I am definitely not living in the South anymore.
More on that later…
On the flipside, I know I am starting to settle in because there are four big onions slowly caramelizing on the stovetop, and I have sweet potatoes and several whole heads of garlic roasting away in the oven. I might actually find my rhythm here and start eating real meals again!
The last three weeks have been a blur of intense work and waves of heart squeezing nostalgia for the many people I miss. I have had moments where I am so overcome with joy that I well up with tears of bliss. I love what I am doing for a living, and I enjoy the process of working with the customers so much. Only people who have been through long-term unemployment can understand how mind blowing it is to hold an actual paycheck. For a long, long time, I have scrambled to keep my head above water. I’m hoping that reality soon becomes a distant memory.
Under the heading of first world problems, I finally have a working refrigerator. But wait! There’s more!! I got a washing machine earlier this week and a dryer was delivered Saturday morning. I have been happily doing endless loads of laundry all weekend. The less said about laundry the better, but the only laundromat in a twelve-mile radius is hellaciously expensive, and the machines are full of grit and horsehair because this is where the ranchers bring their dog and horse blankets to wash. Additionally, the fine customers have bumper stickers plastered all over their guns racks convincing me they don’t really understand the Constitution.
To balance that reality, I have a customer base of mostly retirees that I find endlessly fascinating. I have discovered former careers spanning from old school Jungian therapist to rocket scientist to famous landscape photographer. Imagine the odds of meeting an entrepreneur who made his fortune producing a food service product that I used and appreciated for years. I also count among my current customers some master gardeners, and they have graciously helped me navigate a method to add some colorful flowers and herbs to my landscape without wasting water or being defeated by the heat and dry environment.
I have finally replaced a distressing broken record in my head. For several of the past years, I have caught myself sighing with fatigue and muttering rather mindlessly, “I’m tired.” A casual stranger or trusted friend would ask how I was doing and my response was always, “I’m tired.” I hated that I couldn’t control that knee-jerk response and just say, “I’m fine,” but to be brutally honest, I WAS tired. I have moved a few mountains over the past several years.
Now I have a new broken record playing over and over in my head. It goes something like this: “Beautiful!” “My Gosh! So beautiful!” “Wow! Beautiful!” And the overwhelming reality is that everywhere I look, the vista is beautiful. There are breathtaking mountains in a complete circle around Tucson. I wake up to a staggering view, I see grandeur everywhere I drive, I watch the sun go down, and the shadows make for a completely different kind of beautiful in the twilight. I have even witnessed purple rain here.
So, back to knowing I’m not in the South anymore.
I had a problem with my car battery acting a little wonky. I called and made an appointment for after work hours to have a new battery installed at a garage just a few minutes from my work location. I knew I had twenty minutes between my closing time and their closing time, and they were cool with that. Sadly, I was stranded with a totally dead battery at the end of my workday. I have ZERO folks in my network here to ask for favors in this sort of crisis. My reliable network is over 2,000 miles away. Nonetheless, the fates smiled because one of the awesome contractors we work with was driving home and noticed my car was still at work. He called asking why I was still working. Somehow that call resulted in him turning around to come give my battery a jump.
As the jumper cables were being removed from my battery, I looked at him and said,
“I kind of feel the need to cook you an entire pig, right now!”
He looked at me, started blinking, and physically took four steps back. The look on his face was sort of how you would look if you woke up with a dead horse head beside you in your bed. Seriously confused and partially terrified would be the proper description.
Where I come from, an offer of cooking a whole pig implies that the deed or favor deserves the sacrifice of sleep to stay up all night tending a fire to turn out a thank you gift of the BEST DAMN FOOD you have ever tasted.
Anyway. I convinced him to let me cook him something to say thanks. He mentioned manicotti, so that has been the project of the day.
I also have to bake cookies to take to the guys at the garage because they agreed to stay open late to put a battery in the car and all is fine. Lucky me!
