It was the early 1970’s.
Before the oil crisis.
Gas tanks and wallets were pretty full.
Life moved fast and it seemed there would never be a limit in place.
Safety was optional or at least negotiable – like seatbelts, curfews, humanity.
People had trouble and fun with trying to keep up.
Plastics were exciting, ubiquitous and so embraceable, if you could get used that new car smell (even if the scent was coming from your spoons, shower curtains and see-through sofa-cover)!
Red dye was in everything and no one knew to care.
You could say good times were not safe times, but boy they sure were exhilarating!
Sometimes, heck, most of the times, you didn’t even know how much risk was involved in a “normal” day.
You could passenger around untethered in the way-back of a Pinto (doubly daring), without a care in the polluted world.
Sitting too close to the television set made it easy to change the channels by turning the dial (a remote was not a thing yet, rather, it was more a measurement of how remotely near or far you were from the cathode ray tube’s glow).
When there was an eclipse, no one handed out complimentary glasses.
You simply stared.
That’s just how things were.
Things were not tough yet, but they were not that smart, either.
Technology was making advances and the human race was happy to cut out the guinea pig as the middleman.
Like I said, people had trouble and fun with trying to keep up.
So, with disposable incomes and fast times, came disposable EVERYTHING and a rushed existence.
Paper plates, disposable diapers, divorces; everything could be thrown out or replaced.
Even THE phone company had to embrace change, get polyester-ish in its flexibility and make room for a more relaxed lifestyle by dividing.
In this rat race paced society, there was a gap between the carrying on of old traditions as they clashed with the space age applications being developed to dismiss them into obsolescence.
Let’s examine the kitchen for instance.
The percolator gave way to instant coffee.
That was an easy switch, no glitch.
Out with the old, in with the astronaut-ish new.
Still existing but antiquated Ice Boxes were rolled away and refrigerators with instant ice makers were wheeled in.
The ice cube tray was put to secondary use for making toothpick handled mini popsicles.
Things were moving so quickly that it seemed like even water got the message to hurry up and the ice froze faster.
A larger chasm in the rush to rush was felt closer to home in one of the most under-reported seismic eruptions which I will attempt to describe here.
One tradition that was still held high and holy, at least in our home, was the making and serving of family sized casseroles (even if the number of the nuclear family had decreased in the un-counting of an absent father).
By Sunday, it seemed that most meal cooking moms had enough energy restored or somehow in reserve to serve a home cooked meal.
Hamburger Helper and mother’s little helper may have been getting many matriarchs through the midweek but, Sunday supper was as serious as a sermon.
Meal preparation sometimes began on Saturdays.
Some (more like tons of) assembly was required.
We’re talking measuring spoons, measuring cups, egg separators, flour sifters, double boilers, letting things rise, letting things come to a boil, letting things rest.
There was sautéing and searing, simmering and sizzling, browning and chopping, slicing and dicing, shredding and folding, blending and blanching, braising and broiling.
We are talking the loving care, handling and tending to required in order to make massive food to feed the masses.
So, tradition was alive and well on this particularly unforgettable 70’s (Saturday into) Sunday afternoon.
The table was set by my brother and me.
We thought it was a bestowance of earned responsibility.
We learned in later years that this was a delay tactic deployed by our mother in order to distract us from easy access to dinner before it was ready.
Setting the table for three would have taken anyone else but a minute, especially in the slipshod manner in which we presented the fruits of our labors.
Our mother knew best.
Assigning us to work together or to do anything together for that matter, automatically had a built in delay.
Some things were just not meant to mix; brothers/sisters, oil/water, ammonia/bleach, toaster/bathtub.
As soon as my brother and I disappeared from sight, the table setting turned into a battle Royale.
A sword fight with the knives, a joust with the spoons and a fencing match with the forks.
Thank goodness it was not a formal dinner setting or we would have had to invent more combat sports to match the extravagant tableware count.
Napkins were transformed into welts with a violent snap of the wrist.
Plates were tossed as if someone had yelled “pull” at a skeet shoot.
The only thing that could bring on an armistice amidst such deep seated battle was the wafting aroma of garlic bread.
It could only mean two things.
War was over and it was Lasagna night!
Lasagna can have an hypnotic effect and should come with many warnings.
For the preparer, there should be guidelines as to how many layers is enough.
To the eater, also, guidelines would help, as in accordance when knowing when enough is enough.
Pasta induced coma is real.
It should not be taken lightly and in the case of this particular lasagna night, NOTHING was taken lightly as the tragic events were soon to pass.
You see, when a lasagna is prepared with no warnings or safeguards, no guidelines and no FDA standards (in keeping with that 70’s vibe), said lasagna can be as layered and large as a pan can withstand.
Most people think they know what is contained in the layers of a lasagna by what they can see and taste.
Ground meats, cheeses, noodles, sauce or gravy (depending on what you call it).
What cannot be seen and is the oft overlooked ingredient, is a secret mix of vitriol, venom, and mental vinegar.
The weight of the bitter emotions that one might feel whilst preparing a meal, can result in quite a sizable and weighty entree.
I picture my mother piling on the visible layers yet, what she really was amassing were years of marital malaise in between the marinara.
As a safeguard, the brain knows that at some point, you have reached maximum capacity.
This is true for lasagna and relationships.
In the case of the lasagna, you realize you have to stop when the height of the tiers has risen way above the edge of the pan.
Also, the alarm that the oven is preheated and waiting for it’s next victim, helps bring the chef back into the present moment.
