Thursday, August 13, 2009
In my family, when birthday time finally rolled around, it meant one thing (well, okay, two things if you include cake). Birthdays meant Total Menu Domination.
On my birthday, my mother allowed me to choose the entire dinner menu. Now of course there were a few ground rules; as in, the entire dinner couldn't consist of dessert, and it couldn't be something bank-breaking like lobster, but otherwise, the field was pretty open.
Actually, Total Menu Domination occurred the day before my birthday, because we always dined out on the actual day.
I think I enjoyed planning the before-Birthday dinner more than eating the restaurant one. I liked the idea of picking and choosing my then-favorites, presenting the menu to mother, and feasting on the bounty at the end.
It varied from year to year, depending on my whims. One year, it was fried pork chops, cream gravy, mashed potatoes and tomato salad. Thank goodness I was going through a growth spurt that year; that's an ass-busting spread right there.
Sometimes it was tacos, enchiladas, guacamole. Or shrimp scampi. Or pasta primavera with real garlic bread. If Gramma Rhetta was in town, it was definitely fried chicken and cornbread.
Now Total Menu Domination is a wonderful idea. It made me feel special, and loved, and powerful to be Master of the Dinner. I buzzed in and out of the kitchen all day, watching the progress of my feast. And when it was finally done and laid on the table, I always felt a secret little rush. Total Menu Domination=cool.
Except for one leeeeeetle problem.
Every year on my sister's birthday, she got Total Menu Domination. And my sister always picked the same hideous, nasty shit.
Inevitably, her birthday would roll around, and every year I hoped she'd pick something normal, like lasagna or steak with a baked potato. Or even, God forbid, pot roast dinner, which I didn't much like. But no, my sister's birthday meant the arrival of one thing: Shipwreck Casserole.
Shipwreck Casserole struck fear in my bones and made my legs itch to run far, far away. Shipwreck Casserole came from the Book. You know, The White Trash MotherLode Book. If you missed it, you can read about the Book here.
If you look at the ingredient list in the recipe, it doesn't seem too bad, really. It isn't unlike a lot of casserole recipes from the 60's era. But I assure you, throw those ingredients in one dish and bake them together, and you have retch-o-rama on your hands. Some vile magic happened to Shipwreck Casserole while it was in the oven, and as soon as my mother pulled that freakshow out, fragrant and steaming, I'd start to gag.
My sister loved Shipwreck Casserole. She squeezed a little ketchup over the top and happily munched her way through a huge pile. For the record, that little spectacle made me gag again.
How you can raise two children with entirely different tastes is beyond me. I mean, look at the movies-- I was popcorn (none of that gnarly fake butter shit on it), she was Red Vines.
I liked to know what was in my food, at all times. She would wolf down Shipwreck Casserole and chili and meatloaf, for Chrissakes, with no hesitation. It boggled my mind.
As the years pass, I wonder if my sister really loved Shipwreck Casserole as much as she did. I'm sort of thinking that maybe even she got sick of it every year. But every year she asked for it and smiled sweetly as I turned green and prayed to die.
And Sis, guess what? I'm onto you. You ordered up that meal because you liked watching me stew and fret and work myself into a complete froth the entire day. It wasn't the food, it was the accompanying entertainment that you so enjoyed. Well, Sis, beware. I'm combing the internet for whoopie cushions, garlic gum and exploding cigarettes as we speak. Just wait...someday, you're toast.
feeds 4 crazy people who don't have the sense to gag
2 peeled baking potatoes
1 large yellow onion
2 stalks of celery, sliced
salt and pepper
1 pound ground beef
1 can kidney beans, undrained
1 can tomato soup
Slice raw potatoes into a large greased casserole, spreading them to an even layer. Add a layer of onions, a layer of celery, and salt and pepper. Brown ground beef and add 1 can kidney beans. Pour into dish. Cover top of casserole with tomato soup.
Bake for an hour or more at 350 degrees.