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Cracker Barrel: Something new

This year I started doing something new.

I decided to learn how to cook.

OK, OK — I can hear the guffaws from the audience. “What’s a guy your age trying to prove? Don’t you know you can’t teach on old dog new tricks? And what do you mean, you’re just learning to cook? Surely you’ve cooked some before.”

The truth is that I’ve made it all the way to now not knowing how to prepare much of anything beyond a peanut butter sandwich. Well, maybe tomato soup and grilled cheese. And hamburgers and brats on the barbeque.

But that, for me, pretty much covers the field. As luck would have it, I married an excellent cook early on, and have always relied on her skills to get fed.

Then, belatedly, I got to thinking. We’ve been married for nearly half a century. Maybe the little lady would appreciate a bit of a break. How about if I learned how to fix a few dishes and made us supper once a week?

My wife had no objections. “I’d love it,” she said. “I would absolutely love it. Believe me when I tell you just exactly how much I would appreciate that.”

Being the sensitive guy I am, I understood what she was saying. The only question was how to begin. Fortunately, my brother, Dick, came to the rescue. “I’ve got a really good recipe for tuna noodle casserole,” he said. “It tastes great and it’s easy to put together. Just make sure you follow the directions.”

Thus it was, two weeks into the new year, that I found myself on a Friday afternoon pushing a cart through the grocery store in search of whatever I hadn’t managed to find at home. Back at the ranch, I told my wife to stay out of the kitchen, that supper would be a surprise. She made a little murmur of delight, suggested I wear an apron to avoid spatters, and retired to the living room.

I was now on my own.

I propped the recipe card against the splashboard of the counter and started reading. “Drain and flake the tuna.” Check. “Cook noodles according to package directions.” I rummaged for a pan and put the noodles on the stove to cook. “One half cup chopped celery.” I got out a cutting board and started chopping, not really sure how small to make the pieces.

“One half cup sliced green onions.” I made the onions match the celery, then metered out the listed amounts of sour cream, mustard, mayonnaise, thyme leaves and salt.

Once the noodles were done, I drained them, rinsed them with hot water, and combined them with the tuna and celery and green onions. Then it was time to scrub a small zucchini, slice it into pieces, measure out a cup of shredded Monterey Jack cheese, chop up a medium tomato, and blend the sour cream, mustard, mayonnaise, thyme and salt together with the noodles and tuna.

“Spoon half the mixture into a buttered two-quart casserole,” said the recipe. My brother had already told me about this part. “Just cut off an inch of butter, grab it with your fingers, and smear it all over the inside of the pot. The greasier the better.”

Finished smearing, I washed my hands and continued. “Top the mixture with half the zucchini, repeat the layers, top off the whole thing with the cheese, and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until hot and bubbly. Before serving sprinkle with the chopped tomato.”

At the appointed time I removed the casserole from the oven, carried it to the table, and announced that dinner was served. The look in my wife’s eyes made words unnecessary. Just in case I didn’t get the message, she gave me a long and lingering kiss.

Then we sat down and ate.

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