The Thunker - Sarah Donohoe

In order to lighten up the sense of doom hanging over us like a black cloud these days, I reran a column last week that originally appeared in the Estes Park News on September 7, 2007. In it, I provided a code to create unusual new names for each of us. Just as 13 years ago, several readers shared their thoughts about this entertaining exercise:

“Really FUN rerun, Thunker! Yours truly, Dorfus Picklebutt”

“[This is] Snooty Rhinonose thanking you for a fun exercise. ”

“Thanks for the giggles! Yours truly, Sloopy [Chucklesniffer]. ”

“Dear Thunker, Just what the doctor ordered. Thanks! Sleezy Rhinohump. ”

“So I come out Snickle Dippinclunker. It’s all okay except the clunker. ”

And the best one:

“[After] I had moved here in November 2006, I would bring my mother up to visit from Colorado Springs. One of my fondest memories of her is sitting on the wall outside of Macdonald Book Shop playing around with that name column in the newspaper. She got such a kick out of it and got laughing so hard, and I got laughing also. We probably looked crazy sitting on the wall laughing so hard.

“I still have the column ripped out of the newspaper. It has been sitting in a basket on my desk, dated September 7, 2007. You used George W. Bush as the sample name. Gosh what we've gone through since then.

“Take care, stay safe and healthy. Goober Chickensquirt. ”

A story like “Goober’s” makes every late night at my computer—or very early morning—typing fast and furiously to meet the paper’s drop-dead deadline, worth it. Thank you Goober, for the laughter you shared with your mom and with all of us.

Not as long ago as the name game column, I wrote about King Ranch Chicken Casserole (July 13, 2018), the state casserole of Texas. The recipe I included in the column called for a can of cream of mushroom soup and a can of cream of chicken soup because, as far as anyone can tell, the recipe originated in the 1960s and what didn’t call for cream of mushroom or cream of chicken soup back then?

Just this past week my good friends Snickle and Dinky Battyhead sent an article from the Texas Monthly magazine with a different King Ranch Casserole recipe (there are as many recipe variations for this “lord of the potluck” as there are oil pumps). This new recipe does not have cream of anything soup in it. Mushrooms, yes. Chicken, of course. But the winning ingredient is my all-time favorite: heavy cream. YES!

During this stay-at-home hiatus from the hustle bustle world, I’ve been trying several new recipes and revisiting some oldies but goodies. I’ll add this new King Ranch Casserole to my list of recipes to try, and see if any Texans follow their (masked) noses and show up on my doorstep looking for a potluck.

We’ve been hearing that people are turning to their preferred comfort foods for reassurance while quarantined at home. That goes for the Donohoes as well. My siblings have all been making a traditional family dish from the “Donohoe Favorites Over the Years” cookbook my mom put together decades ago. It hails from the kitchen of Aunt Betty Taylor, who was the food editor of the Chicago Tribune for a time. Needless to say, Betty was a superb cook. (I believe the opera music she listened to at top volume on her kitchen radio helped her tap into her inspired cooking muse.) The recipe is called “Aunt Betty’s Taglarini” and the reason we like it so much is because it calls for green olives and their juice.

Once I heard via WhatsApp that each of my sibs was finding solace from a common childhood casserole, I couldn’t get tagliarini (the proper spelling) out of my mind. I looked up the word to learn that tagliarini is actually a flat noodle, long like spaghetti, similar to tagliatelle, but thin like capellini. My Italian is limited to the words spaghetti, linguini and lasagna, so the comparison to other noodles wasn’t much help. Tagliarini as a noodle means nothing to me, but tagliarini the casserole—now that’s amore!

There are as many recipes for tagliarini as for King Ranch Casserole. The recipe my mom used calls for Velveeta. I struggled with this when I was at the grocery in my mask and gloves, pushing my cart the wrong way down the one-way aisle and finally finding the Velveeta nowhere near the other cheeses. I pondered. Should I go with the traditional gooey, neon-orange processed cheese product, or break rank and use a true cheese? I decided that since I was using frozen corn instead of canned corn, I should elevate the overall tagliarini experience and go with cheddar.

When I pulled the casserole out of the oven 45 minutes after putting it in, I stepped back to a time when five Donohoe children, Dad and Mom sat together for dinner. We eyed the steaming casserole as Mom placed it on the hot pad in the middle of the oblong table. Oh, those crusty edges, that browned and bubbly cheesy top, the hamburger, tomato sauce, noodles, corn and olives combination! Here’s the recipe, as written in the 1960s:

1 lb hamburger

1/2 lb cheese, grated (Velveeta)

1 small onion, grated

1 clove garlic, grated

1/2 cup olives, sliced

1/4 cup olive liquid

1/4 lb noodles, cooked

1 small can whole kernel corn

1 8-oz can tomato sauce

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp pepper

Brown hamburger. Add remaining ingredients, blend thoroughly. Pour into casserole. Bake at 350 degrees 45 to 60 min.

(I used cheddar cheese, frozen corn, a 15-oz can of tomato sauce, and omitted the salt.)

Add a salad of orange Jell-O with mandarin oranges and marshmallows mixed in a Jiffy cake for dessert, and we have ourselves the perfect retro meal!

You may let The Thunker know what you think at her e-mail address,

© 2020 Sarah Donohoe

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