My name is Jenny, and I am a soccer mom. I worry sometimes that this confession will make me seem less hip, or irrelevant to the food blogosphere. Then I remember that I am in no way hip, and that “relevancy” and “blogosphere” probably shouldn’t be used in the same sentence. So let me embrace my true identity: I am Jenny. And I am a soccer mom.
I have been involved in our local recreational soccer league for eleven years, since my son was four. I have served as coach, league secretary, and proud parent. I currently hold the lofty title of County Coordinator, and I enjoy the heady power and countless perks of this position. During this time, I have managed to learn virtually nothing about the rules of soccer–don’t ask me to explain what it means to be offsides. But what I have learned is that the concession stand matters. It is the beating heart of the league, my raison d’être as a soccer mom.
I spend a lot of time in the concession stand, and I have ever since I got involved with the Hazard Perry County Youth Soccer League (HPCYSL—I keep trying to get everyone to treat this as an acronym and to pronounce it Hip-Sizzle, but it hasn’t caught on). There are other moms who spend a lot of time in there too. My friend Janet spends so much time in there that last season, she painted it in bright colors and put in an accent wall. I challenge you to find another concession stand with an accent wall. The point is, we spend a lot of time up at the field, and while we’re there, we want to eat well.
I’m concerned about health. I worry about childhood obesity and gluten intolerance and sustainability and a host of other food issues. But I also secretly love that gooey, yellow, fake cheese stuff they serve with nachos at concession stands everywhere. (Actually, I guess it’s not really a secret if I’m posting it on a blog, is it?) So in our concession stand, I’ve tried to create a subtle balance between health and delicious sloth. Ostensibly, the concession stand should make money for the league—it should turn a profit. And ours turns a very small profit. But really, like I said, we stock the concession stand with stuff we like to eat.
Last season I did grilled Caesar salad pizzas for a while, but I got tired of making 50 hand-tossed half whole wheat crusts every week, and anyway, that seemed a little show-offy, even for me. (Another confession: not only am I a soccer mom, but I’m really conceited and the only reason I cook for people is so they’ll say nice things to me.) I have a commitment to purchasing all-beef hotdogs, instead of just the very cheapest ones I can buy, because we have a number of families who don’t eat pork. I pride myself on having at least four kinds of seasoning for our newly acquired popcorn popper (white truffle salt, anyone?) and good condiments for our sandwiches. And of course we also have French fries, and nacho chips, and the ever popular icy pops. Balance.
My favorite Sunday afternoon soccer meals are Pulled Pork Sandwiches and Chili Dogs. I tend to alternate Sundays with these meals, or let my husband have one while I have the other so we can share. The pulled pork is nothing fancy—it’s not smoked, for instance, although I do love smoked pulled pork. Instead, I buy a Boston butt, preferably with the bone in, and cook it in a crock pot. But it’s still pretty delicious. Scroll down for the recipe.
The chili dogs are just standard chili dogs—beef dog (although I actually prefer the ones with snouts and tails and all manner of meat bits), soft bun, and chili. But I use vegetarian chili. I do this because it’s so much cheaper to make than beef chili, and because most people never guess it’s vegetarian—it has the exact texture and appearance of chili made with really cheap ground beef. I also do it because I like to make Scott McReynolds and Jennifer Weeber, our resident soccer vegetarians, happy. But mostly, to tell the truth, I do it for the reason I do most things: I like it better than regular chili. Again, scroll down for the recipe.
I could buy pre-pulled pork and slap it in a crock pot and call it a day. I could open a can of hot dog chili and be done with it. I could shop around more aggressively for bargains and probably bring in more profit for the league. I could also try harder to get other parents to volunteer to work the concession stand so I wouldn’t have to stay up there all afternoon Sunday. I could become one of those parents who drives up to the field, climbs out of my van, and settles down on the sidelines in my nifty little folding chair. I could cheer my little girl on during her game and then gather her up and leave.
But the truth is, I love the concession stand. I love spending all that time making pork and chili, even if most people probably would prefer the pre-pulled, pre-seasoned, processed stuff. I find pork pulling a meditative exercise. I love to hang out with Janet and Chris and Lezlie and the other concession stand folks. I love watching the sun move across the fields and seeing all the little kids come up for icy pops. I love that Zoey must have her chili cheese fries after every game. I’ll just go on and say it: I love being a soccer mom, and if I’m going to be one, then I’m going to make it matter, one pulled pork sandwich at a time.
- 1 Boston Butt, of a size that will fit in your crock pot
- 1 large onion, cut into quarters, skin left on
- 4 dried Ancho peppers
- 1 head garlic, roughly smashed, no need to peel cloves–just whack it against the counter until it falls apart and the cloves burst open
- 1 carrot, cut into large-ish chunks
- 1 stalk celery, cut into large-ish chunks
- Salt and Pepper to taste
Brown the pork on all sides, or as much as you can, in a cast iron skillet. Do the fat side first and it should render enough fat that you don’t need more, but if you do, add some. Remove the pork to your crock pot. (Or your sister’s crock pot, or the fancy Ninja cooker you scored at some fancy pants bloggers convention, or whatever. I don’t know your life.) Turn the heat to medium and saute all the vegetables except the anchos until they’re nice and brown. Don’t skip this step–it adds a lot of flavor, even if it does take a while. Dump the vegetables and anchos into the crock pot and push them down on the sides of and under the meat. Cover the whole thing with water and set on low for a really, really long time–six to ten hours, depending on the size of your butt (hee, hee–I said size of your butt!). When the pork falls apart when you try to lift it, it’s done. Remove the pork to a bowl to cool and strain the liquid into a pot. Boil it down, reducing it by at least half, maybe more. Force some of the now-softened anchos, onions and garlic through a seive into the liquid–about a quarter cup or more–taste it to see what you like. Use your hands to pull the pork apart, discarding (or, if you’re me, eating) the fat and gristle. Salt the pork to taste and add a little of the reduced cooking liquid–reserve the rest to add to the crock pot to prevent the meat from drying. Serve on buns with a choice of sauces–at our concession stand, we have Sweet Baby Rays for the traditionalists, and usually some Carolina Red sauce when I remember to make it, homemade tomato jam, and giardiniera that I grind up in the food processor. And of course, Sriracha. Always sriracha.
- 2 cups TVP (texturized vegetable protein—sometimes you can get this at Food City, sometimes you can’t.)
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 5 cloves fresh garlic, chopped
- 1 large green bell pepper, chopped
- 1 jar Goya brand Sofrito (you can leave this out, but it adds a lot of depth without hours of browning vegetables)
- 2 1lb can pureed tomatoes, low salt
- 4 tablespoons good chili powder (smell it—if it smells good, it’ll taste good. I am currently loving a blend from Penzey’s called Chili 3000, partly for its slightly silly name, mostly for its almost citrusy brightness.)
- Salt and hot pepper to taste
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot but not smoking, add the chopped onion. Stir frequently. You want the onion to just start to brown but not to burn. When the onion starts to brown, add the garlic and the chopped pepper. You can substitute hotter peppers, like Anaheim or jalapeno, if you like it spicier. Lower the heat and sauté the vegetables until they are starting to brown—don’t skip this step, because the browning is what adds a lot of flavor. Add the chili powder and stir it into the vegetables. Add the TVP, and the jar of Sofrito. Add the tomatoes and two cans of water, or more if it looks too dry. Salt to taste. Simmer for one hour, or longer if you want. Best served on hot dogs, but pretty good on chili cheese fries and nachos, too, or even all on it’s own.
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