“Instead of going out to dinner, buy good food. Cooking at home shows such affection. In a bad economy, it's more important to make yourself feel good.” ~ Ina Garten
I'm making three lasagnas; every pot and pan we own is dirty. There's no happier way to spend a few hours. One is for a friend who isn't feeling well. Another adopted a brand new kitty. The last, for my neighbor.
What I can tell you is this: you want a friend who's recovered from Covid because a) they know how hard it can be and b) they're not as afraid of getting sick. I also remember how tiring (and fun) adopting a new furry one can be. What it's like to live alone.
Three lasagnas: the tiniest of offerings
I make a small one for us, and we both have seconds.
— — —
I'm not one for New Year's resolutions, but ten days in, I've resolved to stay away from the news. Oy.
With the current state of the world, this week has felt both numbing and inevitable. Mostly, the ever-escalating chaos is .. So. Incredibly. Tiring.
I think back to this time last year before everything changed. All of my big plans; all of the little things I took for granted. I know to feel more hopeful this year, but ..
I still wish I had a crystal ball.
Tuesday (6 am)
My morning ritual has begun. I listen to NPR while making an egg sandwich: two eggs over-easy, bread with a bit of mayo on one half, extra-grainy mustard on the other. Thinly sliced Swiss cheese melted, not-so perfectly on the top.
As I pull a roast out of the freezer to thaw, a woman on the radio tells us that when unfortunate things are happening in our lives, we should limit talking about lighter topics: like what's for dinner.
I retreat with my sandwich back to the warmth of bed and write for an hour before logging into work.
Today I write that I beg to differ; it seems to me that the days are big enough to hold things that are both easy and hard. We have to keep our hearts and minds open enough to deal with injustice, for sure. But at the same time, we still move through our days, take care of our families, or our health, or our friends, and even eat dinner.
While it may be popular to think of sitting down for dinner at the end of the day as a small, humble act. I've come to think of it as something much bigger, hard-fought even. It feels, to me, like a privilege.
— — —
I'm heating a pot of soup from the Co-Op while talking to my daughter. Their chili is always warm and comforting, especially on this blustery Iowa day.
I tell her that if there was ever a year to hope for a mild winter, this has to be the one. My attempts at outside walks have been down-right chilly, meet-ups with friends outside are cut short due to shivering, and soup is my favorite balm.
She tells me about the nursing home she works in, over-nights. The stories have been heartbreaking. Over half of the residents have passed. I marvel at her resolve. Tell her how proud I am of her and hope she can feel my sincerity. I hang up the phone, pull the batch of cornbread out of the oven, and think how my day job feels so insignificant in comparison to taking care of people who are nearing the end of their lives.
I have a friend who says that everyone medicates in some way or another. I eat more cookies than I should.
Lunch. I've made it to lunch, the smallest of victories indeed.
The kitties rally for the occasion and wait by their bowls while I forage, first in the pantry for them, second in the refrigerator for me.
I never need an excuse to have something snacky for a meal: a few crackers, veggies, hummus, some rotisserie chicken from Costco. I love the flitting nature of a sip or two, a bite from this or that, chatting with a colleague during my next meeting.
Hummm, I think this is probably the closest I've come to a picnic, or even party, distant as the memory of such things might be. If there's anything I've missed, it's been having people over. The hugs, brushing one another’s shoulders as we scoot our chairs closer to the table, cooking and eating together, the gifts of our time and attention.
— — —
I stop to pick up the mail. The incredible smells from our building's lobby are nearly too tempting to pass up; a sign at the pizza place advertises the special of the day “Baked Zitti with Meatballs.”
Little do they know, but good minds think alike. I've got one of my own version going in the slow-cooker.
As I wait for my husband to come through the door with the puppies, I'm writing again. I've missed it here, the memories that have come with sharing, not only some of our favorite recipes but the snippets of our lives. So I've decided that even if it's just a LiveJournal about lunch, soup, or a morning ritual ..
that I would do so, today.
At our house, we're huge fans of baked ziti. A close cousin to lasagna, but far easier to make. It's a great meal for any day of the week, or even as an offering at a potluck.
Similar to lasagna, everyone seems to have their own unique twist. Some vary the cheeses, some the meat, some love meatless variations, and some people leave out the tomato sauce for the cheesiest casserole you can imagine.
I'm partial to Italian sausage and varying the herbs, depending on the season – basil in the summer and rosemary in the winter. Something savory, sage, thyme, or parsley are all wonderful as well. Really, it's hard to go wrong.
When it comes to pasta shapes, ziti is the most common, but penne is a nice substitute. Mostly, you're going for a short-ish pasta shape with enough surface area to hold the sauce and meat.
It's a perfect offering if you know of someone who's sick or has a new baby at home. You can assemble it ahead of time and either refrigerate or freeze right before you do the final cooking. If you freeze, thaw in the fridge overnight.
A few extra notes:
In my experience with my slow cooker, my pasta ends up mushier than I'd like if I have a) gone too long on the initial cooking time or b) left the pasta in the slow cooker on the “keep warm” setting for too long. I've found the best results cooking 2 hours on high and the warm setting for about 30 minutes.
~ Adapted from Cook's Illustrated
Slow-Cooker Baked Ziti
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 lb hot or sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
- 1 onion, chopped fine
- salt + pepper
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tsp minced fresh oregano (or ½ teaspoon dried)
- 8 oz ziti (~ 2½ cups dry) gluten-free if you’re avoiding gluten
- 1 (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes
- 1 (15 oz) can tomato sauce
- 8 oz (1 cup) whole-milk ricotta
- 4 oz mozzarella cheese, shredded (~ 1 cup)
- 2 Tbsp shredded fresh basil
- Lightly coat the inside of your slow cooker with olive oil.
- In a heavy-bottom saucepan over medium-high heat, warm the olive oil. Cook the sausage, breaking into pieces, until well browned (~ 6-8 minutes).
- Add the onion, a strong pinch of salt, and a couple of grinds of black pepper. Cook until the onion has softened (~ 5 to 7 minutes). Add the garlic and oregano; cook until fragrant (~ 1 minute).
- Reduce heat to medium-low. Add ziti and cook, stirring constantly, until the edges of the pasta become translucent (~ 4-5 minutes)
- Off heat, stir in the tomatoes and tomato sauce, scraping up any browned bits. Transfer to the slow cooker. Cover and cook until pasta is tender (~ 2 to 3 hours on high).
- Dollop ricotta over ziti and sprinkle with mozzarella. Cover and let sit until cheese is melted (~ 20 minutes). Sprinkle with basil and serve.