The Recipe for Tastebuds Gourmet Grilled Meatloaf, and the Power of Generous Portions and People
And Now...Back To Our Regularly Scheduled Program!
This Newsletter was scheduled for May 27th. The enthusiasm I am expressing below, pertained to my story about Joy and Happiness, which posted May 13th, before back to back mass massacres made it impossible for me to stay silent about random gun violence in America. I am deeply touched by the outpour of love and support I received and suddenly, I don’t feel so all alone in my outrage and fear. Thank you!
Welcome to my fourth post everyone!
I am still walking on air, after reading all the positive comments and kind messages I have received. Literally, I have been jumping up and down all week, often scooping Ari up in my arms and spinning him around, screaming, “I am a writer! I’m doing it, I’m really doing it!” Thank you so much for reading my work, it means the world to me!
Big News for the Incredibly Generous Paid Subscribers!!!
I wish to show my gratitude and appreciation that you signed up before I really pushed anyone to do it! I am humbled. Your kindness will never be forgotten!
Please select a Giclee Print from the brochure below and I will send it to you, with the help of my sister, Erin McGinty Perk! This may take several months to complete, but lucky for you, patience is another virtue that will be added to your good person portfolio! Kindly email your choice of print, and the address where you would like it to be delivered, to email@example.com by June 30th. (These are prints of my paintings that adorned the walls of Tastebuds Restaurant for years and are now for sale.)
This reminds me of the time, when my mom and I attended a talk and book signing given by the legendary and lovable food critic and author, Ruth Reichl, held at the Cleveland Public Library downtown.
I recognized one of Tastebuds beloved regulars on stage, and she seemed to be in charge of the entire event. For me, this woman was a force of nature, a champion of others, who sees the potential and empowers those around her, whether they like it or not! (I was unable to get ahold of her to personally allow me to use her name, so I will call her Dee.)
Back when I started Tastebuds, I lacked the confidence and courage to cater for anyone other than friends or family. Dee insisted on hosting an event for very distinguished guests, catered by me, and did everything in her power to convince me that I could not only do it, but do it exceptionally well. Hers was the first of countless parties that followed and I am grateful to this day!
As my mom and I got in line to get our books signed, with hundreds of other people, Dee spotted us and she waved for us to join her on stage. As much as my mom and I would have loved to, there was no way, we were going to cut in front of all the people ahead of us, and Dee knew it too. So, she came down, laughing and shaking her head, and she dragged us amusingly by our arms, right up to the table where Ruth Reichl was sitting signing away!
Dee presented me, in such a way, that it caused Ruth Reichl to jump to her feet! She said, “I want you to meet, the Best Chef in Cleveland!” Then mumbled, “Maybe even the whole world!” Shrugging her shoulders, eyeing me and nudging her head toward Ruth, seeming to say, “Now go and make her glad to have met you!”
It was one of the proudest moments of my life! The next time Dee came into the restaurant I told her I wanted to buy her lunch. She insisted she pay, and I told her, “Look, I want to buy you a house for how you made me feel that day, but this is the best I can do at the moment, so please, allow me to do this!”
The print too, is just a small token of my appreciation, please allow me to do this! Thank You!
There have been many chefs who have inspired me, Karen Small (Ninth Street grill) being the first and most influential, and then there was Ayman Alkayali (Algebra Tea House), Michael Symon (Lola), Vid Lutz (Johnny’s Downtown), Jeff Fisher (Salted Dough), John Kolar (Thyme2), and Paul Minillo (Baricelli Inn). But, if I were to take a step back, and look at my entire life as a whole, which is essentially what I’m doing here in Ireland, there is one person that I can point to, as the single most influential person in my life, my Great Aunt Etta Mahoney.
Etta was wealthy, as far as we could tell! She never missed a birthday or Christmas, sending out cards with crisp new one dollar bills that my cousins, siblings and I cherished, and there were a lot of us! She owned an estate, consisting of three houses with multiple apartments, and would often rent (cheaply) to her nieces and nephews, who were just beginning families. I was born there and my family lived in the front house at 3003 Detroit Avenue, till I was two.
It turns out, Etta wasn’t wealthy at all, what she was, was generous, and she is proof that generosity enriches your life more than money or treasures of gold. She was like a second parent to my mom and her eight siblings, who lost their father when my mom was just nine years old. And while so many others knew her longer, and have far more interesting and in depth stories to tell about her, here is my mine.
