“what we don’t know about any given person or situation far exceeds what we presume to actually know. Perspective, in my opinion, is markedly derived from individual human experience. It makes concepts like “food gentrification” less relevant and basic ideas like “human compassion” more urgent. (Of course, at the end of the day, I believe it’s all intertwined.)”
Cincinnati is blowing my mind these days, particularly two of their 52 propers—Northside and Over-the-Rhine (OTR)—where most of my time has been spent both living and working. The depth of human experience keeps poppin’ me in the gut. The layers peeling off the human onion are friggin’ fascinating, and the awareness it brings is both soul-wrenchingly beautiful and ugly. At the core of all of those feelings, is one common notion—perspective. Perspective—never more right, better or justified—is one powerful thing.
In the context of Northside and OTR specifically, it rests on an acknowledgement that ours is a polarized city, deep-rooted in history and varies vastly depending on one’s perspective. Going back to the idea that food is better served, shared, I’m printing a recipe this month that is less about the actual food and more about its evolution through sharing; for the dish later plays as a mere prop within a series of interactions I had the next day. Looking into my fridge earlier last week to assess dinner options, I used found ingredients in my kitchen, mostly derived from a local (OurHarvest) CSA (Community Shared Agriculture). With those, I looked to the Google and stumbled upon Hamburger Soup from The Pioneer Women Cooks, a show featured on Food Network.
Despite its less-than appetizing name, I made it and understood how it’s better named (Vegetable Beef Stew), served (in cold weather) and delighted (more spices and different cooking method). Walking into the wine bar for work last Thursday, I met Paul. We shared a cigarette and a solid conversation and ended that initial dialogue with me handing off my Ball jar of leftover [Vegetable Beef Stew]. I later exited out of work into the early morning and emerged onto the public streets only to be reintroduced to Paul.
I’ve been all up and over my head about it since, but I guess if I could summarize my interactions with Paul– from sunny late afternoon and pre-inebriation to breezy, dark early morning, 8-10 beers later, I would say this: what we don’t know about any given person or situation far exceeds what we presume to actually know. Perspective, in my opinion, is markedly derived from individual human experience. It makes concepts like “food gentrification” less relevant and basic ideas like “human compassion” more urgent. (Of course, at the end of the day, I believe it’s all intertwined.) In talking to sober Paul, I asked him a question of prioritization, which has, in our culture, become confused with values. As it turns out, our conversation went something like this:
What is it that you really want?
Okay, and in getting that money, what would you spend it on?
Alcohol before food?
Absolutely. Because I need it. I physically need it.
And what happens when you don’t have it?
I get the shakes. I start shakin’.
So it’s like medicine?
Yeah. I need it to function, ya know?
Sober Paul… The one who is socially accepted… finds himself suffering more from alcohol withdrawl than hunger. He drinks one or two first thing in the morning to chemically and medicinally support him through his self-defined “pan-handling” workday and then dives deep into the abyss of his addiction to close what has become yet another belligerent night. In blaming him for addiction to circumstance, I place a value judgment on the importance of food. While I might (and do) have Biggie-sized values as it relates to food and all its political integrations, identifying it as Paul’s crisis is hardly a truth in his own life experience. Holy hot damn.
There is so much more to speak to as it relates to my meeting Paul, but unfiltered, out-loud processing on the soapbox of the Northsider is hardly my style (although as I run against deadline, this is a product of less editing and filtering than preferred). Ultimately, what working in OTR and living in Northside is teaching me is that the table we sit at is figurative in nature, and passing off my mason jar of leftovers is oftentimes far less valuable than buying someone a beer. When all is prepared and passed off, I refuse to exclude anyone’s palette from my space of creation, kitchen or elsewhere. We’re all just too damn dynamic. You can gentrify my streets, but you will not gentrify my mind (nor my table).
Enjoy this recipe and know that, just as people have the tendency of doing when you really stop to get to know them, it indeed gets better over time. Experiment and play around with it. Be bold! Affirm your perspective in the kitchen. Holler at me with improvements (firstname.lastname@example.org). And heck, while in roam, cook with some Simon and Garfunkel’s, “The Boxer” playing in the background.
Vegetable Beef Stew (adapted from Ree Drummond’s Hamburger Soup)
2 lbs. ground beef (I used and prefer 90% lean/10% fat. Of course, the fattier the beef, the less expensive your grocery bill, so do what you can here.)
1 large onion, diced
3 stalks celery, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 14.5 oz cans whole tomatoes, with juice
3 cups beef stock or broth (I used chicken, because that’s what I had. For a stewier consistency, use 2-2 ½ cups)
3 peppers, seeded and diced (I used red, yellow and green)
4 whole carrots, peeled and sliced (preferably on the diagonal)
6 whole red potatoes, cut into chunks (4-6 pieces depending on the size)
3 tablespoons of tomato paste (I used ¼ cup of ketchup, again, because it’s what I had)
¼ tsp kosher salt + more to taste
½ tsp. black pepper
4 tsp. Fresh parsley, chopped (or 2 tsp. dried)
1 tsp. fresh oregano (or ½ tsp. dried)
¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
Pinch of red pepper flakes, to taste
Pinch of brown sugar or a nice drop of maple syrup
In a large pot over medium-high heat, brown the meat. With a slotted spoon, set aside meat for later integration. Into the pot-o-grease goes the onion, celery, garlic with some salt and pepper to taste (back over medium-high heat). Cook til moderately browned (not burnt, stirring every 15 seconds or so).
Add browned beef, herbs (oregano and parsley), ¼ tsp. salt, ½ tsp. pepper, tomato paste and beef stock. Pour tomatoes into pot, reach back in, and, one by one, squish each one by hand. You can also just get pre-diced, but like the Pioneer Woman, “I’d rather be random than dicey.” Stir to combine, making sure you get all those flavor-packed brown bits that have collected at the bottom. Stir to combine, boil and reduce heat to lowest setting of simmer your stovetop allows. Cover pot and let simmer for 2 hours.
Add remaining veggies (peppers, carrots, potatoes). Bring back to a simmer for another 30 minutes or until potatoes and carrots are tender but not mushy. Taste and adjust to preference. A tip: go easy-handed on the salt, despite your intuition for more. Season the garlic, onion and celery more generously and let those flavors soak into the broth. Serve with crusty bread to sop up that beefy broth.
Got a recipe, thought or comment? Wanna cook? Email me at email@example.com
By Un Jin Krantz