Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth. I sat at a table where were rich food and wine in abundance, and obsequious attendance, but sincerity and truth were not; and I went away hungry from the inhospitable board.
~ Henry David Thoreau, “Walden,” the Conclusion
One of the advantages of being laid off (yes, I’m trying to count them) is having time to dine with the family. I’ve worked second shift for the past three years, so dinnertime, when I made the choice to actually eat something, usually meant twenty minutes spent helplessly overhearing coworkers grumble about this or that monotonous minutiae of life whilst trying to scarf down a greasy, overpriced helping of French fries and a Mountain Dew. The seconds spilled over each another in a cacophony of gossip and gustation.
Now, my evenings are free (so to speak), and I get to enjoy the company of loved ones. And the pleasure is all mine, for where else does one get to witness such heartwarming exchanges as this . . .
Aryn: “I love you Zoe.”
Zoe: “No you don’t”
Aryn: “Yes I do!”
Zoe: “No you don’t. Yesterday, you called me a butthead!”
Aryn: “But I still love you.”
Zoe: “No you don’t!”
. . . whereupon my daughters began smacking, kicking and yelling at one another. They were laughing in no time, however, for they were just kidding around. Girls!
But the benefits of dinnertime with the family are made more obvious when one considers the cuisine. Courtesy of Rachel Ray, the Queen of Dinnertime Fun for Families on the Run, (I just made that up, and now I’m worried she might try and steal it . . .) I present Exhibit A . . .
Frank & Beans Casserole
- 2-3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO)
- 3 packages of fat, ballpark-style, all-beef hot dogs, sliced on a slight angle (you can also use turkey or tofu dogs, whatever dog you like)
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 2 tablespoons molasses
- 3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 2 cups (a 15-ounce can) tomato sauce
- 4 16-ounce cans or 1 family-size can baked beans
- 2 8 1/2-ounce boxes corn muffin mix, such as Jiffy brand
- 2 eggs
- 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, melted
- 1 1/2 cups whole milk
- 1 tablespoon (about a palmful) chili powder
- 1/4 cup chopped or snipped chives
- 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
Yields: 6-8 servings
Preheat oven to 400°F. Place a large, oven-safe, nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, add EVOO.
Add the sliced hot dogs to the pan and brown, about 6-8 minutes. Add the chopped onion and cook for about 3-4 minutes.
Combine molasses, Worcestershire and tomato sauce in a small bowl and add to the skillet. Add the baked beans and bring up to a simmer.
While the hot dog mixture is coming up to a simmer, mix the two packages of muffin mix together with eggs, melted butter, milk, chili powder, chives and the cheese. Pour the mix over the top of the hot dog mixture in the skillet. Place skillet in the oven and bake until cornbread is light golden in color, 12-15 minutes.
This is stick-to-your-ribs grub, Dear Tweaker! If you don’t want it quite so spicy, don’t use so much chili powder. We learned this lesson rather quickly. And, as an added bonus, any leftovers will store in the fridge for weeks. And, seriously, what could be better in these famine-is-lurking-just-around-the-bend times in which we live.
Yeah, dinnertime can be chaos. They aren’t used to having me around, and I’m not used to being here. So we deal. Try new things. Enjoy old favorites. Engage in some tender moments. And laugh more than any family has the right to. We are honest. And will make it through this one meal at a time.
I might get called back some day. Or I might get lucky and land a new gig (though I’m not holding my breath). If I do, I’m going to miss this . . .