So I made the world's most pathetic dinner tonight. I was out of everything, but it was too late to run to the store. With a diabetic father-in-law who eats on a fairly regulated schedule, one can't just push dinner until later when one hasn't properly planned ahead; the meal must go on.
I thought I would just throw a bunch of miscellaneous leftovers and things into a casserole dish, cover it with an attractive layer of cheese, and bake the heck out of it. This is a little trick I learned from the school cafeteria when I was away at college. They would serve a dish called Calico Skillet once a week, usually on a Friday--and it looked and tasted different every time, save for the layer of cheddar covering the surface.
I started browning a pound of ground beef, then began to scour the refrigerator and the cupboards for items to add to it. To my dismay, I found VERY little. I went downstairs to the pantry. Same story. I came back up to check the cupboards again. The clock was ticking away, matching the nervous clicking of my fingernails on the counter top.
I ended up adding a can of cream of mushroom soup, the leftover baked beans, three stalks of celery, most of a bell pepper, some garlic, lots of pepper and some salt. I garnished the top with a dozen or so frozen tater tots (which I discovered in the freezer after I had been out of town for the Young Lives camp for a week) and the aforementioned generous layer of shredded cheddar.
I threw it in the oven and set about to create some simple side dishes to accompany it.
I stood for a long time, willing food items to materialize as I rotated between the now-even-emptier shelves of the cupboards, refrigerator and pantry.
(sound of crickets chirping)
A green salad, perhaps? No lettuce.
A fruit salad? One nectarine and one very small pear.
Some steamed veggies? Seven baby carrots, a half a bunch of green onions and something slimy in a plastic bag in the crisper drawer. I think it started out as cilantro.
If it weren't for the lilting and airy folk tunes from my Pandora station playing from my lap top, which I had carried into the kitchen with me, I think I would have despaired entirely. But as it was, I surrendered to the fact that I was going to make a bomb of a dinner, a questionable casserole with nothing much to accompany it. I would have to swallow any amount of pride I'd ever taken in being able to present a decent meal at dinner time. I can usually be pretty creative and pull something off. Not this time. My family would forgive me. They are good about that.
I managed to cut the nectarine into fifteen thin slices, arranged three on each plate--more as a garnish (read: distraction) than anything else--set the table and called for everyone to wash up. We gathered around, clasped hands and prayed, my family grateful for the bubbly, cheesy dish set before them, me praying that this dinner would soon be over and forgotten.
Andy dug into the casserole with a spoon, as it was too sloppy to use the big spatula I'd originally set out to use. It was ugly, folks. Really, painfully ugly. You've heard the term slop? Even with the pretty slices of nectarine next to it, the pile of mush under the melted cheese looked downright revolting.
But then an amazing thing happened. They began to eat. And eat. And scoop themselves more. And more. They complimented me up and down for such a hearty, satisfying, creative work of comfort-food.
I smiled and mumbled "You're welcome" four times.
Let's just be glad there isn't a high demand around my table for beauty food. I think I need to get out to the grocery store tonight.
As I wrote this post, it felt vaguely familiar to me, as if I've written it before. I clicked on my "food" label and found this. Yes, very familiar indeed. I think I need to get better about planning ahead. I've been doing this gig for fifteen years, after all.