The Casserole Mindset
What the world needs now, is casserole, gooey casserole.
When I was a kid, my very favorite side dish was my mom’s rice casserole – a glorious amalgamation of canned French Onion soup, canned beef consommé, white rice, and obscene amounts of butter. She would bake it in the oven in a CorningWare dish with a green, orange, and harvest gold pattern on the side, and it would form a half-inch layer of salty, oniony goo on the top. I would learn later in life that this goo is what one might call “caramelized onions,” but I think, given the ingredients of this casserole, that is probably too generous a culinary term.
Rice casserole is what I asked for at my birthday dinner. Rice casserole once made the table at Thanksgiving. Rice casserole was the recipe my mother submitted to the Mother’s Day recipe contest held at my college, the winners of which had their recipe made at scale and served in the campus dining halls. Yes, hundreds of my fellow students got to eat my mom’s rice casserole, including the goo, and I still have her commemorative plate to prove it.
I’ve been thinking a lot about that casserole in these third-year-of-the-pandemic days, and about casserole in general.
It is no news to anyone that casseroles are not just about the ease of prep or the ability to feed the masses. Odes have been written about how casseroles are about comfort, community, and connection. You don’t make casserole for one. You make casserole for the potluck, the party, the friend who had a baby, the family that lost a loved one. You make casseroles not only so people can eat, but so people are nourished in all the ways a body needs to be fed.
Church ladies know it. Waffle House waitresses know it (after all, isn’t an order of hash browns scattered, smothered, and covered just a casserole on the fly?). My mom knew it.
That’s why she made rice casserole on a busy night with four kids going four directions. Because the littlest of her babies loved it. That energy – love in the face of the grind – is one of the basic and potent powers of casserole.
The casseroles that arrived when my father died, brought by neighbors and copious enough to feed my entire extended family, were of an even higher grade of magic and medicine. They nourished my stomach and my soul. So, with this in mind, I have come to a realization:
"Casserole – and all it stands for – matters right now."
In the face of a hurting world, after months on end of isolation, grief, and loneliness, of unfairness, bad news, and painful things the size of busses that have come and parked on our chests, we, as humanity, need some freakin’ casserole. If not literal casserole (although I am all for literal casserole), at least the casserole mindset. Intentional love. Comfort. Sharing. Giving. Soothing. Nourishment. Vegetables and cheese hidden under potato chip crusts. Hugs. Tears. Salty, oniony goo.
There’s an emotional potluck table that needs to be filled, and we are in charge of filling it for each other right now. Sometimes we’ll have time for homemade. Sometimes it’ll be straight out of a can. But hear me now, folks, we need your casserole. Don’t hesitate to make it and share.
Casserole – and all its stands for – matters right now. I’ve got a great recipe if you need one.
It was my mom’s.