There is really nothing worse than paying bills—whoever put the fun in (fun)d is a moron because there is nothing fun about facing one’s diminishing funds. So, when I was sitting on my living room floor, TV on, check book open, the clouds parted when I realized I had surfed into the middle of an I Love Lucy marathon. I’ve always loved Lucy and one of the reasons is that she reminds me of my mother—both slightly daffy, loveable, beautiful redheads (except my mother’s red hair is real, thank you very much).
Of course I got completely sucked in, tossed my calculator to one side, and tuned into one of my favorite episodes: “The Fashion Show.” This is the one where the gang is in Hollywood and Lucy wants a dress by designer Don Loper. She winds up getting a terrible sunburn before appearing in a celebrity wives fashion show and the poor, charred lobster has to model an itchy wool suit with her arms outstretched and legs akimbo to avoid any chafing. Ouch. But the thing about the episode that always has me shaking my head is the moment when the other wives are announced before they begin their parade down the catwalk: “Mrs. William Holden,” “Mrs. Dean Martin,” “Mrs. Van Heflin” etc. For those of you who are married, and have taken your husband’s last name, can you imagine ever referring to yourself as Mrs. Joe Shmow instead of say, Joanna Shmow? Or, at the most, Mrs. Joanna Shmow?
All of this got me thinking about the syndrome of the celebrity wife. On the one hand I feel kind of sorry for her because, unless she has achieved stardom of her own, in any field, she is always thought of as the “Mrs.” On the other hand, maybe that’s enough for her and who am I to judge? (Yeah, right.) There are so many Hollywood wives who, let’s face it, wouldn’t be writers, children’s boutique owners, and eco-entrepreneurs without the last name lent to them (hey, we all know how long these marriages tend to last) by their husband and the bold face names that need to kiss his behind, and therefore kiss theirs, by applauding at book readings, drinking champagne at store openings, and toting hemp tote bags.
One outlet for celebrity wives is an invitation to the plebians into the workings of their fabulous kitchens. I was flipping through some recipes I’d clipped and found one for carrot cake by Jenny Belushi, wife of Jim. Now, maybe she is a wonderful baker (in fact, she owns a children's clothing store) and I’m just not in the loop but my first thought was, “huh?” The internet is full of recipes from celebrities, their wives, and First Ladies. (Somehow I don’t think Barbara Bush barbequed her chicken in the Rose Garden wearing her pearls or Jackie Kennedy pushed the chef out of the way to slide her International Coffee Cake into the White House oven.)
But there is one celebrity wife who caused quite a ruckus when her cookbook came out several years ago. Deceptively Delicious by Mrs. Jerry Seinfeld (I’m sorry, Jessica Seinfeld) is based on the premise that kids hate vegetables and one way to make sure they are well nourished is to sneak veggies into their favorite foods via purees. Now, because I don’t have kids, I didn’t pay much attention to the book or the brouhaha that followed its publication. Mindy Chase Lapine’s The Sneaky Chef is based on the same principle, was published before Mrs. Seinfeld’s book, and Ms. Lapine accused Mrs. S of plagiarism which led Mr. Seinfeld to call Ms. Lapine some names when he was a guest on Letterman and the whole thing got ugly. Long story longer, Ms. Lapine lost her court case and Mrs. S went back to her kitchen to make her purees in peace. (Because I’m sure she is very busy making purees over a hot stove all day.)Of course Jessica Seinfeld is an easy target. Oprah welcomed the cookbook author to her instant best-seller Chicago stage and accepted 20 pairs of Christian Louboutin shoes as a thank you—a distasteful misstep (hah!) on both their parts, and Regis and her good friend Kelly cooked with her. The book has fancy experts (Dr. Oz wrote the forward, Joy Bauer kept an eye on the nutritional composition), tips from other celebrity moms (Alexandra Wentworth aka Mrs. George Stephanopoulos), and acknowledgments to more than a few heavy hitters. None of which would have happened had she not been married to Jerry.
But does any of this really matter? Isn’t the proof in the pudding? Or, in my case, the blueberry oat bars. I wound up buying the book when I noticed it was going for cheap on Amazon and, being a member of the very exclusive Prime club, it would be at my front door for under $10. Plus, I was curious. The first thing I liked was that it is spiral bound and lies nice and flat on the kitchen counter. And there were more than a few things I wanted to try. But, when I noticed that the puree she sneaks (oops, sorry Ms. Lapine) into the blueberry oatmeal bars was spinach I knew I had to make it.
You might think that the most important kids in my life, the nieces, were going to be my guinea pigs. Wrong! They are both vegetarian and have happily eaten their vegetables since they transitioned to solid foods. The real test would be my mother. When she was a child her mother wrote a note to the director of her sleep away camp: “Please do not make my daughter dive or eat spinach.” And her palate hasn’t changed since the 1950’s. So, I presented her with a blueberry oat square, sat back, and waited. Her response? “Mmmn, very tasty! The filling is terrific!” When I did the big reveal her mouth fell. And then she added, “Well, I don’t know. Why chew if it’s going to be spinach?” Too late lady, you said you liked it! Maybe she was afraid I’d start baking with spinach all the time. And just for fun my nieces got in on the act and loved them, as did their mother. So, pooh-pooh all you like, Mrs. Seinfeld’s deceit was indeed, delicious and it worked! I got Mom to eat her vegetables.Celebrity Wife Blueberry Oat Squares
Adapted from Deceptively Delicious, by Jessica Seinfeld, 2007
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1 bag baby spinach
Steam for 30 to 40 seconds in steamer basket just until wilted. If you don’t have a steamer basket cook spinach with one tablespoon of water for 90 seconds, till wilted.Pulse spinach in mini food processor or blender until creamy.
Blueberry Oat Squares
Nonstick cooking spray
2 cups rolled oats
1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¾ cup Earth Balance trans-fat free soft tub margarine spread, chilled
1 cup reduced sugar blueberry preserves
½ cup spinach puree
Preheat oven to 375, Spray an 8x8 inch baking pan with cooking spray and line the pan with 2 overlapping strips of parchment paper.
In a large bowl mix oats, flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, salt & vanilla.Using two knives or a large fork cut add margarine and cut into mixture quickly until it looks like coarse meal. You will still see clumps of margarine.Press ½ the oat mixture into prepared pan and bake until lightly browned. 15-20 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a medium bowl thoroughly stir preserves and spinach together until it is uniform in color.Pour blueberry-spinach mixture over partially baked oat layer. Top with remaining oat mixture and bake until topping is slightly browned, 25-30 minutes.Set the pan on a rack to cool completely. Using parchment paper as a handle, lift mixture out of pan onto a cutting board and cut into 16 squares.
NOTE: Cool completely before eating to allow any residual spinach flavor to dissipate.