Thursday, December 21, 2006


After a long, dry autumn and early winter, it is finally snowing. Looking out my window, I see tire tracks through the snow in the alley across from my office, and coworkers are popping in to express their excitement about the weather. We live in the Upper Midwest, where we expect to have snow on the ground, and lots of it, by Winter Solstice.

This is the time of year that marks the fourth anniversary of my mother’s suicide, and I’ve been thinking about the people who have helped me during the years after her death, often in unanticipated and surprising ways. I’m a list maker, and today I’ve made a list of those people and the various things for which I'm grateful to them.

SJG, for loving me, for doing all the housework in the months immediately afterward, and for giving me space to mourn in my own way

My sister, for listening without judgment

My father, who found just the right poems

MFO, for her letters and knowing heart

ML, who pointed me to the right stories

Ann G, who trusts in my mother’s choice

Kay, Marion, and JZ, who understand what it’s like

Jon, who gave me his copy of Kaddish

Luci, who came into this world on the heels of my mother’s departure

And Finna, for her joy.

Saturday, December 09, 2006


A young colleague, who, like me, has Italian roots, was quizzing me the other day about family recipes. She wanted to know if I had any favorite Italian recipes, and I immediately thought of my Uncle Larry stirring a giant kettle of sugu (spaghetti sauce) in his summer shorts and black knee highs. Uncle Larry is married to my father’s sister Mary, and the two of them often hosted the yearly August birthday party for my Italian grandmother, the family matriarch, now long dead. The gathering was always huge (ten adult children and their families), and Uncle Larry and Auntie Mary’s suburban home and yard accommodated everyone. It was in the basement kitchen that Uncle Larry made his famous sugu and served all the other fixings of an Italian lunch—spicey olive salad, spaghetti, warm loaves of sesame-seed encrusted Italian bread, and every kind of Italian cookie you could think of.

Lunch was buffet style, with Uncle Larry smiling his giant toothy smile as he ladled the thick sugu over each guest’s plate of spaghetti. Only recently did I receive a copy of his recipe, which serves 30 people, so do your math if you want to make less!


2 lbs ground chuck
2 lbs mild Italian sausage
½ cup olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
Several cloves garlic, chopped
3 28-ounce cans crushed tomatoes
1 quart tomato sauce
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
½ tsp pepper
1 tsp salt
1 TB sugar
2 TB dried basil
1-1/4 cups white vermouth
1-1/2 cups chopped parsley
½ pound mushrooms, chopped

1. Saute the meat in an 8-quart kettle until cooked through.
2. Drain grease and set meat aside.
3. In the same pan, sauté the onion and garlic in olive oil until translucent.
4. Stir in the crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, and tomato paste.
5. Bring to a boil, then add the spices, vermouth, parsley, mushrooms, and meat.
6. Simmer for 2 hours, stirring occasionally. Serve over the pasta of your choice.

Makes 7 quarts
Serves 30

*For a spicier sauce, use hot Italian sausage and more garlic, pepper, and basil, to your liking