Dinner · General

Johnnie M. Casserole & Nebraska Nice

There are a lot of problems with the Midwest of America. I say that with deep, deep love in my heart for its landscape. It is and has always been my home. And it will live in my heart always, no matter where I may end up.

But.

There’s a lot of problematic people hiding behind this archaic idea that a veneer of niceness is penance for the racism, bigotry, and general upturned-nose-ed-ness that lives deeply and systemically in many of us.

This past decade, and in particular this past year, has forced us all to examine ourselves and our beliefs and our privileges and our ingrained prejudices. How much has changed since change was promised?

I am not immune from it. I have been and said and done racist and bigoted things in my lifetime. But the only way to learn from this is to openly acknowledge it. The only way forward is through truth and if you can’t be honest with yourself and can you possibly be honest with others?

This is a theme that comes up a lot in genealogy actually. Varying generations from The Greatest to The Silent to The Boomers have different ways of hiding their darker parts. The chapters of their lives that cause them to fear shame or judgment or even simply to re-live sadness are hidden away. They aren’t talked about. They aren’t asked about. You get whispers and are left to fill in the blanks.

My own grandfather’s father disappeared from his life entirely for 12 years. From age 5 to age 18 he lived with his grandmother, mother who had epilepsy, and several aunts. And then his dad came back.

He told me a story once about how in his senior year of high school, there was a ‘Father-Son’ day scheduled. This would have been right after his father walked back into his life. He said he felt angry with his father and so he didn’t tell him about the Father-Son day. But looking back, 75 years later, he wished he’d gone with his dad. He wished he had that memory.

I have complicated feelings about that story. I used to be mad at my great-grandfather for abandoning his family in 1930. I couldn’t understand how my grandpa would want anything to do without who left him and came back without remorse or consequence.

Then, in my genealogical research, my great grandfather’s name popped up on the 1930 Minnesota Census. As a patient in the VA Sanitarium.

Was he there for 12 years? I don’t know. Did my grandpa only not know where he was because the generation above him chose to hide the reason? I don’t know. My grandpa is gone now. His dad is gone.

My aunts and uncles and mom are here and they all have an idea of what happened. But none of them know. None of us know. Not really.

I share all of this because, if you haven’t noticed from my other recent posts, I’ve got family on the brain a lot lately.

It’s probably partly the isolation of the pandemic. It’s probably partly the reckoning we face with several family members and their less than stellar opinions and beliefs. It’s probably partly that space in my brain always trying to unravel the past.

And this all came up because I made Johnnie M. Casserole. (Aka Goulash.) Papa loved Johnnie M. In fact, I fondly remember one day when I was at his lake house in Okoboji and I had plans to make Johnnie M. for him that evening. I had spent the entire day power-washing the three wooden decks/landings on the house. I came in, covered in dirt and wood bits and water and he, sitting at the dining room table working on a puzzle, gruffed, “Are we having Johnnie M. or what?”

Now my husband says that every time we have Johnnie M.

My mom’s best friend and my adopted aunt and one of the best humans on this planet, Pam, gave us this recipe. I don’t know much about its origins. But I know it’s deeply rooted in the midwest. Like me.

I don’t know who Johnnie M. is. I don’t know where is came from before it landed in Pam’s receipe catalogue. But I know it shouldn’t be a secret that isn’t passed on. So, here it is.

Johnnie M. Casserole

Serves: 6ish

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 1 package sloppy joe seasoning
  • 6 oz. tomato paste
  • 2 C elbow macaroni
  • 1 C whole kernel corn, drained
  • 2 C grated sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1 1/4 C water
  • Butter (to grease casserole dish)

Instruments

  • 2 qt. casserole
  • Medium saucepan
  • Sitrrin’ spoon
  • Various measuring cups, spoons, etc.
  • Large pot to cook pasta

Instructions

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 F/180 C/Gas Mark 4
  2. In a medium saucepan, over medium heat, cook ground beef, stirring constantly with wooden spoon or fork to crumble until meat loses it’s red color.
  3. Stir in seasoning mix, then add tomato paste and water. Bring to a boil.
  4. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes with a slightly askew lid. Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to package directions.
  5. Combine the pasta, meat mixture, corn, and 1 cup of the cheese. Turn into a 2 quart buttered casserole dish.
  6. Sprinkle top with the remaining cheese.
  7. Bake, uncovered, until heated through – about 40-45 minutes.

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