Wednesday, January 13, 2010

But luckily, spring comes early here

So we don't have to wait as long as some people to see this guy, for instance. Last year, and in the other years we've seen him, he shows up in about mid-April. I know it's not time yet, but as we're all so everlastingly sick of the cold weather, and it seems to be loosening its grip a bit, it seemed reasonable to take a look at the ridiculous colors and remind ourselves that before we know it, the wisteria will be twisting its windings fingers around things and then blooming, those big showoffs, the azaleas, will burst into riotous color, and my precious tiny wild violets will raise their shy heads to the sun, gentled as it touches them through the oak branches. In fairness I should also remind myself that around this same time of year, when other locales have left the various plagues of autumn behind them, along with their joys, we will be dealing with the thunderous rain of oak leaves, which in our area don't fall until they absolutely have to, that is, until the new little green leaves actually push them off their perches. But there are worse woes to have, of course. So we shoulder on, waiting for the bright reminder of the painted bunting and his plain-but-lovely wife. The waiting is made slightly sweeter for me by my friend Debra, who reminds me that this is what HER bird feeder looks like, as of yesterday.
This is much better, even if we do have to wait a little.

I was thinking about my mother today, probably because I gave you the Eat Here Meatloaf Recipe last night, which was one of her signature dishes. After World War II, there was a concerted effort to bring women back to homemaking in order to reduce competition for the jobs they had taken during the war, and which men now needed to reclaim. Magazines for ladies were a major part of the marketing/propaganda campaign that facilitated this, and ladies of my mother's age continued to read them and learn how to cook using ingredients like, well, probably ketchup.

This might have been one of those recipes, too, but I suspect it really used the previous summer's canned tomatoes. It's simple and wonderful, and was always called "Tomato Gravy" in my mother's kitchen. Start with bacon. (I wish I had a dollar for every Southern recipe that begins with those words.) You could dress it up with ham, or add an interesting subtle flavor shift with pancetta, but the old school version is plain old bacon, fried crisp and crumbled into small bits. Set the bacon aside and add a really nice big onion, chopped in small-to-medium dice and cook until the onion is transparent. Salt and pepper the onion as it cooks but remember to salt accordingly; bacon may need less salt than ham, or whatever you've used. Note to my vegetarian pals - this is easily done with olive oil in place of the bacon fat. Add a big can of whole tomatoes, juice first, and stir well as this is effectively deglazing the pan. The tomatoes should be squished up in your fingers as you add them and you can remove the tomato cores as you go. This yummy mixture should simmer until it's well reduced and served over pasta. Rigatoni was preferred in my mother's kitchen although I didn't know what it was called until I was a teenager. I'm not sure my mother even knew what it was called. It's good with just about any logical variation, like spinach. Go crazy.

Oh, speaking of that: thank you to friends who are reading this, especially to my friend Lorie, who has raised my mother's macaroni and cheese to an entirely new place in the stratosphere with her addition of mushrooms and spinach. It hardly bears thinking about. Thank you, Lorie, and all of you who now and then Eat Here.


  1. As you are with everyone whose paths you cross, your writing is happy and refreshing. You see life through very gifted eyes and I'm so glad to have you as a friend. You bring sunshine to all of us through the way you live life in full color.

  2. Julie, thank you so much. I am more honored than I can tell you by your kindness, and I'm glad to have you as my friend, too!


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