Aidan’s high school chamber choir held their annual service day and Thanksgiving feast this past Saturday. Like last year, she signed up to bring green bean casserole. Because I didn’t want her hauling around a hot green bean casserole all day, she could mix the ingredients, put them in a baking dish, then I would heat it and deliver it in time for dinner. This plan was exactly what we did last year and it worked out beautifully. Why wouldn’t it this year?
We had a very slow start on Saturday. A donut run turned into a “Hey, we don’t actually have things to make green bean casserole” run. I made a list for my husband, with important asides like, “no cheap grey green beans” and “no cheap condensed soups” and “get 10 pounds of french-fried onions because we will eat 9 pounds and use the rest for topping.” I think he spent about $63 on just these items.
Aidan doubled the random recipe I found on my phone. She poured the mixed ingredients into my favorite baking dish, pressed a sheet of aluminum foil around the edges, and slid it into the refrigerator. I told her to text me with the address where the dinner was being held and I’d have it there around 2:00pm, bubbling hot, just like the Puritans used to make.
But there was no text from her. I texted question marks and every emoticon denoting confusion and irritation to her, stopping short at the little poo. I received nothing from her. I texted and texted and then soon it was time to put the casserole into the oven and I still didn’t have a text. So, I texted her teacher and guess what? Magic. She texted back immediately. Unfortunately, the address was farther than I anticipated and I should have put the dish in the oven ten minutes earlier.
The recipe said to preheat the oven to 350, which is the baking temperature for 90% of everything ever baked. How did it become such a sweet spot? I shook my head and thought to myself, “350 degrees? I don’t have time for no stinking 350 degrees. Let’s go 400!” I hit the button and went upstairs to check on my charging phone. I checked Facebook…which led to Buzzfeed…which led to comments…which led to a link in the comments…which led to something that made me think of green beans languishing in a pool of pulverized mushrooms not in any oven. I raced back downstairs and threw them in.
I watched them with the oven light on. First, liquid around the perimeter started bubbling. I opened the oven and stirred with the idea the heat would spread around. I wondered how I was going to transport a large rectangular ceramic casserole straight from the oven to my car and realized: ?
Last year, I had a flat, shallow cardboard box I lined with pretty tea towels. This year, my foray to the garage recycling pile didn’t turn up cardboard boxes of any kind because my husband had recently taken it to the recycling pick-up station. I remembered a Pyrex casserole carrying case in the basement, a wedding gift, and wondered if that would work. It was smaller than my ceramic casserole dish, but I was going to try.
After opening the oven and stirring again, I determined it was time to visit 425 degrees. It’s the domain of frozen pizzas and broiling fish. Casseroles rarely venture there, but this one would, by God. If Frodo and Sam could venture into Mordor, that darn casserole could, too. I cranked and watched the bubbles spread from the outer frontier edges to the center. It was time for the final step: French Fried Onion topping and browning. I opened the oven again, and felt the blast of a burning deep space sun on my face. I dumped an entire canister of the greasy curls and rings on top and closed the oven. After three minutes, they were not golden brown. They were deep brown, on the verge of being burned but not quite there. One could argue either way.
I gasped at the sub-burned ultra-crispy affair, grabbed potholders, and in one motion lifted the heavy pan out of the oven an into the Pyrex carrying case. I pulled the sides up. It fit, but the lid wouldn’t close. I had to put aluminum foil over the top, then wrap the canvas carrying straps around everything. “Bye!” I shouted to everyone as I scooped up my keys and bag and bolted out the front door to our little green car. I opened the front passenger door and put the still-hissing green beans on the floor, ran around, and jumped in. I backed out of the driveway like Boss Hogg was after me. I could see the county line! If I could make it to that strangely inclined dock, I can leap over the river yelling, “Yeeeee-haaaawwww!” and High School Choir Thanksgiving will be saved!
There are speed limits on city streets. I took streets with higher speed limits. I plotted out a sneaky shortcut I am still proud of. I didn’t run any red lights but several times I was the last car through the intersection. As I turned corners, I thought about sloshing and wondered if that burning smell was coming from the floor to the right or from my tires.
Then, I thought: This better not happen next year!
It won’t, I choked back to myself, surprised.
Aidan is a senior. She won’t be in a high school chamber choir next year. She won’t sign up to bring a casserole to a classmate’s house three Saturdays before Thanksgiving. This is a year of last-this and last-that. Suddenly, I wanted to cry.
I will never have to careen with green beans through suburbia ever again, unless another child follows precisely in his or her big sister’s size 9 footsteps. But what are the chances? Small. Very small. But if I see it coming on the horizon, I will mention how great the pumpkin pies are at Costco.