Miracle of the Twelve Meatballs

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Gentofte, Denmark. November 2017.

I was in the kitchen of my boyfriend’s mother Jeanette’s home, stirring a splash of vodka into caramelized tomato paste with a wooden spoon in one hand and a glass of rosé in the other. Her jolly Swedish “companion”-slash-”boyfriend” Hans turned up the volume of their radio and started humming along to the jazz trumpet flowing from it. He held his glass under the spigot of the boxed wine on the counter and refilled it.

“I think you should add more,” he frowned, looking over my shoulder.

“I’ve already added two more tablespoons than I should’ve,” I told him, stirring vigorously, “Are you sure?”

“It’s a vodka sauce! More!” he urged, handing over the bottle of vodka.

There was no sense in arguing. I poured in a couple of good glugs with abandon and adjusted the heat. The tomato paste began to loosen. Hans lifted his glass and continued humming along with the music.

Sure, it was gray and positively miserable outside but, by George, life–yes, life!– was happening on the inside. We were determined to make sure of it!

I was woken up that morning by the steady and ruthless rumbling of rain pelting the window of our guest room. The barren trees were succumbing to every whim of the winds. I’d never felt more grateful to have shelter over my head. It was while observing this dreary scene that the vision of creating a red-sauced Italian supper came to me–the kind of meal fit for a mafia boss! With pasta! And meatballs! And a crisp green salad with shaved carrots and a vinegary dressing! And a rustic loaf of country bread! After weeks of subsisting on a practically monastic diet of dark rye bread, pickled herring, and boiled potatoes, I was craving extravagance–and, well, color.

When I came downstairs, Hans had just returned from his morning walk with their two Swedish lapphund dogs at the church cemetery and brought back a bag of various Danish pastries. Jeanette was perched on her usual corner of the sofa, under a knitted wool blanket and thoroughly engrossed in a morning talk show. I told Hans of my menu ideas over a cup of Nescafé. It would be a dinner party, I said, for the four of us! He began to get excited and suggested we check out a recently opened grocery store the next town over for ingredients. Suddenly, a little afternoon adventure was on the books.

Although the house belonged to my boyfriend’s mother, his sister Pia and her own two grown children, Veronica and Marcus, also lived there, along with the daughter’s then-boyfriend and their dog. So, it was a full house. But everyone led their own lives, as though they lived on separate properties, like a small village under one roof. They rarely sat down for dinner together, so when I shopped I was shopping for four–my boyfriend, me, his mother and Hans.

I figured a package of pasta and enough ground meat for a dozen meatballs would suffice. It would adequately accommodate a round of second helpings, which was certain to happen. I picked up a small head of lettuce, tomato, red onion and carrot and placed them in our cart. Salad, after all, was really just a gesture towards having vegetables on the table, as it was not a common occurrence on their dinner table. Meanwhile, Hans went to the bakery section and chose a nice boule with a crackly golden-brown crust.

Once we got back home, the cooking commenced. Hans did all the chopping as I prepared the pasta sauce and meatballs. He told me that he once owned a small French restaurant in Sweden when he was young and showed off his knife skills on an onion. It fell open, magnificently diced. When the clock struck four, he mischievously poured wine for us. “For some reason, the food always turns out better when chef drinks while cooking,” he chuckled. “Are you sure it’s not only when the guests are plastered?” I laughed.

As the meal was starting to come together, we opened the glass china cabinet and pulled out the special serveware that Jeannette normally reserved for the holidays. As I set the table, I thought about how life can easily become an endless stream of monotony if you’re not vigilantly present. Sometimes we get so accustomed to how things are that we end up going through the motions instead of really living. My thoughts were interrupted when my boyfriend popped his head in to say: “Since you guys are preparing such a feast, I hope you don’t mind if I invited the others to join us.”

Hans and I looked at each other, sending all sorts of signals to each other with our eyes. There was too much to process in that moment. Who was rightfully entitled to extend invitations? We looked at the food we’d spent all afternoon preparing and, instead of a feast, it appeared to be a piddly arrangement of provisions.

“I don’t like this,” he sighed, “It’s quite rude.”

“Yes,” I concurred, “On so many levels.”

After a moment, I said, “It’s not that I don’t want them to join us. I just like to be prepared.”

“Exactly,” he said, shaking his head, “I always like to make sure there is enough food for everyone.”

It was time to re-assess and reset our attitudes. I knew that my boyfriend’s sister Pia was on a vegetarian diet at the moment, so she wasn’t going to have any meatballs. But would a bit of pasta and salad be enough?

Hans held up the remainder of the carrot and asked, “Shall I put this on her plate?”

We both laughed and harmony was restored. Hans reset the table and I began plating the food. Pia and her daughter ended up joining us for dinner. Not only was there plenty of food but there were even leftovers. Somehow the meal seemed to multiply as we were eating it. Marcus came home from work later and made himself a plate, wolfing down two meatballs that were miraculously still on the table.

