Featuring 425 “new” recipes plus a special “When-Company-Comes” section, this cookbook, published in 1958 by General Mills, was designed expressly for “brides, business girls, career wives and mothers of married children”. Divided into sections like Regional Meals USA, Pennywise Dinners and What Every Good Cook Knows, as is often the case with vintage cookbooks the quintessentially Atomic 50’s graphics and fonts are even better than the recipes themselves.


There are also many tips for what to do in the presence of meat and its other food friends. Like when you’re at the market “select canned goods economically.”


I never realized there was such a distinction between peas. Then again, I’m not much of a cook unless cooking means going online and ordering in. I’m the type to fast forward to “Foreign Lands–Hawaii” where I find this excellent dessert relying solely on colored toothpicks, maraschino cherries, canned pineapple and ice. This degree of culinary skill is right up my allee.


There’s even a lesson on setting the table correctly as “an atmosphere of charm at mealtime forms the background for fine living.” Look how the career wife, while learning how to give a dinner party for four, sweeps into pose to peer at her table through a microscope making sure no detail is overlooked in planning a buffet to insure that “an atmosphere of informal hospitality prevails.”


This illustration of a tourist couple taking photos next to whoever the famous Dane is depicted in statue on the rock  makes the Danish Apple Pudding recipe taste even more Danish.


As an artist, I’m especially drawn to page 169. Not only does all it take to make Croissants is yeast, Bisquick and water but it suggests that you serve Chocolate Eclairs along with them. Better yet, the recipe merely points you in the direction of a box of Betty Crocker Cream Puff Mix and you’re on your own from there.


Look how interested the potatoes are at how they’re going to be sliced:


When not looking at the pictures there are wonderful ideas to cook for your +1 like Baked Prune Whip and Unbaked Prune Whip.


I’m actually having three people over for lunch today and two more over for dinner tonight. One group will be eating Italian and the other Chinese and, despite the fact that Betty Crocker says this cookbook is perfect for “the working girl, active in her career and social life”, I will be spending no time in the kitchen at all.



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It’s no secret that one of my favorite genres of Kitsch is when something goes tragically wrong in the manufacturing process of the product yet it still hits the store shelves. In this case, the fumble occured on the packaging assembly line. Inserted snuggly inside The “Chuckwagon” combination salt and pepper shaker box is one combination salt and pepper shaker that, in the spirit of the old West, reads “Travel Joy, Travel Luxury – Airstream”. I don’t know about you but the last Airstream I saw didn’t have a wagon wheels and wasn’t being pulled by a horse.


There’s not really anyone to blame as there’s no sign of a manufacturer anywhere on the box or on the shaker itself. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen that before in a commercial product. It’s as if they knew they were going to insert the wrong thing in the wrong box and didn’t want to be blamed when that happened.


Whatever the reason for the forgetfulness or sloppiness or just plain brain-tweaked-so-tight-these-kind-of-mistakes-are-bound-to-happen,I for one am ecstatic because it has given me a completely unique piece of Kitsch from something that, if they had just decided which product it was, The”Chuckwagon” or The “Airstream”, would have been very cute but not as KITSCHTASTIC as it is now.



Because of their perfect shape and glowing color the orange has captured the imagination of designers since the beginning of time. In this case, the glowing hive is cut into four perfect  horizontal slices making for four different measuring cups, each daintily festooned with a little leaf handle. One would think because of the precision round shape of an orange that this dividing up into four sections should happen with no mishaps. But to this kitsch lover’s heart’s delight two different size slices are labeled 1/3 cup.

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This shouldn’t affect any mis-measurement here at Willis Wonderland as cooking is not among my many skills. Instead, I use this as a candy and nut dish, four levels for four different snacks.


I’ve never been the type to naturally gravitate toward fruits and vegetables though oranges are the one healthy snack I can eat without being force-fed, even if they’re not ceramic.


I still like the kitschen accessory orange the best.



