January 14, 2011

French Friday: Fennel and Apple Meatloaf

If it seems like a stretch to call a meatloaf French, I hope you’ll permit the reach. Fennel and apple seem like a dignified way to class up this ’50s housewife favorite, and did I mention the gruyère? That practically makes it bona fide.

I’ve had two meatloaf recipes in life that were worth repeating. This one, and one that seemed a little Continental with its inclusion of prunes. (Am I saying that a recipe is “French” if it’s got that savory-with-fruit thing going on? Who knows.) I was introduced to that recipe where I get a lot of my good food ideas: book club.

Which brings me, tangentially, to the pleasures of belonging to a social club. Are you guys in book clubs? Are there women you meet for tea and knitting, to talk about wine, to practice yoga together, or to swap mixtapes? It doesn’t really matter what the impetus is that brings you together (though a shared interest certainly leads to sustained enthusiasm when the meeting falls on a cold, rainy night in February). What matters is the idea incubator and mutual support that happens when you’re together. We talk about the book or cast on our stitches and then the real meeting comes to order: someone needs to talk about job hunting, getting over a broken heart, how to redo the kitchen, or just inexplicably having a bad case of the blues. Not to get all red tent, ’70s consciousness-raising on you, but something powerful happens when women come together like this.

My college experience had an idea-incubator quality to it among my female friends that made me hunger for the same experience in the real world. It turns out, though, that grown-up life isn’t naturally set up to foster this kind of togetherness. We all live separately, cordoned off in our own snug little homes, working away in our individual cubicle corrals, sweating silently side-by-side on the treadmills at the gym. Yet that sense of connecting, of being understood, of belonging to a group that likes each other and spends time together because they elect to––not because they’re receiving a paycheck at week’s end or share the same DNA––that experience can bring so much meaning to the day-in, day-out experience of waking up, punching in, and slogging through. A sense of community can sustain us through so much.

I spent the days leading up to New Year’s Eve in a white farmhouse in Wisconsin. There were eight of us, and three people cooked side by side in the kitchen, passing behind each other, crossing arms to reach pots on the stove, compromising on oven temperatures. Then we would sit down at the long table, folded paper towels under our knives, wine in Anchor Hocking teacups, and eat. I realized then, just clear as day, that one of my greatest pleasures in life is sitting down to a meal at a table filled with people.

“This is just what it would feel like to be in a really big family,” someone––maybe me––said. “Yeah,” came the expected quip, “except we would all hate each other.”

This is all to say: I hope you find a spot of community this weekend, whether elected or familial, and share a meal together. Maybe even this meatloaf.

Fennel and Apple Meatloaf
from Everyday Food
Serves 6

Since I just talked about how lovely other people are, I decided to post the full servings of this recipe. But when I cooked it at home, I actually halved the meat, cheese, and bread but kept the vegetable measurements the same. It turned out beautifully, and then my family of two didn’t have to eat meatloaf leftovers for days on end.

2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small yellow onion, diced medium (3/4 cup)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 small fennel bulb, diced medium (1 1/3 cups)
1/2 Granny Smith apple, peeled and diced medium (1/2 cup)
1 3/4 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 1/2 pounds ground pork or turkey
1 cup grated Gruyere or sharp cheddar (1 3/4 ounces)
1 to 2 slices white sandwich bread, diced medium (1 cup)
1 large egg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium skillet, heat oil over medium-high. Add onion, garlic, fennel, and apple and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is soft and vegetables begin to brown, 5 minutes. Add lemon zest and coriander, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring, 1 minute.

In a large bowl, combine pork, cheese, bread, and egg. Add vegetable mixture and season with 2 teaspoons salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Using your hands, mix until ingredients are combined. Transfer to a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet; form into a 4-by-10-inch loaf. Bake until meatloaf is cooked through, 40 minutes, rotating sheet halfway through. Let rest 15 minutes before slicing.

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  • Kristina Strain: You got it. Exactly. As my husband and I prepare to move to a town of less than 400 souls, and his summer tour schedule fills up (he’s in a band), I’m quaking just a little at the prospect of being alone in a small town where I don’t know anyone. It’s a very friendly small town, but STILL. A lot of unknowns. I’ve found myself wishing more than I’d like to admit that I was the church-going type. That just seems like such an easy way to join a group, to meet people. Ah well. Maybe they have a book club out there?4 years ago

  • If they don’t, you’ll create it! And maybe–if you are in the mood for a spiritual community–a great yoga studio nearby or a meditation group (or whatever you’re into or curious about) could scratch that itch. And though it’s not the same, when 400 people just seems too small, there’s always the great wide Internet community. (ps I’ve been loving reading about your house/move.)4 years ago

  • Ells: A) this looks so good! Fennel-apple-salty things are among my favorites.

