Monthly Archives: January 2012

It’s Not What Was Said… It’s How it Was Said

When I was forty-five years old James and I did something so very out of character for us… we want to a bar.  Remember, I don’t even drink, however we were up in Orlando doing the Disney thing when one evening, we saw a gay Country/Western bar that was giving line-dancing lessons.  As you already know, I am a big fan of country music so on a lark; we went in to check it out. 

We weren’t there very long before I noticed a very handsome, young, Adonis of a man about 20-21 years of age, looking at me.  At first I thought I must have had something terribly wrong like food in my hair or a stain on my shirt but it turned out, he was “cruising” me!  He walked across the bar staring at me the entire time.  When he finally reached me, he stopped, looked deep into my eyes and said (and I quote) “Hellooooo daddy!”  and then asked if he could buy me a drink.  Laughing from one; the shock of being called “daddy” and two; the disbelief that he wanted me, I quickly explained to him that I was in a committed relationship but was very flattered by his interest.  That was no lie.  I was indeed flattered that a guy who was drop-dead gorgeous, not to mention young enough to be my son (and could have his pick of anyone in the establishment) had picked me.  “Hello daddy” was somehow quite a compliment.

Fast-forward ten years.  Keeping in mind that the last three have taken a considerable toll on me, dealing with chronic medical conditions.  Now forty pounds heavier, considerably grayer with a face that can’t hide how tired I have become, I was accosted once again.  I was at a gas station minding my own business, pumping gas when I noticed a young lad about 22-25 years old approaching me.  He was a nice looking fellow who wore a big smile but I couldn’t help wonder why he was coming over to me.  “I hope he’s not going to ask for money,” I thought to myself.  As he reached me he smiled even broader, before he said in a very friendly voice, “How ya doin’ pops?  That’s a nice car ya got there!  I like the color too!”  Having said his piece, he just continued walking by.  It took a moment to register but then it hit me like a ton of bricks.  POPS?  All I can say is ouch!  Yes I know that I am old enough to be a grandfather, and I admit that the last few years have not been kind to me but POPS?  That’s what you call an “old” man.  Didn’t he know that inside I still feel like I’m thirty two?  Not since I want to the movies several months ago and asked the teenager behind the window for two tickets, only to have her answer “two seniors?” have I felt so deflated.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not an old fool.  I am well aware that I have had my day in the sun.  I know that at 55 years old, I am beyond middle-aged (unless the new life expectancy has been raised to 110!) and I am fine with stepping down and making room for a new generation… but must I be forced to have it shoved in my face by the newer, faster, shiner models of today?  Aren’t the body aches, morning medications and unexplained forgetfulness reminder enough?  Must “pops” be thrown into that mixture as well?

Now in both of these incidents, I was being reminded that I was no longer considered a young man, however “hellooooo daddy” made me feel that I was holding up well for my age, considered [at the very least] distinguished and yes I’ll say it, even retaining a certain sex appeal.  The most recent occurrence on the other hand, made me feel like Wilford Brimley’s older [and less attractive] brother!  As you can imagine, this is not a day brightener by any stretch of the imagination.  It made me wonder, is “hey grandpa” lurking around the next corner?

So to all you young guys out there I implore you, when you’re dealing with us elders, why not call us “buddy,” “friend” even “sir” is a sign of respect without implying we’ve got one foot in the grave.  Do it and you’ll be glad you did, as I promise you this… in the blink of an eye you’ll be walking in my shoes and I hope that someone will spare you the gut punch of a premature “pops.”  Stop laughing!  It seems premature to me!

Until next time,

Don

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Keepin’ It Simple

As you know by now, the other day was my father’s birthday. It was also the birthday of my new brother-in-law, Ralph.  We wanted to do something to acknowledge the occasion but my father is… let’s call it “eccentric” regarding birthdays and gifts.  He feels that gathering as a family to celebrate the event is ample gift enough and that if he needs (or wants) a new shirt, pair of PJ’s or a music CD, he is quite capable of picking it up on his own.  In reality, there is a touch of logic to his thought.  As far as he is concerned, his children need not waste their money on such silliness.  He feels so strongly about it, that the last time I tried to give him a birthday gift, he refused it. He wouldn’t even take it from my hand!

