As I’ve written, I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to have lived in many states over my lifetime, and, for the most part, enjoyed my time in each one. In the early 1990′s I made my first trek to West Virginia lasting one year, and would find myself there once again a few years later for another two.
In the fall, West Virginia seems to almost naturally drift into my conscious thoughts. Living up to its nickname “the mountain state” thanks to the fabulous scenery provided by the Allegheny Mountains, the state seems overly burdened with natural beauty most of the year, but on the advent of fall, West Virginia goes all out. Vibrant colors as though God himself had used the trees for his canvas blanket the land. From the air it appears to be a large colorful quilt with a litter of puppies playing underneath it.
I first crossed the border from Kentucky to West Virginia in early autumn. Trees were showing a hint of color, those leaves already discarded crunching beneath your feet as you walked. My husband at the time was a pipe foreman for a well-known U.S. based engineering and construction company. Being a non-union worker in a strongly union motivated state did not place your name at the top of the list of the communities most beloved citizens, I guarantee you.
Making numerous trips across country, we’d sold our second car to a neighbor in Arkansas on our way out of town. Honed down to one vehicle, we planned to locate a second once settled in our new home. This made it necessary for me to get up at 4:30 in the a.m., pack his sizable lunch, and make the trip across the bridge spanning the Kanawha River from St. Albans to Nitro each morning if I needed transportation. As it turned out, this was to only last one week once it became apparent the union workers at the gate were not gathered to welcome us with a fresh donut or a cup of hot coffee, but rather to prevent the non-union workers from passing through the front gate. Buses were waiting inside the gate to safely transport our workers back into the belly of the plant. Once we dropped off our passengers, those of us providing rides were left to our own devices. This, I have to say, was one hair-raising week for me.
On the first day the trouble was limited to mean-spiritedness by way of taunting and obscene gestures. As the week progressed the name calling elevated to banging on the vehicles with signs as we passed and on that Friday a man actually urinated through my back window and a huge pot of already chewed chewing tobacco was thrown across my front window. That was to be my last day going across the line, and I wasn’t sad to put it behind me. This, by the way is not to defend non-union or union workers because I can see both sides of the coin, only to relate my experiences while on the road, and while in the lovely state of West Virginia.
St. Albans was a sleepy little community nesting on the shores of the Kanawha. The first house we rented was what I referred to as my “doll house”. Three bedrooms and two bathrooms plus a bright and sunny, if diminutive living room, and a kitchen that you stepped down into like a galley on a ship. It was tiny, as though built for a family of Hobbits, but cozy.
The master bedroom was marginally larger than the other two, not visible with the naked eye. Our bedroom set was composed of a king sized bed, an oversized dresser and two large night stands. Getting the mattresses through the door was like trying to stuff an elephant in a sardine can, you’d get the trunk and the head in and the butt and the feet would pop out. Once the frame was set up it became obvious that other than the bed a dachshund and a toothbrush was all there was room for so after cramming in one nightstand the other furniture was relegated to a spare room. In the end the person sleeping closest to the wall had to crawl to the end of the bed and repel themselves over the side. Sigh.
Sitting on a corner lot afforded us a bit more acreage than the other homes on our street. Running behind all the lots was a railroad track with the warning lights located at the cross street directly adjacent to our home. In the light of day, this fact didn’t seem particularly glaring but that changed significantly at around 2:30 a.m. on our first night’s stay.
All floors in the back of the house were the original hardwood floors, with the living room being the only room in the house carpeted. Someone had polished them to a lovely sheen which brought out the natural wood but also required grids on the bottom of your socks lest you glide from room A to room B. On that first night I woke first to the sound of a train whistle. It was loud, really loud. Then, like the I Love Lucy episode when they stay in a country motel and the train moves the bed across the floor, our room began to vibrate. The massive bed literally hydroplaned along the sleek wood as the long train passed by. Its engineer, either fascinated with his whistle or deciding that if he was to be awake everyone was to be awake, blew it copiously while passing by. I could almost picture his face wild with glee laughing hysterically as he pulled the cord with great abandon.
After a while, the sound became almost comforting, and in a month or so I slept through it on most nights. As life would have it, the little house had been on the market for six years without so much as a bite. When we rented it we were assured this should present no problem. Trustingly, I once again unloaded all my boxes and set up house. On Christmas Eve, three months after we’d moved in, a single man from out-of-state asked to view the house and it sold on Christmas Day. Fortunately, we found a larger house three doors down so didn’t have to lose our now familiar and oddly comforting middle of the night lullaby once we’d relocated.
I’m moving into my comfort food mode, so this fits right in including the fall colors. I often make a version of this to use up my leftover mashed potatoes. Also good with ground beef. Yum.
2 Tbsp. butter
1 lb. ground lamb
1 cup onion, chopped
2 carrots, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
3/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 bay leaf
2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. tomato paste
1 cup beef stock (or lamb if you have it)
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
3 cups leftover mashed potatoes (or freshly made, naturally)
1 1/2 Tbsp. butter
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Spray a 2 quart baking dish with cooking spray.
Melt butter 2 Tbsp. butter in large skillet over med-high heat. Add the lamb and cook until beginning to brown, 3-4 mins. Add onions, carrots, 3/4 tsp. salt, and pepper. Saute for 2-3 mins. Add the sliced mushrooms and bay leaf and saute for 4-5 mins. until liquid has nearly disappeared. Whisk in tomato paste and stirring constantly cook for 2 mins. Sprinkle in the flour stirring constantly for 1 min. until well mixed.
Combine the stock and the Worcestershire sauce. Add gradually to to pan stirring constantly. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to med-low and simmer until mixture is thickened (30-35 mins.). Cool for 10 mins.
Pour mixture into prepared baking dish. Carefully “frost” with mashed potatoes evenly over top of meat. Dot with 1 1/2 Tbsp. of butter and sprinkle with paprika.
Bake for 40 mins. until top is golden brown and mixture is bubbly.