What are you up to this weekend?
(This post may contain affiliate links)
We're going to a play! I can't think of the last time I've been to one, and I'm excited for an excuse to get dressed up and go on a date.
Also on the agenda? We're hosting the first dinner party in our new place. Even though they're old friends, and we've been entertaining forever, we're surprisingly nervous and fretting about the funniest things.
Whatever you're up to, I hope you have a good one. And as my neighbor always used to reminded me ..
“Take gentle care of yourself.”
A month or so ago, my husband and moved back in together. This is the last picture taken in my old kitchen. My old apartment, where I lived and cooked, for nearly nine months.
The place with kind neighbors who helped me the night Lucy passed; even though they were hosting a dinner party, and I was knocking frantically on their door in my pajamas. The place with the newly-minted attorney who told me stories of movies and bookstores; dates gone right, and dates gone wrong.
The place with the puppies who stopped to say “Hi,” knowing I always had a treat jar. The place where, I'd lay in bed, gazing at the twinkling lights of the city, until I fell asleep.
I'm grateful life keeps moving, but I still really miss that apartment, especially at night.
The day after we moved in, the kitchen was hardly set up, and I felt like an alien, trying to find my way around a new planet. I also had a craving for tater tot casserole.
The last time I ate one, the kind I’m thinking of, I'd just moved into my old apartment, and it was the special-of-the-day at one of the dive bars around the corner. I was in a state of limbo, living amongst a sea of boxes and put-together projects; sleeping on the only sheet I could find, and searching for something that could be mine again.
And so it began. After exercise class in the evenings, just as the sun was starting to set, I'd make that one last stop. I'd put in my order for iced tea (two lemons, please), and tater tot casserole, extra hot and bubbly.
In the event they’d be out, I'd sometimes settle for the soup or salad. But mostly, I'd ask how long until the next batch of tots would be ready.
“Twenty minutes, ma’am”
And so, I'd wait. Twenty minutes, I had. Twenty minutes, I'd use.
After a while, I'd bring my computer and try to write about some of the other places I'd lived.
I'd lament the enormous purple bedroom in one and the family of bats in the other. After a while, when the words wouldn't come, I'd get a little discouraged and anxious for home .. the emotion, not the place .. the casserole would arrive, steaming, and things would start to feel better
As the days passed, I started to feel stronger. My husband and I worked toward reconciliation. I slowly introduced him to some of the places I'd grown to love, and eventually, the tater tots in my favorite corner booth. Where did we want to start our new life? We had hope, and we had stamina, and we had time
“Twenty minutes, ma’am”
Sometime that Spring, we stopped eating plates of casseroles together. I don’t remember the last time, whether we waited for the tots or decided on soup. There were plans to make, after all, much purging to be done, and house in need of selling. There was the month-long rain. We lost a bit of hope, and we lost a bit of stamina, and we lost a bit of time.
Finally, there were days of warm sunshine when the end felt near.
The paint was dry; the renovations finished, the young couple who'd made an offer, the moving truck. Another sea of boxes and put-together projects. A day that was chilly but sunny, filled with gratitude, and a casserole that always feels like home.
“How long until dinner?”
Twenty minutes, ma’am”
Hamburger Tater Tot Casseroles
They were one of my favorite things to eat as a kid, and over the years, the casserole that's maintained a soft spot in my heart.
To page through an Iowa country church cookbook, and you'll find a few different versions of this quintessential comfort food. It's a staple at church basement potlucks. Many would argue that one isn't a Midwesterner until you're able to properly apply a layer of tater tots to a 9×13 casserole dish of creamed soup.
A typical tater tot hot dish is made of ground beef, cream of something soup, along with peas or green beans under a bed of store-bought tater tots.
A few notes about the recipe:
Amy's organic makes a lot of cream-of-something soups that are cleaner and gluten-free
Ore Ida Tater Tots are gluten-free
If you don't thaw the tots, this makes a great freezer recipe
~ Adapted from the Sugar ‘N Spice Cookbook (United Methodist Church Estherville, Iowa)
Hamburger Tater Tot Casserole
- 1 ½ lb. ground beef
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 1 8 oz. package mushrooms, chopped
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- ½ package Lipton Onion Soup Mix
- 1 can condensed cream of mushroom soup
- 1 can condensed cream of potato soup (or cream of chicken soup)
- ½ cup milk
- 1 16 oz. package frozen mixed vegetables, thawed and drained
- 1 cup french-fried onions
- 1 -2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
- 1 package Tater Tots, thawed
- Preheat oven to 375° F and lightly butter a 9x13" pan (or an equivalent sized vessel)
- In a large skillet over medium heat, add the onions, mushrooms, ground beef, a strong pinch of salt, and a grind or two of black pepper. Cook until the meat is no longer pink.
- In a bowl, combine the soups, milk, and Lipton soup mix. Add to the skillet and simmer for ten minutes or so.
- Remove the skillet from the heat, add the mixed veggies. Stir to combine.
- In the baking dish, layer ½ hamburger mix and ½ of the french onions. Repeat.
- Sprinkle with cheese and top with Tater Tots
- Bake, uncovered for 15-20 minutes, or until bubbly and the tots are golden brown