I drove up to Monterey on Friday from LA. Most people would get excited about going to the Aquarium or Cannery Row but I get excited about the cheesy names of the roads on a shortcut we take from the 5 to the 101 off an exit called Lerdo Higway that connects you to Highway 46 where James Dean met his maker. Once you exit the 5, the first “main street” you hit is Main Drain.


I don’t know about you but other than myself I can’t think of many people who would be happy to live on a street so eloquently named. A couple of miles further comes a road I’ve also always loved the name of as I can’t figure out how anyone could have arrived at naming it such:


Exactly which brown material I’m not sure of though the fact that there are a lot of cows in the area brings a certain brown something to mind. We were very excited as we approached the actual street sign, only 50′ away.


But just as I was about to hop out and be photographed under the street sign I’d sworn I would capture myself under one day as I sped past it my last five trips to Monterey I realized something was wrong. We slowed down trying not to disrupt traffic, a couple of tractors and a van with a bucking bronco ridden by a pig painted on the side. To our horror, all that was left of the Brown Material Rd. signage was a lonely pole, a screw plate and one dangling rusty bolt. As many times as I’d thought about doing the same thing I can’t believe someone actually had the balls to do it. If you know anyone with a Brown Material street sign hanging anywhere please let me know.  But thankfully, Brown Material is apparently a U-shaped road as 100 feet ahead we came across this:


Not as impressive as spelling out the full word but Brown Mat will do. It’s still such a silly name for a street. Maybe out here in the country Mat means what Place often does in the city. For example, there’s a 21st St. and a 21st Place right next to each other in Santa Monica. The Place is just as long as the Street but apparently something distinguishes the two and maybe that’s the relationship between Material and Mat. Either way, I’m happy just to have gotten this shot. The tractors and bronco pig van were already too annoyed with us with slowing, almost pulling over and then not so although I was able to get this street sign shot there is no evidence of me standing under it.

Three minutes later we hit the last place James Dean stopped before climbing into his Spyder 550 and smashing head on into a 1950 Ford that entered his lane, entering Immortality.

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The original Blackwell’s Corner used to be a small vintage structure but was modernized recently into this faceless hulking industrial shed.


But the inside is still wonderful where they sell hundreds of different kinds of home harvested nuts displayed alongside excellent kitsch-heavy merchandise. Note the East of Eden Fudge Factor sign behind the elegant plastic ice buckets with foil stuffed inside to show off the “crystals”:


I always get some chocolate covered pistachios for the road and then shoot a few photos of the giant James Dean head out in front, one of many heads that pepper the highways in these parts although all the others are men in overalls harvesting broccoli or a grandma enjoying a nice head of lettuce.


Now that I’m here in Monterey the streets have normal coasty kinds of names and there are no giant heads of Doris Day, Clint Eastwood or any of the other notables who live here. I always have a nice time when I’m here but if left to my own devices I’d be exploring the sights – or lack of them – on Brown Material Road.



It’s not often I get excited by a dish or bowl that’s solid white. It seems like such a missed opportunity for self-expression via a compelling color palette. But this brilliant sweep of 18 inches of ceramic, a stone cold product of the Space Age Atomic 1950’s, screams to be pristine hospital white, especially when its cargo is this complimentary of a match:


I’m not sure what the hole on the bottom is for as there are no breaks in the surface at the top but who am I to argue when the dish is so beautiful?


I’ve taken about 40 photos trying to get the manufacturers mark to show up better but it’s a series of blurry failed attempts. It almost makes you seasick to stare at it through human eyes let alone a camera lens. If I had created such beautiful work I’d be sure my name was a little more readable, throw some aqua glaze into the etching or something. To remedy this, I grabbed my one digital camera I’ve never been able to let go of, my Canon PowerShot SD 500, a cheap little thing that takes better macro shots than any camera I’ve owned. Between my cheap but reliable macro and cranking the levels and contrast up I can now tell you that this bowl was made by:


Imperfect signature execution or not, this is one of my favorite serving dishes I own. Thank God the sculptor was better at dragging their clay tool across smooth concave surfaces than signing their name. Not many Good & Plentys could have fit in those tiny crevices anyway.



