This past Saturday was my daughter's dance recital. She was very excited about this, as well she should have been, given all the work and time she has put into dance over the past year. And because she is my daughter, she knew that with an event such as this one, she would probably get her choice of meal from me before the show. That's just how I do things with the kids--which will probably be evidenced someday when they are all on the show Heavy and talking about how their mom rewarded them with food, thus crippling their lives forever and ever.
At first, Gabby wanted to go out. We were ok with that, but with the timing of things and the fact that driving to get to a decent restaurant would mean nothing fun, we tried to persuade her to eat something at home. It didn't take but just a second before her eyes twinkled and she said, "Oh, Mom. Make me that pasta sauce you used to make when I was little. The marinara from Williamsburg!"
I was shocked at first. Matt and I had promised her anything that we could get in our little town--I expected filet mignon (Gabby definitely knows her way around a nice cut of meat) or crabcakes or homemade pad thai, chock full of shrimp. But she was asking for homemade, long-simmered marinara. I enthusiastically said yes and went to the store for the ingredients.
And really, the pasta sauce is much, much more than just sauce. When Matt and I were in college, we had very little money, which I guess goes without saying. We got student loans to pay for rent, Matt worked a student job in the Modern Languages department, and I worked long hours in a coffee shop and waiting tables. On top of our regular bills, we paid for Gabby to attend a private preschool run by a W&M alum that was close to our apartment, and we had a host of student baby-sitters to watch Sam for the short times when neither Matt or I were home. We stretched every dollar as far as it could go. But there were definitely times when the dollars refused to stretch any farther. Times like when my brakes went out, or when we had to buy a new sofa or when our rent was raised. And every time that that happened, we would go into lockdown mode and I would make a pot of pasta sauce.
The pasta sauce would sit bubbling on the stove and we would remain amazingly optimistic. Of all the crazy shit that we have done in our lives together, that is what I am most proud of, I think. We would literally have no money to our names, but we would remain happy with our kids and our books and a big bowls of carbohydrates. Sometimes we would make the pot of sauce last a week until someone got paid, every meal some iteration on marinara. Mostly, it was eaten greedily with different shapes of pasta, but there was the odd time when I would make a pizza crust and cover it all with some kind of cheese left in the refrigerator. And there were late night sessions--Matt and myself baking bread and then dipping it happily into the sauce while we alternated between sips of 7-11 coffee and sips of Mountain Dew to keep ourselves awake to finish one last paper.
As I prepared the pasta sauce on Saturday and the smell filled the house, all of this came flooding back. And I thought of Gabby, so young during that time. We were so happy to have her all to ourselves, sleeping down the hall from us in her tiny bedroom with the Hello Kitty comforter. At the time, we wanted everything perfect for her. Hell, we still do, and find ourselves rushing around like mad trying to make sure that she has the right shorts, the perfect shoes, a perfectly balanced meal with no sugar and plenty of vegetables. But those times spent in that tiny apartment with the pasta sauce--this is what she remembers. The times when we were at our wit's end and facing a very uncertain future--somehow she remembers this with love and happiness.
I once read an article about a woman who had been a single mother to a son while struggling with clinical depression. She talked about how she remembered her child's early years with a kind of embarassment because she felt that, given her own struggles, she could not possibly have given him what he needed. When he was grown, she asked him what he remembered from those years, and he listed off a littany of happy stories about trips to the zoo, camping out in their living room together, trips to the grocery store. She was amazed that that is what he remembered. I felt the same way with Gabby on Saturday. Kids are amazing that way--they don't need perfection, they just need parents who adore them and try their best. Even when their best isn't that awesome.
Morgan's Poverty Pasta Sauce
Makes a blue ton. I'm thinking about 9 or 10 cups. This stuff also freezes very well.
1 tbsp. olive oil
3-4 onions, chopped
1 tbsp. sugar
1/2 cup dry red wine (you can forego the wine if you are really in the soup, and I've done that. But it is really better with the wine, and there is always $3 Chuck.)
1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil (or just the standard kind you used before)
1 tbsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. dried basil
1/2 tsp. pepper
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper (don't be tempted to leave this out. It will not make it that spicy, but it will give you a nice depth of flavor that is too awesome to leave out.)
6-8 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 (28 oz.) cans crushed tomatoes, undrained
1 (28 oz.) can petite diced tomatoes (if you like it chunkier, feel free to use the regular dice)
2 (6 oz.) cans tomato paste
Heat the oil in a very large pot. Add the onions and cook until light golden brown, about 20 minutes. Watch these because they can go from nicely golden to bitter black pretty quickly. Add the wine and cook for a minute or so. Then dump in all of the other ingredients. Wait on the sauce to come back to a boil and then turn it down and cover the pot. Let simmer for about 2 hours, stirring every now and then. Watch the texture--when it gets to what you like, take it off. It is your sauce after all!
On Saturday, I purchased all the tomatoes, a bottle of wine, some pasta, a big head of romaine, parmesan, and some Alexia garlic bread (that is divine, I should point out) all for the low, low price of $21. We ate this stuff all weekend, and having chicken parm tonight. So it stands the test of time! And the smell of the house while it is simmering....that is priceless.