So many calories to eat, so many to lose on last night’s Mad Men (“Dark Shadows”) from Crab Rangoon at Trader Vic’s to Betty’s Weight Watchers meetings where one of the weight loss strategies appears to be heavy smoking.
Poor Betty. Desperately trying to shed some pounds, Betty is seen at the opening weighing cheese cubes to go with her half grapefruit and single piece of plain (burnt) toast. Her Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook sits forlornly on the counter. “I can’t eat fish five nights a week,” explains Henry when Betty finds him frying a rib-eye in the pan just before midnight. In the Thanksgiving scene, she’s still fighting the good fight: her plate, with a spare portion of brussel sprouts (see recipe) looks like it belongs to an anorexic obsessed with portion control. And to think, just a year ago she was making sweet potatoes with marshmallow for the holiday dinner! Betty’s diet is as spare and empty as the rest of her life.
Betty tries to find some inspiration and consolation at Weight Watchers, founded in 1963 by Jean Nidetch of New York City who combined a diet plan and group therapy in a new approach to weight loss. By 1967 there were 297 classes in New York City and her first Weight Watchers Cookbook was released. (Weight Watchers was later sold, ironically, to Heinz whose baked beans ad campaign has been such a tough nut for Sterling Cooper to crack.) Participants were given lists of acceptable and off-limit foods, a regular weigh-in, a lecture and group therapy of a sort, one that encouraged open discussion of their weight problem. According to Betty’s group leader, “you don’t stuff yourself to keep from telling your family your problems.”
Meanwhile, back at Sterling Cooper the focus seems to be on new clients in the food industry. Along with Heinz and Cool Whip they are now pitching for Pepsi Sno Ball and Monarch Wine, which is trying to extend beyond its Manischewitz brand of sweet, inexpensive Jewish holiday wine to a more diverse customer base. Or, as Roger so aptly put it, they’re trying to branch out from selling wine for Jews, to selling wine to normal people.
Roger woos the Rosenbergs from Monarch Wines with dinner at Trader Vic’s, one of the popular “tiki” restaurants of the era offering faux Polynesian cuisine amid bamboo, flaming torches and drinks served in grotesque goblets meant to invoke tribal totems and deities. Since Roger’s soon-to-be former wife Jane is Jewish, he persuades her to join them (better to make the Jewish connection), but at a price. Everyone, it seems is profiting from Roger’s desperation to stay relevant at Sterling Cooper: Jane’s price is a new apartment; Ginsberg and Peggy settle for cash to do Roger favors.
Trader Vic’s opened in the Savoy-Plaza hotel on the Southeast corner of Central Park, offering “exotic cuisine in a tropical setting,” as New York Times food critic Craig Claiborne described it in 1958. “It would be difficult to categorize Trader Vic’s Cuisine under single heading,” he wrote. “ It’s a combination of Cantonese, Indonesian and islander cooking, plus a few native American specialties to satisfy less adventurous palates.” Claiborne also mentioned the house specialty Roger suggested to Jane: Crab Rangoon, crabmeat deep fried in a crisp thin shell and served with a hot mustard sauce and a tomato barbeque sauce (see recipe).
Rumaki, an appetizer typically made with water chestnuts, chicken liver, bacon and soy sauce served in Season 1 by Betty at her Around the World dinner, was another dish popularized by the tiki restaurants. If you’re wondering why Chateaubriande was on the menu (Bernard, the Rosenberg’s con, suggests he and Jane split the dish), Claiborne noted that Trader Vic’s often went beyond Polynesian cuisine. “One is inclined to ask why Hungarian Goulash was featured on a recent luncheon menu,” he wrote.
As for the Sno Ball, it was a new, semi-frozen soft drink using products from Pepsi owned companies in 1967, liquid enough to be sipped through a straw. Don puts his sinfully delicious spin on the successful pitch – using a devil to appeal to kids’ sense of mischievousness. Personally, we preferred Snowballs of the Hostess variety: marshmallow and coconut topping over devils food cake. Which do you prefer: white or pink?
Original polynesian hor d'oeuvre crab rangoon recipe -- crabmeat fried in a crisp thin shell -- from Trader Vic’s Pacific Island Cookbook by Vic Bergeron (Doubleday,1968).
- ½ pound crab meat
- ½ pound cream cheese
- ½ teaspoon steak sauce , such as A-1
- ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
- Won ton squares
- 1 egg, beaten
- Chop crab meat and blend with cream cheese, steak sauce and garlic powder.
- Put ½ teaspoon of in center. Fold square over cornerwise. Moisten edges slightly with beaten egg and twist. Fry in deep fat until delicately browned. Serve hot.
Weight Watchers Brussel Sprouts (1/2 cup = 1 portion) from Weight Watchers Cookbook by Jean Nidetch (Hearthside, 1966). In Mad Men, Season 5, "Dark Shadows," Betty has a Weight Watcher Thanksgiving dinner, with her "limited vegtable" portion of brussel sprouts.
- 1/2 cup brussel sprouts
- 2 teaspoons caraway seed
- 1/4 teaspoon thyme
- Soak brussel sprouts in cold water for 10 minutes. Drain.
- Place in saucepan with small amount of water with caraway seed, thyme, and salt to taste.
- Cook until tender but still green, approximately 15-20 minutes.