“Don’t be intimidated by foreign cookery. Tomatoes and oregano make it Italian; wine and tarragon make it French. Sour cream makes it Russian; lemon and cinnamon make it Greek. Soy sauce makes it Chinese; garlic makes it good.” ~ Alice May Brock
Photo of Alice by Howell Conant, Source: NPR.org.
During the holidays, I like listening to Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree.”
The “Thanksgiving dinner that couldn’t be beat” makes me happy, along with Officer Obie, the Group W bench, and of course, those “twenty-seven eight-by-ten colour glossy photographs with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one explaining what each one was to be used as evidence against us.”
photo of Alice and Arlo by Steve Schapiro/Corbis.
Dang fine example of the talkin’ blues, a classic 60’s counterculture, anti-war/anti-draft satirical ballad that still rings true 42 years after its release. I’ve been lucky enough to hear Arlo sing it in person a couple of times, and admit to having a crush on him when I was sixteen. Sigh. I wore out the A-Side of my album (some of the best 18-minute interludes I’ve ever had). When the movie came out with Arlo starring in it, I really really wanted to become a hippie, celebrate Thanksgiving with all those people, and help dump the garbage.
But this year, with my interest curiosity obsession with restaurants, I’ve been wondering about Alice. Hers was/is the most famous “restaurant” in pop culture and she’s a beloved 60’s hippie icon. But where is she now and what has she been up to?
Lucky for me, I found a wonderful, in-depth interview from 2007 conducted by Alan Chartock, President and CEO of WAMC/Northest Public Radio. Alice, an artist who currently owns a studio and gallery in Provincetown, Massachusetts, lays it all out on the line. She opened the restaurant at her mother’s suggestion, mainly to “give yourself something to do in the afternoon,” to have a creative outlet. She had no chef training or any experience running a restaurant. She’s the perfect example of “learn as you go,” a free spirit who remained open to possibilities, and who, above all, didn’t forget the importance of having fun.
Alice’s restaurant (“Back Room Rest”) in Stockbridge, MA, was open from April 1967 to April 1968. It’s now Theresa’s Stockbridge Café.
What she lacked in business acumen she made up for with good cooking, treating people well, and making every meal a memorable experience with her uncanny ability to improvise. “Just because you only have four chairs, six plates, and three cups is no reason why you can’t invite twelve people to dinner. There are lots of things you can use besides plates. For instance: hub caps lined with tinfoil . . . ”
She once served an entire dinner featuring only sweet potatoes; another time, concocted Cream of Salt and Pepper Soup at the very last minute, when she suddenly remembered she had to feed 40 people for lunch.
“Soup is any kind of food cooked in enough liquid to make eating it impossible with a fork.”
In 1969 she published her own cookbook, which features lots of quirky wisdom, common sense tips about feeding people you love, original drawings, and photos from the movie. “Arlo doesn’t eat spinach. He doesn’t even look at it. Here’s how I fixed it to turn him on . . .”
Today’s menu features Arlo’s poem, “Mooses Come Walking,” first published as a picture book in 1995 with Alice’s illustrations, and two of Alice’s recipes, perfect comfort food to stave off the chill and restore your spirits in the holiday rush. Like Alice, we don’t stand on ceremony here, so if you’ve got a hub cap handy, or prefer to eat your chili in a muffin tin, go for it. As Alice said,”A container is a container. Just because it held shoes last week doesn’t mean it can’t hold shrimp salad this week.” See why I love her?
First, the Mooses, animated, with Arlo narrating:
ALICE’S FAMOUS CHILI
(makes 6-8 servings)
In half an inch of oil or bacon fat, sauté until soft: 3 chopped onions, 3 chopped green peppers, and 3 large cloves of finely chopped garlic. In another pan brown 1 or 2 pounds of chopped beef. Drain the fat from the beef and add the beef to the onions and peppers (or add the onions and peppers to the beef). Now add 1 or 2 cans of tomatoes, 1 can of tomato paste, and 2 to 8 tablespoons of chili powder. (You can always add more chili powder later, so start off easy.) Add 1 tablespoon of sugar, a sprinkling of salt, pepper and paprika, 2 bay leaves, a teaspoon of cumin, a teaspoon of basil and a pinch of cayenne or some hot chili sauce. Simmer all this for at least half an hour until it is good and thick. Then add 1 or 2 cans of kidney beans.
Serve this on rice and top it with some chopped raw onions.
THELMA’S CORN PUDDING
This is really like a soufflé, very light and creamy. I have a feeling that you could add some finely chopped ham to it, but you’d better ask Thelma.
2 eggs, beaten up
1 tablespoon of sugar
1 tablespoon of cornstarch
1 cup of milk
1/2 stick of butter (melted)
1 12-oz can of corn
Salt and pepper
Mix up all of the ingredients and pour them into a baking dish. Cook at 325° until firm — 30 to 45 minutes.
*Note: This was my first time making corn pudding, and it’s custard-buttery and truly delish! Thelma = Alice’s ex mother-in-law.
♥ Full “Alice’s Restaurant” lyrics here, and Thanksgiving scene video from the movie is here. If you’re in the mood for the whole massacree, check out Arlo’s live performance at the Guthrie Center (2005).
♥ NPR interview with Arlo talking about the story behind the song is here.
♥ Audio interview with Alice and Alan Chartock is here. Bookmark it for later since it’s long, but well worth listening to. Put it on while wrapping gifts or baking cookies ☺.
♥ Visit Alice Brock’s official website to see more of her artwork (available for puchase).
♥ Arlo’s official website is always fun to visit. Love his personal updates.
♥ More Alice wisdom: “If you worry about your weight: Don’t.” “Cabbage: Don’t turn your nose up.” “Don’t ever wear a white dress when cooking beets.” “For me there is something very satisfying about making a pot of soup; it makes me feel life is really very simple and secure.”
The Poetry Friday Roundup is being hosted today by the lovely Elaine Magliaro of Wild Rose Reader.
More 2009 Fall for Restaurants posts can be found here.
“Walk right in, it’s around the back,
Just a half-a-mile from the railroad track.
You can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant.”
Copyright © 2009 Jama Rattigan of jama rattigan’s alphabet soup. All rights reserved.