I do not thrive in this, for lack of a better description, 9-5 world. Any thought that retirement would afford me the freedom to live on my own schedule was just that – a wistful thought because I am married and accommodations must be made.
About a year and a half ago I upended years of tradition by moving our main meal of the day – the old protein and veg cooked meal – to the middle of the day instead of 7pm, our long-standing dinner time. That at least was doable in retirement. Eating that late in the day was not good for my health quite frankly. Nor was still doing “chores” at 8pm good for my mental health (chores being the whole dinner/kitchen clean-up routine.)
I don’t have an in-unit washer and dryer so twice a week I get up early to get the laundry done – the community laundry room most accessible at 6:30/7:00am. And besides it’s a major chore done. I sometimes start cooking at that time of the day – when it’s something that needs hours to simmer.
This morning it was meatballs and gravy – spaghetti sauce to you non-Italians. Right now my apartment is smelling really good – if you like the aroma of Italian food.
I make peasant style spaghetti sauce, as learned from my parents. I’ve read recipes that include onions, carrots, all manner of odd herbs (sage? rosemary? – no.) It’s not that there aren’t ‘sauces’ that include onions and other things but they have their own specific names and aren’t ‘gravy’. The difference between ‘sauce’ and ‘gravy’? Meat. In the old days you would go to the butcher and ask for “a piece of pork and a piece of beef for gravy” and the butcher knew exactly what you wanted. Meatballs in our house were just ground beef or chopped meat, however you call it. Some Italians use a mixture of pork/beef/veal, my parents didn’t so neither do I.
A young woman in the grocery store I frequent once asked me for my recipe for ‘Sunday Sauce’ ie: gravy and I laughed and said “I can’t tell you but I could show you”. Same goes for meatballs – I have no idea how much of anything goes into the pot or the meatballs.
My mother always fried or baked the meatballs before adding them to the gravy. My father always put the meatballs uncooked into the gravy which is how I do it. Simmering in the gravy for 3 or 4 hours cooks the meatballs and keeps them moist (whoops, there’s that word again) and they absorb the flavors of the gravy.
Peasant style spaghetti sauce? Crushed tomatoes, red wine, water, garlic, basil, oregano, salt. pepper, sugar. How much of each? Your guess is as good as mine. OK, so for every 28 ounce can of crushed tomatoes, you use 1/2 a can of water and 1/2 can of wine, the rest of the ingredients – as much or little as you like to have it taste the way you want. Not exactly the way my parents made gravy but close enough.
As for meatballs – since they are going to cook in the gravy I don’t use as many spices/herbs as I would if I were going to bake them. Chopped meat (beef only), an egg for every pound of meat, salt, pepper, loads of fresh parsley, grated cheese, bread crumbs. How much of any of this? Who knows, it’s like making bread, you know by the texture, how it feels in your hands when you’re mixing it. For baked (or fried, if that’s your choice) meatballs I would add garlic and basil and oregano.
I can give you very specific recipes for desserts because baking is science. But for cooking – I can only show you, can’t tell you. I make a macaroni and cheese that will knock your socks off but it’s not like anything you’ve ever eaten before because it is MY concept of macaroni and cheese. And as my husband’s brother said “This is delicious but it’s not mac ‘n cheese” And yes, he asked if he could take the leftovers home.
I always say I hate to cook, and I do. I didn’t always hate to cook, but after years (and years) of cooking I’m over it. It’s just a chore. Plus, living where I live and not being able to get the foods I’m used to eating – the whole thing becomes – Meh.
I’m not a great cook but no one has ever gotten up from my table unhappy or unsatisfied. Besides there would always be dessert!