Mom’s Meatloaf with a Side of Kitchen Wisdom

Last night, I made five pounds of meatloaf. I’m hoping this will last for two dinners in our family of five, although if we have meatloaf sandwiches at lunch – probably not. This recipe is so popular around here that my husband claimed he married me for my ability to make it. Well, some marriages have been built on less . . .

In the 1960s through early 1980s, my talented mom won or placed in a multitude of local and national cooking contests including two stints as a Pillsbury Bake-off Finalist. One of her best and most enduring recipes is Dilly of a Meatloaf, fondly and everlastingly referred to by the family as Mom’s $500 Meatloaf (the amount she won for creating it). Mom’s kitchen abilities were legendary, and time spent cooking with her was pretty awesome. Since she usually lived nearby, we spent many hours over the years sharing laughter and life while preparing meals for loved ones. 

Mom’s recipe (below) tells just a small part of the story of actually making it. If you have a favorite recipe, I am sure you have some little tips learned from experience that never made it into print. The same is true here. I learned to make this and many other recipes at Mom’s side and my memory has mixed together the recipes with her thoughtful kitchen wisdom. So, just for the moment, pretend you are here making this ultimate comfort food and sharing these thoughts with us – 

1. There is grace. While it is important to come pretty close to the original requirements of this recipe, the measurements don’t have to be precise. Meatloaf is not soufflé! It’s simple, everyday food – glorified hamburger. There is a place for order and precision, but perhaps not right now. This is relaxing comfort food so it should be relaxing and comfortable to make. Enjoy the process.

2. Consider what you are putting into it. Many years ago a lady I know tried this recipe and, rather disgruntled, called to say she did not understand how it won a contest when it didn’t taste good. When I gently asked about her cooking prep, she admitted making it with turkey burger instead of beef, leaving out the eggs and stuffing mix, substituting for the chili sauce, and changing the quantity of onion. We definitely understand the need for food substitutions in our family, so I get it! Recipes, like life, will frequently need to deviate from the original plan and change can often be quite beneficial. But if you decide to change things up, brace yourself for an unexpected outcome and just own it, whether good or bad. If you made the decision, then the blame or credit is yours. And this topic leads us to . . .

3. Balance. In case you were wondering, the changes listed above can actually work, but further adjustments for taste and texture must be made to achieve a tasty, balanced outcome. Mom and I used to laugh about how very seldom either of us actually followed a recipe as written, and we both think the need or desire to sub out ingredients probably made us better, more creative cooks – but we were careful to balance dry and wet ingredients and tried to be thoughtful about seasonings. Maintaining balance can be a delicate task, but leads to a much more satisfactory result.

4. A little fat in your life is a good thing. If  the meat is too lean, the result will be dry; if it is too fatty, the result will be mushy. To make things come out just right, consider how much fat vs. lean is best for you.

5. Go all in – measure and dump all the ingredients in the bowl before mixing. There are times you have to throw all you’ve got in the pot and hope for the best.

6. Be willing to get those fingers gooey! When my mom made meatloaf, she cheerfully mixed up that mushy pile of raw ingredients with her bare hands and I do, too. She said some things don’t come out quite right unless you are willing to get your hands dirty. So scrub up and dive in!

7. In the recipe, you will see that you need to stop in the middle of cooking to add the sauce on top. Before you sauce it up, take a moment to tilt the pan gently and drain off the excess fat that has already cooked out. You will need to drain it again at the end, but it helps if you get rid of what is unnecessary along the way.

8. If you are using deep loaf pans like I do, check the center of the meatloaf before you shut off the oven, just in case the meat isn’t done. Bear in mind that some things take longer than anticipated! I learned from my mom to stick a large spoon or metal spatula right in the middle and draw out a little meat to verify doneness. You might end up with a funky-looking hole in the middle, but you don’t want to bring an unfinished product to the table just because you neglected to check. Finishing well is much more important than looking pretty.

9. Serve your meatloaf with whatever side dishes you prefer, and enjoy without guilt! There are enough things in life to cause discomfort – meatloaf shouldn’t be one of them.

My awesome mom went home to the Lord in 2018 and the many times we shared laughter and lives while cooking side-by-side are some of my sweetest memories. This is the first time I have made the meatloaf since she passed and I wanted to share the moment. I think she would be pleased.

LaVerne’s $500 Meatloaf


Prep Time: Approx. 15-20 minutes

Cook Time: Approx. 60-75 minutes

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix together:
2    lbs ground beef (we like an 85/15 meat/fat ratio – add a little water if you use leaner meat or turkey burger)
1    6-8 oz pkg of cornbread stuffing, including spices (we use gluten-free)
2    eggs
1/2 cup bottled chili sauce (sweet chili sauce, NOT hot – usually stocked near the ketchup)
1/3 cup finely diced dill pickle
1/4 cup dill pickle brine/juice from the pickle jar
1    cup finely chopped onion
1    tsp salt
1 tsp garlic salt

Place in a 2-quart loaf pan or casserole dish and bake at 350 degrees. Meanwhile, mix the following sauce:
1/2 cup bottled chili sauce
2 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp dill pickle brine/juice
(You may wish to double this amount if using a wide, flat casserole dish.)

