Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Sandwich!

Once upon a time, in another life, I worked outside of Chicago. A new job as customer service manager for a small air freight forwarder down the road from United Airlines' headquarters was a bit scary. The proximity to United wasn't at all frightening. In fact, it came in handy at times. I was getting a divorce. That was scary. A new job, a new life, a young daughter, and a 32-pound cat to care for jangled my nerves. As often is the case, fear was not truth. The job was wonderful. My daughter was wonderful. I lived through the divorce. The cat was 32 pounds of wonderful.

I had an hour for lunch. I usually took it. Sometimes I didn't. An emergency shipment or a customer in need occasionally ate my lunch hour. Time came for our beloved dispatcher, also called JB, retired. I had been his back up so his job became mine. It just seemed like a little more time on the radio. Then the operations manager quit. I got his job too. Drivers would call me and ask what I wanted for lunch. Sometimes I would go to lunch and come back to drivers 90 miles from their normal territory. The drivers all knew of my love for a good Italian beef sandwich. I got variations of the ultimate Chicago sandwich (that didn’t start with a hot dog) from all around the city and suburbs. I started staying in for lunch.

Then one day the owner and president went grocery shopping. They came back with about two pounds of sliced deli ham, a loaf of rye bread, and a jar of peanut butter.

“Wait until you taste this!” said Sid, the president.

“It’s almost as good as sex,” said the owner of the company. If you knew him, you'd expect that comment.

The three of us made sandwiches. Just peanut butter and ham on rye. They were good. They weren’t quite an Italian beef. And they certainly were not almost as good as sex. They were missing something.

There was plenty of ham left after lunch and almost half a loaf of rye bread. I’d fix it for tomorrow.

The next day I put a little plastic bear out on the lunch table. The guys looked at me as if I had put out drain cleaner for lunch. Coming back from the refrigerator, I opened the loaf of bread and the package of ham. Then I assembled my sandwich. The men watched. They didn’t touch anything. Before even taking a bite, I cut the sandwich in half then in half again. I gave each of the men a quarter of a sandwich. They looked at it from several angles. They sniffed it. Then they bit, just a small bite. The rest of each quarter was devoured as if in one bite.

We each made sandwiches together. A little peanut butter, then a little ham, then a drizzle of honey. The peanut butter and ham on rye was made with honey forever more. It wasn’t missing anything now.

We made sandwiches at least once or twice a month. In between I got my Italian beef, an occasional pizza, and every once in a while a hot dog.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Garden District Green Beans and Pork

It’s sticky here! It wasn’t the kind of day anyone wanted to spend in the kitchen. But I did. The boneless pork ribs I found at the grocery store were whittled planks of pork picnic between four and five inches long. Now, if you know anything about where your meat comes from, other than the grocery store, you’ll know that pork picnic comes from the shoulder of the pig. Pigs aren’t built like chickens. They aren’t built that much like cows either. But I don’t know any animal that has ribs in its shoulder. I wasn’t upset. I like pork picnic. I used to buy whole picnics when there was more to feed than me and the dog. I’d render the lard sometimes. Never cooked the rind, the skin but wish I had friends who would eat it if I did. I knew the pork needed some time to cook or it would be tough. I seasoned up the “ribs” and seared them in a bit of olive oil for a start. I put a 12-ounce steamer bag of green beans in the microwave and set it for five minutes on high. The directions called for 4 ½ to 6 minutes. My microwave has a lot of muscle and the beans were going to cook a little more. While the beans cooked, I transferred the “ribs” to a baking dish, covered it with foil and put it in a 350 degree oven. Then I dumped a can of stewed tomatoes in the same pan I seared the pork. Maybe there was a little bit of pepper and thyme still in there. I didn’t mind. I added a little garlic powder to the tomatoes and a little oregano. I cooked them on low heat just to get the flavors starting to mingle. Then I went and watched TV for a little bit. I went back to the kitchen and added the beans to the tomatoes and stirred them together. The pork was smelling good in the oven but still had a little while to cook. Back to the TV I went. When I got back to the kitchen this time, the beans and tomatoes were starting to get a little dry. I added some water and stirred them again. Good thing it wasn’t time to take the pork out of the oven. I checked outside to find the garbage men still hadn’t emptied my garbage. I let Izzy out the back door to walk Rover. By the time Izzy was ready to come inside, the pork was ready. Normally the tomatoes and green beans would be covered in slivered onion slices and covered. There were two problems with that. The frying pan I used didn’t have a cover and Izzy can’t have onions. So dinner was done. I forgot to sprinkle Parmesan cheese on top. Please don’t tell Izzy. We call it magic powder and put it on her food when she needs medicine hidden there. She loves Parmesan cheese! After I ate, I put the beans and tomatoes on top of the remaining “ribs.” Tomorrow I’ll remember the Parmesan!