Wednesday, January 4, 2023

Mark’s Good Old Stuff

It’s not an heirloom recipe, but to me it’s a classic. It helped me survive graduate school. You can file it under “goulash” or “one-dish meals,” but you can also label it “cheap, first-apartment food” or “culinary atrocity number 537.” The major sin here is a ham-handed blending of Italian and Mexican Tex-Mex flavors. The basic idea is to use canned chili, plus other ingredients, as your pasta sauce.

Don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it.

I have two versions to share. Mark, referenced in the title of the recipe, was the owner of the pet shop I worked at all through college. One version of the recipe amounts to the original notes that I wrote down to the best of my memory, after watching Mark make it as a quick, tasty dinner one night. It will give you an insight into how to approach such a dish as this.

I had never seen Mark cook before, and I don’t think I ever saw him fix any food after this. At work, if we ever had any big projects requiring after-hours labor (like the three times we moved the entire pet store within the mall!) he would reward us, and keep us from going home, by ordering three or four large Domino’s “ExtravagaZZa” pizzas. I remember coming to the pet store for work the morning after a late night, and he and I gnawed on some of the cold pizza still laying on the counter in the back room.

We weren’t very close friends; I mean, he was my boss. I only went to his home a few times, so I can’t speak to the rest of his culinary repertoire. Sure, I’d seen him move a rock the size of a refrigerator, and I knew he was a hockey player and part-time/reserve city police officer—when he wasn’t at the pet store. He was not exactly domestic.

Neither was I, at the time. But I was starting to pay attention to methods and procedures for making tasty foods, so in this case it was like a big brother showing me how easy it was to make “good tasty cheap stuff, and it makes a ton.” He kind of laughed as made it. He hadn’t been in college for a number of years, but had just gotten a divorce, was living in an apartment, and was paying alimony and child support.

So here are my original notes for “Mark’s Good Old Stuff”:

Get some links of Italian sausage, cut it up and fry it in a skillet. In a separate, large saucepan, heat up a can of chili beans. Dump the sausage and grease and all into the beans. Put in some cooked macaroni (elbow or whatever). Did he put in some oregano? A bay leaf? Some green pepper, black olives, onion? Some canned tomato?

And here’s my version, as I eventually developed it into more of a formula. (Or maybe it’s more of a checklist for when you stop by the grocery store on your way home from work.)

8 oz. rotini pasta (or elbows, or shells, or whatever)
Italian sausage (2 to 4 big links; remove casing)
green bell pepper (chopped) (optional)
onion (chopped) (optional)
1 can corn (whole kernels) (drained)
1 can chili with beans
1 can chopped tomatoes (optional)
1 can black olives (California olives) (drained and chopped)

Cook the pasta until al dente; don’t overcook it. While it’s cooking, prepare the rest of the stuff. Use a big, heavy skillet. Fry the sausage; chop it up while it’s cooking. Remove some of the grease (or not). Add the green bell pepper and onion, if using, and fry those, too. Add the corn to the sausage in the skillet, and keep heating. Then add the chili and tomatoes (if using), and heat through. Add the black olives last, because they’re kind of delicate. Then combine the drained pasta with the “stuff.” Heat through.

Optional: serve garnished with sour cream or shredded cheese, such as cheddar, mozzarella, or parmesan. If you really want to dress it up, top it with chopped cilantro or green onions.

Note: clearly, you can adjust it however you wish. I like it with hot Italian sausage and spicy chili.

Finally, this actually tastes better the next day or so after you make it. So this makes a ton, and you do want to have leftovers.

Sunday, January 1, 2023

Jar of Goodness Recap

Usually, when you do “Jar of Goodness,” you write down something you’re grateful for each week, and then you stick that slip of paper into a jar. Then, as part of your New Year’s Eve ceremony, you pour out the slips of paper and read them. If an entire family has participated, then the discussion revolves around who wrote what, and why, and general reminiscing.

But in this case, it’s just me, and it’s a virtual Jar of Goodness. So all I can really do is offer a list of my various Jar of Goodnesses. (See below.) Make of it what you will. To read all the J.O.G. posts, click this link here.

And what will I do this year? Should I continue the J.O.G.?

