I have had a project sitting at the back of my mind for a while now. You know the kind: an idea that occurs to you in the middle of the night (my best ideas tend to come during the nocturnal nursing session I don’t think Miss Cecily is ever going to give up!), and you have to commit it to memory over and over again so it doesn’t escape you in the morning. I have heard of others who keep a notepad on their nightstand for this purpose. I really should get on that…
Matt and I have been together for many moons. Eleven years, to be exact. And those eleven trips around the sun have certainly made for an amazing ride: five years dating, six years married. Two houses. Three gorgeous children. One wily beagle with hideous breath.
The thing that occured to me during my nocturnal epiphany, though, didn’t have to do with the statistics of our relationship. It was the fact that in nearly every single memory I have of our journey together, no matter what event I am considering, each of the legs of my sentimental journey always seem to share a common thread.
This might sound odd to so many. But being raised in a family that loves and bonds through food, and then marrying a man who came from a clan who also has an immense love for food, it appears that somehow over the years my heart came to be hard-wired through my stomach. As human beings, we remember things through our senses. And for me, it seems the sense that wins out every time, in just about every memory, is taste.
In our chronicle, recipes are like roadmaps.
Our early dating was Mama Reita’s meatloaf, which Matt loved so much, my mom would have to make two each time she prepared it: one for Matt, and one for the rest of us.
Our first celebration after marrying was the chocolate birthday cake I slaved over for Matt, that Maggie the Wonder Beagle subsequently ate half of when I wasn’t looking. (She was thankfully fine in spite of the inordinate amount of chocolate she managed to eat that day. And in case you’re wondering, we did brave it and eat the other half ourselves.
My first effort to woo him with my home cooking prowess (or lack thereof at that point!) was the botched batch of chicken and “dumplings” I attempted that turned out more like chicken and gelatinous goo.
Our pregnancy with Jack was homemade spicy pimiento cheese (and, yes, I [we] gained a LOT of weight!).
And so on and so forth.
Starting now, I am going to periodically document little stories of our relationship, and the recipes that go along with them. This is our love story, all cast over a backdrop of food. I am looking so forward to pulling out my recipe file to reflect and remember!
When Matt and I began dating, he was the high school football star, and I was the cheerleader. We were just entering our senior year of high school.
My mom (Mama Reita) had one sister. She herself had two girls. So she had never truly experienced the spectacle that is the appetite of a teenage boy until Matt came into our lives. Matt’s daily football workouts were epic, and his appetite reflected that. Looking back, I am fairly certain at that point he was managing to eat upwards of 4,000 calories a day without thinking twice of it. Ah, to be a kid again.
The first time Matt joined us for supper when my mom’s meatloaf was on tap, Mom prepared the same single meatloaf she always had. We each had our usual portion, and Matt had the rest. Mom was genuinely giddy to see someone enjoy her cooking so enthusiastically, and I know Matt was more than happy to oblige. After that night, Mom realized she would have to change things up a bit. Her new routine? One meatloaf for us, and one for him. The more Matt ate and raved about her cooking, the more Mama Reita grew to love him! With every bite, he became more and more of a member of our family.
Even if you aren’t a meatloaf fan, I urge you to give this recipe a try. It has a marvelous flavor, and the texture is firm (not mushy), yet moist (not dry). You can certainly tweak the seasonings to your taste if you would like, adding more of one seasoning or less of another if you prefer. I often omit the celery salt, instead opting for some basil or oregano. Although my mom always used ketchup as the topping growing up, I have found bottled chili sauce tastes terrific here, too.
I know many folks (myself included) are turned off by meatloaf that is overly greasy. Did you know that there are pans intended specifically for meatloaf designed to eliminate that problem? This pan here is very similar to the one I have. The setup is simple, with one loaf pan that has small holes drilled in the bottom nested inside another pan. This allows the excess fat to drip below during cooking, so you don’t wind up with a pool of grease on top of your finished loaf. It is a terrific kitchen tool!
Mama Reita’s Meatloaf
1 1/2 pounds ground beef
2 slices bread, torn into pieces
1/2 cup milk (I have also used beer for the liquid with great results)
1/4 cup minced onion
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon each of pepper, sage, celery salt and garlic salt
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
Ketchup, to taste
Heat oven to 350˚. Grease a non-stick meatloaf pan (or conventional loaf pan) and set aside.
In a large bowl, add beef and next 7 ingredients; mix thoroughly. Shape mixture into loaf in loaf pan and spread ketchup over the top. Bake approximately 1 hour, or until loaf is set but not dry.