Meat & Potatoes
It had not occurred to me that the last time I had been to my great aunt Etta Mahoney’s house, that I’d been half this size, or that I’d never seen the house empty of life or love, for that matter. The old house appeared to have shriveled up. Even the walls, ceilings and floors all seemed to be holding onto something that was no longer present. They buckled into one another, like tattered homeless men huddling together to stay warm, long after their fire has died out. I felt betrayed. This was not at all like I remembered.
The air was thick and still. As I lowered my head and pulled my shirt collar over my nose to filter the musty air, something made me smile. Seeing the bright red carpet was like running into someone you know, on a crowded street in a foreign land. This shred of familiarity triggered memories instantaneously. I could hear Etta screaming in horror as my brother and sisters and I ran to greet her, without first wiping the pulp off the bottoms of our shoes, from the Mulberry tree just outside her door. You never heard such vulgarity as she’d kneel to the floor with a scrub brush and pail, wearing a housecoat and an apron!
As my aunt Nancy, the heir to the estate, opened a door, climbed over a snow blower, and lead me upstairs, I had renewed hope. Surely years of sleepless nights, dreaming of restoring the old house and starting a bed-and-breakfast, were not wasted. At the top of the stairs I desperately searched for all those features that Ohio city homes were famous for, but found nothing.
The amazing truth, is that there is no gorgeous woodwork, no leaded glass windows, and no cathedral ceilings. There is no charm and nothing is unique. I stood in awe at the realization that what made this house so wonderful, and what made everyone who ever visited never want to leave, was my Great Aunt Etta herself, her Irish wit, her brutal honesty, her loud sometimes vulgar screams, her warmth and most of all her generosity.
Etta’s was the one place the McGinty family could go and really truly be treated as guests. It was a taste of the good life for all of us, because we hosted almost every holiday that she didn’t, which meant one week of hell, leading up to one very miserable day, followed by a week of exhaustion and regret! My dad would be mad that my mom had such a huge family. My mom would be mad at my dad, that he still hadn’t finished dry walling the first-floor bathroom!
There would be job lists daily for us kids, and there would be no fun or friends, until these tasks were done. It meant, cleaning rooms that were never going to be seen and vacuuming under furniture that was never going to be moved. It meant eight people still needing a shower as the first guests made their way up the driveway, carrying snacks that would be ground in to oriental rugs and beverages that would be spilled onto furniture we were not even allowed to sit on!
Etta’s house was ninety degrees year-round. In winter, coats would be stacked high on her bed, where somehow, they would retain their cool temperature. Later, any heat exhausted casualties could find relief in that heap of wool, cotton and fur. Of course, I think it was the twenty different perfumes and colognes on the coats that snapped the weary back into full consciousness…like smelling salts!
Never before and not since, have I seen a furnace quite like Etta’s. It sat plain as a piece of furniture in her living room, three feet high, four feet long, and two inches away from eminent disaster at all times! I can remember sitting, paralyzed in fear, looking for any adult to tell me that the roar of the furnace won’t lead to an explosion and that the blue flames won’t shoot out far enough to set my chair on fire!
It was rare to see Etta before dinner was served. She would yell hello from the kitchen, and if she had use for you, you’d be called into that tiny little sweat lodge. If you were asked to help, you did your job quick, and you got out fast…you had to!
My father would be summoned immediately upon on our arrival. He had the sacred honor of making highballs for everyone. Occasionally, I would be called in to whisk the tall slippery glasses out of the kitchen and into the hands of anxiously awaiting aunts and uncles, before the ice had completely melted. I can remember standing in the doorway, watching the steam trickle down the foggy windows and walls. Etta would be hunched over in a chair, with her elbows resting above her knees, peeling potatoes with a paring knife and letting them plop down, into a stock pot of water that sat on the floor between her feet… where the oxygen was!
TV trays dotted the living room, topped with bowls of chips, well, the ones that weren’t permanently affixed to the laps of certain cousins, and the coveted Lawson’s French Onion Dip, THE symbol of wealth in Irish society, in Ohio anyway! There was usually a sweaty cheese plate and a platter of vegetables and dip that only ever seemed to interest the toddlers, and more for painting the curtains then for eating!
