Sandra is one of the most self-actualized and complex people I know. She's kind of like an onion. Upon meeting her you would have no inkling of what she has experienced in her life that has brought her to now. You would never guess that she was artsy chick who could stand up to the tough girls in school when she needed to, or that she spent a time on the back of a Harley with her dad and uncle, camera strapped to her chest. You would see a woman of grace, spirituality, conviction and beauty. A woman with true gratitude for what she has; a woman with a wicked sense of humor. You would see a domestic goddess, a conceptual and photographic artist, and animal lover and a true foodie. I could go on about all her layers, but I want to get the point of where all this involves me, and food, and photography. If I were to break it down in the simplest way, I would say Sandra and I share a love of photography, food and a no-bullshit sensibility. I always look forward to coming over to Sandra's because I know that I'm going to eat well and I know that we'll giggle as we bore our husbands to death while we talk shop for hours. The food isn't just tasty and healthy but put together meticulously and with a focus on beautiful presentation. I didn't mention this yet, but Sandra once worked as a Photo Producer and this creeps into her life in the best ways now. Everything is served in simply elegant plates and dishes, usually white, so that the food can be appreciated without distraction. I was invited over for a casual breakfast meeting one morning and I was presented with an individual egg and cheese souffle-like dish served to me in a tiny ramekin, and a cup of tea, milk and honey. This was a just a casual weekday breakfast! But that's just Sandra, weekend cooking and entertaining never get a rest in her house. It's always an occasion.
So you can see why I would like to capture her preparing and eating a meal that means a lot to her; a meal that has a lot of history and brings her back to her roots: spaghetti & meatballs.
Spaghetti & meatballs was one of the meals that Sandra's dad would make. Her mom did most of the cooking in their family but her dad made great breakfast, grilled meats and spaghetti & meatballs. The first two things I mentioned he made on a fairly regular basis, but spaghetti & meatballs was a once in a while kind of thing that everyone looked forward to; and it was always made on a Sunday.
The day would begin with a trip to the Public Market on the north end of Main Street in Sandra's hometown, Middletown, CT. Not only did they pick up all the fixings for the sauce and meatballs, they always got an assortment of Italian and Sicilian specialties to snack on throughout the day.... You know, a warm up for the main event. This assortment usually consisted of fresh Italian breads, cold cuts, cheeses and Sicilian pickled vegetables (cauliflower, carrots, peppers, celery). As if that wasn't enough, Italian cookies and cannoli often found their way into the shopping basket. I honestly don't know how they had room for the spaghetti & meatballs after all this noshing, but that's just me.
As soon as they got everything home, Sandra's dad's military background really came out. The fridge had to be cleaned out and organized before any of the newly purchased food could make its way onto the shelves; all the cans in the cabinets rotated before the new cans of Hunt's tomatoes could be put away. I mean, this man ran a tight ship; nobody dared digress from his stringent system.
Sandra's dad learned how to make spaghetti & meatballs from his mother, Sandra's grandmother, and there was definitely a huge element of tradition there. Over the years, however, he came to put his own little twists on the dish. He always used Pecorino Romano instead of Parmigiano Reggiano because he felt like it had richer flavor. He only used ground beef for the meatballs, omitting the ground veal, and always used bone-in pork chops in the sauce. This tradition has since changed again with Sandra who uses boneless pork chops and whichever canned tomatoes are available. Where her dad used chunks of white bread soaked in milk, she prefers large breadcrumbs. The result is always the same though; amazingly rich meatballs in a super flavorful sauce. This combination, heaped on a pile of spaghetti and sprinkled with Pecorino Romano, is heaven in a bowl. I'm diggin' this tradition.
Tradition is something that we keep going but doesn't always mean sticking to the task one hundred percent. The thought of the person or people who start the tradition and the positive feelings that arise around this are the most important aspects. Whenever I make my Tia Cora's empanada recipe on Christmas Eve, I don't follow the recipe completely but it always makes me feel that she's there with me in spirit nonetheless. I never used to put much stock in tradition; I think I thought it meant never being individual or creative but now I see that it's a way for us to connect to each other culturally, spiritually, creatively and emotionally. I love hearing of how other people connect to their traditions; thank you Sandra for sharing such a story!
Beautiful little details, her faith and her cats are things that are very dear to Sandra's heart:
This is what we do - A woman, her camera and her cat: An impromptu photo session with Zeus:
Beauty is in the simple things:
The suspense is killing me, get that pasta cooked!
Spaghetti & Meatballs:
Meatballs 1 lb ground beef 2 cups cubed plain bread crumbs 1 cup milk 1 cup grated pecorino romano cheese 1 small onion 1/2 cup fresh flat leaf parsley 2 teaspoons dried oregano 1 egg pinch of salt and pepper
4 pork chops
Sauce 4 15 oz cans of tomato sauce 1 15 oz can of diced tomato 1 small can of tomato paste 1/4 cup fresh basil leaves 3 bay leaves pinch of salt and pepper
Combine milk and bread crumbs. Let stand while other ingredients are prepared. Chop parsley and onion. In a large bowl, combine beef, onion, parsley, cheese, oregano, egg, salt, pepper and soaked bread crumbs. Mix together well with hands. Form meatballs, set on plate. Heat skillet to medium high heat and cook meatballs until golden brown on all sides. Set on a plate with a paper towel to absorb excess grease.
Salt and pepper pork chops and brown in same skillet until brown on both sides. Set on paper towel as well.
Bring sauce to a slow boil and turn on medium low heat. Add meat and let cook for 2 hours covered stirring occasionally.
To serve; ladle generously over freshly cooked spaghetti and sprinkle with grated Pecorino Romano