Some Like It Hot


My mother told me after working 15-hour shifts during World War II at the hospital, my father would hit the streets and walk downtown Brooklyn to try and find a chocolate candy bar for my brother, who was four at the time. Seems there was a nationwide shortage. I never recall food being hard to come by in my lifetime.

I was kidding around a few weeks back but I never dreamed I’d go to King Kullen and see barren shelves with no chicken, no beef, no paper goods, etc. It made me ask: how prepared are we for these kinds of shortages? My whole neighborhood is packed with second home owners who decided to ride out this emergency here. Suppose they woke up tomorrow with no food in the house and a government-imposed house arrest in place? Or every supermarket was closed because of the rampant spread of this killer virus?

If you don’t think it can happen, imagine a week ago if I told you all the restaurants, movies, bars, and retail stores would be closed and I’d have no professional sports to bet on.

Could you last a full month on the food you have on hand? That’s a long time. I do know I could feed 20 neighbors if I had to right now although if you live near me and are reading this be advised — you’re not invited. Here’s what I stock up on:

1. Flour. Most of us are so used to getting our biscuits from Pillsbury tubes that we don’t realize the sheer simplicity of biscuits, rolls, and bread. Basically, you can get away with three things: flour, water, and shortening, although we usually add some butter, milk, an egg, a little baking powder, and sugar to gussy up the recipe. Do you have any idea how many biscuits you can make with a 20-pound bag of flour? Probably 100. Think the kids will like them for breakfast right out of the oven with melting butter, or for lunch with PB and J? By the way, buy a cheap bag of apples and make apple pies. The crust is basically flour.

2. Beans. You know how every cowboy movie has a “chef” named Cookie? He’s the guy in the sombrero and there’s also a mule with pans hanging all over the thing. He smokes black cigarettes he also chews on. Every night the cowboys come in after a long day of herding cattle and they ask: What’s for dinner? The joke is “beans and beans and more beans.” Usually with some rabbit or vermin, if you’re lucky.

We tend to take chili for granted, but there is nothing like it. Sauté onions in a little oil, soak a couple of pounds of red beans and add them to a big pot. Pour in three large cans of tomatoes.

It is where you go from here that makes it or breaks it. Add chili powder, cumin, fresh cilantro, pepper, paprika, and bay leaves. Here’s the key: Get some good hot jalapeños from a connoisseur who hoards them. Ask for the private stock. I trade a bottle of wine with my guy.

Now my little secret: If the recipe says water, substitute vino. In this case, I use beef stock, white wine, red wine, and sherry, with a little Worcester sauce and Tabasco. Add a little water until beans are covered.

Now we’re in businesses. Sauté your chopped meat (two pounds or so) with salt, pepper, and garlic. You can use beef, turkey, venison and yes, anything you can hunt as long as you clean it and cook it properly. Chop it up and dump it in and be grateful we live in a place where you can still live off the land.

The concoction can simmer for hours. I put a couple cans of corn kernels in near the end. I serve it with sour cream and some crumbled bacon on top. Lots of folks like cheese on top. (I don’t). You can stretch it out by serving it over rice. Do this and you can serve a building full of EMTs.

3. Pasta. When you see pasta on sale, grab it. It can be had for less than a dollar a pound. I probably have 30 packages. Ditto canned tomatoes, which can be had for as low as 88 cents each, and tomato paste. Finally, a big chunk of cheese lasts for months. Once again, any meat will do. I’ve found a little sausage goes a long way if you take it out of the casing before sautéing. Of course, I’m lucky to have a freezer full of meatballs and sausage for my Italian family, and chopped meat for the dog.

Don’t forget white sauce: sauté garlic in olive oil, mix in salt, peppers, and parsley and toss in pasta. Add a couple of cans of chopped clams — delicious. I ate pasta, grated cheese, and butter with a big chunk of Italian bread nearly every meal when I was in college and loved every bit of it.

Epilogue: Cookie done good. I really did make a giant pot of chili Friday night, though none of our neighbors ate over. I made a dozen servings I’ll freeze for later in the quarantine.

Maybe it’s a good thing I’ll be close to home.

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