Noir Fest and Dinner: Quicksand (March 1950)

Welcome to 1950! Get comfy, we are spending three more weeks here. I made this dinner on October 30th, but then shit got crazy with me quitting my job and P. turning 40 last weekend. Whew!

Once you pop, you can’t stop

So: I chose this film because I absolutely could not find the intended film for this night, Shakedown (1950) anywhere, either locally or online. I emailed Tony D’Ambra, briefly explained what I was doing, and asked him if he could recommend a comparable film from 1950. He kindly and swiftly replied with a whole list, from which I chose Quicksand. HE IS A CHAMP AND MY IDOL.

I got EVEN MORE THRILLED when I discovered that Quicksand stars Mickey Rooney! And Peter Lorre! Jackpot! This could make up for the last couple of weeks. I had heard that Mickey Rooney had a career slump during/after WWII, but I didn’t know he revived his career with a stint in noir. Whatever pays the bills, eh? I think today Mickey Rooney would be a Steve Buscemi type–the unattractive, sad sack underdog.

The plot is pretty linear, no flashbacks, but compelling. Remember that asshole who traded a paperclip for a house? This is like that, except it starts with Rooney nicking $20 from his boss’s till and ends with COLD-BLOODED MURDER. There’s voiceover narration, which always thrills me, and one really dumb loyal dame (today we would call her a codependent enabler), and a mercenary one (played by Jeanne Cagney). I think we were supposed to be unsympathetic to her character, but she was the only one making sense to me. I liked that there was a scene with him walking down the beach with Cagney and he was on the higher part of the shore! He still looked shorter than her.

Perhaps my career is under this shell

I would recommend this film, which is the first more obscure one I would recommend (Maltese Falcon is a no-brainer). But it’s outside of the official film festival. Whoops! Oh well.

The liquor tag reads “eau de vie de frambroise.” I am jealous. My liquor tags just say things like “scotch.”

Since we have jumped into both a new decade and spring, there is an article on pineapples. I am very familiar with pineapples since Strudel’s birthday is in March, and we eat them a lot then, as well as having pineapple upside down cake.

It’s a lovely motif from a badass graphic arts perspective, but then we have unidentifiable (at least to me) topless natives. Who bring the readers pineapple? I don’t know. Awkward.

Bitches be drivin, AMIRITE? “This is food-related sexism, let’s run it.”

Oh well if a dentist said it

There was another article, and I am kicking myself for only capturing half the name in my photocopy. I was fascinated by it, because it was written by an American woman with an Asian-sounding last name, Ruth Tao Kim Hai. I could find very little about her online anywhere, except on She was married to a Vietnamese man (named Andre M. Tao Kim Hai, who became a French citizen). It seems that she chronicled a couple of months of their travels through Siam.

I was kind of tickled by the article because she discusses what are today commonly known Thai dishes that must have seemed extremely exotic to the readership then. She opens with this:

Chinese food is to the Orient what French food is to America. If you have a visiting fireman on your hands, where do you take him to dinner? To a French restaurant of course. And when it was our turn to be visiting firemen all the way from Bangkok to Honolulu, we were invariably taken to Chinese restaurants. Not that I have anything against Chinese restaurants…but Hai and I wanted to find out what people in the Orient ate when they weren’t having shark’s-fin soup and and the crackling brown skin of roast duck.

Good for you, Ruth. She talks about squid as an apparent substitute for chewing gum, mee kroab, kung tom yum (“It was a soup of prawns boiled with ginger and red peppers, so hot as to make you forget the taste and even the existence of anything you had ever eaten. It took several cups of tea and a slice of cold astringent papaya to revive me.”).

Alas, there are no recipes, because many of the ingredients, like cellophane noodles, were completely unobtainable. Imagine that!

…Mee kroab, which I met that evening for the first time and will remember with fond recollections until we meet again. Unhappily, we aren’t apt to meet again until I can get back to Bangkok because the chief ingredient of mee kroab is not to be had on this side of the Pacific. It is made of tiny noodles the caliber of vermicelli and the length of young fishing worms, lightly fried and and lightly sprinkled with…other spices I couldn’t identify….life isn’t the same without it.

There was nothing about the couple on Wikipedia that I could find. There is a mention from a blogger and artist who knew them personally. They seem to have gone poof into history.


