Dinner #2: Marinara


Marinara is a staple in our house. My hunch is this-you either open a store-bought variety or whip something up off the cuff. Either works, and until about five or so years ago, I opted for a jar of pre-made tomato sauce. When I was growing up my parents canned their own tomatoes every year. It was quite an event, actually. They had a Victorio Food (read:tomato) Strainer and it came out only once per year. My mom prepped the jars, seals and lids and then they both cleaned and then strained ungodly amounts of tomatoes. We had a storage for approximately one year-that is, after they distributed several quarts to friends and family. In those days, mom would simply heat a little olive oil, saute a handful of chopped onion and garlic and pour in the sauce to simmer. I feel like I can still smell it cooking in their kitchen. They buy cans of tomato sauce now, and so do I. I hope that Cory and I will feel motivated one day to dust off the old Victorio strainer, until then we make sauce like this:


3 tblsp olive oil
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1/2 cup dry, red wine (optional)
1 28oz can tomato sauce (crushed is fine too if you like a thicker, sweeter sauce)
2 tblsp wet Italian herbs (I use these), or a handful of freshly chopped basil, rosemary, thyme, oregano and parsley
Freshly ground pepper

In a heavy bottomed sauce pot heat the olive oil to simmer. Add the onion and garlic and saute over medium heat until the onions are soft and transparent. If adding the wine, increase the heat to medium high and stir it in to deglaze the pan and cook off the alcohol for about 5-7 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low and stir in the tomato sauce. Add the herbs. Continue to simmer on medium-low heat for 15-20 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste and enjoy over pasta.

A couple of cooking notes. I prefer to add red wine when I am pairing the sauce with red meat or eggplant-think richer, more complex flavor. If I’ve made chicken or pasta alone, I might omit the wine for a lighter version. One other thing. Sometimes I will add a dry Italian seasoning. More recently I seem to love dried tomato and garlic basil seasonings, something like this. I add it when I add the Italian herbs.



i thank my friend

Lily and Bryce sitting on our front step the day the Hale family moved.

We talked about it happening someday. We discussed support systems, family and the like. We also shared our fears of moving, beginning again. We knew that we couldn’t be neighbors forever, but up until the day they left, I may have naively thought it a possibility.

Let me back up a bit. When Cory and I moved to our neighborhood over seven years ago, I was a lone wolf. We quickly, and happily became a family and suddenly I was a lone wolf with a little cub. I knew the young woman across the street, but not yet personally. I knew she had what appeared to be a 2 year-old and, not long after we moved in, I observed a newborn in her arms when she would walk to the end of the driveway to pick up her mail. In those days I knew how to get to the grocery store, Cory’s office, my work, my parent’s house, and then back again. I was new and not yet connected to the community where we were growing our family. She seemed confident, capable and I was certain she knew her way around town. She had friends too, local friends who seemed to come by often. My friends had to plan weeks ahead for a visit, living over an hour away from me now. When I think back to that time I remember sitting at the kitchen table and watching the world outside. It breathed activity, lives in motion, routines and happenings. I wasn’t depressed, I wasn’t lonely, just idle-waiting, unbeknownst to me, for someone to pull me out of the house and teach me how to make a really good sugar cookie.

So, I will count my blessings and call myself lucky for the short six years I got to live across the street from my dearest friend, Tara. We bonded for the first time over sugar cookies and few of our million conversations happened outside of our kitchens. On our watch, we added more children to our families, sadly saw marriages end, but then new ones begin, picked every Ohio fruit available to us, sought parenting advice, watched countless television shows, exercised (quite faithfully for a while there;), shared viruses between us and our kids, shared recipes and lots of good food, dinners out, shopping trips and pedicures, playground dates and babysitting emergencies. We loved and cared for each others children as if they were our own. We embraced our fundamental differences and it made us more tolerant and loving human beings. I think we somehow managed to cover it all, and in a very short amount of time. We decided that things were just getting about perfect when they decided to move 1,700 miles away.

Today I know my way around. I love where we live and have made friends locally, really good people. Cory and I agree that it feels more and more like home every time we return after being away for a while and have vowed to stay here for a very long time. Tara and her family are still a part of my community, just the one that’s in my heart. I can’t run across the street to say hello or to grab an egg, but I can call her up or Face Time whenever I need to, which is most days. We still come home some evenings and I will catch myself glancing across the street and wondering, “Are Ben and Tara home?”…They are, but in a new home, establishing a new community where they are lucky to be surrounded by family and old friends; where those folks are now lucky to have Ben and Tara and their boys closeby.

