This was some comfort food I used to love smelling as it was cooking in my Grandma and Grandpa Coen’s house. It usually meant an evening full of cousins sprawled on the living room floor watching Creature Features while the old folks smoked, played poker, smoked, cussed, smoked and drank Oly in the dining room. Oly is short for Olympia, which was apparently the best damn beer in a can you could get in the ‘70s … or more likely, the cheapest. Creature Features, if you don’t know because you didn’t grow up in the Bay Area, was an awesome horror movie show that played on Saturday nights. There was a cool, yet weird, host named Bob Wilkins and he would talk about the scary movies they were playing that night. These were usually “B” movies (maybe “C”) that aspired to be as bad as movies like “War of the Gargantuas” or “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes.” Bob had Buddy Holly glasses and smoked a big cigar, and in hindsight, I bet that thing was full of weed, because he was just way too mellow.
My sweet little Grandma Coen only stood about 5 feet tall, but she had a big presence. She was everyone’s favorite. My Dad said that when he and his brothers were teenagers they would get in to some knock-down, drag-out fist fights, and little Grandma would jump in the center to try and break them up. They would stop pummeling each other long enough to pick up little Grandma and set her gently aside, and then go back to pounding each other. As adults, they still called her Mama. And Grandpa was Daddy. But to us kids, Grandpa was B.K. That’s short for Benjamin Kenneth. Remember, given names are just a bit too much for the Coen clan. Just educating you all for future blog posts.
Grandma and Grandpa knew the hardship of the Great Depression and could make a meal out of anything. While Grandma was no chef, she sure put a lot of love into her cooking. And she loved making elbow macaroni with red sauce. I loved eating dinner at her house, because, well, that meant I didn’t have to eat dinner at my house. The only thing that sucked at dinnertime was that there was a large dining room table that fit 10 people (the adult table), and a Formica dinette that seated four. I’ll be DAMNED if I ever moved my way up from the little kid table in the kitchen to the glorious, expansive dining room table. I was always stuck at the little one with the two youngins, my little sister, Pooh, and my little cousin, Robbie—usually still wearing the blue eye shadow we applied while trying to dress him up like a girl earlier in the evening. They were seven years younger than me. My oldest sister, Tracy, was always at the adult table, and my younger sister, Coleen, who outgrew me at age 9, even made it to the adult table before me. I did actually sit at the adult table once when I was about 29, but there was nobody there for me to show-off for. I’m not even sure Grandma remembered which grandkid I was by then.
Recipe For Elbow Macaroni with Red Sauce:
1 pound of ground beef
1 bag of elbow macaroni
4 cans of tomato sauce
2 cans of tomato paste
2 can-fulls of water (pick whichever can you want, the sauce or the paste, it’s a crap-shoot)
Salt and pepper to taste (you might want to taste a lot)
Pour sauce, paste and water into a large pot and heat on low.
Fry the ground beef and Lordy! don’t drain the fat!! Pour it all into the pot that is heating up the sauce and water.
Boil the macaroni as directed. When the macaroni is done, pour that into the pot also, then season with salt and pepper. And season again.
Don’t forget to serve this with some sliced white bread and a cube of butter. Make sure the butter is still cold enough to tear up the bread a little.
If you’re feeling ambitious, heat up some canned green beans on the stove.
And please open a can of black olives so the kids have something to put on their fingertips.
When everything is ready, signal to the well-behaved grandkid who won the right to ring the little dinner bell– the dinner bell attached to a tiny wooden plaque on the kitchen wall which reads, “Good Bread, Good Meat, Good Gosh, Let’s Eat!” I think that about sums it up.