Wednesday, March 7, 2012


The First Sandra Lee: Poppy Cannon and Her Can-Opener Cuisine

easy!"At one time a badge of shame, hallmark of the lazy lady and the careless wife, today the can opener is fast becoming a magic wand, especially in the hands of those brave, young women, nine million of them (give or take a few thousand here and there), who are engaged in frying as well as bringing home the bacon."
—Poppy Cannon, The Can-Opener Cookbook (1951)

Fifty years before Semi-Homemade star Sandra Lee began earning foodie sneers with her grotesque, corn nut-studded Kwanzaa cake and tragic tomato soup lasagna, there was another food celebrity the cultured classes loved to hate: Poppy Cannon. A mid-century food editor and cookbook author, Cannon was best known for her now-infamous Can-Opener Cookbook, published in 1951 and full of recipes whose baroque names belied their lowbrow ingredients — "Frizzled Ham with Bananas Haitian" (canned ham, bananas, rum, butter), "Lucanian Eggs Au Gratin" (eggs, canned macaroni and cheese).

She was an unabashed believer in the magic of convenience food to create quick, glamorous meals with no fuss: cream of celery soup, canned shrimp, Vienna sausages, frozen chicken. In her brilliant history of 1950s food culture, Something from the Oven, writer Laura Shapiro describes Cannon's style thusly: "She advised readers to 'mix furiously' or 'stir like crazy' or 'fling' ingredients together; once she referred to tossing a salad as 'salad-flinging.' These mannerisms scattered through her paragraphs evoked a kind of screwball comedy set in the kitchen, with the cook as the madcap heroine."

Like Lee, a self-made millionaire, philanthropist, and the live-in companion of New York governor Andrew Cuomo, Cannon's life outside the kitchen was far more fascinating than her dismal recipes might have suggested. She cut a prominent figure in her era, hobnobbing with everyone from Eleanor Roosevelt to Lena Horne to Alice B. Toklas, appearing on TV with Edward R Murrow, and entertaining diplomats in her living room. She was tall and zany and owned it — she adorned her six-foot frame with giant, eccentric turbans and swished around glamorous New York parties like a duchess. Her affair, and subsequent marriage, to NAACP secretary Walter White was a great public scandal in an era when interracial marriage was illegal in nearly half the country; Cannon simply sniffed at naysayers and published a cookbook dotted with florid love poems to her husband.

And just as Sandra earns major snark from food writers and celebrity chefs — Anthony Bourdain memorably called her the "frightening Hell Spawn of Kathie Lee and Betty Crocker" — Cannon also got plenty of flack from the tastemakers of her day. Fellow editors laughed at dishes like asparagus-Spam-macaroni casserole. James Beard thought she was a joke.

Did she give a damn? No she did not. She had bigger (canned) fish to fry.

Canned chicken? Seriously?!

It wasn't that Poppy Cannon had no taste buds. It wasn't that she didn't know good food. Quite the opposite. Born in South Africa to Lithuanian Jewish parents and raised in Pennsylvania, she won a scholarship to Vassar, became a writer and editor for women's glossies like Mademoiselle and Ladies' Home Journal, and traveled in refined circles — her third husband was a Waldorf-Astoria executive who gave her privileged access the finest in haute cuisine.

But Poppy Cannon believed in convenience food. She thought that career women — described as "business girls" by the reviewers on her book jacket flaps — deserved to come home and enjoy fabulous dinners in minutes, just like men! In Cannon's mind, women had better things to do than spend all afternoon fussing over duck a l'orange or baking cherry pies. "The heroines of her column were constantly inviting men to brunch or throwing together a spontaneous after-theater supper or staging a wedding breakfast for ten in a one-room apartment — even though they were working girls and had never cooked in their lives," Shapiro writes.

Cannon's The Can-Opener Cookbook was a testament to her faith in the idea that, with a little help from the "magic wand" (a.k.a. can-opener), women could mix work, domesticity, and fabulous social lives. Long day at the office? Try feeding your family a store-bought angel food cake "glamorized" with ice cream and coconut flakes. Business associates dropping by for a last-minute dinner? Simply mix eggs and canned mushrooms, splash the whole thing with a glug of rum, put a match to it, and "appear on the scene bearing this delicate omelet wrapped in fragrant flames."

Disgusting? Probably. Okay, almost certainly. But food is never just about taste. It's also about culture and desire and the ways we want to present ourselves to the world. Poppy Cannon wanted convenience food to be a miracle for working women. So she held her nose and believed.

See, Cannon understood working women. At a time when women were expected and encouraged to be financially dependant on their husbands, Cannon was viscerally familiar with the downside of such arrangements. Her father walked out on her family when she was a teenager, leaving her and her siblings alone with their mentally ill mother. She herself was married four times and divorced three, and had three children by three different men. Her food writing work wasn't just a lark — it was a necessity.

Sandra Lee came from similar hardscrabble beginnings. Raised in California and Washington by a drug-addicted and physically abusive mother, she raked neighbors' leaves for extra grocery money on months when the food stamps didn't stretch far enough. Later, she went to live with her estranged father, who was soon sent to prison for rape. Like Cannon, she was hell-bent on escaping her roots. By her late 20s, she'd become a millionaire selling a line of DIY curtain hardware; she used her money to launch her Semi-Homemade empire in her 30s. Like Poppy Cannon (nee Lillian Gruskin), she completed her transformation with a name change: Sandy Waldroop became Sandra Lee.

canned burgers?

Feminism and convenience food have an uncomfortable shared history. Here's one story: housewives, brainwashed by Betty Friedan and Co. into thinking they were "unfulfilled," served as willing dupes for an evil empire of Industrial Food, happily trashing generations-long culinary traditions in favor of quickie Rice-A-Roni dinners before dashing off to consciousness-raising groups. Families suffered, kids got fat, grandma's special brisket recipe was lost forever. Now we're sorry.

Here's another story, closer to the (complicated) truth: food companies, having developed all kinds of new canning and freezing methods while provisioning the troops during World War II, were keen to find a way to sell their new products to the domestic market after the war ended. Homemakers were suspicious at first (some early products, like powdered wine and freeze-dried cheese, never took off — imagine that!), but the companies persisted through clever marketing, convincing women that convenience foods were tasty and fun and easy and modern. By the mid-1950s, long before Betty Friedan showed up at the party, the average middle-class woman was studding her chicken salad with marshmallows and serving ham n' canned pineapple spears at backyard luaus. Though food companies — and writers like Poppy Cannon — envisioned convenience foods as a boon for "business girls," it was in fact stay-at-home housewives who took most advantage of these new foodstuffs. Even today, working women and stay-at-home moms use convenience foods in about equal numbers.

The difference between Cannon's era and Lee's, though, is profound. While a midcentury homemaker probably gave little thought to the cultural symbolism of her canned peas, today's middle-class home cooks are dealing with a very different — and much more fraught — food culture.


More than 60 years after The Can-Opener Cookbook was published, Americans are busier than ever.  Families today are far more likely to be headed by two working parents or one single working parent than they were in the 1950s, and parents who work are working longer hours than they were at midcentury.

The Amazon.com reviews for Sandra Lee's Semi-Homemade series of cookbooks reads like a group therapy session on the difficulties of 21st century work-life balance:

"I am a single mom with two kids to feed and a boss that thinks I should work 50 hours a week just like the guys. This book lets me feed my family hot delicious meals no matter how late we get home or how much we have to do."

"I'm a guy. I work. And every other week two kids descend on my house fridge like hungry locusts. I may not enjoy cooking but it is necessary evil... [the Semi-Homemade recipes] go step-by-step and are written for layman... My kids get hot food, they actually eat it (more times than not), and I feel like a good parent."

"In a perfect world, I would cook wonderful home-cooked meals every night. In a perfect world, I would only use fresh ingredients... In the real world of two hard-working parents, demanding children and constant time pressures, this book is a lifesaver."

"To me, the joy of cooking is having time to enjoy a meal with my family and then using the time I saved to help my kids with their homework... If that makes my lifestyle "sad," so be it. I'm a single working mom, not a food writer."

It's no surprise that some of these reviews sound kinda defensive. In the years since The Can-Opener Cookbook was published, we've become ever more discriminating about what constitutes "good" food, both from a health and a taste standpoint. One of the downsides of this growing food consciousness is a certain kind of judgmental attitude towards people who cook and eat "wrong."

When Virginia Heffernan, a New York Times columnist, wrote a cheeky ode to Poppy Cannon, explaining that she herself loves to use healthy "hacks" like frozen broccoli and cut-up cheese cubes to feed her kids, Times commenters exploded in wrathful judgment:

"'Lazy' is the first word that comes to mind on reading this. Lazy of mind and of body. It would be even easier if someone else opened the can of peas for you, right?"

Shortcut-promoting chefs like Sandra Lee may be popular, but they're subject to an awful lot of overheated, suspiciously classist-seeming hatred — Lee has several hate websites devoted to deconstructing what anti-fans see as her tacky makeup, her tasteless "tablescapes," and her other supposedly déclassé qualities. Hating her recipes seems fair enough — they're often pretty grotesque-looking and of dubious nutritional value (uh, hello "Paradise Crab Dip Wontons": canned crab, cream cheese, steak sauce). But many of Lee's most high-profile detractors seem to focus their wrath on the very concept of "convenience." In an essay railing against the idea of "quick and easy meals," respected food writer Michael Ruhlman wrote the following:

Maybe you don't like to cook, maybe you're too lazy to cook, maybe you'd rather watch television or garden, I don't know and I don't care, but don't tell me you're too busy to cook... I know for a fact [emphasis mine] that spending at least a few days a week preparing food with other people around, enjoying it together, is one of the best possible things in life to do, period. It’s part of what makes us human. [Emphasis mine.]

Lee and Cannon's food may be atrocious – no one could defend Sandra Lee's "Sensuous Chocolate Truffles" (canned chocolate frosting mixed with powdered sugar) or Poppy Cannon's "Quick Lobster Newberg" (canned lobster, condensed cream of mushroom soup, egg, sherry). But unlike Ruhlman, both Sandra Lee and Poppy Cannon understood that some full-blooded human beings actually find cooking a giant pain in the ass. And they also understood that when people said they were too busy to cook, they probably meant it.

Emily Matchar is the author of an upcoming book about women and domesticity in the 21st century (Free Press, 2013). Check out more of her musings at her blog, New Domesticity.

268 Comments / Post A Comment


Dear Emily: may I buy you a beer or other beverage of choice? I adored this.


@anachronistique Also I will clearly have to read that "Something in the Oven" book, since I read my parents' copy of Square Meals till the covers came off.


@anachronistique I'll get the second round.

Tragically Ludicrous

@anachronistique Then me! This was great.


@anachronistique I love her too! I got to interview her for an article last week on the gender politics of craft culture.

Check out the interview here: http://theoeditrix.com/2012/03/05/womens-work-and-craft-culture-an-interview-with-emily-matchar/


@oeditrix This is relevant to my interests.


