It's been over a month since my mother died, and I continue to be astonished at just how weird that is. I like to flatter myself - what else is new? - that I've been holding up reasonably well, but this is not an easy process. Not that one expects that it should be easy, but then again what should we expect? The loss of a parent is by definition a Great Big Existential Deal, and when it happens it's hard to feel at anything but a loss. I'm working hard to find the grace, the wisdom, the enhanced connection with life, the universe, and everything, or even just the educational value in this, but it remains a major emotional challenge (or, as one eloquent friend puts it, AFGE: Another Fucking Growth Experience).
Which is why I am now going to talk about meatloaf.
#1: Not the "Paradise by the Dashboard Light" Meatloaf, because that would just be gross.
#2: Not the cheap-ground-beef-mixed with-ketchup meatloaf, because that would be (improbable though it may seem) even grosser.
#3: Not the gussied-up, "meatloaf masquerade" en croute referred to in my most recent post, because there is no way I could ever hope to match Julia's unbridled blood lust.
No, I'm thinking about meatloaf more as a concept, an idea, a signifier, if you will, of "Mom's home cooking." The sort of thing that would be in the oven when you came in from playing on a chilly afternoon, asking what was for dinner. That the response - "Meatloaf, you love it" - left no room for rebuttal was part and parcel of childhood mealtimes. (I'm reminded of a passage from Marilyn French's seminal feminist novel, The Women's Room, in which Adele, the archetypal harassed 1950s housewife, reflects, "To children, food was everything...their whole evening rose or fell according to what they were to have for dinner." Which is just as true today as it was back then.)
Now, let me just come right out and say that I always hated meatloaf. Of course, I was a notoriously picky eater, and the list of things I hated was longer than the list of things I didn't, but even my siblings agreed that our mother's meatloaf pretty much sucked; this was surprising, because she was an amazing cook. My father's rendition was a bit better - and provides the general model for today's recipe - but it's not the sort of thing I would have actively craved or requested.
So why am I veganizing it? A question to be asked. I suppose it comes down to an urge to get in the kitchen and make something stereotypically "homey" at a time when I'm redefining exactly what that means. What can I say? The humidity had (temporarily) broken, all of my kids were at home, I had submitted a draft of my final thesis chapter, I wanted to make something that said "old school dinner," and this was the result. In a perfect world, I would have mixed up some martinis, tidied the house, put on some lipstick, and run a comb through my hair while dinner was in the oven, but in the event I only got as far as the first part. (I can only take this June Cleaver thing so far, okay?)
Please note that I used mashed up vegan meatballs for the "meat," because that's what was on hand, but you could easily sub Gardein, Gimme Lean, Trader Joes' "Beefless" Ground Beef, Boca Crumbles, or whatever you prefer. This recipe will make one big or two smaller loaves, and is pretty filling. We ate it with sauteed carrots and (what else?) mashed potatoes on the side, for a reasonable facsimile of a dinner my mom would have made back in the day. Except that my meatloaf is delicious, so there should be no grumbling or crestfallen expressions when it appears on the table!
Not My Mom's Meatloaf
~ 1 tbsp. olive oil
~ 1 cup chopped onion
~ 1/2 cup each: finely minced celery, carrots, green bell pepper
~ 1 tbsp. garlic, minced
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, marjoram, chili powder, parsley
~ 1/2 tsp. oregano, thyme, basil
~ 2 12 oz. packages vegan meatballs, thawed and mashed (Nate's and TJ's are good)
~ 1 cup vegetable broth
~ 2 tsp. vegan Worcestershire sauce
~ 1 tsp. Liquid Smoke
~ 1 6 oz. can tomato paste
~ 1/2 cup quick-cooking rolled oats
~ 1/2 to 1 cup prepared spaghetti sauce (depending on your tomato jones)
~ Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and coat a loaf pan with cooking spray.
~ In a large skillet, heat the olive oil and saute the onions, celery, carrot, and bell pepper for about 7 minutes over medium-high heat, until softened.
~ Add the garlic, salt, marjoram, chili powder, parsley, oregano, thyme, and basil; cook another couple minutes.
~ Add the mashed meatballs, tomato paste, Worcester sauce, Liquid Smoke, and the broth. Stir to combine and cook five minutes, until well incorporated.
~ Stir in the oats, and cook another 5-10 minutes, until you have thick "sloppy joe" texture (you can add a little water if it gets too thick, but remember that you want it to set up and be sliceable after baking).
~ Transfer the mixture to the prepared loaf pan, pour the spaghetti sauce over the top, cover with foil, and bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes.
~ Remove the foil, raise the heat to 400, and bake another 15 minutes, until browned.
~ Allow to stand for about 10 minutes before serving with mashed potatoes, and something old-school (sauteed carrots and/or green beans come to mind).