- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 22, 2003

Yes, retro is in. Short skirts, tight sweaters and ruby red lipstick. Next thing you know, we’ll be smoking again. Well, maybe not. After the traumas of the past two years, however, it’s nowonder we’re pining away for Frankie and Annette and looking back with fondness to the decade formerly thought of as the shallow, boring ‘50s.

So we shouldn’t be surprised that a new cookbook has been published that celebrates those rollicking days of yesteryear with such foods as hot dogs and burgers on the grill and baked beans doctored with brown sugar and chili sauce. The bad news: Diet Coke isn’t on the menu. The good news: Those were the days before bikinis and the uber-thin model Twiggy, so we can eat again, girls.

“I think it has to do with the past couple of years and with the age of the baby boomers,” says Linda Everett, author of “Retro Beach Bash: A Sun Lover’s Guide to Food and Fun” (Collectors Press). “The ‘50s were a fun, colorful era. It was a friendly time. We all felt kind of comfortable. We felt safe. Even diving under our desks for bomb shelters brings back fond memories.”

Her point is well taken. What with the world seeming a teeny bit askew these days, it’s nice to dream of a time when the atom bomb was the only bad news we had lurking in our pantries. Which brings us to Miss Everett’s book and a great idea for a party. She says we don’t even need a beach for a retro beach bash.

“Pick up some posters of Hawaii. Lay out a beach blanket on your living room floor and bring out the picnic hamper and drinks with paper parasols. Put on those wonderful gaudy Hawaiian shirts.” And turn on the record or, more likely, CD player to the tunes of Jan and Dean, the Beach Boys, Elvis or Annette Funicello’s hit “Pineapple Princess.” Haul out some bongo drums. Rent DVDs of the movies “Blue Hawaii,” “Endless Summer,” “Paradise, Hawaiian Style” or “Beach Blanket Bingo.” (Does anyone know what that title means?)

If there is a beach within striking distance — pond, lake, river or ocean — this is the time of year to take advantage. Miss Everett suggests sending out invitations on postcards of beach scenes or on downloaded beach pictures from the Internet. (Pretend they’re from the library.) Or buy flat shells and paste on the printed invitations. If the shells are flat, they can be mailed in an envelope.

Plan such activities as kite flying or beachcombing for shells and other natural objects. “Skip the dead seals,” Miss Everett recommends, deadpan, but we’re pretty sure she’s joking. Plan a beach scavenger hunt. In Miss Everett’s area of the Pacific Northwest, Japanese floats or driftwood searches are the thing.

Beachcombing is most productive, she says, during and after storms and on Thursdays after the Monday-through-Wednesday high-tide accumulation of debris. Also organize at least one of the following: volleyball, fishing, sand castle building, Frisbee tossing or rollerblading. Dancing to a transistor radio would be appropriate, if you can find one in a thrift store or the attic. Surfing — even with a boogie board — is, well, the coolest.

When planning the menu, skip the sun-dried tomatoes, the tofu and the flavored vodkas. We haven’t heard of those yet. Serve plain Coke, Pepsi or Dr Pepper with hot dogs, burgers and chips. Think church social food, and you’ll be right on track. Jell-O, potato salad, anything with marshmallows — perfect. We weren’t big on fruit, sushi, low-carb or Caesar salad in those days and TV dinners aren’t so great for a picnic, but iceberg lettuce and peanut butter and jelly never go out of style, nor do Kool-Aid and Twinkies.

The important thing is to relax and have fun, the author advises. (Stress as we know it, wasn’t invented until the ‘80s.) “Like I always say, ‘Go with the flow.’” And enjoy your day at the beach. There’s nothing to worry about except, perhaps, the movie “Jaws” or the Vietnam War, but you can ponder those issues later.