@Craftastrophies Your name would suggest a certain affinity. :)
I myself just hosted a DIY bling party where we basically glued glitter onto everything that we own. So, there's that.


@oeditrix EXCELLENT.

I think the thing for me is that there are parts of my primary needs that overlap with things I find fun - like growing some of my food (SOME) and cooking it and making clothes. These are things that I give up other fun things to do, but also sometimes have to pay others to do for me because I don't have time, because of working. So there are some things that I totally would swap hours at work for, but I'm also aware that that has limits. And while I would kind of like an etsy store to validate the time and effort I put into my hobbies, I also don't want my hobbies to be supporting me, because then they are not for FUN.

(Edit: this comment probably belongs on your blog, not this one. Oh, well)


@Craftastrophies I definitely get that. We have chickens, so we never (or rarely) have to buy eggs. And every once in a while it actually saves you money, and more importantly, you're getting recreational value out of something that has "real" value too, like vegetables or eggs or clothes.

Okay I started to post a really long reply but I don't want to completely hijack this thread, so let's take this party to my blog! And by "this party" I mean "DIY glitter party." No, but do post a comment if you're interested, because I'm just starting out and I want people to think that other people think that everybody thinks my blog is interesting.



The Lady of Shalott

This is a great article that I'm going to send to my mom, among others.

Are Sandra Lee's recipes kind of horrifying, occasionally? Well, yes. I am not going to be making a Kwanzaa Cake or truffles made of frosting and sugar any time soon. But holy crap, the hate against her is HORRIFYING. Yeah, I laughed when Anthony Bourdain described his encounter with her, but a lot of the vitriol against her is just flat-out scary.

And yes, it's possible to be too busy to cook, Michael Ruhlman. If you're working two or three jobs, or working and going to school, or working and taking care of a passel of kids or an elderly parent or any of a hundred thousand other things, you don't have a few hours to spend "making yourself human" by cooking. You already ARE human as evidenced by all the other crap you're doing!


@The Lady of Shalott I try to separate my feelings on Sandra Lee the Cook from Sandra Lee the Person. Sandra Lee as a cook, just terrible. But Sandra Lee as a person? Grade A badass! Ever since reading the New York Magazine article about her last year, I think she is so, so cool.


@The Lady of Shalott I'm all for time-saving measures, and I'm not against using canned or frozen food in cooking, but DEAR LORD Sandra Lee's food looks disgusting. I wouldn't eat it at gunpoint.

Lily Rowan

@werewolfbarmitzvah Excellent, excellent call.


@The Lady of Shalott Not to mention, not everyone has the money to cook like a chef! I had shitloads of time when I was in college but I lived off of pasta, soup, and sandwiches, with the occasional "Mom's homecooking"-type meal. I mean, I was pretty lazy, but I was even more broke. I bought the healthiest things I could afford. I understand criticizing convenience foods for their nutritional value, but just because they're fast? Total bull.

Anna Weber@facebook

@werewolfbarmitzvah Having waited on Sandra Lee at work on several occasions now and seen her on a few other occasions in a social context, I can say that she might be a badass, but she is also possibly evil and has very little regard for anyone else in the universe especially if they are potentially "below" her. She is not even remotely a nice person, let alone even a civil one.


If using 'hacks' are wrong I don't wanna be right. Frozen broccoli is delish, and I won't throw it out!

<3 u aunt sandy

Party Falcon

@konata Right? Quick frozen broccoli picked and packed at the height of freshness? That's a hack? That just seems like a good way to get great broccoli no matter what time of year.

The Lady of Shalott

@Party Falcon Dude, no kidding. If it weren't for frozen broccoli (and many other assorted vegetables), I would be restricted to..........almost no green vegetables for large parts of the year. Frozen broccoli forever!

Katie Heldstab@facebook

@Party Falcon, Do you work for Birds Eye or something? "Picked and packed at the height of freshness" is directly from the quick-frozen PR playbook! I know, I helped right the one for Canned Food Alliance...But you're totally right. Frozen and canned fruits and vegetables are just as healthy as fresh, and often have more nutrients. The time it takes to get the food from a farm to the store, then to your house (into the crisper drawer) to your table is a REALLY LONG TIME. Fresh stuff is constantly loosing nutrients. In the dead of winter eating frozen broccoli from California is better than fresh stuff from Mexico...or none at all. VIVA LA FROZEN VEG!!!


I realized I was just going to repeat what Party Falcon said, so I agree with everyone here. Huzzah for frozen veggies!


@Party Falcon Yeah - I'm pretty anti-canned veggies (blergh), but frozen? They're the best.


@Katie Heldstab@facebook I totally cheat and use frozen veggies when I do stir-fry because I hate prepping fresh vegetables and making them all perfect-looking. Frozen veg is THE BEST.


@konata Among my circle of friends, I'm known as the one who loves to cook, so I guess that means people assume I'm a food snob of some kind. When one of my friends was over a couple weeks ago, she was kind of appalled at how much frozen veg I had. I think she said something to the effect of "eww! Frozen broccoli is nasty. Why would you ever buy that?!"

And then I almost slapped her? Because frozen vegetables have saved my cooking enthusiast ass a million times. Because often organic frozen vegetables are less expensive than FRESH frozen vegetables. Because often I'm cooking for one or two and the entire bag of fresh spinach just doesn't seem necessary?

Frozen vegetables are amazing. I'm going to go build a shrine to them now.


@konata Hey, I've got a culinary degree (okay, in baking and pastry, yes) and I use food hacks like frozen/canned veg ALL the time. Because I am poor/tired/cheap and hungry RIGHT NOW. I live alone, and I'm not going to eat that entire stem of brussel sprouts right away, or even in a succession of days. I need to be able to toss a cup of frozen broccoli into my pasta and shove the rest back in my freezer.


@Bitterblue SCIENCE!

dj pomegranate

@Bitterblue Frozen broccoli + pasta + olive oil = meal at my house. <3 u broccy!


@Bitterblue Culinary degree-having 'pinners represent!


@elizabeast I don't think I was ever aware until this post that anyone looked down on frozen vegetables. I mean sure, I probably would never have served Obama frozen broccoli if he came to dinner at my house, but I wouldn't think twice about feeding just about anyone else frozen veggies, especially if it's part of a larger recipe. Who will be able to tell when there's a hundred other ingredients surrounding those once-frozen peas?


@The Lady of Shalott "Frozen broccoli foreverrrr! Frooozen broccoli forevvverrr! Frozen broccoli forevvvver! The iron makes us strong!"

(You sing that to the tune of "Glory Glory Hallelujah" or "Solidarity Forever")


@teffodee I love you, I think.


I personally love Sandra Lee. Chug, chug, chug!


@figwiggin Dammit. You beat me to it.


FINALLY! A recipe that calls for Kitchen Bouquet! My mother had this in her cupboard for my entire life and I never once saw her use it. I just noticed that my sister had it in her cupboard, and asked her what she used it for. She replied "I never opened the bottle. I just bought it one day because I saw Mom always had it and I figured I would need it someday."


@SuperMargie Wait, I was just going to ask- what is Kitchen Bouquet?!


@hodgmina Kitchen Bouquet was (maybe is still) like shoe polish for meat. You dumped it in sauces and stews and didn't have to brown the meat. Tasted like soy sauce/beef bouillon/vegemite.


@hodgmina Oh man, Kitchen Bouquet is awesome. My grandma used it all the time for roasts and whatnot. I haven't the faintest idea WHAT it is actually is, but a few drops add the most delicious smoky/slightly salty flavor to a nice roast.

Now that I think of it, it's probably just liquid smoke and salt. Fantastic.


@reebs14 They still use a version of that in the restaurant where I used to work; if I recall, we put it in the chili. It's like, pure salt + something umami in liquid format.

Party Falcon

@reebs14 I think it has a heapin' helping of MSG too. All that umami, so totally why it's antastic in roasts and gravy.

Which, did you know that's what Accent is? Like straight-up sprinkle-able MSG? I had no idea. No wonder grandma's food was so darn.


@Anji Christ, no wonder I love it so much. MORE SALT PLEASE.


@SuperMargie Kitchen Bouquet is a weird concentrated sauce used to add savory flavor and brown coloring to food. I bet it's straight MSG or something.


@Party Falcon Seriously? Of course it is, why should I be surprised. Why must all the good "grandma" food be so terrible for you? Arrrggh.


@noReally Thanks! I figured it was something vaguely boullion-y.


@SuperMargie Kind of casts doubt on that whole "let's get back to cooking like our grandmothers did" trend.

Tragically Ludicrous

@yamtoes I think that only works if you're the age of Michael Pollan. Maybe.

Party Falcon

New Allemande Sauce sounds kind of delightful?


@Party Falcon It's actually not a bad facsimile, especially if you have a hard time getting bechamel right.

Party Falcon

The daunting classism of food has been a thing for centuries. It's also been a shame for just as long.

ETA: I said it before and I'll say it again. I love Cream of _ Casseroles. They are delightful. AND? Shame me if you want, but my tiny chicken jar pies? Will be made with Cream of Chicken soup, not a bechemel. Suck on that, Ruhlman.


@Party Falcon oh, so true. Like, hundreds of years ago eating a lot of vegetables was looked down on because if you were a peasant growing food for a living, it was most of what you could afford to eat. And now that fresh produce is expensive, you get looked down on for not eating it.* I see what's happening here.

*except for potatoes. potatoes are still poor people food and sure to kill you.

also once upon a time I found this great essay from probably the Poppy Cannon era about how people implicitly judge the nutritional (and definitely the moral) value of food based on how much effort a mother put into preparing it, and it's still SO TRUE. Alas, my google-fu has not been strong enough to find it again.

@Party Falcon I was one of those "I seriously hate cream of ___ casserole" until I taught high school in The South. And holyshit, what those women can do with a crock pot and campbell's blew my mind. Faculty potluck lunch day became a big game of "I don't know what this is, but it is darn tasty."

Related note: frozen meatballs, grape jelly, and BBQ sauce in a crock pot. Amazing.

@Lorelei@twitter Peasant food 4 LIFE!


@S. Elizabeth Peasant food 4 life indeed.

Yay peasant food!

Party Falcon

@S. Elizabeth BBQ sauce? Maybe in the south, but here in Hoosier country, it's frozen meatballs, grape jelly (the cheapest you can find) and Heinz Chili Sauce.

I adore potlucks like that. You just eat it and don't ask questions, because if you do, you find out you were eating canned hamburgers after all.

@Party Falcon Ooooh that sounds delightful! Yeah, cheap BBQ sauce and cheap grape jelly with store-brand cocktail meatballs from the frozen section.




@Lorelei@twitter Please visit this fascinating and very old A Plain Cookery Book for the Working Classes.

@PistolPackinMama On Saturday I'm making the ladyfriend spaghetti & meat sauce from scratch! The kind where you brown the meat in olive oil after mixing it with a fuckton of oregano and basil before adding it into a sauce that has an entire head of garlic, 3 chopped onions, and half a bottle of red wine in it.

