Susan Mihalic

Susan Mihalic
August 05
Writer & editor. Passionate about freedom of expression. Liberal, aspiring to be pointy-headed. Follow me on Twitter: @susanmihalic.


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JANUARY 5, 2010 9:23AM

Julie & Julia & Union United Methodist Cookbook #4

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I hate chick lit. I hate chick flicks. (Some people will take exception to my use of the word “chick.” Suck it up. I’m as feminist as they come, and I recognize a catchy term when I hear it. This is why I came up with the term “dick flicks”—movies that are made for and marketed to men.)

I hate cooking, too. I can cook, and on rare occasions, do. I’m skilled enough to deviate from recipes without sending anyone to the hospital for a good old-fashioned stomach-pumping. But for me, cooking is like housework. I’m rarely in the mood to do it. I’d rather ignore the dust elephants, eat a bowl of cereal, and get back to my laptop.

Given my dislike of chick lit, chick flicks, and cooking, “Julie & Julia” was not a must-see film for me. The story of Julie Powell’s cooking and blogging her way through Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” pretty much proves a theory I’ve always had: If you can read, you can cook.

Several of my friends saw the movie and loved it; it inspired some of them to do some fancy cookin’ of their own, which made me really not want to see it. What if the urge to cook was so powerful that it derailed the urge to write?

Despite my reservations, last night the boyfriend and I watched it. Meryl Streep is, as always, sublime. Amy Adams is, as always, adorable even when she’s cranky. I wasn’t struck by a sudden desire to bone a duck (although every time Amy Adams used the phrase “bone a duck,” my mind became that of a thirteen-year-old boy).

However, about a third of the way into the video, I had my own trés amusing idea. What if Julie Powell hadn’t been inspired by Julia Child’s masterpiece . . . but by a cookbook that’s been in my limited collection since 1982: Cookbook #4, compiled by the United Methodist Women of Union, Mississippi?

Cookbook #4 relies heavily on cream of mushroom soup, canned vegetables, and cake mixes. Often, these ingredients are combined in an unholy marriage that results in recipes like Tomato Aspic Miniatures (the first “ingredient” on the list is “six empty Styrofoam egg cartons”--count 'em, six--so don’t worry, there’s plenty of egg-shaped tomato-gelatin goodness to go around), Surprise Meat Loaf (I don’t know about you, but I don’t want any surprises in my meat loaf), and some ungodly cake topping that uses two cups of apricot baby food cooked into a custard. This, my friends, is the reason the United Methodist Women should stick to their annual bazaar and stay out of the kitchen. 

Of all the possible culinary delights hidden between the covers of this comb-bound classic of small-town cooking, the recipe that stands out to me is Sequin Salad, brought to us by “Mrs. D. A. McLean (In Memory).” Maybe it’s the flashy name. Maybe it’s the alluring combination of lime Jell-O, onions, and vinegar. The ways of Cookbook #4 are mysterious.

If I had the slightest desire to spend more than three minutes in my kitchen, I would make Sequin Salad and photograph it. But since a quick read through Cookbook #4 has convinced me that I’m no Julie Powell—much less a Mrs. D. A. McLean (In Memory)—I’ll just give you the recipe. Read it, and draw your own conclusions about what killed Mrs. McLean.

Sequin Salad

1 pkg. lime Jell-O

1 c. hot water

1 c. cold water

2 T. vinegar

1 tsp. salt

Dash of pepper

1 T. grated onion

1¼ c. small pieces raw cauliflower

¼ c. chopped pimento


(Still with me?) 

Dissolve Jell-O in hot water; stir in cold water and chill until slightly thickened. Mix vinegar, salt, and pepper; add onion, cauliflower, and pimento. Fold mixture into slightly thickened Jell-O. Top with mayonnaise to serve.

That’s it. A simple, elegant fusion of lime Jell-O, vinegar, onion, cauliflower, and pimento, elevated beyond the sum of its parts by a topping of mayonnaise.

Bon appétit. 

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At least the cookie recipes are good, although I’ve noticed that an inordinate number of them contain the instructions “Shape into small balls.” The United Methodist Women of Union, Mississippi, are oddly fixated on small balls.
Dick flicks? There's a whole another post Susan! Very funny post..."boning a duck"...and thinking like a 13 year old. Boyfriend is most fortunate to have you as company.
I don't think I want to eat it, but I am loving the name ... SEQUIN SALAD ... serve with Bedazzled Bread!
Talk about 13 year old boys, "don't let your meat loaf". And yes, combining the word meat and surprise is never a good thing.

Oh, and Dick Flicks sounds more like Gay porn than guy movies. You might want to be careful with that one.
Sounds like one of surly's vintage recipe cards, equally appetizing. Streep was remarkable in that role.
mary, as I tell the boyfriend every time I give him an aneurysm, "That's the wonder of me, baby."

1_I_M, the fact that anyone concocted this recipe . . . and presumably made it for her family and friends . . . and that it's the one they chose to contribute to the collection in her memory . . . well, it just overwhelms.

ocularnervosa, gay porn does fall into the dick flicks category (made for and marketed to men), but I was thinking more of movies like "The Matrix" . . . and pretty much anything else with Keanu Reeves. Hm. Wonder how he'd be in a porn movie. At least then it would be a compliment when people remarked on his wooden performance.

