Pretty Good Italian

There is just something to be said for slow mornings. I usually book myself to the point of overwhelm, to include this weekend. During one of the three commitments that would keep me engaged until after midnight Friday, making that a twenty hour day, I experienced what can only be described as a rare moment of clarity and decided to cancel most of my weekend. And when my trainer shot me a text at 6:30 am the next morning to let me know bootcamp was cancelled, I simply rolled over and fell back to sleep. It was glorious. 

Not that waking up early can’t be glorious, too. I spent a few days in Alabama last month and one morning the sun woke me with this. Such a show off…

Orange Beach Sunrise

So, Alabama last month. North Carolina each of the two months before that one. A couple of side trips to locales in Florida sprinkled here and there. Maybe Minnesota next month. I need to stop over-scheduling myself. I feel like there’s no room around things for me to digest and appreciate them. I mean, I do appreciate and am grateful for the wonderful opportunities in my life, but sometimes I wonder if I’m fully engaged or just crossing things off a list. It’s becoming increasingly important to me that I be present; however, being goal- and task-oriented makes it a struggle to stop and just breathe sometimes, you know? To that end, I added that song, Just Breathe by Pearl Jam, to my running playlist to remind me to, um, you know. And lately I’ve been running to Someone You Loved by Lewis Capaldi, too. So good.

That running playlist is up to just under three hours in length now, and I’m still looking for more songs. Because I signed up to run a half-marathon in February. Because I’m insane. I was actually feeling pretty confident for about a week or so after I signed-up, and then someone asked me how far I’d run before. That’s when I remembered the farthest I’d ever run is three miles. So, Imma need some music to get me through this… Oooh! Gotta Get Thru This by Daniel Bedingfield. Excellent running song. I do love the oldies, huh?

I’m making my mother’s Sunday Sauce today and it’s so, so yummy. I do the sauce from scratch, but an easy cheat is to use jars of sauce and just church it up with fresh garlic, onions, spices and some wine. Either way, I recommend starting it on Saturday because it’s just better after the flavors get the chance to mingle and meld. At the very least, you’ll want to start it early in the day to allow the meat to get all fall-off-the-bone tender.  But, if you want it to just taste like you cooked it for two days, you can turn off the heat after you’ve cooked it through the full three hours, let the sauce come to room temperature, and then heat it all up again. Italian food is so forgiving.  

Morning Coffee

So kinda random, but I mentioned to a friend of mine that I planned to quit drinking coffee again. This is something I do about once a year. I do love coffee, which he knows, so I probably shouldn’t have been surprised when he asked why. It startled me, though, and being more focused on the fact that the question startled me than the actual answer to the question, I just told him, “I drink too much of it, and I don’t think all that caffeine’s good for me. So I’m gonna quit.”

So that was mostly true. I like coffee so much that there are times I’ll go to bed because it means I get to wake up to have coffee. Not in a weird way. Just, you know,.. okay, yeah it’s weird. It can become a problem, but that’s not the reason I quit. I mean, why would anyone quit something that’s delicious and just kinda becomes part of your everyday routine? Plus, decaf.

The whole truth is, I quit because I don’t ever want to need anything. If I feel myself starting to need something, I quit it for a while just to prove to myself that I can. When I love something I’m no good at moderation. I do envy those folks who can take-or-leave things, but that’s not me. I’m either all in, or I’m out. Which made it very hard for me to accept this advice about love from my grandmother:

“Marry the one who you can live with, not the one you can’t live without.”

When I was younger, that statement made about zero sense to me. Given the choice, who of us wouldn’t want to marry the person we can’t live without? Isn’t that, by definition, the person we should choose?

But I’m all grown up now, and I do believe that love is a choice. Don’t get me wrong, I also believe we don’t get to choose with whom we fall in love. There’s a difference, and hearts are blind beggars, aren’t they? People come in and out of our lives because something in us needs something in them or vice versa. Often it’s just for a season, and that’s all it’s supposed to be. Subconsciously, we pick up on those thousand little idiosyncrasies of the other person’s psyche that speak to those thousand little idiosyncrasies in our own. Our hearts only ever see how the parts in that person’s heart fit and make our hearts whole. That’s pretty much the bar.

We’re always evolving, though, and the feelings we associate with being “in love” last on average for only two to three years. At most, you get a short seven years of being “in love” with another person. So if you allow your heart free rein to choose and it chooses the right heart for a season someone who would be the wrong partner for a lifetime, you will realize it sooner than later.

