Monday, May 22, 2023

Nicki and Isabel's Unofficial Simpsons Feast

Long time, no see! To put it bluntly (and to get some of the where have you been, and where are you going? Out of the way), Covid really did a number on my enthusiasm for continuing this blog. Between needing to cut down on trips to – sometimes multiple – grocery stores for specialty ingredients and being locked inside with only Jess to help me eat stuff, not to mention a truly awful apartment and everything else that came along with the pandemic years, any enthusiasm I had for exploring food history pretty much shriveled and died.

And then we – finally! – moved back to New England so I could take a job as a museum curator at a small institution on Cape Cod, so that obviously took up quite a bit of our collective brainspace.


I didn’t do much with my doll collection during the last few years either, even with the introduction of the 1980’s Courtney Moore and 1920’s Claudie Wells, but an announcement about some even more recent historical characters got me excited about firing up my stove in a way I hadn’t really felt in years.


I’m talking, of course, about fellow Millennials Isabel and Nicki Hoffman.



Controversially, I don’t mind that AG has ventured into the 1990’s/early 00’s. If anything, I’m excited to see what else the years will bring for these two collection wise – assuming the company doesn’t imminently go out of business, which is never a sure thing with AG these days. One thing I will say is that this period in history is not really the most exciting food history wise. A lot of the things Nicki and Isabel would’ve had for dinner, enjoyed for a special birthday, or packed in a school lunch are very similar to what we eat today, give or take a few brands that’ve been discontinued.


But this period is in so many ways THE pop culture decade. The 90’s and early 00’s have so many iconic TV shows, movies, video games, book series, and toy trends that I’m usually dying for an excuse to talk about, and so it’s through that lens that I decided to kick off what will – hopefully! – be a series of posts about some of the IMHO definitive pop culture sensations of the period, while recreating some of the food we watched our favorite characters chow down on, because who hasn’t wanted to enjoy a cup of coffee from Central Perk, or try out some of the Giant Omelet in Tyrannia?


To kickstart this, I was inspired by one of my favorite iconic shows of the 1990’s: The Simpsons.



I was born in 1991, so I was a little young during the peak years of The Simpsons’ run, but sometimes I feel like I need to really convince folks who are younger than me that the show used to be hands down the funniest thing on television. My dad was a big fan of the show from the start, back when it was just a segment on the Tracey Ullman Show until it got its own series in December of 1989. He would meticulously record episodes on blank VHS tapes so we could revisit favorites long before executives saw money to be made in releasing official home video copies of your favorite tv shows. When my sister and I were little, it was considered a huge treat to be allowed to stay up a little later and watch a carefully curated, nothing too rude or too violent episode with our parents.


While modern viewers – or some of my younger colleagues – might not think the show’s anything special, given how common adult oriented animated series have become, The Simpsons was groundbreaking when it first hit the air waves. Immediately acclaimed for its irreverent and often extremely clever humor, The Simpsons in its early years boasted an extremely talented group of writers (including some names you might be familiar with even if you’re not a fan, like Conan O’Brien or Brad Bird) who managed to draft episode after episode packed full of jokes, social commentary and pop culture references alongside genuinely human stories with mature and thoughtful themes. One of my favorite episodes is Season Five’s “Lisa vs. Malibu Stacy,” which addresses then-contemporary criticism of Teen Talk Barbie, a Barbie whose voice box famously included the phrase “math class is tough.” With the help of Stacy Lovell, the original founder of Malibu Stacy (The Simpsons’ version of Barbie), Lisa creates a doll to be a better role model for young girls. While the doll is unsuccessful thanks to the aggressive marketing tactics of the bigger company, Lisa witnesses another girl buying her doll and remarks that “You know, if we get through to just that one little girl... it'll all be worth it.”


To which Stacy Lovell remarks. “Yes. Particularly if that little girl happens to pay $46,000 for that doll.” So, you know, punchline, but it’s still a very strong episode with strong feminist themes, alongside a lot of slapstick humor courtesy of the other members of the family.


Many of my favorite episodes involve Lisa, who in the early years was and is a very relatable figure to this quirky, too smart for her own good writer. But Bart was the one who really caught the public eye and became a break out pop culture sensation in the early 90’s, when a period of “Bartmania” hit the United States. As is usually the case, this meant it became cool to complain about how oversaturated the character and the rest of his family had become, something that was parodied in Season Three’s “Treehouse of Horror II”, which first aired in 1991.


Unsurprisingly, it also caught a lot of flak from conservatives worried that its popularity represented the corruption of the American family. In 1992, President George H.W. Bush famously said "We are going to keep on trying to strengthen the American family, to make American families a lot more like the Waltons and a lot less like the Simpsons." The series writers wrote a letter as Marge Simpson to First Lady Barbara Bush criticizing similar comments, to which First Lady Bush responded with a letter expressing her apologies. This feud was later referenced in the Season Six episode “Two Bad Neighbors,” when George and Barbara Bush become the Simpsons’ new neighbors.


Anyway, I’m a fan. And, unsurprisingly, given the humor of the show and the fact that one of the main characters is a notorious glutton, you won’t be shocked to hear that I have many iconic meals I’ve always wanted to make myself from the show’s run.


So imagine how excited I was to discover The Unofficial Simpsons Cookbook!



