People often tell me I should write a book. Truth be told, that’s on my bucket list, for sure. They’re referring to the treasure trove of stories that I carry around with me, “funded” by 35 years in the classroom and principal’s seat. And yes, most of them are unbelievable.
This week’s recipe took me back to one of my early years as a principal. On my calendar for one particular day was an appointment with a parent. A mother had scheduled a time to meet with me and had not provided any clue as to the purpose for the meeting. I always “loved” those meetings. When you didn’t know the topic for the get-together, it was kind of like playing Russian Roulette…with five chambers loaded. More often than not those meeting could be a challenge. However, this was a responsible and supportive parent, so I wasn’t too worried.
As the meeting started, I could tell the mom was nervous. She was troubled about something. It was easy to tell. Her concern had to do with the cafeteria. “It’s about the Sloppy Joes that are on the lunch menu,” she said.
My mind tried to race ahead to the finish line. Was it the government surplus ground beef that we were using? Were the rolls too soft…too hard? Was the meat too spicy? Or, had her child stained a favorite shirt with the tomato-based beef?
“It’s the name,” she continued, “Joey (her son) is offended that they call the sandwiches ‘Sloppy Joes’ and he’s afraid that he’s going to be teased. We were wondering if the name could be changed.”
You have never seen restraint like the restraint that I exhibited that day. It was all I could do. I didn’t know if I should laugh, be aghast, or be offended myself. Change the name of the perennial Sloppy Joe? It was un-American. It would be like Frank asking that his name be removed with only “furter” left behind. Or the Pope asking that his name be taken off of Eggs Benedict. Had anyone ever asked Johnny Marzetti how he feels?
My restraint thankfully held. I did manage to ask what she thought we should change the name to.
“Bar-b-cue,” she said.
Thankfully, she hadn’t said, “Sloppy Harrys.” (I would have lost it.) I replied that I didn’t think that we would change the traditional name of the popular sandwich. I reassured her that in the event anyone did tease Joey we would handle it swiftly and appropriately, and that she should look on all of this as a character building experience.
She was not happy, as are most parents when they don’t get their way, but that was the last I ever heard of it. Joe is an upstanding citizen today, and appears to be un-scathed from the childhood trauma associated with this dark chapter in his life.
This recipe is pretty much my own, gleaned from many others over the years and tweaked to “perfection” by trial and error. (Any cook knows that you never quite reach perfection. That’s what keeps you going back to the stove.) I made these for a decorating party held at Parker Ford Church when we decorated for the Advent season.
(click on any image to enlarge it)
1½ - 2 lbs. lean ground beef
1 medium onion chopped
1 cup (approx.) red and green bell pepper chopped
6 oz. can tomato paste
¾ cup ketchup
1 Tablespoon prepared mustard
½ cup water
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon chili powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
3 Tablespoons agave nectar (or 4 Tablespoon brown sugar)
Brown the ground beef and sauté the onion together, adding the chopped bell pepper about halfway through.
I like to use bell pepper as it gives it some color. This bell pepper is right from the freezer. When I have leftover pepper, I often chop it and put it in a freezer bag "for such a time as this." Bell pepper will lose its firmness when you freeze and thaw it, so using it in dishes like chili and Sloppy Joes is perfect. Drain the excess fat. Add the tomato paste, ketchup mustard and water and mix thoroughly.
Incorporate the remaining ingredients fully, including the agave (or brown sugar). Allow to simmer over medium low heat for at least 15 minutes. Add some water if the mixture gets too thick.
I’ve recently discovered Blue Agave, which is an organic natural sweetener extracted from the agave plant. Agave is a low glycemic index sweetener, so it is slowly absorbed into the body, preventing spikes in blood sugar. That helps to prevent the “sugar high” and the let-down that follows. The label on the bottle says it’s been used by ancient civilizations for 5,000 years. It can be used as a multi-purpose sweetener and in baking. You just have to remember that it’s 25% sweeter than granulated sugar, so you use one-fourth less.