New spin on birthday meatloaf

My son should be chosen to be a spokesperson for air fryers. I mean, for months, I’ve heard him rave about his air fryer. In one ear and out the other, I heard about chicken wings, French fries, and chocolate chip cookies that become wonderous when cooked in an air fryer. Having four little ones aged 6 and under begs for the convenience of quick-fix dinners. My son’s family dinner time has been saved by air fryers for quite some time. Little did I pay attention, but then my husband’s birthday approached. Whatever in the world do I get for my culinary-searching-always-in-the-kitchen husband? (Yes, he is now pressing homemade corn tortillas.) Well, I thought, how about an air fryer. I had no idea just how critical this gift would be. Let me set the stage.

My husband’s birthday dinner celebration was set. Tablecloths and special linens were lovingly placed on the dining room table with just the right amount of pastel-colored forks for our most special pint-sized grandchildren. The homemade Boston Cream Pie was assembled and sat upon the regal pedestal cake plate situated on the top shelf of the fridge. The favorite meatloaf recipe was prepared, resting on the fridge shelf below, ready for the pre-heated oven. And, perhaps most important, the air fryer was wrapped with an extra fluffy bow.

Our kids arrived with their little people and puppies in tow. I became swept with the joy of togetherness. Little feet and prancing paws overtook my attention. In a moment of providence, I suggested my husband open his gift before dinner. After all, how fun would it be to prepare chicken nuggets for the little kids as a way of “christening” the new gadget. With my son’s tutorial, we transformed frozen chicken duds into fast food-like crispy delights in 10 minutes time. Just like that, we became enamored with the newest addition to our very busy kitchen of addendums.

“How great is that?” I thought to myself as I mashed potatoes and prepared to call everyone to sit down for dinner. All I needed was that Betty Crocker kind of apron, and I would have called the moment just about perfect. And then, I froze.

“Oh no,” I said in a volume that communicated a slight bit of panic. The room quieted, all wide eyes turned toward me. “I forgot to cook the meatloaf!” In an instant, my movie worthy dinner now took on a quick Plan B: Domino’s Pizza with mashed potatoes.

Before I could pick up my phone to order pizza delivered in 30 minutes or less, my super-hero-air-frying-champion son strongly offered, “Mom, no worries, just cook the meatloaf in the air fryer.” And just like that, that’s just what we did. All of a sudden, my husband’s birthday took a back seat to a private cooking class on the joys of air frying facilitated by our son.

The air fryer cooked the meatloaf just fine. It didn’t matter that slices of meatloaf were cooked a few at a time, there was plenty of mashed potatoes to keep everyone’s fork in motion. The story of my husband’s 63rd birthday has become an iconic memory; not because of the delicious and perfect Boston Cream Pie, but rather the imperfect situation where the meatloaf was still in the fridge. Lessons were learned. First of all, at least in my world, nothing is ever perfect. Second, such imperfections are certain to make for great stories. And third, if my son ever decides to retire in his current profession, I have an idea for a second career. Finally, when all else fails, have plenty of mashed potatoes on hand.

Anne Marie Romer of Centerville is author of the book “Just Give Me the Road.” Follow her on Instagram @romerannemarie.