Wine and Dine, Mad Men Style (Just in Time for the Premiere)

Mad Men returns this Sunday, and many of you are probably chomping at the bit to find out what happens next to Don and his crew. And for some of you, maybe you’re thinking you should celebrate ’60s-style with your very own theme party.

If that’s you (or you just like a stiff drink), consider looking at The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook, which not only introduces you to food and drink of the series, but also the entire era that the characters of Mad Men live in. Between the pages of recipes (taken from Manhattan haunts and popular publications of the decade), you have an introduction to culture of the 1960s, including where some of these recipes got their start, why “California Dip” was so popular back in the day, and even special ways you can be a 1960s “hostess with the mostest.” This is all, of course, interwoven with some of our favorite Mad Men moments (I still enjoy thinking back to Pete’s explanation of a chip and dip — and yes, that reference is certainly there).

The book has been out for a while now, but I just received my review copy either during the last season or shortly thereafter, I didn’t have the opportunity to party it up Mad Men style. But between then an now, I’ve been able to try some of the recipes, and I’ve been pleased. Sure, you have to remember that recipes from 50 years ago aren’t going to be the healthy plate we have today. Not only do many of the dishes include hefty amounts of things like butter, cream cheese, mayonnaise, and sour cream, but they also include one other thing precious to us in dear 2013: time. To make some of these meals, you’re definitely going to have to have Trudy Campbell’s dedication.

But the cocktails are definitely not to be missed — and they just may be the reason to pick up the book. The ’21’ Traditional Bloody Mary is probably the best Bloody Mary I’ve had, and I won’t lie when I say that last summer that might have been a go-to drink for my husband and me. The book has many more (and in some cases, multiple versions for you to try out), perfect for any themed cocktail party.

Yes, since the book was published in 2011, the recent episodes of Mad Men aren’t accounted for in its pages, and yes, some of the black-and-white pictures are lacking in grabbing your attention (or appetite). But some of the 1960s-esque full-color images make you stop and really think that the Avocado and Crabmeat Mimosa must be on my table, and sure, I can make that Pineapple Upside-Down Cake (so far, for desserts, I’ve only tried the Pears Baked in Red Wine alla Piemontese). And the neat images of old advertisements are certainly in Mad Men style.

Overall, it’s a fun little book, and if you’re a Mad Men fan, it’s a good one to pick up. You don’t even have to cook to appreciate it since it’s chock full of historical (and episodic) anecdotes. But if you do, more power to you. Betty would be proud.

The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook: Inside the Kitchens, Bars, and Restaurants of Mad Men
Judy Gelman and Peter Zheutlin
Publisher: Smart Pop
Available Now

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Christmas Challenge: Mad Men

MAD MEN
Christmas Comes But Once a Year

Much like every other episode of Mad Men, who knows where to start with this one. I’ll focus in on the Christmas parts, because I can dwell on only so much regarding Creepy Glen and how wrong Don’s sleeping with his secretary was (I still cringe at that).

But the holiday Christmas party was entertaining. Starting off as something that was supposed to be modest and small, Roger discovers that one of his most powerful clients — Lucky Strike — was going to be attending. Stop the presses, it’s time to make this a real party. Suddenly, drinks are flowing, dances are starting, and everyone’s on their best and most merry behavior.

Of course, the guy from Lucky Strike realized what power he wielded. The funniest part of all was his forcing Roger to play Santa, then taking a picture of him with every employee on his lap with the new Polaroid the company gifted him. Nice job.

But all the festivities must come to an end, and the next day the team returned to an office littered with empty cups and hangovers. And with Don’s indiscretions (paying off the secretary afterward…uggh) on every viewer’s mind, we’re left to think about how the holidays are in real life, not just what people pretend in Manhattan. Don walks home alone with arms full of presents for his kids he won’t see on Christmas morning, with the usual ’60s tune chasing him down the hall.

Recommendation: Like most Mad Men episodes, it’s a very well-done episode. The party scenes will make you laugh, but it’s not one that will get you in the Christmas spirit.

Mad Men: A Temporary Bandage on a Permanent Wound

MAD MEN: 5.13 “The Phantom”

Well, after last week’s horrific episode, we viewers (and reviewers) were nothing but questions about what this week’s finale would hold. We got it, but was it what you expected?

