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Passing the Baton

(by Cherie Burns)

My daughter, Jessie, is pregnant. Her first baby is due in a few weeks. I live in New Mexico, and she lives in New York, and we made lots of plans to be together during the coming months so I could help with the newborn and some housekeeping, especially cooking. She made me promise to make meatloaf, a family favorite. But now, with Covid-19 cases likely to peak during that time, all plans are changed, and of course, babies don’t cancel. I am sorely disappointed (more like heartbroken) that I will miss the birth, but I hope we can see one another on our phones and computer screens until we can be together. The meatloaf is another story.

Jessie has never been much of a cook. She can cook, but she doesn’t make time for it. When she came back from camp in her teens, she bragged that she could make a cherry cobbler on an open fire, but I have never seen this in practice. She always had homework, social plans, and achievement on her mind. Once when I was recovering from a small surgery (she was ten years old), I asked her to heat up the take-out wonton soup in a plastic container in the refrigerator. As I lay in bed smelling burning plastic, I realized that she had done exactly what I told her. I had failed to mention pouring the soup into the pan first. She was literal minded, and that has served her well.

Up to now, while in college, graduate school, and her work as a global health expert, Jessie has relied mostly on take-out food and quick fixes. Having a family, I figure, is likely to change that. And while I cannot be physically present to help right now, I hope to inject the comfort of meatloaf and shared cooking as best I can, sending a list of ingredients for her husband to pick up and guiding her through the preparation via video-conference. No doubt I will not be able to resist mentioning that cherry cobbler and wonton soup, and we will get on a laughing jag, and then laugh harder when we see that on a video screen. With its funhouse distortions, we will look nothing like the beautiful creatures we imagine ourselves to be.

My meatloaf recipe takes about 15 minutes to assemble, and can be frozen to cook another day. Jessie can mix everything together even with her newborn in a carrier on her chest (no stovetop or splatters in the preparation). The recipe, with a few tweaks over the years, is an improvement on the meatloaf my mother made. I have always believed that everyone prefers the meatloaf they were served by their mothers. Culinary excellence takes second place to the reminder of childhood, comfort, and love. (Proust, I think, would agree.) Home cooking is a baton than gets passed down through generations. Simply the smell of the roasting meats and herbs in the oven should remind Jessie of home and how much I love her.

Maybe I’ll make my own meatloaf as I guide my daughter through making hers. When the loaves are out of the oven, we can sit down on camera and take a bite together. Almost as good as being together with our senses aligned. The real touching and holding will come later.


Mama’s Meatloaf

2 lb. ground beef

1 lb. ground pork sausage

1 lb. ground veal

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 large onion, finely chopped

1 1/2 t. salt

1 t. freshly ground black pepper

1 t. thyme

1 t. rosemary

1/2 c. bread crumbs

2 eggs, lightly beaten

1/2 t. Tabasco


Preheat oven to 350 F.

Mix all the ingredients except ketchup in a bowl, combining thoroughly with hands.

Fill a 9 x 5 loaf pan with the mixture, and smooth top into a mound.

Make an indentation 1/2 inch deep down the length of the loaf, and fill with ketchup.

Set loaf pan in a larger roasting pan filled halfway with water.

Bake for 1 – 1 1/2 hours, or until a meat thermometer reaches 150 F.


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