SLOPPY JOES

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I found this cheery birthday postcard on ebay.  What a thoughtful person the sender must have been.  It was sent 99 years ago!

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I don’t know when birthday postcards fell out of favor, but I vote to bring them back.  Today the sender would probably go on Facebook and write “Happy Birthday!  Hope it’s a great one!  <3 <3 <3.”  Or maybe send a text message, like “HAPPY B-DAY 2U, HOPE UR DAY IS GR8T! :)”  Although I appreciate the electronic sentiments, I’m still touched when someone goes to the trouble to send me a birthday card.  (The same is true for invitations, birth announcements, etc. — the electronic versions aren’t nearly as nice.)

Following the trench warfare during WWI that took place in the poppy fields of Flanders in Belgium, poppies became a symbol of remembrance of soldiers who have died in war.  Wearing a poppy on Memorial Day has been a tradition in the U.S. since 1924.  Remember the crepe paper poppies that the American Legion used to sell?

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The opium poppy, papaver somniferum, is the plant from which opium is derived.  The Latin name means “sleep-bringing properties,” and thus, poppies are often associated with sleep.  Remember Dorothy snoozing in the field of poppies?

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So maybe the poppies on the birthday postcard symbolized that someone was being remembered on their birthday.  Or maybe it was just to wish the person a sleep-filled day.  Speaking of birthdays, mine was this week.  I look forward to this day all year, because after all, I get a bunch of presents, and I get to go out to eat at my favorite restaurant, and I get a new party outfit, and several hundred people wish me happy birthday on Facebook, and I get a party with a petting zoo and a themed-cake, and, oh yeah, that’s my kids’ birthdays, not mine.  Over the years, as we got busier with work and kids and life in general, and our calendars overflowed with commitments of all sorts, I grew to expect less and less each year on my birthday.

Two years ago, I discovered that although the birthday bar is low for me, it does exist.  My husband had been in California for four months working day and night on a trial.  It was the longest he’d ever been away from us.  I didn’t expect much, given how hard he’d been working, but I thought for sure he’d call on my birthday.  I didn’t hear from him before I left for work, but didn’t think too much about it.  He’d sent flowers for our anniversary the month before, and I thought maybe there would be flowers waiting for me at the office (we almost never send flowers).  Nope.  Around noon I called him, and he answered the phone with “WHAT?”  I said, “I thought you might want to wish me Happy Birthday,” and he said, “Your birthday is tomorrow.”  I corrected him, and then listened to him curse himself for a few minutes before telling him not to worry about it and hanging up.

So the burden of celebrating my birthday fell on my teenagers, who failed to rise to the occasion.  Maybe they muttered “happy birthday,” I’m not sure.  They quit making cards years ago.  We had a scout meeting that night that we couldn’t skip, which meant no birthday dinner with the kids.  We got home around 9 p.m. and settled in to watch a little TV before bed.  I woke up on the couch around 1 a.m. — the kids had gone up to bed and just left me there asleep on the couch.  Thank heavens for the dog that kept me company.  Like I said, I don’t expect much, but it has to be something more than nothing.

This year I didn’t want another sleep-filled birthday, so I didn’t leave anything to chance.  I arranged lunch with friends at a new restaurant, and had dinner with other friends at another new restaurant.  My daughter was babysitting that night, and my husband and son were camping all weekend, so we agreed in advance that we would celebrate later.  I brought my own birthday cake to work, because I’ve only been there 6 months and wasn’t sure if they knew or cared it was my birthday.  It turned out they did know and were planning to order a cake.  :)  I signed up for an herb symposium, which I really enjoyed (more on that later).  There was an unexpected surprise from the Texas Supreme Court in a case I’ve been working on, and that made the day extra special.  I had a great birthday, and am looking forward to wrapping it up with dinner with my family tonight.

One final note about poppies.  When my son was in grade school, he came home one day and told us that he had “sloppy poppies” for lunch.  Of course, he meant Sloppy Joes, but as his parents, it cracked us up, much like everyone thinks “sketti” is hilarious the first time their kid blurts that out.  Inspired by the cheery poppy birthday postcard, I made homemade Sloppy Poppies Sloppy Joes.  They are so good and easy, and I have sent them many times as part of a compassion meal (with big hamburger buns, chips, cookies, and fruit salad), to let the recipient know that they are in our thoughts.  The recipe is adapted from The New Basics by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins.

SLOPPY JOES
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Recipe type: Beef, Main Course
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 stalk celery, minced
  • ½ green bell pepper, cored, seeded, and diced
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • ½ cup ketchup
  • ½ cup tomato sauce
  • ¼ cup water
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • Pepper, to taste
  • 4 hamburger buns, split
Instructions
  1. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Add onion, celery, bell pepper, and oregano, and saute until vegetables are tender. Add ground beef and cook until meat is browned, breaking the meat up with a spoon as necessary. Stir in the remaining ingredients and simmer for 10 minutes. Spoon over split hamburger buns and serve hot.

