29 October 2009

What I did for Brotherly Love

(Man, there's like four entendres in that title.)

This week marks 24 years since I became a phan of Philly. Not the currently ballyhooed team, but the city, as embodied by a gangly and lustful young Quaker. Falling in love with Pete was my first real acquaintance with the City of Brotherly Love, and I, ahem, loved it. Philly may sprawl a little more haphazardly than my Queens home turf, but there's neighborhood vibes abounding. Fantastical stone architecture that screams Cradle of Liberty. The afore-mentioned Quakers, whose faith spoke to me wordlessly right from the start. The Hooters, sonic accompaniment to our romance. The late, lamented Third Street Jazz and Rock, where our mutual adoration of dusty vinyl took root. Driving fast along the Schuylkill while blasting the Nazz. The Franklin Institute. And...cheesesteaks.

Inspired by today's http://dinersjournal.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/10/29/on-the-question-of-cheese-steaks, which seems to get a lot of it wrong, and in honor of 24 adventurous years with Peter, I thought I would share my own personal cheesesteak recipe. I crafted this a few years ago without consulting any cookbooks...it's straight from my sense memories of the amazing taste of D'Allesandro's cheesesteaks (NOT Geno's, puh-leeze). Now, it's not like my marriage needed saving and I brought out the big Philly phood guns to save it. In fact, we weren't even bored with our usual home, well, phare. (End of clever "ph"s.) We were just missing the taste of a Philly cheesesteak, and I thought maybe I could nail it.

Multiple Philly-native Reifsnyders have told me I got it right. Who's to say. I just love eating the danged things.

Mt. Airy Cheesesteaks

One 16-steak box of frozen Hannaford Sandwich Steaks (or your store's equivalent...see image below)
One 15-oz can of Tomato Sauce (plain, not preseasoned)
One 16-oz container of Fresh Mushrooms
One Onion
Dried Oregano
Garlic Powder
Onion Powder
Salt, Pepper, Sugar
One 12-oz package Kraft finely shredded Italian-blend Five Cheese (contains provolone, mozzarella, asiago, parmesan and romano)
About 2 cups more of Shredded Mozzarella
NOTE: I never use reduced fat anything, so I don't know what this would taste like with that option.
Package of 6 sub sandwich rolls (aim for something soft, not crusty)

*Serves 6 ravenous Reifsnyders

STEP 1: The sauce
Pour the Tomato Sauce into a saucepan; place on med-low flame. Add a couple of shakes of Oregano, a pinch each of Garlic and Onion Powders, a little Salt and Pepper, and--VERY key--a couple of teaspoons of Sugar. Stir it up and let it simmer on low while you do the rest of the prep.

STEP 2: The meat
In a large bowl, separate the frozen sheets of Steak and break them into pieces. Your hands will be achy-cold. It's a small price to pay. Note: You will NOT be thawing the meat!! It's meant to be cooked frozen.

STEP 3: The veggies
Slice the Mushrooms into a bowl (or buy presliced). Halve the Onion, then cut it into thin half-moon slices; add to the mushrooms.

STEP 4: The cheeses
Combine all Cheeses in an oversized bowl (you'll need double the space in this bowl, because you'll be adding the cooked steak to it soon).

STEP 5: Cook the meat
Preheat a high-sided skillet on med-high (if it's not non-stick, you might add a smidge of cooking oil). Add the frozen Steak pieces after about a minute of preheating. Sauté the pieces, turning over frequently and chopping up as you go. As the steak finally begins to transition away from pinkness, add the Mushrooms and Onions and sauté them along with the steak.

STEP 6: Prep the rolls
Slice open the Rolls and plate them. You want to keep the subs sealed on the bottom, if you can.

STEP 7: Combine meat and cheeses
Once the Steak and Veggies are done to your liking (usually takes ~8 minutes), use a slotted spatula to transfer the mixture into the Cheese bowl. Try to avoid transferring fatty oil as much as you can. You want to do this while the steak is plenty hot. Mix it all together so that the cheeses start to melt and blend thoroughly with the meat.

STEP 8: Assemble the sandwiches
Put an ample amount of the meat-cheese mixture into the split sub. Then, carefully spoon some of the simmered sauce along the top of the meat. This is a trial-and-error thing...you don't want to make an inedibly messy sub, but you need enough so that you get a burst of sauce with every bite.

Press the sandwich together gently. If the rolls are long, cut in half to make it easier to pick up.


05 October 2009

The viewing

It was a viewing at the funeral home, on a drizzly and chill gray morning. The family walked in nearly on tiptoe, their footfalls further hushed by bland carpeting and sympathetic wallpaper. They were almost comically all-sized, from the eldest sister--equal in height to her mother--to the next in line, whose towering awkwardness mimicked his father's, and then the two youngers, one suddenly a head taller than the other. Semi-formal clothing constrained their movements to jerkiness as they sought to relax in the somber glow of the room.

The room tunneled to an endpoint where their elderly cousin rested, in view, pastel colors all around her. The children did not want to approach the casket, and their parents were not about to insist on it. As they all milled about, a safe distance away, they saw a lone figure approaching by the sprays of flowers. His movements were made tentative by his age and deep sorrow. In front of him, laid out in peace, was his sister, the last direct family member in his line. He had never married; she had never married. For awhile, the children had thought that these two relatives, who welcomed them so fondly with each visit, were another set of grandparents. There had been no need to disavow them of that, back then; the simple mistake brought universal joy.

The family found a semicircle of seats in the room's entryway and sat. A few hushed words were exchanged back and forth, and the younger ones leaned on their parents' jacketed arms. As the weight of minutes passed, and cousin Bill remained near his sister Dottie, the older son suddenly began to weep. Then the older daughter, the younger son, the younger daughter...a chain reaction of raw grief. The mother saw it happen, abashed by the intensity of their mourning. She dispensed hugs to each, stroked their hair, whispered reassurances; their slender shapes were warm in her arms, but disconsolate. A Kleenex box was passed, and the four children's reddened faces were shielded as they tried to stem the tears. How extraordinary, their mother thought, and how foolish that she had not anticipated this emotional surge.

The children cried because they knew, all four of them, what a sibling bond means. How no one will ever know you the way your sibling does. How you will do anything for a sister, a brother. They knew from their parents' conversations all week that Bill had been tasked with making final arrangements for a woman who had once been a girl, whose toys he had shared, whom he'd teased and probably exasperated--he being the youngest. And even from a distance, they could see that the face in the casket was not anything like the person they had known...she was truly gone.

First cousins of Bill and Dottie began to arrive; there were not many of them left. From the entryway, watching her distant relatives greet each other in front of the coffin, the mother saw how much these men and women resembled the previous generation: their parents, her great uncles and aunts. Seeing their faces in profile, eyeglasses glinting in the light, it was uncanny. This branch of the family was slight in stature, and though they wavered and hesitated with age, their pride remained fierce. She was witnessing time, manifested. Her own mother was once one of them.

This was the weekend that her decision to come to Maine, to retrace her mother's path, became right and true and fixed. Her place, her home, her people. How much she had gained...and now, her children, too.