Sauce.

You are thinking this is going to be a post about alcohol. It could be. It’s not. But since we’re on the topic of sauce, why don’t you grab a glass of wine and cozy up to enjoy. Today I am talking about real live sauce, pasta-topper, if you will.

One great delight is my weekly CSA drop-off day. To know me is to know I really get my jollies on fresh fruits and vegetables. Well, we’re getting to the end of the season here and last week I found myself with about 8 billion Roma tomatoes all on the verge of spoilage. Had it been 8 billion multi-colored heirloom cherries, I probably could have put them away as those little guys are like candy, but Romas are famous for not having a whole lot of taste.

My intuition was suggesting a large-scale slow roast. Most things are better when they’ve been in the oven a few hours so I sliced those Romas in half and threw them in the oven. The smell it put into my apartment would have been enough to make the simple endeavor worth it, but the taste was certainly nothing to sneeze at. They went from bland and lifeless to mind-blowing in just a matter of three short hours.

But then what? I was ready to eat the roasted tomatoes right out of the pan, but then another stroke of brilliance: sauce. I would make my very own sauce. I got some help from Mark Bittman on this one and proceeded to do all of the chef-y things like sauteeing onion and throwing in red wine and then proceeding to reduce the whole works. I cooked with wine, I reduced a sauce. I mean, I was a regular David Adjey (a delight for another post).

But what was going on here was not so much a pleasure in making my dinner as a joy in the act of creating. I really like to make stuff. Pasta sauce, yes, since I am now the resident expert, but also things I don’t consume like cupcakes, collages, and poetry. You don’t have to be a gallery artist or a Food Network chef to create. Look at all the interesting things people make, little kids for example. God himself is the ultimate Creator and He has created us in his image—with both the impulse and the ability to produce and reproduce and create. More than my pasta sauce, it is that impulse and that gift that really excites me.

But I have to say it, I really did rock that sauce. After the fancy chef moves, I added mushrooms, zucchini, and more onion. I put the water on to boil and in 7 minutes I had a little brown rice penne action. I sliced the fresh mozzarella, applied the much-anticipated sauce, whipped out my Microplane for a dusting of Pecorino Romano and bam! The dinner bell was ringin’.

I sat down to my creation and I’ll just put it this way: my sense of delight could not have been greater than if I myself had invented pasta, or perhaps the entire nation of Italy, or the world. As I was cleaning up my dishes I’m thinking, “I am Mario Bataldi. I am the literal goddess of pasta sauce creation.” Well, okay, the creativity shouldn’t lead to wanton ego-tripping, but it should lead to immense wonder that amazing things can be made on this earth and that we can make them.

So what do you create? God is a creative God and we were made in his image, therefore a very large part of being a human on this earth, and glorifying God, is exercising the creative muscle and drawing upon that creative spirit. What do you make? What do you want to make? What’s stopping you?

This girl may not have much, but I think G. Love says it best:

Dulcinea.

One thing I really get a kick out of is the goofy national holiday. From Blueberry Popsicle Day to International Talk Like A Pirate Day (both celebrated in the month of September), I really dig the desire to make each day just a little more special.

The second Sunday in September is National Pet Memorial Day. With the 9/11 ten-year anniversary and Grandparent’s Day competing for attention, I can imagine Pet Memorial Day isn’t going to get a big turn out.

But it did give me cause to think on my own departed pets. There was my hamster, Frisky, who passed back in third grade, and then a couple dwarf hamsters that mysteriously perished when left in my father’s care while I was on a summer vacation, and a handful of fish. I definitely shed a tear upon the loss of my first fish won at a carnival, and Frisky’s passing choked me up a little as well, but nothing prepared me for what happened to Dulcinea. Nothing in the loss of former pets would have indicated to me that losing her would break me. I didn’t even think it possible.

When I was doing missions down in Piedras Negras, one of my tasks was to pick up an elderly woman who had been injured in the flood of April 2004. Though it was several months after the inundation, her shoulder had never been quite right. I drove into her neighborhood and got out of my pickup to greet her. Her granddaughter was with her as was a very small brown puppy that this elderly lady kept kind of kicking with her foot to get out of the way. Maybe it wasn’t an all-out kicking, but it was a little more than a nudge. I asked the granddaughter if this was her dog. They said it wasn’t. It just kept hanging around. It didn’t belong to anyone.

I took the woman to her appointment and brought her home again but later that night, I couldn’t stop thinking about that dog. She was surely a mutt, but little, like a dachshund or terrier. Our ministry had a vet clinic—maybe I could go back and get the dog and bring it to the vet.

I got what I needed—the director’s permission to go out hunting the dog, and a male staff member to accompany me. Certain that this dog was carrying any number of parasites we took a big sheet as well. It was evening now—we had to hurry if we would find her before dark.

I went back to the house where the grandmother lived, but no dog. We parked the truck and went on foot. We walked the neighborhood with our eyes to the ground looking for a little ball of brown under a bush or digging near a trash bag. There was nothing. The dog could be anywhere. We started interrupting families sitting on their porches to ask them if they had seen this dog.

Finally someone had. They pointed us in the direction of a house down the street. We took off. And there she was, sitting on their front stoop, just laying there. We walked up to the front door to talk to the family. I asked if this was their dog. It wasn’t, it was just hanging around. Okay, well, were they planning to make it their dog?  Not really, no. In that case could I take her? Whatever.

Wrapped in the sheet, my girl spent the night in my bathtub, completely covered in mange, until I could get her to the clinic first thing in the morning.

It was suggested by my co-rescuer that she be called “Dulcinea” after Don Quixote’s ladylove. I loved it.

