Newspaper headlines: Society matron Mrs. Rittenhouse to hold lavish party at her Long Island home. The guest of honor, renowned explorer, Captain Geoffrey T. Spaulding, recently returned from Africa. What’s that? You didn’t hear about this high society affair?
Well, there is good reason. First off, it was 1930. And secondly, it’s the back story for the Marx Brother’s Film, Animal Crackers. After all, today is National Animal Crackers Day. Oh – but that’s a different Animal Crackers, isn’t it?
Yep, we’re talking those childhood favorites, Animal Crackers – a sweet cracker in the shape of circus animals that came in a small box with a string. I loved those crackers. And in all honesty, I never really gave the box a second thought. But the folks at Nabisco sure did. In 2018, giving in to pressure from animal groups, the box was redesigned to remove the bars. So the fictitious animals were freed from their factious captors. Still, there were those who criticize, claiming the redesign did little to dismantle the elements of capitalism that exploits animals, people and the environment. Really? It’s a box of crackers!! It’s not real. And I don’t think it promotes anything.
The box design is a throwback to when the circus came to town with barred wagons housing lions and tigers. After all, the cookie-cracker was introduced to American children in 1902. Barnum’s Animal Crackers, as they are billed, was in reference to P.T. Barnum. The box was designed to look like circus trains. And that string? The crackers originally sold for 5 cents a box, and were designed to hang on Christmas trees as ornaments for the children. Whether or not anyone actually hung boxes of Animal Crackers on their tree is unknown. One thing I do know from personal experience is that children used the string as handles, perfect for youngsters to carry around the box. Today the string is gone, replaced with a cardboard handle. And the animals are free to roam. So Happy Animal Cracker Day everyone!
I suppose we could have designed a cake or some other dessert that featured Animal Crackers. Maybe next year. Today I want to share something that is just as family friendly, reminiscent of childhood memories. Chili Mac has been a staple in Military Mess Halls forever. Popular in the Midwest, it’s comfort food for those away from home and sparks memories in adults who remember Chili Mac as a way to stretch the family budget. While Chili Mac is typically made by combining Macaroni with canned Chili, this Chili Mac is a little more than a dump and go supper. My guys loved it.
Old Fashioned Chili Mac Skillet Supper
1 cup Elbow Macaroni
1/2 White Onion
1 Celery Rib
3 Mini Bell Peppers, any color
1 lb Ground Beef
1 (15 oz) Black Beans in a Chili Sauce
1 (10 oz) can Condensed Tomato Soup
1 (14 oz) can Diced Tomatoes with Chilies
1-1/2 tablespoons Chili Powder
Pinch of Salt to taste
Black Pepper to taste
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta, cook for about 9 minutes or until al dente; drain and set aside.
Peel and dice onion, set aside. Trim ends from celery, dice rib and set aside. Stem bell peppers, remove seeds. Dice peppers, set aside.
Place ground beef in a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Cook until evenly brown. Add onion, celery and bell peppers. Cook until tender and onions are translucent. Drain excess fat.
Stir in kidney beans, condensed tomato soup and diced tomatoes. Season with chili powder, salt and pepper. Cover, let simmer until sauce has thickened, about 10 minutes.
Stir in macaroni. Continue to heat until everything is heated through. Serve straight from the skillet into bowls and enjoy.