Lady K

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Autocorrect changes my husband’s lunch.

My husband let me know that he ate a bowl of cereal and a “lady k” of hot dogs for lunch. I hesitated to ask about Lady K. Was this a bit of slang from yesteryear that I should know? Then I asked anyway and discovered that my husband’s phone invented Lady K.

Who was Lady K and how did she get a pack of hot dogs named for her? She was a moonshiner who had a St.-Paul-on-the-road-to-Damascus moment when she was weary of sneaking yet another 1000 lb. load of sugar in the back of her pickup truck. Unloading the last bag, she studied the sagging frame and tired axle of her truck. She saw her way out of this dirty business: she would trade her last gallon of moonshine for a meat grinder.

With that grinder she made the finest batch of hot dogs she ever tasted. She sold them in a ever-widening circle, starting with her past moonshine clients. One of them suggested that she could be famous if she solved the problem of having more hot dogs than buns.

So she set about the alchemy of baking a 10 pack of buns that could be sold together with 10 hot dogs. Thus was born the Lady K of hot dogs.

Of course the Lady drove a pickup truck. I struggle to create fiction beyond photo moments, but there is usually something in that mental picture that makes me think the person I imagine would drive a truck. Maybe this is because I can make up stories about as well as I can drive a truck. I failed my driving test three times, by the way.

I once created a truck-driving father for my nephew’s ex-girlfriend. While my nephew was dating her, I wondered a few times what her father thought of him. I imagined her dad washing his cracked hands with Lava soap in the kitchen sink, weary from hauling stuff in his pickup truck and shaking his head over the antics of my renegade nephew. He’d hear “Young Turks” by Rod Stewart and resign himself to the fact there will always be some boy who drives “his pickup like a lunatic.”

He was once that boy. Maybe his daughter was like the 10 lb baby born in that song, too, a love child born to runaways.

The real opinion of this young woman’s father would remain a mystery. A couple years after I had first wondered about him, I heard that there was no man living in her home. A single woman had adopted her and her two siblings.

I imagined that a man at work with an unruly beard would drive a pickup truck to a sparsely furnished home, where alone he’d read the works of John Muir and craft dining room furniture from reclaimed wood. This fellow actually drove a Jetta and had a growing family.

Back to my husband, I will tell you that I didn’t need to imagine him in a truck, for I first saw him getting into one. I was impressed that he could hop into a truck without jiggling or holding onto the door for balance. For short folks like him and me, this is a feat of grace.

His truck was ruined in an accident a couple years ago. By the time his truck was gone, I could see him as he was, free of the illusions that ease the start of any relationship. I know that he is not any more perfect inside or out than I am, and I still love him.

This morning he showed me that his truck has disappeared from online satellite photos of our home. I often think of how he looked the first time I saw him jump into that truck, but I prefer the man I see today, the man who can hop into a Honda Fit after eating an entire pack of hot dogs.

Easy Big Batch Chili

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Cooking played a vital role in my recovery from depression. As I tried more recipes and created some of my own, I felt mastery despite that I was and am not a fantastic cook. Even when I felt like my life was falling apart outside the kitchen, I knew I could succeed at planning a meal with limited resources that people might even like.

It all started with chili. Here was a one dish meal that was challenging to screw up. I experimented with the recipe my mom taught me in my teens. After a few attempts that were too fiery, I arrived at basic template for chili that could be embellished or scaled to suit the occasion.

After I had been stuck in moderate depression for years, my mom suggested that I try making chili for a 100 for my brother’s wedding reception. This was to be an informal gathering for family who hadn’t been able to attend my brother’s out of state wedding. For the first time in months, I did not agonize over choices or planning. I did not dread failure. I just did it. About half of people who tried my chili at that reception liked it enough to ask who made it. This mattered more to me than they could ever know.

I learned that if I acted without worrying whether anyone would like the result, my chances of a positive outcome were greater.

This evening I made my chili once again. It continues to evolve. This version can serve 10-12 people. I freeze cooled leftovers in sandwich bags. This chili keeps well frozen for two months.

Choosing no salt added versions of the canned tomatoes can help control the sodium level. If lower sodium plain beans are used, I recommend adding more chili powder to taste.

Big Batch Chili

  • 3 lbs ground beef
  • 2-16 oz cans mild or medium chili beans, undrained
  • 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes with green chilies, undrained (a 10 oz can is fine, too)
  • 29 oz can crushed tomatoes (fire roasted crushed tomatoes work great, too)
  • 3 T plus one teaspoon chili powder, divided
  • 1/2 t black pepper
  • 1 beef boullion cube (optional but tasty)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 t Sriracha sauce

Brown the ground beef with 1 teaspoon chili powder in Dutch oven.  Drain well. Add beans, tomatoes, 3 T chili powder, pepper, water and Sriracha sauce. Bring the chili to a simmer and add the boullion cube if using. Simmer f0r at least 30 minutes. Enjoy.

Pizza, U.S.A.

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One of many pizza restaurants in Lima, Ohio. This one may be defunct by now. In looking through my photo archives, I was surprised that this is the only pizzeria image I had on file. How I could have just one photo of something so omnipresent in my city?