Remove meatloaf from oven after the first 30 minutes, drain any excess fat, and spread the sauce over the top. Return to oven and bake for 30 more minutes or until done. Depending on your oven and the size of your pan (especially if you use a loaf pan rather than a shallow casserole dish), cooking time may extend another 10 to 15 minutes. If you double or triple the recipe and are using loaf pans, count on additional time. Remember to check for doneness before serving.

Enjoy!

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Just Drive

I hate those days when I feel like I’ve lost my drive. Not just the drive, actually – I seem to have lost the whole dang car.  And there God is, patiently holding the keys and GPS that will get me back there. All I have to do is ask for help and mean it.

I have to mean it.

It sounds so simple, really. I just have to drop my earthbound baggage so my hands will be empty to take what He’s got – but I can’t seem to do it.

Why is that? Maybe because I am so tired in my head. Some days, the world just wears me down until I want to curl up in bed and turn my face to the wall. No drive, no momentum at all. I do know that God will lovingly pick me up every time I fail, so why am I hesitant to take what He is so willing to give? And still He remains – standing right by me, loving me so much, patiently prompting me to ask Him for help, and promising to stay near no matter what happens, no matter what I do, no matter where the road takes me.

But I still have to ask for my drive – my spirit – to be restored. A simple request. I can’t let the fear and fatigue stop me from doing that one little thing.

Everything else is on Him, but the first step is on me.

I can do this. I will do this. Here I go –

Buckle up.

You, too, can be Peter – Just Show Up.

On the night before Jesus died on the cross, He was hauled off for a sham of a trial and hours of abuse. Peter and John – two of His closest friends – managed to follow him secretly and witnessed the unjust trial and subsequent persecution. Peter was clearly afraid and famously betrayed Christ by convincingly denying three times that he knew Him. When Christ later rose from the dead, He reaffirmed His love for Peter and gave him an awesome commission that changed Peter’s life and, in many ways, wrote the future of Christianity. This is an amazing encouragement for those of us who need to know that an incredible legacy is still possible for each of us, even if we have done some pretty bad things.

But that’s not what I’m writing about today.

Today, I’m thinking about the fact that Peter showed up. Just that. John, too. They knew they would be facing a tough crowd, but these guys buckled on their spurs and came to the party. Not much is said about John that night, simply that he knew the high priest and was able to get himself and Peter into the so-called trial. But for Peter – it’s all about his personal Armageddon.

I confess that I seriously admire Peter and John just for showing up; their beloved and controversial leader is hauled off under circumstances that would surely end in some kind of an unjust conviction, probably a whipping, maybe a beating, possibly death, and they follow along knowing there is a reasonable chance they might share in the accusations against Him. We kind of expect John to be cool under pressure, but Peter had a bit of a problem with falling prey to his emotions. That night, showing up was a massively courageous thing for him to do.

It’s a pretty safe bet that most of you have days when the very thought of showing up is an overwhelming concept. I am absolutely with you – some days, I can only function if I sluggishly remind myself of my blessings, barely haul my fanny out of bed, paste a smile on my face, and reluctantly force myself to be present. Nothing fancy, nothing momentous, nothing bold. I’m just showing up. But know this – even just showing up is an act of faith and courage when your heart is burdened and fearful and your greatest desire is to roll over, bury your face in the pillow, and stay put for the rest of the day, or possibly the rest of your life. If you just give what little you’ve got to give to the Lord in those moments, He will do more with it than you can imagine. Really.

It is true that God wants so much more from us than just showing up (I’m not gonna lie about that!), but I know from experience that His wonderful grace shines on days we simply fail to pull it all together. Sometimes just having the courage to show up can lead to blessings and opportunities that would have been otherwise unavailable. God knows your heart. Jesus, above all people, understands what a scary, crazy, painful, messy world this can be. Peter showed up that night lacking the courage to shine in any way and even betrayed his friend and Savior at the worst possible moment, yet a few days later Christ extended Peter the powerful grace and salvation that turned his life into a wellspring of passionate ministry. Scripture tells us that those who are forgiven much, love much. Showing up on the night of the trial gave Peter the chance to fail so that Christ could offer the grace that would change Peter into a rock of faith – an example that still shines for us 2000 years later.

So today and tomorrow and the next day, try this – even if you haven’t got a shiny atom in your body, even if your heart is burdened and every other minute you want to break down in fears and tears, even if you absolutely know you can do absolutely nothing on your own, I still challenge you to show up and give all the moments to God – the worst as well as the best. You may not see the results right away, but just by showing up you are giving Him the opportunity do something through you today. Maybe something that will change a life. It might even be yours.

Small House, Warm Thoughts

“We cleaned the house yesterday. Sorry, you missed it.” Have I said this on a number of occasions? Yes. Yes, I have.

And also this:
“If you want to see us, come by anytime. If you want to see the house, call for an appointment.”

And (with apologies to quite a few of my fascinating friends who – beyond the scope of my comprehension – have discouragingly perfect homes), the patently untrue yet popular saying:
“Boring women have immaculate homes.”

