Stars I Tried to Count

Made some lasagna Saturday and it was not bad. Not the usual Italian lasagna, but a Mexican version that seems a bit more summery to me. Even though it’s been pretty warm during the days here, evenings tend toward chilly and it’s not such a thing to heat up the house with a bit of cooking and baking. Nice thing about the weather is that we’ve been sleeping with the windows wide open most nights, and that’s about the best sleep a person can get. Especially when there’s a breeze.

I remember when I was a child, I would wait until my mother tucked me in and shut my door behind her, and I would slide out of bed and – with both hands – lift open the old, creaky window looking over the old oak tree and the backyards of neighbors. And there – to the light of the moon– was the Symphony of the Night. On my knees, I folded my arms on the windowsill, rested my chin on my forearm, and closed my eyes. The breeze in the leaves, crickets out on the walk, a cacophony of frogs down at the creek. An owl, now and then, and the dog stirring in her straw-filled house, and a raccoon rustling in Mrs. Roesler’s bushes. The swish of a car driving by, a dog barking down the block, two young boys’ voices coming from the Jungerbergs’ back porch, a car honk down the street toward the tavern, more frogs, and then the train.

My favorite night sound, that train. The low rumble in the distance, growing, soon drowning out the other night sounds, and then the whistle. Once, then twice again, the rattling and the clacking of wheels on track, people coming from somewhere, going somewhere, passing through. Past the Corner Store, the old mill, the taverns, the cemetery, past the neighborhood by the park where my friends Matt and Steve lived, past the bank, the dental office, the nursing home. The whistle again, and the slow, slow diminish of sound as the train pressed on toward the West. On past the park with the pond where we jumped – often – from that old railroad bridge. The same bridge where I gathered taconite pebbles to keep in a green Mason jar up on my bookshelf in my bedroom.

The same bedroom where I imagine myself some nights, a young girl gazing out a window at stars I tried to count, hoping for everything, the glow of the sun’s pink-orange setting still warm on the treetops to the west.

Got family in town for a summer weekend? Try this one. Sure, it’ll heat up the house, but not for long, and it’s perfect served out on the patio with homemade cornbread or corn on the cob, chips and guacamole, sour cream, taco sauce, lettuce, etc. And some margaritas, too. Especially if it’s a hot one.

Beef Taco Lasagna

24 lasagna noodles
2 pounds ground beef
2 envelopes taco seasoning
4 egg whites
2 cartons (15 ounces each) ricotta cheese
8 cups (2 pounds) shredded cheddar cheese
2 jars (24 ounces each) chunky salsa
A dash of cayenne

Preheat oven to 350°. Cook noodles according to package directions. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, cook beef over medium heat until no longer pink; drain. Stir in taco seasoning. In a small bowl, combine egg whites and ricotta cheese. Drain noodles.

In each of two 13-in. x 9-in. baking dishes, layer four noodles, ¾ cup ricotta mixture, half of the beef mixture and 1-1/3 cups cheddar cheese. Top each with four noodles, 3/4 cup ricotta mixture, 1-1/2cups salsa and 1-1/3 cups cheese. Repeat.

Bake, uncovered, 35-40 minutes or until heated through. Let stand for 10 minutes before cutting.
Garnish with cilantro.

Makes 2 casseroles (8 servings each). This recipe makes two big pans, so you can freeze one or both for the weekend. Thaw in the fridge for 8 hours and bake as directed.