A thousand years ago I was performing children’s theatre in Upstate New York for the Merry Go Round Playhouse. It was a fantastic job for an actor just out of college. We were getting good pay to tour the Upstate region and mold the mind of the future theatre patron for the 21st century. It was an awesome opportunity, delivering “Quality Theatre; At Affordable Prices”. The shows performed were tied to curriculum being taught to the little ‘ankle biters’.
We were those magical people who came into schools and were presented to kids of all ages as an assembly in a local cafe-torium. The kids were stoked to be out of class and never pulled a punch on criticism. The teachers were thrilled to have a break in the monotony. And the actors, well we were just trying to keep it all together. There was something for everyone. We had a native american show, an art appreciation show, a self-esteem show, a music appreciation show and of course that old crowd pleaser, a dinosaur show! Nothing says classically trained actor as a paper mache pterodactyl head and set of vinyl wings with velcro cuffs. We joke now, but it was scarring then.
It was an extremely tough winter that year. The snow started before October and continued through the following Easter. I never saw so much snow in my life. I had a pick up truck with big tires that I tore up all the roads with. I went everywhere with arrogance and Isotoners. But as one friend pointed out to me, “ah, four-wheel drive. You know what that means up here? It means you still go in to the ditch. But with a little more confidence.” And cold. The wind chill was -35 degrees. Busses wouldn’t start and you couldn’t put little children outside as their noses would fall off from frost bite. Now mind you, we had to travel to the schools and usually some distance away. On numerous occasions school would be cancelled due to severe weather conditions and we wouldn’t know unless we stopped half way to the school to call home office. These were the Dark Ages before cell phones, internet and global warming, but I digress. The powers-that-be would only make these decisions shortly before our arrival time. Back to our base camp we would schlep.
One such time was cause for pause. We had just gotten a new van from the company (again we drove ourselves to the schools). It had a working heater, a tape player and snow tires. It was also white. As snow. Can you see where this is going? We had to run out to do the dinosaur show at a really remote school. We were up extra early to make it to the school on time. There were 3 of us performing that day; Tom, Me and Reba. More on them later. We were all concerned as the snow was falling pretty heavy and gave no sign of letting up. What if school gets cancelled we all wondered. What if something happens to the new shiny van, none of us wanted to be the one driving when we went into the ditch with or without an amount of confidence. As fate would have it, I was the one driving when the fishtailing began. The merry actors went flying into the ditch adjacent the exit ramp. The ice sped us into the ravine and dinosaur heads came flying from their boxes pelting us with extinction. The main set piece was a coat rack that came like a missile from the back. Reba and I locked eyes as the projectile shot into the dashboard. And then, silence. There were no other cars on the road at that hour. No one in the ir right CNY mindset would have ventured out without a dogsled team. And the snow kept falling down. Burying our lily white van in the gully. Thoughts of soccer teams and the Andes came to mind. I knew we would get home eventually, there had to be a service station at the end of the ramp. Reba eyed me wearily, I eyed Tom pleadingly, and off plod Tom to find the service station. Tom was native to Upstate and quite the outdoorsy kind of guy. Reba and I were from CT and liked our hearths and homes. I knew that I would get to my home eventually, home to the one who awaited me. Home to my favorite thing in whole snow covered land, my stock pot.
Surviving winter in Upstate New York took planning, patience and a good stock pot. Plan that getting to any location near or far can be an event; stock your car like you would a cottage.
Patience as the car in front of you spinning or fishtailing, may want to stop right next/on top of you. Also patience that everyone’s in the same boat trying to get to Price Chopper or Wegman’s. And the stock pot is necessary to keep your soul lit like a pilot light. I made lentil soup, clam chowder and minestrone in it. I made mountains of pasta for my then spinning metabolism to thrive on. I would fill hot water and epsom salts to soak my damaged feet with, set pieces and little children were forever finding their way to my paws. It was just too small for me to actually sleep in or I would have. I made many chili recipes with it, while the pay at the theatre was good, an actor needs to live on beans now and again. My stock pot kept me, and my neighbors quite pleased that winter. My bounty ran over. Reba’s mom Pat gave me a recipe for
vegetarian chili that is fantastic, and vegan. Pat’s a sweetheart in Westport, CT with great culinary chops and a love for a good pun. (this joke’s for J. Huggards daughter) She was very warm when you got past her chili exterior. I want to give her full credit for this recipe as it’s outstanding. More on Tom and Reba? Tom always had third helpings of this chili, which we would regret in that tiny little white van the next day, and Reba’s real name is Laura but Reba was her essence.
This is the time of year that a pot of something bubbling on the stove is “Welcome Home”. Stews, soups, steaming tamales, or chilies are great to have on hand for the company that may drop in. We’ll be featuring some great recipes to share that are great this time of year, that make a stock pot and dutch oven a welcome wagon of sorts. And of course there’ll be a story or two along the way. So come hungry and get ready to taste a better life. You’re dished!
Pat ’s Vegetarian Chili
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium green pepper, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
½ lb. Mushrooms, sliced
2 15 oz. Cans stewed tomatoes, undrained, chopped
1 15 oz. Can tomato sauce
1 cup red wine
chili powder to taste (min. 1 tbsp)
½ tsp. Cayenne pepper
1 tsp. Liquid red pepper
all spices to taste
½ tsp. Oregano
1 medium zucchini
16 oz. Can red kidney beans
shredded cheese (Monterey Jack, Cheddar, whatever), chopped black olives, chopped avocado etc.
Saute 1-4 until tender. No oil necessary as mushrooms provide moisture.
Add 5-11, bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat and simmer of 45 minutes.
Add 12-13. Simmer until al dente.
Garnish with 13, serve.
As with most tomato based dishes this does well sitting overnight
Makes large pots, freeze serving portions.