I once made it for my boss at the firm where I interned last year, minus the meat and cheese (she tries to keep kinda-Kosher) and I'm pretty sure it was a factor in being asked back this summer.


@S. Elizabeth Soooooo... what time can we all just kind of... drop by to say hello? Would it look less scheming if we showed up with a tiramisu we just "happened to have made" that afternoon while semi-tasking to Fresh Air podcasts?

(My dad makes something similar and holy moley is it good. We have to sort of sift through the meat by hand because he uses not-ground cuts and sometimes there are bits of bone in there that need taken out. It's a legacy of his having grown up in a house with 10 other kids, and it is so very very good.)


@S. Elizabeth @Party Falcon now that I am a Working Woman with a 9-5 job, having a crockpot has revolutionized my cooking. It is the best! I am intrigued by this meatball concoction.

@Lorelei@twitter I want some good crock pot recipes! Ones that do not involve browning meat or onions, i.e. the kind involving "dump that shit in, turn it on, and go." Suggestions? Something involving meat would be awesome.

@PistolPackinMama If you're in Boston and don't mind tiny cluttery apartments, you would be welcome ANY TIME.


@S. Elizabeth Agreed. A southern potluck, preferably of the religious/PTA/sorority reunion variety, gets an A+ in my book for Carbs And Cheese In Convenient Format.

Party Falcon

@S. Elizabeth a)I'll be there. With tiny pies. And a gun toting friend, apparently.

b)Do you know about Six-Can Soup? Best, easiest, no browning-est crockpot recipe ever. (but it is incredibly low-brow, just warning you.)


@Party Falcon @S. Elizabeth Oh hell yes grape jelly meatballs, a recipe from my Indiana homeland. See also: crockpot pork shoulder in root beer. Eight hours on low, shred that shit, mix in your favorite bbq sauce. BUN AND DONE.

@chrysopoeia WHAAAAAAAAAAAT? OH GOD YES WHAT IS THIS PLEASE TELL ME. Root beer, you say? And a pork shoulder... hmmm... mixed with BBQ sauce after it cooks all day? Well then, that sounds delightful.


@S. Elizabeth Get yourself a nice big pork shoulder. Remove the skin (or buy pork loin, but I like to keep it cheap). Place it in your crock pot. Add root beer to cover. Cook on low for 8 hours, rotating the shoulder if you're home. Pour out root beer, remove the bone, and shred the pork in the crock pot (it will FALL APART). Mix in your favorite BBQ sauce and set to warm. Hello dinner party.


@Party Falcon Let's lock, load, and visit.

(I am not in Boston, which is a shame because tiny clutter doesn't bother me.)

Speaking of posole. Posole! Can be made in a crock pot.


@PistolPackinMama I should mention that I live in the urban apartment equivalent of a tiny house. It looks like a normal pre-war apartment (high ceilings, lots of architectural detail, original brass doorknobs, hardwood floors) but it's TINY. 312sq ft, including closets type of small. And yet it has a separate bathroom and kitchen, an entryway, and lots of natural light.


@S. Elizabeth Do all the good crock pot recipes involve barbecue sauce? Here's my favorite: Take chicken parts that have no skin and no little bones (bone-in thighs are my favorite, and often very cheap; boneless breasts are a little drier but fine). Put them in the bottom of the crock pot. Slice an onion across the top. Shake on garlic powder and black pepper. Add, in quantities of descending order: BBQ sauce (a bunch), ketchup (a decent amount), honey (a decent amount), mustard (a few good squirts), Worcestershire sauce (a glug or two), and hot sauce (amount between you and your conscience). Stir it around a little so the sauce components get between the chicken parts. Cook on low for at least 6 hours or on high for at least 4. Shred with forks, remove bones if applicable, serve over rice or toast or whatever with a dollop of sour cream.


@S. Elizabeth Easy crockpot meal: put around 2 lbs beef stew meat and 1 jar of green salsa in crockpot. Cook at least six hours on low. Shred and serve in tortillas. If you want to get fancy, chop up an onion and a bell pepper and put those in at the start too. And this works with chicken or pork too.

fondue with cheddar

@S. Elizabeth I just use Hunt's canned Basil, Garlic, and Oregano sauce. I have a Thing about chunks in my sauce, and that stuff is actually pretty tasty. Plus I'm totally a lazy cook. I eat this far more often than I'd like to admit. (But it tastes really good!)


@chrysopoeia I might have to buy a Crock pot soley on the basis of this recipe.

Cashmere Sweater

@Party Falcon YUM. Also, do you think most of the anti-convenience cooking hate comes from men? Or do women hate Sandra Lee, too? It seems like all of the examples I can think of (Pollan, Bourdain, etc.) are male ... and for lots of reasons, women are still more likely to be the cook in the family, even if both parents work. Something about that sticks in my craw ... like part of hating on can-opener cuisine is the idea that the womens should be in the kitchen making stuff from scratch. I dunno, am I reaching here?


@Cashmere Sweater Nope. I think you are nailing it right down.

Party Falcon

@Cashmere Sweater I think you are right on. There is also, I think, probably a connection to the idea that women are home cooks, but men are chefs. And Chefs > Home Cooks to the entire culinary world. (Including, a little bit, in these comments.)


@Cashmere Sweater I am torn on this. In my experience women, on the whole, are more active about food policing than men, though that may be more about general "healthy" foods than specifically condemning convenience foods for being convenient. But certainly I think that men who are super anti-convenience food have been influenced by that "women belong in the kitchen" idea. I just think a lot of women also internalize the idea, and assuage their own guilt over not living up to the ideal by being awful to other women.

I certainly agree that, whether it's men or women pushing the hate, sexism is a big part of it.


@S. Elizabeth I LOVE CROCK POTS. Today I am working from home so I had the magnificent fortune of being able to make TWO parts of my dinner in the crock pot. Before breakfast I put everything in for honey lentils. After lunch, it was done so and then filled my crock pot again with everything for sweet and sour pork chops, which are cooking now and will be ready right when I get home from dance class tonight. It's like a crock pot miracle.

Anyway, the best crock pot recipe is: Sunday morning, throw all kinds of letovers in there and let it go all day until dinner. Considering that by Sunday I probably have a variety of leftover vegetables, probably a meat of some sort, beans, potatoes, and rice/pasta, it is absolutely always delicious and bam! No more leftovers crowding up the fridge! Also, while prepping fresh veggies, I save all the "throwaway parts" like the carrot tops and cauliflower stumps and onion skins and celery tops. When I get a big bag full of this stuff, I fill the crock pot with water, add a little garlic, and then add all the veggie scraps. Let it go all night (or even longer), and in the morning strain everything out. Now you have a nice vegetable stock that you can freeze to use whenever you want, which is coincidentally also a perfect base for your Sunday leftover soup.


@Lorelei@twitter An important sidebar to ANY conversation about gender and cooking is that every single elite or world-famous chef was male until VERY recently and only now are even a few prestigious chefs women.

Women have always been expected to turn out family dinners, but men have always been expected to be creative, daring, and expert in wealthy-kitchen or restaurant contexts.

@Party Falcon Recipe for honey lentils? Oh and the pork too?

Dr. Iris Puffybush

@Party Falcon I've always known it as grape jelly and chili sauce too (MN/WI in the house) but I prefer this combo with lil smokies. Also, if you wanna get super fancy you can do currant jelly and chili sauce. Ooh la la!

Dr. Iris Puffybush

@S. Elizabeth Chicken thighs + crock pot = best friends. I always hated chicken thighs until I started making various crock pot dishes with them. They taste so much better when cooked long and slow with various sauces. Also, they are cheap! I buy the ones with skin and bones, and remove the skin before cooking (rubber gloves and kitchen scissors are excellent tools to aid in doing this). I make various chicken thigh crock pot dishes on the weekend, then pack it all up in plastic containers (the ziploc 2 cup round containers with the screw top are perfect) and then I have lunches for a week+. They freeze well too. One of my favorite recipes is Slow Cooker Spicy Chicken in Peanut Sauce . Ignore the part about browning the chicken! Totally not necessary! Tomatoes and peanut butter may sound weird, but I crave this dish. It's also good over brown rice (as opposed to couscous as called for in the recipe) Sometimes I just throw thighs and bbq sauce in the crock pot, then add some drained, rinsed canned beans at the end, and dump that over brown rice. Or salsa and add black and/or pinto beans at the end. Oh, and speaking of brown rice and convenience foods, Uncle Ben's brown Ready Rice (or cheaper store brand) is a MIRACLE! I just dump it right out of the package into the bottom of my containers and dump what ever chicken concoction over it. When I nuke it for lunch at work, the rice cooks just enough and is perfect.


@all Replying to thread as I want ALL THE SLOW COOKER RECIPES. Mostly I make beans in mine. Sometimes I put on my WI apron and make lemon curd or chutney. These things involve a few complications. So to keep with the spirit of the thread, here is a slow cooker dessert course: rice pudding.

Butter (use real butter) the inside of your slow cooker. Add 400 ml (I measure 3/4 pint, but british pint, and I think these are different to american ones?) milk (full-fat if you can), 150 ml (1/4 imp. pint) evaporated milk, 2 oz/50g pudding rice, 1 oz/25g sugar. Stir. Cook high 4 hours, low up to 8 hours.

30 mins before the end, if you are feeling wildly creative, stir in a sprinkle of whatever baking spice you have around and like the smell of (cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, or some mix you like). To serve, if I'm feeling posh I might crack open a tin of mandarin orange segments and put them on top with a splodge of cream.

I also eat this for breakfast because I have no shame.

<3 u crockpot (although the grape jelly thing frightens me a little)


@S. Elizabeth Beef in a Bucket: Chuck Roast, one jar of pepperoncini peppers (including juice) OR a jar of Giardiniara vegetables, one package of Ranch Dressing Mix. Low overnight or until the meat is shredding. Shred it all up (I usually pull the peppers out and chop them and put back in) and then serve over rice, or even better, in a sub roll with some mozzarella melted on top. oooof.


@S. Elizabeth For dessert, you can put 1 can of cherry pie filling in a crock pot with a box of chocolate cake mix and a stick of butter. (blend the butter with the cake mix and sprinkle it on top of the cake filling.) Cook it on low for 3 hours. You will not be sad.


@KeLynn Update: both recipes were delicious! The honey lentils sort of tasted like baked beans.


Seriously, though, this is great. Sometimes I feel crummy when I end up being too tired to cook a real dinner after work, and I compare myself to my mom, who cooked every night--but my mom worked a part-time job from 11am to 3pm, while I work 8am to 4:30pm. And she was (and is, and forever will be) a more experienced cook than I am, and she definitely took shortcuts with no worrying about it (see the "impossible cheeseburger pie" recipe on the side of the Bisquik box). And maybe the boyfriend and I eat out for lunch or dinner a couple of times a week, but we're in our early twenties and both work full-time jobs, and I'm not a terrible person if I just want to get broccoli beef from the Chinese place down the street after work. Thank you for reminding me of this!