Whenever I look at these metal cheerleader wall plaques made by Sexton in the 1960’s I think of Toni Basil because you can see how happy these girls are doing their cheers. In 1982, the year that “Oh Mickey you’re so fine, you’re so fine you blow my mind, hey Mickey” was all you could hear on the radio, Toni, singer, choreographer extraordinaire and the woman responsible for making cheerleading ultra cool, and I were best of friends. She was one of my first girlfriends when I moved to LA in 1976 and I’ve always loved my collaborations with her because she’s fearless, decisive and eternally ahead of the curve.

Last night Toni and I got together for the first time in years at the restaurant I co-own, Street. Here we are with Prudence Fenton and Chef Susan Feniger.


We  covered a lot of territory, not to mention food. Though we wrote our first song together in 1976 most of what we wrote went on the gold album that included “Mickey” in ’82. Here we are at a party I threw for Toni at my house to present her with a gold record when that song went number 1 in Japan.


One of our songs, “Street Beat”, written with Bruce Roberts, has run through my head at least once a week since we wrote it. This performance of it on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour is staggering.


For any of you who may not know it, Toni formed the legendary dance group, The Lockers, street dance pioneers, in 1970. (She also wrote the legendary “Oh Mickey, you’re so fine…” chant but never got credit). So when you see a performance as incredible as “Street Beat” bear in mind that Toni doesn’t just sing it live but did absolutely everything else from choreography to wardrobe.

That same year another one of our collaborations, “Shoppin From A-Z”, also with Bruce Roberts, came out. Just as I was, Toni was a multimedia artist at a time when that wasn’t encouraged in the music industry unless you were a major star. So I always loved collaborating with Toni because she not only encouraged my multi-medianess but pushed me into places I had never been before. Like in the “Shoppin” video where she made me dance.


But now back to 2010 and our dinner at Street.


We started out with my favorite dish at the restaurant, Albacore Sashimi with spicy sesame mayonnaise yuzu ponzu sauce, smoked salt, pink peppercorns and micro wasabi.


I don’t even like pepper but always ask for extra pink peppercorns. This dish is so good it makes me feel like doing a cheer.


Next we had Graskaas Aged Gouda Salad with red endive and watercress, Asian pear, black currant and celery leaves in a juniper walnut vinaigrette,…


… followed by Lamb Kafta Meatballs over warm Syrian cheese wrapped in grape leaf with date and carob molasses on za’atar spicy flatbread,…


…and Tatsutage Fried Chicken marinated with soy, mirin and sake, crispy fried in rice batter and topped with spicy kewpie mayonnaise sauce.


This dish also deserves a cheer.


We also ordered Stir Fried Chinese Brocolli with fresh ginger, garlic and sesame…


…and Thai Rice Noodles with Chinese broccoli, seasoned pork, tomato, mint, Thai basil and chiles.


I forgot to photograph the Massamun Beef Curry  because we were too busy talking.


As sure as I love the food at Street not to mention the related-though-it-preceded-it-by-18-years “Street Beat” I’m not gonna let another few years pass before Toni and I get together again.



In 1973 when the Ronco Miracle Broom sprung on the market half of the households in America started vacuuming their shag with this revolutionary cordless electric vacuum cleaner.  That’s reason enough to collect it now but with products like this, especially those made in the 70’s and especially in the genre of products sold on TV – the Miracle Broom was among the first of hard-sell filmed TV commercials hawking new and unique products birthing what would later be known as the infomercial – oftentimes the box was as good as the product that came in it. Not to say that this Streamlined Moderne-meets-70’s-modern looking gadget isn’t great in and of itself but the graphics showing suggested uses of the product are even better. Blown out color, cheesy furniture and excellence in hand modeling being some of the pillars of that greatness. Here’s one of my favorite shots:


The crumbs are SO over-exaggerated. I’d like to know who eats toast leaving crumbs this big and in this formation? Only a chipmunk or someone without teeth was capable of creating this mess.

For this shot Ronco spared no expense on the tablecloth. Then again, they wanted you to concentrate on the crumbs. Seems to me they should’ve called the toothless person back to create better crumbs though as these don’t seem that serious.


