Monday, February 9, 2015

Kitsch-en Kounter: The Love Shack!

One word that I make a conscious effort to use as infrequently as possible is "obsessed."  Hosting exchange students in our house quite regularly, most of them Japanese, I learned how bizarre it was to them when we we would so freely express our love - of bagels, of TV shows, of shoes, of songs, of weather, of hair products, of sunglasses, of almost anything except one another.  It is my understanding that the word for love in Japanese is reserved exclusively for only its most romantic definition; it therefore must have seemed particularly odd when I would jubilantly proclaim, "I LOVE hamburgers!"  Some romances never die.  

These days, it isn't enough to like something.  It isn't even enough to love something.  To prove the fervor of our 21st-Century commitment to trends, movements, and inanimate objects, we must say that we're OBSESSED!!!  Well, occasionally, I fall victim to the vernacular and find myself obsessed with something, in this case, Betty Crocker's New Boys and Girls Cook Book.

vintage betty crocker
Betty Crocker's New Boys and Girls Cookbook

Originally published in 1957 and printed many times since, Betty Crocker's Boys and Girls Cookbook was among the first to acknowledge the interest of a burgeoning youth population to participate in the kitchen.  The edition that I grew up with, the new edition, was published in 1965 with edits, updates, and a new crop of "home-testers."  When my grandmother would pull this book from the uppermost kitchen cabinet, we knew that we were in for a self-styled treat - mostly because she was probably so sick of looking after four rambunctious kids that she knew the only way to take a break was to sacrifice her freshly Pine-Sol'ed linoleum and unleash us on her immaculate kitchen of lime-green formica.

For what seemed like hours, my brothers and sister and I would pore over the images of party-cut sandwiches, Hawaiian Luau Loaf, clown-faced hamburgers, and - my favorite - the soda fountain drinks served in all manner of old-timey glassware.  We spent so much time deciding what to make that I honestly can't recall if we ever actually made anything (crafty Grandma).  Year after year, I have returned to this book for inspiration, for nostalgia, and for a gateway to my grandparents.  The book makes frequent cameos in conversations with my siblings, mostly as we wax nostalgic and wonder who the keeper of the book is (I guess I'm letting the cat out of the bag).  At this point in its fifty-year history, the book's pages are spattered, dog-eared, and torn.  The back cover is missing and the rusty spiral binding could more accurately be described as barbed wire.  Well worn and well loved, it is a physical manifestation of the kitschy culinary obsessions that blossomed in Mr. Tiny's earliest years.  Way beyond both the limits of our food-styling abilities and the limits of Grandma's patience, one particular recipe in the book very tragically went ever unmade.  Having dreamt of the Enchanted Castle Cake since childhood is proof that an unmade recipe can become the fodder for a lifelong obsession.

wacky tacky castle cake
Enchanted Castle Cake

"My father took a picture of me with my cake."
Oh, Joan, it was probably because he wanted to capture that lovely
asymmetrical haircut you received at the Braille Beauty College.

With its red/white/pink color story, this recipe made like Cupid, drawing back its bow and shooting straight to this cake lover's heart.  With cake in our hearts and hearts in our eyes, the Enchanted Castle became our Valentine's Day Kitsch-en Kounter project for 2015.  I, of course, terribly bored with the tedium of printed instructions, immediately went rogue.  Even at my advanced age, an entire castle seemed rather daunting; we would take our cake in the direction of something more romantic, more intimate, and more cost-conscious.  Something that, if you saw a faded sign by the side of the road, you'd be more than willing to drive fifteen miles to share in its sweet delight. 

wacky tacky kitsch-en kounter
Humble of both address and architecture (cake-itecture?),
the Love Shack is just a little old place where we can get together.

Starting with a tried-and-true, basic cake recipe, I figured it would be easy to adapt
 into a heart-shaped cake that was also colored in an appropriately-thematic fashion.

I had never before made a red velvet cake and, as it happens, I still haven't.
By the third heaping tablespoon of red gel food coloring, I just couldn't
stomach anymore.  "Maybe it will magically turn red in the oven..."  It didn't.
Incidentally, I just watched someone make a red-velvet cake on TV today
and they used two whole bottles of liquid food coloring!!!  No thanks.

Taking style cues from the Enchanted Castle Cake, I added iced ice-cream-cone spires; swirled in pink confection, they were topped with heart-spangled banners waving from heart-shaped picks.  A polka-dot red carpet welcomes lovers under an awning supported by paper straws.  The edifice is paneled in candy-stripe sticks and studded in pink, candy buttons.  Surrounded by coconut grass and a blue velvet sky, the sweetly-scaled Love Shack is to the Enchanted Castle Cake as Marie Antoinette's little Hamlet is to the Palace of Versailles.  The Love Shack became the perfect finishing touch to our humble Valentine's Day tablescape.

As a child, my favorite part of the book was the possibility, the dream that artfully playing with my food could one day become a legitimate avocation.  As an adult, with easy access to a car/grocery store/kitchen, my favorite parts of Betty Crocker's New Boys and Girls Cook Book are the juvenile "home-testers'" reactions to helping with the book and testing the recipes (see Joan above) accompanied by the lovely, sometimes-flattering charcoal portraits.

"Being a home-tester was the most exciting thing I've ever done." - Randee (What a pity to peak so young)
"I learned how to use a sharp knife - without cutting myself." - Sandra (A recurring theme at Sandra's therapy sessions)
"We learned what words like baste and fold and beat meant." - Peter (Definitely the words of a serial killer)
Betty Crocker is like a real friend to me now." - Carol (You said it, Carol.  Imaginary friends are the best friends)

So, what are your obsessions?  Are you obsessed with making a Love Shack of your own?  Don't let Mr. Shakespeare fool you into thinking that "music be the food of love."  It's cake.  Yes, definitely cake.  So, if you're heading down the Atlanta highway and see our heart-shaped shack, just "Bang, bang, bang on the door, baby."  We'll let you in and save you a piece!

"Love Shack" - The B-52's

Happy Valentine's Day, you wacky tacky turkey necks!!!


Mr. Tiny


  1. Ha, I lived in Japan and worked in the Officers Club with a bunch of wonderful Japanese co workers. We worked together catering events and waiting on tables for the breakfast and lunch crowd. Many times an officers wife would write a thank you letter or note to one of the Japanese waitresses thanking her for her kindness during their tour of duty. I can't tell you how many times I was pulled aside by one of the waitresses with a puzzled look on her face asking me why the note/letter would be signed love or with love so and so.
    The B-52's are my favorite! I'd say I'm obsessed with the B-52's. I danced at the only concert of theirs that I've ever been to completely thru the whole thing non stop till I felt like I was - TIN ROOF RUSTED! Your cake is very clever and a fitting tribute to your obsession.

    1. Thank you for the Japanese-language validation! I have been lucky enough to see The B-52's a few times and also danced the entire time, every time!!! Thanks again!

  2. Thanks for another post that put me into eye-watering spasms of laughing. Could be that I'm reading it way too late at night, though.

    1. Hahaha!!! If it makes my writing even slightly amusing, I suggest reading every post late at night! Thanks, Cheryl!

  3. I love this cake! Keep making wacky tacky cakes and posting them, it gets me inspired to bake!

    1. Thanks, pal! Get baking, I want to see the results!!!!