John Douglas

A Concrete Blonde

The fantastic culinary horrors of the 1970 book ‘Happy Living: A Guide for Brides.’

Posted on August 5, 2016  in Writing

When my mom was getting ready to marry my dad in the late 70s, she was given Happy Living! A Guidebook for Brides as a free gift when she created her wedding registry at a regional New England department store. The overly-excited book (that exclamation point makes it seem like the title is meant to be said with a manic smile through gritted teeth) appears to make the assumption that new brides are looking for a book that’s totally condescending while also unappetizingly foul. Here are nine of the most horrifying food-related things in this book.

1. The “Hot Corned Beef Tempters.”

Sure, I’m tempted. Tempted to go get take out! (high fives self, leaves dinner party, tells guy at pizza place about my great “tempted” joke, gets pizza guy’s number)

The caption for this image is “This photograph shows you how tempting these Hot Corned Beef Tempters really are.” So: not very? Serve with stabbed pineapple on top of your grandmother’s blue evening gown.

2. This “Seafood Loaf” that only looks more desperate with the carnations and candles behind it.

Ingredients include tuna, macaroni, and resentment.

You ever do that thing where you’re feeling really depressed, so you put on a nice dress and makeup to try to make yourself feel better, but you still feel like an awful garbage person inside? I’m pretty sure that’s what this Seafood Loaf is doing with these candles and flowers. Also, the only “seafood” in it is tuna, so a more accurate name would have been “Tuna Loaf” or “Sadness Loaf.”

3. The section that suggests ways to decorate the table so your husband remembers that he wants to say with you.

And whether the meal is served informally in the kitchen, at the dining table by candlelight, or on trays in the living room with soft background music, the surroundings should be neat, the atmosphere one of relaxation, and there should be some special touch—a single flower floating in a glass saucer, a colorful napkin tied in a knot, a pretty china figurine—just to remind your husband how lucky he is to have “caught” you.

Remember, ladies! Your husband could decide you’re not worth it at any moment, so be constantly vigilant that you’re doing everything you can to remind him that you’re a “catch.” You know, like a fish. He likes fishing, right?

4. The utter abomination of a meal on this table.

That parsley looks like it was trying to escape a crime scene and got caught in the act.

If you see multiple items in a photo in most cookbooks, that usually means that they’re supposed to be served together as a meal. In this case, that means Happy Living! is suggesting serving Lamb Kidneys with Rosemary alongside a Citrus Maraschino Mold with what appears to be whipped-cream-topped hot chocolate. These recipes are all from the “Time to Entertain” section of the book, and presumably the “entertainment” comes from laughing about how stupid the cook was to think that this could be a good meal.

5. The section that suggests that the height of a woman’s satisfaction in the household is coming up with a supes fun garnish.

Someone once remarked that the most valuable ingredient in a dish is imagination. That’s why the cherry in the center of the grapefruit, the chopped parsley over buttered vegetables, the sprigs of dark green watercress in a salad, are important. They are the touch of color and glamor that makes the food look more interesting, more inviting, and more appetizing.

These little touches call forth the creative talent with which so many women are handsomely endowed, and it is this creative satisfaction which makes the preparation of food for the table one of the real pleasures in life.

Since you’re a ball-and-chain homemaker now, new bride, there is literally only one place to funnel your creativity: garnishes. Give your garnishes everything: your creativity, your love, your pain. Whisper your secret fears to your garnishes, telling that maraschino cherry about how you think your husband is cheating on you. The garnishes are your only friends now. CHERISH THEM.

6. The Apple Beef Meat Ring.

Also, pretty sure that’s a tray of undressed iceberg lettuce in the background.

Meat. Ring.

7. These cranberries clinging to rice in uneven, barnacle-like clumps.

Ohhhhh, this is why people hate brussels sprouts.

The very fact that this book is so obsessed with food-based rings is a bad sign.

8. The part that assumes the husband will never, ever, ever cook while simultaneously shaming the wife for wanting to look nice.

You and you only stand between your husband’s and your own starvation. Either you surrender to the can-opener method of cooking, to allow more time at the beauty parlor, or you make up your mind to follow a more rewarding path. You decide to learn to cook well, to experiment and master culinary techniques, and to set interesting and nourishing meals on an attractive table.

Congratulations, new wife! Throw out your old life of beauty and fun, because you are now a kitchen appliance. That “rewarding path” might almost seem like a good idea until you realize that it’s in the same book that recommends making…

9. The horrorshow that is Creamed Eggs in a Corned Beef Crust.

Wow! That parsley garnish must’ve come from a creative woman.


If you were looking for a dinner that looks like it could be the titular monster in a David Cronenberg film, this is the dish for you. Ingredients include corned beef (for the crust, duh), white bread, a raw egg, six hard-boiled eggs, a can of mushroom soup, a can of mushrooms, milk, and Worcestershire sauce. Of all of the dishes to photograph for this cookbook, this is the most mystifying. It doesn’t just sound foul, it looks literally like vomit more than any other dish I have ever seen.

Of course, this entire book could have been an elaborate scheme to help speed married couples to early divorce. If so: great job, Happy Living!

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