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by Sandra Lewis    Mon, Feb 19, 2007, 01:40 AM
In the heart of Cleveland, OH, sits a non-descript house in an equally non-descript working-class neighborhood with a famous past and a legendary leg lamp lighting the front window.

It’s the house where the movie “A Christmas Story” was filmed.

After years of disrepair it’s been restored to its previous glory and is now open for tours. Next to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame it’s one of Cleveland’s biggest attractions. What else is there?

Since I would never travel to Cleveland for pleasure I was delighted to be summoned there even in the dead of winter for a weeklong series of business meetings; with a tour on my agenda I arrived at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport on an earlier-than-usual flight and it happened to be a bitter cold Sunday afternoon.

Yes, frigid cold.

With a windchill of –25, it was the kind of cold that steals your breath when the wind whips your face, numbs your fingers and toes on a less than 20-yard walk to your rental car, and the kind that forces school closings lest little ones left to walk to school turn into human icicles by the time they arrive.

While most Clevelanders had chosen to wait out the caustic cold indoors I stuck to my mission. And although I did waver for a moment after experiencing the comfort of my hotel room, I set out again, quickly, lest the temptation of warmth overtook me.

With the help of my Hertz “Neverlost” (I never travel without it) I arrived at 3159 W. 11th Street just after 2 pm.

And there it was.

Sitting just to the right of a “T” intersection with a backyard that overlooks a Cleveland steel mill, and with a neighborhood bar sitting catty-cornered across the street was the unmistakable house – home to a working class 1940s family with a pudgy-cheeked, spectacled little boy, “Ralphie” who desires the ultimate Christmas gift – a Daisy Red Ryder BB gun. “You’ll shoot your eye out!”

I parked the car, braved the biting cold once more, paid $5 for the tour, and browsed through the movie memorabilia in the “museum” across the street while I waited.

At the appointed time the house was unlocked and I (being the only person on the 2:30 pm tour) entered.

Instantly I felt a kinship with Ralphie who upon receiving his Little Orphan Annie Decoder Pin was immediately overjoyed and then, after he feverishly decoded his first secret and very important message from Annie, "Drink More Ovaltine!”, was utterly disappointed.

My tour guide explained that only the outside house shots were filmed here, a movie soundstage was used for the inside scenes. This subtle detail is not explained anywhere on the website nor prior to paying for the tour.

I won’t repeat Ralphie’s not-appropriate-for-printing-sentiment at his disappointment with Annie although it was similar to my own as I stood inside a house that could have been any other home in Cleveland.

But all was not lost.

The house had been remodeled to reflect the 1940s style and the leg lamp (“It’s a major award!”) was sitting in the front window.

I did have my photo snapped with the famous lamp, but the pictures did not turn out as backlight from the picture window totally blacked me out, and the reflection on the glass window made the leg lamp invisible in the picture taken on the front porch.

But I am happy for having made the effort and it was an adventure that will make for interesting cocktail conversation (and not too shabby fodder for a blog entry either).

So in honor of a delightful fictional family, a little boy’s dream, an illustrious leg lamp, and Ralphie’s little brother, Randy, who hates meatloaf (“How do the piggies go, Randy?!”), I've shared my favorite meatloaf recipe below.

Sometimes little kids just don’t know what’s good for them.

This is comfort food at its best.

Sandy’s Meatloaf
2 lbs. ground beef
1 1/2 cups finely chopped onions
1/2 cup finely chopped red bell pepper
1/4 cup finely chopped green bell pepper
1/2 cup ketchup, divided
1/2 cup spicy brown mustard
1/4 cup dried bread crumbs
3 large eggs
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce, divided
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon coarse ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon yellow mustard
5 slices bacon

Make the meatloaf: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place beef, onions, red bell pepper, green bell peppers, 1/4 cup ketchup, spicy brown mustard, bread crumbs, eggs, 1 tablespoon Worcestershire, salt, pepper, oregano, and thyme in large bowl; toss gently with your hands. Be careful not to overmix – it should be soft but hold its shape. Transfer meat to a baking pan, shape into a 10x5-inch loaf and set aside.

Combine remaining ketchup, remaining Worcestershire, brown sugar, and yellow mustard in a small bowl and stir until combined. Brush the meat loaf with 3 tablespoons of the ketchup mixture. Place the bacon width-wise over the top of the meat loaf and cover with remaining glaze. Bake for 15 minutes, reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees and bake until an internal temperature of 160 degrees is reached – about 40 more minutes. Remove from oven and allow the meat loaf to rest for 15 minutes before serving. Slice into 1 1/4 inch thick pieces and serve warm.

Sandra’s Cooking Notes:
*This is my own version of meatloaf – I’ve taken two of my favorite recipes and combined my favorite flavors out of each. I loved it. My girls have never been fans of meatloaf so their opinion does not count. Sometimes kids just don’t know what’s good for them!
*I always bake my meatloaf in a bread pan because it's easy. No shaping required. Just pack it in and bake it.
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