After a full week with the missionary vet and some more time with the local Mexican vet, this dog was spruced up. And there was another thing. After much persuasion, I got parental clearance to bring her home as a present for Sister C’s 10th birthday. I knew how much she ached for her own dog and Dulcinea was it—I knew C. would love and care for this dog wholeheartedly. I was taking her home.

I could have wet myself I was so excited to give her to C. I carried her on the plane in her little doggy bag and when I got back to Minneapolis, I presented the surprise.

There is a very strange and scary thing about love at first sight. Your emotions take off before your head can catch up. In spite of yourself, and your better judgment, and your internal signals warning you to avoid vulnerability at all costs, you are given completely to something or someone else. You didn’t plan it and you certainly can’t explain it. Dulcinea was like that.

We fell hard for her—every one of us. C dressed her up and put beads around her neck, I carried her through Target in my purse, we delighted in her and her dogginess. I tell you, that dog was the feckin sheesh and I don’t even like dogs.

But about two weeks later, our little ladylove wasn’t doing so hot. As I sat with her at Starbucks on a cool summer night, waiting for C to get out of her music lesson, her breathing was labored. She seemed exhausted, she had no spunk. When C got out, we decided this dog needed to see a vet. As it was after hours and this wasn’t your run-of-the-mill suburban dog, we took her to the University of Minnesota vet clinic. And we waited.

Then they came to get me and I went back into the examining room…alone. They explained. It was fluid around her heart. She was dying. They were sorry.

Okay. Okay. We’ll take her home. The family will want to see her and say good-bye (everybody loved her so much by then).

No. She is dying now. It would not be advisable to take her out of the clinic.

You mean…?

Yes.

I walked back to the waiting room where C sat waiting for me. Burned into my mind forever is the image of her receiving that news, the way her ten-year-old hands went to her eyes to catch her tears, and the remarkable display of courage that followed. I would still give anything to remove her from the pain of those moments. Everything about it was so wrong.

We prayed, we said goodbye, we went home.

And as my thirty-year old hands go to my face to wipe my tears, I remember that dog and the delightful month I had with her. There’s never been another like her. So for National Pet Memorial Day established by the International Association of Pet Cemeteries and Cremoratories (IAPC), Dulcinea, I salute you.

Free Pee.

Don’t get it twisted, this is no grand homage to the nation of my birth. But today I reflect upon one of the exactly two things that make me thankful I live in the U.S. I was going to put this out around the 4th of July, but I was busy not celebrating it (my patriotic dad loved that).

The first of two things I am grateful for is religious freedom. In my humble opinion, this is one of the things the U.S. really has going for it. The other highlight is the gas station bathroom. Having recently driven halfway across this great land, worshiping as I wished along the way, I had cause to think about our nation’s unwritten policy on restroom use.

This stands in stark contrast to nations like Spain, for example, where a person is barred from using the can unless they be a paying customer. My experience of living in Spain and never being able to get a bathroom when I needed one scarred me for a lot of years and coerced me thus to go into U.S. gas stations thinking I needed to purchase a pack of gum I wouldn’t chew or a bottle of water I didn’t need, simply for the privilege of taking a pee. Paranoid and anxious, I would get strategic with my stops: get gas at one station but wait an hour to get my coffee or water so I had another free pass to the bathroom. But of course you know where all those liquids put me about 45 minutes later.

In other countries, in locations where there are no purchasable goods like a cathedral in Italy for example, those bloody ‘money changers in the temple’ flat out demand a fee to use the W.C. Aren’t there better ways to gouge an already paying customer out of another euro than to charge them a tax because nature calls?

No more. For whatever else its faults, this country has it figured out on freedom to use a gas station bathroom with or without a purchase. You are a traveler on the road, a pilgrim on a journey, a fellow human being, and thus you have the God-given right to use other people’s plumbing, even if it costs them a pittance in TP and soap.

Maybe it sounds silly, but that actually makes me feel good. It reminds me that there is a little more operating in this place than just the pure capitalist machine. Altruism and good will for the fellow man still exists and that’s delightful.

Smacky-Smack.

I think I’m going to be in the minority on this delight, but I love the sound of people eating. And it’s not just that warm-fuzzy feel-good ‘mom’ feeling that comes from knowing that people are being nourished by the fruits of my labors. It’s the sound, the very smack.

Now to a lot of people, it will appear that I am advocating for people eating like pigs, which I certainly I am not. You can eat with regular food eating noises without being a slob and spilling all over yourself.

When I was in grad school, I used to sit in the lounge and there was this student who would always come in with a paper grocery bag containing the several courses of his lunch. He was not fat, he was just Asian and there was the soup, and the noodles, and the chopsticks, and the bowl, and several other elements necessitating a large shopping bag for transport. Anyways, I always tried to sit at a table near him because I knew he was a smacky-smack, slurpy-slurp eater, and the sound is pure valium to me.

People of other ethnicities are the loudest eaters (unless you count my dad who is 100% white). That’s not a criticism. Smacky eating doesn’t seem to be such a faux pas in other countries. That’s how you taste food, people. But in the über-sterile States where everything needs to be clean, white, quiet, and vanilla, you lack the variety in eating noises. In our house if you so much as breathe loud while chewing, you can expect to get a glare and probably a snarky comment. It’s a damn shame.

Am I weird for liking this? Probably. Do I stalk recent immigrants at meal times? Maybe a little bit. Don’t judge me. Better to like something weird than be perpetually annoyed by it. Try letting yourself enjoy the mealtime smack and slurp next time you hear it. You might find a new sense of peace and relaxation where once there had only been disdain.