Mary Beth Writes


We’d been married about five minutes when I offered to make goulash for dinner. Len was happy about this. Can’t remember what he said, but his tone of voice was sprightly. Len loves tasty things to eat.

I made it just like my mom made it. Fry hamburger as one boils noodles or elbow macaroni. Stir those entities together in a casserole dish with condensed tomato soup. The culinary secret is to not add water to the soup. You remember.

Maybe cover it with foil, put in the oven, bake at 350 for 45 minutes to a couple hours. Take the foil off the last ten minutes to get the top crunchy.

I did these things although by then I was pretty sophisticated so I may have sauteed some garlic and onions with the meat.

I brought it to the table. Len looked at the casserole dish with concern.

“I thought you were making goulash?”

I was as confused as he was.

“I did. This is goulash!”

“No, it isn’t.”

It wasn’t the best evening of our new marriage.

A few months later we ate at a small Hungarian restaurant under the El stop at Western and Lincoln. That’s when I understood. Goulash is beef chunks simmered for hours, vibrant with paprika, served over noodles so thick and chewy they would make a food critic weep. Red wine might be in in the meaty sauce and is definitely in the goblet next to one’s plate.

I’ve never made it since. Just never got around to it. When one of you suggested ‘G is for Goulash’, I suggested to Len that he make chicken goulash. Cuz beef is so expensive right now, right?

He tried but it was, well, turnabout is fair play, right? It wasn’t great. We only had smoked paprika. I don’t know what else he put in the simmering sauce, but it had that rare hint of burnt plastic. He’s probably going to look at me over the top of his glasses for saying so, but it’s incredibly rare for a Leonard meal to fail – but it does happen.

He ate most of the chicken over the next few days and the yucky sauce went to yucky sauce heaven.

Goulash means 'herd of cattle' and ‘guys who herd’ in Hungarian. Goulash is a stew made by herders for herders. A thousand years ago central plains herders kept track of sheep. Over time they also herded cattle. However, no one ever went Brokeback Mountain on chicken herding, which is why our goulash didn’t work.

The recipe begins with a tough chunk of a 4-legged animal. You are the not-rich herder/farmer so you don’t get the filet, you know? You get the shoulders, ankles, haunches, other tough well-exercised parts. The meat stews a long time which breaks down the collagen which becomes its own thickener. Paprika also thickens the sauce. Goulash never is thickened with a flour or other grain-based roux. This is simply tough meat cooked all day.

Potatoes, peppers, and tomatoes are okay, but only if you live post-Columbus - those are New World American foods. Paprika is dried and pulverized sweet red peppers; it didn’t join the goulash recipe until  the last few centuries.

Goulash is now considered one of the awesome, specialized foods of several eastern European and central plains Asian nations. When we want to eat it in all its glory we go to ethnic restaurants.

Which is ironic. The foods we love the best and cook the least are inexpensive foods made from local, at-hand, sustainable ingredients. Often no one knows how to cook these delights anymore except rare older folks who lived on too little income a very long time.

This morning I prepped for a simple birthday event this afternoon for my young friends. I didn’t want to drive out and spend a random bunch of money to get pizza and cupcakes; I knew I could make these things at home. So just this just this morning I made chocolate cupcakes, icing, pizza sauce, shredded a bunch of cheese, and fried Italian sausage we had in the freezer. Will make the pizza dough this afternoon.

It took three hours.

Cooking inexpensive foods at home takes effort and time. It makes a mess. The pedometer app on my watch says I walked a mile in my own dang kitchen doing the above.

Maybe we should use ‘goulash’ as a verb. It could mean to use the modest ingredients at hand to cook something tasty to share with others.

“Come on over, I’ll goulash up something.”

Have a good weekend.



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Y is for Yellowstone


Back in February I asked you to give me topics to write about that would correspond to the alphabet. Sometimes several of you sent ideas for one letter and sometimes I wrote about all of them (I’s and S’s) Here we are at letter Y for which your suggestions are Yummy Food and Yawns. The word yawn absolutely makes me yawn; no way I could write about that - I would yawn for hours. I worked on Yummy Food but could only find a scolding voice about Americans eating too much sugar. Bah. True but not interesting.

So, I gave Y a go again. Y is for?

"I was Scott Simon's teller."


First of all - Thank you to those of you who came to the Wisconsin Writers Association zoom gala last night. I HAD received an email a week ago which said I would be reading my whole story. Cutting it in half while I was reading was awkward! It was still a happy event for me and the other writers. Thanks for being there! 

X is for Xeriscape


Xeriscape is pronounced ‘zeer-eh-scape’ and it means landscaping with little to no irrigated water. Readers in the west already know about this. Those of us who don’t live in arid or desert places need to wake up to the incredible resource that water is - then begin to accommodate ourselves to “water all around and beneath us all the time” is no longer our reality. Nor is it our right. We’ve got to get smarter and do better.

W is for Wonder


To whomever suggested Wonder - Thank You!  ‘Wonder’ has been bobbing in my mind like a frog in a pond.

However, I have FOUR suggestions from you guys for X - but I do not want to write four X essays. These are the suggestions:

1.) X signature substitution

2.) xylophone on a string pulled by a toddler

3.) xenophobia

4.) Xmas. 

