Monday, September 20, 2010

FAMILY MEMORIALS AND COMFORT FOOD

The weekend was supposed to begin with a Friday evening boat ride on Lake Erie, but due to the choppiness of the Lake our ride was postponed to next summer.  Instead, after running an errand or two with Cathy (who was nice enough to rescue me from the office since I had no car today), I headed back downtown to the Greek Festival along with a couple thousand other like-minded people. 

Outside tent at the Greek Festival
We arrived at the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church on Union Street about 6:30 and people were standing in lines waiting for some freshly prepared Greek food, pastries and maybe a glass of oozo or wine.  Every year this festival is a very popular place to be and this was no exception.  We waited in line for about 15 minutes to get a freshly sliced Gyro, a well-marinated pork Suvlaki, some fries with parsley and lemon and a slice of baklava.  After finding no available seating outside where the band was playing, we headed indoors to the main banquet room and shortly after we finished eating were entertained by the children's dancing up on stage. 

While watching the kids we ran into Martha (a co-worker) and her husband Gary, and then stopped to say hello to my Hair Dude, John, and his grandson standing in line waiting for their turn at the food.  Hundreds of volunteers from the Church work hard to put this together every year and the food is always good and the peole friendly even if the waits are long.

SATURDAY IS ALL ABOUT HOT DOGS AND FAMILY PLOTS

View from Woodlawn Cemetery in Fairmont. 
Easy to see why this is a popular
burial spot for our family.
 This weekend was the Cousins annual trek to Fairmont West Virginia to visit what is left of our family - which these days are housed in two beautiful hillside cemeteries located just outside the city limits.  When telling friends where we were headed, and why, most find it odd that we still visit the family plots.  Some families never attend to family graves and these days it seems a rare occurrance to find anyone maintaining this ritual. 

Even in my own family, although I know where each of the Mealey clan (Mother's side) is buried a state away, I really have no idea where my Father's family are buried.  I think I prefer the Mealey rituals because it gives me a sense of connection and "place" that I don't have with the other side.

We talked about this on the 3 hour trip to West Virginia and came to the conclusion that visiting the plots where our grand and great-grandparents, aunts and uncles are buried is a way to connect to our family history, a bonding time to share a few stories (and laughs) about those that have passed on before us, and to put our own lives into a little perspective.  Taking a day out of our busy schedules to travel back to the family hometown to visit Woodlawn and Pisgah Cemeteries is small hommage to pay to our parents, grandparents and relatives that worked hard to raise their children to be the people we are today.

ANYTHING ELSE TO SEE IN FAIRMONT?  Well, not really, BUT...
After saying all of that...realistically, the Cousins go with me mainly to visit a favorite hot dog shop on the main drag of Fairmont called Woody's.  I've blogged about Woody's in the past and in doing some research have discovered that there are two things people from West Virginia take very seriously - football and hot dogs.  Even though no one in our family has been birthed in WV for over 70 years, I guess it is still in our genes that we love hot dogs with coney sauce.

Me & Joyce enjoying our hot dogs
Inside this little hole-in-the-wall are a counter with less than a dozen stools and 5 small booths.  Although there were a few of us eating inside, there was a steady stream of people coming and leaving with boxes filled with dozens of hot dogs to feed their hungry families at home.  I remember doing that many times as a kid visiting Fairmont when the family members we came to "visit" this weekend still lived in houses along East Park, Reeves and Morgantown Avenues rather than the family plots in Woodlawn and Pisgah Cemeteries.

Bonnie & Donna
 What's the big deal about West Virginia hot dogs?  Frank-ly (pun semi-intended), I'm not too sure.  Coney sauce is found all over the country in varying forms, so exactly what makes WV Dogs so good is maybe more a function of history and the continuation of tradition  than taste.  And maybe that's why the visits to the cemeteries still happen - simply a continuation of family tradition.

These kids didn't know what they
were missing by not eating these
hot dogs - but then they do need
to keep these pretty uniforms clean!
All over town, high school kids dressed in white and blue uniforms were out collecting money for band at East Fairmont High School.  My Mother graduated from East Fairmont in 1950 so I handed the kids outside of Woody's $5 and took their photo to commemorate the passing of the generations. 

Now to show that in some instances the current generation just doesn't really have it all going on, we asked these two if they liked Woody's hot dogs and to our horror replied that they'd never eaten there.  Kids today!  Wacky!

COOLER WEATHER SUNDAY AND SOUP ON THE STOVETOP
So, now that the trees are beginnig to turn for autumn and the 90 degree days have tamed to the moderate in the 60's, it's time to get the soup pots simmering and the crock pots stewing and the oven heating for some good old-fashioned comfort foods.  In my kitchen that means lots of soups with hearty meats and broths, breads and muffins and scones baking in the oven and Sundays spent making food to go into my recently reorganized freezers for use this winter.

Soup ingredients
While in the garden last week I picked a couple of baby bok choy heads and put in a little thought of how best to use it.  A trip to the local butcher shop on Friday netted me a half pound of really terrific looking lean beef chucks for stew, so I think that the following recipe may be the answer to using both items to their utmost. 

I think I get a lot of my cooking ability from my Grandmother Dessie, whose grave I visited on Saturday.  She and her husband Ralph were farmers in Mt. Harmony, just outside of Fairmont.  She raised a kitchen garden from which she fed her 3 children and the copious other relatives that lived with them from time to time while my Mother was growing up just after the depression.  While my Grandma wouldn't have ever even seen the likes of Bok Choy growing in her garden, nor a few other ingredients I've used here, I think she would have loved this for it's tummy-warming appeal and gentle fragrance. 

ASIAN INSPIRED BEEF AND BOK CHOY SOUP

Inspired by a recipe I found on-line, I've cut the amounts to make just a couple of bowls for lunch servings (or one really hungry person once).  I added carrots and peas for some extra sweetness and because I had them hanging around the fridge.  Feel free to add some extra heat to this with a bit of hot chili oil if you want.

Hearty Beef & Bok Choy Soup

1 1/2 teaspoons olive oil
1 small clove garlic, minced
2 green onions, chopped
1/2 pound beef sirloin tips
salt and pper to taste
1 carrot, chopped
2 cups beef broth
1 cup water
1 tablespoon lime juice
1/2 teaspoon grated fresh gingerroot
1/4-1/2 jalapeno pepper, finely chopped (more if you like the heat)
1 teaspoon soy sauce
2-3 heads baby bok choy, chopped (about 1 1/4 cup shredded)
1/2 cup frozen peas (no need to thaw)

Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Stir in the garlic and onion; cook and stir until the onion has softened and turned translucent, about 3 minutes.

Cut the beef cubes into small, bite-sized pieces and season with salt and pepper. Stir the beef into the onion mixture and continue cooking until the beef is evenly browned. Add the broth, water, carrot, ginger, lime juice, jalapeno, and soy sauce. Increase heat to medium-high, and bring to a boil. Turn down to a simmer and let cook about 15 minutes to cook the beef and carrots till tender. 

Stir in the bok choy and peas and simmer until the bok choy is tender, about 15 minutes.

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