After the jaw-dropping episodes where Lane kills himself and Peggy quits, I think many of us were expecting an over-the-top, drama-filled episode for the season five finale. What we got was almost the opposite. But there’s also something else we may have gotten.

The return of Don Draper.

Yes, that last scene made us wonder whether our lady-loving playboy was back, after he pushed his wife to become her own woman in the acting world. Why the shift? Well, to me, the answer lies in Peggy. Peggy was the one woman that Don saw differently. She wasn’t a potential conquest or even a wife to deal with. Don saw potential and made her to be like him. To his surprise, she was so much like him that she knew when to take her own opportunity. And she left. He said himself that he wanted her to succeed, but he didn’t expect it to be without her. Peggy was somewhat eye-opening in the sense that her success really was without him.

So he let his wife succeed. What he saw when he watched her reel — Was it pride? Was he impressed? Or was it just that he saw freedom? I hope to think that it was one of the first two, which is why he helped her to succeed. But then he walked away, knowing that his place wasn’t there beside her. With her once removed, on her own without him, he did have the freedom to go to the bar and — well, I guess we’ll find out next season what happens from there.

Strangely enough, it was a switch in roles. Sure, Megan wasn’t trying to become the CEO of a company; an actress is not too surprising of a role for a woman to take in the ’60s. But actually letting her go and letting her do her own thing — that was pretty progressive of a husband.

Meanwhile, the elephant in the room was Lane. Despite his disappearance, his feeling was still there, in Roger’s own discussions with Megan’s mother; in Joan’s teary chat with Don; even in Pete’s saddened discussion with the clear-eyed Beth (in the end, I still found Alexis Bledel to be a horrible casting decision, but she was her best in that hospital room). Lane’s death hovered over these people, making them feel down and sad, even while their company was booming. Every week more money came in the mail, even if it was Lane’s own insurance policy. It made the entire episode feel just a little cold, which is saying a lot in an episode where a mother calls her daughter a bitch and a man asks what if his infant daughter drowns in their new pool.

In the end, things seem to be moving in a new but recognizable direction. The company’s growing, literally moving up to a new floor. Pete’s getting his apartment in the city, and feels more and more reminiscent of the Dons and Rogers of the working world. Peggy finally got to take a trip for clients, proving that even the raunchiness of dogs going at it in the parking lot of a DC hotel was glamorous with her new position. And Don, well, we covered that.

I must say, for an episode where little happened — especially compared to that which came before — it was a transitional episode with lots of pain to work through. A temporary bandage on a permanent wound? I’d say so. And while the end may have felt hum drum, you still don’t know what’s going to happen next.

Mad Men: We Saw It Coming…But We So Didn’t.

Warning: If you haven’t caught up on this week’s Mad Men, stop reading now. Seriously. Just stop.

MAD MEN: 5.12 “Commissions and Fees”

I watched last night’s episode of Mad Men at its regularly scheduled time, on its regularly scheduled channel. I didn’t wait until today. I didn’t DVR or stream it online. I actually watched it at its first airing.

It’s now 7:42 the next day, and I still have no clue what I’m going to write about this episode.

Lane Pryce killed himself. As someone who constantly watches TV, I enjoy trying to figure out what’s going to happen next in a show. Lane’s been going downhill for weeks, from his creepy moment with the woman on the phone (you know, the one who’s husband lost his wallet) to the tax problems all the way to a fight with Pete and a forged check. Even before, he wasn’t all that happy, with problems with his wife in previous seasons. But this season, he had his spiral downhill.

But it’s strange. It was all very subtle. Things just seemed down. They didn’t seem horrible. And offsetting these “bummer” moments, you had the times where he and Joan bonded and the moments where you just genuinely liked Pryce. It was a good feeling.

The moment that Don told him he was giving him an opportunity to reinvent himself, I saw it on Pryce’s face — and I even said it outloud: “He’s going to kill himself.” I said it before he even left Don’s office. I just knew. But then he went back to his office, he had himself a drink, he talked to Joan, he went home, and he threw up in a parking garage. Every step of the way, I started doubting — then confirming — then doubting. He’s going to his office: Ok, I was wrong. He argues with Joan: He’s totally going to do it because now she’ll regret the last words she said to him. He goes home and sees the car: Oh, he’s not going to do it on purpose! It will be a drunken accident and maybe his wife will die instead and he’ll be weighed down with guilt! He throws up: Ew.

