I know I've told you before that I am the fifth of six children. Basically, my parents had two families; the first four and then several years later me and my youngest sister. The youngest two of us were practically raised by our eldest sister. She took care of us and the house and she often made dinner for the family from a very young age. She learned to cook long before I can remember ... and she's darn good at it. People compare her skills to those of Paula Deen and they're not wrong. Her meals are great and her macaroni and cheese is legendary.
Somehow Grams only recently learned to cook, probably because I just didn't need to learn earlier. Oh, I took homemaking in middle school and learned the basics, but as far as putting a meal on the table, I just never had to do it. When I first moved away from home, my roommate and I survived on a diet of frozen pot pies which cost 19 cents back then. Occasionally, her mom would come by and cook for us, but mostly it was frozen dinners.
As a newlywed, I did try cooking. But many of my efforts led to scorched dishes and burned pans. In my memory, the most monumental failure was meatloaf.
Now, I didn't grow up eating meatloaf. In fact, I don't ever remember eating it at home. I had only eaten it a couple of times at friends' houses. The only meatloaf I had ever eaten was the kind that is topped with ketchup/tomato sauce and I wasn't fond of it. So when Grandad requested meatloaf, I pulled out a cookbook and used a recipe for what I knew, meatloaf with tomato sauce/ketchup. And, I actually thought it came out pretty good.
Grandad, however, did not agree. He sat down at the table, took a couple of bites of my meatloaf, looked at me and said, "This doesn't taste like the meatloaf the nuns made."
I was livid and that was the end of all my cooking for a long time. Grandad took over almost all the cooking from there and it was almost 30 years before I took over again. It is known in our family as "the meatloaf incident."
(Let me just insert here that Grandad was educated by nuns. He went to Catholic schools and even attended the minor seminary for a couple of years. But, he left the seminary long before we met. I did not lure him away from the religious life.)
A little over a year ago, our beloved parish priest died suddenly. We attended the funeral, along with many priests and nuns from our diocese. Our small church was packed. It was standing room only. About halfway through the mass, Grandad leaned over to me and whispered in my ear that the nun who made "the meatloaf" was sitting a few rows in front of us.There amid a superfluity of nuns (According to the Oxford Dictionary, that's what you call a group of nuns. I looked it up.) sat one very elderly nun in traditional habit. You could practically hear the angels singing when you looked at her.
As soon as mass was over, intending to ask for the recipe, I attempted to find her, but first I had to figure out exactly which nun she was. Not to be trite, but all nuns pretty much look alike if they're wearing traditional garb. Grandad had been recruited to move chairs from the church to the parish hall, so I was on my own. But I lost her in the crowd and never could figure out which one she was, thus missing my one opportunity to get "the meatloaf" recipe.
Since I took over the cooking a few years ago, I've made meatloaf a few times. I found a pretty good recipe that's made in the crockpot and I make it every couple of months. It's easy to make and it's easy on my budget. It's seasoned with fresh chopped onion and garlic and I use panko as filler, but it is topped with the same tomato sauce/ketchup as my old recipe. Grandad likes it okay.
Yesterday, I was tired. I just didn't feel like chopping onions and dicing garlic for meatloaf. So I took the lazy way out. I opened a package of Lipton Onion Soup mix, added a cup of panko, one lightly beaten egg, and a cup of water. I mixed it together, formed it into a loaf and put in in my crock pot on low for 8 hours. When it was done, I made instant Pioneer Nonfat Brown Gravy, to which I added a can of mushrooms, a teaspoon of garlic powder, and about two tablespoons of red wine. I served it with butter beans and broccoli. When Grandad had taken a couple of bites, he looked at me and said "This is better than the nun's meatloaf." I was so shocked, I asked him to repeat it. So he said it again, "This is better than the nun's meatloaf!"
Finally, after 35 years, my meatloaf is better than the nun's! Now if I could only make poppyseed cake like his Aunt Georgie, my life would be complete.
This post has been linked to the GRAND Social blogging event.