The saying “little is much when God is in it” never rang truer.

What Matters In a Person's Existence

When I take a long look at my life, as though from the outside, it does not appear particularly happy. Yet I am even less justified in calling it unhappy, despite all its mistakes. After all, it is foolish to keep probing for happiness or unhappiness, for it seems to me it would be hard to exchange the unhappiest days of my life for all the happy ones. If what matters in a person’s existence is to accept the inevitable consciously, to taste the good and the bad to the full and to make for oneself a more individual, unaccidental and inward destiny alongside one’s external fate, then my life has been neither empty nor worthless. Even if, as it is decreed by the gods, fate has inexorably trod over my external existence as it does with everyone, my inner life has been of my own making. I deserve its sweetness and bitterness and accept full responsibility for it.
— from "Gertrude" by Herman Hesse

The Pen's Failure to Capture Everything

After my death, no one will find in my papers (this is my consolation) the least information about what has really fulfilled my life, find the inscription in my innermost being which explains everything and what, more often than not, makes what the world would call trifles into, for me, events of immense importance, and which I too consider of no significance once I take away the secret note which explains it.
— from "Papers and Journals: A Selection" by Søren Kierkegaard

Heirloom Tomato with Shaved Red Onion & Point Reyes Blue Cheese

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I picked up a hefty heirloom tomato at the farmer's market last weekend. It looked like as though it was about to burst open. As a light lunch, I sliced it open and topped it with a dollop of homemade saffron aïoli, thinly shaved red onion, Point Reyes blue cheese crumbles, and a smattering of parsley and chives from the garden. Delicious with a strip of crispy bacon and half of a seven-minute egg sprinkled with piment d'Espelette and Maldon sea salt!

The Story of Rocco

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Most people look at Rocco and think that he's a scary-looking German Rottweiler but, to me, he's a wonderful person. I love him so much. We got him four years ago when I first moved to the ranch in Three Rivers. For whatever reason, even though I've never had one before, it was in my heart to have a German Rottweiler. I'd read that they were courageous, intelligent and expressive–and also incredible protectors, which was important to me because we were living so remotely. 

The breeder selected him for us based off an interview over the phone. I thought that when we got there we'd get our pick of the litter, but instead we were asked to be seated in the office as they carried him out to us–a little furball with giant paws, awkwardly stumbling around. Unlike your typical hyper and yappy puppy, he was as quiet as a church mouse. We still call him "the Buddha puppy" because he's been nothing but calm, conscious and contemplative ever since that first day. In fact, everyone is always surprised by how quiet he is. You'd almost think he was mute! He began talking only recently and only when he's in the car and knows we're going to the beach. He starts whining, as if to say: "Hurry, Mommy! I want to run around and play!"

The funny thing about Rocco is that he's very ritualistic. Every morning, he signals to our other dog Maya that he's ready to be groomed. She dutifully licks his face and nibbles around his neck–sometimes up to fifteen or twenty minutes! If she finishes too soon, he nudges her with his paw and tells her to continue. Then, he saunters out to the edge of the terrace and takes in the view of Tomales Bay. He just sits there and gazes out quietly. You can tell that he likes having the breeze flutter beneath his floppy ears because he closes his eyes and relishes it. We've even spied on him taking private walks through the garden and smelling the roses. (My boyfriend's sister says he reminds her of the bull in The Story of Ferdinand who would rather smell flowers than partake in bullfights.)

He sincerely believes that he is a human being. If there's a low chair around, he'll sit on that instead of the floor. And if I'm sitting on the floor, he'll sit on my lap. Sometimes he just wants me to hold his hand and give it a squeeze. His inner body clock is amazingly punctual. He always comes to me at six o'clock, on the dot, to let me know that it's dinnertime. Sometimes he appears at 5:55 p.m. to give me friendly reminders. When I take him down to the bay, he gets in the water on his own and paddles around for pleasure. He has a mind of his own but is also an obedient listener when he feels like it–usually when there's a treat involved.

Like an only child, he constantly pines for attention. He'll sit at my feet and blink his eyes until I acknowledge him. If I purposely ignore him, he'll start huffing and stomping around. He watches me cook in the kitchen and asks me to show him what I'm chopping by lightly pushing my leg with his paw. Even if it's a clove of garlic, he wants to have a sniff. He's very observant and engaged. He likes to follow my boyfriend around the property to help with whatever he can. If my boyfriend is digging up something from the ground, Rocco will start digging too. If my boyfriend is pulling up something, Rocco will find something to pull up too.

Rocco's presence is an absolute joy to have around. He makes me laugh so much. I talk to him as I would with any other person and he responds in his own way. I can't imagine my life without him. Sometimes the thought of one day losing him creeps in and I feel a pang in my heart. He's my little darling. I realized I haven't mentioned him yet on this blog and that's just a travesty because he's such a big part of my life! So, now you know about Rocco!

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