Perspective is a wonderful thing. It is not, however, something that teenagers have very much of.
I have only the vaguest recollection of the major news events of my early childhood. There were angry protests against Vietnam on college campuses, but I was barely out of diapers when most of them occurred, and only two years old when the National Guard fired on students at Kent State. Nixon resigned when I was five, but the things I remember seeing on TV that year have nothing to do with him: I watched Hee-Haw and Lawrence Welk with my grandfather, and the Wonderful World of Disney with the whole family – whoever happened to be around.
As I got older, more of the world seeped into my consciousness. I remember images of long lines waiting to fill their cars during the oil shock and boats overloaded with people fleeing someplace in Asia, and not understanding why either was happening or even important. Other things made far more of an impression on me: The filth and graffiti of New York City, full of garbage-strewn lots, smoke-scorched abandoned buildings, and a constant fear of random, violent crime.
Every year at school, I would make a new best friend to replace the one from the previous year, whose parents had fled the city for the safety of the suburbs. My mom taught me how to stay safe from muggers (be aware of your surroundings); at school, I learned history and math from worn-out textbooks, and how to stay safe during a Soviet nuclear attack from regular safety drills (duck and cover, kids!).
Sometimes suddenly, but mostly gradually, things changed. Glamour replaced hippies. The abandoned buildings gentrified in spite of slogans spray-painted on them (Die Yuppie Scum), and New York City stopped being unlivable and became, instead, unaffordable.
The Child did not live any of this, and does not understand that her life will follow the same arc. I remember the defining event of her early childhood, 9/11, but she was mercifully unaware of the horror of that day. She did not spend it making frantic phone calls and gasping for air. She watched Teletubbies and fell asleep as I cried about the world ending.
On Election Day, I asked her to sit with me, watching the returns, fully expecting to spend an evening sharing a historic moment: Mother and daughter, independent women, witnessing the election of our first female president.
I changed the channel repeatedly as a rather different story unfolded, then went to bed late and with a sense of unease.
Neither of us slept that night.
The Child went to school the next day, to a cocoon of sheltered, privileged children who suddenly experienced the shock of learning that the world that cannot always be predicted or controlled. The teachers, she told me, did not even bother trying to teach. Nobody cares about chemistry when the world is ending, and her history teacher couldn’t stop crying long enough to give her prepared lesson.
I would have thought a history teacher would have some perspective, but then, she is also young – too young to remember the Berlin Wall coming down, and thus, too young to remember the constant state of fear we lived in before that event. Too young to know that we roller-skated and played with Rubik’s cubes and marveled at a gadget called a Walkman in spite of it all.
The next night, I sat up with The Child until the small hours of morning, listening to her fears, offering her perspective, and knowing as I did that it is something that cannot be taught; it can only be learned through a lifetime of experiences.
The world did not end with Nixon, I explained, and by the time he died, he was sufficiently redeemed that I got a day off work.
This is different, she tells me, and I know that for her, it is.
I don’t often spend time thinking about Nixon, but he has been on my mind since that night in November. I watched All The President’s Men, a couple of times. And then, just before Inauguration Day, the LA Times ran an article about presidential recipes, including this one: Richard Nixon’s Chicken Casserole.
The recipe is variously credited to Nixon’s wife or one of his daughters, but the article’s author doesn’t quite know who or attempt to resolve the issue. I would hazard a guess that it’s a Nixon family recipe culled from the Nixon Presidential Library, but don’t quote me on that. I have a book of presidential recipes that includes other Nixon family recipes – Tricia’s wedding cake and Pat’s meat loaf, among others – but no casserole. That particular book also contains an entry from the Gerald Ford Presidential Library for a dish called Liver Deluxe, a recipe that probably explains why he was voted out after one term.
The Nixon casserole certainly is in the tradition of late-60s/early 70s food; with the exception of the onion and eggs, everything it contains has been processed and packaged. I’ll give credit where it is due, though – it is very easy to throw together on a weeknight, and doesn’t require any difficult to find ingredients, exotic cookware, or challenging techniques. If you can open a can, stir, and turn on an oven, you can cook a meal fit for a president.
If you’re looking askance at the ingredient list, well, you should be. The mayo plus cheese plus eggs make this possibly the fattiest thing I’ve ever eaten. One of the ways you will know it’s done is when an oil slick forms on a nicely browned surface. In spite of this, though, it is easy to make and – if your arteries are up to it – oddly delicious.
The Child enjoyed hers, though she picked out the broccoli – not because she dislikes broccoli, but because she dislikes overprocessed vegetables. When she returned her plate to the kitchen, she peeled herself a carrot, then sat on the couch, munching it and watching South Park.
I have never seen her do this, so I ask. A carrot?
I needed something to cancel out all that unhealthiness. How did you survive all that 1970s food?
I’m not really sure, I tell her. But just like the 1970s, somehow, we survived.
- 2 (10-ounce) packages frozen chopped broccoli
- 1 (10.5 ounce) can condensed cream of mushroom soup
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 1 cup grated sharp Cheddar cheese
- 2 tbsp chopped onion
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- 2 boneless chicken breasts (about ¾ pound), cooked and diced
- Steam the broccoli until tender, about 10 minutes. Set aside.
- Heat the oven to 375 degrees.
- Combine the soup, eggs, cheese, onion, mayonnaise and chicken in a bowl.
- Place half of the broccoli in a 9-inch-square baking pan or casserole dish and pour half the soup mixture over the top. Layer the remaining broccoli over the top, then pour the rest of the soup mixture over it.
- Bake until golden brown, 35 to 40 minutes.