When I was a boy, my second-favorite uncle was a “courtesy uncle,” a colleague from my dad’s office and one of my Mum’s tennis partners.
Uncle Frank’s yearly visits were memorable, in part because he was the only visitor allowed to smoke inside our home. A bachelor who traveled throughout Europe, he brought wine, introducing me to my favorite white, a dry Portuguese type called Vinho Verde. Instead of Christmas presents, he brought gift cards for either books or music, which allowed a treat each January.
The only time when Mum, Dad and I visited his modest retirement townhouse in the Navy-base city of Portsmouth, England, Uncle Frank introduced us to his unusual lifestyle.
In his tiny kitchen, he roasted a lamb’s leg, served with way too many potatoes and vegetables. He then tossed the plentiful leftovers into his Crock-Pot, explaining they would “keep him going” for a couple of days without additional effort.
Fast-forward 45 years and I think of Uncle Frank whenever I reach up to a high cupboard to retrieve my Crock-Pot.
During quarantine, it has been a useful companion.
My latest effort came when, clearing out the freezer and tossing away broccoli dating back to 2014, I uncovered some chopped cooked ham.
Navy bean soup immediately came to mind but pinto beans was all I had on my pantry shelf. No matter.
To avoid a constantly smelly kitchen, I slice, cook and freeze onions in batches. I thawed a bag of onions and another of meat.
Into my trusty pot went ham chunks, canned beans, onion, chicken broth and a can of concentrated mushroom soup. Despite the light brown of the pintos, the dish didn’t look especially colorful so I added some sweetcorn.
That’s it, folks. Put it all in the pot, remember to plug it in, set to “low” and stir occasionally. It takes all morning, but if you get it started when you go into the kitchen to fetch your first coffee, it will be ready at lunchtime, bubbling dutifully.
To give it some zip, I add paprika after the first stir, then some black pepper when serving.
I had a lovely meal for three days, twice on its own and once with a grilled cheese sandwich. It fed the inner man and gave me an opportunity to remember the legacy of my Uncle Frank.
A chain smoker with a hacking cough, he collapsed and died on a French railroad platform around the time I left for college. He bequeathed all his money to another family member, enough to pursue his dream of opening a music store. I thought it was absolutely brilliant. Uncle Frank left me a love of classical music, a small collection of European bank notes and some excellent memories. I smile every time I plug in my Crock-Pot.