"It's not the load that breaks you down. It's the way you carry it." -Lena Horne
As a young couple, my husband and I were often, by our nation's standards, 'poor'; we have been unemployed while doggedly seeking employment, we have bounced checks, been at a loss as to where money desperately needed was going to come from, and many times simply had to do without. We have heard the dead silent response to our worriedly whispered, "What are we going to do?" and we have, more than once, had to pull items from the grocery bags until the check-out ticket total matched the dollars in our wallet. Growing up, both of our individual families went through periods without much money; my father was a farmer and his was a contruction electrician and the seventies was a tough times for both of them. After years of hard work and good fortune, we now finally find ourselves (for the time being and relatively speaking) financially secure. I've always advised my kids that the only way to be financially secure is to live slightly below your means, whatever those means may be, though I know first hand, when your means are not enough for your basic needs, this is pretty useless advice. Though having money has never made us happy, I know the lack of it has often made me terribly miserable; as Bernadette Peters says in The Jerk, "It's not the money -it's all the stuff." Currently in this country almost 14% of the population, 1 in 7 people in the US, are receiving food stamps and I am pointedly and personally aware of the chasm between The Haves And The Have Nots (click here) living side by side in our society. I don't want to glamorize poverty, but I can honestly say there are lessons and experiences only gained by having to learn to get by. One gain from ourselves, or our parents and grandparents, living without is the family recipes for getting through hard times. Yesterday, when I was making up our weekly menu, I asked for family input and my oldest daughter (recently returned from Austin, Texas and her own personal experiences with Not Having and Hardship) requested we make Kidney Stew, a family recipe for diced kidneys in a German-style sour sauce. This recipe is from my husband's childhood; he learned to make it from his mother, who learned to make it from her mother. When my mother-in-law made this in the seventies, kidneys were cheaply bought. Raising our own meats as we do now, we utilize all parts of the animals, including the kidneys. This is not a glamorous dish but a favorite family recipe enjoyed equally whether living in poverty, or with plenty.
Kidney Stew or German-style Kidneys in Sour Sauce
Prepare kidneys by peeling and then soaking in salted water or water with 1-2 T. vinegar for one hour (optional, if you know the freshness and source of your meats). Remove all fatty bits and then dice beef, pork or lamb kidneys: 1 beef kidney, 4 pork kidneys or 6-8 lamb kidneys for a family of five.
Heat: 2 T. each butter and canola oil
Dice: 1/2 - 1 onion
Saute onion until lightly browned, 10 minutes or so. Add diced kidneys (drain if they were soaked) and continue cooking until pinkish-brown, 5 minutes or so.
Add: 1/3 - 1/2 c. flour
1 1/2 c. water or stock
2 T. vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
Dash Worcestershire Sauce
Stirring constantly, bring to a boil and make a smooth sauce. Reduce heat and simmer 10-15 minutes. Add more water, if needed and/or vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste. Serve over toast, rice, potatoes or noodles with a small pitcher of vinegar for those who want to add more at the table.