@figwiggin That said, though, I'm not sure I will ever incorporate canned hamburgers into my quick-meals repertoire. (I don't know why that particularly sounds so gross. I enjoy Vienna sausages and tinned fish with gleeful abandon.)


@figwiggin OMG, cheeseburger pie from the Bisquick box! I had totally forgotten about that weird concoction from childhood!


@charmcity Sometimes I think about going back to the recipe and tarting it up a bit. maybe flavor the ground beef with taco seasoning? Taco cheese pie! Or maybe I'll just eat this whole box of gummy dinosaurs.


@figwiggin !Impossible Taco Pie! I am a little obsessed with Impossible Pies recently, and it seems the internet concurs with me, as they keep popping up everywhere!

Cat named Virtute

Love this. I'm on a big food writing tear right now, and as much as I adore reading about Ruth Reichl drinking Krug '66 and eating truffles with her lover in France, this is a lot close to my reality.

Lily Rowan

This is a fantastic piece! Love it.

The thing that bothers me most about Sandy is that her recipes often don't seem that quick-n-easy, even with the packaged stuff. But she totally is advocating cooking and eating with your family, just not for hours every day!

Now I have to go buy a can of hamburgers, BRB.


Great article! I love food "shortcuts" - it seems like there regularly just just isn't enough time to do everything fresh.

BUT: (and I know this isn't the thrust of the article but hear me out please) food cans are currently still lined with resins that contain BPA. If the food in the can is especially acidic (like tomato sauce) it releases larger amounts of the BPA from the resin into the food. The result? It seems like more and more studies are concluding that this is downright harmful in pregnant women and children, but it's also harmful to certain other select groups (like women with PCOS, because the hormone causes a feedback loop with the PCOS hormone issues, essentially exacerbating the issue dramatically). SO, I just wanted to let people know, because the more people who know the more pressure we can put on food manufacturers to change their ways.

Judith Slutler

@teenie Argh yikes I know, and yet canned tomatoes are the one canned product I really use often. bleh


@Emmanuelle Cunt get Pomi tomatoes, in the tetra-paks, or Eden Organics (they've started packing their canned tomatoes and tomato sauces in glass jars) or Muir Glen (they've made their cans BPA free). BOOM! problem solved!!!


@teenie Yes the Pomi ones are so goooooood. I use Pomi tomato goodness all the time, especially in the winter. And you don't have to worry about Unpleasantness leaching out of cans.

Loved this article too!


@teenie Really! I have been looking for tomatoes (as opposed to tomato sauce) in glass jars without any luck, so I finally broke down and just ordered a bunch of Pomi tomatoes from Vitacost. But if Eden Organics is putting tomatoes in glass jars now, maybe I will find it soon! I feel like such a goober ordering a bunch of tomatoes from a website.



fondue with cheddar

@Monkey I had no idea there existed such a thing as canned hamburgers! I'm a little scared, but also intrigued.


Argh, I have so much to say about this topic but I'm afraid of getting flamed and called a food snob. I guess I believe that cooking should be a fun family activity: why SHOULD the woman be in the kitchen do the cooking while the man and kids watch TV? Why not have everyone help? I also believe really strongly in avoiding processed foods like canned soup, powdered cheese, and crap like that at all costs. Believe me, I'm not some rich lady saying this: my grocery budget is around $50 a week for two people. I have a family member who spends $400 a week for two people, and buys only canned and processed stuff. It's gross!

Which is why I really hate Sandra Lee and her "semi-homemade" bullshit. Why not do real homemade, and tailor it to lower budgets? Instead of lowering standards for the people like the working dad, why not teach people like him how to cook REAL food? Not canned broth, canned vegetables, and processed cheese thrown into a casserole, but homemade stock, fresh vegetables, and real cheese? For example, making your chicken or vegetable stock is ridiculously easy, and it's also cheaper and healthier than getting the sodium-laden, processed crap from a can. (Making your own vegetable stock requires buying the "soup greens" package from the grocery store aisle, and leaving the veggies in it in a slow cooker with water overnight. The end. Seriously!)

I understand that cooking full meals is difficult for working women- I'm a working woman, I get it! But I think that it would be more beneficial to show people, both men and women, how cooking can be fun and enjoyable instead of a chore. I've looked at a lot of Sandra Lee's recipes, and they could so easily be modified to include fresher food and better cooking techniques. Her recipes aren't that quick and easy that adding fresh spinach instead of canned is going to take up the whole night, you know? Even frozen vegetables are better than the canned stuff.

I guess I agree with everything Michael Ruhlman said on the topic.


@bonnbee I understand what you mean! As I get older, it is becoming more important to me to eliminate processed foods from my life as much as possible - but I still usually don't spend more than a half hour every night throwing together my dinner, and I eat some freaking delicious foods. I wish there were more resources/tips for people who want to be better about what they eat, but don't have a million dollars or 12 hours to put together a meal.


@bonnbee I think I fall somewhere in the middle here. I try to avoid the packaged/processed stuff, but sometimes it's just easier/faster to eat canned vegetable soup (to be fair, I buy the no-salt-added kind), toast, and an apple for dinner when my husband and I have both worked a 12-14 hour day. We try to cook "real" food on the weekends and eat leftovers, but by Thursday, there's a pretty good chance we've either finished those, or don't want them AGAIN.

I agree with you in a perfect world (and think it would be pretty easy to move to some much BETTER options - the fresh spinach vs. canned thing is a great example), but I also realize that, for some people, time trumps cost and health. Which is depressing.



There is such a market for a non-snob food guru who could show people that it's possible to eat well without spending a fortune and half your life in the kitchen (or buying junk in cans and boxes that isn't really saving all that much time or money).

(Maybe if Mark Bittman would agree to dress up as a cuddly Mrs. Doubtfire type?)


@bonnbee I totally agree. I fully admit that I am a person who enjoys cooking and trying recipes and I know not everyone is like that, and I can appreciate that. I have a lot of friends who think I am some kind of sorcerer/insane person who enjoys the challenge of making things from scratch.

My problem with Sandra Lee is not HER, per se, but rather the message that because people are busy, they're somehow incapable to create healthy, easy meals quickly. If you keep your pantry stocked with basics and lots of fresh veggies, it isn't too hard to whip up something good. It does take time to learn the basics and lots of trial and error, but nobody expects you to spend every waking minute in the kitchen either. And it is possible to do rather cheaply if you do some research.

Ughhhh, I don't want to sound like a snob either. Kraft mac and cheese holds a special place in my heart and sometimes I use pre-packaged broth and sometimes I just say FUCK IT and order a pizza. I guess my point is that cooking doesn't have to be this SUPER IMPOSSIBLE TASK FOR ONLY FANCY PEOPLE. I work full-time/make crap money but I manage to cook a decent meal a few times a week at least for myself and my boyfriend. I just hate the implication that people like me are the exception, when I think it could so easily be the rule.

Plus cooking requires drinking wine simultaneously. So..


@bonnbee I like the IDEA of making a meal from scratch as much as possible, but I don't like cooking enough to commit to it. Also I'm lazy. I make my own bread and try to get lots of fresh fruits and veggies and call it a day.


@bonnbee I'm with you on this one. I like to cook, so it's easier for me to say, but I really cannot approve the overuse of canned fruit and veg. The sodium! The sugar! The fat! I get what Sandra Lee has done and all that, and from a feminist perspective, that's great, but in terms of providing quick meals for one's family, turn to Rachel Ray, Jacques Pepin, or Jamie Oliver. Another problem I have with this is that it doesn't even try to foster a desire for cooking. The more you do it, the more you learn (and I know, learning sucks 90% of the time).


@bonnbee Mostly, I think this is a case of Minding Our Own Damn Business. I love to cook- it is the most important way for me to wind down, it's a family thing and a way of socializing. I was raised by parents who were adventuresome eaters in the 70's (there isn't much to do on an AFB in Minot, ND... you should see the hilarious International Cooking Club book my parents put together from those days). I am good with budgeting.

But. Other people's lives. We can't know them. And it's hard to know which priorities take first place and why. Rather than get on people about their choices, I feel like the best way to make other options for cooking and eating available is to really, really work at creating opportunities to access fresh foods and slow cooking and such. I mean, Sandra Lee will still be around no matter what we do. And shame isn't a very helpful tool for changing habits. But making stuff available, and creating positive opportunities, is.

And then letting go of what happens after, also.

Maybe I have this attitude because I am diabetic (food related illness- man do people love to get up in my business about what I eat). And some processed things make me puke from some sort of preservatives (so I feel like a jerk about not eating some things). And I love salt, but not so much sweet. And I am not thin (again, people love to get up in my business)... and... and... food deserts and subsidies and and and

And what other people are eating is not my business to judge, even if it might kind of be my business to care about in a social justice way.

Also. Tomato soup lasagne? Really? That's A Thing... the world is an amazing place sometimes.


@bonnbee I get what you're saying, and most nights I cook pretty similarly to the way it sounds like you do. But for me, it IS a chore. I kind of resent how much of my brainspace has to be occupied by thoughts of cooking and menu planning and grocery shopping, when I have a day job and a night class and plenty of other demands on my time (exercise, cleaning the bathroom, etc.). If it comes down to cooking a full meal and getting 5 hours of sleep or heating up frozen veggie burgers for dinner and getting 7 hours of sleep, I'm picking the veggie burgers every time.


@bonnbee I generally lean the same way. I personally don't eat practically anything processed, and even though I'm at until at least 6 every day, I make dinner every single night. BUT, I love cooking. It's one of my few hobbies and usually getting in the kitchen has a positive effect on my mood. There are a lot of people who aren't like that, though, and while I might find cooking recharging, I know people who find it stressful and hateful, and why should they use what little energy they have by the end of the day to cook when they can open a can? I suspect when someone tells them to spend their evening cooking, they feel the same way I do when someone tells me to just get up early and go for a before-work run.

Faintly Macabre

@bonnbee A lot of the false dichotomy between cooking mostly from scratch and eating cheaply/easily reminds me of the people who love to rant about how Whole Foods is an expensive supermarket for rich people. The normal supermarket near me didn't have bulk lentils, oats, nuts, or dried fruit, or organic carrots for under a dollar a pound. It all depends on the -kind- of food you're cooking from scratch.

(Also, for people like me who are too lazy/intimidated to make stock, my family's been using Better than Buillon forever. It's a little more chicken-y than cubes, and less expensive/bulky than canned stock.)

ETA: I say this as someone who mostly lived on cheap veggie burgers and PB&J in college. But one of my favorite meals involved sticking a giant 70-cent sweet potato in the microwave for 15 minutes and having that be my dinner.


