Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Swimming sadly under a small pond of ketchup


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. 

21 comments:

  1. Oh, if Paul Ryan were really Alice Waters in disguise, still he would be dead to me, too. I follow him on FB because I worry that my blood pressure is too low. I learned from him, in fact, that you can follow people whom you haven't "liked." Because I could not "like" him, even for informational purposes. You gotta keep your eye on the enemy, and I take a certain vicious pleasure in hearing that he has the palate of an armadillo (they eat carrion). I may need to check the book out because I like meatloaf, and am perfectly happy to eat it 4-5 times a year. Thank you.

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  2. I like meatloaf, and I am curious about this book. I like to read cookbooks, so if it is well-written, and it must be, I will have to check it out. That Kirn essay is somewhat haunting. I really do believe that the Prez has dragged all of us who pay attention to him into his alternate reality, and for me, it is not a good place. I am anxious to leave it, but you know, we have to keep our eyes on that b*stard! Paul Ryan has been dead to me for some time. But his culinary habits are appalling!

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  3. Walter Kirn teaches at the university here in Missoula and I've reviewed some of his works for the local paper. His pompousness and sexism bleeds through everything he does but he's still a hell of a writer.

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  4. Oh, dear god, not raspberry jam with IKEA-ish meatloaf. If you can't find lingonberries, use cranberry jelly.
    And Mr. Ryan has the final nail in his coffin IMHO.

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  5. "someone’s mother’s overcooked, underseasoned, sort of needlessly, unpleasantly crunchy, slab of meat" -- they are describing my mother's meatloaf, the meatloaf of my childhood (the crunch came from the chopped raw carrots, alas). I still don't want to make or eat any of these meatloaves, though a meatloaf sandwich might be worth it.

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  6. Thanks for the heads up on the Walter Kirn article - very enjoyable

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  7. And to think that last night I made myself muffins out of garbanzo bean flour, grated carrots, green onions, and coconut milk. Swimming sadly, trapped under a seaweed bed of boiled escarole.

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  8. I succumbed and bought the meatloaf book, hoping for some cheer in the exceedingly drear and dire political world which we are now inhabiting. The writing style, the obvious attempts at humor, were just too precious for me after the first couple of chapters. Tedium ensued. Still, better to read the meatloaf book than look at Twitter and contemplate the future of our children and grandchildren. I think I'll try reading it again....

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  10. Do you have thoughts on the Piglet this year, Jen? I know you said you were having a harder time caring...

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  11. Thanks...I could use some comfort food ideas in this horrifying season...
    Funny food tidbit...a fiend from Idaho described Idaho childhood,as bizarre encounters with reservation Indians,skinheads, Meth addicts, and large Mormon presence...she said she noticed Mormon's always had
    tons of sweets and baked goods at their gatherings, and attributed this to their abstinence from
    Alcohol, etc which she believed was uniquely Mormon ...I laughed, and told her this was common to every church denomination I've ever attended...Cindy

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  12. Your review of the meatloaf book finally sealed the deal for me - I love meatloaf and politics, so I will buy it. And I highly recommend to you Frank Bruni's memoir, Born Round. It is food- and family-centric and really wonderful.

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  13. When I went to Sweden a few years ago, meatballs were on every single menu in every single restaurant. And the presentation was absolutely unchanging from one restaurant to the next: Meatballs, pale gravy, mashed potatoes, lingonberry jam, slightly pickled cucumber slices. It was delicious, but baffling to me that no one played around with it a little!

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  14. I made the Swedish meatball meatloaf, and even my picky husband liked it. Thanks for the recommendation, Jennifer! It was good comfort food.

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