I don’t know what binds me to my family, or, especially, my father. I have always been a Daddy’s Girl, though not in the “he buys me everything” sort of way. I am not his little princess either. I’m the youngest of four, true, but what’s always been so amazing is the time we’ve spent together.
My father was kind of a stay-at-home dad. He worked the graveyard shift as hotel security while my mother worked a non-profit job. Dad was the one who took us off the school bus at 3:20 p.m. everyday, made us clean up the house and do our homework before Mom got home at 5 p.m., and cooked dinner so it would be on the table by 5:30 or 6:00. The greatest part was helping him cook. It wasn’t anything extravagant. Mom took care of holiday meals and the occasional potato salad or microwaved canned vegetable. But it was all that time spent learning how to cook spaghetti and hamburgers and pork chops and stew that made me not only love eating, but learn to love the art of cooking.
Oh, and his meatloaf.
The only good meatloaf is the kind my father always makes. He’s been mixing it since before my siblings and I were born. It’s not a secret recipe, but I’ve never had one like it, which makes it special to me. Everything else seems dried out, overcooked, flavorless, or otherwise boring. Depending on how many mouths you’re feeding, the recipe varies. In my house, there were six hungry bellies, which equated to 2 loaves, the second loaf doubling as lunch for the next day or the meat ingredient in tomorrow night’s spaghetti with meat sauce. But if you’re not big into leftovers, here’s the one-loaf version, which may still yield delicious leftovers:
1 lb Hamburger
1 lb Turkey Sausage
1/2 – 3/4 C Breadcrumbs (or Oatmeal)
2 cloves Garlic (crushed and minced)
1/4 C Milk
3 Tbsps Soy sauce and/or Steak sauce and/or BBQ sauce and/or Teriyaki sauce
Any or all of the following veggies:
1/4 med. Onion, chopped
1/4 – 1/3 C Scallions
2 med. Carrots, shredded
5 oz. Spinach, chopped
1/2 Green Pepper, chopped (or orange or red or whatever you like)
1/4 C Mushrooms, sliced (or a small can)
Palmful of whatever other vegetable you like
2 tsps Oregano and/or Paprika and/or Cinnamon and/or Crushed Red Pepper and/or Basil, etc.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Basically this is an All-In meatloaf. It’s best to mix it all by hand (note: it’s cold, and even telling you that, you’ll still be surprised as I am every time I stick my hands into the bowl). Just put all the ingredients into the bowl (subtract or add any vegetables/spices as preferred). Mix it all by squeezing and squishing. It’s a fun activity to get your kids involved in, as my dad did, because of that gross, messy factor children seem drawn to.
When it’s all mixed evenly – and make sure you don’t have any sauces or breadcrumbs hiding on the bottom – fill a loaf pan almost to the top. It’s best to leave a gap so that when the juices start flowing, they stay with the meatloaf and don’t end up at the base of the oven. Feel free to make a side dish while you’re waiting the 40 minutes (give or take a few minutes depending on your altitude and stove’s fickleness) it takes the meatloaf to cook.
To tell if it’s done, check it like you would a hamburger – make a small slit with a knife that goes to the middle of the loaf and then press down with the side of the knife next to the slit. If the juice runs clear it’s done; if it’s pinkish or red, leave it in longer. Or go with a meat thermometer (160-170? F).
Each time I make this meatloaf, I think of my dad. And every time I make it, it’s a little different. The proportions change or I’ll put in soda-pop instead of sauce or add brown sugar. Really, it’s pretty tough to screw up. If it’s too spicy or too heavy, you can always cut back on whatever you like. The versatility’s great. It’s plenty filling, even as a healthy-sized portion, and there are already vegetables in the meat, so that’s something too. Food brings families together. At least, it keeps me close to my father.
Harmony Brush is a current Lesley University graduate student living in Rochester, NY. She loves people and writing.