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SUNDAY BRUNCH

Recipes for the WASP in You

January 25, 1998|JEANNINE STEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

There's a new cookbook on the market, but don't look for trendy recipes like portobella mushroom risotto or fresh fig sorbet. You will, however, learn how to make Prune Whip, Katie's Hunt Spread and Pink and Blue Pie--although you might not want to.

This is "The WASP Cookbook" (Warner Treasures, 1997), a tongue-in-cheek tribute to the bland, boring and mostly beige food that WASPs have dined on and loved--well, maybe tolerated--for centuries. Dishes such as Creamed Spinach Puree (butter, flour, salt, milk, spinach), Muffie's Famous Sandwich (tomatoes, bread, mayonnaise) and Devon's Delights (Triscuits, bacon) are the staples of the traditional WASP diet. Don't look for exotic. You won't find a clove of garlic within a five-mile radius of any respectable WASP kitchen.

So says the book's author, Alexandra Wentworth, who looks every inch the authentic East Coast WASP she is. And, yes, that is her real name, though her friends call her Ali. The twentysomething actress (credits include the TV show "In Living Color," movie "Trial and Error" and TV movie "The Love Bug") and former caterer wrote the book after recurring appearances on "The Tonight Show" caught the publisher's eye. She wrote what she knew--WASP cuisine.

"When I was at NYU, my mother got her friends to hire me as a caterer," she says. "They were just sort of doing her a favor. I'd cook for about six ladies, the kinds of foods I grew up on, which is what they grew up on--overcooked, thin-sliced veal and some rice, just gross food."

Recipes were culled from her grandmother's personal handwritten cookbook, her mother's favorites and friends' contributions. Chapters are divided into seasons and events, such as Binkey's Bourbon Nips for Derby Day in spring, Oyster Puffs for the Middleburg Foxhunt in fall. Her notes on WASP culture are quite wry; for the baby shower she advises: "Helpful tips on which Ivy League school to donate a library to can be far more helpful than 15 silver Tiffany rattles."

Food talk takes place over lunch (chicken walnut salad and a green salad drenched in Newman's Own Salad Dressing, a WASP staple) at her home, a modern Hollywood Hills house filled with antiques and contemporary art that she shares with fiance Les Firestein, a television writer and producer, and two dogs. Wentworth admits her culinary career wasn't all that dismal; she did a catering stint at the New York gourmet empire the Silver Palate.

Her family pedigree is impressive. Her father was a political writer for the Washington Post, her mother was social secretary to President Reagan, and Wentworth attended boarding school and was a debutante.

Needless to say she also logged many, many WASP meals, at which there is never enough food--which might actually be a good thing.

"I took my fiance to one of these weddings on this island, and I thought I'd have to call a doctor. He was starving! They served cheese and crackers for dinner. I kept saying, 'Don't worry, there's a brunch the next day, you'll have your eggs Benedict.' But then we get there and they're serving mini danishes and coffee. I thought we were going to break up. Finally we got back to the mainland, and there was a Lobster Hut, and he just threw down $200 and said, 'Give me anything.' He comes to my family's house for dinner and asks for more, and my mother says, 'More? We don't have any more!' "

Wentworth cautions anyone who tries to make any of the recipes from the book.

"I met somebody who said her brother was getting married and they wanted to use the Old Boston Wedding Cake recipe, and I said, 'Do you like your brother? Don't do that. It's a really old, traditional cake that's full of rum, and it's disgusting. But I'm trying to be authentic to the idea, so that's why the recipes are what they are. Definitely some of my WASPier friends on the East Coast will use the book. They'll say, 'I've been looking for a good chipped beef recipe.' Oh, good, more power to you."

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