So with this in mind, I pondered what I might be able to do for him to make the day special. Then it hit me… I could prepare one of my mom’s old comfort meals that he hasn’t had since she passed away.  My mother had some great comfort foods in her arsenal and to me; nothing says “I love you” like the one pot concoction of her slow cooked beef, rice and string beans. It’s like a hug in a bowl!  It’s also inexpensive and easy, making it a perfect recipe for a busy mother-of-five to have in her apron pocket.  Although we have always enjoyed this meal very much, it was never actually given a cute name like “Trudy’s Baked Mac,” it was always called by its three basic ingredients, Beef with rice and string beans. No matter what you decide to name it; one thing is for sure, everyone will call it delicious!

His family by his side and this simple bowl of food was all that was needed to make my dad have a successful celebration in honor of his 80th Birthday.  Nothing could have touched him more than sparking the memory of my mother.  I remember all those years ago when dad and I worked together, after spending a long winter’s day outside on the truck we would be wishing to go home to mom’s “hug in a bowl.”  It makes me wonder, did I really think of this on my own or did her spirit somehow “plant” the thought in my mind so she could also be a part of the celebration?  In any case, she clearly was a big part of the day for all of us.

As for the birthday cake?  Dad’s favorite… Strawberry cake made with “Aunt Lucy Cake” prepared in (2) 9” layer pans, split in half. A hearty helping of fresh sliced strawberries mixed with just enough preserves to keep them together separates each of the four layers. The entire cake is then frosted with clouds of slightly sweetened, fresh whipped cream.

 Trudy’s Beef with Rice and String Beans:

Ingredients:

2 ½ – 3 lbs. of stew beef – cut in ¾ inch cubes

(1) medium onion – chopped

3-4 tablespoons of Canola oil (for searing)

4-6 packets of Beef seasoning – Mom used “G. Washington Rich Brown Seasoning and Broth” *See cook’s note below

Water (about 6- 8 cups)

 Salt & Cracked black pepper

(2) Cans French Cut green beans or (1) 32 oz. package frozen French Cut green beans Whether you use canned or frozen, it is important to the dish that the beans are “French Cut.” It’s crazy – but it effects the overall flavor of the dish.

6-8 servings of cooked white rice

Grated Parmesan cheese

Instructions:

Heat oil in stock pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Sprinkle beef with salt and cracked black pepper.  Brown off the beef in the hot oil.  Remember, you just want to sear it a bit and give it color to get some nice tasty brown-bits for deglaze from the pot.  Remove beef to bowl or platter using a slotted spoon.  Add onion into the pot and stir to deglaze. If you need to help it along, add about a quarter cup of water.  Sprinkle onion with a teaspoon or so of salt and sweat down.  Cook onion just until tender not browned.  Return beef (along with any juices that may have settled into the bowl) back to the pot with the onion.  Pour in the 6-8 cups of water until beef is about an inch or two below the liquid.  Add the beef seasoning and about a tablespoon of cracked black pepper, stir.  You may or may not need additional salt as the beef seasoning packet have quite a bit.  Bring pot to a boil and immediately reduce to simmer.  Simmer for about 90 minutes stirring occasionally and watching to see that your liquid never reduces by more than 1/3.  Add water if needed to keep beef under broth. Taste broth to see if additional salt is needed.  Once meat is cooked and tender, add the French cut green beans.  If using canned, drain one can and add the liquid from the other.  If using frozen, increase heat for about a minute to heat beans through and avoid “cold spot.” Meanwhile, prepare white rice according to package directions.  I know there are some “rice-snobs” out there (regretfully I can be one myself) but Minute Rice works delightfully in this recipe holding up well to the broth without getting overcooked or mushy as it sits. (Think leftovers!).  I confess, James and I often stop by the Chinese takeout and pick up a quart of their white rice… shhhhh! Don’t tell on us!!  Add the rice to the beef mixture and ladle into soup bowls.

As kids, we liked it just as is but I strongly recommend adding a heaping tablespoon of grated Parmesan and a couple of turns from the grinder of fresh cracked black pepper.  Now be aware that you can make this as “soupy” or “ricey” as you prefer.  My dad likes a lot of broth as he enjoys dipping crusty bread into the parmesan infused broth in his bowl.  James and I on the other hand, like to add additional rice to our bowl for a heartier meal sans bread.

 *Cook’s Note: I use the foil packets of liquid beef stock starter I purchase from a catering supply company on line.  Swanson’s has just recently come out with what appears to be the same product although I have not had the opportunity to try it yet.  Whether I used the G. Washington’s – as my mom did – or the liquid starter (or even in a pinch, 2 cans of Campbell’s Double Strength Beef Stock) I find no difference in the taste worth mentioning.

