Debbie Matthews: Bosco, books and garbanzo beans
I adore Petey and The Kid. But about the time preschool started, I was feeling the need to increase the number of humans with which I interacted on a daily basis. At that time, the grand total was three: my husband, our toddler, and the mailman, when he didn’t make a fast enough getaway.
I decided if I had a job during my child’s school hours it could expand my world some, and get our postman to forget about a restraining order.
At the time, I knew retail and I knew books.
So, when I saw an ad for an independent bookseller looking for a part-timer to work weekdays, I went for an interview.
The polite, balding owner and I had a Coke and discussed the position.
My personality struck Bosco as humorless and negative, but qualified. I thought my new employer was a bookish, boring, middle-aged old maid.
And we were both completely wrong about each other (except I was qualified).
Very quickly, I learned just how badly I had judged Bosco. He has a wicked sense of humor. I worked from 10-2 each day, and we laughed until we cried for at least three of those hours. We both loved the new phenomenon called reality TV, and we both saw the funny side of life. It was less like work, and more like a four-hour, side-splitting coffee break.
Every week, I would bake a sweet treat and take it in. Bosco loved sweets, and well, I kinda like food myself.
Through absolutely no fault of my own, he was diagnosed with diabetes, so the confections stopped, but I continued to cook for my friend.
The first time I made cheese straws, I proudly presented them to this bred-in-the-bone Southern gentleman.
The cheesy flavor was there, but I had no idea how to handle pastry dough. They were so rubbery they could have been used in the production of flip-flops.
To this day, even after giving him tens of dozens of flaky, golden cheese straws, he stills teases me about my homemade hand balls.
Bosco and his partner Barry still refer to especially efficient assistants as “Debbies.”
Bosco and his partner Barry moved to Philadelphia not long before college started. The city and their 18th century home were a refuge halfway between Durham and Vermont.
To cheer us up, the day after we dropped off The Kid at NECI for freshman year, he took Petey and me for our first visit to Philly’s historic Reading Terminal Market; a ginormous, breath-taking Mecca for all things edible. It’s tough to be totally heartbroken while seeing and eating such glorious food.
He taught me about literature. My tastes progressed from beach reads by Danielle Steel and Judith Krantz to worthier tomes by folks like Herman Wouk and John Kennedy Toole. He never could wean me from a nice, juicy “Star Trek The Next Generation” novel, though.
One day, he taught me something about food.
He’d occasionally bring his lunch to the store, and on this occasion I went into the back room while he was eating.
First I smelled it. It was redolent of garlic. That got my attention. Then I peeked. It was a rice dish with hamburger and chick peas.
I may have overstepped a little bit then; I asked (maybe begged is a more accurate term) for a taste.
It was really delicious. The flavors were mild but yummy. The garbanzos were a creamy pop, and the hamburger was beefy and rich.
Bosco was puzzled. “It’s just a simple throw together, nothing special.”
But it was special. I made it at home, and Petey and I loved it (The Kid’s not a big chick pea fan).
I spoke to my old boss this week and asked for permission to share the recipe. Because I can never leave well enough alone, I’ve amended it just a little, with fresh herbs and a touch of sherry. But Bosco wouldn’t mind—he’s just that kind of guy.
Bosco’s Chick Peas and Rice
1 pound 85(lean)/25(fat) ground beef
2 cups white rice (I like Jasmine)
1 15 oz. can chick peas, drained and rinsed
½ yellow onion, chopped
5 garlic cloves, diced or put through a press
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh thyme
½ teaspoon fresh rosemary, very finely chopped
½ cup dry sherry
1 bay leaf
2-3 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
3 cups water
3 tablespoons Italian parsley, chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3/4 teaspoon black pepper
Break hamburger into bite size pieces and cook with half the salt and pepper in large pot. Let the beef brown well before gently stirring, this will translate into flavor. When it’s cooked through, add onions and cook just until they start to soften; if they brown, they will be too sweet. Add rice and let toast a bit. Add the rest of the salt and pepper, and all the thyme, rosemary and garlic. When you can smell the garlic and herbs, pour in sherry, and deglaze, scraping up any browned bits. When the wine has evaporated, add water, Worcestershire and bay leaf. Bring to boil, cover, reduce heat to medium low, and cook for 17-20 minutes or until all the liquid is absorbed.
Remove from heat and let stand covered for 10 minutes, then stir in parsley.
Makes one big pot of supper.
I serve this with a simple grape tomato salad.
I slice in half two pints of the little red jewels, and mix in 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons of mayonnaise and bitter orange adobo to taste. If you don’t have adobo, use garlic salt, freshly cracked black pepper, and a small sprinkling of dried oregano.
I am so grateful I answered Bosco’s ad all those years ago. But even if he’d done nothing else for me, that kind, wonderful man took me to not one, but two Duke men’s basketball games (we beat State both times). And for that divine mitzvah, I’d gladly give him a kidney, my left lung, and maybe my first born (sorry, Kid).
Thanks for your time.
Debbie Matthews lives, writes and cooks in Durham. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.