Ever heard comments like this? I’ll bet they came from a family living in a small house. Cramming a busy family of five, two dogs, two cats, and a home business into our 1645 square foot house with one shared common area – a combined living/dining/office/project/kitchen space – definitely creates clutter! But, y’know, as long as it’s creative clutter . . . (cue eye roll).

On the upside, love does grow best in small houses, right? And I must admit that togetherness is probably some kind of blessing for us since we are mostly introverts who might otherwise be inclined to go the isolation route. Hah. No chance. Compromise and cooperation are not options here – they are mandatory life skills. We love each other and – aside from the occasional water, pillow, or tickle fight – we are not particularly fond of conflict, so we do our best to figure it out.

It’s pretty clear in God’s word that we show the love of Christ in us by loving others. We are to pursue maturity not separately, but together. Loving God = loving people. It’s not that we all get along beautifully all the time – not at all! We definitely have our high blood pressure moments. But I think living in a smaller space keeps us working on the issues, fighting for each other, loving each other, forgiving one another, and laughing together. I like to think that we would do all these things even living in a ginormous house, but the smaller home definitely provides motivation.

Now, I’m seriously off to clean. Really. I’m sincerely hoping to have the house reasonably in hand by noon Friday (so, basically, maybe by Saturday evening . . .) and the orderliness should last several whole minutes. If you plan to drop by, better not be late or you’ll miss it.

Fierce Forgiveness

Christ tells us to forgive 70 x 7. That sounds like a lofty goal, but have you ever had to work so hard at forgiving – or been offended by the same person so repeatedly – that you actually counted up to that 490th time? So does that mean when we hit 491, we are exempt from forgiving? If so, I think there should be a revenge app that plays the theme from Jaws when the counter flips to 491.

Well, just – sue me, but sometimes I don’t feel particularly forgiving. Forgiving certain offenses rips at my brain and tears at my gut. My anger is especially fierce against hurts to my children or others I love.

But carrying unforgiveness causes me to hold anger in my soul and bitterness in my heart. The very same heart and soul that I have given to Jesus as a dwelling place within me. Who would want to live in that? Who would even ask anyone to live in that? There is a reason He tells us to love our enemies and pray for those who curse us. I have discovered it is quite difficult to hold a grudge against someone I pray for regularly – or even irregularly. When I close my eyes to pray for someone, God opens my heart to the fears and struggles causing that individual to be unkind or thoughtless. That makes me look at my own fears and failures, and then I see how much I share with that person, after all – and my heart breaks a little, surrendering my grip on the negativity. I cannot help but release my resentment and forgive. This does not relieve the hurt entirely, but the bitterness and the anger are lifted and compassion flows instead.

Not all offenses are major – some are light and easy to forgive. But others generate pain, and pain leads to anger, and I must wrestle fiercely with myself and God before finding peace in forgiving those offenses.

Offense can be fierce. Anger is fierce. Forgiveness must be fierce. There is nothing more fierce than battling the powers of Hell and death in order to offer grace. As a Christ-follower, I am called to be a living, breathing carrier of the very grace and forgiveness that was given to me – no matter the circumstances. So, on the days when my heart burns with hurt, I remember that Christ burned with so much more, and I am inspired.

Welcome to the Love Zone

We all need a Personal Love Zone.

No, no – I am not referring to your local XXX establishment or even your favorite karaoke bar. A Personal Love Zone (PLZ) is a metaphorical safe place within our souls; a place we share with others in our lives, a place where we give and receive unconditional love and acceptance without judgment. A PLZ relationship (or even a PLZ moment) is not to be confused with agreement and acceptance of the behavior and ideas of the person loved. It is a wild, insane myth of our time that loving and accepting a person is synonymous with endorsement of their every thought.

Think of your children, your spouse, your parents, or anyone you know well and love dearly. As part of the love you share, do you cheerfully support absolutely everything they do? Do you agree with and encourage their every thought, and they yours? Perhaps you sometimes argue with those you love best. Perhaps you step back a bit because, no matter how much that person is in your PLZ, you cannot be with them in a certain moment (I may love people who demonstrate for a cause I don’t share, and I may even appreciate their commitment to their beliefs, but I have no intention of joining the picket line). Perhaps you remain thoughtfully quiet on certain topics because you both know you will never see eye-to-eye, even though you hold each other close in your PLZ’s.

It’s called giving each other grace. It’s not always easy – matter of fact, it’s often pretty hard – but it is doable.

Unconditional love is graceful. It’s messy and honest and argumentative and quiet and pervasive. It hangs on through laughter and tears and joy and heartbreak. It doesn’t run away after a fight, and it knows that staying and working things out does not necessarily mandate agreement. Unconditional love is passionate and faithful. Unconditional love finds a way to make life work.

God knows we are all different – He created us that way. The Bible is pretty clear that God loves us all equally, unconditionally, and eternally, including those who fight Him. The Bible also makes it pretty clear that anyone who believes in God should reflect His heart to the world, so – aren’t we all supposed to love like that?

I think we are.

Welcome to the Love Zone.