@bonnbee i agree with you that cooking your own food is a positive thing for a whole bunch of social/nutritional/environmental reasons, and that people who have never been taught to cook are missing out on a potential source of joy. but i also don't think that big trends like the rise of processed food can be explained by "most people are dumb and wrong, why don't they do it my way which is better!" (not that that's what you're saying; that's just what most of noxious food snobbery boils down to.) essentially, as long as we live in a society that doesn't value domestic work as WORK (ie something with both economic value and opportunity costs) there will always be pressure to reduce the amount of time you spend on it, the people who do it will be disempowered, and enjoying/doing it "right" it will be a luxury--one that's important enough to many people in many walks of life to prioritize at least to some extent, but at a price. and with this comes a culture in which teaching people to cook isn't really something that happens naturally.
(the book that provided a really useful framework for understanding SO MANY THINGS is joan williams's "unbending gender: why family and work conflict and what to do about it." I LOVE THAT BOOK.)

furthermore, if someone's been given all the opportunities and can make an informed decision that cooking's a pain in the ass, then they can do whatever they want.

and my favorite thing about this article is what badasses both ladies are.


@PistolPackinMama I'm with you on this. Cooking and eating was always a family thing for me growing up, so it's definitely something I find comforting in my adult life.

I wouldn't presume to judge others' lives, but I guess I just want them to know it IS possible, at least, to cook a healthy, quick meal with relative ease and not a lot of money. But what they do with that knowledge is up to them. In my experience, there are a lot of folks (..my friends) who didn't know that NOT using a cake mix was even an option.


@PistolPackinMama Yes to this, about choices, priorities and judgments. We do not all have the same ones. I guess what I also object to is the marketing and pride taken in promoting crap eating (and I'm looking at you, too, bacon craze). On the one hand you have the demonization of the culinary elite and on the other, that of the canned gurus, both of which are ridiculous.


@bonnbee have you read Peasant Food Is Simple? You Aren’t a Peasant? I think that addresses a lot of the interesting class issues that revolve around cooking.

The thing that's interesting to me about the debate between fresh/canned, is that it often concentrates on ingredients. I think overall the thing we modern people suffer from is cooking technique ignorance. People who are comfortable with things like braising, sauteeing, roasting, stirfrying, etc, will have the building blocks to make food where they can decide how labor intensive they want to go and what shortcuts they'd like to take. But if you only know how to cook to recipe, which is what I think most people know, it's harder to be adaptable. And it also results in a lot of food waste from both sides. My parents cooked dinner every night and it ranged a lot in quality from pasta plus hot dogs and applesauce to beef fillet with creamed spinach and twice cooked potatos. We were a canned and a fresh family, and I appreciate that I learned technique most of all, how to look at any random collection of ingredients in my freezer and fridge and be able to make SOMETHING to eat from it, and be relatively confident that it would taste okay.


@bonnbee Using all fresh ingredients is outside the realm of reality for a lot of people on a fixed income, particularly food stamps. There's a long post about how growing up in poverty can affect you into your adult years, but the relevant part is in the beginning. http://www.cracked.com/blog/the-5-stupidest-habits-you-develop-growing-up-poor/

Edited to add - I agree with you, but there is more than the cost of the groceries that limits the access to groceries. Cost of the gas to get to the store and all that.


@RosemaryF I would once again like to remind you all that this is not slumber party inoffensive appropriate. Please, ladies!


@bonnbee For example, making your chicken or vegetable stock is ridiculously easy, and it's also cheaper and healthier than getting the sodium-laden, processed crap from a can. (Making your own vegetable stock requires buying the "soup greens" package from the grocery store aisle, and leaving the veggies in it in a slow cooker with water overnight. The end. Seriously!)

this doesn't require a lot of prep time, but it requires a lot of planning. some people just do not have it in them to spend part of their brain power deciding what they are going to eat and assembling the ingredients in advance. and it requires research--knowledge of how to make stock doesn't just fall out of the sky, you had to read that in a mark bittman column or learn it from your bubby. (and a slow cooker, does everybody have a slow cooker now? does everybody have to have a slow cooker?) so yes, it may be "ridiculously easy" for you, given your own priorities and background, but not everybody shares those.

i am an OK cook, i even like to read food blogs. but it's just not true that it's "easy" to assemble meals that are cheap and delicious. not everybody is interested in eating meals that have only a few ingredients that you have to cut up and cook before you can eat them. sometimes you want a lasagna, and stouffer's does that better than you will, in way less time.


@BosomBuddy Nothing anyone can ever say will ever make bacon not okay. It is my favorite meat and has been all my life and the bacon craze just makes a delicious thing more available and if I had to give up desserts or bacon for the rest of my life, goodbye dessert.

Really. Bacon brittle. There as nothing wrong with it. NOTHING.


@PistolPackinMama I totally get you.

For what it's worth, my comment wasn't about judging the single dads or working moms who would rather hang out with their kids than cook.

It was more about finding a way to show people that cooking real food isn't an elite, fancy, rich people hobby: it's an essential life skill.

I have a family member who disparages me every time I cook something from scratch, whether it's pie crust, bread, frosting, whatever. She treats me like I'm (in Sarah Palin voice) a "liberal elite" who can't get down with the common folk. What the fuck? Since when is performing a life skill an elitist exercise?

I think it's really important to teach young people how to cook, and not just in a one-semester home ec class in junior high. In my experience, my friends of both genders never learned how to cook at all. They're now in their mid-to-late twenties and thirties, and their meals consist of takeout, microwaved Chef Boyardee, Lean Cuisine, etc. If they ever have children or families one day, I wonder if their kids will grow up the same way, with no sense of kitchen literacy and no idea how to feed themselves real, fresh food.

When cooking is framed as a life skill instead of just a hobby, I think it's easier to show people that it's useful and important.

Faintly Macabre

@E I agree--that's something I always wish I'd learned. My parents are both competent cooks but mostly improvised their technique, and the only cooking lesson I remember from Home Ec was how to organize 5 people to make 1 box of Jiffy muffins. Between that and being a perfectionist about cooking/baking, I tend to cook from recipes when I make actual meals, and do way too much research on the best techniques beforehand.


@blahstudent This kind of thing always makes me think about the book The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, which after reading, my students are always like... "but but but... but why couldn't the Hmong people just figure out that the doctors were right and do it their way and avert the tragedy and it would work if someone just explained it better."

And the job of the anthropology teacher there is to say "obviously, this is not true, because that is not how it happened." You can want it to be true all you like, but some people's reasons for not following Western doctor's orders/eating in a certain way will always be hard for you to understand and you cannot change people's cultural context and background and values and upbringing to make it any different.

If we want people to have access to healthy, sustainable, not-exploitative of them foods, we have to just be okay with the fact that people make choices for reasons. And the reasons are what they are, and they are valid if only because they were made given the circumstances, and that is how it is.

Also... there are different kinds of poor. Poor in a city neighborhood with inexpensive ethnic groceries and room for a garden while poor is different from eating in Lodge Grass MT with only a really badly stocked IGA, elk-hunting, and a 50-dollar tank of gas trip to the Walmart in Billings while trying to feed your kids as well as your sister's kids on your tiny paycheck and also some benefit poor.

In situation 2, frozen pizza is a pretty good option.

Realities are hard, yo. Maybe recognizing how really, really real realities are, is the hardest part of all.

Judith Slutler

@bonnbee Yeah, a lot of my friends grew up that way too. I try not to judge but I also can't imagine eating that way regularly.


@RosemaryF I remember the days when I couldn't afford a car and had to carry my bags of groceries almost a mile... ugh it was the worst! I ended up making three trips a week, but my arm muscles were pretty awesome! The problem of "food deserts" is a really big one, which is why I think that frozen vegetables are a great option.

@blah student: for what it's worth, vegetable stock and soups can be made in a number of different vessels, not just a slow cooker. Is putting five whole, uncut vegetables in a pot of water on the stove for a few hours to make stock, "too much work?" How much easier can it get? Is that any more work than opening the can of vegetable stock? It's like what Michael Ruhlman said in his essay. If you'd rather eat processed food from a can, or from a Stouffer's box, your whole life, then fine. That's your priority and choice. But don't pretend that performing the life skill of feeding yourself is unreasonably difficult. When you say "not everybody is interested in eating meals that have only a few ingredients that you have to cut up and cook before you can eat them," I'm not sure what you mean.

I guess I'm used to people from a middle-class background, who CAN afford to buy real, fresh food, just take the "easy way" out and make gross Sandra Lee-esque recipes because cooking is just "too hard."


@bonnbee I hear you on that, for sure.

My guess would be... dealing with the Sarah Palin narrative will get us a long way farther in dealing with this problem than just about anything else.

And it makes sense- these issues link back to crop subsidies, corporate profit, sustainability and fuel issues, class and poverty, and "individual choices." So of course it's politicized out the ying yang.

My one-on-one response to Food Snobs is to just say "yeah... but I find cooking so relaxing, you know? It's almost like meditation and halfway to prayer to focus on something while not focusing on it. Getting a tasty treat out of it at the end is just a bonus. It's kind of like going for a run or going fishing that way." And then drop it. Because they aren't going to listen to anything else anyway.

dj pomegranate

@bonnbee I agree with you and I think it's important to highlight that it IS a life skill. Knowing basic cooking techniques will help you in life! You don't have to use them, you can choose eat Stouffer's every day if you want (not my business if that's your choice, and Stouffer's is delicious.) But I think everyone has been in a situation (or can imagine a situation) in which knowing how to sautee some onions or cook some rice will come in very handy. And when you think of how super cheap so many of the basics are (rice, potatoes, pasta, root veggies, etc.), it really IS a life skill for people on a tight budget. There have definitely been times in my life when I lived on $10 of rice and onions for a week, you know? It's good to know that if you have to, you can! Add to that the fact that just a little cooking knowledge can give you loads of opportunity for food creativity (making good food out of very few ingredients), and it's a win-win: important life skill + delicious result.


@blahstudent My dad makes his own stock from scratch. He does this by getting rotisserie chickens, stripping the meat and eating it during the week, saving the carcasses, and then dedicating a Sunday to making stock. And then freezes it.

Which is great! It tastes delicious! It cures colds! But it requires effort and planning, the space in the freezer to put this stuff in, the kitchen space to make the stuff, having the equipment and the space to store it (I do not have room for a stockpot in my kitchen, it would have to live in the linen closet), being around for several hours while the stove is on to make sure the house doesn't burn down... I admire it but it's not as easy or as simple as people like to imply.


@RosemaryF what you say is so true, and so INFURIATING! this is NOT how America should be - we have the ability to ensure fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are affordable for everyone, but with farm subsidies the way they are (and the food lobby keeping them that way) - we're somewhat doomed to this overabundance of high fructose corn syrup and soy protein fillers. Guess how many subsidies there are for fresh vegetables? zero. It's fucking insane. It is absolutely criminal how the government has allowed an overfed lobby group to keep things at a status quo that is AT BEST creating a permanent health rift between the haves and have nots, at worst ensuring our entire nation is chronically obese and unhealthy. urrrggghhhh


@bonnbee But don't pretend that performing the life skill of feeding yourself is beyond the pale of what most people can accomplish in a day.

See my comment about Lodge Grass, MT.

