© 2007 Dan Grossman; Hosted on Fotki
We haven't had a very autumnal autumn this year, but the weather pattern appears to have shifted in fall's favor late last week. Saturday broke dark and heavy, with pelting rain shot from a lowered sky – an excellent day for a track meet.
My husband's youngest daughter, Isabel, took up cross-country running when she got to high school this year. It's quickly become very important to her, and we've scheduled weekend visits carefully to allow her full participation (the kids live with their mother in the farthest northwest corner of the state, just shy of the Canadian border; we see so little of them as it is, we'll take them however we can get them). The state championships were held Saturday up in Thetford, north of here by about an hour-and-a-half's drive. Isabel would be traveling there by bus with her team; we arranged for the other kids to be delivered to the meet, where we would collect them all for the remainder of the weekend.
We strategized over breakfast, TJ and I, making sure we'd dress warmly and against the rain; we'd be passing close enough by the Lebanon Coop Food Store (our Whole Foods equivalent) to make a foraging stop worth our while, so we made a quick shopping list. And since we'd be getting home late in the day, cold, hungry, wet and cranky – we thought it best to come up with a dinner plan. Pasta sounded like a good idea, nothing too fussy. We agreed on spaghetti and meatballs with garlic bread and a salad. TJ would make the meatballs while I threw together a sauce.
The drive north was strangely beautiful. As interstate highways go, Vermont's (all two of them) are hard to argue against – winding and undulating through the state's largely unspoiled landscape (thanks to careful legislation, the entire state is billboard-free). On a clear day, there are long vistas out over the Connecticut River valley to the east, and distant peaks slide into and out of view. On Saturday, a trifecta of fog, mist, and low clouds shrunk the landscape, and shifting shapes of near hillsides, roadside barns and overhead bridges faded mysteriously in and out of a grey screen, punctuated here and there by the fluorescent red-orange of stands of sumac.
Once we got to Thetford, we spent nearly an hour slogging around in the mud, trying to locate Isabel, her team, and the rest of our kids. If you have teenagers, you already know that miscommunication and bad planning are the rule, and Saturday was no exception. Suffice it to say that we missed Isabel's race (having been given not one, but two incorrect start times), and that only Annie and Iz would be coming home with us.
This online photo (courtesy of photographer Dan Grossman) is all we get to see of Isabel running; that's Iz in the light blue, #927.
© 2007 Dan Grossman; Hosted on Fotki
The runners all had to hang around for the awards ceremony at 3:30, so TJ, Annie and I drove back down to Lebanon to the Food Coop and did our foraging and had some lunch. The Coop has (among other things) an excellent butcher shop, a fine cheese counter, and a great selection of breads from several area bakeries. I wish it were closer to home; our local grocery stores range from just adequate to desultory. Finding good meats, breads, ethnic ingredients, and even produce and cheeses in the off-season, means driving 40 or 50 miles, so we've learned to maximize our travels.
The butcher shop had something called “meatloaf blend” – a freshly-ground mix of beef, pork, and veal (50%/25%/25%), so we got a pound and a half for the meatballs. In addition to stocking up on daily bread with which to stuff the freezer, TJ found a gorgeous garlic-parmesan loaf to stand in for garlic bread at dinner. And because the young goat cheeses are at their season's end (goats and sheep stop milking through the winter months) we nabbed a precious round of Capriole from Lazy Lady, in hopes that its memory will carry us through the goat-free months to come. Lazy Lady cheeses are not much available outside of Vermont; if you happen to stumble across any one of them (even the midwinter cow's milk cheeses), you'll thank me for insisting that you try them.
A few odds and ends and sundries later, we were back on the road to Thetford to collect Isabel and head on home. If you could possibly say that the rain had held off until then, raining only cats and dogs, it now began to rain in earnest and then some: cows and sheep for example, or buses and trains. We had to stop for gas, and TJ was completely soaked from his 5-yard dash inside to use the facilities. When he got back in the car and said “Okay, let's go home and make some spaghetti and meatballs!” there was a sweet impromptu harmony of “Mmmmm!” from the back seat.
About halfway home the rain slowed, eased, subsided, then stopped, and the brilliant late afternoon sun broke through the clouds, casting a vivid rainbow over the river and igniting the rolling hillsides across the valley. When we got home, TJ sparked a warming blaze in the fireplace, I poured some red wine, and we got busy making dinner.
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As preordained, TJ made the meatballs – mixing the ground meat with an egg, some breadcrumbs and salt and pepper (he may have dosed the mix with A-1 when I wasn't looking). While he was browning the meatballs, I sweated a few minced cloves of garlic with some finely diced sweet onion in fruity olive oil, then deglazed the pan with a squirt of anchovy paste, a slightly bigger one of tomato paste (gotta love that Italian stuff in a tube), and most of the contents of my wine glass. Then I added two cans of crushed San Marzano tomatoes, a goodly splash of balsamic vinegar, and a generous swat of kosher salt. By the time it all came to a simmer, the meatballs were nicely browned, so I sunk them in the sauce and let it all amalgamate while we set the table, warmed the bread, cooked the spaghetti, grated some Grana Padano, and tossed some cleaned greens in the salad bowl. Time from start to table: just enough time for the girls to take hot showers and swaddle themselves in flannel and fleece.
I'm sure Italian grandmothers across the globe will start leaking cranial fluid when they hear that I didn't start my sauce early in the morning and carefully finesse it through the day. I've done that, I know how. But this was a quick spaghetti-and-meatballs-for-the-family, akin to banging together a meatloaf or macaroni and cheese at the end of a busy day. This was meant to be a restorative, a balm for depleted souls. And that is exactly what it accomplished.