I spent my teenage years at one of Chattanooga's exclusive prep schools. And I spent the greater proportion of those years somewhat overweight. The connection between those two facts was the school cafeteria, a daily dose of culinary delights that bore little resemblance to the steam trays and lunchrooms most high schoolers remember. The chef churned out unlimited quantities of classic Southern cooking that did a number on my waistline for six years. Whenever I need to convey to someone how different this experience was from the norm, I tell them about the trays of fresh-baked chocolate-chip cookies that would be brought out midway through the lunch period, steaming hot, and left on the dessert tables for us to grab as many as we wanted. That and the icebox chocolate cream pies.
But my very favorite dish at the GPS cafeteria was the turkey divan. At the time I had no idea what made this broccoli, turkey, and white sauce dish so transcendent. It was served in small bowls, and one bowl was never enough for me -- I would wait until the line had disappeared toward the end of the period and go back for seconds and thirds. Something in the gratined finishing of the dish, the slightly crispy texture of the top and the unidentifiable tangy bite of the sauce, bespoke love and pure pleasure to me.
God bless my fellow Bruiser and best bud Doc Thelma. She posted the recipe, Noel made it with some of the remains of my brined turkey tonight, and I enjoyed not just my portion but most of Cady Gray's as well. The secret ingredient? A hint of curry in that white sauce. It was exactly as I remembered it, and only required a warm Toll House cookie to complete my personal flashback to 1982.
Doc, if you can unearth the construction of that Bright School graham-cracker-and-chocolate frosting dessert that I loved at age seven, I believe I can die happy.