Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Precious Possessions: Mom's Stuffed Bell Peppers

I’ve got a short list of things that I would grab should my house catch on fire. I have heard that we should keep the things we hold dear together in a box so if this should ever happen we can grab our box quickly and get out. I choose not to do this; I chose to run around rummaging through drawers and closets looking for things while the fire department calls my name through a bullhorn from the curb outside. Well, not really, but that’s what is probably going to happen if I don’t get it together.

Assembling my "fire box" should actually be pretty easy because I won’t need a very big one. Over the years I’ve learned some pretty good lessons the hard way about material possessions and their importance.

When my mother died unexpectedly when I was 21, her sister and mother packed all of her things and moved her out of her apartment without anyone knowing it. My sister and I were totally blindsided by this and devastated when they kept everything of hers, giving us nothing, no photos, no jewelry, no mementoes, nothing. My mother didn’t really have anything very valuable which made their actions all the more hurtful and curious. I never spoke to either of them again and as you can probably tell, it is no great loss.

Several years later when I was packing up my home to move, a miracle happened. Somehow along the road of life, one of my mother’s bowls from her favorite set of dishes appeared in my cabinet out of nowhere. This dish took me back to the Christmas many years earlier, before she and my dad divorced, when he gave them to her. She had admired these dishes for months, and not being able to justify buying a new set, thought that they would never be hers. I’ll never forget how happy she was that morning when she opened them.


It struck me as I held this bowl that day, that I knew how my mother must have felt when she first held it in her hand. The bowl isn’t really my taste, it has a chip on the side and it is a bit worn, but it is a connection to her. It is also one of my most prized possessions that would definitely go in my fire box along with my children’s scrapbooks and my dad’s cowboy boots.

Over the years my sister and I have been able to reconstruct our childhood through photos and things that sympathetic relatives have given us. I can honestly say that we have moved on and haven’t looked back in years. Oh sure, if I let myself think about it too much I can still get angry but what good would that do? I really should thank my aunt and my grandmother for helping me learn very early in life that while possessions are nice, life's greatest treasures are things that cannot be taken from you. I know it sounds hokey but it’s true, love and memories are the most precious possessions of all.


Fortunately I have great memories of cooking with my mother. She passed on many delicious recipes to my sister and me before she died. She made great cabbage rolls, coconut cream pie and her meatloaf was the best ever. One of my personal favorites of hers was her stuffed peppers. They were simple, fresh and delicious. I just love making these this time of year with fresh peppers from the farmers' market.

Mom's Stuffed Bell Peppers

1 slice sandwich bread, crumbled
3 tablespoons milk
2 large bell peppers (your favorite color)
1 – 1/4 pound ground beef (chicken, turkey or pork work well too)
1 small onion, finely minced
1 cup cooked rice (some people like to use uncooked instant rice, but Mom and I like the results of cooked rice)
1 teaspoon beef bouillon granules
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
Freshly ground black pepper
1 – 28 ounce can chopped tomatoes

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine breadcrumbs and milk in a small bowl; set aside.

Cut bell peppers in half lengthwise and clean the seeds and membranes out of the middle. With the tines of a fork, poke several holes in the middle of each pepper half so meat juices can drain; set aside.

In a large bowl combine the ground meat, onion, bouillon granules, garlic, black pepper, rice and breadcrumb mixture. Mix until just combined. Divide the meat into 4 even portions and stuff into each bell pepper half, mounding if necessary. Nestle peppers in a bowl that isn’t too big, so peppers support each other during cooking.

Place peppers in the preheated oven and bake for approximately 45 - 60 minutes or until they are firm and cooked through. Pour the tomatoes over the top of the peppers. Return to the oven and continue baking for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and rest for 5 minutes before serving with tomatoes and juice spooned over the top.

Serves 4
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