I have been too old to raid my refrigerator at midnight for quite some time now. But in high school, it was a favorite activity. Let other people stake claim to being the smartest, prettiest, most likely to succeed; my refrigerator was the best in town. Not only was it fully stocked, but my mom had a share-and-share-alike policy when it came to midnight raids. I think she enjoyed seeing how the other kids appreciated her food—and she would rather have me in the kitchen gobbling leftovers than waving my phony ID at a bar.
My friend Philip was my most constant companion in those raids. Philip's family was Greek, and while his refrigerator was a monument in its own right—I discovered _taramosalata_there and have loved it ever since—there were some things in it I didn't love, like feta. He was more adventurous than I; when he tasted gefilte fish for the first time at my house, he demolished the jar. "Fish meatballs!" he declared.
For a refrigerator raid at our house, I would remove every item and arrange them on the kitchen table, smorgasbord style. I kept my eyes peeled for a foil-wrapped hunk behind the stacks of salami, bologna, Kraft American Singles, and tubs of chopped liver, tuna salad, and coleslaw. That would be my mom's meatloaf. Yes, every mom cooked a meatloaf, but this one made for an especially great sandwich, nestled into a seeded kaiser roll topped with ketchup.
I don't know where she got the recipe, but it was simple enough: chopped chuck and veal, egg, onion, tomato soup, and the pièce de résistance—crushed cornflakes. They lent a certain sweetness and a slightly golden color that gave the whole enterprise an aura of hope. This was food to dream by as the night turned slowly to dawn.
Sometimes in the midst of our feast Mom would come in to pour herself a drink. She'd run an amused eye over the table, take a bag of frozen chopped meat from the freezer to defrost, and on her way out, kiss us each good night. Her work was done.
_Alex Witchel is a staff writer for_The New York Times Magazine.