Chilly Today, Hot Tamale

So, I’ve become obsessed with tamales.

There used to be a place near where I worked in lower downtown Denver that made delicious tamales. The old-fashioned kind that were wrapped in corn husks and sold for something like a buck-and-a-half each. I would occasionally walk over and get a dozen for my coworkers and me on a Friday morning. Sometimes I would buy a half dozen or so for a Sunday morning.

For the past few years that we have been coming here in the winter, I have looked for tamales such as these. Many of the Mexican restaurants offer tamales on their menu, but they weren’t quite what I was looking for. I wanted the tamales that were inexpensive, wrapped in those corn husks, smelling delightfully of masa, pork and chili. Restaurants offer tamales sitting on a plate covered in green chili. Probably good, but not what I wanted.

My sister-in-law made tamales for the Mexican feast she hosted on Sunday, and they were very good, filled with Monterey Jack cheese, spinach, and a green chili. I haven’t been able to get my mind off of them since that feast. So yesterday I went on a full-out internet search for someplace in the East Valley that sells tamales.

Eureka. I found Old El Paso Tamales, a little storefront shop near the heavily Hispanic occupied section of Mesa. The reviews were good, and I got my hopes up. I asked Bill if he was willing to take a field trip yesterday after we worked out (for the first time in a month – we deserved a reward). Not surprisingly, he was game.

About s 20-minute ride from our house, the shop was located in an area fairly unfamiliar to us. We found it easily enough, however. As we walked up to the door, I told Bill I probably would have been smart to call ahead and make sure they were open on Mondays. Sure enough, the sign said “Closed Mondays.” Still, it looked like there were customers inside, and indeed, the door was open. The nicest young man helped me as I ordered four tamales – two chicken and chili and two pork. We ate our chicken first, and they were delicious. Very spicy. When I bit into what I thought was the pork, I was surprised to bite into very sweet yumminess. “It tastes exactly like I’m eating an ear of really delicious sweet corn,” I told Bill. I figured out that while I asked for pork, what the proprietor heard was corn. I have never eaten a corn tamale, and it was surprisingly delicious. Sweet as candy.

Needless to say, we took some home to freeze.

Since we were in the neighborhood, we stopped at a large Mexican market called Pro’s Ranch Market. It seriously is like entering another country. The first sign that we weren’t in Kansas anymore was the chickens with intact heads in the meat case. That, and the cow hooves, tongue, and tripe. It was, however, a fun experience. I picked up some instant masa for a tamale-making experience I’m going to have with a friend in a couple of weeks.

Actually, the first sign that I was out of my neighborhood was when I got out of our car that was parked right next to a truck. Inside the truck, which had the windows rolled down, was a woman talking on a cell phone. As I walked by the truck, I heard her say, “Well, now that they have my fingerprints, they will find out about my drug charge.” There you have it. Why I never give my fingerprints…..

The Old El Paso Tamale shop proprietor gave Bill and me a sample of his green chili. I was surprised and happy to see that his green chili was made using ground beef. Ground beef is, of course, not typical in green chili, but it was typical of green chili in Leadville, where I first became familiar with Mexican food. My sister Jen makes excellent green chili with ground beef. Here is her recipe.

Jen’s Green Chili

Ingredients
1 lb. ground beef
1 onion, chopped
5-6 fresh, roasted green chilis
1-16 oz. can whole tomatoes
1 T. flour
1 clove garlic, minced
Salt and pepper

Process
Brown the ground beef with the chopped onion and salt and pepper. Drain grease. Place fresh chilis in the bottom of a blender. Add tomatoes to blender, along with a half a can of water. Blend for a few seconds. Add flour to ground beef and incorporate. Stir in tomato mixture, garlic, and pinch of salt and pepper. Simmer until flavors have blended, about an hour.

