Thursday, June 7, 2012

A Brief History of Meatloaf

Meatloaf and I go back a long way. My mother, of sturdy Midwestern stock, seemed to view meatloaf as a catch-all cloaking device for whatever bits and scraps remained in the refrigerator or pantry at the end of a given week (month? year?). I can remember watching with mounting distaste as carrots, spinach, rhubarb--was that oatmeal?--disappeared into her Pyrex mixing bowl, and wondering why a raw egg needed to be part of this process. Just observing the assembly of my mom's meatloaf had me convinced before my first bite that this was quite likely the most disgusting food ever invented. And then it came out of the oven--a craggy, rectangular meteorite from the part of space where they stare you down with unflinching meat-and-spinach eyes. I may have only been five years old, but I knew I was 


Well, you can imagine what happened next. In the classic parent-child food battle maneuver, I sat at the dinner table and refused to eat a single bite. Mom, not to be outdone in battle strategy, pulled the parent checkmate of you'll-sit-there-until-you-finish-it-even-if-it-takes-all-night! I really thought I could stick to my guns on this one, but around 2 AM (okay, it was probably only about 7:30) I was getting pretty sick of banging my heels on the rattan seat of my chair while my brother played. I grudgingly accepted defeat and picked up a piece of (now cold) brown meteorite and willed myself to eat it. And it was indeed wretched. 

Being the kind of kid who loved to make lists of favorites and least favorites--favorite color: pink, favorite stuffed animal: Puffalump--I quickly placed meatloaf at the very top of my LFFL, least favorite foods list. (Move over, lima beans.) For the remainder of my years at home, I gave my mom so much grief every time she cooked it that she eventually caved and stopped making it altogether. Still, over the years, meatloaf has remained the unshakeable king of my LFFL. Even as an adult, if forced to eat meatloaf under social duress, I have always made sure to spread it around my plate as much as possible to make it look like I've actually made a dent in the stuff.

The problem with meatloaf now that I am an adult, however, is that my husband loves it. So recently, motivated by wifely devotion, I decided to take a chance and try a meatloaf recipe I found in one of my favorite cookbooks, The Cleaner Plate Club, which incidentally focuses on getting your kids to eat healthy foods. How ironic. All the recipes I've tried from this cookbook have been great, so I thought I'd give it a go. Plus, it didn't call for anything revolting, which helped ease my trepidation. In fact, the ingredients actually looked appealing--parmesan cheese, fresh rosemary, garlic, homemade roasted tomatoes. I ended up using tomatoes and rosemary from our garden, some good quality ground beef, and yes, the requisite raw egg. And much to my surprise, the end result was…dare I say…delicious? I could barely believe my tastebuds. This fresh and fragrant comfort food was endangering meatloaf's long-held number one position on my LFFL. I even had seconds.

It may sound strange, but I feel like meatloaf is teaching me a lesson. Meatloaf seems to be whispering (with its meat-and-spinach mouth) that things are not always what they seem, that it is possible to change our minds about even the most white-knuckle-gripped opinions. Granted, my cookbook's recipe is drastically different from my mom's everything-but-the-kitchen-sink concoction, but if I can change my mind about meatloaf, what else can I re-think? My attitudes about people, places, things? I don't ever want my opinions to become so calcified that there is no room for change. Because how boring is that? I'd like to think I will carry the meatloaf lesson with me as I go about decision-making and opinion-forming in my daily life. 

Though I do promise I will not be carrying around any actual meatloaf. No matter how good it tastes, that would just be gross.