Educating the world about Texas one Yankee at at time.

Educating the world about Texas one Yankee at a time.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Casseroles make the move to Texas a little easier, a lot tastier

This column originally appeared in the Fort Hood Sentinel in September 2010, back when I was writing for the U.S. Army. I miss my soldiers. I learned a lot from 'em. I hope they're all doing well, wherever they are.

On the morning that I penned this column, I was sitting in traffic behind an SUV that had a Virginia license plate on it and I got to thinking about the people on and around Fort Hood. It seems like everyone is from someplace else around here. Once in awhile, I run into someone who was born and raised in Killeen by people who also were born and raised in Killeen. People who actually are from Killeen are rare.

This is a trend that is not special to Killeen/Fort Hood. Rarely is anyone in Texas actually from Texas anymore. Native Texans are about as rare as a Texan who is still a real Dallas Cowboys fan in the post-Tom Landry Dark Ages of the Dastardly Jerry Jones.

Texans started leaving Texas about the same time as the great 1970s Texas oil boom that brought so many Yankees to the state. It was a collective “there goes the neighborhood” and many Texans just up and moved out of state to get away from the New Yorkers that showed up.

Most of us went to Montana, Wyoming and Washington State. I met more Texans in Bozeman, Mont., Casper, Wyo. and Seattle, Wash. than I ever have in Texas.

Then the 1980s came, the oil market bottomed out, the (darned) Yankees left and the nice ones stayed. And our Texas culture changed again.

The move from an agrarian, rural culture to a more urban one accelerated. And everyone “hailed from” or was “a native of” anywhere but Texas.

We tease non-Texans a lot about not being from Texas. We token multi-generational, native Texans that are left love to give y’all grief about just about everything because y’all turn such a lovely shade of purple when you get mad. But the truth is that we don’t mind you coming here at all. Texans love company.

Killeen and Fort Hood are one big highway game of “spot the plate” which involves counting the out-of-state license plates on cars. Since I moved to Central Texas, I’ve seen plates from all fifty states at least three times. It’s fun to comment to passengers in my car about the fella that drove all the way from Vermont just to sit in front of us during the lunch rush from post.

I got to thinking about people being from someplace else and I remembered what it felt like to live away from the state I call home: the loneliness, the “foreign culture” feeling, the being away from friends and family, and the whole unpleasant “otherness” we experience when we’re gone from all that is familiar.

Moving is never fun. Moving in the Army is constant. While I’ve never been in the Army or married to an active duty Soldier, I get what you must be feeling. So when I’m driving in Central Texas traffic, I try to cut the “foreigners” some slack and drive Texas friendly. Even when the young man from Illinois cut me off in traffic and shot me the single-finger salute for reasons known only to him, I smiled and waved and said, “One day kid, you’ll be older and wiser because somebody in a Texas Department of Public Safety vehicle will teach you some good ol’ Texas manners.”

Obscene gestures in Texas will get you arrested, especially if you do it in the direction of Texas law enforcement, so y’all keep your birds cooped for your own safety.

Sitting in traffic behind “Virginia,” I spotted a bumper sticker proudly announcing a member of the Copperas Cove High School Senior Class of 2013. I wondered about that high school student and the friends in Virginia he or she left behind. I wonder about how she or he took the news about moving. And my heart sank a little. It couldn’t have been good.

Sometimes I hear folks say, “I hate Texas!” and that hurts my heart. I’m pretty sure it’s not Texas that they hate, but the fact that they loved where they were before. I understand that.

There is an old Southern tradition of taking your neighbors a casserole or a pie whenever there is a life-changing event in their lives. As Paula Deen once said in a radio interview I heard awhile back, “If someone gets married, you take ‘em a pie. If someone has a baby, you take ‘em a pie. If someone dies, you take the family a pie. If you have new neighbors, you take ‘em a pie. Nothing says love like bringing someone a gift that required your time and effort to make.”

Miss Paula is right.

The way I have it figured, we got about upteen-thousand folks moving into and out of the Great Place in any given year. I can’t make 26,000 casseroles, but I can share one recipe. I hope you enjoy it; it’s good for a church supper, potluck or as a make-ahead meal for a football game. Welcome to Texas, enjoy the casserole and if you have a question about Texas or Texans, please shoot me an email at (janna.casstevens@gmail.com). Your question just might end up a topic in this column.

This is one of my favorite casseroles and one I learned to make from Southern Living magazine after moving to Salado, about 125 miles from friends and 185 miles from my family. Just making it brought me a lot of comfort. I hope y’all enjoy it too.

Caramelized Onion Macaroni and Cheese

1 (8-ounce) package large elbow macaroni

2 tablespoons butter

2 large onions, halved and thinly sliced

1 teaspoon sugar

1 (16-ounce) block white Cheddar cheese, shredded

1 cup (4 ounces) shredded Parmesan cheese

32 saltine crackers, finely crushed and divided

6 large eggs

4 cups milk

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

2 tablespoons butter, melted

1/2 cup chopped pecans (optional)

Prepare macaroni according to package directions; set aside.

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add sliced onions and 1 teaspoon sugar. Cook, stirring often, 15 to 20 minutes or until onions are caramel colored.

Layer half each of cooked macaroni, onions, cheeses, and cracker crumbs in a lightly greased 13- x 9-inch baking dish. Layer with remaining macaroni, onions, and cheeses.

Whisk together eggs and next 3 ingredients; pour over macaroni mixture.

Stir together remaining half of cracker crumbs, 2 tablespoons melted butter, and, if desired, pecans. Sprinkle evenly over macaroni mixture.

Bake at 350° for 1 hour or until golden brown and set. Let stand 10 minutes before serving. Makes 8 to 10 servings.

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