We spent last week in Florida visiting my wonderful mother-in-law. The weather was flawless: temperatures in the low eighties, clear skies, and delicate breezes every single day. The setting was perfect for Saturday’s perigee moon. We did the best we could with our point-and-shoot, balancing the camera on the sixth-floor balcony railing as a replacement for a nonexistent tripod.
Our days were spent like this:
Eventually, we had to come back to the Frozen North. Surprise! It was, in fact, frozen. We drove home from the airport in a heavy rain that became freezing drizzle, and eventually hail. Since schools were closed pretty much statewide the next day (today), we had our son’s help in digging us out of the snow that had covered the thick layer of slush and ice. Hurray spring!
But back to Florida. Fascinating, isn’t it, how our eating habits change on vacation. I’m not a sandwich fan as a rule (my carbs of choice are pasta and rice), but I had one every day for lunch last week—meatloaf sandwiches.
I defy any but the most devoted vegetarian to resist my mother-in-law’s meat loaf. She makes it with one part pork, one part veal, and two parts beef, some milk-soaked bread, minced onion, and a little seasoning. The flavor is rich and complex, and the texture is smooth, more paté than ground meat. It is delectable served hot with mashed potatoes, but really shines as leftovers in cold meat loaf sandwiches.
I have the recipe. Yet my meat loaf is nothing like hers. (The flavor is good, but the texture’s rougher, and the final result is always a bit greasy.) Part of the problem is that she’s been making this meat loaf for many years, and could do it in her sleep. It’s hard to break a task down into individual steps when it’s so familiar it’s almost a muscle memory. I need to be there when she’s mixing the raw ingredients, to see what I’ve been missing.
It is essential that I learn to prepare this dish her way. Family and friends beg her to make it, and spread the word when she does: “Mom made meat loaf! Sandwiches tomorrow!” It is a requirement for tailgating at football games.
But more than that, it’s a family legacy. This was our first visit to Florida since my smart, funny, generous father-in-law passed away. We felt his loss keenly, and it made me aware that I want to do what I can to preserve family traditions for my husband and son. My mother-in-law returns to the Frozen North soon to spend the summer. Next time she breaks out the ground meat, I’ll be by her side taking notes. Maybe, with a lot of practice, I can recreate her dish and preserve a part of our history.