I mentioned to a friend of mine that the time was coming up to dig out the recipe for the annual father-son making of the Christmas Party Mix. Then she said, “Oh…you mean the recipe you guys get off the cereal box?” and then I said, “How dare you."
The Walker party mix is a product born from the yearly meeting of father and son, standing there poring over every detail of the original index card that held the same recipe he brought over from “The Old Country,” by which I mean our house in Cooks Mills, wondering what, if any, changes should be made to it that year. In terms of excitement, it’s the Fed Chair announcing interest rates changes and McDonald’s announcing the return of McRib all rolled up into one.
But, darn that friend, she got into my head and this year I fired up the Throwback Machine for a trip into the past to see if maybe she’s right. Perhaps our time-honored Party Mix Recipe, honed to a deadly scientific edge, is a great big fraud.
Turns out it took only one search result to locate a recipe that was nearly a spot-on exact match, although it must be noted that the one recipe I found required garlic flavored bagel chips, a pretty good timestamp of when it came from. Anyone remember that year when your Weight Watchers program included points for bagel chips and Snackwells cookies? Oh and don’t forget all six glorious months of Olestra.
What I’ve discovered the last few years of being “let in” to the party mix cooking process is that it’s all about levels. There was that one year Dad and I decided to increase the “spice” levels so high we pushed the chemical properties of the entire batch beyond the threshold of human tolerance. I swear the thick, acrid fumes coming off that first batch out of the microwave were practically lethal. Anyone remember the desert scene from “Altered States”? Never mind.
After that ill-fated experience in sending relatives screaming for the water, we’ve dialed it back in recent years. Having been elbow-deep in that roaster pan full of mixed up Chex of all three types (not counting the Honey Nut, although now that I think about it, it’s a tempting idea), I can say I’ve come up with my own patented way of ensuring the Cheerios get coated with the liquefied “mix” without shrinking them down in the process. So when you’re having your family’s version of party mix this year and bemoaning those shriveled blackened cereal bits, all I can say is, hey, it’s all in the spatula-work.
And speaking of that “mix”, let’s have a word about that most unsung of all condiments you find in the lower door shelf of your fridge: Worcestershire sauce, that inscrutably named black goop we just always referred to around my house growing up as “Lee and Perrins”. A few years ago I was obsessed with finding some other way of using this stuff. I tried putting it on french fries, using it as a dipping sauce for fish sticks or squares of Hershey’s Milk Chocolate (the latter an experience I’d rather not talk about), before eventually deciding it’s best use was a small dollop into the innards of a toasted cheese. Speaking of toasted cheese…anyone ever put grape jelly and dill pickles on top of one? Just sayin’…
And it’s while searching through our archives for visual items representing the components that make my family party mix, more specifically a search for Worcestershire Sauce, that I came upon perhaps my favorite find when it comes to old Journal Gazette Features columns since my discovery of Rickey Ferguson’s “Today’s Progressive Country” -- this entry from Chuck Flynn’s weekly “Mostly For Men” column from 1970 where he exhorts readers to unleash the full-flavor of Worcestershire sauce for some “groovy” recipes.
According to our paper, Mr. Flynn was not just the Assistant to the President of the University of Illinois but also quite a cooking buff. Quite why his column needed to be titled “Mostly For Men” is beyond me, although upon further thought, considering my pitiful attempts to be able to cook even the simplest thing, including but not limited to the disastrous “cheese, onion and egg casserole” experiment which ended with approximately 10 dollars of ingredients being sent right down the garbage disposal after one plate, perhaps I could use a little man-advice. Also…his column ran on the “Women’s Page.”
Well, I’d like to think some Journal Gazette readers reading during the era of B.J. Thomas and The Carpenters got their minds blown by that signature taste of Worcestershire, “dry red wine” and (gulp) horseradish colliding on their taste buds. A few paragraphs later he dares readers to really break on through to the other side by creating a (ahem) “mystic go-between” by stuffing that burger with a compound of Worcestershire, blue-cheese, oregano, chili sauce, and freaking mayonnaise! With all due respect Mr. Flynn, those kinds of kitchen shenanigans may fly up in Champaign, with your jazz and jackets with shoulder patches, but down here in Coles County, where our beef decisions at the time were probably all being made by the folks at Wrangler’s, we probably topped out at Heinz 57 Sauce.
And after all that promise of lava-lamp-approved burgers -- Mr. Farley simply closes out his cosmic post-flower-power-party advice on jazzing up his burgers with just this:
“It’s best to use a wire rack when cooking filled burgers since they will otherwise tend to fall apart."
Well, no doy. And to think I freaking kill myself each week trying to think of some clever way to end these columns. So I guess in the spirit of his column I’ll end just as abruptly:
This season, remember that when it comes to Worchester sauce and you, always make sure the cap is on before you shake it up.