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Kitchen kitsch 

One thing you can say about the new Retro Recipes series of cookbooks (Time-Life Books, $9.95 each) is that they’re fun. And they’ll look great on your midcentury modern kitchen table. And, for the most part, the recipes in them are really, really simple.

After all, back in the ’50s (or at least the mythic version of the ’50s that this series is trying to call to mind), life was simpler. People didn’t need 30 different kinds of martinis or ganache-filled, pecan-encrusted, caramel-glazed desserts. No broiled sea bass with red pepper coulis for the ’50s housewife, no sirree. She made good, sturdy comfort food that you could identify on sight: hamburgers, club sandwiches, apple pie and chocolate brownies.

The ’50s housewife, you ask? Yes, the pre-Martha arbiter of all things culinary has achieved mythic status in these pocket-sized volumes, particularly in Desserts: Delicious Desserts from the ’50s. She would bake more than a dozen fruit pies a week, and had time to make her own ice cream. She also "had her own special tricks to ensure that her angel cakes were the airiest and most delicious in the neighborhood," and when her husband’s boss came to dinner, "she made sure the dessert was impressive." Then again, her everyday specialties were Rice Krispies squares and peanut butter cookies (both recipes included).

These books get more interesting when they disclose a little more culinary history along with the recipes — a kitchen trick that saves the "Cocktails" and "Snacks" titles from being just the usual menu of stereotypes. For example, in Cocktails: Divine Drinks from the ’50s we learn that gin Alexanders were more popular than today’s more familiar brandy Alexanders, and that the bright red Bacardi cocktail (rum, lemon or lime juice and grenadine) was much more popular than rum and Coke. And in Snacks: Tasty Treats from the ’50s, there are a few tidbits of Elvis trivia, such as the number of soda fountains he installed at Graceland (two).

Overall, these books seem destined more for the coffee table than the kitchen counter. Their designers had a retro-good time with classic advertisements and well-styled food that looks good enough to lick off the pages. Perhaps that explains the logic behind one otherwise inexplicable truth: These are all-board books, printed on sturdy, shiny cardboard. Go figure. — Alisa Gordaneer

WINE-RELATED TREATS

Learn all about Italian wine at the Andiamo Lakefront Bistro (24026 E. Jefferson, St. Clair Shores) this Wednesday, Nov. 8 from 7:30-9:30 p.m.. In conjunction with Merchant’s Fine Wines, the restaurant will host the first in what could be a tremendously good series of wine tastings. This one features wines from more than 30 regions in Italy, paired with hors d’oeuvres prepared by Andiamo chefs. Cost is $35 per person, and reservations can be made at 810-773-7770. … Take your taste buds Down Under this Friday, Nov. 10 at Morels: A Michigan Bistro (30100 Telegraph, Bingham Farms, 248-642-1094 ext. 3). The restaurant is hosting an appearance by John Larchet, an Australian wine importer, who will showcase eight different wines accompanied by a four-course gourmet meal. The meal features stuffed quail, braised beef short ribs and other treats, and the wines are selected to perfectly complement the foods. Tickets are $75 per person, and reservations are required. … Word is out that this has been an especially good year for Beaujolais. The harvest started earlier, and the grapes were especially juicy, which means that the Beaujolais Nouveau should be particularly yummy, fruity and robust this year. It will be ready for drinking as of mid-November, and is expected to be available in the United States, direct from France, on November 16. Look for it at your favorite high-class wine retailer.

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