There are some recipes that I must share with you because of the experience of the recipe and not necessarily because I have the memory of you eating or loving it. Some recipes are like this. They just have a secure place on a table, constant and like clockwork that to leave them out would almost be an insult to their time spent. This is one of those recipes, but the story of this recipe is equal to the deliciousness of it and so here it is, hopeful that it continues on your own table if only for a symbolic gesture and memory of time past.
I always had the fantasy when Dad and I bought our first home that I would have a neighbor I could easily borrow sugar from. You know, the Ethel of Lucy and Ethel or the Betty of Wilma and Betty. This was in 1992 and I was 27. I was living in the fantasy world of the innocent influence the television shows of my youth had on my belief systems. Neighbors I could hang out with, have a cup of coffee with in the morning or a glass of wine in the evening. One I could borrow an egg from, or walk into the house like family. Perhaps it was the fantasy because my own teenage home life was so disrupted. I clung to the notion that family life could be a television show without realizing I was thinking that way.
When I met our neighbors, Karen and Bob, they were about five years ahead of us starting their lives out with their two children and after a few years, we started to become great friends. We camped together, we dined together and they became our alter family. When I became pregnant with you, Karen was always checking on me like the maternal soul she is. She and I would escape on Sundays to a variety of shopping adventures while Dad and Bob would glue themselves to football games we wanted no part of. We would combine families and spend New Years Eve together with you and their kids, Ally and Matt, making fondue at Karen’s and then heading back across the street to our house for hot fudge sundaes to watch the ball drop.
Our life in their home mixed with our home was rich and joyous. Karen and Bob and their entire family were the main reason for this fullness. I loved them and they loved us and after all these years, we are still super close even though even though you do, I don’t have the luxury and ease of living across the street from each other anymore. When I moved out I not only had the sadness of breaking up my own family, but really ending an era of an ideal neighborhood experience. Leaving Dad also included leaving Bob and Karen as there are so many moving parts to making really courageous and tough decisions like the one I ultimately made. It was really important to me that Dad keep the house so you would have not only the stability of your family home but also the security of Karen and Bob across the street. Knowing this made my decision easier for sure.
Like family, Karen and I love to talk food and recipes and we shared many holidays and dinners together over the twenty years I lived across the street. Both Dad and Bob also liked to cook so we always had some delicious food fest or plan going on whether it was a backyard barbeque or some fabulous mystery dinner party Karen would creatively put together. We also shared some of these dinners at Karen’s twin sister’s house or her mom, Phyillis’ house when she was still alive.
One of my favorite old fashioned dishes that Karen made for every Thanksgiving is BROCCOLI CASSEROLE. It is rich and creamy and delicious and I can never replicate it as well as Karen does, but it is one of my favorite dishes to make when I “head south” in the food department going off the wagon of my no dairy rule.
Like macaroni and cheese, it is a comfort food. BROCOLLI CASSEROLE transports me back to their table, back to my morning walk in my pjs with my cup of coffee in hand to say hello where there was always an open door and open arms waiting to welcome me and my own family like their own.
BROCCOLI CASSEROLE (as copied from Karen’s text message when I asked her for the recipe again because I can’t find the one she gave me over twenty years ago after the first time I had tasted this.)
TEXT FROM KAREN (my comments are in italics)
“So I don’t have recipe, I just wing it but here goes.”
1 stick salted butter
Flour enough to make a rue (recipe to follow in directions)
Milk (whole) maybe a 1 1/2 or two cups enough to have consistency of a loose gravy
1 (8oz) bar (block) of cream cheese
Garlic power not a lot just enough for background taste of garlic (fresh works too just a clove minced fine)
Black pepper same as garlic
Fresh parmesean cheese couple of tablespoons 2 to 3 (or more)
Either chopped frozen broccoli or fresh cooked and chopped- if use frozen get water out with paper towels (use strainer and press paper towels or a clean cloth on to broccoli to squeeze water out as much as possible)
Unseasoned bread crumbs (ritz cracker crumbs are even better)
Melt butter over low/medium heat make sure you don’t burn butter or milk will curdle
Add flour to make rue (probably start with 1 T this is just so you get a thickening base, you may need to add a little more, but the flour needs to be added and made smooth before you add the milk or it will get clumpy)
Add milk as much as needed to make loose gravy (stirring constantly)
Season mildly with garlic powder (or fresh) and black pepper
Add cream cheese and fresh Parmesan cheese to thicken milk gravy if gravy is to thick add a little more milk
Broccoli if fresh cook in water and chop up if frozen get all water out (as previously stated above)
Put broccoli in bottom of casserole dish
Pour cream cheese milk gravy over broccoli
Cover casserole lightly with bread crumbs
Melt little bit of butter and drizzle over crumbs (you can also melt butter and add crumbs to it then spoon over the casserole)
Cook at 350 until bubbly
I LOVE YOU (and so does Karen, this I know for sure)