Cafeteria Plan

From first grade (the first year that I was in school all day) through 12th grade, each and every day I ate my lunch in the school cafeteria. The same cafeteria. That’s because my elementary, junior high, and high schools were all part of the same Catholic school system. The cafeteria was located over near the high school, so in grade school (particularly the younger grades) we had to line up, two by two, holding hands, to quietly walk over to the cafeteria.

By the way, that walk over to the cafeteria caused me to get the only reprimand I ever got in school. I was accused of talking to my friend on the way, and got a paddle on my behind as a result. I assure you, I was innocent.

And for that entire time, and for several years after I graduated, the school cafeteria was run by a woman named Mrs. Fletcher. I’m sure she had a first name, and perhaps I even once knew what it was (Clara?), but I always knew her as Mrs. Fletcher.

I can’t recall what the cost of our school lunches were, but what I can tell you is that, unlike the lunches of today (and perhaps even the lunches of the period about which I’m talking at schools other than mine), the lunches were quite good. Homemade by Mrs. Fletcher and her minion of school lunch cookers. A bevy of women in hair nets who dished out our lunch each day. We would go through the line, take our food (no choices, you ate what they served), grab a carton of milk – white or chocolate – and find your friends at the table.

When you were finished with lunch, you would put anything you hadn’t eaten into the milk carton so that the nuns wouldn’t need to lecture you about the poor, starving children in the Philippines.

Dad was friends – or at least friendly – with Mrs. Fletcher, because part of the reason the lunches were so good is that the bread was made fresh each day by Gloor’s Bakery. Hamburger buns, white bread, dinner rolls. All home made. And he would deliver them.

I thought about Mrs. Fletcher recently when I came across photos of typical lunches from around the world. I believe the point that was being made by these photos is that school lunches in America are inferior to those in other countries. Maybe yes, maybe no.  I suspect it isn’t easy to feed children food that they like within tight school budgets, no matter the country.

france lunch

italy lunch

usa lunch

Here’s what I do know, however. Mrs. Fletcher helped form my taste buds. To this day when I eat Sloppy Joes, I take the two halves of the bun apart, lay them side by side, and ladle the Sloppy Joe mix over the two halves. There is no topping better on chocolate cake than whipped cream. Nothing tastes better than putting mashed potatoes right on top of your meatloaf. Salmon loaf needs to have potato chips crumbled on top. And, while I probably haven’t eaten a fish stick since I graduated from high school, nothing says Friday lunch better than fish sticks.

scampiAnd speaking of Friday, here is another meatless meal offering. This recipe includes shrimp, so it obviously isn’t vegetarian. There are many recipes for Shrimp Scampi, but I find this lemony shrimp scampi by Food Network’s Melissa D’Arabian to be one of the best. I love the lemony flavor of the sauce.

 

Shrimp Scampi jpeg

 

 

 

 

Mom’s Soup

chickpea minestroneAs promised, here is my second meatless meal recipe…..

I’ve talked before about Mom and Dad’s brave move to Leadville, Colorado, from Columbus, Nebraska, in the mid-70s. For as long as I remember, they had wanted to live in the Colorado mountains that they loved so much. The bakery in Leadville is what finally presented itself to them.

It wasn’t a perfect fit by any means. A while back I wrote a blog about our family’s time in Leadville. It was a rough town, largely dependent upon the molybdenum mine. Miners are a unique animal we soon learned.

But in addition to having to get used to the thin air (Leadville sits at an altitude of over 10,000 feet making for difficult breathing and short summers), my parents also had to get used to the fact that along with the bakery, there was a small coffee shop.

I’m not sure what the previous owners offered in the coffee shop. But for Gloor’s Bakery and Coffee Shop, breakfast consisted primarily of coffee and donuts or sweet rolls from the attached bakery and lunch was also simple – a few kinds of sandwiches and homemade soup.

Soup wasn’t a particularly new thing for my mom. As we grew up, she occasionally made us soup for a simple dinner or maybe a lunch treat. I remember she made vegetable beef soup with a beef shank that was absolutely delicious. I don’t think any of us have her recipe for that soup (because frankly she probably never had a recipe), but man I would like to have a bowl of it right this minute.

Anyhoo, under the direction of my mother, the Gloor Bakery Coffee Shop offered homemade soup, each day a different kind. Not endlessly different, but 10 or 12 kinds of soup that she rotated. I remember people stopping by the coffee shop in the morning to see what the soup-of-the-day was for that day, or calling to ask. Everyone had their favorite.

The soups truly were homemade from scratch. Each and every afternoon (except Saturday), Mom would make a big pot of soup for the next day. I’m sure at first this was kind of fun. After all, nothing smells better than soup simmering on the stove.

