Straight Talk from a Comfort Foodie - Simpler Times

When it was unfolding, I never thought I lived in "simpler times". That would have described pioneer days, or the world prior to the industrial revolution. Simpler times would, one day, be John-Boy and the rest of the Walton gang having dinner with Grandma and Grandpa. I was a child of the sixties, a Kennedy baby, jaded by a revolution that was counter-culture and in full regalia by the time of the Moonwalk-the "where were you?" moment of my wonder years. We watched young soldiers in bloodied Technicolor and civil riots in black and white. The world around me seemed anything but simple.

My friends and I took for granted that our moms were housewives, married to both their houses and the men who lived there while working 9 to 5 jobs. We lived in cookie-cutter homes, in planned suburban developments, and household responsibilities were defined as gender specific. This was not "simpler times", just simple common knowledge. Who would have known that even this last bastion of "home security" was headed for a revolution? Ira Levin was sitting somewhere writing "The Stepford Wives", and, when it hit the best seller list, our mothers would realize that they had all been living in blissful denial.

That was long before satellite and cable, when the microchip and the personal computer were only science fiction, when the one reality show on TV was the six o'clock news, the days when you'd wait anxiously for Saturday mornings to roll around so that you could eat a box of Captain Crunch and watch three or four hours of prime cartoon programming before going out to play kick ball with the kids on the block. Ah, the world prior to The Cartoon Network. When the advent of cable brought cartoons 24/7, it was a hard concept to grasp. You mean you can catch Bugs any time of the day? What a concept!

It was the summer of '69 - political turmoil for some, sunshine ecstasy for others. While half a million flower children grooved to Hendrix and got back to the garden, I was at sleep-away camp, and witnessed as my counselors listened, instead, to draft numbers being announced over a PA system - praying they wouldn't hear the tin can call their boyfriends to Viet Nam. Three hundred Camp Wah-Nee kids crowded into a social hall to watch the Man on the Moon spectacle via a simple 24-inch television with rabbit ears. I was sucking on a Sugar Daddy, and peering out the door to see if those guys were really moving around up there. Simpler times.

I wore a key, tied to a piece of yarn, which hung around my neck. I'd walk the seven blocks from elementary school to our house. My sister never accompanied me. Being three years older gave her the advantage of having a large pool of girlfriends, as well as a large number of after-school opportunities. If mom still wasn't home from her afternoon errands, or it was a day she put in hours at a local linen and towel store, I'd let myself in, lock the door behind me, and wait for her return. Watching Graham Kerr - The Galloping Gourmet, a cute playboy/gourmet cook, was my after-school opportunity. I loved being in the kitchen, and there was nothing like winding down a long day of public school than by hanging with my inebriated friend. Kerr was always taking "a short slurp" of wine, and making all kinds of innuendos while cooking outlandishly rich dishes, loaded with butter and cream. I recollect that he gained much of his inspiration by drinking large quantities of that white cooking wine while on the air.

I had all the ingredients on the counter, and worked feverishly to get the recipe steps done along with the host. "Today we are making Rum Babka",but when we got to the step which measured and added the spirit to the mix, I couldn't figure out what or where this liquid would be in my mom's kitchen, so I called her at work.

"Hi, mom, where's the rum?" I asked in a hurry.

"Rum?? What do you want with rum?" she replied.

"The Galloping Gourmet is making rum babka. I'd thought I'd give it a try".

She proceeded to tell me where to find it in my dad's well-stocked bar. By the time she got home from work the lop-sided thing was cooling. There was never a word spoken about an eight year old using the oven without a parent being home, never a word about my mentor being an alcoholic. Mom felt I was responsible, and couldn't get into much trouble if I was cooking. These were simpler times.

Rum Babka Recipe

2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 package yeast
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup margarine
3 whole eggs -- room temp
1 can raisins - golden, soaked hour, then drained

Rum Syrup
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup water
1/4 cup rum


1. Mix 3/4 cup flour with the yeast.

2. Combine milk and margarine in a sauce pan till WARM only. Pour into bowl.

3. Add remaining DRY ingredients and beat for 2 minutes with an electric mixer.

4. Add eggs 1 at a time and up to a 1/2 cup flour to make a thick batter; then beat for an additional 2 minutes.

5. Cover and let rise till doubled, stir in raisins and turn out into a 2 quart greased tube pan. Let rise uncovered for 30 minutes.

6. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes.

7. Prepare rum syrup by boiling all ingredients, over moderate heat, until sugar is dissolved.

8. Before removing from pan and while still hot from oven; prick with a fork in several spots and pour rum syrup over cake.

Marti Ladd is the cookbook author and food product designer of "The Recipe Company". See her media kit at"> or visit her virtual cookbook store at">

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