Written by Rebecca Peters-Golden
When the wind blows cool and the scent of autumn is in the air; when a black cat springs across our path and the mailboxes look like gravestones; when pumpkins appear on stoops and teakettles whistle . . . .
This is when my sister and I devour Practical Magic.
Alice Hoffman’s 1995 novel is a delight of magical realism—a story of multiple generations of sisters and the bonds between them that transcend the merely practical.
The 1998 film adaptation (starring Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman) focuses on Gillian and Sally Owens, sisters as different as night and day, practical Sally taking charge around their aunts’ ramshackle house while hedonistic Gillian idles away her days.
For me, the line between food and magic is always thin. There’s a kind of implicit magic to cooking—the transformation of ingredients through combination and heat—just as there’s an earthy practicality in the mixture of herbs and ingredients in spells.
The creation of a dish and the creation of a spell, that is, are close as sisters. It’s no wonder, then, that Hoffman’s novel is packed full of descriptions of food.
It features everything from the goopy chocolate bars that Gillian munches for breakfast and the pizzas that she later shares with a stranger, so wrapped up in each other that they consume food ordered for five . . .
. . . to the well-balanced meals Sally cooks in spite of her aunts’ laissez-faire attitude toward nutrition and the tinned pears she slurps when she’s too deep in her own grief to bother cooking.
The film version echoes this preoccupation with food.
Nearly all the central scenes take place in the aunts’ kitchen, where there are bowls heaped with loaves of bread, baskets of lemons and limes, dusty bottles of wine, and enough china to feed the whole town in which the Owens women are outsiders.
Indeed, the spells that populate the film are all cooked up in the kitchen, stirred like soups and administered as palliatives.
Gillian and Sally even use whipped cream to draw a pentagram on the chest of a man they’re trying to bring back to life.
Both the book and the film ruminate on the necessary balance that must be struck between the practical and the magical in order to be fulfilled, so it seems only fitting that I prepare a thematic dish that does the same.
Sally and Gillian go to live with their aunts’ after their parents’ deaths and they are allowed to run wild, eating and sleeping as they wish.
Gillian takes to this immediately, but Sally is another story:
“From the time she was in third grade, and Gillian in second, Sally was the one who cooked healthy dinners of meat loaf and fresh green beans and barley soup, using recipes from a copy of Joy of Cooking she’d managed to smuggle into the house. She fixed their lunch-boxes each morning, packing up turkey-and-tomato sandwiches on whole-wheat bread, adding carrot sticks and iced oatmeal cookies, all of which Gillian tossed in the trash the instant after Sally had deposited her in her classroom, since she preferred the sloppy joes and brownies sold in the school cafeteria” (7).
Today, I’ve made a meatloaf of which Sally would approve, but which tastes a bit like the sloppy joes that Gillian loves.
It’s a barbecue meatloaf that’s as moist and flavorful as it gets, and I’ve paired it with garlicky adobo green beans to echo the smokiness of the meatloaf.
My meatloaf is half ground sirloin and half ground pork, but you can use whatever combination of meat you prefer.
Sometimes I shape mine in two small loaves instead of one large loaf so that I can eat one now and freeze one for later. That’s the magic of the practical.
This version gets coated with barbecue sauce, but you could also lay strips of bacon across it, or stud it with a beautiful smoked cheddar—whatever your favorite way to dress up meatloaf may be.
To serve leftovers, I like to reheat a slice in the oven with barbecue sauce spooned over it.
Ultimately, whether we’re reading aloud from Hoffman’s novel or watching the (admittedly slightly silly) antics of Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman while we eat, sharing food with my sister is about the most magical thing there is.
I hope you cook up this dinner of meatloaf and green beans and share the magic with favorite people of your own.
- 2 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 red onion, finely chopped
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/2 cup chicken or beef broth
- 2 teaspoons Cajun seasoning
- 1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup of your favorite barbecue sauce + additional barbecue sauce for brushing the meatloaf and serving
- 1 large egg
- 1 canned chipotle in adobo, chopped + 1 tablespoon adobo from can
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1 pound ground pork
- 1/4 cup rolled or quick oats
- 1 pound fresh green beans, rinsed and trimmed
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 teaspoon adobo from the can used for the meatloaf
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Make the meatloaf:
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and line a medium rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or foil.
- Heat the oil in a medium sauté pan or skillet over medium heat until it shimmers.
- Stir in the onion and garlic and cook for about 5 minutes, until the onion becomes translucent and tender.
- Add the broth, Cajun seasoning, salt, and pepper.
- Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes until the liquid has evaporated.
- Scrape into a medium mixing bowl and stir in the barbecue sauce. Set aside to cool for 10 minutes.
- In a small bowl, whisk the egg, chopped chipotle, and adobo sauce together.
- In a large bowl, stir the cooled barbecue mixture, egg mixture, meat, and oats together with a spatula or your hands.
- Shape into 1 large loaf or 2 small loaves on the prepared sheet pan.
- Brush a thin, even layer of barbecue sauce over the meatloaf.
- Bake for 20 minutes while you prep the green beans.
Make the green beans while the meatloaf bakes:
- Toss the green beans, garlic, olive oil, adobo, salt, and pepper together in a bowl.
- After the meatloaf has baked for 30 minutes, remove the baking sheet from the oven.
- Spread the green beans out on the baking sheet around the meatloaf and return to the oven.
- Cook for 20-30 minutes longer, or until a thermometer inserted into the center of the meatloaf registers 165 degrees F.
- Let the meatloaf rest for 15 minutes before serving.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 6 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 788Total Fat: 45gSaturated Fat: 15gTrans Fat: 1gUnsaturated Fat: 26gCholesterol: 221mgSodium: 1732mgCarbohydrates: 37gFiber: 4gSugar: 22gProtein: 56g
The nutritional information above is computer-generated and only an estimate.
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