Beefaroni Birthday

Beloved childhood comfort food leads to an annual ritual –
Beefaroni on my birthday

Beefaroni brithday treat

Updated 02/25/2022

The American Dream Come True: The immigrant who made it rich (and meaty.)

Chef Boyardee is a brand of canned pasta products. But once upon a time the real Chef Boyardee was the head chef at the five-star Plaza Hotel, near the corner of 5th Avenue and Central Park South, in New York City. where a room reservation today is $1050 per night. He is personally responsible for Americans associating “Italian food” with pasta and tomato sauce, most particularly spaghetti with meatballs. I only learned of his story quite recently, but the company he started during the Great Depression was a part of my life as long as I can remember.

Ettore Boiardi worked in restaurants in Italy near Bologna, starting at age eight. He his brother to America in the early 1900s, where he is reputed to have worked his way up in the Plaza’s kitchen to Head Chef.

Chef Boiardi 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.

Childhood Favorites

The fondest of my earliest memories concern eatable entities. From Play-Doh, which is rather bland but very salty, to Funny Face, a competitor of Kool-Aid that my mom would add to milk to trick me into drinking that calcium delivery device, I have vivid remembrances attached to many eating and drinking experiences.

My very oldest, 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 nighttime and all the lights are off. There is a photo of me in that very seat on my 1st birthday. 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.

Beefaroni brithday meal

Served in vintage Fiestaware!

2017’s Birthday Carbfest was just as grand.

2017 Beefaroni

As was 2019’s.

beefaroni birthday 2019

And 2022’s birthday provisions have been acquired. Bread, butter, and Beefaroni.

Beefaroni Birthday 2022 onemanz

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.

An Acquired Taste

A taste of the old country remains in Beefaroni, the humble tickler of the tongue’s carbs, fat, and protein sensors that remains every bit as yummy as it did when I was 8 years old.

I never liked canned pasta products, and still don’t with this 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?

Beefaroni can

Here is a commercial I still remember clearly from long ago:



Birthday Weekend – Part 3 – Comfort Food

So I go out to blow a bit of birthday money on some comfort food,

Since I am sick and all

I am proud of my restraint

I was going to get a pumpkin pie. All that vitamin A, you know.
But then I thought of ginger snaps, which would go well with tea.
And then I thought maybe some chocolate pudding, which I have not had in memory.
But then I saw the mini red velvet cupcakes, so I got those.
And the gingersnaps and the organic chocolate pudding.
I only got half a pumpkin pie.

Birthday Weekend – Part 2 – A Feast and a Plague

My annual Birthday Dinner took place at Congee Village

As it has for some 15 years

 It is always a good sign when an upscale Chinese restaurant is so crowded you can barely squeeze through the lobby and bar, and your party includes the only non-Chinese in sight.

While ordering, I asked if they had any fried pumpkin. He said, “No.” And then he said they have only one pumpkin dish, a rice casserole cooked in a pumpkin, but it takes 45 minutes. So we said, “No.”
After we were all stuffed until we could barely move, the pumpkin casserole arrived.
Missed were some of the longtime regulars, who had to cancel due to illness or traveling. But that allowed me to offer a seat for some favorite alternates, even if only one could make it on such short notice.
And everyone enjoyed themselves with much good cheer.
Except my roommate who arrived looking like death warmed over and clearly sailing into some sort of cold or flu virus.
He should have been home in bed, but both of my roommates are moving out to greener pastures and he wanted to tough it out for my sake and make the best of it.
Little did I know that the headache I had all that day wasn’t from the ham-fisted barber mentioned in my previous post. And just about the time I was heading to bed after midnight I felt the tight, painful cough starting deep in my chest.
I awoke before dawn with the severe chills and complete body aches, and spent Saturday shivering under many layers of clothes and covers, with a heating pad between my knees, begging for the sleep that the spiny headache would not allow.
But, a little after 10 PM it suddenly broke apart and was gone.
It was exactly like a severe 24 hour stomach bug, except for no stomach issues – thankfully. I’ve never experienced anything like it.
And now it has turned into a basic head and chest cold. But since the hurricane phase has passed, it will probably just be annoying while it runs its course.
It knocked down my household like dominoes. That one roommate was hit Friday evening, I was hit Saturday morning, and now my other roommate is sailing into the worst of it on Sunday. But at least she knows it only lasts one day, before becoming “a cold.”
The weirdest part is how food or drink with remotely any bitterness, like coffee or chocolate, tastes super bitter! Very weird.
But then no food is appealing. We have collectively gone through a LOT of eggs and orange juice, but not much else.
I still feel sick and tired, but compared to yesterday, that is ok with me.
Birthday feast pumpkin casserole Congee Village
“It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!”

Birthday Weekend Part 1 – Haircut from Hell

My birthday is Monday.

And that means I get a whole weekend.

Birthday Weekend Part 1

Well… Here’s how my birthday weekend started.

Friday morning

I decided to splurge on a haircut, declaring it the last one I would pay for, as they have gotten up to $35 dollars in my neighborhood, which comes out to about $1 per hair. And I have decided to buy some of these new-tech cut-your-own-hair clippers.
I went to my barber and he wasn’t there. Instead there was a new fella, around 60, classic native Brooklynite accent, playing the most appalling sappy Autotune with a drum machine teenage love song channel, with constant variations on “I miss you.” or “Our love will last forever.”
I say, “Take the number 3 blade and just do it evenly all over.”
He takes these enormous, ancient clippers, puts on a long hard plastic cow catcher of several prongs, and proceeds to stab it into the center of my forehead with a thunk, before sliding it up over the top of my head.
He then repeats this technique so many times they begin to get a big red spot at the point of impact, just without a large vein runs up.
Never have I had a rougher, gruffer experience in a barber’s chair!
Not liking conflict, I decided to let him keep assaulting me, thinking it wouldn’t last much longer, and half expecting my roommate to pop out with a Candid Camera crew.
And then it was time for the smaller clippers and the more delicate work. This he performed with the blade that should’ve been changed six months ago. Have you ever tried to shave with a razor blade that so old it feels chunky, or like it has sharp, pointy teeth?
Well, this blade seemed to have a long single claw sticking out of it, which dug into my scalp over and over and over. I was truly wincing when he got behind my ears and he didn’t seem to notice.
Finally it was all done. He then took what looked like an oversized old-fashioned shaving brush with large nylon bristles that was full of talc. And he used it to pummel me again and again. I was surprised to not see those large bumps rise from the top of my head like a Bugs Bunny cartoon.
The amazing thing is how proud he was of his work, and clearly thought I should be too. He even pointed out how he specifically didn’t make it even overall, as I had requested, for some sort of aesthetic artistry I didn’t quite understand.
Once I got home, my roommate came in and said, “Nice haircut. Oh wait. They did do a very good job did they?”
That’s was putting it mildly.
I may have to fork out for one more haircut just so this isn’t the last one.
But wait there’s more… (To be continued.)