Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Spaghetti, Meatballs, and Warmth

It's so cold right now I have to wear a face mask to do the daily chores. My asthma causes the air to rip through my throat and lungs, nearly forcing me to my knees if I'm not careful. So I bundle up double, bought new boots, and try to time chores while the sun is high. All of the livestock are bedded down with extra hay, but I still worry it's not enough given the calls for 25 below with the wind. I feel spoiled inside, away from the howling winds- with an oil delivery complete and the woodshed attached to the house. It's so strange to have gone from a bed parked next to our wood stove in a house so drafty you could still see your breath even with a fire roaring, to wearing a thick long sleeve shirt, sweatshirt, with sturdy slippers and being completely comfortable. Modern conveniences! Who knew!

Back inside, I was torn on what to make for dinner. But the pull for making homemade spaghetti sauce was the clear winner. On cold, cold nights, nothing could be more comforting then a bowl of pasta with meatballs and freshly made sauce. Usually I like to cook my grandmother's gravy recipe all day, but today a shorter version will suffice. I think the deep flavor of the last of our Italian sausage should make up for the abbreviated cooking time. We don't have pork going to the butcher until March, so we may as well make the best of the last package.

I purchased some local beef while running errands today. That local beef mixed with our pork served as the meat ball base. As I added in dried summer herbs and the rest of the ingredients, I could hear my grandmother's instructions hum in my head. She'd rather I had veal or lamb too to add, but we're out so this will have to do. I can hear her say "over season the meatballs so they finish your sauce for you when you add them" and add a bit more salt. The tomatoes for the sauce are from the summer garden, those that could be salvaged before we got hit by the blight. We've yet to order seeds for this year's garden, but soon. We'll sit with a bottle of wine between us and thumb though the black and white FEDCO pages reading aloud the descriptions of summer, choosing both the standbys and chance seeds for a year of growth and eating.

I peel the stiff paper coating from our garlic, still dusty with the garden's remains. I can feel the dimming October (of 2013) light as I planted this seed, harvested in late-summer of this year in compact bulbs and now cured for the winter's cooking. I'm saddened we didn't manage to get in the garlic in November for this summer's harvest, and make note to look for a short-season variety in FEDCO as well. In the smell of our dried basil as I crush it between my fingers, I can almost feel the summer heat and remember frantically pulling the last of it before the frost.

Warmth. We all crave it. We crave the warmth that protects us from the physical blow of the wind, but we crave the warmth that comes from fond memories too. When you can guard against the weather and retreat into a bowl that transports you to a garden, or to a treasured time, or to both- the warmth is a different kind of cloak. 

Everything about this meal warms me. The memories of a childhood at my grandmother's apron strings, listening to her talk to herself (and to me) about the perfect sauce. Standing on a step stool, stirring a pot of reducing stock and tomatoes with the oldest wooden spoon and her watchful eye. The acrid smell of cloves of garlic and minced onion. Her words, stern and soothing (still, this is always the case with her)- her kindness and love evident in every meal she's ever made. When I cook, regardless of what it is, I channel her- Grandma may not always know what to say- but everything she feels comes out in her food. I inherited that trait. If I cook for you, it's not just a meal. It's a language I speak most fluently. I grow the food, I harvest the food, I prepare the food, I share the food at our table. This is my calling. All of it.

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