I have to stop now. The sun is going down, and I think I need to drink a glass of wine and listen to that broken record in my head because OMG the view is beautiful tonight!
- Tomato Sauce
- 1 pound grass-fed ground beef
- 2 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1 Tbsp. butter
- 2 sweet onions, diced
- 1 head roasted garlic
- 2 cloves fresh garlic, finely diced
- 2 tsp. kosher salt
- ¼ cup balsamic vinegar
- ½ cup red wine
- 2 cups water
- 2 32-ounce cans organic crushed tomatoes
- 1 Tbsp. dried basil
- 1 Tbsp. dried oregano
- 2 tsp. dried fennel seeds, finely chopped
- 2 tsp. granulated garlic
- 8 ounces sliced mushrooms
- Cheese Filling
- 2 cups Ricotta cheese
- 1 cup cottage cheese
- ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 4 cloves roasted garlic
- 6 shredded leaves fresh basil
- 1 egg
- ½ tsp. kosher salt
- 14 pasta tubes (1 box)
- In the oven, roast the garlic wrapped in foil at 350 degrees for one hour. I did this along with a few sweet potatoes to use for the week.
- Heat a large pot over medium high heat and add the olive oil and butter. When that has melted, add all of the diced onions to the pot and stir well. Reduce the heat to low and allow the onions to slowly cook and caramelize for at least an hour. Give the onions a stir every ten minutes or so. This is a slow and low process worth the effort. (I actually cooked four onions and removed half to use in other dishes later in the week.)
- When the roasted garlic is fully soft, remove from the oven and allow it to cool enough to handle. Squeeze the soft garlic out of the skins, and add a whole head to the caramelized onions.
- Stir well and add two cloves finely diced fresh garlic to the mixture.
- Return the heat to medium high and add the mushroom and 1 tsp. of the salt. Stir and allow the mushrooms to give off all their moisture.
- Add the dried herbs, the balsamic, and wine to the pot scraping up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan.
- Add the canned tomatoes and the water and stir well. Reduce to a low simmer and allow to cook for two hours, stirring occasionally.
- In a food processor, combine the ricotta, cottage cheese, and grated parmesan. Pulse the mixture four or five times.
- Add the roasted garlic and pulse until everything is well combined.
- Add the fresh basil and pulse once or twice. Taste for salt and add ½ tsp. if needed.
- Add the egg and then pulse the whole mixture until just combined. If the mixture is too thin, you may need to add a bit more ricotta.
- Open a gallon size Ziploc and stand it up in a tall container or pitcher. The goal is to have it wide enough to pour the cheese filling into the Ziploc. This is tricky, and if it is too difficult, just scrape the mixture into a large measuring cup and then tip it into the Ziploc bag. Seal the bag and chill.
- Cook the pasta tubes according to the package directions.
- Spray a 9 x 13 baking dish with spray release.
- When the pasta is cool enough to handle, cut a small corner off the bottom of the Ziploc bag and pipe the cheese mixture into one side of the pasta tube, filling half way, and then turn the tube around and pipe from the other end. There is no way that this is a neat or simple process, but working over the baking dish and lining up the filled pasta tubes as you go will keep the mess contained.
- Arrange the filled pasta anyway you like. It will take thirteen or fourteen to fill the bottom of the pan. I used the remaining cheese filling to fill any gaps between the pasta and the pan. Place the pan in the fridge to chill.
- Cook the ground beef in a non-stick skillet on medium high heat. Add the remaining 1 tsp. of salt, and ground black pepper to season. Cook until just barely done and then drain the fat away before adding to the tomato sauce. Cook for about 5 minutes. Allow to cool.
- When the filled pasta and the tomato sauce are cool enough, ladle the sauce over the filled pasta until just covered.
- Top with some additional grated parmesan and either cover tightly with foil and store in the fridge or place in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for twenty minutes. It should be hot and bubbling and the cheese should be just beginning to brown on top.