As a kid, Labor Day was my all-time-least-favorite holiday. It meant the following day was the first day of school.

I hated school. Really. I was not one of those kids who just couldn’t wait to write my dissertation on “What I Did on My Summer Vacation.” I was good at it. I got straight A’s. I just didn’t like it. I started looking for the holidays. First one was Admission Day – usually just a couple of days after school started. Then Columbus Day, Veteran’s Day, Thanksgiving, and Glorious Christmas Vacation.

I lived for my holidays. Hated school.

Growing up, Labor Day was a pretty big deal. There was a huge parade down Market Street. Labor. The people who made things, built things. They were hardworking men and women – mostly men, though – who not only laid the tracks for the streetcars, but also made the rails. The guys who built the skyscrapers with steel made in Pittsburgh and Buffalo. The guys who collected our trash, sold us our groceries, waited on us in restaurants, and changed the linens in our hotels.

Labor was the EveryMan. My father was a union firefighter. I was in what was then Local 44 and Local 2 of the Hotel and Restaurant Workers union. Big Brother was a Stationary Engineer and as Chief Engineer ran some of the largest and most high-profile buildings in San Francisco – and a member of Local 39.

During the ensuing years, I found myself on the management side of the table, but I never took for granted the people who were making it all happen. I fought for tools and supplies so people could actually do their jobs properly. It’s amazing what results one can achieve by simply having the right equipment! And I fought layoffs and do more with less. It was inconceivable then, and it’s inconceivable today to expect perfect results from two people doing the job of 8 or 10.

In my last job before moving east, I was having a bit of a discussion with my new boss about department needs, budgets, increasing staff – normal corporate BS from a for-profit hospital – and he asked me where my loyalties lay, with my staff or with the corporate office. I smiled and told him they laid with the patients. I got the budget I needed and a staff who routinely went above and beyond. I did end up firing the son of my shop steward, but that’s another story for another day…

For the last 20 years or so – probably longer – there has been a real smear-campaign against organised labor. As minimum-wage non-union jobs with no benefits have become the norm and corporations continue to move operations – and headquarters –  overseas to avoid paying decent wages and taxes, the worker has become the scapegoat. Instead of getting mad at the union worker for negotiating a better salary, perhaps more people should follow their lead.

And I really wasn’t thinking a treatise on Labor, this evening. My mind really was on how much I hated school. Well… hating school and a great dinner. More of my mind was on the dinner…

I had picked up some porterhouse steaks and planned on making baked beans and potato salad to go along with them. Somewhere along the line I decided I wanted macaroni and cheese, as well. It’s a holiday, right?!?  Go for it!

We’ll start with Mom’s Potato Salad.


Mom’s Potato Salad

  • potatoes (russets, yukon gold, red bliss)
  • pickles
  • hard-cooked eggs
  • celery
  • shredded carrots
  • mayonnaise
  • catsup
  • mustard
  • garlic powder
  • salt
  • pepper

Mix and chill.

That is it. Perfect, every time.

Then there were Phoebe’s Baked Beans


These are the only baked beans I ever make.

Phoebe’s Baked Beans

  • 1/2  cup minced shallots
  • 1  tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1  tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1/2  cup tomato puree (I use tomato paste – I never have puree in the house!)
  • 1  tablespoon canola oil
  • 1/4  cup honey
  • 1/4  cup cider vinegar
  • 2  tablespoons molasses
  • 1  tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4  teaspoon salt
  • 2  chipotle chiles, canned in adobo sauce, seeded and chopped
  • 2  (28-ounce) cans baked beans

Preheat oven to 300°.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add shallots; sauté 4 minutes or until golden. Add cumin and garlic; sauté for 1 minute. Add tomato puree and oil, and cook for 2 minutes or until thick, stirring constantly. Add remaining ingredients (except beans.). Reduce heat; simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Combine beans and shallot mixture in a 2-quart baking dish. Bake at 300° for 1 hour or until thick and bubbly.

And Macaroni and Cheese…


I just made a really small batch – enough for 12, probably – but small compared to what i usually make.

Make a basic white sauce – on the medium/thin side. Add a shot or two of worcestershire sauce and a shot of tabasco. A bit of garlic powder and salt and pepper. Stir in whatever cheeses you have. Tonight I used cheddar and monterey jack. Mix in your cooked elbow macaroni.  Put into a buttered casserole, top with buttered bread crumbs, and bake for about 30 minutes, or until bubbly and the crumbs have browned nicely.

Then, of course, the steaks.


I did a store-bought coffee rub. It was good.

Three of us did not finish those off. We have leftovers. We have leftovers of everything, in fact. Lunches and side dishes are ready for the week.