My Early Cooking Lessons Were Far Out, Man

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When I was visiting my parents back home this summer, I brought back a box full of stuff from my childhood – partly because I wanted to sort through it and reminisce and enjoy the warm feelings of nostalgia, but mostly because my mother told me to get all my crap out of the attic.

One of the things I found was my first cookbook, “The Lucky Cook Book for Boys and Girls,” copyright 1969. I’m glad I found this. I have been looking for good recipes for cinnamon toast, hamburgers, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, having completely forgotten that I have them all right here, in one book.

The funny thing is, I remember ordering this book during one of my school’s book fairs. I don’t know which was more exciting to me, filling out those Scholastic Book order forms, or the day the box would arrive in our classroom and the teacher would take out stacks of fresh books –  as smooth and uncrinkled as early morning snow – and hand each of us what we’d ordered. There was always a buzz in the room as everyone looked to see what everyone else had gotten. I don’t know if schools still do that, but I really hope they do.

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At any rate, I remember ordering “The Lucky Cook Book for Boys and Girls” and thinking “FINALLY I can cook for real. Sayonara, Easy Bake Oven!” And I proceeded to make baked potatoes (“Wash the potato. Dry it with a paper towel. Ask a grownup to light the oven for you…”), stuffed celery (“Fill the celery with cream cheese. You have made stuffed celery!”) and Party Punch (“Pour orange juice into a bowl. Pour cranberry juice in the bowl. Stir it all up. Presto! Party Punch!”)

I remember using this cookbook. It’s obvious I did as the pages are stained with water or maybe cranberry juice that went cattywampus somewhere between pouring it into the bowl and stirring it all up. It was my first foray into cooking, real cooking, as it involved asking a grownup to light the oven for me, and included an illustrated description of a potholder. This was the big time. This was the real thing. Of course, some of the recipes were just too complicated. There’s one that involved crushing graham crackers and mixing them with melted butter to make the crust for an ice cream pie. Who did they think I was? Julia Child?

I think the best part about this book, besides the fact that I still have it, is the simplicity with which they break down the cooking process. I was talking last week with Fabio Viviani, Bravo TV cooking heartthrob, who told me cooking doesn’t have to be complicated to be good. He swears he lost “Top Chef” twice because he refuses to make it any harder than it needs to be. Granted, it’s written for children, but “The Lucky Cook Book for Boys and Girls” operates under the same principle. You’re having a party? Here, make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, but cut them into fun shapes. NOW it’s a party, ya’ll.

No, I take that back. The best thing about it are the illustrations, which scream “1969” so loudly it doesn’t even need a copyright date. Check out the party scene from the last page on the attached photo. My favorite is the kid with the afro, Elton John glasses and big flower on her shirt, just kicking back and stone cold munching on those peanut butter and jelly party sandwiches. Groovy, baby.

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