It is 7:30 pm on Sunday night, and I am in the middle of cooking my mother’s famous lasagna recipe. It involves making your own bechamel, and it is the best lasagna I’ve ever tasted. I seem to remember that she found it in a Better Homes and Gardens magazine which seems hard to believe, but you must remember that in the late 1960s and the early 1970s Julia Child was on tv encouraging housewives to venture away from meat loaf and pork chops. I’m not going to share the lasagna recipe here because lately I’ve found it hard to amaze my dinner guests, which is not surprising when the NYT and Epicurious send us their best recipes on a daily basis. Better, sometimes, to reach back in time and return to the classics.
Tonight I was so happy chopping onions and garlic and stirring pots and singing along with Florence Welch and then it occurred to me that WHOOPS I’d forgotten about the pasta. Our stove is awful and takes forever for a burner to heat, so now I am in a holding period waiting for the ziti to cook. Yes, you heard me correctly. I am making my mother’s famous lasagna recipe using ziti, simply because the lasagna noodles located on the top shelf (way in the back) were so petrified they quite possibly may have been purchased during Obama’s first term. You see, our cupboards are very deep, and I am short and cannot see to the back. And I’m lazy to fetch a chair to look into the bowels of my cupboards. I hope I gain back some of your faith when I tell you I used fresh oregano from our backyard garden in the meat sauce. That’s about all that’s left growing in this tremendous heat. That and a basil plant that has quadrupled in size during the few months since I bought it at Trader Joe’s. I completely forgot it was there and am sad thinking about all the days when I could have had Caprese salads.
I’m making this complicated lasagna recipe so Hubby will have comfort food when he comes home to an empty house each night during this coming week. William and his friends are off camping up north in the cool mountains, and tomorrow I get on plane to see my aunts and uncles and cousins in my hometown in northern Illinois. I have not been in three years and am so excited to see my family . . . and to see and feel and smell the town where I was born and where I lived until I was ten years old.
In my dreams I ride my bike down the streets of this little old town. I go through the squeaky screen door to hug my grandmother and then at other times, I have coffee with my Aunt Linda and my cousin Bridget. In my dreams, memories of my young self get tangled up with the reality of the older self I am now. Because I am the oldest of three, I keep the childhood memories of this place for all of us. I tell my brother about driving to Grandpa Koppen’s house when a tornado was coming, our mother shouting at us to roll down the windows, we will be there soon! Our own basement was mud walls and big spiders, and grandma and grandpa were just up the street with a lovely finished basement complete with pool table and full bar. I say to my siblings, don’t you remember when we lived on Grover Street and Aunt Linda and Uncle Bill and Matt and Bridget lived just twenty steps from our own front door? Their dog, Arfrang, was so cute and was always jumping at their screen . . . and their spunky little cats, Amos and Andy, were so fun to chase and pet. Remember Thanksgiving and Christmas at grandma and grandpa’s when we would sit at a fancy long table in the dining room? Then after dinner the men would smoke and drink, and the women would do dishes and talk in the kitchen. So much laughter, and I remember it all so fondly. I try to keep this place of my youth alive for us because I am the oldest thus have the most stories, and this is the place where we were born.
I could share here many more childhood memories from my small town in Illinois, but a big storm is moving in, and I’d rather watch that through the window than continue driveling on here. We have lightening and huge storm clouds and a rumbling of thunder in the distance. We so rarely get weather here in the desert; this storm is a treat. As always, thank you for reading my words.