Mama’s Meat Sauce

Mama's Meat Sauce

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.

homemade meat sauce

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.

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how we spend our days (+ announcement!)

June 26

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives” (Annie Dillard)

I read the above quote a few years ago, back when I was compiling a 25th anniversary scrapbook for my parents in which people wrote and told of gifts and memories and experiences they’d had with my mom and my dad, and I was reflecting then the way I’ve been reflecting lately, about what are the most meaningful things we do, about what we really want. I’ve been asking myself: How am I spending my days, since that’s how I’m spending my life? And then, is the way I am spending them good?

cherry chocolate ice cream

Of course the easy way to define our days is by our full-time gigs, be it school or work or motherhood or something else that requires most of our time, and I’ve done that before: I’ve sat down to dinner with friends and explained my class load. I’ve called myself a copywriter. I’ve mentally calculated some kind of personal net worth. But the older I get, the more I see those things—while important—are not the only things.

Now when I look at my days, I look instead at harder questions: how am I pursuing things that matter? what am I accomplishing? where’s my passion? whom do I love? how is my life improving someone else’s?

homemade cherry chocolate ice cream

I am convinced and convicted that these are questions we can ask from a cubicle or a kitchen, in our teens or in old age, no matter where we’re working or whom we’re working with. And in my particular case, these are questions that have prompted some pretty major changes.

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what has been coming

buckwheat ginger cookies

This month of June has been continual change. From trips out of town to friends taking new jobs to continually decreasing pants sizes, it’s been one thing after another. For many of these things, I guess it’s really been more of a culmination, in which wheels that have been in motion, things have been coming, in these last few weeks finally have. It’s exciting. It’s terrifying. It’s something we’ll talk more about next week (along with a big announcement! stay tuned!).

But meanwhile, let’s talk about another kind of change, a specific one that’s been happening in my kitchen and could happen in yours: buckwheat flour.

soft buckwheat ginger cookies

Because, thing is, it’s not just June that’s been change for me; it’s 2010, which over the last six months has brought one new realization after another. What started with the removal of refined sugars and flours in a new year’s resolution led to the reading of labels and analyzing of ingredient lists, avoiding things I couldn’t pronounce or recognize in favor of more whole foods like blueberries, eggs, butter, milk, grass-fed meat. I watched Food, Inc. (thanks, Kendra!). I read The Maker’s Diet. I gave up white bread and chose sprouted grains. I started drinking kombucha (Whole Foods, are you listening? please start carrying it again!). Along the way, I also started taking cod liver oil and a probiotic.

The changes all felt pretty natural, like I was just taking care of my body in new ways, and while I have been eating very well and working out only two or three times a week, I’ve lost twelve pounds, without even meaning to. It’s crazy.

And really, the only change that ever felt difficult at all was probably the earliest one: removing white all-purpose flour and white sugar from my baking.

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oh, spring

may lilacs

All week, you have been fascinating me with your comments on the giveaway post (where there’s still time to enter!), as you’ve shared who inspires you to cook and/or some teachable kitchen moments you’ve experienced. With the inspiration answers especially, I find myself mentally nodding my head with you, because it’s so true that I get pulled towards cooking via a myriad of sources—my family, other food bloggers, magazines, commercials, TV, something random someone says in the middle of the afternoon. And I think all these things are good to think about, especially so we can remember them on those days when we’re not so eager to cook.

But the inspiration for today’s recipes is something I hadn’t really thought about before, something that several of you said strikes you the same way: this beautiful time of year we call spring.

Oh, spring.

I have been marveling at spring this year: the buds on branches, the evening thunderstorms, the colorful flowers everywhere you turn. And, as it is with some of the best things in life, just when I think I can’t possibly appreciate it anymore than I already do, spring goes and surprises me again.

Untitled

Like last weekend. I had decided to make a quick stop at a local French market that people seem to love on Yelp. I went in with $20 in my purse and a hunger for nothing special, and I came out, in 15 minutes no less, with two boxes of green beans, a pound of asparagus, two bags of mixed greens and a bunch of tall and red fresh rhubarb, for a grand total of $8.50.

Spring! Oh, Spring!

rhubarb on table

This might be a good time to recall that CSA I participated in last summer, which while I loved (and if you have a bigger household, it is really worth looking into), I also struggled with its sheer quantity of vegetables (organic! beautiful! but just too much for one person). That’s why this year’s plan is to shop at more farmers’ markets, to buy locally and seasonally but just less.

If Saturday was any indication, I’d say this plan is going to go very well.

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meant to be

making ketchup

Up until about the middle of January this year, it had never occurred to me that one could produce ketchup in any way other than, well, walking into the local Dominick’s and grabbing some.

Then Kelly of wonderful Eat Make Read posted her version of a recipe from Saveur. This, in addition to sending me promptly to the store to buy my own copy of the issue, which was dedicated to home cooks, got me curious.

Around that same time, my friend Kelley (different Kelley, she with an e and of banana bread fame) and I had started reading a book together. (All right, full disclosure, we actually ended up reading different books but by the same author, Jefferey Steingarten.) She was making fast headway in hers, but it took me a few months to reach even the middle of mine, where he would discuss, it turns out, the subject of ketchup, in great detail.

And that was not the end.

See, when I’d read Steingarten’s ketchup chapter last week, it was just a few days after I had also seen, over at Endless Simmer, a post by my blogging friend Nick of Macheesmo. He wrote, if you can believe it, an entire post in defense of—what else?—ketchup.

Now, I don’t know what your feelings are on this thing we call fate (or as some like me might say, providence or even sovereignty). Probably these are questions best considered when one watches last week’s episode of LOST, I know, but, honestly: How can you look at those top three references—all of which took place within the same two-and-a-half-month span and after a lifetime of no such thing—and not see what I see: I was meant to make ketchup.

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