 

sloppy joes

 My love upon your Birthday, dear

A happy day, a happy year,

And think of me this morning, too

Because I always think of you.

<3 <3 <3

ITALIAN-STYLE CARPACCIO SANDWICH

I found these Italian fashion sketches on ebay, and they hang in my daughter’s room.  According to the seller, Paolo, also known as ranger335, his aunt owned a fashion house in the 1960s.  Eva’s Fashion House employed six agents, who traveled throughout Italy and the south of France showing dressmakers sketches of his aunt’s collections.  The dressmakers would order designs, and Eva’s Fashion House would provide them with whatever was necessary to make each garment.

Each sketch is a handmade original, using watercolors and airbrushing.  Paolo inherited his aunt’s design sketches, and I believe he must have thousands of drawings.  You can still find them on ebay.  The colors are bright, and the drawings are detailed and whimsical.  If you are looking for something fun for a young girl’s room, these are perfect.

 

Perfect outfit to wear to the next PTO meeting.

I confess, I am not a fashionista.  When it comes to my wardrobe, “Italian style” means a blouse with spaghetti sauce splattered on it.  And if you are a woman who wears anything larger than an A-cup bra, you know exactly where those spaghetti sauce splatters are.  Yep, sitting right there on the old Continental Shelf.

Even though I lack Italian fashion sense, I have a great appreciation for Italian food.  I grew up in New York, in a town that had a lot of Italian families.  My friends’ moms were incredible Italian home cooks.  I used to love walking into their homes and smelling their mom’s gravy simmering on the stove.  If we were lucky, one of my friends’ moms would let us roll meatballs to add to the gravy.

There was one Italian mom I remember particularly well, not for her style or cooking, but for her vocal chords.  This was back in the days before cell phones (back before pretty much everything, now that I think about it), when it was much more challenging to pin down your kid’s whereabouts.  When dinnertime rolled around, if her son hadn’t made it home, instead of phoning all over the neighborhood, she’d just fling the door open, and at the top of her lungs would yell, “ANT-NY, DINNER!”  To this day, every Anthony I meet is secretly an Ant-ny to me.

One of my family’s current favorite Italian foods is carpaccio, a dish from the Piedmont region of Italy, invented at Harry’s Bar in Venice.  The original dish was comprised of thin slices of raw beef with a dijon mustard sauce.  Today, carpaccio is used more generically, to mean thinly sliced raw meat or fish, or even vegetables.  It took me a long time to come around to carpaccio, as I’m not a fan of raw beef.  I think I can trace it back to my time working in New York.  The law firm I worked at in Manhattan was in the Pan Am (now the MetLife) Building.  We occasionally had receptions at the Sky Club at the top of the building, and steak tartare was one of the club’s signature dishes.  It was my running joke — a waiter would stick the tray in front of me and ask, “Steak tartare?” and I’d ask him if he wouldn’t mind running it under the broiler for a minute or two.  Yeah, I know, the waiters hated me.

Inspired by the vintage Italian fashion sketches, I tried my hand at making carpaccio, using rare roast beef from the deli counter, instead of raw beef.  Maybe it wasn’t authentic, but there wasn’t a caper, arugula stem, or sliver of parmesan cheese left on the plate when my family got through with it.  The next day, I still had carpaccio “fixins,” so I surprised my daugher with a carpaccio sandwich on pretzel bread for her school lunch.  I got a text from her in the middle of the day — “My sandwich was awesome!!!”  My husband and I laughed that she was probably the only kid in her school, in Houston, maybe even in the U.S., that brought a carpaccio sandwich to school for lunch that day.  Lucky girl!

ITALIAN-STYLE CARPACCIO SANDWICH ON PRETZEL ROLL
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Author:
Serves: 2
Ingredients
  • 2 pretzel rolls, split horizontally
  • 6 ounces thinly-sliced rare deli roast beef
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons freshly-squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 cups baby arugula
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 teaspoons capers
  • ½ ounce shaved parmesan cheese
Instructions
  1. For each sandwich, arrange roast beef slices on cut side of pretzel roll bottom. In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil and lemon juice. Add arugula and toss to combine. Season arugula with salt and pepper, to taste. Mound arugula on top of roast beef, and top with capers and parmesan shavings. Add pretzel roll top, slice in half, and serve.

 

 A plate of carpaccio, using rare deli roast beef.

“Awesome” carpaccio sandwich in the making.

“ANT-NY, LUNCH!”