Chatting About Tuna Noodle Casseroles, Jell-O, and the American Iron Housewife
Meaghan: Hi. Happy Friday. Did you do your 1 Thing yesterday, which was to cook?
Ester: I did, actually, Accountability Partner! Thanks for asking. The casserole came out nicely, but, I don’t know, a little on the bland side? I’ve never made tuna noodle anything before; I guess it’s supposed to taste like comfort food. Have you had time to cook at all, what with the new baby and your crazy family hanging around?
Meaghan: Ha, you mean my crazy family whom I love and adore in case they are reading this? A little bit! I kind of got in the bad habit of not cooking when I was pregnant, and generally not doing anything because I was growing a human, DAMMIT, so I am trying to become a contributing member of the household again, which is weird!
Ester: Oh, pshaw, don’t bother. You’re contributing! You’re feeding / holding / bonding with THE BABY, to whom you are sun and earth combined. You are Gaia, mother of all things. Gaia don’t cook.
Meaghan: Ha, my boobs are his sun and earth combined.
Ester: Right, one boob is sun, one boob is earth.
Meaghan: Scarily accurate. HA! Okay but my question is why did you want to cook a tuna casserole? That is amazingly nostalgic. I have never made one but definitely ate them as a child.
Ester: See, I never ate them as a child. My mom didn’t believe in that kind of food. Mike suggested I put potato chips on top and I told him that would be horrifying, but really right there I was speaking for my mother. I was 19 before I learned some people put marshmallows on their sweet potato or sugar on their cereal. We did not do those things. I also never had a deviled egg until then. So, like, other people experiment with drugs; I am experimenting with tuna casserole.
Meaghan: Oh my god so you totally eschewed gross Middle America 80’s food somehow? EAST COAST ELITE.
Ester: Hahahhaa yes! We had herring and whitefish and chopped liver and lots of Jewy, strong-tasting stuff. Good cheese. Kugels. Lots of chicken. But no Middle America food. No Jell-o. (Middle America likes Jell-o, right? I feel like I’ve seen that in commercials.)
Meaghan: Lol, yes, they/we like to put things in our Jell-o, too. It’s a thing. Also, my mom likes to tell this story about when my grandma had a bagel for the first time, she was like 40 years old? FLORIDA! And it was after church. And on the car ride home she was like, “Well those were the worst doughnuts I have ever had.”
Ester: Everything about that story is gold. Thank you for sharing it. I don’t even know when I had my first bagel. I probably teethed on it. One time, I asked my mom, for my birthday dinner, to make mashed potatoes, because I had had them for the first time at camp and was like “WHAT IS THIS THIS IS DELICIOUS.” My mom tried! Bless her heart. But she used chicken broth instead of … I don’t know, whatever you’re supposed to use, and other healthy ingredients, and it was a bust.
Meaghan: Oh man I have never put broth in potatoes but maybe that is a thing. From our childhood eras. Did your mom like to cook? My mom kind of does now but I think growing up she resented it, because she “had” to, for us every night. And so I always thought I would abstain from learning to cook as some sort of feminist act. Then a few years ago I realized I really liked cooking. So fine.
Ester: Totally! My mom likes cooking, I think, but no one likes having to do something, especially when you’re tired and the people for whom you’re putting yourself out take you and the chore for granted. We had family dinner every night too, and my mom worked full-time, so her day went on forever. I took the same lesson from it that you did: that I wanted to be a dad, not a mom, and short of that I simply wouldn’t learn to cook. Once I started living with Ben, though, I began to be, as you put it, a contributing member of the household, which meant overcoming my kitchen phobia. Did you cook as a kid, ever? Did you ever do the, or help do the, family dinner?
Meaghan: No! I have no nice memories of baking with my mom or doing any of that, which is kind of sad. It wasn’t a joyful thing! Maybe with my grandma? Aforementioned bagel noob, who told me I would be a bad wife if I didn’t know how to sew or cook. Ha, I showed her! But yeah I think cooking as a fun project is the best, but cooking day in day out is like, Are you kidding me with this???!
Ester: Oh yeah. There are Park Slope Mommies all around me talking about the healthy exciting recipes they’re constantly switching up to feed their precious offspring and I’m like, um, she really enjoys raisins, and sliced turkey out of the bag, and frozen vegetables thawed in the microwave, and I’m just gonna go with that, if that’s okay. Like, she grows larger and stronger anyway so matter what I do, so why go crazy?
Meaghan: Hell yeah. Also she doesn’t really even have a long term memory yet so I think you should enjoy this period while you can! Right?!
Ester: Of course. Oh, the actual reason I made tuna noodle casserole is that she liked tuna at some point, so we bought all these cans! And then she started rejecting it, which they do sometimes for no reason, these temperamental toddlers, so I was stuck with four cans and wondered what I should do with them.
Meaghan: Ha, it’s alllll coming together! I love that, or hate that. When you have cans of stuff and are just HAUNTED by them, or I am. It’s like a personal challenge of making a meal out of the ingredients in the house.
Ester: Yes! Iron Housewife.
Meaghan: I’m always like, Okay well we don’t have milk but we can use yogurt … And Dustin’s like THERE IS A STORE THREE BUILDINGS DOWN. WE LIVE ON THE FIRST FLOOR. But that is giving up!
Ester: Ha. I’m not confident enough in my own skills to make substitutions too often, but yeah, that’s totally where my mind goes, as though I’m on the frontier: must utilize ingredients we have! Must make do! Who knows when the Wells Fargo Wagon will come by again to bring more supplies!
Meaghan: I’m sure these skills will suit us well one day. But if you make Jell-O next you have to blog about it, okay?
Ester: Oh my god, that would be amazing. Do I need some kind of mold, or some fancy tools?
Meaghan: I mean, no but YES. Because you need to really go for it. You need a fish mold. One you have hanging in your kitchen. On your duck-printed wallpaper.
Ester: Wow. Okay, I’ll work on that. Meanwhile, you work on getting the baby ready for the day when he too can enjoy his mama’s tuna noodle casserole. I put in like ¼ of the butter the recipe called for, by the way, and used whole wheat penne instead of egg noodles. I am my mother already. Less Type A than she was, but still, that was fast. My grandma, as I mentioned, enjoyed not putting sugar in baked goods.
Meaghan: Oh, Ester.