I love how the ashtray is overturned in this next one. Even more, I love the pattern on the tie of the man wielding the Miracle Broom. Even more, I love that Ronco was evolved enough to have men doing some of the cleaning.


I can’t figure out what spilled on the following car seat. It’s somewhere between Red Hots, vomit or that crumbled fauna stuff you buy at craft stores to make little trees out of.


The Ronco Miracle Broom was the stuff of legend in the 1970’s, a massive lunge forward in the revolution of products designed with style, convenience and innovation in mind that began in the post-World War II Atomic Age. I may have shed the shag carpeting over the years but the double D’s are always on hand to pop into my Miracle Broom whenever I’m too lazy to completely chew my toast.



Designed by William Wiggins for Shepherd Products of Toronto in 1970, this aluminum ball shaped barbecue which featured a double stack of cooking racks and a rollover cover was about as modern as you could get back in the day. The hottest of the colors it came in was a gorgeous shade of red orange which this one originally was when I rescued it for 99 cents from a Salvation Army. Here it is in brand new, pristine shape:


But through the years of chicken juice and hot dog grease all that was left of its color by the time I found it were a few flakes that peeled off if you even breathed on it. I hate when vintage things are restored to look “brand-new”, translation: too cheesy for a purist  to even look at, so I couldn’t consider that. But the opportunity for cosmetic surgery presented itself when I art directed  a Debbie Harry video over here in 1987 and covered the B-B-Q with a coat of chrome spray paint to use as a prop. Which made it look gorgeous but even more dangerous to eat anything that was cooked in it. So through the years it’s served a variety of other functions, mostly at parties.  Sometimes I use it as a candy dish…


A lot of times it’s used as a name tag container as I hate to be responsible for introducing everyone myself…


At a party over here a couple of years ago when the musical I co-wrote, The Color Purple, came to LA, Adam Wade, who played Ol’ Mister, dipped into the Ball and used the flip top as a ledge to fill out his name tag.


This is significant because decades before I met Adam I had photos of him plastered all over my bedroom because I swooned over his Johnny Mathis-smooth-as-wine-which-I-don’t-even-like-so-I’ll-say-smooth-as-Skippy-Peanut-Butter-smooth voice. Here’s what I looked at on my ceiling every night as a teenager when I got into bed:


I can’t believe I have no photos of the bedroom I grew up in. It was decorated to the max and gave all indications of how and who I would grow up to be which is exactly how and who I grew up to be both from a decorative and musical standpoint. But me having no photos is another matter entirely so suffice it to say this is why I document everything so incessantly now. But back to the Ball B-B-Q…

My little Ball B-B-Q may not be capable of smoking with the big guys…


…and it may not be capable of turning out food like this…


…but as it sits in my yard this Fourth of July, probably wishing it had a big bulging steak or some burgers sweating on its grills, it just makes me happy to look at it and celebrate the fact that I had the good taste to buy it in the first place.

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Although I was always an Aquanet gal back in the day when I would let hairspray anywhere near my hair, THE ubiquitous brand of follicle gluiness was Breck. Breck ads were on the back covers of the biggest women’s magazines like Seventeen, Vogue, Glamour and Ladies Home Journal so you couldn’t miss them if you tried. Down to sponsoring America’s Junior Miss contests, Breck Girls were the epitome of femininity in an age of hairdos that looked like Jiffy Pop on steroids and bundt cakes stacked on top of otherwise normal shaped heads.


This is a can of special formula “Super Hold”. That means this spray could hold hair in place that defied gravity once a nights-full of pin curls, spoolies, sponge rollers and the scotch tape and toilet paper holding it all in place was removed. When I was 12, my hair was on “Super Hold” for my sister’s wedding.


When I was 14, I achieved a rather lumpy and narrow version of my favorite Breck do:


I never needed directions to spray my flips but Breck provided them in case anyone was new to the art of setting hair in cement:


Please refer to this Breck can if you want your hair to look like the parting of the Red Seas with a nice mountain view in back and two gulleys down below.