I've been giving much thought to meatloaf these days. Even though a hot, humid summer is ahead, our family has found comfort and memories in this humble dish.
Our 13-year-old son spent a week with his grandparents in Florida last summer. It was a first for him to fly alone and spend a week with them.
In past years, he had gone with his older brother but now his older brother has a life that doesn't allow for time off for a week in Florida.
Eli came back with stories of the beach, new friends, advice about his future, and sadness from saying goodbye to Grandma and Grandpa. We knew it would be a year or more before he saw them again.
That first Monday he was back home, he suddenly asked if we could have meatloaf for dinner. I headed for my cookbook but he quickly stopped me. "No, I want to make Grandma's recipe. The one that Grandpa likes so much that he has the leftovers for lunch the rest of the week."
He quickly made a long-distance phone call for the recipe and spent a considerable amount of time checking to see how they were doing.
He wrote as his grandma spoke, thanked her, and then set to work in the kitchen making dinner. It was a microwave recipe. "Do we have a pan for baking in the microwave?" he asked.
I'd never actually cooked in the microwave, only warmed things up. I prepared to head out to buy a two-quart microwave-safe glass pan, per Grandma's recipe.
"Do we have oat bran?" came the next query. I called around to find out which store carried it, then jumped in the car to bring back the oat bran and the glass pan. Meatloaf was on the menu tonight, no matter what.
When we sat down to dinner together that night with our meatloaf, Eli first had to prep us in eating the meatloaf "Grandpa-style." Grandpa ate his meatloaf between two slices of seedless New York Rye bread (that's another grocery item we now stock in our pantry). He showed us how to cut the meatloaf just so, and how to set it between the bread so it could be eaten like a warm sandwich. Grandma, meanwhile, ate her slice of meatloaf with a fork.
After directions for how to eat the meatloaf were established, we ate and shared our evening meal together. It was delicious.
The best part, though, was how the meatloaf became a conversation starter. We heard about Grandpa's adventures teaching tennis to young kids, and Grandma's adventures as a volunteer in the hospital.
Eli then informed us that if there were any meatloaf leftovers, they were to be saved for lunch the next day (along with the rye bread).
Meatloaf used to be just a meal we had occasionally during the cold months. It was a comfort food that made a chilly autumn night just a bit warmer.
Now we eat our meatloaf on Monday nights during any season, and we think of Grandma and Grandpa. We wonder what they're eating for dinner, what they did during this day, and always we remember how our families are bound together across the miles.
Meatloaf on Mondays has become a comfort of remembrance that unites us.