Mick and I have been on a little cross-country jaunt with Lance, our travel trailer, and I can confirm the rumors you may have heard — this is a huge country. We started out with, as Chuck Berry so aptly put it, “No particular place to go,” and three weeks later ended up in the Coolidge State Park in Plymouth, Vermont. That’s Coolidge, as in Calvin, thirtieth president of the United States. Evidently he was born in Plymouth Notch. It’s absolutely beautiful here, but so far I haven’t seen any notches, and I plan to resume the search tomorrow.
Which got me thinking, as I often do, about Mr. Coolidge, so I looked him up on the internet. Turns out there were some terrific Calvin Coolidge quotes. Who knew? Here are two of my favorites, handpicked for your reading pleasure: “We cannot do everything at once, but we can do something at once” and “I have noticed that nothing I never said ever did me any harm.” Hmmm. I think maybe ’ole Cal and George W. Bush might have hit it off.
But I digress. What I’d really like to discuss today is meat products. Way back a week and a half ago, when we were in Iowa, we experienced a serendipitous encounter after exiting the interstate in search of a Charles Kuralt moment. We dropped into a little market a few miles north of the town of What Cheer. Sure enough, we ended up having an existential conversation with Chris-the-butcher about ham balls.
Chris had that Midwestern college boy look to him, and I’m sure he was learning the meat trade as a way to propel himself through school. Mick struck up a conversation, as he is wont to do, while I gazed into the deli case at the orbs of mystery meat swimming in their sauce. I told Chris that we’d take one, because I knew that my husband, the man who never met a tube meat he didn’t like, would try it. Chris was accommodating, but he replied, “Oh, get at least two. After you taste ’em you’re gonna want more.”
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“Oh yeah, they’re awesome ,” said Chris’ friend, another fresh-faced, behind-the-meat-counter boy. “Just put ‘em in the microwave. They don’t dry up like other stuff.” How could we not heed the advice of two cute, what must surely be, Iowa farm boys? So we got two. I don’t like to think that we might ever run short of ham balls.
While Chris wrapped up our purchase, in the Calvin Coolidge spirit of “doing something at once,” I took a cruise around the market to check for food items that might complement ham balls. I was absolutely thrilled to find a package of 96 slices of American cheese. Seriously, 96 slices. I haven’t seen that much American cheese since Grove Center School cafeteria, circa 1953. Just a Bud Lite or two and our meal would be complete. Ham balls in hand, we bid Chris and his meat compatriot adieu and returned to the hard-scrabble Iowan streets.
Later that evening we popped those little pork suckers in the microwave. Mick didn’t exhibit the excitement I expected, in fact, he displayed what I believe was an understated, Calvin Coolidge demeanor. He seemed hesitant to take the first bite. I was surprised, especially since he had missed out on trying the fried bologna sandwiches we’d seen on a menu the previous day. He did eventually dig in, and, always the considerate spouse, he saved me a bite. In fact he insisted I try it. No doubt pay-back for talking about him in the newspaper. I’m only exaggerating a tad when I say that my eyes were swollen shut the next morning due to sodium overload.
Please be assured that I love the Iowan people, the windmills, the barns, the cows — but ham balls? Not so much. However, Chris the college boy did! Ergo, because I do have a bit of the entrepreneurial spirit, I’m going to contact a friend of mine who loves to cook and begin a discussion about an alternative path, the road less traveled, so to speak, on the SLO County wine trail: A wayside eating establishment where we would offer imported repast with the perfect pairing: Boulette de Jambon avec fromage a la americaine et Bud au diete. I’m telling you — there’s a fortune to be made!
In the immortal words of my mentor Calvin Coolidge, “Don’t you know that four-fifths of all our troubles in this life would disappear if we would just sit down and keep still,” and eat ham balls?
Suzanne Davis is happily retired and living in the South County with her husband and their three dogs. Davis writes special to The Tribune