Pancho Villa and others at the very first Fiesta de la tarro vacía
Rare photo recently discovered
A contemplative Villa (left) and a glum Zapata (2nd from right) face an uncertain future
In Mexico during the time of the Revolution, mayonnaise was a national obsession. More of the condiment was consumed there than any other one place on earth, with Hong Kong a distant second.
In fact, leaders on both sides of the conflict were crazy for the stuff. But it was Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata circa 1910, who spread the spread among the common people, as it were, so that its popularity soared.
In those days, England was the mayonnaise capital of the world, with Cross & Blackwell’s, and Hellmann’s as the most popular brands, and the largest shipment of all time, some tens of thousands of jars, set out from Southampton by steamship on April 10, 1912, bound for Vera Cruz, by way of Cherbourg, New York, Charleston, and Havana.
But as history showed, the vessel was none other than the ill-fated H.M.S. Titanic, which struck an iceberg and sank on April 15th.
When news arrived in Mexico twenty days later, the war-torn people were devastated. Their anguish was so great that a truce was declared between the Federales and the rebel factions, for one day of mourning. And thus was held the very first Fiesta de la tarro vacía (Feast of the Empty Jar.)
(photo: Museos de México)
It has been observed ever since, on this very day, now known colloquially as Sinko de Mayo.
That buoyant highline ride across a string of performances that just won’t let you stop til it’s all done.
But after two days of wake-up, travel, play til numb, stare at alien bedroom ceiling, get up too soon after a dawn ice storm, absorb coffee and carbs, play too many hours too long but not stop even after the last video is shot, prattle on over burgers before bed, and then performing for a third day at the Martin Museum despite swollen fingers and the unexpected construction of a special presentation site for a private, deep-pocketed tour heard just off-camera, and ending up in a hotel room rented to construct our own makeshift video studio because some new Martins suddenly became available at the Distribution Center, just as I was on my way to that stage coach home, I still ended up spending Friday night back in Brooklyn, vibrating in front of my best friends while gratefully absorbing their 21-year-old Balblair and Insanely-year-old Caol Ila, and then staring at my own bedroom ceiling only to not be able sleep past 7 on Saturday, what with my girlfriend sick as a dog in Florida when I can’t take care of her, and so much back log of writing to do after the soul-crushing fatigue of my own 30-day bout of the flu has finally dissipated just in time for this past week’s trip.
And here I am on Saturday night, now after midnight, after a good sushi dinner with “super dry” hot sake, after borrowing a pre-CBS seafoam green Stratocaster, after one too many glasses of the Great Malt Which Wounds from the Isle of Skye, after Season 1 episode 2 of Grantchester, here I sit, with roommates and cat having given up long before.
And 11 hours from now I head out, Strat in hand, to the plush Battalion Studios in Gowanus for a large amplifier reunion jam with my 1990s rock band, the Cheese Beads. (And me with no ear plugs!)
I have a sneaking suspicion that sometime Monday morning I will fall off the proverbial cliff…
Until the next tour gets underway.
But at least that one will require of my fingers little beyond giving massages to some very special toes situated near, if not always on, a beach in Florida, and lapping up some sun and sea.
I’ve never been that far south before. I hear it’s nice there.
I had taken a wrong turn on the way to get my coat as I was leaving this this kind-of-tacky Brooklyn restaurant, half Katz, half Peter Luger’s, but modern prefab decor, fake plants, bright lighting.
Anyway, It was one of those dreams that was absolutely realistic.
Dangerfield was dining with some half dozen friends on either side of a long table with a white table cloth, and obviously most of the party had already left, as there were many empty chairs strewn about.
None of his companions were known to me, but they are all sort of Ray Liotta types, basic Brooklyn with business suits.
Most were a lot younger than me or old Rodney, who couldn’t have been nicer, and I was invited to sit down.
And even though I had already eaten there was an enormous spread that I was welcome to. He even had a little laptop or tablet that was running his Biography Channel bio that he would keep starting if someone came up to talk to him. A prince of a guy! I had many interesting talks with him in between his many well wishers and joking friends.
I thought it would cost me a fortune, but Rodney and one other guy split the whole enormous check and I was sent home with a bunch of deserts and an unopened beer bottle in my pocket. I decided to take a cab, which immediately got lost. And as we pulled over to figure out where we were, I woke up.
I got nothin’ but respect for that guy, I’ll tell ya.
Beloved childhood comfort food leads to an annual ritual –
Beefaroni on my birthday
Chef Boyardee is a brand of canned pasta products. But once upon a time Chef Boyardee was the head of the kitchen at the five-star Plaza Hotel. He is personally responsible for Americans associating “Italian food” with pasta and tomato sauce, and particularly spaghetti with meatballs.
