A Word From Betty Crocker

I don’t know how many of you know the song Miss Otis Regrets. It is a tune about a lady who last evening down in lovers lane she strayed. When she woke up and found that her dream of love was gone she decided to take things into her own hands. She ran to the man who had led her so far astray and from under her velvet gown she drew a gun and shot her lover down.

Later a mob came and took her and dragged her from the jail only to string her up on that old willow across the way. Being a woman of gentle birth and elevated social standing, the moment before she died, she lifted up her lovely head and cried, Miss Otis regrets she’s unable to lunch today.

It’s a durable song, composed by Cole Porter in 1934. Its exact origins are a bit obscure, and the curious among you can read varying accounts of how it came to be written here.

There are scads of covers available, but the one I chose for you is by an Englishman, Lonnie Donnegan. I’ve been a fan of his since 1957, when he brought out an album entitled An Englishman Sings American Folk Songs. I literally wore that record out.

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Miss Otis Regrets, by Lonnie Donnegan

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From The New Yorker

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Just yesterday, while I was out puttering in the garage, I heard a large flock of sandhill cranes flying over, making their dinosaur noises. They were so high that I could only see them when the sun reflecting from their bodies was just right. ‘Tis always a wonder to see and to hear them, even at such distances.

Sandhill Cranes flying by

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Last night we had a baked potatoes with our supper. Those with the requisite flaky insides and an outer skin so crispy and leathery that you could make handbags out of them. They were great. The reason for that success was that I finally gave up on decades of trying to divine how to do it properly, and followed a recipe. That simple. Truly a “doh” moment.

But while I was blissfully chewing away my brain chose to remind me that this was how all of the baked potatoes were served in my family of origin. Mom was not a gourmet cook, but she was a good cook. Everything she made tasted delicious, even if it did not break any new ground in the kitchen.

Her mainstay was the Betty Crocker cookbook, a looseleaf contraption in a ring binder with traces of food and/or vegetable oil on nearly every page.

My spice rack contains perhaps sixty little bottles of herbs and seasonings, but Mom did what she did with a much smaller armamentarium, less than a quarter of that. Condiments included ketchup, mustard, Heinz 57, A-1, and soy sauce. No gochujang, no tamari, no duck sauce, no hot sauce of any stripe, no chili-garlic sauce, no oyster sauce … you get the picture.

One of the reasons that so few seasonings worked that casserole recipes don’t generally call for much more than salt and pepper. And it was the casserole section of the cookbook that took the brunt of the wear, while the “how to cook the juiciest tenderloin” section was still pristine when she retired from cooking.

When you are feeding a very hungry family on a very limited budget, the casserole comes in awfully handy. There were mushroom casseroles, tuna casseroles, hamburger casseroles, salmon casseroles, SPAM casseroles, chicken casseroles, mac n’ cheese casseroles … the list has no end, being the product of whatever was in the refrigerator and how many cans of cream of mushroom soup were available.

And when we went out to eat (basically in Lutheran church basements rather than restaurants) there would be new casseroles galore to choose from. When my own children were small, I didn’t do much of the cooking, but I distinctly remember making a liver casserole one day that nobody would try. The five of them refused to even consider it as food. The dog and I were fine with it, although we did not take seconds.

So being one of the two cooks in my present family, I have a new appreciation for what Mom did with so much less than I have to work with. More respect.

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From The New Yorker

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Poco (cat) and I (human) are age-mates as well as old compañeros. Next year we will be exactly the same age, according to the calendar on the Purina website. Even though our lineage and DNA profiles are quite different, it seems we share more and more of life’s pleasures as time passes.

For one thing we are both increasingly scruffy with the passage of each new year. Our fur has become finer and can’t be brushed to anything close to the luster of the past. It also has developed the unfortunate habit of sticking out in directions that are completely uncalled for.

We both often walk into a room and then stop stock-still, knowing that we came in there for a reason but no longer having a clue as to what that was. At that point we invent something else to do now that we’ve made the trip. This strategy works pretty well except on the occasions when we have walked ourselves into a closet.

We both like very much to lie about in warm spots in the house, especially now that the colder weather has set in. The south-facing windows let in way enough sunshine for the two of us, making squabbling and competition unnecessary.

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Sometimes when Poco looks directly at me he seems startled, with wide eyes and dilated pupils. I was putting this off onto being a symptom of feline dementia when it occurred to me that there was another possible explanation. He could be thinking to himself: “… and I am dependent on this guy for food and shelter? May the saints preserve us!”

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How ’bout one more cut from An Englishman Sings American Folk Songs? For those who still think of themselves romantically as ramblers (although they might have forgotten how they used to do pull that off).

I’m A Ramblin’ Man, by Lonnie Donnegan

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