Saturday, October 26, 2013

“A Letter to Molson”

c. 2013 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

Installments of Thoughts At Large have often been inspired by everyday events.
This column has sometimes contained works of fantasy, historical information, old news reports, cultural oddities or sociological analysis. Yet its most dependable foundation has always been the unadorned retelling of a factual story.
A recent event proved this truism, once again.
As I went to my local Giant Eagle to purchase adult beverages and snacks for a bit of sports-time enjoyment, a sense of regret took hold. It was when I looked for a familiar friend crafted from aluminum, the Molson XXX “oil can.”
This sturdy cylinder had been a familiar sight on local shelves for many years. Though I normally prefer brewed refreshment in glass bottles, this particular libation tastes most authentic in the oversized can. A flavor crisp and satisfying.
When tried, the bottled variety only left me with a sense of disappointment.
I was dumbfounded not to see the big can for sale. Some friends actually thought this popular product had been completely discontinued. But soon, I discovered that it had instead been replaced by a downsized 24-ounce can.
Much chatter resounded at my store about the switch. No one seemed happy to surrender that one extra sip of brew. Moreover, the immediate product recognition Molson XXX had enjoyed was gone. Their “me too” design seemed bland and unappealing.
After musing about this change for several weeks, I decided to write the brewery with my own personal perspective. What follows is the text of this letter:

Dear Molson/Coors,

I am a newspaper columnist from Geauga County, Ohio and a long-time retail manager. I have been a fan of Canadian brews for many years, in particular, your Molson XXX in the man-sized “oil can.” Over the past few years, I added this particular product to the selection at my store, just south of Lake Erie, with spectacular results.
We have literally sold pallets of your product to tourists and locals enjoying summer relaxation.
Sadly, I note that you made a decision this year to discontinue the venerable larger can, in favor of a slim new container that mimics the design used by other breweries.
Your product was downsized from 25.4 fluid ounces to 24.
The amount of beer removed from your can might seem miniscule in nature. But its effect was to eliminate the unique and commanding presence you had on my shelf. Now, customers mistake Molson XXX for Labatt Ice, because of the similar profile and black outside color. Many simply purchase Steel Reserve because of an identical size at a lower price.
Speaking bluntly, in marketing terms, you have surrendered your category leadership. Only Foster’s offers a similar “oil can” in my market. Now, they lead in uniqueness and product recognition. You lag behind with a sameness that sends consumers looking elsewhere.
After a brief pause, fueled by discontent, I have reluctantly resumed buying your beverage. But each purchase comes with a hint of sadness. A last “full size” can of your brew remains in my refrigerator as a reminder of better days.
I simply can’t drink it for fear of feeling an old friend has passed.
Sales volume of Molson XXX has dwindled at my store. Customers overlook the slim can in favor of similar offerings by Labatt, Budweiser, Miller, Steel Reserve and Pabst.
Am I making too much of losing 1.4 ounces of liquid refreshment? It seems best to let you be the judge. Yet your lost market advantage is undeniable. At first glance, Molson XXX is now just another brew on the cooler shelf.
Impulse sales are important, especially during the summer months by Lake Erie. And, I suspect, everywhere across North America. They add to the overall mix of factors that make a brand successful.
Molson XXX remains a superior product. As your label boasts, a “super premium beer.” But the strategy of marketing this beverage has suffered for a measly 1.4 ounces. Was it worth the sacrifice, I wonder?
Time will tell. If you have shipped more cases from Canada to the world, then this move can be defended in business terms. But if not, then I ask you to reconsider your old friend, the “oil can.”

Sincere Regards,

After writing my letter, I wondered how many other protests were being sent over this change. Meanwhile, Coors, now part of the company, introduced an old-style “stubby” bottle intended to commemorate their design from 1936. When we substituted this interesting package for our regular six-pack at my store, sales literally exploded.
It provided yet another example of how a bit of marketing could make, or break, a product.

