It was supposed to snow in NY and PA that weekend so I reasoned that I had a million things to do at work the next week and couldn’t possibly afford to get stuck out of town. So against my better judgment, we decided not to make the trip to Philly. Feeling guilty for not being with my Mom on such a significant and difficult day, and exhausted from three months of intense, overwhelming emotion, I knew what I needed to do on March 20th. What I should have done was go home to Philly regardless of rain, snow, sleet or locusts! Nothing should have stopped me, but something did. It came over me subtly, slowly then all of a sudden and whatever it was, it drained me. When I realized I was staying home with no need to leave the apartment for two days, I felt both relief and extreme guilt.
I woke up early only March 20th, a thing I hate doing. There was no wasting this day. We had many meals to get in. Mike made coffee and I eased into reality. In keeping with weekend tradition, he made my favorite breakfast, dippy eggs. Even mediocre bread would suffice here. This is a rare instance where it isn’t about the bread. This was about yolk – soft, oozing, delicious gold – sopped up by toast, or bagel or roll. Even reheated bread would do. The barely cooked liquid center would overshadow whatever carb it covered, my eyes closing involuntarily as I savored the taste. Just the day before we’d had them on top of potatoes left over from my Irish dinner (but that’s another story entirely). The point is that dippy eggs, to me, have an utterly dreamy quality that momentarily allows me to forget that it’s morning and I’d rather be back in bed. Unfortunately, it took me under two minutes to eat them and then I was awake again. That’s ok though. This day would be about food and wine and Sinatra, a few of his favorite things (ours too).
Very often on weekends, one meals runs into the other around here, especially this weekend. Naturally, the next step today would be the sauce. Over the past three years or so, age and health dictated some changes within my family and marked the end of certain things. One of those things was the dreaded, but time honored tradition known in most Italian families as “doing the tomatoes.” This ritual involved my dad, driving to “the farm” to retrieve bushels of ripe and ready-for-jarring tomatoes, followed by a weekend of messy, exhausting work that I can only describe as akin to indentured servitude. Once during a stroke of genius, I innocently asked my dad why we couldn’t just pay some little old Italian couple to do this for us! He stopped, looked at me with that look that only my dad had, looked at my mom, looked back me, pointed to my mom and exclaimed, “we are the little old Italian couple!” Right. Ok. Back to work. Thanks, dad.
With no homemade jars of tomatoes left, I’ve been forced to face the unthinkable – canned tomatoes. I remember the very first time I had to buy them. As we walked to the store, Mike talked me down from the ledge. If I was going to do this, there was only one option, Cento San Marzano. Believe me, we tested this theory and threw away a lot of tomatoes! With that trauma long behind me, I got to work on my sauce, browning the garlic, slicing onions and chopping the imposter tomatoes in my food processor. As my sauce simmered, I reach for the ground meat, my herbs and spices waiting, and combined all ingredients together, mixing with my hands as thankfully there is no shortcut to home-made meatballs. I couldn’t help but think of being a kid and waking up on Sunday morning to the mouth watering smell of my mom frying meatballs on the stove top. They were crunchy and charred on the outside and soft and delicious on the inside. I place my tray of perfectly formed meatballs into the hot oven and wonder if this change in the process is really worth the health benefits. There may not be short cuts, but there are definitely some sacrifices that have come with time and progress. There are few things better than a freshly fried meatball, before it ever even touches the sauce. Mine will go straight into the sauce in an attempt to mask the inadequacy of baked meatballs.
Since we expected to be in Philly this weekend there are a few things missing from this perfect Sunday meal – homemade pasta and fresh baked bread. Barilla and grocery store rolls will have to take their place. To compensate, we add fresh basil grown in our very own tiny apartment-friendly herb garden and a bottle of red that would have made my dad proud. But before pasta is anti-pasto, cheese, olives and soppressata, to whet the appetite or more accurately to keep us from gnawing our own arms off while we cook dinner. It’s a slow, lazy Sunday with nowhere to be. As Sinatra croons in the background, like he’s done for fifty plus years at my parents’ house, we sip wine and eat olives waiting for the water to boil. My dad would be watching TV, keeping up with Phillies’ Spring training or simply in the way under my mom’s feet. He’d cut the amazing bread from Leonardo’s bakery, making an unnecessary amount of crumbs, as my mom rolled her eyes and shook her head, quickly trying to clean up after him, shooing him away. If he was here today, he could make as much mess as he wanted. He’d marvel at our dinner and devour it was such appreciation and joy. He would have loved sharing this meal out of our tiny kitchen, talking sports with Mike and praising his every move. If only Mike and I had met a few years earlier…
The pasta is done and we sit down to enjoy this delicious meal. Sinatra continues to serenade us and we raise a glass. Happy birthday dad. We love you!