The season of soup and stew arrived abruptly after an exceptionally mild and pleasant fall – presuming the little snow creature on the front lawn, with Brussel sprout eyes, is an apt indicator.
Not the first fall, at all – of snow: But the first in such mass, and with temperature low enough to hold. With luck much more will follow, as ideas be afloat to top the wicked luge run of last winter – that was big enough to sport two intersecting runs: One long and smooth, gaining speed enough to skid down the street approaching 100 feet. The other was omega-doggish, intersecting near the bottom of the first and steep, the intent to crash the proper luger’s run. There were many mighty and magnificent collisions, indeed, and the hill was complete with 3 stepped points of access and a snow cave! After exhaustively perturbing the neighbors, a good cup of soup is the perfect antidote to sodden clothes and chilled and more than likely, slightly contused bones.
Back in time, when living down on second there were not a lot of positives to take away, but one that carried through with fondness is of sitting on the sunken, Styrofoam chair by the bay window in the living room, in the middle of the winter, the lamplight casting a sense of serenity that could not be found with the harsher light of day – heat cranked as high as it would go, cut with a channel of cold breeze that flowed through one barely opened window. The memory is probably fond because those moments were rare, the apartments much more frequently frigid, due to failing boiler or stingy manager – the sound of rattling pipes was welcome, even if it clanged loose sleep in the middle of the night: There were many nights where the cold hampered sleep, where memory’s echo clanged tease.
They hadn’t found a way to regulate utilities, so cooking was a popular way to fight the chill – using the narrow, little range with four burners that could only fit four pots if they were pretty tiny… It had a crumb tray that pulled out beneath the dials and it was learned early on that had to be kept immaculate, otherwise it tended to attract the roaches which would scamper out when the oven started heating. On the inside of the oven door there was a baking guide that gave the temperature and time for baking a variety of things. One of the best remembered was attempt at making wheat bread, resulting with a ten-pound loaf derisively referred to as whole wheat adobe.
Feijoada was finally appreciated, coming from that stove, but it was not the norm to have everything needed to create anything of formality, not solely because of money; it was also difficult to find everything needed, conveniently: There was a little food co-op that had some vegetables and a small grocer down on Willis, but they didn’t have a lot nor everything of need, and there was a dirty little store near right across the street – where a box of cereal unloosed a colony of grayish bugs that, after battles of many months and generations formed an armistice with the kitchen dwelling cockroaches, staying mostly out of sight, most frequently being sighted crawling out of drains.
Further over, off of Mack there was a Farmer Jack: It was pretty run down, too, and far enough away that distance posed an obstacle – chance a bus, or take a hike, return trip weighted down by groceries. Occasionally dad came by on Saturdays as he headed to the market, or mom and dad would offer invite to share dinner: In either case they generously shared several bags of produce from the market — that cobbled into guilty-portioned meals at first, then rationed with increasing parsimony in correlation to the content volume in the ‘fridge.
Those later dregs of many eyed potato and onion peels, slimy cukes and grapefruits with more than a hint of mold upon their rind, were often when consumables were stewed together into something edible. Most would only be considered creative in as much as something was created and many blind eye turned; little went unused – over time they improved and a few stuck around for day two.
This complex, slightly spicy, slightly lemony, savory and mighty hearty stew is kindred to those back then, pulling little bits of what was left, satisfying the hunger and shiver of a chilly Saturday afternoon. End results have certainly improved, though, things are certainly now more varied and abundant: Tempeh, wheat berries, wine, sweet potato chorizo… Some of that would have seemed too fussy down on Second, but there’s no question that person who was hung up on by the Ann Arbor food coop – calling to see if they had shirataki – no doubt the contents would be approved.
Begin by sauteeing the onion, and while ongoing, sear the eggplant, cook the sweet potato if necessary – the swee-po chorizo likely just dissolved in the stew and added subtle flavors and a little spice. Once the onion starts to brown, add potato and cook until it browns (likely adhering to the pan). Add water to loosen and cook mostly off, then add garlic until not raw. Put the contents of the pan and everything else into at least a 3qt sauce pan and cook for about 15 minutes.
In the morning after all the smoke had cleared, they found the strangest thing above the mantle of a fireplace that was previously concealed: Everything was charred, walls blackened, but bizarrely, like it had been erased clean from soot, spelled out in spotless exposed brick was neatly framed to form, “1905-JCR-2008.”