September 19, 2011

Takes Me Home

A road that leads to the unknown

My dear Reader, I haven’t been able to attend to this blog as often as I used to. I haven’t been able to write for this blog as often as I’d like to, but there are so many things that I’d love telling you about.

On top of that, I haven’t been able to reply to all the comments and emails I recently received from you, my reader. For that, I apologize.

On my end, work has really gotten in my way. Because of the new job I took up in early July — through which I met a handful of friends whom I can click with and put my trust in, and also through which I’ve been subjected to the maltreatment and pressure from a slave-driver supervisor and some more other mean colleagues — you now can probably guess that I’m fatigued, with little interest in most things surrounding me.

I’d burst into tears abruptly, when episodes of what I’d gone through over the last few months come flashing in my head, haunting me out of nowhere. I hate to say that I’m depressed, but I think I am. I’m trying to keep my chin up. But I also feel helpless at the same time.

As I’m writing this post, merely being reminded of the slave driver is enough to make me cry. Tears washed down my face as I was driving home from the supermarket. I felt disoriented as I meandered through the aisles of groceries.

And now I cringe in the armchair. I’m feeling insecure, real scared and tired. I’ve been missing those days spent in America, when I was with my American family and friends.

That’s often the case. I guess Sigmund Freud was right about human anxiety and tension, though I’ve never been an advocate of his theories since my college days as a psychology minor. I’m regressing, turning the clock by just a few years back …

Which takes me back to my American mom Bonnie, to her words of comfort and advice, and to her kitchen where we’d baked and cooked and had meals together.

When I was feeling down — or just about any bad scenarios I can recall from then — I’d usually turn to Bonnie and spill everything out to her, and she would share her honest thoughts and embrace me in her hugs, as if I was her own daughter. I was home away from home.

An excellent cook and baker herself, many of Bonnie’s dishes — rustic and yet delicious American home cooking — have now become my comfort foods, though I’m no American by nationality. She makes smackin’ good meatloaves that bring smile to my face.

Classic Meatloaf

I love devouring meatloaves the good ol’ sandwich way: thick, moist, tender meaty slices sandwiched between thick slices of homemade whole-wheat bread, loose leaves of lettuce, juicy slabs of tomato, a squirt of mustard, and maybe a few pickles or a dollop of mayo.

Be honest, meatloaves are more of a treat in Bonnie’s household. She’d make these hearty loaves only when ground meat from the goats on her farm is still to be found in her freezer chests. And so is the case here, where ground beef and pork — my choice meats for meatloaves — are not the most affordable items around. (Be honest, living in Kuala Lumpur — just like most large cities — is getting unbearably expensive! Ugh.)

Bonnie’s meatloaves are not shy on spices and seasoning. I cannot, however, recall the spices in her meatloaf. Nor do I have her recipe. Shame on me.

Now, whenever I pine for America and the love of my American mom and her family, I’d find myself recreating the dishes I’d had there, including meatloaf.

Nostalgia hit. I Googled and settled for the meatloaf recipe from Simply Recipes, Elise Bauer and her family’s fantastic recipe blog catered largely for American home cooking. I think their recipe is good enough, that nothing much was changed except that I subbed the bread crumbs for quick-cooking oats and added a teaspoon of finely chopped fresh thyme. Oh and yes, I was quite generous with the ketchup glaze. Gotta love the crimson color of it.

Albeit feeling depressed and out of place, recreating and chowing on my American comfort foods — like the meatloaf — should help lift my spirit up and keep me going for a little, till I’m liberated from the hands of the slave driver.

Meatloaf, you and I have come a long way. Thanks for making me feel home away from home.

P.S. Let me gather my thoughts over the next few weeks; I’d love to share with you the positive things I’ve come across and learned as I wade way in the dehumanizing corporate world. Also, more good ol’ American home cooking to come on this blog. I probably sound neither Malaysian nor Chinese to you now, don’t I?

Classic Meatloaf

Classic Meatloaf
Adapted from the Bauers

This recipe is perfect; no tweaking is really needed. But like I said, because I didn’t have bread crumbs, I used quick-cooking oats. I also stirred in a teaspoon of fresh thyme to the meat mixture, which goes in line with the savory theme here. And due to laziness, I shaped mine freestyle, baking the meat on a greased baking sheet rather than in a loaf pan.

The Bauers share a tip: If you can’t get a hold of spicy ground pork or Italian sausage, try adding a pinch of fennel seeds and a half-teaspoon of hot sauce to regular ground pork.

1 rib celery, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 cup finely chopped onion(s)
1 tablespoon freshly minced garlic
½ cup finely chopped scallions

2 tablespoons salted or unsalted butter, or cooking oil

1½ to 2 teaspoons fine sea salt
1½ teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

2/3 cup ketchup, divided

680 grams ground beef
340 grams spicy ground pork sausage or Italian sausage
1 cup bread crumbs or quick-cooking oats
2 large eggs, at room temperature and lightly beaten
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme (optional)
1/3 cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Preheat the oven to 180°C.

In a large, heavy-based, lidded skillet, over medium heat, melt two tablespoons of butter, if using; otherwise, heating up the same amount of cooking oil will do. Add in (A), stirring for five minutes or so, till fragrant. Then cover the skillet, stirring occasionally, and cook till the carrot is tender, for another five minutes. Stir in (B) and 1/3 cup ketchup, and cook for another minute or so.

In a large mixing bowl, thoroughly combine (C) and the veggie mixture together. Then, in a greased 9-by-5-inch loaf pan or a greased large rectangular baking pan with two-inch-high sides, form the meat-and-veggie mixture into a loaf. Smear the loaf with the remaining 1/3 cup — or, like me, if you’re game for it, more — ketchup.

Bake the loaf for an hour, or until cooked through. Remove from the oven and let the loaf rest in its baking pan or sheet until it’s cooled enough for you to slice and dig in. It can be served at room temperature, too.

Yield: four to six servings, with plenty left over for meatloaf sandwiches
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