Figuring out what to do for New Year's Eve is always a fraught decision. Do you go to the big party? Do you make reservations at your favorite restaurant? Do you stay in and watch the ball drop in Times Square? Do you actually make the trek to Times Square?
I've always found big New Year's Eve parties more nerve wracking than fun, restaurants are always packed with couples dining on overpriced New Year's Eve specials, the television coverage of the ball dropping is always dull and when I think of standing in the cold for hours without a readily available bathroom or food with thousands of drunk strangers, Times Square seems downright Dickensian.
Luckily my husband felt similarly and we decided on a new tradition. For New Year's Eve, we decided, we would have a movie marathon and watch movies that were all from the same decade. Since food is our other great love, I would prepare homemade versions of food that was either introduced or strongly associated with that time period.
We started with the '80s. Our seven year age difference is not an issue now, but it is does mean that when my husband was graduating high school, I was just getting out of the fifth grade. I was too young to see the movies he saw in middle and high school. He introduced me to The Breakfast Club and other John Hughes classics. We also watched the oddly poignant post-John Hughes Molly Ringwald movie For Keeps.
Figuring out what to make was a much harder proposition. Foodtimeline.org and corporate websites were a great help in determining the dates foods were invented or introduced. I checked some history of food books out of the library that not only had histories but menus from various restaurants. I also consulted a lot of cookbooks from the era.
The eighties turned out to be a decade full of trendy, stylish food with a gimmick. Candy from the era included Reese's Pieces, Skittles, and Nerds. Jell-O poke cake was invented in the mid '80s. The original recipe calls for layer cake (made with cake mix, natch) with holes poked into it. Jell-O is then poured over the cake. I made a homemade version with a rich, from scratch yellow cake, kept the Jell-O and whipped up some fluffy white icing.
To me, nothing says '80s cuisine like sundried tomatoes so I made a homemade "California" style pizza with pesto instead of tomato sauce and topped with sundried tomatoes and artichoke hearts. Wolfgang Puck would have been proud.
The next year we watched seventies movies so of course we had to have fondue. Fruity and chewy candies were popular during the '70s and Pop Rocks, Twix, Starburst and Jelly Belly jelly beans were all introduced. California rolls were invented during the 1970s to encourage raw fish skeptics to try sushi in the US. They are easy to make at home and rounded out our menu.
Last year was the 1960s and my personal favorite. Although we watched the too-long O Lucky Man! and the downer Georgie Girl, I loved the food. America was really interested in food and cooking during that time period and a ton of party friendly foods were introduced. Cornish Rock Game Hens debuted in the US in 1965 so I made ginger-lime glazed hens with an iceberg wedge salad (any excuse to eat blue cheese dressing and bacon!).
In 1964 the Anchor Bar started dishing up Buffalo Wings (my trick is to dust them with 1963's Wondra flour) for the first time, so we had to have them. Looking at cookbooks from the era, clam dip and cheese balls were extremely popular. Since Pringles were introduced in 1968, it seemed only natural to serve them as well. For dessert, I made some super zesty lemon bars. Bar cookies have been around at least since the 1930s but lemon bars became popular after the 1963 publication of the Betty Crocker Cooky Cookbook.
This year we are up to the 1950s which is proving to be a bit of a struggle. There were a lot of innovations in the commercial canning and freezing of foods but not a lot of interest in from scratch, home cooking. It was all about convenience and modern living. I am leaning strongly towards homemade TV dinners. Swanson coined the term and their first dinner, turkey with cornbread stuffing, was wildly popular. Also introduced in the 1950s were Rice-A-Roni, Pam cooking spray, Tang, Chex Mix, Duncan Hines cake mix, diet sodas, instant ramen noodles, Lipton Onion Soup Mix (and the corresponding California dip), Minute Rice, Ore-Ida frozen potatoes, Cheez Wiz and Eggo Waffles — among other chemically enhanced, shelf stable food stuffs.
Luckily the 1920s, '30s and '40s are chockfull of great foods I can't wait to make!
Coconut & Lime
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(Images: Rachel of Coconut & Lime)