I caved and bought A Meatloaf in Every Oven by Frank Bruni and Jennifer Steinhauer, not because I wanted a meatloaf cookbook (I so didn’t) but because I’ve always loved Steinhauer’s writing and consider Bruni’s book about colleges essential, sedative reading if you’ve got a kid slogging through second half of high school. The two New York Times writers bonded over meat loaf (“In a given series of emails we’ll toggle from Senate filibusters to sauteed shiitakes, from Obamacare to oregano.”) and I expected their collaboration to be funny and clever. It doesn’t disappoint.
Tasty sample passage: “Perhaps this is your personal memory of meatloaf: someone’s mother’s overcooked, underseasoned, sort of needlessly, unpleasantly crunchy slab of meat, swimming sadly under a small pond of ketchup. Not that we hate ketchup. In fact, we embrace it. We date it. We want to marry it. But we also want it to see other people.”
There are chapters here devoted to lamb meatloaves, classic meatloaves, meatless loaves (tuna melt loaf, kasha loaf), and meatloaf side dishes. In their day jobs, Steinhauer and Bruni report on politics and the penultimate chapter collects meatloaf recipes contributed by members of Congress. Chuck Schumer cooks barbecued chicken in the same pan with his very plain meatloaf, which does not appeal to me at all. Nancy Pelosi makes a bison-and-veal loaf — “and things get mysterious with the appearance of cumin.” Paul Ryan shoots deer, grinds them up in his own power grinder, then desecrates the poor venison with Lipton onion soup mix and Progresso breadcrumbs. I’m sure it’s lousy. Paul Ryan is dead to me.
Now, if Adam Schiff had a meatloaf recipe. . .
Last night, I tried out the Swedish meatball loaf, an homage to Ikea’s Swedish meatballs which I have never tasted, though apparently the company sells a billion of these “bouncy” textured meatballs per year. You flavor a beef-pork-onion-bread-egg-cream melange with nutmeg and allspice, bake, top with a creamy gravy and some raspberry jam. The meatloaf required significantly more time in the oven than indicated to reach the suggested internal temperature, but otherwise the recipe worked perfectly. Isabel (home for spring break) brought a friend to dinner and he complimented the meatloaf. It may have just been good manners, but he seemed sincere and I glowed with matronly pride. In any case, he didn’t get someone’s mother’s overcooked, underseasoned, sort of needlessly, unpleasantly crunchy, slab of meat.
Although I didn’t really want a meatloaf compendium, I suspect I’ll use this one a lot. Meatloaf is easy, cheap, and satisfying, and flipping through the book this morning I wondered if I could get away with making meatloaf again tonight. (Conclusion: No one would mind but me and I would mind.)
On another subject, I have mixed feelings about the writer Walter Kirn who can be a sour, contrarian cuss, but he’s never boring and he wrote a big-hearted, sad, inspiring essay in this month’s Harper’s. I urge you to seek it out in print if you can’t get past the paywall. Without listening to the radio or checking the internet, Kirn drives from Montana to Las Vegas through Idaho and the “big and biblical” landscape of Utah, observing and pondering what he encounters in the physical, visible world, from bumper stickers and elderly McDonald’s cashiers, to mules, truckers, and Mexican restaurants. There’s a lot of wonderful stuff in this essay. I would like to have the haunting final sentenced tattooed — or maybe branded — on my forearm so I have to look at it every time my twitching hand reaches for the phone for a quick, agitating, empty Twitter fix:
“In a supposedly post-factual time, deep attention to the passing scene is a radical act, reviving one’s sense that the world is real, worth fighting for, and that politics is a material phenomenon, its consequences embedded in things seen.”
Really, you should read the whole story.