Many of my earliest memories concern eatable entities, at least the fondest of them. From Play-Doh, which is rather bland, but very salty, to Funny Face, a competitor of Kool-Aid, which my mom would put in milk to trick me into drinking that calcium delivery device, I have vivid remembrances attached to many eating and drinking experiences.
My dimmest memory is a view from my high chair, looking across some sort of food and out the kitchen to the front door some 40 feet away. It hovers in a corner of my mind; where it’s dark, as if it is night and all the lights are off. There is a photo of me in that very seat on my 1st birthday. But I assume the remembered event came a bit later.
When it comes to “real food,” there was my mother’s chili. Years later I sought out how she had made it, and was somewhat disappointed to learn it consisted of Campbell’s tomato soup with red beans, browned hamburger and about three pieces of raw onion per person. She didn’t even add the chili powder called for by the recipe on soup can.
Another favorite for me and my sister three years my junior was the macaroni and cheese made by our older sister when she would be babysitting us. Again, it proved a let down to learn it was simply boiled macaroni with a large brick of Velveeta melted throughout.
As my childhood comfort food pillars toppled one by one, only one has remained steadfast and forever satisfying. Chef Boyardee’s Beefaroni, part of this complete birthday feast.
Served in vintage Fiestaware!
2017’s Birthday Carbfest was just as grand.
As was 2019’s.
I have enjoyed Beefaroni on my birthday for years beyond count, rarely missing the opportunity, whether I have it for lunch, or supper, as we called dinner back in Ohio, or squeezing it in as a late night snack.
I do not now remember when Beefaroni entered my life. But I remember clearly splitting one 15 oz can with my little sister, on many occasions, after walking home from school for lunch. Now I often have two full cans just for me. But I cannot buy the large cans, as the consistency just isn’t the same. And even with the regular cans, I have to put a good dozen of them to my ear and give them a shake to find the two with the least amount of slosh. Otherwise the sauce is too soupy. OK, these days it is always too soupy. Sigh.
A Surprising Pedigree
I was not able to find any data concerning when it was actually invented. But the chef on the can really was a chef, at the Plaza Hotel in New York City, in fact. It was the premiere hotel in the United States. And to provide some perspective, today rooms start at $825 a night.
Ettore Boiardi worked in restaurants in Italy near Bologna, starting at age eight, and then followed his brother over to America in the early 1900s, where he is reputed to have worked his way up in the Plaza’s kitchen to Head Chef.
He also oversaw two major dinners for President Woodrow Wilson, his second wedding, and a White House homecoming dinner for 2,000 World War I veterans.
At some point he anglicized his name to Hector Boyardee, and opened a restaurant in 1926, at Woodland Avenue and East 9th Street, in Cleveland Ohio.
Il Giardino d’Italia was both popular and influential in popularizing what we now think of as Italian food in America. As demand for his recipes grew, the Boyardee brothers opened a factory in Pennsylvania for their Bolognese-style dishes, which families could prepare at home. Spaghetti and meatballs soon became a national dish of America as well as Italy.
During World War II, the factory made rations for the U.S. Army, and returned to normal but increased production in peacetime, retaining all of its employees. But they had an added advantage: the vacuum-sealed can, and the machinery necessary to make it thanks to the War Department. And that is how just about every canned food you can think of came into being.
The company was eventually swallowed up by corporate giants, as family businesses usually are, but Chef Boyardee remained a figurehead well into the 1970s.
An Acquired Taste
A taste of the old country remains in Beefaroni, the humble carb and fat delivery device that remains every bit as good as it did when I was 8 years old.
I never liked canned pasta products, and still don’t with one important exception. And when the ingredients consist of hamburger, macaroni and sauce, the sauce matters a great deal. It can be any brand, they all have this same fakey orange color and are far too sugary. While tis true Beefaroni has its share of sugar, or actually corn syrup these days, it has always stood apart, with a tomato sauce that actually tastes (a lot) like the genuine article.
I know some of my preference for Beefaroni is related to a pleasant sense memory from my boyhood. But it really is good. And it is not all that bad for you, with less sugar than many grocery store products that claim to be healthy.
Everyone has their favorite comfort foods from their childhood, and others have certain birthday foods of which they never grow tired. What are yours?
Here is a commercial I still remember clearly from long ago:
A special birthday edition features an animated map that explores the entire history of Rome, from its earliest days as a kingdom, through the massive expansion during the Roman Republic, and on through Roman Empire, which split in two for its final tumultuous years.
Please expect to want to hit Pause and stop to look at certain moments of the timeline in detail!
I never grow tired of history or maps, and love it when they come together so very well.