And here, Houston, in hindsight, is where we begin to see that we have a problem.
Since it took two days to make the lasagna and clean up is such a chore (according to all the commercials), we can thank (or later blame or sue) modern technology for coming up with a simple solution.
Why toil more after a meal by scrubbing and scouring your heirloom casserole dish?
Wouldn’t life be faster and more futuristic if you could simply use one of those handy disposable aluminum cooking trays?
You know the ones.
They look just like a cast iron casserole dish but are made from what I can only imagine was layers and layers of tinfoil, pressed into a mold to resemble the real thing.
When dinner is done, so too would be the cooking container and the clean up.
Just throw it all away!
No messy residue, no convicting evidence.
Nothing would stick.
But something was about to get stuck, that’s for sure.
And not charmingly stuck like glue per se, it was more the kind of stuck one could liken to hot glue.
Anyone who has ever witnessed the joy of crafting, followed by the sheer panic that sets in when hot, gossamer glue strands angelically cascade and then hellishly land upon the skin (instead of the intended craft target) knows the painful terror of which I speak.
Replace the hot glue in this scenario instead, with cheese, blazing, inferno-like cheese.
In the case of removing an overstuffed pan from an overheated oven to feed overstuffed children in an overheated rush, something’s gotta give and gravity folks, always wins.
I remember it like it was yesterday (even after all those years of therapy).
Bubbling LaBrea-like behemoth blistering boils of molten mozzarella were about to give way to the compromised composition of compressed aluminum.
The foil had been foiled.
Just like the 70’s had compromised our standards, fashion sense and what was left of our morals, it had also taken its toll on the integrity of our bakeware.
And, we were about to find out that what goes down, actually goes up and must then again, come down.
Seated at the table with napkins tucked under our double chins and forks in hands with a “runners take your marks” intensity, we droolingly awaited dinner.
Hunger pangs would soon become pangs of regret however.
Our first gut punch was in witnessing mom’s two day cooking composition fold like cheap lawn furniture (also aluminum/tin based) within the flimsy confines of a disposable pan.
The horizontal base that supported the bounty in which we were about to receive, once removed from the oven rack, stood absolutely no chance against the forces of nature when it was held by oven-mitted hands only at the very ends of this now obvious wafer-thin excuse for a casserole dish.
The second shock wave came when we saw the now Veed formation of what was once a flat, supportive base.
Lots of things buckled in the 70’s.
Shoes, belts, family units, California freeways during the big quake.
But, let’s get back to horror at hand here.
We are talking about a crumbling of crisis-like proportions happening right in our very own kitchen, in front of very own eyes AND we were hungry.
Sure, we had some preparedness training in our early school days, but there was a glaring gap in our emergency education and it would soon be made skin and psyche scarringly obvious.
We all know that in case a car pulls up slowly by your side while you are walking and a stranger offers you candy and a ride, you (get the candy if you can and then) drop your book bag and run like hell, then hide and stress eat candy until the coast is clear.
In case of fire, stop, drop and roll.
In case of nuclear blast, duck and cover under a desk.
But where, oh where, in the safety manual did it ever explain what to do in case of lasagna droopage and droppage?
Oh the travesty of the slow motion meltdown that henceforth followed.
As the bow broke and the pasta did fall, down came the casserole, and was about to obliterate all.
This boiling, bubbling, Bolognese of biblical proportions was about to fall and the burning was to befall us.
The splash zone from the initial impact of the “pan” hitting the floor reached every wall of the dining area and blasted everyone and everything in its path.
If you’ve seen any of those napalm in Nam forest afire footages, it looked kind of like that.
The traceable trajectory was evidenced in radiating rays of red ragu.
Yet, these gravy waves were not the only thing from which to to fear or flee.
Also of threatening concern, were what now hung as multiple swords of Damocles precariously poised above our heads.
The magma of molten mozzarella that erupted from the impact on the floor, now dangled dangerously from the ceiling in the form of steaming, streaming stalactites.
I recall our sauce soaked stocking feet flaying and fluttering in the desperate attempt to cool the burning from the baking and to free the hot skin from the hot socks.
Parmesan and polyester had a similar melting point it seemed.
Scalps were seared with strands of cheese and strips of noodles.
The lasagna layers, were re-assembling themselves outside the realm of the pan that could not contain them.
Like a wild, dying animal that keeps flailing, the lasagna’s layers kept on fighting to survive by unleashing their wrath upon our squirming bodies.
You’d think this would have been enough of a life lesson for us to never be in need of dieting in the years to follow.
We had just experienced the truest, most extreme form of food aversion therapy one could imagine.
Yet, still we prevailed by being bigger than our baking beating and rising above our raising by becoming borderline obese in the 80’s (more on that another day).
When it comes to the specific saga of this lava-sagna, I’m sure there’s a lesson here somewhere.
There must be.
For something to leave such an indelible mark, in the form of a cheese induced scar in this case, you have to assign it meaning, right?
Maybe the lesson is that when the sanctity of a Sunday supper is raised to biblical heights, be prepared for it to fall from grace (or the oven, or the ceiling) in conversely monumental proportion.
The serving of the Sermon on the Mount yielded into the magmatic massacre of Mount Vesuvius.
Perhaps, simply, the lesson is that we should invest more in head to toe flame retardant fashion when dining at home if we are going to go cheap on bakeware and lazy on clean up.
Or, just stick to cold cereal.
As far as I know, no one has been injured in the making or eating of that…