Of course, that moment when the car wouldn’t start, you really started to wonder if that was fate telling us that it wasn’t going to happen (with a little Jaguar joke in the mix). But then, when he goes to the office, he finally succeeds.

In the end, I think the most accurate guess was that presumption about Joan. Joan was really Pryce’s closest ally, and the last interaction she had with him, he insulted her and she reacted. That’s certainly going to haunt her. More so, though, it’s going to haunt the rest of the crew at the agency, Don especially. If it hadn’t been for Don’s firing him, Pryce might not have hanged himself. But Don was merely the final push; Pryce was on the way there. We might not have seen it, but we did in some way.

But knowing Pryce killed himself wasn’t enough. We had to see it. We had to see the gruesome act that finally took his life. Seeing his lifeless, grotesque, grey face while hanging was horrific. We had to see the reality of it. Pryce went out in a way to make an impact, not some soft blow you just heard about. Just as his colleagues had to see it, so did we.

Not sure if any of you slept last night after that one, but it sure was a sad end to a character I grew to really like. I’ll miss Pryce, certainly. But man, I have no idea what’s going to happen next on this show.

So sure, I saw it coming. But I so didn’t.

In case you’re curious, here are a couple interesting links with Jared Harris discussing the big twist: here and here.

Mad Men: Crossing the Line

MAD MEN: 5.11 “The Other Woman”

Did that just happen? The firm gets Jaguar, Joan prostitutes herself, and Peggy quits?

This was an epic episode of Mad Men. In one episode, everything changed. For one thing, we see that Pete is more despicable than ever. When a potential client hints at a night with Joan, Cosgrove turns it off, but Pete actually picks up the opportunity.

It was disgusting. This is not some Saved by the Bell deal, where Screech gets his dog back if Jessie goes back with the head nerd, all ending in a slobbery puppy kiss that he thinks came from “Legs.” No, this is full on prostitution.

What’s worse is that Pete just can’t seem to hear the word “no.” Cosgrove tries to steer him in another direction, and he presses on. Joan tells him how insulted she is by the notion, in essence closing the conversation. Instead of dropping it, he goes to the partners. Even after Don adamantly tells him to stop it and leaves the room, he convinces the other partners to let the offer stand. In the end, Joan gets a partnership (with Pryce’s suggestion), and she leaves her morals on the bedside table.

It’s actually rather sad. Roger and Pryce both clearly care for Joan, but they also realize Joan’s her own woman. With Pete’s lie that she was considering it, they’ll hesitantly take her offer. Don cares, too, enough to actually go to Joan’s house to stop her. Unfortunately, we discover that he’s just too late, and the damage is done. Sure, the damage gets them Jaguar as a client, but was it worth it?

On the other side of the spectrum was Peggy, who has gotten rather fed up with her position in the company. After landing an account, Don drops her from it. When she presses him to keep her on, to get her to do the campaign in Paris, he throws money in her face, telling her to go. Strangely enough, when you look back at this scene after realizing what Joan has just done, you realize that much more how this world wasn’t made for women, how women can still be treated like crap.

Peggy’s better than that, and she knows it. So when she starts seeking other offers, she finds one that she can’t refuse. I knew Peggy was heading in a new direction this season, what with her failures in early episodes and the loss of her mentor, but I didn’t think she’d leave the company. Watching her and Don discuss her leaving was such a great scene — I think Don went through each of the stages of grief in five minutes — and the single tear from Peggy showed that even she was having a hard time with the choice.

But that moment at the elevator, she had a smile on her face. This is a step up for Peggy, and this could mean some interesting things for the company. Will Peggy now become their biggest competition?

I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Mad Men: Pizza House!

MAD MEN: 5.08 “Lady Lazarus”

Get your pitchforks ready, folks. I’m ready to be attacked.

I’m a fan of Rory Gilmore. You know me. Gilmore Girls is definitely one of my go-to shows. Alexis Bledel shined as Rory. In fact, I even liked her in both of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants movies. But there’s one thing that she’s not good at: playing an older woman in an unhappy marriage.

See, I really like Rory. And I’m wording that accurately. I like RORY. And Alexis Bledel makes a good RORY. But that’s about it. Everything else that I’ve seen her in — movies, TV shows, even Sisterhood — she’s got just about one note, and that is the whispy, blue-eyed, puppy-faced Rory. When she has this expression, she looks about sixteen years old, right about the time when Rory was her best. So making her an older woman in the 1960s, married to a quite older man just didn’t fit. Sorry, folks, Rory didn’t do the job. I didn’t believe it for a minute.

