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.

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.

New Space

Ella and I like to play salon in the new space.

Ella and I like to play salon in the new space.

I might have mentioned before how wonderful my husband is.  When it was time to finish our basement he revised his carefully laid out plan to include a room exclusively for hairdressing.  It’s my room.  It’s the space in the house where no one is allowed to touch anything and when our children are in the space, they have to sit quietly while I scissor away at their wigs.  Ella made me a sign for the door, offering haircuts up for ten dollars, and shaves for three 🙂

The room reminds me of the experience I had behind the chair in the salon where I had the privilege of getting to know some pretty amazing people. It serves as a marker for a time when I was independent and living under fewer demands, and a little less stress.  The beauty of this space, my new space is that I get to show my children this side of myself–the hairdresser side, the person who once could have never imagined what was to come.
So you see, it wasn’t only the revised floor plan for the basement, it was much more than that.  It is about truly knowing a person, respecting and admiring them; understanding that your life is a compilation of events, some occurring in your past, some present, that shape who you are and how you nurture your relationships.  My husband and our children?  The best clients I will ever have, without a doubt.