinners and…I still listen to it sometimes while I’m cooking.



Anyway, this year I’ve been all about novelty songs. I think this all started with my brief Annette Funicello obsession last month. The Mouseketeer and “Beach Party” queen had quite a few (good/really catchy) novelty hits. I’m still never really sure if a song qualifies as a “novelty”, but if it’s goofy, nonsensical or (eep!) kinda culturally insensitive, it goes on my list. (I’m focusing on pre-1965 songs, so I’m sorry to say that there won’t be any Weird Al on the list. ) I’ll probably debut this mix at a party next month, but in the meantime, I thought I’d share some of the more notable/weirder things I’ve been listening to.



I remember hearing this song for the first time when I was a kid at my grandmother’s house. I feel like we must have been watching Nick at Nite because that was something I did a lot at my grandma’s. Anyway, the song got stuck in my head immediately. I found this video of Brian Hyland performing it on The Dick Clark Show in July of 1960. It is very, very, very weird. (Also, this song was a #1 hit.)





This is another song I remember hearing – and getting stuck in my head all the time – when I was very young. There was a collection of Shirley Temple films released sometime in the 1990s that was constantly advertised on television. It featured clips from many of the films, including a clip from Curly Top of the scene where she sings this song.





I mentioned before that I got super into Annette Funicello last month. This song, on her cleverly titled Hawaiannette album, was a hit for her. The lyrics are almost offensive in their depiction of “Hawaii” – Hawaii = bananas, surfing, coconuts, nonsense words, alligators, bamboo, a lot of other weird things – but I still love this song so, so much.





This song is just silly. Below you will find the song playing over a really strange short film from the 1940s made for Chiquita.





Because it’s almost Halloween!


Recipe Test: Apple Strudel

Hello! It’s been a while since I shared a recipe. I’ve been trying to shake a lingering cold-thing for like, almost two weeks. I haven’t felt much like cooking.

But! Last Saturday I made an apple strudel. We were having an Oktoberfest get-together that day. Also, I’m recommencing my German studies next week. Apple strudel was on-theme for the party AND my life.

I wouldn’t say that making this was…hard? There was just a lot to it that I hadn’t really done before. I used James Peterson’s recipe from Baking, which I’m finding I like less and less as I try different things. (Well, that banana cream pie turned out to be amazing, but I just can’t get to seem the pie dough right anytime I try to do it James’s way.)


kneading dough in the living room


I started the apple strudel by making the dough. Once all of the dough ingredients (bread flour, water, vegetable oil, salt) are combined you have to knead it for fifteen minutes or until it is smooth. I don’t normally make things where kneading is part of the process, so this was new for me. I had to make a little work station in our living room because my roommates were busy making other things in the kitchen. Kneading dough for fifteen minutes on a coffee table ain’t easy.


strudel dough

strudel dough


After that, I prepared the filling (apples, rum-soaked raisins, walnuts and sugar) while the dough rested. Not gonna like, every time I smell rum I think of throwing up into a trash can in my freshman dorm, so I kind of immediately regretted soaking the raisins in rum. But hey, I was following a recipe and that’s what it told me to do. Actually, it told me that I could also soak the raisins in water, Cognac or grappa and I went for the rum because I like to punish myself in small ways all the time.

Then it was time to stretch out the dough! What I didn’t realize before I decided to make apple strudel was that you have to stretch the dough out until it’s very thin, into a 2×3 foot rectangle, place the filling on the dough and then, somehow, roll the whole thing up. It took me a really, really long time to get the dough stretched out to be long and wide enough to roll the filling up once. It tore in a few places, but that ended up not being a problem.




I brushed the dough with melted butter and arranged the filling in a line at one end. Then, I placed the strudel ingredients (sour cream, melted butter and bread crumbs) on top. I was nervous to roll it all up in the dough because it was kind of heavy, but my friend Becky helped me keep everything together. It ended up being so large that we had to lay it diagonally on a cookie sheet. The recipe said to bake the apple strudel for 60 minutes at 350. I ended up baking it for a little under 60 minutes and I thought it was probably overdone.