I miss Tara deeply. Everyday. But for as much as I miss her, I am also overwhelmed by my gratefulness to her for bringing me a plate of sugar cookies that day, for coming into this house and helping to make it feel like home. She is everywhere here and always will be as long as we live in this neighborhood. So, I thank my friend. I thank her for love, support, and a kindness like I might have otherwise never have known. She continues to inspire me from afar to be a better wife, mother, daughter and friend and no amount of distance will ever change that.

Dinner #1: Meat-a-balls


Lily and Grandma Theresa making meatballs last summer

Mmmmmm meatballs. I am sharing this recipe today because I have modified it some since I passed it to a few friends. Please note, this is not the recipe we published in our cookbook, however that is a great one too from my Uncle Joe.

Dena’s Meatballs

1 1/2-2lbs meatloaf mix*
2lbs ground beef (no more than 90% lean)
1/3 loaf stale Italian bread, ground into fine breadcrumbs (my grocery store offers a delicious rosemary pugliese I prefer)
11 eggs lightly beaten
1 tube of wet Italian herbs**
1 1/2 cups of grated Romano cheese (a little more never hurts)
4 cloves garlic, minced
Black pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients. Mix gently with your hands, shape into 1-2 inch round balls and bake for 25 minutes.

*about meatloaf mix: it is usually available in the meat department; equal amounts of ground beef, ground veal, and ground pork.
**about wet herbs: these are a must-find them in the produce department in a tube. I buy this brand.

Another last minute recipe note, I really do think freshly ground breadcrumbs really make all the difference in the moistness of the meat. Dried can easily be substituted but you may want to add an extra egg or two. Also, I don’t turn my meatballs while they bake, but my mom does. She likes them to stay shapely and round. Sometimes I reserve a large handful of the meatloaf mix and roll tiny balls that I am able to freeze for soups. This recipe makes approximately 3 1/2 dozen large meatballs and they freeze perfectly in Ziploc freezer bags. Next week I plan to post my recipe for quick pasta sauce.

queen elsa

This gallery contains 4 photos.

There isn’t much to say really, is there?  She is everywhere all of a sudden.  Flooding our speakers with her beautiful power ballad, haunting me with her coy cat eyes, possessing our daughters with her icy long fingers and silvery … Continue reading



Me and the kids

How do you take a compliment?  Wait.  First, a few examples of compliments I have received from my children: You’re hair is so tangly and pretty!  I like that purple eyeshadow under your eyes.  You’re head is so big and nice.  I’m prettier than you, but your still pretty.  You’re ponytail is a cute black poof ball! (always with the hair…).

Brutal honesty, right?  That is what we get from our children, especially in their younger years when they just blurt out everything they are thinking.  To be honest, I love the way they observe us in their innocent and non-judgmental way.  They way they don’t care about morning breath, bedhead, a pimple or an age spot.  When Michael told Ella her braces were beautiful, I nearly cried-not because he was right but because he really feels it and believes it.  And while it is hard to hear sometimes, they remind us all the time of our most basic selves.  Lily thinks my frizzy hair is “cute”.  Ella still likes to go into my closet and put on my shoes and clothes.  Michael laughs really hard when I do a mediocre impression of someone or use a silly accent.  I like the “compliments” our children sincerely offer.  In fact, as I attempt to wrap this up with Lily chatting away next to me, I glance over and she says, “Hey! Why are you staring at me?  Oh, I know-because I am beautiful.  You are too mama-that’s why I love you so much!”

Do your kids “compliment” you?  Do you like it or does it make you feel more critical of yourself?

why we stay

Who doesn't love handfuls of lip gloss?

Who doesn’t love handfuls of lip gloss?

Does it matter?  Where you live, I mean.  Are you not the same person?  Raise the same children?  Might you become someone else, in fact, if you lived in a different place?  I should hope I would remain the same; hope I would hold the same set of values, following the only parenting instinct I seem to know at this stage in my life.  You see, I always claimed that moving would yield the same life but in a different place.  I have been so insightful and  so wise to guide that “the same problems you have here, you are sure to have someplace else.”  The irony, and of course there is irony, I don’t really know that to be true because I have never made a major move.  This was a topic of discussion earlier today with friends-one in particular, who suggested that moving is sure to offer more opportunity, more serenity, more…well, just more.  We disagreed.  I would desperately miss a night out with good friends and our conversations about the possibility of a life in a different city.  Note* the picture above is of my hands full of Renee’s lipsticks-I raided her handbag for them.

Truth is, we feel most at home when we are lucky enough to have these kinds conversations with friends.  Real friends.  Good people.  The kind of friends you have these types of conversations with.  No doubt there are better climates across the country.  Certainly there are greener trees and year-round gardens to reap.  I would be lying if I was one of those Clevelanders who balks at winter and feigns pleasant tolerance of an April that averages 36 degrees.  However, our parents are a morning’s drive away.  My close neighbors are close friends.    And, while we know children to be resilient and flexible, the reality is, they were born here-this is the life they know, the place they love.