Actually, as I continued this weekly J.O.G. series, I’ve learned that my blog has pretty much always been a “Jar of Goodness.” In my blog, I usually focus on things that I like and love. Things I appreciate. The thing that’s different about the J.O.G. is the must-do weekly format (also known as a “deadline”), and the “permission” to have quite short, straightforward posts.

So for 2023, I think I’ll drop the J.O.G. concept, and just make a point of posting something weekly, or thereabouts. (In truth, many of my Sunday J.O.G. posts were written and uploaded on Wednesdays. Who knew that midweek was a better time for blogging?) Maybe I’ll still tag an occasional post as a “Jar of Goodness,” but I don’t see a need to make a weekly string of posts with that particular label. What do you think?

Also, I have a new idea for a regular series that could easily have twelve (monthly) parts, though it would probably be a stretch to make it weekly, with 52 installments. Maybe biweekly? We’ll just see how it goes. I’m still thinking about it. Stay tuned!

I can definitely recommend the Jar of Goodness for anyone. It will remind you to see the joy and beauty around you; it will exercise your “gratitude” muscles. You will feel more blessed, in mundane and in sublime ways. If you’re a blogger or journaler, it’s a good way to get back into a rhythm. It would be a great, and meaningful activity for a family, or a couple, to do together. I hope you’ll try it!

The 2022 Jar of Goodness Project

Jar of Goodness 12.25.22: The Holiday Season
Jar of Goodness 12.18.22: Heirloom Christmas Cookies
Jar of Goodness 12.11.22: New Car!
Jar of Goodness 12.4.22: New Gutters, and Done!
Jar of Goodness 11.27.22: Dormer Siding
Jar of Goodness 11.20.22: Artemis I
Jar of Goodness 11.13.22: Sunporch Storm Windows Done
Jar of Goodness 11.6.22: Little House Books
Jar of Goodness 10.30.22: Gans Creek
Jar of Goodness 10.23.22: October Day at Painted Rock
Jar of Goodness 10.16.22: Houseplant Dance
Jar of Goodness 10.9.22: Fall Color
Jar of Goodness 10.2.22: Deborah Cooper Park
Jar of Goodness 9.25.22: Old Munichburg Oktoberfest
Jar of Goodness 9.18.22: My Brother
Jar of Goodness 9.11.22: New Roof!
Jar of Goodness 9.4.22: Shakespeare’s Pizza South
Jar of Goodness 8.28.22: Native Prairies
Jar of Goodness 8.21.22: August 1993
Jar of Goodness 8.14.22: New HVAC System
Jar of Goodness 8.7.22: Dad’s Homemade Cookies
Jar of Goodness 7.31.22: Wait. Jar of Goodness?
Jar of Goodness 7.24.22: Menus for the Seasons
Jar of Goodness 7.17.22: Picnics
Jar of Goodness 7.10.22: First Aid Kits
Jar of Goodness 7.3.22: My 2003 Honda Civic
Jar of Goodness 6.26.22: This Couple
Jar of Goodness 6.19.22: Dad
Jar of Goodness 6.12.22: Air Conditioning
Jar of Goodness 6.5.22: Butterflies of June
Jar of Goodness 5.29.22: Missouri Wines
Jar of Goodness 5.15.22: The Black Walnut Tree
Jar of Goodness 5.8.22: Mom
Jar of Goodness 5.1.22: Clovers Natural Market
Jar of Goodness 4.24.22: Natural Foods Stores
Jar of Goodness 4.17.22: Oasis United Church of Christ
Jar of Goodness 4.10.22: Prairie Dogtooth Violets
Jar of Goodness 4.3.22: The Violets of April
Jar of Goodness 3.27.22: Lois
Jar of Goodness 3.20.22: Three-Chord Songs
Jar of Goodness 3.13.22: Sue
Jar of Goodness 3.6.22: Are the Neighbors Actually Moving?
Jar of Goodness 2.27.22: New Fridge
Jar of Goodness 2.20.22: The Katy Trail
Jar of Goodness 2.13.22: Adrian’s Island Jefferson City
Jar of Goodness 2.6.22: Hope Springs Eternal
Jar of Goodness 1.30.22: The Mosses at Painted Rock CA
Jar of Goodness 1.23.22: KOPN
Jar of Goodness 1.16.22: The Eggplant Leafrollers
Jar of Goodness 1.9.22 (Introduction)