Birthday Dinner

The Day 10 prompt is well-timed as my birthday is actually coming up:

Tell us about your favorite childhood meal — the one that was always a treat, that meant “celebration,” or that comforted you and has deep roots in your memory.

Free free to focus on any aspect of the meal, from the food you ate to the people who were there to the event it marked.

Today’s twist: Tell the story in your own distinct voice.

First, let me say that I think I’ve finally found my voice here. I’ve been writing daily – or, when I haven’t had the time – writing then scheduling multiple posts at one time which means I don’t have the time to think when I write. My writing here has mostly been the same as how I talk with friends, with more punctuation so it’ll make sense. I ramble, use too many prepositional phrases, and rely on parenthesis, dashes, and some key phrases (So, As, and Therefore come to mind) heavily. It took me quite awhile to find what my voice was and it’s obvious when I’m using someone else’s voice or the voice I use when I’m writing for work. I feel like I’m comfortable because I’m not trying to sound like (or not sound like) someone else who’s writing I admire. I’m just trying to sound like me. But online.

Back to the prompt. Memorable meal of celebration. Let’s go back to my childhood and wonders of cheeseburger rice casserole.

In my family, you got to pick exactly what you wanted to dinner on your birthday and my mom or dad would make it, depending whose specialty it was. (You also got to tell my mom what kind of cake to make or get. I remember having a Little Mermaid cake one year that a friend of the family made based on a picture on a napkin. My brother had one with ice cream cones baked into it somehow – that one’s only a vague memory.)

While I don’t remember what I picked every year, I know one common request for special days like birthdays: cheeseburger rice casserole. A very 50s housewife sort of dish, made by my dad and from a recipe from who knows where (Dad – was it from Nana or a soup can or what?).

He’d take this rounded casserole dish that was clear magenta glass and had a domed lid. Like any good casserole, it was built from layers and covered in cheese. The layers were pretty predicable based on the name: plain long grain white rice, Campbell’s condensed tomato soup, hamburger, and cheddar cheese. (There were probably other ingredients like salt, pepper, garlic powder, etc but nothing major my little kid brain could detect.) It baked in the oven for what felt like an eternity and we had to wait a whole ten minutes before he’d let us break into it.

Whichever adult was closest would do the honors of serving. A large Oneida serving spoon used to make slices then scoop out those cheesy, gooey layers onto plates. I’d always tell my mom she was doing it wrong, that my brother’s serving had more of the cheesy, ever so slightly browned topping on it than my slice. The soup would soak into the rice and coat the ground beef, making it tangy and sticky. The only letdown was the places where the rice would clump together and not actually get covered in cheesy or tomato-y goodness.

I would devour half my slice then linger on the second half, knowing it wasn’t the sort of thing we were allowed to have seconds on (good on my parents, this chubby child certainly didn’t need two portions).  My second favorite part – after the cheesy topping – was licking every little bit of dried cheese off my spoon and, if no adult was watching, plate.

I don’t think I’ve had it for fifteen years but, man, did I love me some cheeseburger rice casserole.

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