Pop culture themed cookbooks are something that have always, always fascinated me, and I have quite a lot of them in my personal collection. They run the full gamut of quality, from sketchy self published books with no photographs to absolutely gorgeous, glossy printed hardbacks with amazing themed photographs. The latter is what we’re seeing a huge influx in these days, and I am so here for it.


The Unofficial Simpsons Cookbook is written by Laurel Randolph, who managed a Simpsons themed blog not all that different from this one for years before writing this book. This is a book written by a fan, for fans, and while it’s unofficial, the food stylist did an excellent job of making the photographs look like The Simpsons without getting Fox or the Mouse’s legal team knocking on the door. Every single recipe is something from a specific episode of the show, while also being something feasible for a home cook to make in their own kitchen. There are so many jokes and references tucked in here, it’s really a must have for any Simpsons fan.



While I’m not sure Nicki and Isabel would’ve wanted their May 22nd, 1999 birthday to be Simpsons themed (side note, I’m essentially 364 days younger than the twins!), I’d like to think maybe they were like me in 1999: a fan of the show thanks to her parents, in a family who has turned references and quotes from the show into our common vernacular. My wife Jess and her siblings are the same, and it’s so much fun to be able to quote our favorite lines back and forth to each other!


We decided for our first ventures into this book, we were going to try our hands at Lemon Tree Lemonade (S6E24: Lemon of Troy), Little Meatloaf Men (S3E1: Mr. Lisa Goes to Washington), Circus Tent Mashed Potatoes (S6E15: Homie the Clown), and my personal favorite A Special Cake for Homer to Ruin (S5E21: Lady Bouvier’s Lover.)


Let me tell you, I had a lot of fun putting this all together. Molding the mashed potatoes into the circus tent like Homer does – in a parody of the scene from Close Encounters of the Third Kind - and decorating the cake with hand made marshmallow fondant letters was a lot of fun. Excitingly, all four recipes also produced a product that didn’t just look good, but it tasted good too. Nothing more disappointing than whipping out a new cookbook only to discover the thing you labored over wasn’t worth the effort.


The Special Cake for Homer to Ruin was especially fun to make because it’s one of my favorite food related gags in the show. For your benefit, here’s a clip showing the full joke.



My letters came out a little too big, but they were hand cut from homemade marshmallow fondant, so I am trying to be kind to myself that this doesn’t look 100% screen accurate.



While I very much agree that the show has really declined in quality since the millennium, its influence on pop culture goes beyond how much the characters are a household name. Without The Simpsons, you wouldn’t have King of the Hill, South Park, Family Guy, Futurama, American Dad, Bob’s Burgers, Bojack Horseman, or even some live action properties like Malcolm in the Middle or The Office. It creates an interesting record of pop culture and current events and their long term influences, and the original ten seasons or so seriously hold up both humor and heart wise even thirty plus years later. If you haven’t given it a shot before, I’d recommend throwing on some of my favorites:

- Lisa vs. Malibu Stacy

- Marge vs. the Monorail

- Homer’s Barber Shop Quartet

- Lisa’s First Word (this episode was actually used by my parents as an icebreaker to tell my sister and I that we were going to have a baby brother or sister!)

- Itchy and Scratchy Land

- Bart Sells His Soul

- Deep Space Homer

- I Love Lisa

- Lisa’s Substitute

- Homer at the Bat


Jess recommends, in addition to the above:

- Homie the Clown

- You Only Move Twice

- 22 Short Films About Springfield


If you’re already a fan, and you don’t yet have a copy of this cookbook, if you haven't already run to your parents begging to buy it, do it now.  You won't be missing anything funny: I'll just be sitting here reading this grownup's newspaper.  Go now!


Stay tuned for some more iconic foods from our favorite fictional worlds of the 90’s and 00’s. Here’s a hint about one I’m very excited about: it’s from one of the only shows Jess and I successfully binge watched all six seasons of during the pandemic and is famous for its attention to detail in on set catering.


  1. Good to see you back. All of your culinary creations look wonderful. I had stumbled on this cookbook online ages ago since my husband is a big early Simpsons fan as well. I did not purchase but it was neat to see the recipes you selected. I think the letters on the cake turned out wonderful.

  2. The intersection of two of my favorite things that were very influential to my life! Everything looks like it came out perfectly. Even the special cake for Homer to ruin. (What I always wondered is if Marge thought to make a special cake for Homer to ruin, why would she also have him decorate Magaggie's birthday cake?)
    It's such a fun cookbook, I love making Martin's Raisin Roundies.
    It will be fun to see what you come up with for these two!

  3. I'm very happy to see you writing again! This was a really interesting post; I have a passing interest in the Simpsons but I enjoy it when it comes up. It is very strange that AG doesn't have nearly the same kind of brand tie-ins that they had with Courtney and Pac-man with Isabel and Nicki. I mean, there's the pizza hut set but there obviously could be so much more.

  4. I am so happy to read this! I have been a Simpsons watcher, especially with my husband and son. Even better, I am a Nicki and Isabel fan. I have both dolls and I’m excited for their hardcover book this fall! This cookbook mash up between Simpsons and the Hoffman twins is so cool!! Can’t wait to read more. I saw this on Reddit, so it’s my first time here!

  5. So glad to see you back! Your blog is one of my favorites.

  6. Welcome back! Congrats on the job and move! Looking forward to more posts. Hope you and Jess are doing great!

  7. Yum!! I can't wait to get Nicki and Isabel ♡ I love them lol