I’d love to show you a picture of what this thing looked like, but I forgot to take one. It looked like a bizarro version of the one pictured in the cookbook. It also looked homey and German and good. But…I finished baking it right before our party started and then I started drinking and being a hostess and we didn’t serve it until after dinner, by which time I was really in the swing of drinking and being a hostess. So in the swing of it that I dusted the strudel we served with some mixture of powdered sugar and something else that was in our cupboard, instead of straight up powdered sugar. So, sorry to you dudes who had to eat that! Hope it wasn’t too terrible. I ate some of the untainted strudel and I can report that it was…fine. I wouldn’t rush to make this again but I think it’s a good thing to have in my back pocket, especially if I go to any German- or aumtumn-themed parties in the future. (Now I’m thinking about literally having apple strudel in my back pocket, which is obviously a weird thing to think about.)

Anyway, I will probably make something with pumpkin next because…fall. Suggestions? Please send some. Been thinking about Ina Garten’s Pumpkin Banana Mousse Tart but I could be persuaded to do something else.


bonus: here is a photo of my roommate's beer-cheese fondue in a pumpkin, because that is something that happened last weekend

bonus: here is a photo of my roommate’s beer-cheese fondue in a pumpkin, because that is something that happened last weekend

Lark Rise to Paradise



A few years ago, feeling like I had watched every single British costume drama miniseries made since 1996, I embarked on a longer journey: Lark Rise to Candleford, a series which, at that point, was finished airing its four seasons. For those of you who are unfamiliar – and I imagine many of you are – Lark Rise to Candleford is based on Flora Thompson’s semi-autobiographical series of novels and is the story of Laura Timmins, a teenage girl who leaves the small Oxfordshire hamlet of Lark Rise for the neighboring market town of Candleford to assist her cousin, the capable postmistress Dorcas Lane (played by Julia Sawalha), as a letter carrier. Laura has difficulties reconciling her past as a poor – well, let’s say pastoral working class – girl with her new identity as an essential part of the bustling town’s economy. Over the course of the series, many other members of the two communities are introduced and developed in order to depict, in total, how both Lark Rise and Candleford are adapting to the changing landscape and rapid industrialization of the late nineteenth century.

When I first began watching the show, I was immediately charmed and comforted by its Cranford-like qualities: the eccentric characters, the easy humor, the quaint setting, and the earnest, wholesome life lessons embedded in every episode. However, after two and a half seasons, all of this became cloying and I took a long break. (I’ve just resumed watching the series almost two years after I started.) I think some of the reasons that Cranford worked so much better for me than Lark Rise to Candleford, besides its superior writing, is that the first series is five episodes and the “sequel”, which was certainly not as satisfying, is only two. Lark Rise to Candleford averages almost ten episodes per season. This leaves ample room for the viewer to become worn out by heavy-handedness, character quirks, earnestness, and that very particular English sense that things were better in the past.

