Friday, September 24, 2010

“Orange Hat Blues”

c. 2010 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

Moving is a chore with which I have become uncomfortably familiar over the years.

Writers have a natural tendency to accumulate things for future reference. So my personal collection of books, records, and pop-culture artifacts has grown steadily since childhood. Dutifully, I have trucked that mass around the country while finding new places to live.

Three years ago, a shortage of space and abundance of household members forced me to rent a local storage unit. The move that followed seemed undeniably strange. I didn’t inherit a different address, but many of my possessions found a new zip code. It was an exercise in modern living that made me think hard about the need for discipline when gathering ‘junk.’

This three-year displacement of things finally ended over the past weekend. After a few trips to my rented cubicle, I reclaimed those lost treasures.

The house was now filled with old cardboard boxes – and lots of personal recollections.

I stood in the mess for awhile, drinking coffee and pondering memories. Then, a glow of orange peeked out from one of the containers. When I looked closer, a vintage hunting cap appeared.

It was a promotional keepsake offered by Schmidt Beer of Pennsylvania.

Impulsively, I decided to wear the hat while running errands in Chardon. It was a simple choice that would affect the rest of my day.

At the post office, bubbly clerk Fay Glondi reacted to my choice of headwear with a wink and a grin.

“Hey, I didn’t know you were a hunter!” she squealed. “I love homemade deer jerky!”

My embarrassment was obvious. “I hunt vinyl records and old guitars, not wild game.”

“You hunt vinyl records?” she whimpered.

“That’s right,” I said.

She looked confused. But I left without offering a further explanation.

At the public library, former councilperson Carrie Hamglaze was studying items on The Drudge Report. She noted my orange cap immediately.

“What a great cultural statement you’ve got there!” she proclaimed. “An American vision worthy of wearing to Tea Party events or a Glenn Beck speech…”

Politely, I interrupted her thought.

“It’s just something that was in the storage space,” I said. “My first wife’s family was from Pennsylvania. I must’ve purchased it while roaming around Titusville or Oil City.”

She looked disappointed. Quietly, she returned to reading pages on her laptop computer.

Across the room was Joe Celenka. He had been a pipefitter in the 1970’s. Now, he was a regular participant in the Geauga County Oral History Project.

“Nice hat, buddy!” he cheered, while checking his watch.

“Thanks,” I said with acceptance.

“That look won’t get you into the country club,” he snorted. “But I like it. A big, bold slice of working man’s attire.”

“Everyone seems to appreciate this cap,” I confessed. “I’ve had it packed away for several years.”

“Who could ignore that color?” he laughed. “It’s a shade of orange that demands attention… kinda like my discussion group!”

I nodded affirmation. “Talk to you later!”

While Joe began telling stories about walking a union picket line in Cleveland, I exited with an armload of books.

At a gas station across town, burly mechanic Nate Strehlka saluted as I approached his counter.

“Schmidt Beer!” she half-shouted. “Yes sir, I’ve had lots of that brew in the old days. Did you know they had collector’s cans in the 1960’s? Most of ‘em were wildlife scenes.”

I nodded. “Of course. A few of those turned up in the woods when I lived on Wearsch Road.”

“Really?” he mused. “You still got those cans?”

“Yes,” I answered.

“Interested in letting them go?” he asked.

“Nah,” I declined. “Never sell anything - that’s my motto.”

I peeled out a twenty-dollar bill, and left before he could argue the point.

At the local theater, I paused to buy tickets for an upcoming show.

Actress Marlene DiCelle was at the box office, helping with weekday chores.

“Oh, I loooove that hat!” she purred. “So ironic. Like an essay by Oscar Wilde.”

“What??” I coughed.

“You are brave to make such an artful gesture in public,” she beamed.

“Umm… what??” I repeated.

“A wordless remark on everyday life in the Midwest,” she said. “Living for nothing more than a trophy deer and a low-buck beer…”

“It’s a flea-market relic from Pennsylvania,” I said. “The only statement I’m making is the hat was brand new and cost 99 cents.”

Marlene bowed behind her counter. “Well then, have a nice day!”

At Circle K, red-haired cashier Cyndi Krale giggled about my hat.

“Heyy man,” she teased. “That’s so retro! A cool fashion statement. I read on Facebook that old man beers are in this season.”

I bowed my head. “Old… man?”

“Yeah!” she said, rolling her eyes. “Pibber and Schlitz.”

“Pibber?” I mumbled.

“Pee Bee Arr!” she complained. “Pabst Blue Ribbon. And Schlitz, like your hat.”

I corrected her gently. “It says SCHMIDT’S not Schlitz.”

“Whatever!” she stammered. “Schlitz, Schmidt’s, Spitz… old man beers.”

I was speechless.

“You know, the redneck stuff people liked when my grandpa was young!” she squeaked at last.

“And… when was that?” I wondered out loud.

