Thursday, November 3, 2011

Recipes and Comfort From the '50's

Is life in the 21st century too complicated? Are the Occupy protests too much?  Are there too many choices for some people? Is there often a collective nostalgia for the ‘50’s or is the focus on that decade a multi-national corporate plot designed to encourage us to stop thinking critically? You be the judge.

This weekend we saw Maple and Vine at the Next Theatre Company in Evanston. Written by Jordan Harrison and directed by Damon Kiely, this satire poses many interesting questions. It is about a high powered young couple in Manhattan who are overwhelmed by their lives. When they meet two ‘50’s re-enactors, they decide to trade their success driven lives for a simpler era of casseroles and stay-at-home wives. Is it really simpler? This is what the two main characters must decide. I won’t play the spoiler because you should see this play for yourselves.

What interested me most was that the people involved in creating the play are all younger adults who never having experienced this period, seem to idealize it. This decade that gave us the McCarthy witch hunts, the threat of nuclear war, the murder of Emmett Till, and the Feminine Mystique [to list a few highlights] is remembered by most people as a time when all was well and nothing was complicated. I was 12 years old in 1960 so my memory of the period is hazy at best. Reflecting on it historically, however, I have to say that I'll stay in 2011 thank you despite the ubiquitous superficial electronic connections. What do you readers think?

Alas, no era is all good - or bad. I think I’d like that camaraderie (bad word choice for that time period) among the women. The shared recipes and Tupperware parties sound somewhat comforting. That’s why it felt really good to share some of those things with my friend Janet Parker. She’s sharing this recipe for Potato-Fennel Gratin. It was really delicious. 

                     Potato-Fennel Gratin By Ina Garten from “The Barefoot Contessa”

2 small fennel bulbs
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 T. good olive oil
1 T. unsalted butter
2 lbs. russet potatoes (4 lg. potatoes)
2 c. plus 2 T. heavy cream
2 ½ c. grated Gruyere cheese (1/2 lb.)
1 t. kosher salt
½ t. freshly ground black pepper\

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Butter the inside of a 10x15x2-inch (10 cup) baking dish.

Remove the stalks from the fennel and cut the bulbs in half lengthwise. Remove the cores and thinly slice the bulbs crosswise, making approximately 4 cups of sliced fennel. Sauté the fennel and onions in the olive oil and butter on medium-low heat for 15 minutes, until tender.

Peel the potatoes, then thinly slice them. Mix the sliced potatoes in a large bowl with 2 cups of cream, 2 cups of Gruyere, salt and pepper. Add the sautéed fennel and onion and mix well.

Pour the potatoes into the baking dish. Press down to smooth the potatoes. Combine the remaining 2 tablespoons of cream and ½ cup of Gruyere and sprinkle on the top. Bake for 1 ½ hours, until the potatoes are very tender and the top is browned and bubbly. Allow to set for 10 minutes and serve.



Susan (avid reader) said...

I'm with you. I'll stay in the 21st century. Although, I wouldn't mind taking my body back to the shape it was in a few decades back. Even then the 50s would be too early for me. Enjoyed the article.

Lisa Sachs said...

Thanks for your comment, Susan. So I'll keep seeing you in our current decade. Yes, there's too much electronic gadgetry bringing us together and separating us at the same time, but I wouldn't give up the choices for all the casserole dishes in the Midwest.