    B) I just moved to a strange land (South Carolina. It’s strange to me, anyway), and one of the first things I looked into was establishing a book club. (First meeting’s next month, if any Pink readers in Myrtle Beach are interested! :) I love the social aspect, and I’ve missed talking about books since college English class. Yes, I’m that dorky. Although book club does have one major leg up on college classes — the addition of wine.4 years ago

  • Amy --- Just A Titch: Gah, more and more, I long for this sort of community. I have a lot of friends, sure, but not that close-knit “group” type community. I was raised religiously and while I don’t miss much about church, I desperately miss the community. I’ve had a few attempts at creating this but no luck yet. It’s something I want to try and foster this year.

    Great post.4 years ago

  • M: This post really resonated with me. I’ve been trying to find community for 4 years, and without sounding whiny, it’s been really hard. I went from having a close group of friends which included my husband to just my husband when we moved across country. Then we moved again after 2 years and I’ve forgotten how to make friends. I don’t know where to find them and I don’t know how to keep them.4 years ago

  • Tricia A: Last May I joined a “wine club” and it has changed my life! We meet once a month (rotating houses) among the 16 members. The hostess of the month provides all the wine (5 or 6 bottles in whatever price range works for you) and all the rest of the members bring the food and “master bottles” (the ones to drink from that are not for the wine tasting portion of the night) We theme the wine and food when it works. Two of my old roommates have belonged to this club (it’s all just made-up “rules” and fun!) and I’m finally at a place in my life where my two kids (ages 5 and 2) are “easier” and I needed to bring sexy back (as I call it) and reclaim a bit of me and really, get the HELL outta the house! (I’m a SAHM and writer) It’s all about friendship, community and a sense of connectedness. I am so grateful to have this to look forward to every month. Just this little event makes ME feel more like ME……It’s what college was all about and what most of us are REALLY missing in our lives. I love what you said……..as always it resonates with me and I love your blog! : ) I am hosting in Feb.! I am thinking wines from Spain and tapas!4 years ago

  • Sara Rose: @Kristina- Hey!!!! (waves) I’m from South Dakota, where towns of 400 or less are the total norm. You’re gonna be ok. HONESTLY. People may be cold or stiff at first, but it’s just the new person thing. All you really have to do to get a new friendship going in these small towns is smile at the grocery store, comment humourously on somebody having a similar frustration as you, or as Americana as it may seem, bring your famous pie/casserole/bread over to a neighbor. In little towns like this, you’ll find that the HUGE message boards at the library or grocer are jammed full of whats going on in town. The first 6 months may be a bit lonely but it eases up. Trust me, I’m a transplant myself. Good luck!

    @PoP Sarah- remind me- I HAVE TO email you two recipes- one for a pistachio maraschino cherry bundt cake (oh midwestern heaven!) and one for my recently deceased granny bleu cheese meat loaf. They are both pleasure bombs.

    Oh and who has Essie Long Stemmed Roses twirling across the keyboard? ;) Happy Saturday!4 years ago

  • Ells, I don’t think that’s dorky at all (though maybe that says something about me!), and I’m so excited that you found a group in your new home!

    Amy & M, It’s hard, no doubt about it, and most difficult of all, I think, is that it takes time…often a long time. I think groups with common interests really can be great. It might feel forced and artificial at first, but over time real friendships can really develop out of a wine club or a quilting circle or whatever. It’s so hard to be patient on this front, and some people fall into community more easily than others. It really took me about 5 or 6 years before I felt I found mine in New York.

    Tricia, That wine club sounds so freakin’ fun! I love the idea. I have one friend in particular who brings the “tasting” element to every glass. She always sniffs it and says, “Mmm…blackberries, leather (insert more creative adjectives here).” It really makes you slow down and look for nuances. So glad you found a way to feel like you!

    Sara Rose, Great point about community message boards in libraries, etc.4 years ago

  • Amy: I have book club! We’ve had roughly the same group since the junior year of college, and by now it’s less about reading books and more about making sure we still see each other on a regular basis. There’s a few members who have moved away, but we still make sure we have meetings whenever they come to visit and we’re also working on trying to skype them in….

    Another (overlapping) group of my college friends has taken to holding pasta night at someone’s house roughly once a month. With everybody working strange hours and me living out of town, it’s nice to know we all still get to spend time with each other.4 years ago

  • Tami -- Teacher Goes Back to School: may i invite myself over for dinner? omg this looks absolutely delicious.

    i agree it can take years to find you community – i lived in sacramento for 5 or 6 years before i really felt at home.4 years ago

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