Monday, October 7, 2013

Dinner as a Metaphor for Life - Sort of

Tuna. Noodle. Casserole. Taken on their own, three rather innocent words. Put them together, however, and you have a recipe for... DISASTER!

Okay, so under normal circumstances, Tuna Noodle Casserole (or TNC as we'll call it from here out) is a relatively benign food. In fact, it's very benign-ness was why I decided to make it on Sunday afternoon. A friend had mentioned making it for her kids on Facebook, and - though I can't say I've eaten much TNC in my past 33 years of life - it sounded good for some reason. Comforting. Gooey. Rich. AMERICAN! I scoured the interwebs for a recipe that didn't call for cream of mushroom soup or a ton of mayo and found something that fit the bill. John even agreed to eat some, as long as I used corn pasta instead of wheat (because as you all know, wheat is the devil in our house).

John and Jack headed to the Hyatt for their Sunday afternoon swim and I gathered the ingredients. Naturally some substitutions were in order. I hate celery, so I left that out, and I'd forgotten to buy mushrooms, so I hoped they wouldn't be too greatly missed. We only had one large can of tuna left, so I knew the dish would be light on the T, but I had the peas, the milk, the butter, the onions and garlic and whatever else was in there. I started boiling water for the pasta, chopped up the onion, preheated the oven, and got to work.

Then things started to go wrong. The pasta finished too quickly and had to be set aside, along with the sauteed onions and garlic. I was still fairly chipper at this point, but as I scanned the recipe I realized I'd made a very serious oversight. The recipe called for a roux. And if you know anything about a roux, you know it involves two ingredients: butter, and flour.


That's when the panic set in. The pasta had congealed into a stiff yet somehow slimy mass of yellow noodles, and the onions and garlic were withering before my eyes. I scoured the cabinets for some kind of flour substitution, came up with a disgusting quinoa flour-based roux that immediately went down the drain (which immediately began to clog) and tossed aside one bizarre flour after another looking for something John would eat. By the time I had decided he'd just have to deal with the 1/4 cup of flour (in the entire massive recipe), I realized we didn't even HAVE regular flour. I proceeded to make a passable roux with organic pastry flour, butter, and heavy cream (since John didn't want me to use regular milk; lowfat anything is also the devil in our house). Then I threw in the thawed peas, tuna, the dried-up onions and garlic, along with the hardened blob of noodles, and proceeded to weep.

With tears streaming down my cheeks (okay, not really, but I was pretty pissed off at that point), I texted John my apologies.Then I shredded some cheddar cheese over the whole thing (I didn't even think about using the called-for bread crumbs) and shoved it into the oven.

The recipe that started it all. Here's the link if you feel like torturing yourself.

Over the next 25 minutes, while the bane of my existence proceeded to bubble and brown nicely, I debated whether or not John would humor me and eat the casserole, or if he would stand his ground and refuse it. On the one hand, John is very dedicated to his little no-wheat experiment, and even though Sundays are his "cheat day" (meaning he'll stomach the occasional oat or buckwheat kernel), I had a terrible feeling he wouldn't bend the rules for TNC. On the other hand, he's not an idiot. Surely he would see how hard I had worked, the substitutions I had made on his behalf (corn pasta ain't like regular pasta, I assure you, and those bread crumbs would have really added something), and how truly furious I would be if he refused my from-scratch dinner. I sat, and waited, and fumed, already anticipating his reaction.

Just as the casserole finished, John and Jack walked through the door. Jack seemed happy enough and immediately wanted to know where dinner was. But John. Oh John. The downtrodden - yet somehow determined - look on his face told me everything I needed to know. He would not condescend to eat the TNC. Even when he saw my face wither like so many sauteed onions, even as my hopes crumbled like the bits of bread I would not get to eat, even as the color rose in my cheeks the way that beautiful casserole had browned in the oven, still he would not yield.

So I dished up the casserole for Jack and myself while John warmed up a disgusting bowl of grechka. I can't seem to describe it properly for people, so here's a photo:

I assure you the only tasty thing in this photo is the butter. 

Now, grechka is what you or I know as buckwheat. How many times have you eaten buckwheat in your life? Assuming you occasionally order buckwheat pancakes, and assuming they actually use buckwheat flour in those pancakes, that's probably the extent of it. But Russians love buckwheat. It's generally served like this for breakfast (sometimes with milk and maybe something to sweeten it - which grosses me out because grechka is naturally savory) or as a side dish a la rice with lunch and dinner. Sour cream is a common topping, as are fried eggs. And butter is pretty standard. I have learned to stomach the stuff in my time here, but I will never - I repeat, NEVER - like it. John loved it since his very first encounter during language immersion last year. Jack, like his mama, was not a fan. But Katya, our nanny, is nothing if not persistent, and after serving it to Jack pretty much every day for a year, he appears to have developed some sort of taste for the stuff. Here's what happened next.

Jack, who had just started to eat the TNC (he'd never had it before and was skeptical), took one look at Daddy's bowl of plain (PLAIN!) grechka and said, "I want some of Daddy's porridge." He then proceeded to push the TNC out of his way and help himself to heaping spoonfuls of buckwheat nastiness.

And that's when I really started to cry.

So, you may be wondering, how IS life like a Tuna Noodle Casserole and not, say, a box of chocolate? Because sometimes, you work your ass off for something - maybe it's your job, or your novel, or DINNER - and no one wants anything to do with it. Sometimes your hard work isn't acknowledged or appreciated. Sometimes you want to throw your hands up in there and scream, "Why do I bother??" (Sometimes you might literally do this.)

And sometimes, you just have to suck it all up, grab a fork, and eat that TNC all by yourself. And guess what?

It was freaking delicious.


Yoonsuh Moh said...

Oh no! So the little boy hasn't taken a bite of your TNC and decided to cheat on it with the grechka?

By the way, is grechka some type of buckwheat? Do many Russians eat raw buckwheat? Or boiled, sauteed, steamed, or something?

Birdie said...

I would have eaten your TNC any day over buckwheat (that stuff is disgusting, yuck!)

Lynne said...

Aww, you know how I feel about grechka. I think if you hadn't had such an awful first experience it might have gone better for you (in fact I am now wondering where I can find grechka, I miss it). However, the point of your post - oh, friend, I am so with you.