Sunday, September 25, 2011

loaf lessons

Since embarking on this latest and greatest adventure, one thing I've had to become more accomplished at is cooking. Now, in former days, that would often mean taking something out of a box and popping it into the microwave. Or, at best, boiling some water and dumping in some pasta. At worst (and more often than I'd like to admit) it meant responding to the question, "Would you like to super size that?"

But since I now share a home with people who have dietary issues like diabetes and high cholesterol it has meant that I've had to work on my food preparation methods. For the most part, I'd like to think that I've risen to the challenge. I'v often surprised myself with my ability to make things in the oven and have them actually taste good.

One thing I've become quite accomplished at is meatloaf. Now, I know what you're saying. It's meatloaf, not rocket science. And, truthfully, in the scheme of things, meatloaf is not a very tough dish to tackle. It's taking ground beef (or turkey) and mixing it with some eggs and spices and whatnot, forming it into a loaf, popping it into the oven, setting the timer and then going to check your facebook account. But I'd like to think that my meatloaf is pretty good. In fact, the guys in my house mention my meatloaf and tell me that it's good. And not even on days when we're eating it!

As I've progressed in my meatloafing abilities, I've started to be a little more adventurous and add my own little flair. I've also tried to find ways to hide vegetables in it, for those among us who aren't big vegetable eaters. So last night I had a pan full of onions and mushrooms and some diced carrots and green peppers, and I was going to saute them before I mixed them into the ground beef.

Now, yesterday was a busy day. We had taken a trip to the zoo, so we were out most of the afternoon, and I had talked to one of our other houses about bringing my guys over for a cookout. But that didn't work out, and it was already close to supper time when I figured out it wasn't going to work out, so I was in a bit of a rush to get supper on the table before the guys thought they might starve to death.

It was in the midst of this rush that I took the hamburger and tossed it into the pan and browned it with all of the various vegetables. It was only after I had completely browned all of the beef that I looked down at the pan and wondered what in God's name I had just done. Now that this beef was browned its loafing abilities had been seriously compromised.

I suppose I could have figured out something else to do with all of this now-browned beef. But I was determined to make a meatloaf. So I tossed it all in a bowl with some bread crumbs, added some eggs (a couple extra than normal) and put in some ketchup and a wee bit of barbecue sauce hoping that all of this would help bind the beef into the appropriate loaf consistency.

A positive side effect of the browning of the beef, however, was that the cooking time for the meatloaf was seriously shortened. I kept checking its progress and removed it from the oven when it looked like it was ready. I carefully sliced into the loaf, and then took a spatula and gingerly lifted out a slice from the end. When I tried to deposit it onto a plate, it crumbled into about four pieces. And that was the slice that fared the best, I'm afraid.

I'm not sure if the correct name for what I created would be a meatloaf. I guess if you looked at it pre-slicing and serving it could have passed for one. But once it had been put on a plate it fell apart and lost all resemblance to any sort of loaf. It wouldn't have won any awards for presentation. It wouldn't have been featured in any food magazine. If I had been on a cooking show like "Hell's Kitchen" I probably would have been verbally berated and then kicked off of the show. But I served it up on plates and hoped for the best.

There were only two core members home for supper (two others were out with their families). One of them happened to be a core member who is the most finicky when it comes to vegetables. But we cut the meatloaf in to six slices and all three of us had two. Both of the guys said that it was good, and I have to say that tastewise it was one of my best meatloafs yet.

If I had judged my meatloaf by its appearance, I might have passed it up, considered it a loss and threw it away and decided to order pizza instead. I might have thought that there was something better out there for us to eat for supper. But because I was willing to take a risk, and give it a try, I realized that despite the crumbliness of the loaf and even though it might not have looked the best, or the way that I would prefer a meatloaf to look, it actually had some great flavor and made all of us want seconds.

A lesson I learned from this experience, besides not browning the ground beef, is that I need to treat people like meatloaf. Don't worry, that doesn't mean that I'm resorting to cannibalism. What it means is that I need to be more intentional about not letting appearance be a factor in how I deal with people. I need to be more willing to go beyond what's on the outside and give people a chance. Only then will I allow myself to be surprised by their great flavor that I would have missed if I had decided to go for something that I thought looked better or more appealing. In the end, limiting who I am in relationship with based solely on appearance really only limits me.

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