“You know, the Vietnam days!” she said. “He talks about them every year at Christmas…”

That was enough. I paid for two hot dogs and a Polar Pop. Cyndi was still babbling as I left her store.

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Friday, September 10, 2010

“Cooking With Gusto”

c. 2010 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

Gusto (noun) – “A vigorous enjoyment or appreciation; vitality marked by an abundance of vigor or enthusiasm.” See also: Schlitz Beer advertising, 1960’s.

A recent Icehouse discussion involved the subject of ‘healthy’ eating. Specifically, we debated what really constitutes a diet that is rewarding for the body.

My niece offered a culinary plan learned at college, that used salt-free and vegan dishes. Meanwhile, my nephew confessed to simply creating meals out of available leftovers and Ramen noodles.

Against this backdrop, my sister spoke wisely about the need to combine calorie restriction with proper exercise. Yet none of these summations answered my initial question – What is ‘healthy’ eating?

I proposed to the group that an important factor had been overlooked in modern cooking guidelines. Namely, the ‘joy’ of consuming tasty foodstuffs that draw on the longstanding traditions of our American pioneers.

I proposed that genuine ‘health’ is promoted not only by intelligent choices at the dinner table, but also through eating with gusto and without stress-creating inhibitions.

My equation was straightforward:

Artificial self-denial = stress
Stress = harm to the body

Eating with gusto = joy and happiness
Joyful lack of stress = good health

I concluded my argument with a few old recipes from my personal collection:


15 oz can corn (drain and reserve juice)
2 medium eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon sugar
Bacon grease or margarine for frying

Directions: Drain the liquid from the canned corn. Measure 1/4 cup of it, and discard the rest. In a medium sized bowl combine the corn juice you've just measured and the eggs. Use a whisk to beat them smooth. Add the salt, flour, baking powder and sugar. Mix really well, until there are no lumps. Add the drained corn and mix again. Heat about 2 tablespoons of bacon grease or margarine in a large iron skillet over medium high heat. When the fat is hot, it's time to drop in the fritters. I drop about 1/4 of a cup of batter for each fritter, cooking about 3 or 4 together in the same pan. Fry them just like pancakes, turning them, after the under side is crispy brown. They cook a little slower than pancakes, because they are thicker. After they have browned on both sides, transfer them to a plate to keep warm. Add more fat to the pan as necessary. This recipe makes about 8 or 9 fritters.


4-6 slices bread, torn into pieces
1 lb. sausage, browned & drained
6 eggs
2 c. milk
Salt & pepper to taste
1 c. mild cheddar cheese, shredded

Directions: Place bread in bottom of 13"x9"x2" greased baking dish. Spread meat over top of bread, beat eggs, milk, salt and pepper. Pour egg mixture over bread and meat. Sprinkle with cheese, cover and refrigerate overnight. Uncover and bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes. This casserole can be baked as soon as it is prepared. Great for company breakfast.


Makes: 20 servings
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Ready In: 45 minutes

This bread is quick and easy to do!

3 cups self-rising flour
3 tbsp. sugar
1 can 12 oz warm beer

Directions: Mix all ingredients in a glass bowl. Put into a greased bread pan. Let rise about 15 minutes. Bake in 400-degree oven for 30 minutes or until brown. This bread can go with anything.


14 hard shell corn tortillas
2c tomato sauce (2 standard cans)
1/2c chopped hot & spicy pork rinds
1/4c onion, chopped
Mozzarella cheese, grated
Oil for frying

Directions: Break pork rinds and tortillas into pieces. Set aside. In a medium pan sauté the onions. Mix about 2 cups of water with the tomato sauce and bring to a boil. Set aside. Add salt and pepper to taste. To serve: line bowls with tortilla pieces and pour the soup into 4 bowls. Sprinkle generously with pork rind pieces for a crunchy topping. Add cheese as desired.


Prep Time: 5 min
Total Time: 25 min
Makes: 6 servings, about 1 cup each

1 lb. ground beef
1 pkg. (16 oz.) frozen bite-size shredded seasoned potatoes
3/4 cup CHEEZ WHIZ Cheese Dip
1 cup Salsa

Directions: PREHEAT oven to 425°F. Brown meat; drain. Mix with remaining ingredients. SPOON into 13x9-inch baking dish. BAKE 20 minutes or until heated through.


8 1/2-oz pkg. cornbread mix
10-oz pkg. frozen broccoli spears
12-oz can SPAM, cubed 1/2" thawed and drained
1 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Directions: Heat oven to 400. Prepare cornbread according to package directions. Stir in SPAM. Spread into greased 9" pie plate. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until cornbread is almost done. Arrange broccoli spears on top of cornbread; sprinkle with cheese. Return to oven; continue baking for 5 to 10 minutes or until cheese is melted and cornbread is completely baked. Yield: 6 servings.

Predictably, only my nephew was impressed by this collection of recipes. But I felt liberated. Now, it was time for dinner!

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