When I was growing up in Israel in the eighties, my family traveled intermittently to America, thanks to the work of my scientist father, who kept us coming and going. Every time I returned home, the thing I craved the most was the food I had left behind in the United States. Western fast food came to Israel relatively late (it wasn’t until the early 1990s that McDonald’s opened its first outpost in the country), and most of the food available, if only in because of Israel’s small size, were local and cool. It might sound like a good thing, but, as a finicky kid, I much preferred the pre-fab kitchen which I thought was part of the American utopian promise. I wanted fast food, frozen and processed, its chemically enhanced flavor as predictable as a clock: a burger topped with exactly three slices of pickle and a single squirt of ketchup; Oreos, their vanilla cream evenly sandwiched and so soft it hurt my toothache; Bright yellow Lay’s potato chips, the salty taste of which made my tongue tingle. I wanted Eggo waffles, a patterned plaid and a perfectly round pizza adorned with perfectly round pepperoni discs, and completely uniform tacos, and sweet and sour pork dipped in syrup so red it looked like plastic. . I wanted the kind of food in which the hand of any individual cook – not to mention the provenance of the cuisine or the complexity of the ingredients – would be obscured by a standardized shape and an explosion of homogeneous flavor, announcing, right from the start. first bite, what it was, exactly, that I ate. I wanted, in other words, cartoon food.
Now that I’m in my 40s and lived in America full time for almost two decades, I’ve embraced the taste of the fresh, the varied, the messy, the irregular. And yet, something in me lit up when I encountered âThe Unofficial Simpsons Cookbook,â a new cookbook inspired by the long-running Fox animated series, and written by food writer and âSimpsonsâ fan Laurel Randolph. . It was, literally, comic book cooking: the book included seventy recipes based on dishes that were portrayed in the series, from Krusty Burgers to Agnes Skinner’s Preserves to Bart’s âSupoibâ Manhattan.
Any cartoon food connoisseur knows that it doesn’t get much better than the food featured in âThe Simpsonsâ. As a child, I had often felt drawn to the clean lines and vivid colors used to illustrate the various dishes and snacks enjoyed by the characters. Watching Chief Wiggum and his Springfield police team scarf donuts – their fuchsia frosting speckled with a handful of colorful sprinkles – I thought to myself: this is what donuts should look like! The same goes for the Springfield Elementary cafeteria tots, as uniform as squatting soldiers, or a bunch of hot dogs, snug in their buns, with a perfect line of yellow mustard drawn along their length. Even the products receive this standardized treatment on the show. The other day my ten year old daughter and I were watching a Season 10 episode in which Homer, the family’s chubby paterfamilias, plucks an ear of corn from a field and eats it raw. “Pesticides,” he whispers, chewing vigorously. “Carbamate, if I’m not mistaken.” This, of course, is a joke about the toxicity of agrochemically processed foods in the United States and Homer’s adherence to those foods. Still, I got it: with its uniform, golden kernels, this corn looked undeniably tasty.
Was it really possible, as Randolph promises in his introduction, to “savor the iconic dishes of the show from the comfort of [my] own home “? The cookbook is divided into sections, including the main meals, snacks, desserts and drinks, and the dishes range from fairly practical dishes (Monkey Turkey Sandwiches) to quirky (Hot Fudge Sundaes with Tequila Ice Cream) with Real Nuts (Krusty Partially Gelatinized Non-Dairy Gum Drinks, whatever) I briefly wondered if the book was made for real cooking, or if it was above all else. intended for fans to flip through and remember their favorite moments from The Simpsons. Eventually I decided the two weren’t mutually exclusive. After all, is there a greater act of devotion than make something in the image of your loved one? “I wouldn’t necessarily cook from this particular book”, my colleague Hannah Goldfield, The New Yorker restaurant reviewer, told me. (Hannah loves “The Simpsons,” though maybe a hair less than me.) “I would have cook from the ‘The Sopranos’ cookbook, because I’m a huge fan of the ‘Sopranos’.
I still had a problem. Could my longtime desire for cartoon food be satisfied by my own clumsy in the kitchen? Randolph’s instructions were methodical and straightforward, which I appreciated, but it also made them incongruous with the original stories of the dishes. In a recipe for fried fish sandwiches – based on a Season 7 episode in which Homer, in an insane scheme, attempts to gain enough weight to be considered disabled – Randolph diligently reminds us that “the tartar sauce can be prepared before time “, because it” will keep for up to 3 days in the refrigerator “. Even the most ridiculous dishes, in Randolph’s rendering, seemed relatively easy to prepare, like Lisa’s Chocolate Cherry Experiment Cupcakes, which she originally made, in Season 4, like a decoy to assess who is smarter, his brother Bart or a hamster.
I started easy, with the I Love You Breakfast Recipe, adapted from a Season 4 episode in which Marge makes Homer’s breakfast on Valentine’s Day. (“And that’s for my hug, in honor of that special day,” she said, serving her husband slices of bacon that were written “I LOVE YOU“, with two round fried eggs in place of the” O’s.) Even by my standards, the recipe was extremely healing. (Indeed, no one will let me forget: “It’s just bacon cut into letters My daughter said. “Did your daughter do it?” Asked my editor, when I texted him a picture of the dish. ” Would that make for real cartoon food? As I cut the bacon into chunks (âCut 4 bacon slices in halves and 2 bacon slices into quarters,â Randolph explains) it collapsed under my knife, creating twisted and twisted letters. My eggs, too, were nowhere near perfect “O’s” and, with all the food crammed into too small a pan – the biggest one I had – the sentence sounded less like a statement. affection only at a ransom note. The flavors, however, weren’t too bad: the meat was extremely salty and fatty, everything like eggs. Both were also crispy.
Emboldened by my relative success, a few days later I tackled a slightly more ambitious project: Bart’s America Balls, in which ground beef or pork is rolled into spheres, grilled or pan-seared, and simmered in a barbecue sauce. . The balls appear in Season 9, when Bart prepares them for Principal Skinner’s birthday party. âThis is in honor of his days in the military! Bart said pointing to the balls, each adorned with a small American flag. It took me about twenty-five minutes to make Randolph’s version of the dish, and when I was done I bit down cautiously into one of the meat and frozen treats. I was pleasantly surprised: they were tangy, with the subtle boost of Worcestershire sauce! I ate a little more, as did my daughter and my husband.
Randolph has taken at least one liberty with this particular recipe. In the series, Bart’s America Balls are made from dog food. (Why? Marge asks his son. “My theory is that Skinner likes dog food,” he replies, as Homer, indifferent to the revelation, greedily stuffs the America Balls in his mouth.) Sometimes the real one. life is better than a cartoon, after all.