I’m here to tell you, however, that the fun wore off rather quickly and changed into drudgery. I hope that I don’t shock any of you when I tell you that my mother began referring to her soup as her “f***ing soup” as in “I’ve got to go make my f***ing soup for tomorrow.” Petite and pretty as she was, she could cuss right up there with the best of them!

And man-oh-man, was her soup ever good. She made Cream of Broccoli (which she called Broccoli Soup and I posted her recipe previously – also meatless by the way, which many of her soups were), Cream of Cauliflower, Cream of Asparagus, Clam Chowder, Beef Chili, Green Chili, Vegetable Beef, Potato, Ham-and-Bean, Minestrone, and for those warm summer THREE days or so, Gazpacho. I’m probably forgetting a few, and I’m sure my siblings will remind me.

Even writing about them makes me want to go cook up a pot of soup today. I only have her recipe for a few of them, unfortunately.

Here is a recipe I found for Chickpea Minestrone. As I write this, I’m 900 miles away from my mother’s Minestrone Soup recipe (one of the few soup recipes I have), but as a recall, her minestrone also contained chickpeas, pasta and no meat. However, this was a good version, and it comes from Vegetarian Times….

minestrone

The Meat of the Matter

Ingredients for a simple and delicious meatless meal.

Ingredients for a simple and delicious meatless meal.

As a so-called cradle Catholic, I’ve always been puzzled at the concept of abstaining from meat on Fridays. When I was a child, we couldn’t eat meat any Friday of the year. At some point in the mid-60s I think, the Church rule changed to what it is today – abstaining from meat on Fridays in Lent only.

What’s always puzzled me is, why meat? Why not something else? Why not coffee, or meat and fish, or alcohol, or bubble gum. Well, maybe not bubble gum as I don’t think there was such a thing as bubble gum in the middle ages.  There is some thought that a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, the Catholic Church was trying to help out the struggling fishing industry. I don’t know if that is true or not, though according to the internet – which as you know, never lies – that is very possibly the case.

The reason this puzzles me so is that not eating meat on Fridays is absolutely no sacrifice for me. In fact, I love that I finally have an excuse to cook fish to serve to Bill, for whom giving up meat IS actually a sacrifice.

And furthermore (and I’m really starting to get nervous about a bolt of lightning), not eating meat on Fridays has the oh-so-slight resemblance to the hypocrites, about which I have been so focused this Lenten season. Look at me. I’m a Catholic. I’m not eating meat on Fridays. My conclusion is that while I may go to hell, it won’t be because I ate a piece of meat on Friday during Lent. Not that I have, mind you.

Having said all of that, I have been furiously posting nonmeat recipes on Pinterest and googling simple and tasty vegetarian fare so that I can have something to place in front of my hungry husband each Friday. As an aside, (and I know I have mentioned this before) back in the days when we couldn’t eat meat on any Friday, I remember my mom and dad staying up until midnight Friday night so that my mom could fry a skinny steak for my dad, who apparently believed he couldn’t go to work with only salmon casserole in his tummy. God bless them both.

As a service to my Catholic readers or anyone else interested in occasional vegetarian eating (and also to break the monotony of my seemingly endless blabbering on about my wholly uninteresting life) I am going to post non-meat recipes each week during Lent. For one day a week for the next 40 days and 40 nights, I’m going to pretend I’m a cooking blog.

God help us all.

When my son Court was small and my parents were both still living (I know you are all now saying, “I thought she wasn’t going to talk about herself!”), we used to meet at the Old Spaghetti Factory in Denver.  I have so many fond memories of mclains spaghetti factorythe times we spent there. And my memories continue, as it still is such a fun place to eat, especially when you have kids. We recently ate dinner at the Spaghetti Factory around Christmastime when our Vermont family was visiting. No one minded that there were a few kids running around and the volume was somewhat elevated.

Every time I have eaten at the Spaghetti Factory – every single, solitary time – I have ordered the same thing. It is called Pot Pourri, which is a sampler of their spaghetti with meat, marinara, clam, and mizithra cheese and browned butter.

The truth is, I don’t know why I don’t just order spaghetti with mizithra cheese, spaghetti mizithraas that is the one I like the most. I think it’s because I like to have a bit of the red sauce to mix into the cheese.

Here is the method  for making Old Spaghetti Factory’s spaghetti with mizithra cheese and browned butter. The most important thing is to make sure the butter is nicely browned. Not just melted, but browned. And lots of cheese.

spaghetti browned butter mizithra cheese 2

Voila. A perfect Friday dinner.