Lasagna is something of a Christmas tradition in Tim's family, and meaty tomato sauce is one in mine, so last weekend we combined the two for a meaty, cheesy lasagna good enough for a festive family gathering on Christmas Day.…
I like lists. Maybe you can relate?
I make grocery lists and client lists and spreadsheets detailing my purchases for the month. I keep mental lists of reasons I like things, reasons I don’t like things, situations that felt awkward with a particular person. I think these lists (1) help me process things, (2) help them make sense, (3) give me a way to hold onto knowledge better.
I also think, that sometimes, (4) it’s hard not to think in lists.
So when a person like me relocates, she thinks in constant comparisons, weighing City B against City A in ever-expanding lists that consider everything from demographics to the cost of living to the way the grocery store feels at 9 PM (I try to avoid it, in case you’re wondering).
So far, Nashville has better weather (hello, 68 degrees yesterday afternoon!) and worse traffic (especially in the middle of the afternoon anywhere near Whole Foods). Cost-wise, it’s about the same—having roommates helps; being far away from your family doesn’t.
As another item to note about my new hometown, it’s where founder of the Exodus Center, Dr. Josh Axe, is from. If you don’t already know about his site, check it out for great information about whole foods and all-natural nutrition. His cookbook, The Real Food Diet Cookbook, is where the idea for these sloppy joes came from.
Made with a pound of grass-fed beef (which, incidentally is about $3 more a pound here!?), these sloppy joes were hearty, messy, just slightly tangy—all the things good sloppy joes should be. We ate them alongside a big salad dressed with Garlic Gold’s garlic-infused organic extra-virgin olive oil (which the company was nice enough to send me a sample of, in one of my first packages in Tennessee). And we did it on the same day we made these ice cream sandwiches.
Meals like these can offer real clarity, you know? Because as valuable as lists are, at some point, even the most die-hard among us have to surrender all charts and tables and logic and just look at the plate or place before us and go, man, I like this. This is good.
My family’s never been big on annual traditions.
I mean, sure, at Christmastime, there’s a tree and presents. We mail greetings and watch movies that come on TV, like most people do. We eat cookies (but then we always eat cookies). And then there are a few other recipes we associate with the season, you know, things that sometimes get made, sometimes don’t, from fudge to cream cheese to the gem I bring you today: sweet and tangy meatballs.
But these meatballs aren’t just for Christmastime, and they’re not always with Christmastime—with my family, few things are. In fact, some of you may remember seeing them at our (hot and balmy) blog party last August, where 32 people managed to eat over 100 in the space of a few hours. There were so many requests for the recipe afterwards—Mom gets all the credit there—that I had to post a quick version over on our Facebook page, with plans to give these year-round appetizers better treatment later on.
Now’s that time. Because while these meatballs aren’t just or always for Christmas, I usually think of them now, at the end of December, when I remember holiday parties and buffet tables lined with snacks, from chips and dip to cookies to that enormous glass bowl of tropical punch we always had. I remember decades of Christmases, filled with a decorated world of twinkling lights and celebrations at school or work or with friends.
That’s what traditions are supposed to do, I guess, even the ones we practice sporadically.
Because whether it’s an Advent calendar or the annual reading of Luke 2, we can build rituals into our lives to create reminders, tangible illustrations of something we don’t want to forget, something we want to hold onto in the future. Like birthdays reminds us to express affection for our loved ones, like Thanksgiving, to give thanks, so Christmas points at memories and meaning, in the midst of a crazy festive season.
Meatballs—and cookies and pies and comforting pot roasts—are nice in that way, too. They serve as hallmarks of this season that comes every year, in which many of us will do traditional things: find time to be with family, try to think of gifts to give, talk about the greatest gift: that the Creator became creation.
And while some may argue our traditions aren’t that meaningful, as Christmas trees come from pagan religions and stockings from tales of Saint Nicholas, I like to see things another way: the truth is, I love tradition, even the irregularly practiced kind.
If traditions are valuable for what they remind you of, then what we’re reminded of is what makes the tradition. Ornaments remind you of your grandma. Christmas cards of your friends faraway.
And meatballs, of the good gifts you’ve been given, this year and every year before it, from sweet and tangy things to eat to loved ones to share it with.
