February 11, 2008

NIBEM 12: Heartfelt

Happy 199th Birthday Abe!

I think I'm beginning to feel the pressure of NIBEM (National I'll Blog Everyday Month). I'm definitely doing a lot of writing, which was one of my goals, but sometimes it's a challenge to find a daily topic to write about. Days like yesterday don't exactly inspire witty commentary. The combination of my cold and a long day at work left me feeling tired and uninspired. Maybe even a little bit cranky.

But just when I thought all was lost, I have come up with the perfect topic as we approach the most romantic day of the year... heart-shaped meatloaf. Heart-shaped meatloaves have played a significant role in our Valentine celebrations since February 14, 1983, our first Valentine's Day in Bethesda, MD. We were having a major snowstorm and the larder was running low. I hadn't lived in Bethesda long enough to know that even the mention of the possibility of snow meant it was time to go to the grocery store and start hoarding food. It's a pre-snowstorm ritual for residents of our Nation's capitol and the surrounding suburbs, but this was my first winter living with snow and ice, and I hadn't honed my survival skills yet.

So, here's the scenario. I'm stuck in the house without too many ingredients for a romantic dinner, but I want to do my part to make Valentine's a special celebration. Although I can't remember the specifics, I'm pretty sure they involved me standing in front of the open refrigerator, staring at the contents, and feeling slightly desperate. That's when the creative juices must have started to flow. Ground beef, egg, oatmeal, onion, secret spices and ketchup--all the ingredients for a delightful meal. Then I must have experienced a startling creative jolt. Why not make heart-shaped meatloaf? In a single moment, a tradition was born.

I am not one of those cheaters who makes heart-shaped meatloaf using a heart-shaped baking pan. I don't even own one of those. The first Valentine's meatloaf and all subsequent ones have been molded by my own two hands. I think it gives them a certain organic "je ne sais quoi" that is impossible to acheive when using a mold. As an added embellishment I decorated the top of the meatloaf with ketchup hearts. Genius! And very memorable. The Valentine meatloaf has appeared on our Feb. 14 menu many times. It is beloved by all.

But now the amazing part. I have just found out that there are others who are fans of the heart-shaped meatloaf. A simple Google search showed pages of related-links. And all these years I thought the three of us were the sole practitioners of this peculiar ritual. I bet there is even a Facebook group for people who love the loaves. I was delighted to discover there is even a heart-shaped meatloaf YouTube video. Isn't America great?

Should any reader of this blog feel the urge to create their own heart-shaped meatloaf, I feel I must add this cautionary note. Once you get in the holiday loaf spirit it is hard to control yourself. We have had Christmas tree loafs (not for Xmas dinner, but in the preceding days), champagne bottle meatloafs (appropriate for any festive occasion requiring a bit of the bubbly) and the very popular shamrock meatloaves. Maybe a stovepipe hat for Abe! The possibilities are endless, assuming you have a creative spirit, and you like meatloaf.

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