Also, I am a very, very good cook. My brother, also really very good. I have been reduced to eating graham crackers with frosting on, and he once ate M&M's melted on a radiator on account of being paralyzed by depression, not having showered in eight days, and having no food in the house except said graham crackers and frosting and a bottle of amaretto, which I hate, and some dried chiles from an aborted posole project.

I accept that I may have that happen occasionally to me for the rest of my life. Which is good, because it probably will someday.

What blah student is describing is really very real for a lot of people, and insisting veggie stock is easy to do when for whatever reason it is just not will not make people learn the skill and make it a habit.

It's worth trying to make it a habit, it is a good skill to have, and I think we should work on building a society where that option is available to people.

But insisting it is easy will not make it easy for anyone but you, for whom it is already easy.

Lily Rowan

You know, I'm not wild about her personality (or terrible tipping on that other show she had!), but Rachael Ray's 30 Minute Meals do a great job, IME, of taking mostly actual ingredients and turning them into something delicious, quickly. (Probably not in 30 minutes, if you're me, but maybe 45? That's still OK.)

But personally, I really just cook on the weekends and heat up during the week.

dj pomegranate

@anachronistique I do this! Every 2 weeks or so I roast a chicken, eat the chicken all week for lunch, and boil the carcass into chicken broth on the weekend, freeze it in approx 1-cup tupperwares, and use it later in quick weeknight soups. I love using the whole chicken and being super frugal...it makes me feel like a KITCHEN GODDESS!

You're right, it does take planning, space, stovetop, effort, etc., so it's definitely not feasible for everyone. But it's the kind of thing that I think more people would do if they knew they could? I think a lot of people don't even know it's an option.


@bonnbee I don't think "but it's too hard" is a bad reason, though. I'm reasonably middle-class and I probably could afford fresher foods but I would probably starve to death without canned beans and soup, frozen vegetables, and peanut butter. And that's not some kind of moral failure because those things are not poison. In fact they're fairly nutritious compared to a lot of your Standard American Diet foods. Not wanting to do something because it's really stressful for you, or because you will seriously have a panic attack if this kitchen gets any dirtier-- at least for me, that's in itself something of a health consideration.


"It's worth trying to make it a habit, it is a good skill to have, and I think we should work on building a society where that option is available to people."

We're definitely on the same page here! Why won't Food Network produce a show like this??

I'm not trying to be the Veggie Stock Goddess or be judgmental... I guess I'm just sensitive to people I personally know having a negative attitude about cooking and treating it either like a mysterious wizard skill or an elitist hobby. When Blah Student made the comment about how some people don't want to spend a few minutes cutting up vegetables to make a lasagna, it reminded me of those attitudes, even though she or he may not have meant it in that way.


@PistolPackinMama I think you've hit part of the crux of things--cooking takes mental energy as well as physical energy, and sometimes when I get home from work, I just. Can't. Do it. Even if I know that I could throw together pasta with sausage and broccoli in a few minutes, I just--I can't! And admittedly, I'm trying to work through the mental blocks, but shaming people or saying that they aren't trying hard enough ignores the nuanced realities that can come with living.


@PistolPackinMama: The Gateway Meat.


@figwiggin There are days when the thought of going to the grocery store and interacting with all those people and having to make choices makes me want to weep.

Which is to say that I have all the kitchen skills, thanks to my awesome dad, and I do enjoy cooking - but there are so many steps and investments of time and energy along the way that a lot of the time I just make a peanut butter sandwich and call it a night.


@anachronistique Ughhh I know! Sometimes grocery shopping is fun and I get all excited about what I'm going to cook, but sometimes it just makes me fly into a murderous rage where I want to run people over with my cart. And while I was in college I legit once started crying at the local Safeway because I was going to buy bananas--but the banana industry is so fucked! But I couldn't afford organic/fair trade/whatever bananas! It can be so stressful. (I had a terrible time the other day when I got through all the shopping and got to the line only to find that I didn't have my debit card and only had enough cash to pay for 1/3 of the items. I felt so fucking terrible.)

I love to cook when I have the time, the mental and physical energy, and a clean kitchen! It's the balance of not feeling like The Worst Person about that peanut butter sandwich that's important.


@bonnbee Weeelllllllllllllllllll... having an elite wizard skill has certain charms.

Potroastiarmus! Alohapineappleporkomorha!

That Sarah Palin narrative of Food Is Elite Wizardy makes me stabby. I think the trick is to find a way to take that stabbiness out on the right target in the most effective way.

If you haven't yet, institute the Cooking As Zen Experience, Except Maybe Not Zen Because Zen Sounds Liberal tack.

"I know it seems all fancy, but really, it's like figuring out how to change the oil in a car, or learning the rules of football. It's just a puzzle. And the brownies are kind of irrelevant to the whole process, you know?"

It works a charm for me, I find.


@PistolPackinMama PS: Can I just tell you all, as I have this e-versation? I am staring out a window at Lake Superior while noshing on fancy crackers with locally sourced artisan cheese and smoked trout?



@bonnbee "We're definitely on the same page here! Why won't Food Network produce a show like this??"

Isn't that Jamie Oliver's thing now (since he's stopped travelling around the world, telling people how to make their own cuisine, and crying)? That's definitely what his newer cookbooks are about. My mother has one where the idea is teaching yourself how to cook, then spreading the knowledge/recipes to others so they can pay it forward. It's a great idea and a pretty good cookbook.


@PistolPackinMama Agh don't make me hungryyyyyy. All I have at my desk is half of a disappointing orange and some stale peanut butter crackers. Lunchtime in fifteen minutes...


@all This was such an interesting thread to read. I love the pithy, respectful debate. I'm somewhat of a combination of the sensibilities expressed here. I am a really good cook (I used to be a chef) and I know what quality, healthy food looks like. I'm also a single mom, working 60 hours a week, taking two online classes, and doing it all without child support. I'm fucking broke. And tired. And the idea of having a partner who would help with the cooking honestly makes me weep a little, because damn would that be nice! So my sous chef is a kindergartener who slowly chops carrots for stew and makes a gigantic mess whisking flour for waffles in the morning. It's a tough line to walk, because I want to make healthy, hot food every night in the 45 minutes I have before it's time for my kid to head to bed, but I also want to spend time with him. So some nights I make quesadillas and maybe toss up a spinach salad and call it good. And some nights if I'm not exhausted I'll make a big pot of soup after he's in bed and we'll eat that for dinner the next few nights. But kids get sick of the same food all the time, and if I put the soup in his thermos at lunchtime too many days in a row, he won't eat it. Food! It's tough. There's so many different ways to approach such a knotty subject, but I think having more of an open mind about where people are coming from when they make the choices about what they put in their bodies, and not underestimating their intelligence/knowledge of what's healthy and what's not would go a long way.

Also, Sandra Lee is a badass and I love her, even though I don't cook any of her recipes. I have so much respect for her.

Roxanne Rholes

@City_Dater YES! You are so right about this. I know someone who volunteers at a soup kitchen and is a wonderful cook (he was even the chef at a major hotel for a few years.) The food that gets donated is often stuff the guests have no idea how to use, so he ended up standing in the pantry explaining, "this is a fiddlehead. Steam it. Throw it on pasta with this cheese here...yes, I know it's modly, but I swear, it's supposed to be that way, and it tastes good." He ends up doing this for a big chunk of each shift, because it helps them get rid of things like artichokes, oyster mushrooms, and weird fruits. Still, they have to throw so much food away. We have so much food in our society and so much of it is wasted!


@bonnbee Ew. Who eats microwaved Chef Boyardee? The only way to eat Chef Boyardee is cold, straight out of the can, fork optional.


@Faintly Macabre Well, if you're going to shop economically at Whole Foods (which I do) you have to plan an extra shopping trip into your day, because god knows I can't afford to buy everything I need there. I don't have kids, so that's ok for me at this point in my life, but if I had more than one job or children, there's no way I could pull that off. Not to mention that I have had several friends on public assistance who were shamed by Whole Foods employees for DARING to buy, like, organic baby food with their food stamps. This was not an anomaly - it's the corporate culture, so I'm going to have to come out with the Whole Foods is for Rich People team.

no way

@heyits Nicely said.
This debate reminds me of wedding planning competitiveness around small budgets. Very few people (on this site, maybe?) want to spend a fortune on their wedding, we do the best we can. Some choices are available to certain people and not to others - I said it before, pot luck would have been absolutely unacceptable at my wedding.

Folks want to feed themselves/their families the best food possible. It can be difficult. We just cannot know all the reasons people make the choices they make.

Emma Peel

@bonnbee I like to cook. I eat home-cooked food basically every night. That said, I can't deny that heating something up (whether it's leftovers, restaurant leftovers or a frozen dinner) is easier, and I don't blame anyone who doesn't want to do it.

I cook to recipe and don't have great technique. Still, the quickest dinner (with the exception of a scrambled egg or something) takes about 30-40 minutes, by the time I've prepped, chopped, cooked and cleaned up, and that's assuming I have ingredients to hand. This isn't unreasonable, but I work late, sometimes I work out after work, and I try to go to bed early, and there's a mental block to knowing that cooking is going to take up some of my precious post-work time.

Finally, cooking for one can be kind of depressing when you have to do it every night -- everything takes longer, there's no one helping with the dishes, and in the end the only person you're doing it for is yourself. You have to choose to make it a priority, and it's an expensive and somewhat time-consuming one.


@aphrabean That and the WF proposed BMI staff incentive, the corporate juiceboxes, their (evidently sometimes) all-knowing staff and their non-unionizing policy all suggest...

It's never just about food.

On behalf of your friend, I want to run those people over with shopping trolleys. And hope they run into a person who has the emotional energy to rip them a new one- loudly- for trying to shame them for their choices.


(I can volunteer for that job, if you like. I would enjoy it so much!)

Emma Peel

@MilesofMountains YES I loved Jamie Oliver's West Virginia series where he tried to teach people how to cook easy, fresh stuff. Love love love him. And his recipes.

Another thing that hasn't been mentioned: the start-up cost of cooking. Making stock requires a crockpot or a soup pot and a strainer, none of which I have, and my kitchen is fairly well-stocked. I occasionally run into stuff I can't make because I don't have the right equipment, and I'm not talking silly one-function things like a paella pan, but fairly basic stuff like a casserole dish or a skillet that can go from cooktop to oven or a giant soup pot. Or a strainer that isn't a colander. And I spent a year buying something for my kitchen almost every month. I know I can use it forever now that I have it, and DAMN my $45 Martha Stewart enameled Dutch Oven was the best $45 I've ever spent, but... when you're on a budget, it's still $45.

Not making excuses. Just 'splaining.


@PistolPackinMama Hahaha. I wish I understood bacon. I mean, I like it, but I don't get the bacon-makes-everything-better. Because, there's a lot of bad bacon (am I going to spontaneously combust by saying that?). Maybe I don't have good access?