If you have an opinion respond with the one you would like me to attempt. I will choose whichever X gets the most comments.

There will be no gerrymandering in this election.



Grownups Noticing Their Lives


Most of you know about my former weird and lovely job of coordinating an employability skills program for Huber-qualified inmates in the Racine County Jail (that’s a mouthful). Early on I realized that most of the people I would work with were people with 1.) huge addiction problems, and 2.) underlying and over-the-top and to-the-side just lying around mental health issues.

V is for Vocabulary


For those who are new here - This year I am writing about topics, in alphabetical order, that were suggested to me by readers. Sometimes this is hard! 


My cousin-in-law Dave has some powerfully thorough avocations (for fun and profit he earned a PhD in biochemistry; you will notice this in his list). This year, among other pursuits, he has been collecting words which have appeared in our culture since 1945, which was the year he also appeared in our culture.

Tag Cloud

9/11 17 minutes 500 Words A-Z AARPtaxes AAUW abortion Acadia accident Accountable Advent aging Alaska anniversary antibiotics antlers apples appointments Arrows art Ashland August Augustine aunts baby Badlands balance Baldwin Barbara Barkskins Beauty Becky Becoming Esther Berry birthday bistro BLM Blue BookReport books boy scout Bread BrokenDays BuyAngry Cabeza de Vaca Cahokia calendars Canada canoe cat romance cats cello Chicago China Choosing Christmas cilantro Cinnabuns circus climate change clouds Clowns clutter Colonialism comet ComfortZone CommonSense community consumerism Cops Corvid-19 Courage Covid-19 Crazy creditreport creosote CrimeShows danger DarkRiver death Debate December DecisionFatigue decluttering democracy dentist depression Destination Today Detroit Didion disasterprep dogs dollhouse Dreams Duty Easter eBay Echoes Eclipse election EmilyDickinson eschatology Esquipulas exit polls eyes Fable FairTrade family farmer Fata Morgana ferns firealarm Fitness Five Flatbread Flexible flu Food Pantry Fort de Chartres frame Franc FrancGarcia friends frugal FrugalHacks Frugality frustration Ft.Ticonderoga fungi fusion Galena Gannets Garden GarfieldParkConservatory Gaspe genius geode GeorgeFloyd gerrymandering ghosts gifts girls GNTL gorgons goulash GovernorThompsonStatePark Graduation grandkids granola groceries Guatemala gum guns Hair happiness HaveYouEver? hawks healthcare Healthinsurance hearings heart heaven HelleKBerry heroes hike History home HomeRepair Honduras Hope HowCrowGotOutofJail humor hurricane Ice Cream idiosyncrasy igloos impeachment Innkeeper Instincts integrity InternetPrivacy Interview InviteMe2Speak James Baldwin Jan 6 Janus jewelry JoyceAndrews Judy JulianofNorwich Jump justice Karen kites ladder Lady Lamb LangstonHuges LaphamPeak laundry LeeLeeMcKnight lemming Len Light Lincoln Little Women LockedOut Loki loneliness LouisArmstrong Love Ludington Macaw macho Manitoulin MargaretFuller Maria Hamilton Marquette marriage Marsden Hartley masks Mayan MayaWorks meme Memories men Middlemarch MilesWallyDiego MindfulChickens Mistakes MLK moon Mother MothersDay mounds mouser movies museums must-haves Mustapha NAMI Nancy Drew Newfoundland New Mexico New York City Nomadland nope observation OBUUC Ocotillo OnaJudge ordinary OscarRomero osprey Outside oximeter Parade mayhem PastorBettyRendon Paul Hessert PDQ Penny persimmon photos Pi Pies pineapples poetry Preaching privacy procrastination Protest QE2 Quern quest Questions Rabbit holes racism reading recipe recipes recommendations Remember RepresentationMatters Reruns responsetoKapenga Retirement rhubarb Ricky rime RitesofPassage romance Rosemary Ruether Roses Roti Ruth SamaritanWoman Sanctuary Sandhillcranes Santuario de Chimayo SaraKurtz SaraRodriguez satellites ScottSimon sculpture Seasons Sermon ServantsoftheQuest sewing Shepherd Shontay ShortStory shoulder sick sickness Slower snow Social Security SofritoBandito solstice South Dakota SpaceShuttle spirituality spring square feet staining stars stele Stereotypes stories StoryStarts stream monitoring stress Survival swim Talent taxes teenager thankgsgiving Thanksgiving TheBridge TheMaid ThePerpetualYou therapy ThreeBillBoards Three Thing ThreeThings Three Things TidalBore TimeBeing toddler Tom tortillas Trains travel Traveler Tubing turtle Twilight Bark Tyrone Ukraine Ulysses Grant Umbrella UnrelatedObservations Up North urgency vacation vaccine Valentines vanilla Vietnam vision VivianWokeUpDrowning Vocabulary vole volunteer WalkingAndSeeing Wampanaog war WarsanShire weather weaving Webs wedding whines WhyAttendChurch Wiley Willa WillaCather Wisteria Won! Wonder words Xeriscape Yellowstone
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