Tom emptied a bag of egg noodles into the pot of boiling water, gave them a quick stir, set the oven for 350 and went looking for cream of celery soup and tuna. He wasn't a stranger to the kitchen. Because he got home from work an hour-and-a-half before Debbie, his wife, Tom was the weekday cook. He was a step - maybe two - above adequate at the stove, and most of the meals he prepared were more challenging than tuna-noodle casserole.
He had been looking forward to pork chops all day until Bethany, their eight-year-old daughter, asked for tuna-noodle. How could he say "no" when she begged with pleading voice and imploring eyes? But when he opened the kitchen cabinet, he realized it would have been wiser to make sure all the ingredients were on hand before starting. As Tom's search became more frantic, Bethany, perched on the counter, began to worry. "You promised, Daddy," she said. Fortunately, the soup and tuna turned up behind the box of shredded wheat.
Tom poured the soup into a bowl, added a little milk and a splash of Worcestershire sauce and gave Bethany a tablespoon to stir the concoction. Then he opened the tuna and squeezed out the liquid gunk. When Tom pronounced the noodles done, Bethany got the colander.
He covered the bottom of the casserole dish with a layer of noodles, put some tuna on top of them and put another layer of noodles on top of that. Tom thought it would be easier to dump everything into the casserole and stir, but The Joy of Cooking said to layer the noodles and tuna. Every job needs a boss, and Bethany was delighted to provide the required supervision. As she watched him put the final layer of noodles into the casserole, she said, "Daddy, don't use all of them." He left a fistful of noodles, and then, again in accordance with the rules set down in The Joy of Cooking, poured the soup mixture on top of the noodles and tuna. But not all the soup; Bethany requested he leave some in the bowl. While he put the casserole in the over, she took a noodle, smeared it around in the soup bowl and popped it in her mouth. Then she took another one and repeated the process, and kept repeating it until the noodles were gone.
The greatest reward a parent can get for cooking dinner, Tom thought, was watching his children enjoy the meal, even if they didn't always wait for it to be cooked.