Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Cooking with Celebrities, Or Why Tim Allen's Face Annoys Me

When I was in elementary school, I was in the "gifted" program (my IQ was [allegedly] marginally above normal).  Being in the gifted program meant that one day a week, I left my classroom and spent four hours with other "gifted" children learning how to count in Japanese and how to do the Mexican hat dance and how to "sing" in American Sign Language and that sort of crap.  I absolutely loved it.  It was the best part of school for me.

We also wrote poetry and took field trips, and at the end of every school year, we "published" a cookbook called "Cooking with the Stars."  From first grade through fourth grade, our year-end challenge was to write celebrities and ask them to mail us their favorite recipes.  Bafflingly, many of the celebrities actually wrote back.

I, personally, had three successes in my quest for celebrity cooking tips:  local news anchor Kim Hindrew, national news anchor Jane Pauley, and First Lady Barbara Bush.  (In limiting the amount of time I spent watching television, my parents conditioned in me the belief that "fame" was roughly equivalent to "being on the evening news.")   Barbara Bush sent me two pre-printed recipe cards.  Kim Hindrew hand-wrote me a note card, front and back, discussing sandwiches.  And Jane Pauley, master chef, signed the letter that her assistant typed up, telling me that she didn't cook much, but she did like to put a bit of mustard on her kids' grilled cheese sandwiches now and again.

In fifth grade, the gifted program switched to a new teacher and a new curriculum, one that required that when we left our regular classrooms, we went to the library and did research, or sat in silence and memorized other people's poetry instead of writing our own.  Suddenly, the merits of the gifted program plummeted in my eyes.  I didn't want to go to the library.  I wanted to write famous people.  In an act of rebellion, I decided that just because we didn't do fun stuff in school anymore didn't mean I couldn't do it myself.  I was going to put together my own celebrity cookbook.

Older, wiser - I was now a mature ten, after all - my standards for fame were changing.  I remember my determination as I sat at my desk in my room after school, scribbling my requests on Little Mermaid stationary.  I decided not to write up-and-coming news anchor Brian Williams, but instead the Olsen twins (a move that admittedly I have come to regret).  Then I wrote the cast of Step by Step, of Home Improvement, of Family Matters.  I wrote Andy Griffith because Matlock was a guilty pleasure of mine.  And I sat back in triumph, thinking how my cookbook was going to be so much better than any of the cookbooks we had put together as a group.  When I had it ready, I would take it to the gifted program and show the new teacher how things were supposed to be done...

A week or so later, my responses started to trickle in.  One pre-printed postcard after another.  A picture of the cast, a stamped autograph or two, and not so much as a personalized greeting on the back in return.  I didn't get a single recipe.

When Tim Allen's postcard came after the postcard featuring the entire cast of Home Improvement - even though I had only written one letter to Home Improvement, and Tim Allen's card didn't even have a stamped signature on it, as if Tim Allen knew the rest of the cast had already jilted me but he wanted to personally rub it in that I was not worthy of a real response - a new and revelatory thought emerged in my ten-year-old brain:  famous people can be assholes.  To this day, thinking about Tim Allen's smug smile on that postcard brings about feelings of resentment and of culinary dreams lost...

But this being me, I wasn't able to let it go after the first try.  For the next two years or so, I continued to periodically write the television stars I'd come to admire.

None of them ever sent me a recipe.

But the day did come when I got a real autograph.  Signed in Sharpie, on a glossy 8x10 black-and-white production photo, "To Becky," it read.  "Thanks, Tia and Tamera Mowry."

Which is why no one is ever allowed to diss Sister, Sister in my presence.  Ever.


  1. I had a serious LOL at this. mainly because it reminded me of a darker time in my life. :(

    when i was younger, i was seriously pissed off at my best friend. to the point that we had a strained exchange where we gave back all the friendship bracelets we made for each other. it was like when dj tanner and kimmy gibbler almost decided to not be friends anymore. yeah. that intense.

    one day while sitting at home, bored because my bff was off being awesome (or so i thought) and i was stuck at home, i grabbed my copy of tiger beat and at the back of the issue it listed celebrities and their fan mail addresses. so i picked one arbitrarily and decided to write them an angry psychotic letter.

    only i signed it from my best friend. and wrote her address on it for a reply. and it was to mayim bialik. it basically said things like, 'i hate you, you suck. get hit by a train. you are so terrible' i basically trolled her via snail mail. yet in fact, i loved blossom beyond belief. i wanted a skirt made of ties. i knew her whole intro dance. i said the word, 'whoa!' in practically every conversation i ever had.

    i never mailed it out, but everytime i see mayim bialik now in any interview or anything like that, i freak out inwardly, wondering what would have been had my best friend been arrested for sending off angry fan mail to the star of blossom!

    btw. i seriously love your blog. <3

  2. Ahhh, the innocence of youth. I really miss the fun times in my early school years, but still have very vivid memories myself of the great disappointments that came along as well. Hah, that Jane Pauley, I can totally see her sending your her "recipe" like that. PG, it's really interesting how your elementary school gifted program got you started down the "celebrity" path. I totally love those early lessons they started you on, too. Still remember the Mexican hat dance? I bet you can still do it... >;-)

  3. sumi k, that story was better than my blog entry. That is *so* the sort of thing I would have done at that age (I was a moderately vindictive child). If only you and I had met sooner in life...just think of the riveting TGIF discussions we could have had! I'm seriously still lulzy right now. That is SUCH a win (but only because no one was ever arrested). :)

    Vanessa, I know, it *is* strange how that's what set me down that path, isn't it?! Or maybe I was already on that path and that's the reason I remember the cookbook so well...it'd be interesting to find some of the people who were in that program with me and ask them what they remember doing. It was probably a much more varied program than I think it was and I'm remembering only about 2% of what we actually did. :)

    I can still get through about the first 8 bars of the Mexican hat dance, believe it or not. I can also still count to twenty in Japanese and sign the chorus of "Love in Any Language" (!!). Oh the things we remember... ;)

  4. Haha! The influence of american television on us British kids...both stories made me laugh. How anyone could diss the Lowry twins..."Sister sister..never knew how much I missed ya!"

    Sumi K I also used to love Blossom..me and my cousin had 'blossom hats'. Those floppy velvet hats pinned at the front with a brooch. We thought we were sooo cool!! Haha! And giving back friendship braclets when you fell out...ROFL!

    Thanks for the trip down memory lane..although it feels a bit like group therapy with the celebrity rejection, almost hate mailing and bad fashion revelations! haha!

  5. AHHH!! You remember the Sister, Sister song! :D It's funny because I don't remember that show nearly as well as I remember Full House or Family Matters or Step by Step. But Lord. I never missed an episode. TV was so freaking important back then... I still have a copy of Disney Adventures magazine somewhere in my parents' attic with Mayim Bialik on the cover...

    This IS group therapy! I had no idea that so many of us had dark, eighties/nineties-television-related pasts. :D