Kathy, I seriously thought about making some of the recipes and photographing them, but Sequin Salad stopped me in my tracks.
In my family, it was Temple Sisterhood cookbooks that held sway. They basically pushed heart-clogging traditional fare, but they also had a recipe for mandel bread that still sends me to the moon.
Jeff, mmmm, mandel bread. There are surprisingly few recipes for bread in Methodist Cookbook #4. I guess the people who put it together figured that you should already know how to make biscuits and cornbread.
I am glad I have started reading your stuff regularly. Very funny stuff. I always wondered if those cookbooks were put together by frustrated housewives everywhere hoping to kill off their husbands faster with these garish mayonnaise-laced concoctions. Sort of a conspiracy theory of the forlorn? Kill'em off, get the life insurance, and more room in the bed and ride it out all by their lonesomes with no more suffering the whims of another (who pays the bills)?

Amy Adams saying ANYTHING gets a 13 year-old boy going as well as getting most any man to think like a 13 year-old boy.
ha! I love this one. I have seen some pretty deadly recipes from the Southern local cookbooks. Most of them do seem to involve jello.
I have no words for the salad. None. Other than that I do hope that someone else takes up that challenge. My kitchen would probably shoot knives and steaming water (a la Disney's anthropomorphic kitchen appliances in Beauty and the Beast) if I ever attempted something like that.

And mandelbrot, or mandelbread as it got called here, is a type of cookie. It looks like biscotti, but has flavor and won't break your teeth.
jane, in the fellowship halls of churches across the South, things are done with Jell-O that are just wrong. Why can't people get it right? Jell-O belongs in shots, as God intended. I think it's a commandment or a beatitude or something. Blessed are the shots, for they contain Jell-O.

Gwool, thank you for reading. I knew some of the contributors to Cookbook #4. They were a formidable Old Guard--women who never left the house without girdles and stockings, hair teased and sprayed, doing good and serving Jell-O salads with a vengeance.

odette, as I leafed through the cookbook, I realized there's a ratio of four to one . . . one dish that's edible for every four that aren't. Sometime I'll give you one of the TWO recipes for Methodist Youth Foundation Bologna Loaf. Imagine--one version wasn't enough.
Mrs. Michaels, thanks for reading. Does mandelbrot ever get shaped into small balls? If not, it's not a Methodist cookie. Much too exotic. If someone makes Sequin Salad . . . do you think they'll taste it? That's a review I want to read!
Mandelbrot is definitely not a Methodist cookie. It's a Jewish one, and can only be made properly in high altitude desert, and by my grandmother. Failing that, since she's not around anymore, I will accept the inferior versions made by my mother or my aunt.
Doesn't "boning a duck" belong in a "dick flick?" Quacked me up, Susan.

I don't know if it's the recipes that make the Christians strange or if the Christians make strange recipes. Either way, I think that book should be analyzed by Homeland Security, it could be a terrorist plot.
"Cookbook #4 relies heavily on cream of mushroom soup, canned vegetables, and cake mixes."

Mmmmmmmm. My favorites. Maybe if Julie had used that cookbook as an inspiration for her blog, well, it'd been a different movie all together!

But one I would still watch(it was a chick flick?? CRAP!! ;) Oh well, I still enjoyed it)
Mrs. M, I'm in the high desert! There's hope for mandelbrot and me. Now I'm going to have to look up a recipe.

Boomer, I marvel at the things people will put in their mouths. . . . Ahem.

Tink, that's because you're secure in your masculinity. The boyfriend liked it, too.
is there a more incongruous combination than lime (jello or otherwise) and grated onions? ick, ick and more ick.

nice piece, susan. ;
Oh, ::urp!::

I have a lot of these little church books, but my favorite comes from when my mom used to work at a hometown bank. They did a cookbook every year and it's actually really good. Of course, there are those soup recipes, but I still use the pretzel pie crust I got out of it when I do chocolate pie.

They are a lovely bit of history, eh?
Oh, and I want the Bedazzled Bread recipe!

(thumbified for United Methodist Women)
femme, there were more congealed salad recipes, and it seems like there's always someone who wants to add cottage cheese to the Jell-O--you know the type (one of my aunts, who was considered rather chic in my family, was a cottage-cheese-and-Jell-O type).

Jodi, I do use the cookie recipes and one potato casserole recipe that is divine (and divinely heart-stopping), and that's why I still have Cookbook #4. What surprised me once I started reading through it was how many processed foods are used as basic ingredients in the recipes; a lot of the contributors grew up in the Depression, and some were young wives during and after WWII and into the 1950s, and I'm sure that influenced how they cooked. As much as I'm ragging on Cookbook #4, it's an affectionate kind of ragging. As little as I cook, I well understand their desire to be liberated from the kitchen, and if that means canned lima beans in a skillet meat loaf, so be it (but ugh).
Next year at the Tacky Christmas Sweater party, we're serving Sequin Salad!
scupper, that sounds like an excellent addition to the menu. Another salad that turns up in the South: a leaf of iceberg lettuce with a slice of canned pineapple on it, a dollop of mayo on the pineapple, and shredded cheddar cheese on the mayo. I kid you not. Thanks for reading!