A Gleam in the Eye and a Casserole in the Oven

By Rose Ann Sinay

A Gleam in the Eye and a Casserole in the Oven

My husband had walked into the house with a grocery bag in one arm and a bouquet of my favorite flowers, white Gerber daisies and red roses, in the other. I hadn’t sent him to the store with a list, so I was curious as to what other surprises were in the bag.

The flowers were for our thirty-fifth anniversary. Thirty-five years, such a long time, yet gone in the blink of an eye! That year our special day fell in the middle of the week, and I was bummed. Somehow, a Wednesday event never felt as special as the ones that magically landed on a Friday, or better yet, a Saturday. Wednesdays just meant spaghetti and lots of paper napkins, not filet mignon, crystal candle stick holders and white linens.

It was probably just as well – I was miserable with an attack of summer allergies. A red, runny nose and a scratchy throat didn’t lend itself to a romantic evening, so our hump-day anniversary was being postponed until Saturday night with dinner reservations at our favorite restaurant, a bottle of sweet wine and a (non-allergy related) gleam in our eyes.

I cut the flowers with a knife and carefully arranged them in a glass vase while I watched my husband remove the contents of the paper bag: a personal size bag of chips, a can of cream of mushroom soup and a box of macaroni and cheese. We didn’t need any of the items. I already had at least two of everything in the pantry, and a big, sharable bag of chips. Then, out came a bag of frozen peas. Frozen peas? What could possibly have made him pick up a bag of frozen peas unless it was on a grocery list written by me? What kind of surprise was this, and what could be left in that bag? It wasn’t until he pulled out the last item that I understood.

When my husband and I got married my cooking abilities were limited. I could boil water, put together a great sandwich and fry an egg – over easy. It may have taken three or four eggs, but at least one would land on the plate with the yolk intact.

I can’t blame my lack of culinary talent on my parents. My father was an excellent cook. He would make great Polish meals on the weekends. A pinch of this, a lot of that, and a “hey, what the hell, throw it into the pot.” It took all day long and the dishes were made in great quantities to be frozen for future consumption. My mother, on the other hand, had a select-few favorite recipes. Let’s just say, I took after her.

Both my husband and I were so busy working and remodeling an old (new to us) house, there had been no time to learn how to cook a proper meal. We ate takeout, fish sticks, chicken nuggets, Hamburger Helper or any meat that could be salted, peppered and fried in a pan.

All the girls at work talked about the new recipes they tried. They brought in stacks of hand-printed index cards with long lists of ingredients that certainly were not in my pantry. It was a big deal to swap recipes, try it out on their families, and critique the results during our lunch hour. One day, I reluctantly took a recipe – tuna casserole.

“It’s so easy, and my husband loves it,” my co-worker said.

For the first year of our marriage, tuna casserole became a staple in our house. Like eggs, milk and margarine, it was always in the refrigerator in the same white, CorningWare dish with the trademark “Cornflower” pattern. I thought of the casserole as my homemade, from scratch, meal. It had seven ingredients lovingly combined by yours truly. The recipe easily fed six people which meant for three days each week we ate the tuna casserole moistened with milk and reheated.

Of course, I changed it up. One week I added peas to the casserole, the next week crushed potato chips and peas. I experimented with unusual additions such as crushed pineapple and cashew nuts. I learned that more is not necessarily better.

At the time, I didn’t realize how lucky I was to be married to a man who would eat anything I put in front of him, night after night, and continue to say it was good.

For a bridal shower present, I had received the popular, red-covered Betty Crocker cookbook. It wasn’t until my husband suggested I may want to try one of the recipes in the book, did I realize that I didn’t have to perfect the very imperfect tuna casserole.

It took several years before I understood the difference between my tuna casserole made with powdered cheese and canned soup, and one with cheese sauce made from a roux, and blended with an assortment of grated cheeses and heavy cream.

I moved on to chicken divan, beef stroganoff and lasagna. The menu choices for the week grew slowly, but steadily. I discovered I wasn’t a bad cook after all. My tuna casserole became a funny, family story and finally disappeared from the dinner line-up.

So, when I saw my husband add the can of Chicken of the Sea solid albacore to the items taken from the mysterious grocery bag and lined up on my kitchen table, my heart melted. I rummaged through the cabinets found the original CorningWare dish, and together we opened each can and box. I decided some quartered, cherry tomatoes would make a nice addition.

We set the table with our old china and lit a few chunky candles. It was the most romantic anniversary celebration ever. He’d remembered one of the many quirky details that had made up our first year of marriage – with affection. And, it would last for days – three to be exact.

About this writer

  • Rose Ann Sinay Rose Ann Sinay is a freelance writer typing away in sunny North Carolina. Her articles/stories have been published in The Carolinas Today, The Oddville Press and The Brunswick Beacon.

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6 Responses to “A Gleam in the Eye and a Casserole in the Oven”

  1. Tammy Rohlf says:

    Love this story!! My husband and I will be celebrating our 30 year anniversary soon and this briought back some very sweet memories for me.

  2. Kailey Konow says:

    Ohhh! I remember the casseroles! You forgot to add chicken piccata to your list of eventually perfected dishes- I now make a great one (I think) thanks to you!

  3. Colleen Wenthen says:

    Wow who among us does not remember tuna casserole? Young, inexperienced cooks on a tight budget. You bought back so many fond memories of the simple pleasures of life. Thank you!

  4. Pam says:

    I love this story – both for the wonderful romantic gesture from your husband and because I like knowing there’s someone else out there besides me who thought her tuna casserole made her a cook for an extended period of time. True confession: I didn’t learn to make mine until my late 30s :).

    • Rose Ann Sinay says:

      The lowly tuna casserole will always hold a special place in our family, LOL. Thank you for reading and commenting, Pam!

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