Harbinger of Stew
Nature can be harbinger of many things. Sometimes these things are wild and destructive, summoning forces that can only be categorized as an Act of fill-in-the-blank-with-your-favorite-deity, awing us with its power and energy. When the leaves rustle in the wind, showing their underbellies and their edges curling towards the sky, you can all but guarantee yourself that it’s’a’gonna rain soon. Other times it’s a welcomed cool morning in July or that random heat wave in January when you first realize that you can no longer fit into your shorts from last summer (thank you, holidays). Today, the cool fall air is a harbinger of stew. Beef stew, to be specific.
Today, I offer you a recipe that was a result of much needed comfort some years ago on one cold-as-a-motherfucker December day. My wife and brother-in-law (he lives a short walk from us in Brooklyn and with whom I am quite close) had migrated south for the week to be with their family in Oriental, North Carolina and celebrate the holiday season. I was feeling particularly lonely during this week with my local community having runnoft and so as is common and all-too-typical of me, I was on the hunt for something tasty to sink my chompers into. Nothing like binge eating when it’s cold outside and you’re lonely right? Right?
To make matters worse, I would intermittently receive texts with pictures of them posing with the roast beef, and then another with the Yorkshire pudding, oh and here’s one with the shrimp cocktail and hey check out this sweet punch bowl full of spiked eggnog! Very ouch, baby. While the temperature and snow were falling down outside, the text count was rising. Things were looking bleak. I was buried under a blanket on the couch watching Dumb and Dumber for the I-don’t-how-many’eth time. Oddly enough, during one of the commercial breaks, there was an ad for Alpo canned dog food, or Purina or heck, it may have even been Fancy Feast, I don’t rightly remember, but whatever it was, that premium dog grub looked down right delicious and not too different than a childhood favorite dish of mine: beef stew.
Within moments, I had a renewed sense of purpose. Color returned to my face. The winter cold would not keep me from trekking to the grocery to get me some of that delicious looking dog food. I mean, beef stew ingredients. Yes, that’s it, beef stew ingredients. Hungry and shameless, I put one foot in front of another all the way down to the local grocery a few blocks away. It had been a number of years since the last time I had eaten beef stew, so I was basically shopping based on what I could remember from the Dinty Moore label. Beef, potatoes, carrots, what the hell else… I stumbled through the fresh and frozen produce aisles looking for what seemed right. Finally, I settled on my veggie selections, found some good stew beef, and schlepped it all back home to get my stew on.
There is something ridiculously meditative about slow cooking anything, but especially stew and especially in the winter. Hearing a nice pot o’ anything bubble and gurgle along, with the ambient heat from the stove spreading throughout the house, can make even an empty NYC apartment feel full of love and positive energy. Fast forward a few hours and I was nearly famished, what with the Lumberjack Breakfast Special I devoured earlier in the day nearing complete digestion. Plus, I was probably a little dehydrated from drooling over the stove watching the pot simmer.
And then it happened. The time had finally come to sit down and enjoy this wondrous vat of brown awesome that the strange forces of dog food and nostalgia had come together to create. Aside from burning the crap out of my mouth, because let’s face it certain lessons require decades of repeated pain to take hold, I was quite happy with how it turned out. I have since tweaked the original recipe here and there over the years, but I hope that this beef stew brings you as much comfort as it did me those many years ago.