It was a traumatic thing for us kids to have to keep our holiday best dresses and tights, suits and ties on, in a house so terribly hot. All it would take, was one cousin to get permission from one parent to change into their play clothes, and we would all be liberated. We could then get busy hurting each other or hurting ourselves by playing bloody outdoor games like dodgeball, spud, or 500. Oh yes, these games under normal circumstances are relatively harmless, but we were Irish… West Side Irish! When you threw a ball, you aimed at the head. If someone fell going after a ball, you used them as leverage, and if someone really got seriously hurt, you would call them names while dragging them off the field! With 22 first cousins on this side of the family alone, there was always someone on the sidelines waiting to take your place.
Etta’s estate consisted of three houses. Hers was the biggest and sat on the rear of the property facing Church Avenue, a quiet tree lined street. There was a grassy courtyard between Etta’s and the other two houses, but we chose to play in the parking lot next door, full of pot holes, gravel and broken glass, with no fence dividing it from the fast-moving traffic of Detroit Avenue or the occasional slow moving junkie or prostitute! (This was before we learned to politely refer to them as addicts and sex workers!)
Being called into dinner was painful for us and our parents. We never wanted it to end, whatever we were playing. We begged for one more round or inning or turn. Parents would have to grab their kids and corral them. We would actually have to be herded into the house like cattle. First aid would be applied to the wounded by the gentler parents, however, most would have no sympathy and would yank glass out of skinned knees saying, “Well, what did you expect?” or “Shake it off! Quit being such a baby!”
The sun always seemed to be setting, as we’d sit down to dinner. The gold wallpaper of the dining room would appear to catch fire, as the sun rays danced among the crystal goblets, behind the glass doors of the china cabinet that was always locked.
The long, oval dining table would be set to its maximum capacity with grandmothers china, heavy ornate silverware, glass tumblers with gold designs and silver candelabras with festive candlesticks depicting the season or nearest holiday. Young children would fight for the privilege of lighting the candles, then fight again later, to blow them out.
Stretched through to the living room and into the family room, would be every card table, TV table, end table and coffee table, lined up in a row, with everything from folding chairs and highchairs to lazy boy recliners pulled up to the tables to provide an array of choices for the children to fight over! Age and height were bargaining chips. Young or short cousins could expect to straddle the legs under the table or share a wobbly piano bench with another peewee. Territory was marked by the licking plates and silverware. We were savages!
It wasn’t much better for the adults. Etta always sat at the head of the table nearest to the kitchen door and my Aunt Nancy always sat next to her, in what I like to call, the martyr chair. Anything that was forgotten or anything that needed refilling would be filled by the martyr, a job which I’d always felt would be made easier, if the gravy boat and water pitcher traded rolls. Inevitably their dinner would be cold and the salt and pepper and butter would be a room away at the kids table by the time they needed it…But they will have a place in heaven!
I don’t know if any family is as hard on their in-laws as the Irish… Especially, if they are not Irish! The in-laws could count on two things being handed to them; any food that had fallen on the floor or been undercooked or overcooked or was damaged or broken in any way, would surely find its way onto their plate! They could also expect to be stuck, holding the heaviest platter of food, just as Etta would begin saying Grace. With no room on the table to possibly set it down, they would be forced to balance the platter with one hand and bless themselves with the other, all the while getting disapproving stares! The newer the in-law, the more special intentions added at the end of the prayer!
Etta embodied Ireland. Whether she was raising a glass with an elegant toast, or raising her fist with a sincere threat, she was generous. A story teller, full of grit and grace, a fighter and a lover, she was fiercely independent and funny as hell. She made feeding an army look effortless. It’s no wonder that the local priest Father DiNardo, was always stopping by for cake, coffee and delightful conversation. She seemed to always have another plate of food, or another slice of cake, for any drifters that just happened to be passing through her estate.
She played piano and sang to us after dinner. She shared all of herself with us, but if you were still lingering when her shows came on, Murder She Wrote and Matlock, you dared not get in her way or make a sound. She’d fall into her lazy boy recliner, cleverly disguised by lace doilies and satin pillows and she’d yell to my mom and aunts who were washing and drying dishes, “Just leave those, I can finish them tomorrow!” Then she’d smile at us adorably, letting us know with a wink that she didn’t mean it! I think my mom enjoyed that part of the evening the most, catching up with her sisters.