Just a footnote: this meal works perfectly in a slow cooker as well. You don’t even need to brown the meat first (but I like to anyway). I start off in the Dutch oven as above and once I reach the step where the onions are done, I pour it all off into the slow cooker with the beef, seasoning and water and set my cooker to “auto.”  Eight hours or so later when the beef is done, add the green beans, rice and serve!  I do hope that you try this simple recipe with your family. Even kids love it!

Until next time,

Don

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The Dad That He Didn’t Have to Be

Well if you’re up on my blogs, you already know that at times I can be a sentimental sap who becomes emotional from, movies, books, certain songs and even those TV commercials that are meant to tug at the heartstrings i.e. Hallmark, Folgers coffee, cell  phones, etc.

It’s not like I’m totally out of control… I mean, I don’t break down at every cry in your beer song ever written.  However once in a while a tune comes along that touches me so strongly, it seems like it was written about me.  Ever have that happen to you? 

I guess anyone who really knows me would understand why Elton John’s “Daniel” would be emotional for me… “Daniel my brother, you are older than me.  Do you still feel the pain of the scars that won’t heal?  Your eyes have died.  You’ve seen more than I.  Daniel you’re a star in the face of the sky.”  Lyrics so strong to me, I can’t actually sing them without becoming overwhelmed.

Well a few years ago I heard a song from a country music singer named Brad Paisley.  I enjoy country music quite a bit.  I have very eclectic music taste and appreciate the different artistic styling and talents from just about every gendre but I must admit, the folks who write country music sure know how to tell a story through a song.

In the particular song of which I speak, Mr. Paisley is professing a love and admiration for a father, who although “technically” is a “stepfather,” nothing could be further from the truth – or the heart.  If you know the story of my dad and me, the lyrics are so dead on that it is almost eerie to think it was not truly based on our life!

“When a single mom goes out on a date with somebody new…
it always winds up feeling more like a job interview.
My momma used to wonder if she’d ever meet someone…
who wouldn’t find out about me – and then turn around and run.

I met the man I call my dad when I was five years old.
He took my mom out to a movie and for once I got to go.
A few months later I remember lying there in bed…
I overheard him pop the question – and prayed that she’d say yes.

And then all of a sudden, oh, it seemed so strange to me…
How we went from something’s missing… To a family
Lookin’ back all I can say about all the things he did for me…
Is I hope I’m at least half the dad… that he didn’t have to be.”

And there it is… the dad he didn’t HAVE to be.  That’s my father all over. 

I am sure that there are millions of guys (and gals) out there who love and appreciate their father and I think that’s wonderful.  However to me, the joy of my dad, is that he was well aware that marrying my widowed mother would mean that he was taking on a package deal, yet he did it anyway.  He actually “chose” to become my father.  He could have called my sister Maureen and me Trudy’s kids… but he instead called us his kids. 

He was my protector, advisor, friend, and confidant.  Together, we even worked his business as a father and son company for 18 years.  No man alive could have loved their son more.  For forty-nine years he has felt pain when I was down, basked in my glories, cried for my losses and never stopped cheering me on.  He is proud of just about everything his “only son” ever does – whether it be big or small. 

Yes indeed, March 17, 1963… “We went from something’s missing to a family” and it was all due to one man.  The man I call my father.  The dad who took me to the ER when I was hurt or sick, stood up for me at school when I was unjustly singled out by a bully teacher, took photos of my confirmation, made holidays and birthdays special, took us on family vacations, bought my clothes, my toys and just about anything that I either needed or merely wanted.  He made sure I ate my vegetables, helped me with my homework, taught me to ride a bike and how to drive a car.  He taught me to respect myself, appreciate “family,” be kind to others and most of all, to love unconditionally.

Today is my dad’s birthday.  He is 80 years old and he is still my biggest supporter and best friend. 

We may not share the same DNA but we are connected by a bigger power.  I am sure that it was always God’s plan for John Abate to be my father.  I can’t be luckier or more blessed that he is.

Here’s to my father… my dad, John Abate.  Happy birthday dad!  I love you so much there are no words to express it.  You will forever be my daddy… my hero.

Click here for:  He Didn’t Have To Be 

Father and Son Company

Untill next time,

Don

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