Here’s the thing, though: if the only reason you’re with someone is because you’re in love with him or her, then not being in love with him or her anymore is a good enough reason to leave. Right? I mean, that’s how that tracks. I don’t know about you, but when I go all in, I want it to be for something that has the potential to last longer than seven years. 

I guess what it comes down to is, though we can’t really choose who we fall in love with, we do get to choose with whom we make our life. So in hindsight, as unromantic as it may seem, I do agree with my grandmother’s advice. My wish for you, though, is that the person you can live with is also the person you love with all your heart. I hope it’s a person who has the same basic values you have and someone who’s going to be a good co-parent to your children. Someone who has ambitions that extend past the next paycheck or party. Someone with whom you can grow and dream, who keeps trying to be better and makes you want to be better, too. Someone who will stick with you longer than a season and stick by you despite those moments you both can’t stand the sight of each other. Someone you keep on choosing and who keeps choosing you.

It’s not really about the feeling of “in love” because that comes and goes,.. and comes back again, too. It’s more about that commitment and that life you make together, because that’s real love.

Cook with the Ones You Love

My biological father was out of the picture when I was still very young, and my mother met the man would someday become my dad when I was nine-years-old. Subsequently, I grew up in an Irish-Italian household, and by that I mean those were the predominant cultural influences. We’re All-American and, depending which line you’re tracing, have been for many centuries. Still, you can imagine. 

Anyway, the night she invited him to our home to first meet me and my two sisters, I watched from the window as this white sports car pulled into our driveway. The driver’s side car door opened and out stepped this dark-haired man, and a moment later, a giant dog unfolded itself from the tiny backseat of the car and loped into the yard. That was enough for me. At nine, dogs and horses were my jam. Still are, as a matter of fact. And this guy had both a dog the size of a horse, and, something I found out later, an actual horse. So cool. Also, he knows every line of The Godfather – I and II. Plus, this guy took on my crazy family, so he’s pretty much a saint.

(I’m imagining him reading this, and I know he’ll start laughing as he reads that line about him being a saint. Of us, he’s definitely the crazy one… He’ll start laughing again right here. Then he’ll holler for my mother and tell her, “Ollie, it’s the middle one again. She’s a real piece of work this one.”)

Anyway, that night my mom made spaghetti – natch. I mean, what else does a Brooklyn-born Irish girl make her new Italian beau? She made basically the same sauce I’m making today. I mean, it hadn’t yet been perfected. Not that perfection is ever really the goal anyway. It’s all about improvement, right? There were false starts. Too much salt. Not enough garlic. Burnt pots. Thrown pots. Tofu sausage. Sticky pasta. After many years of trial-and-error, though, and gleaning advice from her Italian mother-in-law, the sauce has evolved and become what it is today – this perfect marriage of flavors that together have become deeper and more nuanced with time. And I happen to think it’s pretty great.

Sunday Sauce

8 Italian Sausages (hot, mild or combined)
3 lbs beef short ribs or pork ribs
Salt & Pepper
4 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 med onion, peeled and chopped
3 cloves fresh garlic, finely chopped or pressed
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)
1/2 cup dry red wine
2-28-oz. cans Italian style plum tomatoes, with juice, squeezed by hand or broken up in skillet with a wooden spoon.
3 basil leaves, torn
1 dried bay leaf

HEAT 2 Tbsp. olive oil in a stockpot on medium heat. Salt & pepper ribs on all sides and cook until brown on all sides, set aside.
BROWN the sausages on both sides in batches, so you don’t crowd the pot. Remove the sausages from the pot, cover and refrigerate.
ADD 2 Tbsp. olive oil to the pot, add the onion, garlic, red pepper flakes and 1/2 tsp. salt and cook until onion is soft.
ADD the wine to deglaze the pot, scraping up the brown bits on the bottom. Cook until the wine evaporates by half, about a minute.
ADD the crushed tomatoes, bay leaf, 3 leaves of torn basil, salt and pepper to taste.
RETURN only the ribs to the pot. Bring sauce to a boil then reduce heat and simmer for 1 hour.
ADD sausages to the pot and cook with the lid off for 2 hours.
REMOVE meat from the sauce. Place on a large serving platter, cover with foil.
REDUCE sauce on medium heat on top of the stove, until thickened.
DEBONE, as necessary, the short ribs and shred meat. Return to sauce.

The sauce can be made ahead a day or two, just reheat and serve with freshly boiled pasta.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.