Welcome to austinagrodolce … My family and I garden with more intention and enthusiasm than allocated budget or overall design plan. It shows. Wildlife populations don't seem to notice our lack of cohesive design, they just like the native plants here. It seems by growing local we've thrown out a welcome mat. Occasionally, we're surprised at who (and what) shows up.

Friday, March 13, 2009

When the Going Gets Tough

This tough gal makes lasagna.

I did one of my very least favorite things in the world recently.I put my youngest on an airplane to go back to law school after a delightful week spent in her company while she had Spring Break.  

As that week rushed past us, I cooked less and we ate out at some of LawSchoolGirl's favorite local venues more. Nothing super exciting culinary wise, this wasn't about "new" or "exciting" at all. It was about "HOME!" and "this is how food is supposed to taste" more than anything else.

At first she was circumspect about expressing her meal preferences, wondering if I'd be a bit offended about the idea the things she was craving most were not versions of my home cooking but dishes from certain local restaurants.

She had reason to wonder. I will admit it. 10 or so years ago, I might have taken that preference personally, as a slight.

Today? I am simply happy happy when anybody will communicate clearly and specifically what they are interested in eating.

If that is something I can make happen at home, so be it. If that is something I can shell out bucks for and obtain without having to dirty dishes or spend time shopping and cooking and cleaning up after? Hey - my heart will not be broken, I assure you.

Honestly I mostly have myself to blame if my kids want something other than home cooked when it is time for us to eat together.  You see, first when ChefSon, and years later again when LawSchoolGirl left home, they both left with a notebook from Mom. 

In that notebook were copies of my go-to recipes: the ones they already enjoyed, the ones I hoped they would eventually come to appreciate, their grandmother's recipes, the whole nine yards. I worked with each of my children, when they were still children, so they would know how to do their own laundry (no pink loads for these kids) and know how to cook the dishes they liked for themselves.

For me, cooking has never been about mystery or "only I can do this for you". Cooking is about feeding people I love with food I like (and sometimes people I like with food I love) and that simply ought to be cooperative, open, and reproducible. Hence, the Notebook.

If that now means when my out of state grad student is home in Austin she craves the things she either cannot afford on her own or can not find under any circumstances where she currently lives, and most of those things are not the things I cook here routinely at home?

I say OK. I say welcome home baby. I say, what would you like for dinner and how can I help make that happen?

And, I smile. I hug. I kiss and I hang on a bit to my kids who have grown up in ways that I could only imagine when I first held them, small, squirmy, and willing to trust that Mom Knows Best when it comes to what to eat.

Don't get me wrong. In that week of LawSchoolGirl's Spring Break I did cook some. I made gumbo, pork roast, chimichangas.
I am the ghost of lasagnas past.... 
What I did not make that week was lasagna. I'd been craving it big time but it is simply not a LawSchoolGirl favorite. So once her planes' wheels were up off the runway at ABIA and I was saying goodbye to her once more (with feeling!) I knew it was time. Lasagna was the dish to save the dinner, if not the day.

I don't have much in the way of photos or even a particular recipe to promote here. I typically use the recipe printed right on the box of Barilla's NoBoil noodles although they have a whole series of variations posted on their website

I use as many organic ingredients as I can but lasagna for me is not about finding some once in a lifetime, or over the top recipe.  Lasagna is about that familiar, yes, this is it, experience that requires it to taste pretty much the same comforting way, time after time. When I am tired, when I am discouraged, when I am blue or beaten down in any way by whatever life is handing out, eating lasagna is one way I fight back. 

That explains a lot of elastic waist clothing you might find in my closet, don't you agree? 

I do apply my Lasagna Makes Life Better principle broadly when the opportunity arises. Earlier this week when I found out my across the street neighbor was in the hospital critically ill, I prepared a batch of that layered anti-depressant in a pan and took it to her husband and son. People need a break from fast food when they are spending long days in hospital hallways, waiting for visits and clinging alternately to each other and bits of good news.

So how about you? What dish do you fix when the blues hit and you want a food based pick-me-up?  What gets bundled up and trundled over to your neighbor in need?  Put your thoughts in the comments section and share what inspires and comforts you.  I'll be waiting, and if you like, maybe we will share that conversation over a nice plate of lasagna.

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