This doesn’t mean I haven’t enjoyed watching the show. The break was necessary, but I’ve found that watching Lark Rise to Candleford is like snuggling up in bed with a nice cup of tea. I still get annoyed with little things here and there. One example I can think of is the character of Laura’s father, Robert Timmins, who is played by Brendan Coyle. (That’s Mr. Bates to all of you Downton Abbey fans out there.) He’s a skilled mason and as a dedicated socialist, is proudly working class. He takes any opportunity to comment on politics and the state of the English class system and sounds, often, like a poor George Orwell. (Yeah, I know that Orwell came later, but this is just an excuse for me to mention that I’ve read The Road to Wigan Pier and think everyone else should too.) He’s also just…too admirable and good.* It’s hard dealing with a character so one-dimensional over multiple seasons. I am finishing up the fourth season now and have found that I’m happy that Robert has been absent so far. (Coyle had already started working on Downton at that point, I believe.)
On the other hand, there are certain characters who have been a delight to watch grow over the course of the series. Laura (played by Olivia Hallinan), as the main character, has had an interesting journey from seeming child to young adult. Dorcas Lane’s coming to terms with being a single, professional woman in a patriarchal society has been similarly fascinating, though disappointing at times. However, I’ve particularly liked watching Minnie, Dorcas Lane’s housemaid, who first appears in season two. Minnie is a source of comic relief in a show that takes itself a little too seriously. She started out as a blundering know-nothing and, as of the middle of the fourth season, is becoming a mostly competent young woman who has managed to retain a sense of wonder and a palatable amount of silliness.
I’ve been watching another show, currently airing on PBS’s Masterpiece Theater, that reminds me a bit of Lark Rise to Candleford. First of all, The Paradise, which is for some reason based on Emile Zola’s Au Bonheur des Dames though it is set in a vague, nameless northern English city in the late nineteenth century, was created by Bill Gallagher, who also created Lark Rise. There’s a similar feel to the dialogue and it deals with many of the same broader themes, naturally, because it is about a rapidly changing society. The Paradise of the show’s name is a booming department store, where the show’s protagonist, Denise (played by Joanna Vanderham), begins working after her uncle denies her a position in his small drapery shop, conveniently located across the street. We don’t see much outside of the department store and the street that it’s on, aside from when characters venture to a local wealthy landowner’s estate, but one gets the sense that times are changing for the small, family businesses that the people of the city had frequented in the past.
The Paradise is certainly nothing special. It’s soapy, mindless entertainment, but it satisfies my sweet tooth (for costume dramas). There is just the right amount of romance, treachery and cheeky humor to keep me coming back each week, and I can’t help but watch it while I’m snuggled up in bed with a cup of tea in hand.
*If you want to see Coyle playing a really similar, but awesome, version of this character, watch North and South, a miniseries based on Elizabeth Gaskell’s novel, which deals with industrialization and the idealization of the pastoral and the shifting British class system much more deftly.

Something About London

Today I am taking a break from writing about Paris to write a tiny little bit about another city – London, which I have visited exactly one time, when I was twelve. Even at that age, I was an Anglophile. On the plane ride over, when I wasn’t watching Stuart Little or slapping away my mom, who sunk her nails into my arm every time we hit turbulence, I was happily reading Alison Weir’s The Six Wives of Henry VIII and literally freaking out inside my little brain because I was finally, finally going to London.

text from my dad: "view from restaurant where we are having lunch - looking down on leadenhall market"

text from my dad: “view from restaurant where we are having lunch – looking down on leadenhall market”

My parents lived in London for about a year after they got married and moved back to New York about two months before I was born. My dad still traveled to London a good deal when I was a kid. I don’t want to say a lot because I don’t want to make it sound like my dad wasn’t around when I was growing up, but in my memory it feels like he was there a lot, probably because his trips sometimes lasted for weeks. I remember when I was very young, about four or five, my dad brought me back a Siberian tiger stuffed animal from London. I loved it so much, because I loved stuffed animals and my dad gave it to me and I got to say that it was from London, which was very exciting. I bring this up because that was also probably one of the last times that I wasn’t absolutely terrified every time my dad flew to London for business. Before I flew overseas myself, I cried every time I knew my dad was leaving because I was convinced his plane would crash. My dad would console me by telling me that flying was safer than driving, which was also terrifying because then I would think about how I got in a car every day. Anyway.  By the time I was twelve, I had gotten over this fear of flying – but only sort of because I totally sat with rosary beads on my lap for the entire flight to London – and I was super excited to be seeing a city that had loomed so large in my imagination for my whole life.

The week was a dream come true. My parents and I stayed in a fancy hotel. My mom and I saw the sights during the day and I was in awe of every landmark. Every afternoon, we rested and had tea and scones in our hotel room. Then, at night, we would go out to dinner with my dad and friends. We took a ride on the brand new London Eye. We saw Mamma Mia before it came to Broadway. I remember a lot of middle aged women dancing in the aisles. I caught this renewed ABBA fever pretty hard. My parents bought me the soundtrack and I listened to it on my Walkman before I went to bed. We also saw The King and I with Elaine Paige, who was probably too old to be playing Anna, but she was still really, really awesome. My dad’s wallet got stolen on our last day, though the thief curiously took the cash and dumped it in a garbage can in a tube station and he got it back. By the end of the trip, I was sad to go home. Now, I am sad that I haven’t been back.

text from my dad: "they call this new building in the background "the shard", as in "shard of glass".

text from my dad: “they call this new building in the background “the shard”, as in “shard of glass”.

