But Peg Bracken, in Chapter 2 of the I Hate to Housekeep Book, has a nifty little A to Z of housewifely tips for the new bride (translation: the person setting up house or trying to take care of Adult Life as We Know It for the first time). A lot of this is stuff I don’t worry about much, like the tip regarding oatmeal. She suggests we add chopped raw apple to our cooked oatmeal because it somehow improves the oatmeal and “doesn’t hurt the apple.” However, if you’re like me, and only eat apples under duress as it is, this isn’t much of a tip.
But then, there’s stuff in here that I know I read at an impressionable age and it had a positive effect on the rest of my life, such as…
P is for Plastic Bags. This is about re-use, people. How trendy is that? She explains that the bags your packaged bread comes in can be re-used in all kinds of ways, and it is certainly true. (It also holds true for the plastic bags you might put your fruit and veggies in at the grocery store, assuming you don’t have to tear a hole in the bag to get at your onions.) Several of her ideas are ones I have used. These include: freezing dampened clothes so that I can iron them later when I have time (not that I iron anymore, but in the days when I ironed, I certainly did this); using as covers to pack shoes when heading out on a trip (why have the crud on the bottom of your shoes get all your nice, clean, packed clothes dirty?); put wet bathing suits on them to take home from the pool or beach without soaking everything else in your bag… Bracken doesn’t suggest this, but I also use these bags to help me out when I’m cleaning our cat’s litter box. Presumably Peg Bracken was too delicate to suggest this. Or maybe she hated cats, and couldn’t have imagined such a scenario. But now you know another thing to do with little plastic bags left over from your groceries.
The entry for E — Equipment — is admirable for its encouraging you, the reader, to not buy things. She points out the painful truth: the majority of gizmos and devices that people buy to help them maintain their households (whether kitchen equipment or bells and whistles on a vacuum cleaner) go unused and are, hence, a waste of money. “I am personally acquainted with two food liquefiers which made just two frozen Daiquiris apiece before they were retired to the top shelf of the pantry.” Where I’m sure they collected a lovely protective layer of greasy dust. Just as well to’ve not had them in the first place.
This is something Laurie Colwin talked about too, in her first cookbook: she said, plain and simple, that there are a million things to use in the kitchen that someone might buy with all good intentions but then never use, and you have to think hard about what’s going to be worth having and what isn’t. She says — accurately — that occasionally there is a special need that has to be catered to; sometimes there is a kind of cookie that requires a special shape cutter. So be it. But she and Bracken would agree that to simply acquire nifty things for the kitchen because a friend has one and it looks cool — this is silly and not worth anyone’s time or money. I know that when we were living without a functional kitchen a couple of years ago, a friend lent us a slow-cooker and it was, at the time, a life-saving device. I got pretty good at cooking with it, and we discussed, briefly, whether or not we should buy one for ourselves. I said absolutely not, because there’s nothing I can do with the slow cooker than I can’t do equally well with the Dutch ovens we already own and the oven that we knew would eventually be installed. The oven has been installed; it works just fine; and I am very happy to not have a slow-cooker taking up real estate in my small kitchen.
The way you know Peg Bracken was ahead of her time, and know for sure that the hipsters of today should embrace her, as well as the yoga mommies — is that her alphabet even uses Yoga for her Y entry. Yes, it was 1962 when this book was published, and Bracken was talking about yoga for housewives. She encourages people to do yoga breathing when faced with a housekeeping disaster, such as the time her friend was throwing a fancy dinner party and it turned out there was a wee mouse lurking in the silver-lidded crock of curry mayonnaise that the friend had made to impress the muckity-muck Guest of Honor. It wasn’t a pet mouse, either. It was some hideous unpedigreed mouse.
I’m not sure what I would do if I opened a tureen of something at a dinner party I was hosting and found a mouse. Partly because I don’t have a tureen (see: Equipment). I suspect my first thought would not be “yoga breathing!” My first thought would not be printable in a family newspaper. But I am confident of this: once we’d smashed the little wee beastie into furry mush (or the cat had caught him and brought him to us) I would be more than happy to wrap my hand in one of those leftover plastic bags to safely and hygienically dispose of the mouse.