Over the weekend, I joined my parents and the rest of our family for a visit near Culver, Ind. to the farm of my oldest sister Carol and her husband Bill, for the 7th birthday party of one of my great-nephews.
Since Father's Day is this weekend, we talked about the ambition, work ethic and dedication to detail, for which we can thank our father Chester.
While I've worked for 20 years, right out of college, at The Times, as my first and only job, the same work history holds true for my siblings.
Last week, my older brother David celebrated his 30-year anniversary working as an industrial engineer at General Dynamics Army Tank Plant in Lima, Ohio and it's also his first and only job right after graduating from Purdue. My oldest brother Tom has logged 39 years at Lakes and Rivers Transfer, a Division of Jack Gray Transport, Inc. at the Port of Indiana, working with the longshoremen who unload ships. Tom also started right after graduation, and has stayed at the same company, which is where our dad (besides his first love of farming) also worked for 38 years for Mr. Gray, driving trucks for Jack Gray Transport, until he retired in 1994.
It's rare in today's working world for anyone to stay in the same career for such spans, let alone to stay based with the same company.
As for my sister Pam, who celebrates her 30th high school reunion this month, after graduating from St. Joseph's College in Rensselaer with a business and marketing degree, she spent a few years working in management for Toys "R" Us. She then moved to Mishawaka and joined Saint Joseph Visiting Nurse Association Home Care, where she works as their business manager and has now been for more than 22 years. Our oldest sister Carol has also kept the same full-time job, as the busy mother of twin sons and also a daughter, while keeping up with all of the mountainous book work required with running their family farm and excavation businesses.
With the encouragement of our mom Peggy (who also went to work as a school teacher aide for 20 years after she raised us), and who made sure we all started working summer jobs weeding farm fields and picking strawberries and blueberries after the summer of our Fifth Grade year, it's clear to see how we all learned so quickly the value of a dollar.
Hard work also means hearty appetites. And my parents still work hard and set examples for us each day. Earlier this week, as part of my dad's Father's Day gift, in addition to the new tomato plants he asked for, I trimmed all of the shrubs and hedges at the farm. (But instead of relaxing on the swing, Dad was busy with his chainsaw cutting up two trees that fell along the fields that lead to the woods.) Mom has used the recent cool and cloudy weather of the past two weeks to make soups and stews, which are perfect for easy summer menus after long work days. On Monday, she made the recipe for Rosie's Stuffed Green Pepper Soup published in my original 2004 "From the Farm" cookbook.
And last week, she made a delicious, hunger-satisfying "No Peek Stew," which is a recipe she was given by Helen Campbell, who also lives in our small farming town. Mrs. Campbell shared this recipe last month with my mom, while the two were working together for our county's Election Board at the designated polling place (our town's fire station) during the voting at the Primary Election.
This stew includes a tomato base with natural acidity to assure the cubed beef slow cooks to an extra-tender perfection. Mrs. Campbell's recipe has a couple variations, such as including 1 tablespoon of sugar and 2 tablespoons tapioca for thickening, compared to my mom's version below. And while Mrs. Campbell prefers chopped celery, since we still have plenty of asparagus in our farm patch, my mom decided to make her own green substitution. Either way, this recipe is a keeper that yields enough for second-day leftovers.
A Happy Father's Day to all fathers and families this weekend!
Peggy's "No Peek Stew"
1 pound cubed stew meat, cut into small, bite-size pieces
3 tablespoons cooking oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 cups sliced carrots
2 cups sliced potatoes (about 3 large potatoes)
1 cup diced asparagus or green beans or celery
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons no-salt seasoning blend, like Mrs. Dash
2 to 4 beef bouillon cubes, or as desired for flavor
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 large (48-ounce) can tomato juice or vegetable juice
DIRECTIONS: Using a large covered Dutch Oven or a covered deep glass baking casserole, heat oil and gently cook onions to slightly tenderize, while also quickly browning stew meat. Add all remaining ingredients with seasonings and toss to combine with browned meat and onion. Lastly, cover ingredients with tomato juice. Bake covered in oven at 300 degrees for 2 to 3 hours, assuring potatoes are soft and tender. No peeking! Makes 6-8 servings.