Early last month—it might have been the cooler weather or the fact that I hadn’t eaten red meat in a couple weeks, or it might have been since I already had a couple grass-fed chuck roasts in my freezer, purchased from a local farm—I got a fierce craving for pot roast.
Now if you’re anything like me, you’ve probably made pot roasts before. My versions were usually in a crock pot and surrounded by carrots and potatoes. Pot roast is one of those classic American dishes—like mashed potatoes and apple pie—that we have all had and made and probably prefer a certain way.
As for me, I like my pot roasts very tender, flavorful and fragrant enough to turn the kitchen into a different place while cooking. It’s kind of like my morning routine: where you might wake at a set time, have breakfast, read the paper and get in the car, I like to read and pray in bed before pulling out my laptop, still without having taken a shower, and get a few work things done.
So early last month, when I tested a new pot roast recipe, the combination of several ideas I’d seen online, and it turned out the be the most moist, tender, dark and wonderfully smelling piece of meat I’d ever had, you’ll understand when I say it became my morning routine of pot roasts.
Since then, I’ve made it four more times. Really.
So you know how it is the first time you try something: you’re a little unsure how it will go, so you’re checking the meat every hour, changing temperatures when you think it might help, adding ingredients partway through. Well in this case, all those changes worked so well, that I decided I would always do things that way every time after. This includes flipping the meat and adding mushrooms after an hour, raising the temperature an hour after that, then lowering it again. If you’re less paranoid, you could probably do some other combination of 225 and 325 degrees for a total of 3-4 hours—just keep your eye on it every now and then—but I’m sticking with my routine.
The only other note I’d add is on the grass-fed meat: I know some of you will wince at the higher price tag and just use regular chuck roast, and that’s fine. But I will say that my mom tried that with her own version after tasting mine, and it wasn’t the same. Grass-fed meat is noticeably more tender, not to mention higher in Omega 3 fatty acids, and, while we’re on the subject, have you seen Food, Inc., yet? It will change your perspective on meat forever.
I come from a long line of women who can cook: My great grandma, I’m told, made legendary pasta. My grandma rolled her own cannoli shells. My mom, a woman who loves to say, Oh, it’s so simple (particularly when her only daughter asks for clarification on some new recipe trick), has a vast cooking repertoire that ranges from bakery-worthy apple strudel to hot chicken curry just the way my dad likes it.
And as with a lot of things in life, I feel there are different ways to approach this kind of heritage: Embrace it. Or resent it.
I’ll let you guess which way I tended towards for most of my childhood and only say this: it’s amazing how we can turn blessings into curses, how we can choose to be intimidated by that which can help us grow. You may call it perfectionism; I call it ugly.
It’s like, say, when you have the opportunity to start working from home: This is such an obvious good (especially as it is the thing—the very thing—you have wanted and worked towards for years!), yet you can let yourself see it as a bad (citing all the potential problems/risks, from insurance to pay to the way it feels to step into the Unknown).
That same vice that makes you see the negatives in one situation will make you see the problems in others. But I’ve been thinking. Maybe the parallel works both ways? Maybe by learning to embrace a heritage of good home cooks, for example, you step towards learning to embrace everything else. What do you think?
I’m starting with this meat sauce.
I am one of those obnoxious people who likes asking random questions so I can overanalyze your answers: Would you rather be smart and ugly or beautiful and dumb? If you could go anywhere, where would you go? What’s your favorite book? When did you start liking vegetables? Picture yourself in the desert.
And before any of you kind ones out there leap to reassure me that asking such questions is not obnoxious, not at all, let me just explain that this is only half the problem. The flip side is I don’t really like to answer these questions. I mean, not unless I’ve had plenty of time to really think out my answer and make it exactly what I want it to be or after I’ve really gotten to know you and feel like I can trust that you’ll understand what I mean more than what I say but, even after that point, you should know it’s pretty likely I’ll still change my mind later and, when I do, I will want you to listen to all the reasons why because we have to overanalyze it together!, but meanwhile, go ahead and give me your answer right now so I can unfairly peg and judge you if you don’t mind, thankyouverymuch.
It’s weird. And if you’re thinking I bring this up for a reason today, you already know me better than you should because the truth is, I do want to ask you something, one of those random questions that we could talk about for a half hour if you let me.
So here it is: If you had to choose between beautiful weather + ho-hum food OR ho-hum weather + fantastic food, which would you pick?