This isn’t a story about a bad recipe. This is a story about how food reflects life, and sometimes, an unhappy situation can ruin a perfectly good dinner. Also: boys come and go, but my dutch oven doesn’t let me down.
So I’d been wanting to make my mom’s beef stew for a long time. I got some stew meat from the local butcher in my hometown, brought it back to Missoula and got it out to unthaw. Mom texted me the directions and I picked up the ingredients. This will be perfect to make for a dinner with my boyfriend, I thought, since he’s a hearty meat eater. I told him we should pick a night to have a nice dinner.
See, something important to know about me is that I like to feed people. My roommates were gone over winter break, so I had nobody to share my cooking with. Most of my friends are out of town, too, so it’s really lonely in this apartment of mine. I spent a lot of time with my boyfriend, but it was tough balancing between easing my loneliness and not being clingy and desperate.
So my mom’s beef stew recipe takes 3 hours in the oven. You have to plan your whole day around that kind of recipe. My boyfriend was supposed to get done with band practice around eight that day, so I had to have it in the oven by 5. So I cleaned the kitchen and diced the veggies for the stew. I invited my friend Wes to come over and watch movies while the stew, er, stewed, and then I told him I planned to have a nice candelit dinner with my boyfriend.
At four, Wes called me. “Um, yeah, I’m outside your house. Could you come out and help me?”
This was the first sign that the evening would not go as planned.
I came outside. Wes had thrown out his back lifting weights, and was unable to get out of his car, so we went to the grocery store and I picked up some ThermaCare heat wraps for him. Heat wraps secured, he crawled up the stairs to my apartment and settled on the couch. (And by “couch,” I mean “pile of blankets and pillows in the living room because I can’t afford real furniture.”)
So I’d like to note that I asked him several times whether he should get looked at by a doctor, and he insisted that he just needed to take some ibuprofen and he’d be fine. Since I’m not a medical professional, I went with it.
Anyway, I put the stew in the oven and we watched Easy A and a couple episodes of X-files. This was the nice part of the evening. (Easy A is a charming film, though I am perpetually irritated by movies about awkward high school girls starring women who are clearly pretty and graceful. Hollywood, I’ll show you a REAL awkward teenager. Anyway, that’s a review for a different time.)
At eight, I pulled the stew out of the oven. It came out great: the beef was tender, the carrots and potatoes weren’t too soft. I gave Wes a bowl and watched the clock. My boyfriend would come over any minute.
Then, I got the text. “So it’s my friend’s birthday and he asked me to hang with him.”
Oh. Okay. Wes looked at my face. “Did you get blown off?” he said.
“Well, sorta maybe,” I muttered. I looked at the stew. I suddenly didn’t want any.
So Wes lurched to his feet and said he’d be going home. Still clutching his back, he staggered down the stairs. I figured I was going to be alone for the rest of the night. I sat down to cry a little bit. Note: when you get really upset over something minor your boyfriend did, pay attention, because maybe your guts are telling you something bigger is going on.
Then, Wes called me. “Um, hey, can you come help me again?” he said. I went outside and found Wes lying on the icy street, unable to move. His back spasmed in the cold and though he didn’t complain, he was in screaming pain. “I better go to the hospital,” he said.
I grabbed his keys and pulled up his car so he could crawl into the passenger seat. At last we were on the way to the ER, while he considered what could be wrong. “I hope it’s not a slipped disc,” he said, squirming in the seat and trying to get more comfortable.
We pulled up to St. Pat’s and I got a nurse to come out with a wheelchair for Wes. They wheeled him off into some triage room and I sat in the waiting room, leafing through a National Geographic: Traveler. My boyfriend texted me: “You doing anything fun tonight?”
No, asshole, because I thought I had plans with you. I texted him back that I was taking my friend to the ER, and that I might need a ride later when I dropped Wes’s car off. “Sorry, I’m pretty gone already,” he wrote back. So he was getting wasted with his buddies. And I would be walking back from Wes’s house in a dangerous neighborhood. In 2 degree weather at midnight. Awesome. I didn’t hear from my boyfriend again all night.
After a few hours, Wes finally came out: an X-ray didn’t show anything, but they gave him Percocet and muscle relaxants. It was another hour of driving to find the only 24-hour pharmacy in town, because the nurse told him the wrong Walgreens. But I could tell the meds were kicking in when Wes started to giggle about the fireworks design on his debit card. I dropped him off at his place and, since he wouldn’t be driving for a few days anyway, he let me take his car back to my house.
So in conclusion, kids, I realize that my problems are petty. Everything worked out okay! I’m glad I could be there to take care of my friend. My boyfriend broke up with me a few weeks later–he needed to take care of himself, and I learned to trust my gut when someone seems distant. And this beef stew is pretty good. I just don’t plan on making it again soon.
Kate’s Mom’s Dutch Oven Beef Stew
1 lb. beef stew meat
2-3 potatoes, quartered
1 yellow onion, chopped
2-3 carrots, peeled and halved
1 can tomato sauce
1/2 frozen corn
Bay leaf, salt and pepper
2 cups chicken broth
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Put meat and vegetables in dutch oven, and cover with chicken broth and tomato sauce. Add bay leaf and a few dashes of salt and pepper. Cover and put in oven for 3 hours. Careful when you take this out of the oven, because a bunch of steam will rise when it’s opened.