I love this place too. I know I would love to be just about anywhere as long as Cory, Ella, Michael and Lily Fisher are there with me.  That’s not all though.  It takes knowing you have family and friends close by.  A carpool you can rely upon.  A neighbor who can spare an egg or a a stick of butter.  It takes a friend you can have a late night conversation with to remind you that home is wherever you might happen to settle.  Frankly, that’s why we stay.  Sure, anyone can begin again and make new friends, find a favorite grocer, meet and befriend a new neighbor.  Eventually, you find yourself with the life you left behind, with a new cast of characters.  The only hopeful difference?  It’s sunnier.

and the lipstick song…

Lily and Cory before ballet last Friday.

Lily and Cory before ballet last Friday.

Topnotch alliteration isn’t the only reason for the name of my blog.  I mentioned before that Lily really loves lipstick.  You should know this: Lily isn’t allowed to have her own “lipstick”.  “Lipstick” in our house is anything that can go on the lips to either a.) moisturize, b.) beautify, or c.) both.  Lip balm is actually what we banned a few months ago when we found her repeatedly slathering it on her lips and the immediate space around her mouth.  She also had managed to get it into her bedroom carpet a few times, this basically put Cory over the edge.  I was willing to give it a third or fourth chance until the day of Michael’s holiday concert at Eastview Elementary when she fidgeted and cried because her “lipstick” came off and she needed to reapply.  I reapply.  I am also very close to the age of 38 and quite skilled in “lipstick” application.  That put me over the edge. So our little Lily does in fact remind us each day of her lipstick woes.  Since I told her that she might have them in her possession when she is older, she sweetly asks me on occasion, “Am I still four?” (only she says “four” in that cute toddlery way- “Fohl”.  Sigh.
So now it has been at least 3 months since the takeover and we were treated yesterday to an impromptu song by Lily, pink acoustic guitar in hand.  A one, a two, a one, two, three, four:

“I’m a little teapot, I’m a little teapot, I got five lipsticks in my teapot and they’re all mine and I don’t share them and I keep them in my room and they’re all my lipsticks.”

I have to applaud her determination.  This is one fight she isn’t going to give up.  But those of you who know Lily, know that she is a fighter (but the good kind who will, I hope, always fight for what she believes in).  We tell her, “No big deal, babe-lipstick isn’t important!”  She scoffs and shoots us a look I am certain I too possess, as if to say, “(Expletive) you.  When I get biggohl, I will drink coffee and chew gum and have my own lipsticks.”  All of these things, I do not doubt.

Capital Number 1.

Easter at Grandma and Papa's

Easter at Grandma and Papa’s

Only parents of toddlers have conversations about why it’s best to wear shoes in public places, why crayons are meant for coloring, not eating, and why drywall doesn’t “come” painted when you buy it (yes, that was a question once).  Today Michael really needed to know why numbers are not written in either capital or lowercase fashion.  “Look mom!  That capital I is a lowercase number 1!”  I suppose to a 4 year-old, this is exactly right–and, depending on how you write a number 1, it may very well resemble your capital I.  Ok, see?  I am rationalizing it, or explaining the hard to explain.  He has never been a boy who accepts, “because”, or “that’s just the way it is”, without probing further in order to reach a clearer understanding.  He is a boy of many questions, and for all the facets of his personality that seem to grow and evolve, this one questioning aspect remains the same.
One evening when he got out of bed to use the bathroom, he asked, “What do you do while I am sleeping?  Do you and daddy sleep?”  Yes, my love, we sleep, but only when you are.

If it’s 8am…


and you have already spent two hours with your children, well, that’s too much time.  Michael and Lily were up at 6am the other morning.  These are the things I did before 8am:
Wiped two bottoms
Brushed teeth
Corralled them into my room
Had a shower whilst being beckoned to “come here!”
Tripped over a book and a baby, stepping out of the shower
Stubbed my toe on the stool drug to the middle of the bathroom floor
Fought Lily for my mousse
Told Michael to please use an inside voice, more than once
Gave a verbal inventory of my cosmetics to Lily
Asked Michael to back away from the tv, more than once
Packed lunches with tiny people at my heels
Packed breakfast with tiny people at my heels
Shoes, coats, hats, bags of crap…
Load up

These are the things I like to do before 8am without the company of my children:
Drink coffee
Daydream about how they will peacefully wake and cuddle together quietly, preferably no earlier than 8am :).