Looking back across a chasm of more than six decades, trying to remember myself as a child, I suspect I may have been a handful. I know I had a temper. In the family’s second house in Mountain Lakes, I threw all my dollies down the stairs from the third-floor playroom to the first landing, and then from the landing to the hallway below. One by one—bam, bam, bam!
I was demanding. One Christmas Eve, when I was about eight and suspected there was no stuffed bear on Santa’s sleigh (probably because Bill and I had already scoped out the presents under various beds), I made such a stink my father had to venture out in a snowstorm to buy one at a drugstore open late. I still have him (the bear). He’s lasted longer than a husband and several boyfriends. He has no problems with life in the closet, but on the downside, he never laughs at my jokes.
My mother used to call me—affectionately, I thought—“Brat Girl.” On more formal occasions, she might address me as “Bratinella Bing Bang.” My own preferred nom de guerre was “Panny Pan Ann,” which turned to “Panse” and “Pansy,” much to my everlasting regret. And then there was, on occasion, “Anna Banana” or simply “Bananas.”
And people wonder why kids get messed up.
My early eating habits were reportedly awful. I was bald until about the age of one, when a monk’s tonsure of platinum curls grew in around the base of my skull (my mother used to tape bows to my head). She said that I frequently massaged mashed carrots and baby food into what hair I had, and I’m guessing this early form of organic scalp treatments may have helped stimulate the hair follicles because I’ve had quite a luxuriant mane my entire life.
For a long time, a couple of years perhaps, I insisted that different foods on my plate not touch one another: the peas must be carefully separated from the meat and potatoes, some margin of safety guaranteeing their isolation on the plate. Fat of any kind, a little puddle of burger grease or a blubbery rim on a pork chop, could send me into hysterics.
I was extremely cranky when I was hungry, probably a bawler too, and my mom and I generally traveled the supermarket aisles with an open box of zwieback. I am now astonished I wasn’t locked in the basement for a few years and offered trays of food through a slot.
As I’ve mentioned, my mother tried early on to instill in us the best table manners we could manage. My brother, though, perhaps because of some undiagnosed muscular malfunction, never properly learned to wield a knife and fork, and throughout his life stabbed and sawed like a Neanderthal wielding mysterious utensils that didn’t look like clubs or spears. My mother covered her ears if we ate with open mouths or made disagreeable smacking sounds—“too much chin music!”—but to my parents’ credit, neither subscribed to the Clean Plate Club. If we didn’t want to eat something, so be it. The dog would take care of the leftovers.
I don’t think we were ever truly poor, but we ate a lot of family dinners that might now be considered budget food: tuna noodle casseroles, salmon or tuna cakes, macaroni and cheese, and a mysteriously tasteless goulash made from canned tomatoes, onions. and ground round. Spices were never big in our household, except for lemon pepper and something called Jane’s Krazy Mixed-Up Salt.
For years I stayed away from these foods and anything concocted from Campbell’s cream-of-anything soup. But lately, cruising the Internet for interesting things to do with a can of tuna, I ran across a recipe for a low-cal tuna casserole. Turns out you don’t need the Campbell’s. It’s adapted from a site called Skinnytaste.com, and each portion weighs in at about 320 calories
Skinny Tuna Noodle Casserole
- 6 oz egg noodles or brown rice pasta for gluten free
- 1 T butter
- 1 medium onion, minced fine
- 3 T flour, gluten free use rice flour
- 1-3/4cups fat-free chicken broth
- 1 cup 2 percent milk
- 1 oz sherry, optional
- 8 oz sliced baby bella mushrooms
- 1cup frozen peas, thawed
- 2 5-oz cans tuna in water, drained (I used albacore)
- 4 oz reduced fat sharp cheddar, coarsely grated (for a richer taste, try Gruyère)
- cooking spray
- 2 T grated Parmesan cheese
- 2 T whole wheat seasoned breadcrumbs or Panko crumbs
- Cook noodles in salted water until al dente, or slightly undercooked by 2 minutes. Drain and set aside.
- Melt the butter in a large deep skillet. Add onions and cook on medium heat until soft, about 5 minutes; add mushrooms and cook five minutes more.
- Add the flour and a pinch of salt and stir well, cooking an additional 2-3 minutes on medium-low heat
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly spray 9 x 12 casserole with cooking spray.
- Slowly whisk in the chicken broth until well combined, increasing heat to medium and whisking well for 30 seconds, then add the milk and bring to a boil.
- When boiling, add sherry and peas, adjust salt and pepper to taste and simmer on medium, mixing occasionally until it thickens (about 7 to 9 minutes).
- Add drained tuna, stirring another minute.
- Remove from heat and add the cheddar or Gruyère and mix well until it melts. Add the noodles to the sauce and mix until evenly coated.
- Pour into casserole and top with parmesan cheese and breadcrumbs. Spray a little more cooking spray on top and bake for about 25 minutes.
- Place under the broiler for a few minutes to get the crumbs crisp (careful not to burn).