Comfort food?
…or, memorable meals?


Terry and I had hot dog casserole for dinner last night.

Great dinner.

Can of baked beans. Half dozen or so hot dogs. Mix them up with a bit of brown sugar and some other additions of your choice (we usually add a bit of ketchup and ground mustard to the baked beans and brown sugar, with some chopped onions in with the frying hot dog slices, which all becomes a big dish of goodness heading for some time in the oven before serving), open a can of brown bread, and you’ve got quite the meal.

That’s right. I said a can of brown bread. And if your eyes have turned to a vacant stare of “I have no clue what the hell you’re talking about” on that suggestion, well, I’m afraid I won’t be able to help you understand much of this effort.

It’s cheap and easy and far from gourmet. It’s much, much closer to a beat-up campfire kettle than any formal plating arrangement. It’s also amazingly delicious and incredibly satisfying.

Granted, not each and every day satisfying. More like once or twice a year satisfying.

While making the dinner, I began to wonder about it. Does this count as comfort food? I suppose it does. Actually, it most certainly does. It’s not as complex as a great stew, but it delivers on almost all of the same atmosphere.

For me though, I usually think of two particular stories when it comes to this dish. Both of them involve my mother.

The first is a bit off in the ultimate outcome, and I want to warn you about that. These days, both of my parents say they have no memory of it happening. But, I think you’ll understand from the details that not only could it easily have happened, it also sounds like something a child would remember.

Mom was frying the hot dogs on the stove, and I was doing what kids ordinarily do… getting completely in the way without realizing I was completely in the way.

She had just started making the dinner. No doubt following a busy and potentially frustrating day, needing to feed the family, and hoping to get some quick meal assembled and moved to the table so everyone could eat and get on with the evening.

I on the other hand, was standing next to the stove, hungry, and grabbed a hot dog slice.

My mother caught me, and proceeded to inform me not to do that… because it wasn’t cooked and I could die and get out of the kitchen NOW!

I don’t remember her exact words, but I can vividly remember sitting on my bed, scared to tears, my father next to me with a notepad, taking dictation from me as I presented him with my will.

Yup… whatever it was my mother actually said about eating an uncooked hot dog slice and dying, it connected. I was convinced I was going and was passing along my final wishes to my father.

Dad claims to not remember this. Mom says she doesn’t remember it either, but can at least acknowledge that she was likely happy I had left the kitchen. So, there is that.

Another time, I was helping out. Most of the time, hot dog casserole was one of those meals… something the kids could be trusted to assist with, since there was pretty much no way to mess it up.

We usually started with a four-ingredient mix in our house… baked beans, ketchup, ground mustard and brown sugar. Easy enough. Take a can of baked beans and add so many tablespoons of this and so many tablespoons of that, stir. Add the sliced up hot dogs that have been fried, stir. Bake in casserole dish.

In our house, things were pretty traditional. B&M Baked Beans and the standard Corningware casserole dish. (You know the set… blue flower on the side, with matching glass lids.) Plus, as an added bonus, it provided an argument-free dinner that everyone would eat without kicking and screaming, so it had a regular spot in our rotation.

And I was good at making it.

So good, I knew the recipe without looking it up.

One time, I was adding the ketchup. Mom said two tablespoons, which—as all of you probably know, just as I did—is wrong. (It’s three. Or… it was three… now I don’t measure any of it, which is exactly where this story is headed…)

I looked at her, saying: “No, it’s three.” Her response? Something along the lines of: “Yeah, sure, three tablespoons. Whatever.”

I didn’t break eye contact. Why? Because her response was a groundbreaking moment. I suddenly realized there was no recipe for her hot dog casserole! She had been making it up all along.

Can you believe that? She knew the basics, never used a recipe herself and just tossed things together, and had been so consistent with it that whatever the kids tossed in was fine. Just so happened the we usually added the same things.

I have actually looked for the recipe in her kitchen several times since I moved out and began assembling my own stockpile of recipes. It’s mostly out of curiosity. I have this image in my head of a piece of paper with the recipe on it. But I have never found it. Nothing even close. And I am not surprised.

Of course, I now know that there is no exact science to it. We make it by eye in our house. No more tablespoons. Which I will admit is in part because I just don’t want the extra dirty dishes. So much ketchup and so much brown sugar and a bit of this and a bit of that and stir. Put in the oven with the brown bread.

It’s almost a bit of a treat when we make it. Simple… no fuss… easy and done. So of course, it qualifies as comfort food. But it’s the memories that catch me. Every time. (Even if they aren’t written down.)


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