We enjoyed talking to my family and swimming in our backyard. My sister is home from Nebraska for the summer, and one of my cousins from Cleveland, Ohio decided that searching for a job in Houston might prove more fruitful so he is currently living in my old bedroom. (There is a girl that just happens to be my best friend from high school who might have had something to do with this decision, but that's another story.) Several friends from high school reunited at an old favorite restaurant, Spanish Flowers, to reminisce and laugh. Just like the good old days.
We also had a very new experience, one that we have been talking about for several years. Sky diving. For me, the beauty of it was more incredible than the exhilaration. A few of the images that really stand out in my mind are looking up at the parachute, seeing birds flying below me, and seeing my shadow in a cloud just before we passed through it, with a beautiful rainbow forming a complete circle around it.
My good friend MJ had never been to Houston so I invited her to join for the ride and offered her a place to stay. I was so happy to share some of my own favorite places with her, those that I sometimes have trouble convincing others that they deserve a repeat visit. The Menil Collection of is the most amazing private art gallery I have ever seen and they are constantly rotating in new permanent and temporary exhibitions. The nearby Rothko Chapel is the most peaceful place I know. Eating lunch at Baba Yega's is like dining in an exotic greenhouse.
It was interesting to me that after a couple days of doing things together and on our own I was disappointed that she had not met my family yet. It was the first time since I left home that I have felt close enough to anybody to want to share my home with her, and to want to share her with my family. Now, I recognize that this was some major self-disclosure I was asking for, and self-disclosure is a risky business. You make yourself vulnerable when you tell somebody about your past or your inner-most thoughts or introduce them to the people who helped to form the person you have become. It is also one of the greatest ways to strengthen a relationship. I was surprised to find how happy I felt as I watched my father put his arm around MJ and assure her that she was welcome for dinner. It also reminded me how much I love my family.
I have a special recipe I would like to disclose to you all. It's my mother's lasagna recipe and I have loved it for as long as I can remember. As a child, this lasagna convinced many of my friends that maybe they did like tomato sauce after all. It was my yearly birthday treat. If I was lucky when I visited from college I would get to take back a small container of it frozen. It was my dad's request this year for Father's Day.
As I looked at the recipe and followed the familiar steps with my mother and sister I realized how simple it is. I'm pretty sure it's just the slow-cooked, herbed tomato sauce that does the trick. The emerging cook in my thought of a million additions that might be more interesting - a layer of fresh basil leaves, a hint of cayenne, some zucchini or eggplant... Perhaps it will pique your imagination. But if you have a good-sized salad on the side this really does hold up on its own. Just like the good old days.
Classic Lasagna Recipe:
This recipe makes two 9 x 13 pans or one extra large pan.
Options if you don’t need so much: cut recipe in half, freeze one pan of lasagna after baking, or just make one pan of lasagna and freeze the extra sauce for later use.
For the sauce in a large kettle over medium heat, cook until translucent:
2 T. olive oil
¾ c. onion - chopped or minced (food processor is okay if you don’t want chunks)
2 cloves garlic, minced
Add 1 ½ lbs. ground beef and brown, stirring frequently
32 oz. diced canned tomatoes
64 oz. crushed canned tomatoes
2 T. dried parsley
1 T. sugar
1 t. salt
1 t. oregano
¼ t. pepper
1 bay leaf
Reduce to low and simmer 1-2 hours. You can add water if it gets too thick.
1 lb lasagna noodles - cook, drain, rinse with cold water
For the cheese mixture, mix in a large bowl:
15 oz ricotta cheese
1 egg, beaten
1 c mozzarella cheese - grated
1/3 c water
¼ c parmesan cheese
1 T. dried parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
More grated mozzarella cheese for layering (4-6 cups)
Layer the prepared ingredients in this way:
Light sauce in bottom of pan
Repeat noodles, ricotta, mozzarella, sauce until noodles are gone
Top the last noodle with sauce and mozzarella
Bake at 350o for 25 minutes, covered with foil. Remove the foil and bake for an additional 5-10 minutes, until the top layer of cheese is slightly browned.
If you want to assemble everything the day before an event you can refrigerate it, covered with foil, overnight. It will take 15-20 minutes longer to cook the next day.