With its clever combination of cozy '80s nostalgia and spine-chilling horror, Stranger Things is the surprise hit TV show of the summer. The Netflix original is earning buzz for its writing, authentic vibe and eerie synthesized score. But not many people are talking about its food. It's time we changed that.
Just think back to that scene in Episode 1 — the first time Eleven (Millie Brown) steps onto the screen. The camera pans from the barefoot, bald girl in a ragged hospital gown to the back of a diner. After she sneaks into the diner's kitchen, Eleven finds a pile of hot matchstick fries in wax paper, and tentatively puts one between her lips. The effect? Rapture. Eleven, who has spent her entire life hooked up to electrodes in a research facility crushing cans with the power of her brain, has tasted her first french fry. It's likely the first good thing that has ever happened to her.
This is why food is a huge part of the series. Along with creating the appropriate ambience, food acts as Eleven's introduction to our world. It serves as life-giving energy for the group of middle school boys — Mike, Dustin and Lucas — who believe that "Nutty Bars, Bazooka, Pez, Smarties, Pringles, vanilla wafers, an apple, a banana and trail mix" will give them enough stamina to destroy monsters and save their friends.
And most importantly, food allows us to re-experience the show — at least until the second season airs.
So invite your friends to join you in a Stranger Things celebration. To set the mood, put on Will's favorite song, Should I Stay or Should I Go by the Clash. Play it like you're a kid stuck in another dimension just trying to make contact with his mother. In other words, blast it at startling moments and hope the lights flicker at the same time.
Or, for a more guest-friendly option, play Netflix's Stranger Things playlist on Spotify. And don't forget to hang Christmas lights everywhere.
Introduce guests to your party the same way Eleven is introduced to our world: french fries. After Eleven tastes her first fry, she begins double-fisting them, stuffing the entire pile into her mouth as fast as she can. Be prepared: Your guests may have the same response when they taste these Matchstick Potatoes. Serve them piping hot, just like diner owner Benny would want.
When Benny hands Eleven a burger fresh off the griddle, it's the first time anyone has treated her kindly. Her delight over her hamburger — it's so delicious that she even forgets to be afraid of Benny — is so well-acted, it's impossible to watch the scene without wanting to rush to the nearest diner. I've never seen anybody eat a hamburger so worshipfully.
Benny, tragically, is not here to make us our own burgers (moment of silence for him), so we'll have to grill our own. I wouldn't dream of trying to re-create a Benny burger, so this recipe is slightly different: Sloppy Joe Sliders made with beef sirloin and seasoned with garlic and onion, served warm on potato rolls. This gourmet version of a classic '80s dish will leave your guests as worshipful as Eleven.
Dustin's chocolate pudding
For dessert, you could scoop a helping of strawberry ice cream, which Benny serves Eleven after her burger. But we've spent enough time in the diner. Let's move on to honoring another member of the show: middle schooler Dustin. Dustin, who tragically never got to taste his tin can of Hunt's Snack Pack Chocolate Pudding. Dustin, who just wanted a moment of celebration after surviving a bully's knife attack, constant teasing over his missing front teeth, evil government officials, an extra-dimensional monster and a lunch lady who denies him this chocolate pudding every day. But of course, he gets nothing.
So go ahead and eat a bowl of homemade Double Chocolate Pudding for Dustin. Plus, if you're feeling a little drained after sitting on the edge of your seat for eight episodes, it might be just what you need. After all, Dustin promises that pudding will "charge your battery right up."
When Mike tries to describe pudding to Eleven, he may call it "chocolate goo you eat with a spoon," but don't worry, this recipe is far more elegant than their cafeteria option. Made with bittersweet chocolate and garnished with shavings, this chocolate pudding only serves four — so you may be tempted to hoard it, just like Dustin's loathsome lunch lady.
Not a fan of chocolate pudding? Or maybe your sympathies lie with the monster who lives in the Upside-Down world instead of Dustin and his friends? We won't judge if you'd rather bake a Blueberry Upside-Down Cake. Thankfully, the name is all it has in common with that dark alternate dimension. If you eat a slice of this cake, a perfect summer dessert, you'll remain safely in our world. At least, we think so. (Blink the lights twice if we're wrong.)
Now, I know what you're all thinking. French fries, burgers, chocolate pudding, and now upside-down cake . . . aren't we missing the most important part of the show's menu? What about the Eggos? Don't worry, we haven't forgotten Eleven's love for this frozen breakfast.
Since you and your friends will be staying up all night to finish the addicting first season, you can bake one of these waffle recipes for breakfast the next morning. They're not Eggos, but they're definitely just as good. And this Cinnamon Sugar Waffles variety might be even better. (Please don't tell Eleven I said that.)
Contact Emily Young at [email protected]