Comments about Thoughts At Large may be sent to:
Visit us at:

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

“Guiso Mexicano” (Column)

c. 2013 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

On Maple Avenue in Chardon, during the 1980’s, cooking was always a happy event. But while Mother struggled to make our food budget last through the week, Father had a different set of priorities in mind. His take on eating was that it should be an exercise in self-expression.
My unexpected return from New York State had scuttled the household meal plan. Yet the Ice Family tradition of making dining-table visits interesting continued. Albeit within the discipline imposed by needfully using what we had on hand.
In those days, we still did not have a coffemaker. Java was concocted in an enameled pot saved from Columbus. When we acquired a microwave oven, it was viewed as foreign and suspicious. Cooking and baking took place with the aid of a Kenmore gas oven, older than we could remember.
Eventually, my brother-in-law joined the household. This meant that we were literally eating in shifts, at all hours of the day and night. Mom dutifully kept the kitchen open continuously.
I secured a job at the American Seaway Foods warehouse in Cleveland. And then, at Fisher’s Big Wheel in town. This meant that instead of eating dinner at a traditional time, I was suddenly enjoying my post-work feast shortly after daybreak.
Night became my day. Day became my night.
Working twelve-hour shifts, after sunset, became commonplace. I would chain-smoke throughout the night, drinking Coke. By morning, my appetite would be nearly uncontrollable.
My favorite dish was macaroni & cheese, with assorted additions. It provided a warm ending to the shift spent cleaning floors and organizing our stockroom. When the opportunity appeared, I would gather leftovers and create my own culinary concoction. Frequently, this meant including green peppers, radishes, fresh tomatoes, or slices of lunchmeat and bacon.
I was building on the notable foundation laid by Dad’s erstwhile experience making a south-of-the-border favorite called menudo.
His authentic Latino stew originated from a recipe we had found in a motorcycle magazine. It contained beef tripe, stewed tomatoes, pig feet, lemon wedges, coriander and a variety of peppers. The dish sent everyone else in our family scurrying for cover.
Only Dad and I would sample such foods without prodding. It became a badge of honor to know that we had cooked something so unusual that no one else would partake.
Years later, I have discovered that this bent for wild improvisation still remains.
In recent days, I took stock of the household cupboards and realized that almost enough items were on hand for a Spanish-style, stovetop stew in the family tradition. A quick shopping trip added Purnell’s ‘Old Folks’ Hot Sausage and some Cumberland Gap Jowl Bacon.
While watching Sunday Night Football on NBC, I combined the ingredients.

Guiso Mexicano


1 pound of hot ground sausage
½ pound of jowl bacon (sliced)
1 can (15 oz.) of garbanzos
1 can (15 oz.) of light red kidney beans
1 can (15 oz.) of pink beans
1 can (15 oz.) of pinto beans
1 can (15 oz.) sliced white potatoes
1 can (15 oz.) diced tomatoes
1 can Rotel peppers and tomatoes
2 tbsp. dried onions
1 pkg. chili mix
3 beef bouillon cubes
Cumin, garlic powder to taste


Brown sausage, place in stock pot with enough water to cover and bouillon cubes. Lightly fry jowl bacon, add to pot. Bring to a boil. Add other ingredients, including their broth. Simmer for at least one hour.

The stew was aromatic and colorful. I served it with tortilla chips and a garnish of cheese.
Later, I shared the stew with my sister’s family in Hambden. After a few raised eyebrows, everyone enjoyed their meal.
The creation was improvised from items on hand. But I wrote down the recipe for future reference, so I could share it with neighbors and friends.
Afterward, while sitting at the computer, I began to reflect on the bygone memories that my
kitchen adventure had evoked. Life on Maple Avenue in Chardon, during the early 80’s, had been the opposite of my modern routine. We were a full-sized brood in a house not made for private moments. Cooperation was key to functioning in this sort of environment. Necessity made us develop a stronger sense of family identity. We functioned like a sports team, with each of us playing a useful role in caring for the others.
Now, our habits have reversed. We are farther apart and less likely to directly share day-to-day happenings. Yet the kitchen remains a focal point for cooking and family celebration.
Preparing such foods is a joy. Sharing them is a greater experience. But the best part of such a culinary detour is writing about the product, in quiet hours that follow.

Comments about Thoughts At Large may be sent to:
Visit us at:

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Guiso Mexicano

Guiso Mexicano with lime tortilla chips.
Wednesday night dinner at the Icehouse.