@PistolPackinMama My friend & I were JUST talking about gathering a bunch of women who use public assistance to stage a Whole Foods Event. 20 ladies, en masse, going in & "educating" them in exactly, exactly the way that you just illustrated!

And I forgot about the BMI thing! UGH. Whole Foods is kind of the worst, and they've driven all the other health-food type stores out of business so they're the only game in town, where I live, otherwise I would not shop there ever.


@aphrabean Oh please do. And make liberal use of your camera phones! And post it on YouTube! Pleeease.


@PistolPackinMama um, when you're done at Whole Foods can you come here and yell at the grumpy as fuck checker who always made sure to make comments about how she was paying for my WIC checks with her tax dollars? and then sent me on 3 separate trips to get the correct substitutions, because no matter how many times I pored over the examples they gave me, I always managed to grab the wrong size of cheese block or the wrong brand/type of oatmeal. All that buffoonery is why I stopped getting WIC, because even though it was nice to be able to get peanut butter and fresh vegetables, it wasn't worth the eye-rolling and hoop-jumping.


@Emma Peel Ugh, cooking for one (sometimes) sucks. A few years ago I ended up staying two weeks with a Buddhist monk who was a former chef. He lived on his own, and I cooked him dinner every night while I was there. At one point, he mentioned that it had been a while since he'd had proper meals like that because one of his big spiritual struggles was trying to see himself as valuable enough to be worth making a proper meal for. There are all sorts of reasons why people don't cook, sometimes.

Faintly Macabre

@aphrabean That's getting down to semantics a bit. In college, I did not have a car but Whole Foods was the closest non-convenience-store grocery, so I walked 30 minutes each way to get there and got most basics there or at Rite Aid. Other Whole Foods in the area were close to other supermarkets, but not close to me. I mean, we can do a survey of how far apart each grocery store is in every town by income, but I don't know how that changes the point that Whole Foods sells things besides vegan shampoo.

I think thinking Whole Foods is all socially and environmentally friendly goes hand-in-hand with thinking it's for elitists or rich people. It's a major company! Just because it has a green logo does not mean that it's green. But other people's misconceptions doesn't make it extra-bad for being like every other grocery chain.


@MilesofMountains Yes! I have his book that's about making a 4 course meal in 30 minutes. And it looks GOOD! And healthy. And fresh. And like you could just go and pick up the ingredients and do it. Because it's literally in exactly the order that you need to do it. Prep thing one for dish one. Set on back burner and chop thigns for dish two. Stir dish one. And so on. Which excites me. And I can't wait to use the book. It is my summer plan to be A Lady Who Throws Dinner Parties. Or at least, A Lady Who Cooks A Dinner And Eats It For Lunch For Three Days Afterwards.


@Faintly Macabre I guess I don't see how anything I said had anything to do with semantics? There are not Whole Foods in poor neighborhoods. They discourage people who use public assistance from shopping there. It's not semantics to say that this makes it a store for rich people - Whole Foods WANTS to be a store for rich people. It isn't an accessible source for food for most people.


@aphrabean I'd say the fact that they market themselves as a co-op equivalent, even if they aren't, means they want the image without having the structure of that kind of establishment.

Which is critique-worthy, too, I think.


@PistolPackinMama Oh, that is a really great point! Very critique worthy.

Cashmere Sweater

@PistolPackinMama Yup, totally. I don't like to cook. I just really, really don't like it. I enjoy other chores. But cooking — if I could farm that out, I would do it. Just like people who despise mowing the lawn or dusting hire someone to do those things for them. I don't think it has to be a measure of personal worth. Different strokes for different folks. Personally, if science could invent meals in pills, I would be first in line. I'm just not that into food.


@bonnbee You don't have to cook complicated meals or make your own chicken stock to be healthy. I HATE to cook, so I just prepare really, really simple things for my meals. Brussels sprouts baked with olive oil with avocado on toast, for example. Or some chicken breast I threw in the oven with olive oil.
I avoid the prep, the constant thinking about food, the cleanup, etc.
I mean, I think it's great that cooking is a popular hobby for people. It's awesome. I just enjoy doing other things.


This was a fascinating article. Some of the concoctions are breathtaking, seriously.


This is "Scandals of Classic Hollywood" good/to my taste. More, please!


I completely misread "Lucanian Eggs Au Gratin" as "Lacanian" and then sat here for several minutes wondering what those eggs would look/taste like.

@dale I did the same thing! I think they would involve a lot of black coffee and cigarettes.


@dale They would taste of the Real. And processed cheese.


@dale Ha! I did as well!


@MerelyGoodExpectations I think someone smarter than me needs to rewrite some recipes in this vein (using philosophers/etc).

@dale http://pvspade.com/Sartre/cookbook.html

Jean-Paul Sartre's Cooking Dairy. You're welcome.

"Still working on the omelet. There have been stumbling blocks. I keep creating omelets one after another, like soldiers marching into the sea, but each one seems empty, hollow, like stone. I want to create an omelet that expresses the meaninglessness of existence, and instead they taste like cheese. I look at them on the plate, but they do not look back. Tried eating them with the lights off. It did not help. Malraux suggested paprika."


@S. Elizabeth Oh my goodness, thank you for linking! I remembered reading this but couldn't remember whether it was Dadaist or Samuel Beckett or whatnow, which meant googling a lot of unhelpful things.


@S. Elizabeth Work firewall has it blocked but I'll look when I get home!

And here's the spot where I say: I love the internet! and some of the people on it!


Ahh this is fucking brilliant, I loved it.

Jen Alien-Spouse@twitter

Poppy Cannon's life sounds fascinating, is there a biography of her that you know of?

I recently read "Bubbly on your Budget" by Majorie Hillis, which was originally published in 1937 and is just delightful, and she also wrote a cookbook called "Corned Beef and Cavier". The mind boggles at that combination!


@Jen Alien-Spouse@twitter I adore Marjorie Hillis, and I'm slowly collecting all of her books that I can find. I stumbled on "Corned Beef and Caviar" at The Green Apple in SF, and fell head-over-heels. "Live Alone and Like It" is brilliant, especially the totally non-judgemental chapter at the end discussing "should you, or shouldn't you?" with your gentlemen callers. She wrote this in, like, 1932.

Jen Alien-Spouse@twitter

@TheCheesemanCometh "Live Alone and Like It" is on my Kindle wishlist already, but I'll bump it up!


@Jen Alien-Spouse@twitter Also, "Orchids on your budget" has tons of amazing (and still relevant!) tips for living within your modest means. After all, single women during the Depression weren't making great dough. She's one of those people that I just wish I could have met; I bet she was awesome to talk to.

Jen Alien-Spouse@twitter

@TheCheesemanCometh I have now read "Live Alone and Like It" - Majorie is just so damn sensible and nice, isn't she? I'd love to go to her house for sherry and nibbles.


@Jen Alien-Spouse@twitter Seriously, she is my hero!


LOVE THIS! And, Peg Bracken forever!

Party Falcon

@noReally I ADORE Peg Bracken!


Does "whole canned chicken" mean a whole can full of chicken or a whole chicken in a can? Hmmmm...!

Party Falcon

@tortietabbie Whole chicken in a can, I bet. Have you ever seen the episode of Chopped where they had whole canned chicken as a basket ingredient? So pasty and gelatinous.


@tortietabbie A whole chicken shoved in a can. My dad swears it's awesome and mourns that it's no longer available.

dj pomegranate

@MilesofMountains I don't even understand how this is possible.


@MilesofMountains They carry canned chicken at my local Winco! I eyeball it every time I'm picking up tins of sardines.


@MilesofMountains Just how big is that can? Or is it a really teeny chicken?

Lady Humungus

@tortietabbie Read and gag:



@anachronistique About a tomato juice sized can and a teeny, squashed chicken. I think Swanson's still produces them.


@tortietabbie holy fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu.

fondue with cheddar

@Lady Humungus Oh, my goodness. And I thought gefilte fish looked disgusting. I imagine the noises it makes are pretty gross, too.


@Lady Humungus It's so disgusting my office has blocked the site - for my safety, I'm sure.


@Lady Humungus Whyyyyyy did I click that? I don't know what I expected to see.


@jen325 Now all you've done is make me hungry for gefilte fish. Only a month till Passover!

fondue with cheddar

@anachronistique I hope you're talking about the real stuff, not the gelatin-covered lumpy gray thing in a jar!

Most of my Jewish family doesn't even eat it. In fact, I think when my uncle died he reduced to half the number of family members who liked it.


@jen325 Nope, the people we have seders with make it from scratch and it is delicious. Fluffy and savory!

fondue with cheddar

@anachronistique I've heard it's really good! My stepmom's mom doesn't eat the jarred stuff either. She tells stories from her childhood of getting a live fish from the market and leaving it to swim around the bathtub until it's time to prepare it. Talk about fresh!


There's a recipe in one of my (non-Sandra Lee) cookbooks for pasta with broccoli and harissa oil that I make often on weeknights. Sounds good, right? If I use Buitoni pasta, frozen broccoli, pre-chopped almonds, jarred harissa, and pre-crumbled feta, guess what? It's convenience food. Fancy, gourmet convenience food, but there you have it.


@cuminafterall Where do you find jarred harissa?! It's the only condiment-style thing I'll eat, but I haven't had any in ages!


I went to culinary school, so this entire article HORRIFIED THE SHIT OUT OF ME.

Except that I sort of love Sandra Lee as a person. She busted her ass to make a better life for herself and she doesn't care what anyone thinks, not even Tony Bourdain (who, I would like to point out, is not exactly the world's healthiest person). The description of Poppy Cannon makes me think that I would like to someday be awesome and swan about town in a turban, being all glamorous and zesty and independent-minded.

Aunt Pete

@Anji I had the same thought. Sandra Lee's cooking is at odds with everything I believe about food and cooking but HELL YEAH she's a personal inspiration.


@Aunt Pete I guess I can respect and admire the person without wanting anything to do with their work? Idk. Whatever, Sandy is amazing and haters should just step off to the left. The vitriol I've seen against her - especially on the TWoP forums - is just staggering.


A thing my mother would be quick to throw in here, if she were a Hairpinner, is that back in Poppy's time, cooking was a much, much bigger pain in the ass. Electric appliances were bigtime luxury items, exotic ingredients were much harder to come by. Canned soup recipes were like not having to haul water from the center of town any more.


I'm going through a phase that is exactly the opposite of what Sandra Lee represents. I am making homemade mozzarella and ricotta today in preparation for making pizza tonight. It is time consuming, and I may or may not break down and eat boxed mac'n'cheese for three weeks straight sometime in the near future.

Judith Slutler

@heliotropegerbil8 Damn. Can I come over for dinner?


@heliotropegerbil8 Heyyy, I was thinking of making pizzas tonight! With store-bought mozzarella, but still.


@Emmanuelle Cunt Yes you can!


@figwiggin Much more logical... the mozzarella didn't turn out very well. I'm hoping the ricotta goes better.


@heliotropegerbil8 Aw, bummer! I tried making paneer one time and it came out kind of weird and bitter-tasting. I thought soft cheeses were supposed to be easy!


