On Maple Avenue in Chardon, during the 1980's, cooking was always a happy event. But while Mother struggled to make our food budget last through…
On Maple Avenue in Chardon, during the 1980’s, cooking was always a happy event. But while Mother struggled to make our food budget last through the week, Father had a different set of priorities in mind. His take on eating was that it should be an exercise in self-expression.
My unexpected return from New York State had scuttled the household meal plan. Yet, the Ice Family tradition of making dining-table visits interesting continued. Albeit within the discipline imposed by needfully using what we had on hand.
In those days, we still did not have a coffemaker. Java was concocted in an enameled pot saved from Columbus. When we acquired a microwave oven, it was viewed as foreign and suspicious. Cooking and baking took place with the aid of a Kenmore gas oven, older than we could remember.
Eventually, my brother-in-law joined the household. This meant that we were literally eating in shifts, at all hours of the day and night. Mom dutifully kept the kitchen open continuously.
I secured a job at the American Seaway Foods warehouse in Cleveland. And then, at Fisher’s Big Wheel in town. This meant that instead of eating dinner at a traditional time, I was suddenly enjoying my post-work feast shortly after daybreak.
Night became my day. Day became my night.
Working 12-hour shifts, after sunset, became commonplace. I would chain-smoke throughout the night, drinking Coke. By morning, my appetite would be nearly uncontrollable.
My favorite dish was macaroni & cheese, with assorted additions. It provided a warm ending to the shift spent cleaning floors and organizing our stockroom. When the opportunity appeared, I would gather leftovers and create my own culinary concoction. Frequently, this meant including green peppers, radishes, fresh tomatoes, or slices of lunchmeat and bacon.
I was building on the notable foundation laid by Dad’s erstwhile experience making a south-of-the-border favorite called menudo.
His authentic Latino stew originated from a recipe we had found in a motorcycle magazine. It contained beef tripe, stewed tomatoes, pig feet, lemon wedges, coriander and a variety of peppers. The dish sent everyone else in our family scurrying for cover.
Only Dad and I would sample such foods without prodding. It became a badge of honor to know that we had cooked something so unusual that no one else would partake.
Years later, I have discovered that this bent for wild improvisation still remains.
In recent days, I took stock of the household cupboards and realized that almost enough items were on hand for a Spanish-style, stovetop stew in the family tradition. A quick shopping trip added Purnell’s ‘Old Folks’ Hot Sausage and some Cumberland Gap Jowl Bacon.
While watching Sunday Night Football on NBC, I combined the ingredients.
1 pound of hot ground sausage
? pound of jowl bacon (sliced)
1 can (15 oz.) of garbanzos
1 can (15 oz.) of light red kidney beans
1 can (15 oz.) of pink beans
1 can (15 oz.) of pinto beans
1 can (15 oz.) sliced white potatoes
1 can (15 oz.) diced tomatoes
1 can Rotel peppers and tomatoes
2 tbsp. dried onions
1 pkg. chili mix
3 beef bouillon cubes
Cumin, garlic powder to taste
Brown sausage, place in stock pot with enough water to cover and bouillon cubes. Lightly fry jowl bacon, add to pot. Bring to a boil. Add other ingredients, including their broth. Simmer for at least one hour.
The stew was aromatic and colorful. I served it with tortilla chips and a garnish of cheese.
Later, I shared the stew with my sister’s family in Hambden. After a few raised eyebrows, everyone enjoyed their meal.
The creation was improvised from items on hand. But I wrote down the recipe for future reference, so I could share it with neighbors and friends.
Afterward, while sitting at the computer, I began to reflect on the bygone memories that my kitchen adventure had evoked. Life on Maple Avenue in Chardon, during the early 80’s, had been the opposite of my modern routine. We were a full-sized brood in a house not made for private moments.
Cooperation was key to functioning in this sort of environment. Necessity made us develop a stronger sense of family identity. We functioned like a sports team, with each of us playing a useful role in caring for the others.
Now, our habits have reversed. We are farther apart and less likely to directly share day-to-day happenings. Yet, the kitchen remains a focal point for cooking and family celebration.
Preparing such foods is a joy. Sharing them is a greater experience. But the best part of such a culinary detour is writing about the product, in quiet hours that follow.
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