Friday, October 11, 2013

“Grand Marquis + 30 Years”

c. 2013 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

On a recent day off I met one of my friends after work, for dinner. Our rendezvous happened near her home in Ashtabula. The trip back to Thompson involved a bit of driving. So I decided on a leisure tour of Route 20, south of the lake.
In Geneva, I passed the “Trading Post” where long ago, I had purchased a couple of vintage guitars. The business closed soon afterward, sitting idle since the 1980’s.
East of Madison, I spotted a 70’s Mercury Grand Marquis for sale. This vehicle proudly displayed all of the style one would expect from that bygone era. It carried a vinyl roof and rear-fender skirts. The beast was powered by a 460 cubic inch V-8 motor.
It was particularly interesting because of a personal connection.
Thirty years ago, I lived in Ithaca, New York. Late in the summer, friends who knew my parents decided to visit them in their new home, which was the community of Chardon, Ohio. My father was a pastor and had moved the family many times since my birth in Columbus, circa 1961.
Myron Morey invited me to join his wife and daughter on the trek. Their oversized Mercury promised to make the trip a comfortable adventure.
We exited my upstairs apartment on Fayette Street just after sunrise. I had not really prepared for our journey and felt woozy upon leaving. Artistic friends thought it was crazy to return to Buckeye Country under any circumstances. But I wanted to see my family again.
We floated over the highway like a yacht navigating open water. The tour went smoothly until reaching a place called Geneva, just off of Interstate 90 inside Ohio. There, Morey’s Mercury shredded its fuel pump. We limped off the road, to a service station. A mechanic on duty proclaimed that the car needed a $90 repair.
And our wallets were nearly empty.
We explained this situation, and promised to return with the necessary funds once we had reached Maple Avenue, in Chardon. Amazingly, the station manager let us leave.
During our visit, I attended the Great Geauga County Fair for the very first time. We drove around the county, sightseeing. The Morey clan marveled at observing rural Ohio, directly.
When we reappeared in Geneva, the station manager looked surprised. He accepted payment of our bill with obvious disbelief. The drive back to New York transpired without any further excitement. I was hugging my girlfriend by nightfall.
I could not have known that in only a few months, Chardon would be my home.
Unemployment and poor judgment soon found me without a place to live. My girlfriend moved back to California, and I took up temporary residence under a bridge and with a variety of friends.
During my last nine days in the Empire State, I conducted a music recording session with friends from the group “Absolute Zero.” I chain-smoked Camel cigarettes through this rebellious, Rock & Roll ordeal.
Then, I said goodbye.
Chardon was completely unfamiliar. I had little more than the clothes on my back, with no money. Walking around town only reinforced my sense of isolation.
I celebrated Christmas of 1983 while pondering the awesome power of fate.
My present for the season was a vinyl copy of “Undercover” by the Rolling stones. I spent countless winter days huddled inside listening to “Wanna Hold You” and “Too Much Blood.”
Almost thirty years later, the Mercury Grand Marquis, east of Madison, resurrected these visions from my past.
I pulled off the road, for a quick vehicle inspection. My iPhone captured pictures, to be reviewed after returning home. I guessed that the vehicle must have been of a vintage sometime around 1977. It was colored a creamy shade of gray, with a maroon, vinyl roof.
Myron Morey would have been proud.
The gas station in Geneva had long since been reduced to an empty lot. My own awkwardness with Chardon had turned to calling Geauga’s capitol “my adopted home town.”
Mr. Morey and his wife had both passed away.
But the used Mercury offered a chance to time-slip back to this fanciful, earlier age.
The car interior was filled with rubbish. A poster display of the seller’s local phone number graced the rear, driver’s side window.
While taking phone photos, I noted signs around the property that warned of an alarm system and a canine guard on duty.
A desire to exit quickly hung in the air. Yet I lingered for a moment, with reflection taking hold. I remembered playing my Les Paul guitar on the elevated porch at Fayette Street, in Ithaca. And homemade tortillas fried up by my girlfriend with eggs and sausage.
“Thirty years,” I whispered, standing behind the massive Mercury. “Thirty years gone by.”
The window sign offered no details beyond a Madison phone number. No price or mileage claim. No year designation.
I wondered to myself about the likely cost of this relic.
“$1,000?” I said, silently, to myself. “$1,500? $2,000? Or more?”
A doggie defender did not appear. There was no sound of an alarm. Just the mechanical whirring of traffic going by as sunset took hold.
I bowed my head in tribute.
Thirty years had gone, but the Mercury was unchanged.

