Sunday, January 29, 2012

Memories, Meat Loaf and a Cup of Cake

This story on the example set by a friend's mother. coupled with her recipes for life, meat loaf and a cup of cake, ran on Patch Sunday morning. If you have recipes or comments to share, please leave them on the Patch site. Thank you!

Sunday Night Supper: Meat Loaf, Chocolate Cake and a Whole Lot of Memories.

Karma is a boomerang. If you catch it, throw it back.

All roads lead to Brooklyn, which is another way of saying that if someone does you a good turn, you might eventually be lucky enough to return it.

About 100 years ago, my husband and I were set up on a blind date. We had a couple of mutual acquaintances and worked across the street from each other, but we didn't know anything about each other's friends or families. One of the first things he did was introduce me to his best friend and his best friend’s girlfriend.

Best Friend had graduated from Midwood high school in Brooklyn, the same high school my mother (and Woody Allen) had gone to. He had grown up ten blocks from where my grandparents had lived for more than 60 years. The Best Friend's accent and mannerisms were instantly familiar to me; he reminded me of my father---brusque, direct, funny, and occasionally risqué, with a fondness for smoking cigars and grilling steaks. Best Friend and his girlfriend, and my future husband and I, ended up living in the same building on the Upper West Side. We spent a lot of time together, doing what twentysomethings do--drinking wine, eating humus and flatbread, and making plans to eat and drink some more. Eventually we all got married and I promised the universe that one day we would try to set up another couple on a blind date that yielded a marriage, or at least something comparable.

But I wouldn’t be telling this story if it weren’t for Best Friend’s mother, Lolly, an astute, white-haired, and cheerful lady who was also an excellent cook. Once the kids went to college, Lolly and her husband Al packed up the house in Brooklyn and decamped for Greenwich. On summer weekends, my husband and I would pile into Best Friend's car and drive up to to see them. Lolly and Al owned a a ranch house with a big kitchen and a pool surrounded by flowers. Al was a gruff obstretrician with a dry sense of humor. By the time I met him, he had retired and was perfectly content watering his flowers with a garden hose, pulling leaves out of the pool and wandering into the kitchen to see his wife. He was happy enough to see us but didn't dote on us the way Lolly did; he seemed to regard my husband and me as the freeloaders we were.

Lolly, on the other hand, would stand in her white kitchen and greet us with platters of fruit and vegetables. "Come in, come in," she’d say as we pulled up in the driveway, as if she had been waiting all week for us to arrive. She is one of those lovely and intelligent women who has taken care of people her whole life, and doesn't seem to have resented a minute of it. Often, she would be working in the kitchen with her mother Billy. Lolly grew up in Michigan, and when she gave birth to her fourth son, her mother came to live with her and help raise the kids. Those two women always seemed delighted to be in each other’s company. They'd move quickly around the kitchen, laughing and talking. "Here, dear, take this outside," they'd say, as they handed us platters of food.

The kitchen looked out onto the pool and as we sat on our butts in the sun, Lollly and Billy whipped up the kind of wholesome dishes that children crave and grown-ups try to grow out of but can't: Meat loaf with chilli sauce, hot dogs with mustard and black currant jelly, spinach dip in a "bowl" of bread, and layer cake made from Hershey’s chocolate syrup and peach preserves. Sometimes, I would go into the kitchen to see what they were doing and ask for the recipes. "Oh, honey, you don't need a recipe for this," they'd say. "It's so easy." Then they'd recite it from memory. Though my mother and grandmother got along well, my parents did not, and to watch these three adults move peacably around the same house was a total pleasure.

The years passed. Eventually, we all had babies and moved to the suburbs. Billy passed away. Then Al did. He and Lolly were married 41 years. At his funeral, I wondered what Lolly was going to do now that her house was empty, but other than exchanging annual holiday cards and the occasional email, we didn't talk much.

Then, one Christmas, my husband and I took our kids on vacation. On the plane were another set of parents, their two pre-teen kids and a grandfather. We were all headed to the same resort, so we end up spending a lot of time together, sitting on the docks and circling the buffet in the restaurant. The grandfather, Walter, was a radiologist whose wife had just died of lymphoma. He was an avid sailer and liked to talk about books and sailing. He was a pleasure to be with, but it was clear that he was at loose ends and grieving for his wife. At the end of the vacation, I exchanged emails with his daughter-in-law and we went our separate ways.