A recent article in my local newspaper about the high number of pizzerias in my city made me consider that I may be living in Pizza, U.S.A. Per this article, we have 30 pizza businesses operating a total of 40 locations. This may not sound extraordinary, but here in Lima, Ohio, we have just 38,355 residents (U.S. Census Bureau). I don’t know if anyone has made a study of pizzeria density in the United States, but I figure that my city must excel in that ratio.

Here in Lima, Ohio, I am not alone in my passion for pizza. There are two pizza joints so close to my house that I could walk a pizza home. I have a frozen pizza in my oven as I am writing this sentence. Next to my oven, there is a Kitchen Aid mixer painted the color of pizza sauce, ready to knead dough should I wish to make pizza myself.

Who doesn’t like pizza? If you don’t like it, I can still understand your plight. I hate mayonnaise, yet it seems to be the mortar that holds the Midwest together. Avoiding all those mayonnaise foods has left me more room for pizza. Thus, pizza was my first teacher in the value of being an Other.

I was born in the suburbs of Indianapolis, where pizza was not such a living thing. I can remember eating pizzeria pizza there just once. I also never tasted salsa or ranch dressing in that metropolis (ranch is the only thing with a taste compelling enough to let me overlook the mayo in it). This monotony ended when my family moved to Lima in 1982, a move that was literally a homecoming for my parents because they were both born here.

Everything in Lima tasted better to me, from the school lunches to my grandma’s divine creamed corn. Shortly after we moved, my mom converted to Catholicism, which was a culture shock to me because my religious life prior to that time consisted of Bible readings and yearly viewings of Zeffirelli’s Jesus of Nazareth. When I could get my Sunday mornings back? And what was up with this forest green polyester jumper I had to wear to Catholic school?

Pizza eased my way into the Church. Facing our first ever Lenten Friday,  we needed a meatless dinner. My dad brought home a 21″ pizza from Fat Jacks. It costed just $6! It was enclosed in an enormous wax paper envelope with a miniature plastic table to keep the grease on the pizza and away from the paper. The wax paper still had a few translucent grease halos on it (Dr. Nick on The Simpsons once called such halos “the window to weight gain“).

Once my dad cut away the wax paper on that first Fat Jack’s pizza, I beheld the glory of 21” inches of carmelized cheese. There was enough pizza for all five of us in our family to have as much as we pleased. That Lenten pizza from 1982 is a still the finest pizza I’ve tasted.

I’ve lived in four different states and have visited 36 others. I haven’t been to any place where pizza is easier to get. When I lived on the West Coast, I once suggested pizza for dinner, which was vetoed because I’d made an unsolicited pizza that week. Why confine such a glory to once a week?

Here I can serve pizza to family and company alike without anyone complaining that they’ve already had too much pizza this week. Pizza is cheap, filling and can be suited to almost any dietary need.

Pizza speaks so well to the diversity, practicality and frugality of Lima. There is yet another pizzeria opening next month. I’m not worried that we’ll ever reach a saturation point for pizza.

Big Daddy Meatloaf

My local independent grocer runs specials on freshly ground beef, but these sale packages average three pounds. Big Daddy Meatloaf was born from my wish to use all three of those pounds in a single recipe. Chili and spaghetti sauce can easily be adapted to a three pound range, but I wanted another simple recipe that would make a large batch that yields easy leftovers from the fridge or freezer.

As an aside, I will tell you that every time I have tried to type meatloaf in this post I have accidently keyed in meatload. I suppose this recipe does make a load of meatloaf.

Big Daddy Meatloaf

  • 3 lbs 80/20 ground beef
  • 1 cup old fashioned oats
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1.5 oz packet meatloaf seasoning
  • 2 oz packet onion soup mix
  • 3/4 cup ketchup, divided

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cover a rimmed cookie sheet with foil. Combine oats, milk, egg, seasonings and 1/4 cup ketchup in large mixing bowl. Add ground beef to bowl and gently fold into other ingredients, as if you were slowly kneading bread. Mix just until combined; overmixing will result in a tough, dense loaf.

Empty meat mixture onto cookie sheet. Shape into large oval that is 2″ thick. Cover the top with the remaining 1/2 cup ketchup.

Bake for 60-70 minutes, or until the center of the loaf reaches a temperature of 160 degrees.

Corn and mashed potatoes are good dishes for this meatloaf. I think the meatloaf is rich enough that no gravy is needed for the mashed potatoes.

This post is part of the monthly link up party Our Growing Edge. This event aims to connect food bloggers and inspire us to try new things. This month is hosted by Chrystal at The Smallwood Parsonage.

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Saturday Photo Walk

I love the serenity of the Allen County Children’s Garden in Lima, Ohio. I’ve been visiting this place for 16 years. I’m happy to share some of the sights I enjoyed there today.

I Believe in Magic

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Red Geranium, Allen County Children’s Garden, Lima, Ohio

Every once in a while, I take a picture that proves to me that the world is indeed a good place. I see that I am not a fool to believe there is magic here.

In writing, I struggle to show rather than tell. This problem is absent in photography. There is only show and no tell.

Invader

I tried to return to the wetlands today, but a insect pollen party blocked my path. I didn’t want to invade their gathering any further, so I lingered on the scene for a few moments and went back home.