Comments about Thoughts At Large may be sent to:
Visit us at:   

“Italian Bread in My Head”

c. 2013 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

The advent of vacation days usually means visiting my parents in northern West Virginia. They live in a small community southeast of Clarksburg.
While in the area, I usually stop at the Kroger store in Bridgeport, off of Route 79. Pausing here evokes memories of the bygone era when this national grocery chain, based in Cincinnati, had many locations near Geauga County.
A favorite treat at this store has always been Abruzzino’s Sliced Giant Italian Bread. The loaf is 18 ounces of delightful, doughy deliciousness. With a substantial crust, chewy interior and flour garnish, the bread offers a culinary experience that could only be matched by a trip to Italy.
Another popular product of this bakery are pepperoni rolls, offered plain or with a variety of cheeses.
In yonder days I would never have believed that WV was an area blessed with people of Italian heritage. I associated them more with northern cities in Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York. But over the years, I discovered that many such folk populated the state. Products with names like Annunzio’s, Oliverio and Brunetti’s were common sights in local stores.
After my most recent visit to Mountaineer country, I decided to do some research on the bread I had purchased. Information on the package itself was minimal in character. Nothing more than “Abruzzino’s Italian Bakery, Gypsy, WV 26361.” So my quest had to move forward with little knowledge for guidance.
Multiple entries on the Internet repeated this line of text, but offered nothing else. I felt stymied in the hunt for details.
Yet unexpectedly, links appeared to stories about the origin of Italian-style pepperoni rolls and bread. With fascination, I read a story in the New York Times that spoke about Mediterranean immigrants who worked the mines in West Virginia. The 2009 piece was called “Fast Food Before Fast Food” by John T. Edge:

“West Virginians recognize the pepperoni rolls as a vestige of the state’s bituminous coal mining industry, which, in the early years of the 20th century, before mechanization reduced the need for manual labor, recruited Italian immigrants to do extraction work with dynamite and pickax.
In 1900, West Virginia was home to more native-born citizens than any other state. But, as the coal industry boomed and labor needs surged, that changed. Coal companies sought, as one historian put it, ‘a more docile, controllable work force than their American-born counterparts.’
They did not get what they bargained for. Italian immigrants were just as inclined, if not more so, toward union affiliation and action.
By 1915, there were more Italian laborers than any of the other 20-plus nationalities working the coal fields. Out of that cauldron of labor strife and self-definition came a hybridized food that owed as much to West Virginia as it did to Calabria, the region from which so many of the Italian immigrants came.”

I never considered that this ubiquitous part of Appalachian culture had a truly foreign parentage. Like well-garnished frankfurters and sausage gravy with biscuits, it seemed undeniably familiar. In Foodland stores, Kroger and Shop & Save, these tasty treats were everywhere when I visited family members south of the Ohio River.
The West Virginia Division of Culture and History offered further explanation:

“The Mountain State is the bona fide birthplace of one beloved food item that has become much more familiar, in and out of the state, than these other homegrown delicacies — the pepperoni roll.
The concept is culinary simplicity — bread dough wrapped around pepperoni. And no one seems to dispute that its inventor was Giuseppe (Joseph) Argiro [pronounced AR-juh-row], who came from Calabria, Italy, in 1920 to work in the Clarksburg-area coal mines.
When he first traveled to America, Guiseppe Argiro left his pregnant wife, Teresa, behind. Within a few years, he had earned enough money to return to Italy and bring his wife and young son back with him to Clarksburg. Guiseppe soon left the mines and moved his growing family to Fairmont, where he started a soda pop bottling business. Then, in 1927, he opened People’s Bakery. The bakery was located on Robinson Street, and the family lived in the building behind it.
The inventive Argiro got the idea for the pepperoni roll directly from his experiences in the mines. A common lunch for immigrant miners, according to Giuseppe’s younger son, Frank Argiro, consisted of ‘a slab of bread, a chunk of pepperoni, and a bucket of water.’ At some point between 1927 and 1938 — nobody seems to know exactly when — Giuseppe began placing the spicy pepperoni within the bread, and the pepperoni roll was born.”

Jeanne Mozier’s “Way Out in West Virginia: A Must Have Guide to the Oddities and Wonders of the Mountain State” also documents Argiro’s invention of this working-class delicacy.
In current terms, the pepperoni roll holds great popularity in places like Geauga County. So there is no aura of strangeness to the snack. But reading about its invention made me smile.
Still, I yearned for homemade Italian bread.
A quick check for local products of this kind yielded the name of the B Sweet Baking Company, from Chagrin Falls. A participant in the Geauga Fresh Farmers Market.
Only one regret lingered after my journey in cyberspace... I still knew almost nothing about Abruzzino’s.
Perhaps that revelation would come on another day.

Comments about Thoughts At Large may be sent to:
Visit us at: