I have to hand it to my mom and dad. Statistically, there is no way they should’ve been good parents.
When my mom found out she was pregnant with me, she was fifteen and my dad was barely eighteen. They were party kids, recklessly making mischief in our tiny town where, honestly, there was little else to do besides skinny-dipping in the lake or getting sloshed on Boone’s Farm.
Mom and Dad could have given me up, could have stayed trouble-making teens for at least a few years longer before gradually easing into the responsibilities of adulthood.
Instead, they got married, got jobs, had my brother Dave (so I wouldn’t be an only child), bought a house, settled down.
They grew up.
I remember one evening when I was little, sitting on the sofa and watching my mother iron. I asked her how old she was. “Nineteen,” she said. And all I could think, at three and a half, was that my mom was so old.
Now that I’m pushing 30, my own nineteenth year a whole decade gone, I shudder to imagine what kind of mom I might have been at that age. I was so impulsive, so self-centered, so careless. Such a kid.
Could I have enforced bathtimes, naptimes, mealtimes, bedtimes? Could I have woken in the night, time and time again, to feed and comfort a wailing child? Could I have handled potty training, or changing the sheets and flipping the mattress when accidents happened?
My parents, young as they were, did all of these things and more.
Once, when Dave and I were very small–not even in school yet, if memory serves–Mom and Dad took us for a rare dinner out. To hear them tell it, Dave and I were holy terrors: loud, misbehaving, and embarrassing the heck out of our poor, young, helpless parents. Mom and Dad were mortified, ready to snatch us up by the ears and carry us out kicking and screaming.
At some point during this meal, another diner in the restaurant approached our table. I’m sure my mom and dad braced themselves for a well-deserved tirade at their incompetent parenting of us unruly brats. But instead of complaining, this woman paid my parents a compliment. Dave and I, she said, were two of the quietest, most well-mannered children she had ever seen.
Yes, Mom and Dad always had high expectations for our behavior.
Mealtimes, for example, were a ritual that no one questioned.
We always sat around the table together, whether Dad had grilled burgers or Mom had made up a Crock Pot of fifteen-bean soup. We sat around that table together even on those rare occasions when supper was a pepperoni pie from Pizza Hut or submarine sandwiches from our local (and now defunct) deli, Ol’ Haileys.
The table was always set with silverware and paper napkins.
Dave and I always drank milk with dinner–no sodas or sweet tea in our house–and we ate what Mom or Dad had made for us, no exceptions, no special orders. We were expected to try new foods before we decided we didn’t like them. And if there was dessert, we could enjoy that sweet treat only after we had finished our dinner.
I say that no one dared question this sacred ceremony of supper, but that’s not entirely true.
My mom and I reminisced the other day about one of our very favorite meals: sloppy joes (Manwich from a can, obviously) with macaroni and cheese (Kraft from a box, naturally). The messy meaty sandwiches perfectly complemented those creamy orange noodles, all washed down with a tall glass of milk (of course).
But one night, for some reason that I promise I would tell you if only I could remember it, I decided I was not–do you hear me? NOT!–going to eat sloppy joes.
The napkins, the silverware, the glasses of milk were already on the table. The sloppy joes were already assembled on our plates, the macaroni and cheese already heaped beside them.
And I said, “I don’t like sloppy joes.”
“Yes you do,” Mom said. “You’ve had them before.”
“Well, I don’t want sloppy joes,” I said.
“Fine,” Mom said.
Young as she was, she knew she couldn’t win a battle of wills with a four-year-old. But she had size and authority on her side, so when she said what she said next, I had no choice but to obey. “Go to your room,” she said.
And I did.
I stalked to my room, sulked in my room, eventually sobbed in my room because I really was hungry and I really did want sloppy joes and macaroni and cheese, and my room was closest to the dining room, so I could hear everyone else eating and enjoying their sloppy joes and macaroni and cheese–enjoying their suppers while I moped, miserable and hungry.
When Dad finally came to get me, much later, I walked with him back to the dinner table. There, right where I had left it, was my lonely, cold plate. Cold sloppy joe. Cold macaroni and cheese, almost solid from sitting out for so long.
My three-year-old brother, I’m fairly certain, was messily slurping on the fudgsicle he’d earned for cleaning his plate.
I remember all of this so well: the argument with my mother, the haze of the setting sun filtering through my bedroom curtains as I wallowed while they all ate, the anger I felt before it dissolved into pitiful, hungry shame.
But I have no idea whether I ate that cold sloppy joe or went back to bed without eating a thing.
Either way, my mom and dad won.
It took me at least one more tantrum to learn my lesson for good–but the egg salad incident is another story for another time.
You’d think sloppy joes might dredge up painful memories for me, that the very thought of messy meat on a bun might propel me into a rage or a fit of tears.
But actually, despite my traumatic experience with these saucy sandwiches, I love sloppy joes. They make me smile with child-of-the-80s nostalgia, the same way I smile when I think of my teenage aunt Missy’s asymmetrical perm or those matching Easter dresses my mom sewed for us with the flowers and the puffy sleeves.
So when Micah and I were brainstorming ways to use up a surplus of sandwich buns we had leftover from that Hudson family cookout we hosted two weeks ago, one of the first things we thought of was sloppy joes.
Instead of ground beef or turkey, we defrosted a pound of ground pork breakfast sausage from Moonshine Meats, because it was what we had a lot of in the freezer. And since we don’t keep Manwich around, we used some of this stuff to sauce our sandwiches:
Emily G’s is a Georgia-based purveyor of jams, sauces, and seasonings, and this particular sauce was the food item in our wine club box from Shiraz last month. I was familiar with berbere because of that Ethiopian meal I cooked a couple months back, and I had a hunch that the smoky, spicy, sweet flavors of the sauce might make a perfect sloppy joe.
When I told my mom about this meal, she laughed. “Those are too fancy to call sloppy joes,” she said. “What you made were disorderly josephs.”
There’s really no recipe for me to tell you, but here’s how we made them:
- Wrap four sandwich buns in foil and heat in a 350°F oven for about 10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, brown 1 pound of medium heat pork breakfast sausage in a skillet over medium heat.
- Drain off some of the fat, then return the skillet to the heat.
- Stir in 4-6 tablespoons of the berbere sauce or another tomato-based sauce (depending on how disorderly you want your josephs to be).
- Cook until the sauce has heated through and thickened a bit. You can add a sprinkle of flour if you want to help this along.
- Once the meat is done cooking, get your warm buns out of the oven, open them up, and fill each one with a scoop of messy, meaty goodness.
- Eat and enjoy–with plenty of napkins.
The beauty of sloppy joes is that you can really sauce them with whatever you happen to have around. Barbecue sauce and ketchup are perfectly reasonable options, not to mention salsa or marinara. Or you could sloppify your joes with a homemade sauce of fresh or canned tomatoes and whatever seasonings you feel like throwing in. The possibilities are truly endless.
In the fuzzy foreground of the above photo, you can see what we ate on the side, but here they are again:
Micah made these delicious oven-baked french fries from a recipe on Fork and Beans for Shira’s Spiced Potato Bakes. We didn’t change a thing about the potato recipe, which Shira did quite a nice job explaining in the original post, so I’ll let you go visit that.
We did change up the dipping sauce, though, mostly because we had an excess of fresh parsley and no fresh cilantro. So here’s what I put in ours:
- 3/4 cup Greek yogurt
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
Mix all of this together in a small bowl and keep it cool in the refrigerator until you’re ready to eat.
sloppy joes disorderly josephs, oven-baked fries, and beer might not sound like much of a date-night dinner, I assure you that this lovely meal was perfectly suited for a happy Friday evening with my honey, just as it was perfectly suited for a lunch of leftovers yesterday.
And what if I make this supper for my kids some day and my own four-year-old daughter turns up her nose at one of my sloppy joes? Well, I would gobble up that poor, neglected sandwich in a heartbeat.