@heliotropegerbil8 what do you do for work?? I don't have enough hours in the day at home for that, but damn it sounds good...


This was brilliant. Thanks so much for this article!


Frozen pearl onions > peeling those little fuckers.


@cinnamonskin Sing it!


@MerelyGoodExpectations Oh God -- Julia Child's boeuf bourguignon recipe and peeling those fifty damned pearl onions. Never again.


@cinnamonskin Pearl onions are the devil's onions.

Tragically Ludicrous

@cinnamonskin In the Netherlands you can get bags of already-chopped (or ringed) onions. I never want to leave.


@Tragically Ludicrous the Netherlands are a magical place filled with awesome and I love it. Can we New Orleanians steal your technology for keeping our city out of water? (Also, you can flood your enemies, which is badass, and I may consider doing that to Gov. Jindal.)


@MerelyGoodExpectations @purefog - I admit, I only caved into this one when She Who Knows Everything: The Barefoot Contessa, said she did it. <3 U INA GARTEN.


But...you guys...the tablescapes and matching cocktails!

Jon Custer

If only there were some sort of middle ground between organic fresh local homemade artisanal everything, and eating everything out of a can.


@Jon Custer Much as I love to cook, I could die happy if the rest of my life, all I ate was:


popcorn made on the stove
half avocados with lime squeezed on and salt
Tomato, if it's in season

Grunerveltliener wine

That seems like a pretty good middle ground to me.

@Jon Custer

1. Trader Joe's frozen basmati rice packet, microwaved. A nice amount of Soy Vey "Very Very Terriyaki" sauce. A sliced up avocado on top.

2. Slice avocado. Cut up a grapefruit and dig out the yummy fruit. Mix avocado and grapefruit together in a bowl. Call it "salad."

3. Bourbon from a bottle. Mint from your local farmer's market. Ice from your freezer. Simple syrup from the store. Soda water. Call it a "mint julep," and don't bruise the mint when you muddle it.

4. Peach Mango Coconut water, Chocolate Brownie Luna bar. Call it "post-yoga meal of champions" Extra points for eating it on the T while drenched in sweat and hitting people in the face with your yoga mat.

Lady Humungus

@PistolPackinMama Will you be my dietitian?


@S. Elizabeth Ooh. Add frozen shrimp to the grapefruit avocado mix, add some salt and hot pepper flakes, and maybe green onion if you feel ambitious, et voila call it "ceviche."


@PistolPackinMama Probably you'd want to use cooked shrimp, though. And also a splash of olive oil, if you have any and feel like it.

Also, lime, also if you feel like it.


@Lady Humungus Sure. First lesson: Sometimes fancy chocolate is very good, but occasionally, only a holiday themed Hershey's Kiss will do.

That said, when I really think about my food choices, fair/direct chocolate goes on the top of my list because we know child labor and slavery are used in cocoa production. So maybe that is bad advice. :(

@PistolPackinMama I would like to add that all four recipes listed are meal options, including #3. Mint is a vegetable.


@S. Elizabeth Eat them in this order:

2,1,4,3, and it's a four course meal.

I like how avocado features heavily in this mix. Avocado, vegetable butter for the win! My BFF and I would do the 1/2 avocado popcorn routine a lot when we were housemates.

Lady Humungus

@PistolPackinMama I'm a Lindt 85% girl myself. (Their website tells me they're fair trade/sustainable, so I hope I can trust that?) Although yes also to cheap drugstore candy - Reese's PB Cups mmm. Also my supermarket carries the tawdry British chocolates like Tiger Bars and the good Cadbury!

Jon Custer

@Jon Custer I love it when my sarcastic comments lead to Good!

Jon Custer

@Lady Humungus I used to live about a 15 minute walk from the Cadbury's factory (AND MUSEUM) and I never went. Shame on me.


@Jon Custer There is a special place in hell for those who live near Cadbury Land and don't visit. And it's full only of crappy American Halloween candy.

Jon Custer

@PistolPackinMama But I was really busy! Mostly trying to find out what dubstep is!


@PistolPackinMama this is a comment of beauty. Are we related?


@Jon Custer TOO LATE. YOU ARE DOOOOOOMED. Because we all know dubstep is just a poor substitution for chocolate.

@cinnamonskin I expect we are. Keep an eye out for the broad shouldered busty redhead at your next family reunion.


@PistolPackinMama but that is ALL OF US. Even the menfolks. Truth: I worked here in college.


@S. Elizabeth I am doing that thing with grapefruit and avocado. I am doing that so so soon.


@Jon Custer Me too! I had/have friends who work/ed there. Bags of damaged and deformed chocolate. Mmmm...


@cinnamonskin I DIE. And want 1/2 price Rolling Rock.


@Jon Custer There is! Make lots of money and eat all your meals in trendy restaurants...


I want the Mock Hollandaise recipe.


Just had to pop in and say what a wonderful piece this is. Wow.


This post contains everything I love about The Hairpin. Thank you!



My main exposure to Sandra Lee was the infamous Kwanzaa cake, until last year. I was Googling kitchen appliances for people with arthritis (which I don't have, but I do have multiple hand-related disabilities and it sometimes takes me 2 hours to put together an "easy" 20-minute recipe, which is less Googleable)and came across a related interview with her. Apparently her inspiration (or some part of it) to present shortcut recipes came from having a relative with arthritis for whom cooking was incredibly difficult, and she continues to advocate for arthritic cooks. So I'm pretty much on her team now. Although I don't think I'll be using any of her recipes.


Making people feel guilty about using frozen vegetables is totally counterproductive. Buy tons of fresh, organic produce so you can feel good about yourself! Then feel bad about yourself when you end up throwing out a third of it!

It's important to me that when buying food (especially meat and fresh veggies) my husband and I try to be realistic about how much time and effort we will have to put into cooking. Therefore we buy a mix of fresh and frozen and don't beat ourselves up about it.


@yamtoes I love frozen vegetables, especially in the winter. Most fresh vegetables look pretty sad this time of year.

The Lady of Shalott

@suddenvalley and WICKED expensive. Cut-up fresh orange and yellow peppers are one of my absolute favourite things in the world, but holy shit, right now in my neck of the woods they're $3.99 a pound. And I...I can't afford that. They're delicious, but I'm just going to have to wait because there's no way.


Oh, the food-judging.

The truth is, some folks just don't *like* cooking,
and that's okay!
I mean, try to not resort to eating at McDonald's all the time,
but it's senseless to make women OR men feel bad for choosing to use their time to do something besides cooking.

It's kind of akin to respecting A Clean Person's advice, but also being okay with the fact that your grout might not be spotless.



@OxfordComma Yes! It's fine with me if you enjoy cooking, but I'm tired of people ascribing moral value to it.


@OxfordComma Totally. Cooking is a life skill for me. I prepare ridiculously simple, healthy meals so I don't die.
Cooking is a hobby for some people and that's great. But, it is just a hobby. Being a good cook doesn't make you a better person, or even a more interesting person necessarily.


OK I am not against recipe "cheating" in theory (I mean, I make mac and cheese and have made cupcakes recipes using the boxed stuff many times), but Sandra Lee's just look inedible.


I adored this piece! And I also think eggs were Poppy's version of "put a bird on it."


@JessicaLovejoy Also, add rum and set on fire.

fondue with cheddar

@yamtoes That's a good solution to a lot of situations.

Party Falcon

@yamtoes She really had a thing for booze in main dishes that we just don't do today. A splash of cognac in French Onion Soup, sure. But brandy in the pot roast and rum on the ... everything?

I guess it's a good way to get that je ne sais quoi flavor in a dish quickly? Still seems weird, though.


ok, here's a thing: I love cooking, but I don't really have the attention span for things with a lot of ingredients or a lot of steps. So I am absolutely THRILLED by the advent of things like chopped onions and various chopped fresh veggie packs showing up in trader joe's/whole foods ($$), and my local supermarket. Eliminating just the step of chopping makes everything run that much more smoothly for me, and takes away the overwhelming nature of after-work cooking. It's a little more expensive, but way less so than eating out, and way less gross than eating prepared (although seriously, trader joe's polenta proviciale can bring it. and that naan? and hell yeah to their jarred pesto.)

Cashmere Sweater

This was WONDERFUL. Exactly why I adore Hairpin. I have already bookmarked your website, too. We're more of a sandwich-for-dinner-then-let's-go-do-something-fun family. But as a "career gal" (or whatever Poppy would call me), I sometimes feel kind of guilty about the fact that I'm not creating Food Network/Martha Stewart-worthy dinners. We're in a weird moment right now, where sort of retro-y womanhood is fetishized. Guess how many times my husband has felt guilty about wanting to order take out when we get home from work, instead of whipping up something out of "Bon Appetit." Exactly none!


Hey gals, I ain't trying to threadjack here, but if you like Emily Matchar, check out my interview with her on the gender politics of DIY and craft culture! She is so awesome to talk to and had so many smart things to say!



Today, I feel like Nigella Lawson's recipes often strike a good balance btwn fast and fresh. I have three of her cookbooks and consult them all frequently.

Leo Smoot

Excellent article. I look forward to reading Ms. Matchar's book.

1. This is certainly a class issue, but it involves class only because large food conglomerates have created entire classes of Americans who do not know what real food tastes like. Oversalting, oversugering, and overfattening create an artificial dependence. Yes, the privileged can avoid this trap. But we shouldn't be silent about this pernicious corporate influence.

2. Sandra Lee's recipes are not real shortcuts. If you are an adult, you should be able to cook some basic things. Taking peas out of a can does not take any more time than shelling and steaming them. You can make homemade pasta sauce in the time it takes to boil the pasta. Sandra Lee fans: grow up.


@Leo Smoot WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT? Riddled with inaccuracy, here- Opening a can of peas takes approximately 30 seconds, heating them up about 3 minutes; I know this and I don't even LIKE peas all that much. There is absolutely no way on earth I can shell and steam that amount of peas in 3:30. Do you have magic peas? wtf.

How about if I think that if you are an adult, you should be able to quilt a blanket? Or chop wood? Or, ummm, any other number of things that I tell you to do while I sit in my tower deeming what is grown-up and what is not, based purely on my own personal experiences and lifestyle.

While I agree with your overall points, yikes. A jar of marinara does not make someone a child, judgy mcjudgerson.

Leo Smoot

@hotdog My bag of frozen peas says to steam them for 5 minutes. Seems high, but still...

I do think the inability of people who no longer live with their parents to cook practically anything at all (TJ's frozen food 5 nights a week) is a symptom of perpetual adolescence. I don't ever need to chop wood or knit a blanket, but I eat almost every day.


I kind of feel awful about this, but...

"Cannon's The Can-Opener Cookbook was a testament to her faith in the idea that, with a little help from the "magic wand", women could mix work, domesticity, and fabulous social lives"

Am I the only person who made dirty jokes in her head about how with a little help from the "magic wand" you can do anything?

k then.

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