Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Grandma's Hot Dish

As the air gets colder and the wind windier, as the green leaves turn red and gold and crisp, as the season turns from summer to autumn, we crave and seek the warmth of home. We snug into our comfy chairs with good books. We turn down the lights and turn up the flames in the fireplace to watch an old black and white movie on TV. And despite what is constantly pounded into our brains regarding low calories, low trans fats, and low carbohydrates, we turn to warm, filling comfort food.

My grandma Mabel used to make a hot dish which she eventually referred to as “Sara’s Hot Dish” because I would become gluttonous whenever she served it. I always called it “Grandma’s Hot Dish” because she was the only one I knew who made anything like it. The recipe is easy to remember, although I have it written down in case of some emergency where I lose my memory or am unable to make the hot dish myself and require someone else to make it for me.

Consisting of hamburger and onion, cream of mushroom soup and cream cheese, a little salt and pepper, corn, and lots of egg noodles, this hot dish will fill you up and warm you up in a way no other hot dish can. Grandma’s Hot Dish must be accompanied by red Jello. Strawberry is the flavor of choice, but any red Jello will do. And don't you dare put any fruit in that Jello. There must also be some bread and butter pickles on the table.

To make a completely authentic Grandma Mabel meal “buttons” must be served. Buttons were Grandma’s homemade buns, little and sweet, unlike anything I’ve tasted in my near half century of eating bread. Dessert would likely be Snickerdoodle cookies. (You can see the necessity for red Jello. This is a very “white” meal. The Jello adds a bit of contrast to the bland color of the stroganoff-like hot dish, buns, and cookies.)

I made a batch of Grandma’s Hot Dish for dinner the other night. I served it with raspberry Jello and bread and butter pickles. While I have the recipe for Grandma’s Buttons, I’ve yet to attempt making them for fear of completely wrecking them and causing poor Mabel to roll over in her grave, so served some store-bought bread sticks. The Snickerdoodles were also missing from the meal as I just couldn’t find time to make a batch. Perhaps this weekend I’ll bake some up and we can have them with the hot dish leftovers. Even though the meal wasn't as complete as it could have been, the hot dish was my purpose, and it satisfied me greatly.

What makes comfort food so comforting? I think it has everything to do with its psychological impact. Grandma’s Hot Dish reminds me of an old house with creaking hardwood floors and a big dining room table with a crocheted table cloth. It reminds me of a steamy kitchen and old fashioned aprons. It reminds me of cuckoo clocks and broadcloth. It reminds me of being a kid.

And plus, it tastes really, really good.

Make some comfort food this week.

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