Monday, December 7, 2009

Eighteen Days Before Christmas And Top On My List? Greasing The Track.

It’s 10 p.m. Chez Wiles, and not a creature is stirring.

Unless, of course, you count Lionel, our Napoleon-complex-afflicted feline, who is stalking and pouncing on what, given the season, I imagine to be a few stray, zippy and unusually aggressive elves, who are leading a frantic chase through the living room and into the dining room.  And back into the living room.  And into the dining room.  This cat is in constant need of conquest.  This morning, he managed to track down and slay a blue gel ice pack, which Snarky Son (SS) left on the floor.  (Don’t get me started.)  That poor, floppy ice pack never knew what hit it.  I did, though, thanks to a trail of azure goo.

Likewise, Josie the rescue dog, despite utter exhaustion, can barely doze for more than 30 minutes at a stretch, thanks to regular holiday visits from those three men bearing gifts:  the FedEx man, the UPS man and the mailman.  Oh --  perhaps those bouts of explosive diarrhea could be disrupting her sleep pattern, as well.  After two nights of, well, do I have to describe it?  Can't I just say -- thanks to baby gates -- it was confined to the kitchen?  Anyhow, I finally decided to dose her up on Benefiber and now can’t decide:  Was that caring, controlling or comical?

Let’s not forget SS, who, being deprived of his cell phone and Facebook during exam prep, has resorted to enthusiastically pounding, drumming and thumping on whatever piece of upstairs furniture is immediately over my head, no matter where I am downstairs.  He says it helps him study.  I say even the cast from Stomp couldn’t study with that commotion.  This, after I insisted that a person can't study effectively while talking on the phone.  Or while reading a book.  Or while “listening” on the phone.  That’s right. New rule. No studying while listening on the phone.  Not even on speaker phone.

Darling Daughter (DD), blessedly, has been asleep for over an hour.  I wish it were because she is living up to her reputation as the “Golden Child,” but the sad truth is that she may be coming down with something. She crawled into bed and collapsed well before her usual bedtime tonight, and I've lost count of the number of times I crept upstairs to gently lay an anxious hand on her forehead.

We’re all a little out of sorts right now.  SS is facing his first exam week as a high schooler.  DD, a middle schooler, only has one exam, but it’s also a first for her.  DD’s first basketball game of the season is this Saturday, too.  SS is anticipating driver’s ed instruction later this month.

On top of that, we've got to figure out The Schedule -- who's where and when for the next few weeks -- never a pleasant or easy task for the kids of divorced parents.  And oh yeah, it’s Christmas time, too.  Sigh.

Yep.  We’ve got plenty on our plates, and I know full well what my job is in times like these:  I grease the track.

My job is to make things easy.  To make sure that favorite jeans are clean, favorite snacks are on hand and friendly adults -- repeatedly asking the inocuous "Are you ready for Christmas? -- are fended off.

Likewise, I try to choose meals that are filling, nutritious and, most important, non-controversial.  This is not the time to try out that Julia Child boeuf bourgignon recipe.  Nope. I’m looking for tried and true and loved.  Pasta will surely be playing a leading role these next couple of weeks, with the beloved sausage pasta taking center stage, but tonight, it was meatloaf and mashed potatoes.  And stockings hung with care.

Best Ever Meatloaf
What makes this meatloaf particularly flavorful is the mix of meats.  The recipe makes two loaves, so I cook both, and then, freeze one for dinner at another time.

1 onion, chopped
1 rib celery, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil

1 pound ground beef
1 pound ground veal
1 pound ground pork

2 eggs
½ cup dried bread crumbs (I use panko)
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
¼ cup cream (or milk)
¼ cup minced parsley (unless you’re greasing the track at your own house, then omit, because it’s gross)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon dried oregano
fresh ground pepper

In a large skillet, sautee onion and celery in olive oil over medium heat.  When vegetables are translucent and slightly browned, stir in garlic, and cook another few minutes, or until garlic is fragrant.  Remove pan from heat.

In a large mixing bowl, combine meats with your hands, using a light touch.  Mix in (still using your hands) eggs, bread crumbs and remaining ingredients, including vegetables.  If you'd like to check for season (and I do), take a tablespoon or so of the meat mixture, flatten into a patty and brown quickly in a skillet.  Taste, and add additional seasoning to the meat mixture as needed.

Divide mixture in half, and shape into two loaves, placing each into a loaf pan.  Bake, in a preheated 350 oven for about 1 hour.  Check for doneness by poking with a skewer or toothpick.  When juices run clear (not pink), meatloaves are ready.  Remove from oven and allow to rest 15 minutes before slicing and serving.

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