Maybe it's because, a few days ago, I wrote about casseroles. Tuna casserole, tortilla casserole, that kind of stuff. And of course, the topic of macaroni and cheese came up in comments.
In fact, Kevin of Seriously Good and I are going to co-blog about macaroni and cheese in the near future. He thinks he's going to whip the pants off me — don't worry, I'm wearing leggings underneath — but I've got a couple of tricks up my sleeve (and I'm keeping my shirt on).
One of my tricks, I may as well reveal now, is not to make a whole cafeteria-size pan of the stuff. I've done that in the past simply to have leftovers on hand, but I'm a big girl now and I'm thinking small.
That's probably when memories of queasy school food started bubbling up in my brain, complete with that stifling, indescribable aroma. (What was it? It smelled overheated, shaggy-brown and deplorable, that's all I know. A mixture of everything bad, including Jell-O.)
So, for me, school lunch recollections:
•An ice cream scooper blob of mashed potatoes, drenched with windowpane-transparent cornstarch "gravy" dotted with cooked hamburger pellets. (And that was one of the better meals of the week, even though it resembled smallpox on a spud.)
•Canned spinach. Looked and smelled like cow diarrhea. I assure you, I don't know what it tasted like.
•"Pizza." Even the cafeteria ladies knew this was utterly fake, and put quotation marks around it. It was a huge sheet pan of thick, pallid, puffy dough — slick with moisture and not fully cooked. Smeared with the bitterest of canned tomato paste and showered with (I'm just guessing) grated "government cheese."
•Fried chicken (probably breaded and baked; this was in the days when cooking was actually done on school premises, by the way). I made the rookie mistake of pointing to the plumpest piece in the pan, which was placed on my plate with a pair of tongs and — oh no, did she just laugh at me? Yeah. It was a chicken back: all deceptively bulgy and rounded, but completely hollow on the inside. Just ribs. No meat.
My best school lunch memory, though, is actually school dinner, and it was at college. I was a guest student at Dartmouth for a couple of quarters, and one night everybody in the dining room was surprised with fresh, whole trout. Rumors flew through Thayer Hall that a wealthy, outdoorsy alum had donated crates of it. Whatever. It was pretty good, nicely breaded and fried.
We were responsible for bussing our trays, but it was easy: there was a conveyor belt that ran around the perimeter of the dining hall, leading into the dishwashing area. Just place your tray and watch it bobble its way around the room, where it would eventually disappear into a hole and... holy smoke! Students had begun to spear the trout heads onto forks or knives propped up in their drinking glasses! The entire room was surrounded by a bouncing, chugging army of trout heads, lurching straight for those sweet, unsuspecting cafeteria ladies!
Ah, school memories. I remember that. But I don't remember the fundamental theorem of calculus.