The first hint, slight aroma that wafted upward to the bedrooms, brought dread and million different suppositions as to what, beside, might feign such hint of that familiar loathsome smell. As intensity of odor grew it brewed eventual resignation; descent two floors below, espying in the kitchen, the big, red Betty Crocker stew pot on the stove. Then question posed, “Mom – what’s for dinner?” As if we didn’t know – she’d answer, with a smile on her face, “Those wonderful, Brazilian black beans.”
Nothing else in recollection brought such guttural offense – the prospect nigh as bad as the actual induction: Rice piled high on plates, ladled beans added generously. Edges picked, rice slid out beneath until barely plausible claim to satiation could be made. Always – arguments ensued: Hardly touched plate/so much that was ate… A few more pickings would usually fulfill the obligation.
Back then there was no choice for mac-n-cheese, or bagel pizzas, or micro’d quesadilla: Back then, what was seen was what there was and what was eaten. Those days, weekend forays to the Eastern Market weren’t for kitschy, or raw, or eclectic fare – nor matter of claiming Detroiter cred: They were necessity, as much as sorting for least dented cans at Al’s Salvage, just north of Central Market.
So despite myopia of youth and self-absorption, no dissenting word was ever spoke, for the one meal that, once recalled as horrible, when every other was so marvelous. There was great appreciation, especially after forced return to work, yet still – mom brought ridiculously delicious feasts to the table every night: Not just one dish, but salad, too, and vegetable, and bread – and always some dessert. When she made a pie, she would bake it as we ate, and it held all rapt, anxiously at the table until cooked, until cooled – no sampled pie has ever tasted near as good. Frequently, she made her famous cookies – oatmeal, chocolate chip: She still swears it’s the recipe on the back of the Quaker Oats box – it’s not. And the granola, hot from the oven, the bread…
Many of those staples were revisited during early years of semi-autonomy, for both frugality and nostalgia – many from Diet For A Small Planet, which had been bestowed. It was then, in a rare excursion into unfamiliar, musty halls of the nightmarish and barely lit Arms, that an aroma wafted from a room and keyed the interest to re-try feijoada. Withered, years previous, by out-state trials of error, those years bore witness to murder’s visit in the alley across Forest, and found a woman’s body (?) in the vestibule on return from early morning sprints. Still another run’s return provided the indelible image still blazoned onto neural circuits of the little, cross-eyed Yugoslav greeting cheerfully with smile – as blood, in rivers, streamed across his head from shattered skull. Nothing there was more discomfiting, however, than fighting past pathetic cowardice to simply call complaint against the neighbor loudly serenading battered bones across the wall to chorused whimpers of his victim. It is very likely that the slightest hint of what, was once – on nervous scamper down, then up a flight of newly chanced-upon back stairs – pushed off back-further-yet-in-youth’s avowal of disdain.
As well, most likely, the body’s starved cry out for some protein, as what, back then, was not gratefully contributed by justifiably worried parents, came via food co-op, i.e., eye-sown potatoes, just slightly molded grapefruits, charmingly slimy cukes: Cucumber soup, spoken of in the past – sliced cukes, left behind onion skins: Declared the best ‘twas ever had! But little in the way of nutrients, nor were 68 different ways to eat potatoes: When the oleo ran out, too expensive to replace, a new favorite was discovered – simply, a little vinegar and pepper on the tater.
The version of feijoada as described in Diet for a Small Planet, filled the apartment with the most comforting aroma. The meal is simple, and inexpensive – and it was not very good… Perhaps, too citrus-y, or, perhaps the call for wine didn’t mean Wild Irish Rose – kidding: It was blackberry.
Discarding a huge pot of stew meant walking to spend more pennies on more groceries, so it was resuscitated with more beans, more broth, more garlic, hot pepper and salt. The resultant changes made it pretty good. That is still not a favorite version: Many call for no fruit, some call of orange juice and molasses… This version from the Veggie Times gets it just about perfect, though it doesn’t call for citrus. To make it more true to Mom’s stew, two slices each of orange and lemon were added. The Times is sourced for Tempeh bacon, too.
The first hint, slight aroma that wafted through the dining room, brought cheer and million different memories surrounding what, once despised, now deigns to carry encompassing rememberings of the family all together, of happy days and food. As intensity of odor grew it brewed more rumination on the times where it was tried; the points in life to which it’s tied, while eyeing wistfully, the big, stainless steel stew pot on the stove and finding difficulty reconciling that the aromatic memories were not emanating out of one well-worn in memory, and red.