A few months later, we got together with Best Friend and his family. Best Friend said that Lolly was was dating but hadn't found "the one." I mentioned Walter; he lived near Lolly, maybe they should meet. My husband was skeptical; he didn't remember our promise to the Universe. I immediately emailed Walter’s daughter-in-law. “I have someone for Walter,” I typed, We made a date to get Walter and Lolly together, with us "kids" as chaperones.

On a beautiful August day, we all went sailing on Walter's son's boat. At the end of the afternoon, I pulled Lolly aside and asked what she thought. She shrugged and said, "Maybe."

After we docked, I asked Walter if he wanted to see Lolly again.

"I'll get her number from my daughter-in-law," he said.

"I have Lolly's email address and phone number right here."

"Okay, I'll take it," Walter said.

Three and a half years later, Walter and Lolly are going strong. "We have our aches and pains but we're having fun," she says, laughing. She watches what he eats and makes him go on walks; he takes her sailing. They go to the opera, the ballet, the Philharmonic, medical conferences and out for dinner. They’ve been kayaking and white water rafting. Next month, they’re going to the Galapagos. Lolly just turned 79, Walter is almost 82. When I called Lolly to tell her I was wriitng about her and her cooking, she offered to send me her recipe for Five Minute Cake in a Cup. "I have lots of great tips and recipes to share," she said.

The day after I talked to her, it was raining and miserable. I wanted comfort food and made Lolly’s meatloaf. It only took a few minutes to mix up. While it was cooking, the kitchen smelled wonderful. But the result wasn't pretty. My older son poked at it and said, “This looks strange.” He took a bite. “This is actually really delicious,” he said, then had seconds and third. My younger had seconds.

The next day, I made Lolly's "Cup of Cake." In five minutes, there was a dense and awesome piece of chocolate cake, courtesy of the microwave, sitting in a coffee cup. I dove into it with our houseekeper Maria and my younger son. We were all shocked by its goodness and the ridiculously short time it took to make it.

As I write this, I am looking at Lolly's meat loaf recipe, which I scribbled out in green magic marker on a piece of notebook paper, a few weeks after my husband and I met in 1991. I had no idea then our lives would continue to intersect or that I would be lucky enough to eventually help Lolly find new love. I just knew that her food was delicious and I wanted to be able to create the kind of life she had made for herself, where grown children hang around the pool, and the table is always full and there is always someone nearby, willing to make you meatloaf.

Lolly’s Meatloaf

Preheat oven at 350 degrees.

2 pounds chopped sirloin (85% lean)

1 Portuguese roll

1 onion

1 bottle Heinz chili sauce

Salt and pepper

Soak roll in water until it's mushy (about a minute). Squeeze out water. Mix the roll with the meat. Add salt, pepper and a little garlic (fresh or powder).

Press meatloaf into a 8X8 square pan.

Pour half bottle of chili sauce on loaf. Slice a smal onion and lay slices on top of sauce. Bake for 35-45 minutes. If using a meat thermometer, until meat gets to 165 degrees.

Lolly's Cup of Cake (Five Minute Microwaved Chocolate Cake)

Take one large coffee cup and into it, add the following:

4 tablespoons flour

4 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons cocoa

Mix well.

Then add:

1 egg

3 tablespoons milk

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

3 tablespoons chocolate chips

A little vanilla.

Put in microwave for 3 minutes at 1,000 watts. It will rise to the top. Cool before tipping out onto a plate.

Lolly’s Oven-Baked Chocolate Cake with Peach Preserves

Preheat oven at 350 degrees.

1/4 pound butter, softened

1 cup sugar

4 eggs

1 can Hershey's syrup

1 cup self-rising flour

1 teaspoon vanilla

Jar of peach preserves

Grease and flour a 3 quart Pyrex dish. Cream butter, gradually add sugar. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Add Hershey's chocolate syrup.Add self-rising flour. Add vanilla. Mix.

Pour into Pyrex dish and bake for 40 minutes. Serve with peach preserves.

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