Which is mildly entertaining, since I believed an older Mr. Belding was someone other than Mr. Belding when he was in a mere 30 seconds of the show. Way to go, Dennis Haskins.

So it was rather annoying seeing Alexis Bledel in this show. She just didn’t fit. She was a teenager or early 20-something in a costume, playing a role that didn’t fit. I get that there’s a disconnect; she’s turning 31 this year. But it was just bad casting, and she just didn’t fit the part.

Rory aside, the point we’re supposed to take from this is that she’s one unhappy woman, and Pete’s still a despicable human being. The fact that he actually went home with the man whose wife he was sleeping with was just horrible. Uggh, Pete.

As for Don, well, he had his own marital issues to deal with. Megan has quit the firm to become an actress. Everyone had their own responses to the news, but Don’s was the most cryptic. It was clear he wasn’t the happiest to hear it, but he didn’t quite know what to do with the news. Was he just unsure what others would think of it? Or did it throw a wrench into his own view of what his new life is?

If anything, he sure didn’t like what it did to his business. Peggy royally screwed up playing his wife for the client — “Just try it!” — and he took his aggression out on her. But perhaps he just missed Megan.

I’m not entirely sure. Nor do I know what the empty elevator shaft really meant. Perhaps you readers can jump in with some analysis. Either way, Don doesn’t know what’s coming next, and frankly, neither do we.

Mad Men: Go Get ‘Em, Tiger

MAD MEN: 5.07 “At the Codfish Ball”

I’m not entirely sure whether I should even review this episode. I mean, let’s face it. The only thing we’re all going to remember after this episode is Megan’s father’s (in)famous line, “One day your little girl will spread her legs and fly away.”

But really, there’s more than that. I was particularly interested in Megan in this episode. Not because her parents were there or because she was aware of their flawed relationship. It was really her professional life that grabbed my attention.

Heinz has been a difficult and horrible account. After Peggy was let go from it, the rest of creative had to pitch in to make a last, desperate attempt to get the baked beans account. They came up with something (something we don’t actually get see), but even that, no one’s really thrilled. Meanwhile, Megan comes up with the account that wins the day: generations — from the beginning of time to the space-driven future — will give baked beans to their kids. And they like them.

Megan came up with the pitch, and Don loved it. In fact, she even figured out the best time to pitch it during dinner, after she discovered they were going to be fired. Megan basically became a shining star in one episode.

There are only two problems: She’s a woman. And she’s the boss’ wife.

Megan’s quite aware that she’s not going to be taken seriously, which is something she struggled with even last week when she was pulled away from work to play at a Howard Johnson’s. She wants to prove herself more than ever. But then again, she wants to play nice. At first, she didn’t want to take credit for the idea because she knew how hard creative had worked on the current pitch. Then, she wanted to tell Peggy before she found out through the grapevine, clearly worried that she’d be stepping on her toes.

I have to admire that in Megan; she’s not playing the Manhattan game like the rest of the world. I have to admire Peggy’s response, too: genuine congratulations and happiness, with a smart speech to match. Kudos to them both.

Now, for the rest of the episode, what is there to say? I loved seeing Roger’s back-and-forth with Sally (so much so that I shared this tweet), only to be horrified when poor Sally walked in on Roger’s “moment” with Megan’s mother (at least it wasn’t shown as grotesquely as it has been on Game of Thrones). Sally’s clearly discovering way too much lately, between this and her night discussing murderers with her grandmother. We did get the return of creepy Glenn in this episode; I’m not sure what they’re going to do with that, but I am getting a little nervous about when that kid really does get his driver’s license and decides to visit her.

Meanwhile, Peggy has been asked to move in with her boyfriend. Now, I knew the moment that Joan said she might get proposed to that she wouldn’t actually get a proposal. But I’m not sure what’s worse: Expecting a proposal and getting dumped — or getting asked to move in together. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great step in the right direction. But this isn’t the same era as today, and it holds a much bigger stigma. And her mother had a fair concern. Couldn’t he just “use her up” as she put it and toss her away? I just wish Peggy had a real commitment.

Anyway, a good episode back that got us miles closer to the Don we used to know. I just hope next week, we have fewer subtitles.