Hilo dogs

1 cup apricot preserves or orange marmalade

1/2 cup tomato sauce

⅓ cup cider vinegar

2 tablespoons soy sauce

2 tablespoons honey

1 tablespoon salad oil

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger root or 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1 12-ounce can pineapple slices, drained

2 pounds hot dogs

16 to 20 buns, optional

Tossed salad, optional

In a medium saucepan, combine preserves or marmalade, tomato sauce, vinegar, soy sauce, honey, oil, salt and ginger root or ground ginger. Simmer gently for 5 minutes. Grill the hot dogs slowly, turning and basting with the sauce until heated through and glazed (about 8 minutes). The last few minutes, start grilling the pineapple slices, basting with the sauce. Heat remaining sauce and serve hot dogs with grilled pineapple. Offer buns and a tossed salad, if you like. Makes 6 to 8 servings or more, if served with buns.

Churasco chicken

1 12-ounce can of beer

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

3 tablespoons lemon juice

Dash Tabasco sauce

1/2 teaspoon orange extract

1 teaspoon orange peel

2 tablespoons brown sugar

1 tablespoon dark molasses

2 21/2- to 3-pound fryer chickens, halved

In a small bowl, combine beer, salt, pepper, lemon juice, Tabasco, orange extract, orange peel, brown sugar and molasses. Mix well. Place chicken in a 1-gallon, heavy-duty resealable plastic bag and pour in half of the marinade. Refrigerate several hours or overnight.

Drain marinade from chicken and grill chicken over hot coals for about 45 minutes, basting often with reserved sauce. Turn often. Cook until juice runs clear when thickest parts are pierced with a knife. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Drunken sailor beans

2 28-ounce cans baked beans

11/2 teaspoons dry mustard

3 tablespoons dark molasses (see note)

1/2 cup chili sauce

1/2 cup strong coffee

1/2 cup bourbon

1 8-ounce can sliced pineapple

1/4 cup light or dark brown sugar

Crusty sourdough, Boston brown bread or rolls, optional

In a medium bowl, mix together beans, mustard, molasses, chili sauce, coffee and bourbon. Put in a buttered baking dish, cover and refrigerate overnight so flavors can blend.

Remove from refrigerator and let stand 30 minutes before baking. Bake, uncovered, in 375-degree oven for 40 minutes. Top with a layer of pineapple sprinkled with brown sugar. Bake for an additional 40 minutes, uncovered, or until bubbling and heated through. These beans are terrific with crusty sourdough, Boston brown bread or rolls for sopping up the sauce. Makes 10 servings.

Note: Substitute light molasses if you like a less intense flavor.

Easy does it picnic cake

1 18-ounce box yellow cake mix

1 33/4-ounce package vanilla instant pudding

4 eggs

3/4 cup vegetable oil

3/4 cup sherry

1 teaspoon nutmeg or mace

About 3 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar

Fruit, optional

In large mixing bowl, combine cake mix, instant pudding mix, eggs, oil, sherry and nutmeg or mace. Beat with electric mixer for 5 minutes at medium speed. Pour batter into a greased 9- by 13-inch baking pan.

Bake in 350-degree oven for 35 to 45 minutes, or until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. Cool 5 minutes before turning onto wire rack. When cooled, place in plastic container with snap-on lid, sprinkle with enough confectioners’ sugar to cover lightly and cover. This cake goes well with fresh fruit, such as strawberries.

Makes 12 servings.

Perfect peachy slurp

2 cups water

11/2 cups sugar

1 6-ounce can frozen lemonade

2 16-ounce packages frozen peaches

11/4 cups vodka, optional

⅓ cup lime juice

Lemon-lime soda

In a medium saucepan, combine water and sugar and bring to a gentle boil.

Cook until sugar dissolves, stirring a few times. Cool. Add in lemonade concentrate and stir. Whirl peaches in blender until smooth. Mix peaches with lemonade mixture and add vodka, if using, and lime juice.

Freeze in shallow pan or large resealable plastic bag. Keep on ice. When ready to serve, scoop in enough slush to fill glasses half full, then top off with lemon-lime soda.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

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