Finally, we would be told to collect our things and wait by the door, when the adults decided the party was over. That was usually when someone would bring up a very interesting or controversial topic which would go on forever, and there we’d be waiting, hyperthermia setting in! Just when we thought we’d be heading to the car, someone would inevitably need to go potty or worse!
My dad always took the long way home, cruising slowly down Edgewater Drive, as we kids would slip into our cake and Pepsi induced sugar comas. He and my mom would ooh and aah at all the grand old homes lining the coast of our great lake. I imagine, they would have been holding hands, daydreaming of what it would be like to live in a mansion, watching those magnificent sun sets over Lake Erie. Then, glancing back at us, sharing a deflating laugh and a mutual understanding, that it’s never gonna happen! Looking at us in that moment, asleep in the back of the car, quiet and looking angelic in the glow of the street lamps, we probably seemed worth the sacrifice!
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Speaking of Feeding an Army…
When I decided to grill individual portions of meatloaf, to ensure that everyone gets that delicious, caramelized, highly sought after end piece, we were selling 10 or 12 a day. It became quite tedious when we started having to individually grill 80-120 portions every Wednesday, but definitely worth the sacrifice!
The Recipe for Tastebuds Gourmet Grilled Meatloaf & Garlic Mashed Potatoes
Ingredients for the Meatloaf:
1 Pound Ground Beef
2 Stalks Celery
1/2 Small Red Onion
1 Bell Pepper Red or Yellow
1 Clove Chopped Garlic
1/4 Teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
2 Teaspoons Worcestershire
1 Large Egg
1/4 Cup Bread Crumbs (Seasoned Progresso, Italian Style)
3/4 Cup Chicken or Beef Stock (Optional) for baking.
Heat oven to 475 Degrees and fire up a grill if using (so good, but not essential). Rinse and rough chop celery, onion, pepper and garlic and add to food processor, pulsing till finely chopped. Drain and discard any excess liquid. Put mixture into large mixing bowl and add remaining ingredients except Stock. Mix it all together with your hands (gloves are highly recommended). Then form into 4 even balls, then mold into patties about 1” thick.
For Best Results, grill on an open flame a couple minutes per side, before placing meatloaf into baking dish. Add stock or water into baking dish surrounding the patties evenly, then bake for 12-15 minutes, until the internal temperature reaches a minimum155 degrees . Serve with Heinz Tomato Ketchup!
Ingredients for Garlic Mashed Potatoes:
8 (around 4 pounds) Russet or Yukon Gold Potatoes (Cleaned, peeled and cut into quarters)
1/4 Cup Butter (half stick cut into small pieces)
1/2 Cup Sour Cream
2 Cloves Chopped Garlic
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Rosemary
Kosher Salt to Taste
Fresh Ground Black Pepper to Taste
1/2 to 1 Cup 2% Milk
Clean, peel and quarter potatoes. Transfer to 5 quart sauce pan, cover generously with water, add 1 Tablespoon salt and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, until potatoes slide easily off of a paring knife when poked.
Drain potatoes well and return to pan. Let dry a couple minutes, then add remaining ingredients, starting with just a half cup of the milk. Blend with electric mixer on low speed. Taste. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper and the texture by adding more milk, blend at medium speed. Taste again. Adjust again if needed. Then crank up the blender for fluffy potatoes, high speed 10-20 seconds. Serve immediately, with a couple more pats of butter on top, if you like!
You can complete the dish by adding Tastebuds Herbed Green Beans, and you can find that recipe in the Joy and Happiness Newsletter dated May 13th! Enjoy!
My Great Aunt Etta played the piano for silent films, in the 1920’s. When she sat down at her piano, she’d have a ball, playing and singing and telling us great stories, captivating and entertaining us all, with her reminiscing.
Etta never married and she never had any children. She was free to do whatever she pleased, and what she did, was please us all!
This clip reminds me of her and while I always loved her playing the theme from The Lone Ranger, from Gioachino Rossini’s “William Tell Overture,” my favorite was when she played the theme from Dr. Zhivago (1965) “Lara’s Theme” by composer Maurice Jarre. Enjoy!
Thank you for being here once again my friends! It’s not too late to get your complimentary print! If you are enjoying my stories and recipes, and you’d like to further support my work, upgrade to a paid subscription and order by June 30th 2022, to receive a print of your choice, as my ‘Thank You’ gift!