Thursday, May 3, 2012

A Meatless Meat Loaf Mother's Day Memoir

"What kind of TV dinner do you want—meat loaf, fried chicken, Salisbury steak or Mexican?”

That was a question I was asked from the day I could eat solid food. We had a separate, full-size freezer in a back room stocked with Swanson and Banquet frozen dinners. We were well-versed in every variety, but one of our favorites was Swanson's meat loaf.

My mother had many talents, but cooking was not among them. She was gifted at overcooking, however. In the morning, I’d hear my dad scraping the char off his toast like he was playing the washboard. With all that practice, he could’ve joined a bluegrass band.

The red meat and sugar queen, mom cooked with packets of Lipton’s onion soup mix, cans of Veg-All and boxes of Schilling’s Taco Casserole. One of her better dishes was a pork chop and potato casserole in white sauce. The white sauce was from a can. The potatoes were from another can. I don’t remember if the pork chops were from a can. You’d have to ask my shrink. I may have blocked that out.

The secret sauce

Mom liked to tell the story of the time when I was about 10 and refused to eat the burnt hamburger patty, served bunless, she had made. I said, “This tastes like goat droppings!” So she put some chocolate sauce on it to get me to eat it. When I took a bite and refused it again, she ate it. I craved normal.

I’m falling apart, but some of mom’s other creations are still holding up.

Her forte was at the sewing machine. She made my sister and I adorable, one-of-a-kind outfits with matching accessories and my brother an elaborate George Washington costume for school, replete with a white powder wig. She’d stay up all hours of the night to sew a hem for one of us or to put the crowning touches on one of her creations. No one else's mom had such originality, and sometimes I just wanted to blend in by wearing something store-bought and vanilla. But my mother had grander visions.

A few mementos from her button-hoarding collection

The maestro with a needle and thread, she orchestrated each stitch into a glorious string arrangement. Seams and colors were meticulously matched. Buttons were chosen for a breakout solo performance or softer, quiet accompaniment. Zippers, threads and rickrack played along in pitch-perfect, three-part harmony. Every detail was a weighty aesthetic decision to be agonized and labored over. Back then it was called artistry and craftsmanship. Today there are meds for that. Yep, the OCD doesn¹t fall far from the tree.

My meatless meat loaf. Trust me. You don't want the recipe.

But she made a meat loaf that I actually liked. Her Chinese meat loaf had ground beef and a sweet and sour sauce made from a can of tomato sauce, French's mustard, white vinegar and brown sugar. As an adult, I tweaked the recipe and made it with ground turkey, and it was a real crowd-pleaser. But since I rarely eat meat anymore, I got to thinking, why not try a vegetarian version with that same sauce? So I made one up with lentils and brown rice. It tasted vaguely familiar because of the sauce, and it looked like a meat loaf, but the first time wasn't exactly a charm.

My meatless meat loaf TV dinner. You don't want that either.

While this “meat” loaf was made in her honor, ironically, without the meat, I doubt she would have eaten it. Not without chocolate sauce anyway. And after a few bites, I’m thinking that's not such a bad idea. This will be my third Mother’s Day without my mother, and I no longer crave normal. Now I'm craving chocolate.

The Swanson Meat Loaf Dinner image was from Miami NewTimes blogs.


  1. Love it, every word! the hell did you know what goat droppings tasted like?

  2. Wonderful post. Your mom sounded like an original.

  3. Dorothy, I almost addressed your question in the post. It is perplexing! : )
    Thanks, Lora and Joshua.

  4. Hello Chica - It's been a long time. What a wonderful post. Love the little backpack bag. I've missed you and let's plan to catch up soon.

    Fortunately, we were too poor to have all that processed food. I'm so thankful for that now!

  5. Truly hilarious "She was gifted at overcooking, however". GREG

  6. Gosh, I don't think I've ever heard of potatoes from a can...

    Interestingly, my mother made us all costumes by hand, too, although I don't know that they were as inspired as your mother's.

    Missed you at Camp Blogaway :-(

  7. Your Mom sounds wonderful. So what if her food came from cans, it had that special ingredient, love, and that's what it's all about.

  8. I really enjoyed reading this. Love the sewing creations! I'm envious. My mom sewed too, but not like that! I like your tv dinner too. So sweet of you to tell us we don't want it. I have so many failed dishes that I never talk about. We should make this a thing. Like Friday #Fail or something.