TUNA CASSEROLE

Growing up in a one-income single mother home was not easy for a mom. It wasn’t easy for the kids either. My mama would try to come up with different, affordable ideas that could be made quickly after a full day at the office. The beginning of the month, the choices were grand. Too much month at the end of the money, choices not so much.

Let me begin by stating that my mama was a wonderful cook. She was an even better baker. Homemade bread made over the weekends, cookies, cakes. We still make her chicken cordon bleu and poppy seed bread and Christmas cookies among other favorites.

Anyone who has had young children will tell you that young kids are finicky about their food. If you are lucky, it starts with baby food. If you are unlucky, it will start with formula. The never ending search for formula your child can keep down that won’t cause gas, or encourage colic. If it’s baby food, it will usually start with pureed peas or green beans promptly spit out by your toothless wonder spraying across your hair, face and shirt. The choices escalate as the wee one gets teeth, can chew and then (God forbid) can actually tell you, “I HATE PEAS.” Yes, there are children who are exceptions to the rules. Personally, I think they are sketchy as hell and I wouldn’t trust them as far as I could throw them.

Macaroni and cheese is almost a sure bet – so long as it’s the skinny noodles because the fat noodles blow the flavor. Hot dogs added to Macaroni and cheese (the skinny noodles) is an added bonus. You can never go wrong with pizza, mashed potatoes, meatballs, chicken fried steak (gravy will take several years unless it’s made by Gigi). We were raised on fried chicken (IN), pork chops were IN, spaghetti IN, corn on the cob IN, green salad (with Gigi’s buttermilk homemade ranch dressing) IN.

Back in the 70s we didn’t have lunchables. I would make my own lunch which consisted of a warm bologna sandwich with best foods mayonnaise on kid approved wheat bread (mama wouldn’t by Wonder bread. She called it Wonder Rot). I’d make a cold hotdog sandwich on same wheat bread with Best Foods and ketchup. Peanut butter and jelly with lays potato chips in the middle. If I bought lunch, mama put 50 cents (mostly nickels/dimes) in an embroidered handkerchief and tie a knot in it. These were acceptable lunch choices.

Here’s what didn’t work. Bell peppers. They couldn’t even be cooked in the house without my gag reflexes kicking in. Onions — cooked, raw, didn’t matter. (Except onion rings. I loved them!) Occasionally mama would take us through the McDonald’s drive thru. It never failed that they would screw up our order. Mama would scrape the onions off of my hamburger, but the drama was done. You could STILL taste it. While she was an onion pickin’ pro, occasionally she would miss a chopped onion. That small sliver of chopped onion would hit my mouth and grow to the size of a full-sized onion resulting in more gagging.

The problem was that mama STILL tried to hide onions – cooked onions in my food. It started with tuna casserole. Onions in tuna casserole…YUCK. She would try dried onion flakes…YUCK. She thought crispy chow mein noodles or crumbled potato chips over the top would help…..YUCK. I would sit at the table for hours, a battle of wills between mama and I. The serving in front of me would grow cold, congealing around the edges. The only thing worse would have been if she had started playing Roger Whitaker with it. YUCK. Mama could make me a tuna fish sandwich with sweet pickles and eggs. LOVE….Creamed tuna on toast….LOVE. Tuna casserole…..Y U C K. Y U C K.. Y U C K. Stuffing (like Thanksgiving turkey and stuffing). Y U C K.

The good news is that taste buds mature and change. I have learned to love sour cream, cream cheese, cooked bell peppers, and most onions. It’s not like I put them on my hamburgers (even though I don’t eat hamburgers any more). I don’t put them on my sandwiches, but I’ll eat them in salads and I cook avidly with them. The first time I ate cooked onions, I was 20. They were crispy and carmelized. YUM. I ate them in stuffing and proudly called my mama to announce my new love for stuffing. This backfired the next month at Christmas when I had my mama’s stuffing and still didn’t like it — did NOT go over well. The bad news is I still detest tuna casserole and anything that remotely resembles it. Add to tuna casserole, tofu cheesecake and black bean brownies. Who the hell makes tofu cheesecake and black bean brownies? Probably the sketchy as hell kids (or the parents of sketchy as hell kids) who buck the finicky kid syndrome eating edaname and crispy seaweed chips like the family I saw at the Giant’s game a few weeks back!

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