There’s a chapter in Cherries in Winter about the day I was laid off. The corresponding recipe calls for boiling a half pound of pasta, nuking a jar of prepared sauce, and pouring it on the slightly overcooked pasta.
That “recipe” was meant to convey two things: first, that I’d been so busy working at that great job that heating prepared sauce was my idea of “making” dinner, and second, that I was so slack-jawed by my pink slip that this three-step feast was about all I could handle. We’ve all been either so busy or so tired or so not-in-a-great-place that even boiling pasta is a Martha Stewart-level achievement. (A few readers thought I’d meant this as a real recipe; to them I apologize for my occasionally brittle sense of humor.)
Of course, with the help of Nana’s recipes, I discovered that one bright spot to being
unemployed self-employed was that I now had time to make real meals. I chopped, I cooked, I made things from scratch. I didn’t become a great cook, but there were some memorably good dinners that hadn’t come out of a plastic box. Time, I learned, was the most important ingredient in any good meal.
Time’s been in short supply around here lately, for a variety of reasons ranging from sweet to tart. On the sweet side, I’m working on the follow-up to Cherries in Winter. On the other end of the spectrum, Mom’s back has been a little tricky lately, as I mentioned on my Facebook page. If I needed yet another reason to be grateful that I’m self-employed, it’s the ability to drop everything and go to my parents’ house to do the food shopping, house cleaning, cooking, laundry, and all the other things we do without thinking until we physically can’t do them. Believe me when I tell you I’m not complaining about having to do this stuff. I was too busy being grateful–for my parents, and that I had the chance to do something for them after all the years they took care of me.
My commute to my parents’ place is an hour and a half, so three hours total. I’ve been a little worn out from the work I’ve been doing there as well as what I do at home, though I’ve been blessed with a husband who does laundry and vacuums without being asked. I feel a little guilty that he has to do that at all, considering the hard physical work he does every day, but I appreciate his help and let it go at that.
I think you know where I’m going with all of this: Yes, I’m hitting the bottle again. Or, more specifically, the jar–of prepared pasta sauce. Thankfully, I’m a little more knowledgeable in the kitchen than when I first wrote that faux recipe. Here’s the updated version for those who are too busy to cook, yet too proud or frugal to order in:
In a large pan, sauté 1 diced eggplant, 1 diced onion, 2 cloves of minced garlic, and 1 sliced and quartered zucchini in 2 T olive oil. Marvel at how chopping really takes the edge off anxiety about an unknown future; you have to remain in the present to keep fingers from becoming an added ingredient. Sprinkle veggies with a little salt and pepper.
When veggies are cooked, about 10 minutes of sighing and regrouping later, add 1 can of drained and rinsed chick peas. Stir.
Add 1 jar of your favorite pasta sauce, one that hopefully doesn’t contain high-f*ctose corn syrup. If it does, don’t worry about it; one night of HFCS isn’t going to kill you. Stir all ingredients.
Tsk for forgetting to put water on to boil for the pasta, but it’s okay, because you can let the sauce simmer on low while you do that.
Either take water-boiling time to make a simple salad of greens and tomatoes, or go sit down for a few minutes.
Add 1/2 lb. of whole wheat or other pasta to now-boiling water (for 2 hungry people; 1 lb. for 4). Take boiling time to create mental gratitude list, which also takes the edge off any anxiety you may be feeling.
Drain cooked pasta, top with healthy, veggie-packed semi-homemade sauce. You’ll cook from scratch another day; for now, congratulate yourself for suiting up, showing up, and doing the best you can. Good is the new great.