(NOTE: This is based on an exercise we did in my writing workshop this week, and I thought it might work as a Weekend Cooking post, although I don’t think I’ve ever participated in Weekend Cooking before! Weekend Cooking is a weekly blogging feature hosted at Beth Fish Reads.)
I made a batch of family-recipe marinara sauce last weekend. The specifics of our recipe tend to vary–every cook in every generation of my mom’s family has tweaked it, and no one measures anything–but the constants are just that: canned tomatoes, tomato paste, garlic, onion, and basil leaves. (We don’t use pepper, but you can add it at the table if you like.)
This red sauce–Italian gravy–is the fragrance of Sunday dinners at my great-aunts’ apartment in Co-op City in the Bronx. We could smell it as we got off the elevator and started down the gray-tiled, echoey hallway to their door. We took off our shoes when we walked in, and left them next to the green loveseat in the foyer. My sister Teresa and I went into the living room. We’d give the playground, twelve floors below, longing looks through the big windows as we read or played on the plastic-covered furniture, waiting for dinnertime, which usually began around 2 in the afternoon.
We called it “macaroni” back then, in our family. We crowded around the kitchen table as it was spooned into shallow bowls, and topped with meatballs, grated Parmesan cheese and the gravy. Teresa and I would eat our macaroni, and then we’d ask to be excused. If the house was especially full that day, we might have to slide out of our chairs and crawl under the table to leave the kitchen and return to our play. Sometimes we might ask to watch TV. Sometimes we’d ask why we couldn’t take the plastic covers off the sofa.
At home, macaroni and meatballs was an evening meal. On Sundays at Aunt Millie and Aunt Mary’s, it was the first course. The grown-ups stayed at the table for baked chicken with potatoes, and salad and bread. Then there would be some time for clean-up and conversation before coffee and cake–dessert was always “coffee and cake.”
Sunday dinners in that apartment are central to my childhood memories, and the smell of good red sauce means home. Whenever I’ve moved as an adult, I haven’t felt like I’ve truly claimed the kitchen until I’ve cooked my first batch of red sauce there. It took me three months to do that in our new house, but I guess that means that after last weekend, it truly is home.
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