I think I got so distracted by all the exotica going on in this issue, I did not actually choose a hearty main showcasing a big hunk of meat per usual. Between a rice casserole and a fish salad we are covered, however.

Rice a la Grecque
Crab Louis
Oignions a la Monegasque

Pineapple Melba

Bacardi Cocktail

Again, no cocktail recipe, so I relied on an ad again. I know I could always choose a wine, since there are always wine articles, but I rarely have cocktails and they seem so quintessentially midcentury to me.

This drink was nice! Kind of a sweeter daiquiri. My sister, ever the discerning cocktail critic in contrast to me, the Human Spittoon, liked it.

As I mentioned, dinner was kind of all over the place, which is how I like it sometimes. When I was a youth I used to go to the 24-hour fancy bar and grill and order waffles and cioppino at 2 a.m. This is kind of that dinner.

The rice, “rice a la Greque” was a throw-it-in-a-pot-and-bake-it affair, no risotto-esque babysitting. I liked this in spite of the fact that some stuck to the bottom. It was like the baby of a Greek omelette and a paella. I have all these lovely recipes that call for fresh sausage, which I tried to buy the “house made” from my local store, but their ingredients list was smeared beyond recognition, so I had to go for some precooked safe sausage like with the cassoulet. Tres bummer. But it was tasty! The recipe called for frying up some raisins in butter (awesome, I used oil) and tossing in some peas and sweet peppers at the last minute.

The onion dish called for a pound of the smallest onions possible, which I interpreted to mean pearl onions, which you can find in any grocery store, even the hateful ones. Strudel wanted to help me, bless her evil heart, so we sat and peeled 18 ounces of onions, which was about the visual equivalent of somewhere between your average cantaloupe and a soccer ball. We cried. We swore. Then I remembered the garlic hack and I tried that. It did not peel the onions, but it softened them up and made it really easy to peel the last layer, speeding up the process greatly.

Then you cook the onions for about an hour (90 minutes seemed too long) in a mix of vinegar and water. My kitchen was filled with Victorian smells and I was afraid it would be overpowering, but the final product, after being chilled in the fridge, is really an amazing side dish. I would serve this year-round. I am not the biggest onion fan. I like them a lot and I put them in almost everything, but I don’t really think about serving them on their own, but this is GREAT: sweet, tangy, sour, really balanced. This may be making a comeback for Fangsgiving. Partly to have something tasty but also something that does not take up a burner! The name–Monegasque–refers to Monaco.

Then, the centerpiece for my family, which are like 70% crabpigs. (Except for P. I panfried some sea scallops for him to have on the side and he was happy.)

Crab Louis!

I liked how simple this recipe was. It called for leafs, crab, eggs, chive. I think that’s about it. Also, Russian dressing, which is a matter of great debate on the internet. Some people say it involves beets and caviar, others say it is an earlier take on Thousand Island. I did a chili sauce/mayo/dill pickle variation, and I did not make it sweet in any way. It went down well and we’ve been eating the leftovers all week. I wish I would have had time to hunt down a Russian dressing recipe from this era in Gourmet. Searches for Russian dressing from 1950s publications were not super helpful either. Still, the one I made went pretty well.

Dressing pictured on the right

Finally, dessert. HOLY SHIT this was fun.

I made a pineapple melba, which called for gutting pineapples and making ice cream out of the flesh. Again, I love the notion that you can just go fuck off and fetch up your own pineapple ice cream recipe or that you already know one. What kind of 50’s housewife are you, anyhow?? I did a very modern thing and bought a couple of pints of Coconut Dream’s Pineapple-Coconut flavor. I figured the tropicalness of it all would work in a pineapple. I saved the flesh for a couple of days of crazy sweet fruit with our breakfasts. YUM.

I have one nit to pick with this recipe. To make good ice cream, you need quite a few hours, ideally twenty-four, between letting the custard chill and then letting the final ice cream freeze up. This calls for gutting the pineapples and then, I guess, letting the shells sit around. Pineapples have a very short window of deliciousness and prettiness, so I think my way was actually better in this case. No one wants to buy two times the needed amount of pineapples, and no one wants to look at brown tops either.

The melba sauce was a hit too and inspired some undignified bowl licking in the end.

Because I am pretty overwhelmed (but happy) with starting a new job this week, I am going to push my next festival date to this Saturday. Then I can cook all damn afternoon if I like! To quote my favorite podcaster, JOIN US, WON’T YOU?

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