I was thinking about all of this for two reasons. First, I read Sarah Lyall’s piece in the New York Times last week, “Lessons From Living in London”. The city is much different from the London I visited in 2000 and worlds away from the London my parents experienced in the 1980s. I had always wanted to live there myself, though as an American with zero marketable skills, that will probably remain a difficult, if not impossible, thing to cross off my list.

Secondly, my dad just returned from a business trip to London. He doesn’t go as often any more. As a kid, his trips were mysterious to me. I didn’t know any more about what he did there than what he told me over the phone. But these days, thanks to technology, my siblings and I get updates via group text, my dad narrating his cab rides and lunches, sending photos of things he thinks are cool or has noticed have changed since the last time he visited. I know it’s kind of lame to be like “WHOA, technology!” but…this wasn’t a thing that could have happened a few years ago. (I mean, it could have, I guess, but my dad didn’t have an iPhone until this year and we all know how terrible Blackberrys were for this kind of thing.)

text from my dad: "say hello to the queen! that's buckingham palace in back of the queen victoria monument. wonder if anyone every called her tori? taken out window of cab on way to airport. be home soon!"

text from my dad: “say hello to the queen! that’s buckingham palace in back of the queen victoria monument. wonder if anyone every called her tori? taken out window of cab on way to airport. be home soon!”

I’d like to visit London very soon as good friends of mine just moved there for a definite, but substantial, amount of time. I’m trying to save up some money for this since, well, airfare and London, in general, are expensive. However, I think it will be worth it. I’m looking forward to reminiscing some more about my first trip, of course. But I’m also excited to have an altogether different experience, as an adult, seeing this city that has changed so much in the last thirteen years from another perspective.

You’ve Been On My Mind: A Playlist



Sometimes, you make a really good – you think – playlist and want to share it. I went through the trouble of naming it, putting the name on top of an old photo I found of my mom and then putting the playlist and the photo in this post.

Anyway, I’ve been slowly working on this one for a few weeks now. And today, I felt like it was ready, so. Enjoy!

You’ve Been On My Mind

01 Todd Rundgren, I Saw The Light
02 Big Star, When My Baby’s Beside Me
03 The Romantics, Tell It To Carrie
04 The dB’s, Judy
05 Lou Reed, Charley’s Girl
06 Elvis Costello, Little Triggers
07 Robyn Hitchcock, I Often Dream of Trains
08 The Byrds, It Won’t Be Wrong
09 The Zombies, I Want Her She Wants Me
10 Shoes, Tomorrow Night
11 The Flamin Groovies, Whiskey Woman
12 Bleached, Outta My Mind
13 Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers, Someone I Care About
14 The Seeds, Can’t Seem To Make You Mine
15 Harlem, Be Your Baby
16 Silver Apples, Ruby
17 Harry Nilsson, Vine Street
18 The Shadows of Knight, I’m Gonna Make You Mine
19 Half Japanese, 1,000,000 Kisses
20 Colleen Green, Only One
21 Dum Dum Girls, He Gets Me High
22 Girls, Alex
23 Vivian Girls, Vanishing of Time
24 Spiritualize, Little Girl
25 Blue Orchids, Bad Education
26 The Go-Betweens, Love Goes On!
27 Television Personalities, World of Pauline Lewis
28 The Remains, I’m Talking About You
29 R. Stevie Moore, Why Should I Love You
30 The Feelies, Original Love
31 Angel Olsen, Sweet Dreams
32 The Fresh & Onlys, Dream Girls
33 Holly Golightly, Tell Me So I Know
34 Belle & Sebastian, Waiting For The Moon to Rise
35 The Postmarks, Let Go
36 Donnie & Joe Emerson, Don’t Go Lovin’ Nobody Else