Nana’s Notes: I had never tasted green chili until moving to Leadville in 1973. Ground beef in the chili is the way my family learned to make it. It’s very unusual to run into it in a restaurant. The proprietor was very pleased that I commented on it favorably. The spiciness in the green chili is entirely dependent upon the chilis. Some are hotter than others. My family mostly likes it pretty darn hot. She always gets her chilis in the fall when they are roasting Hatch’s green chilis. Surprisingly, you can’t get New Mexico green chilis in Arizona. Or at least I haven’t found them.

Looking Back, Part I

Whew. We are looking at the final couple of days of 2013, and as always, it seems to have gone by quickly.

Bill and I left Denver on Christmas Day after spending the final few days before we left with three-fourths of our children (the other living in Vermont). We had a lovely Christmas Eve dinner with the oldest, Allen, at McCormick and Schmicks, and felt like real grown-ups as we didn’t eat until 7:30.

Christmas morning we got into our already-packed car and headed south. Bill’s engineering mind kicks into full gear when he packs a car. He utilizes every square inch of the trunk and the back seat, leaving just enough room for our goodie bag.

The roads Christmas Day were very quiet. We listened to Christmas music as we headed towards our first stop – Albuquerque. We checked into the hotel early evening where I’m pretty darn sure we were the only guests. (Thankfully I didn’t see Norman Bates.) We have this down to a science. We always pack one little bag for just those things that we need for overnight – pajamas, meds, toothbrush, and toothpaste. This time we also had a bag with our Christmas dinner.

I knew there would be no restaurants open Christmas night, so, at Bill’s suggestion, I packed a picnic reminiscent of those we had when we traveled through Europe a few years ago. I had salami and prosciutto, several cheeses, some vegetables, and of course, a bottle of wine. It made for a nice little dinner.

I’m always nostalgic at saying goodbye to one year and looking forward to the next. First of all, it means we are getting older and so are our kids and grandkids. That’s the cycle of life, of course. But I also always wonder if I accomplished anything important during the past year, or was I just a slug, using God’s resources and breathing God’s air and not contributing a single thing.

As I thought about 2013, I finally concluded that I didn’t accomplish anything in the finding-a-cure-for-cancer type of way, but I certainly feel like it was a good year, full of joy and family (which are really one in the same for me).

Here are a couple of things that were important to me in 2013:

Largely because of my job, I was able to travel around the United States a great deal. There really aren’t many major cities that I haven’t been able to visit. But my job (or my life in general) had never allowed me the opportunity to visit Savannah, Georgia, and that was definitely on my bucket list. This year Bill and I spent a week with my two sisters on Hilton Head Island, and we visited Savannah. What a beautiful city and what a lot of fun we had! We even had the chance to dine at Lady and Sons Restaurant, which was definitely a bucket list item (my bucket list is pretty simple, my friends).

I started this blog. I have always loved to write, but while my job involved a lot of writing, it was all business writing, and largely boring. Approximately 22,000 new widgets will be produced this year as a result of a stronger commitment to the environment, it was announced today by CEO Joe Schmoe at a press conference announcing new widget production. And so forth. I wanted to enjoy writing, and this blog provides that enjoyment. I hope to continue to grow and reach more people, and welcome any and all feedback.

This year at Thanksgiving, my whole family was together – a somewhat rare occurrence. Our daughter and family spent the week in Denver, and the visit was culminated by a joyous Thanksgiving dinner. I showed the family photo the other day to one of my nieces. She looked at it, shook her head in amazement and said, “Aunt Kris, I can’t believe you have that family when you just had one kid.” True, true, true. I am so blessed.

Today I am spending the day with my two sisters at a fancy, dancy spa (where I will likely have to unveil my bare, oh-so-white legs). This is a continuance of my birthday celebration, as it is a gift from my sister Bec. Fodder for my blog, no doubt.

I will reminisce about 2013 more tomorrow.

Last night we watched the Call the Midwife holiday special, and in its honor, I fixed Shepherd’s Pie – a British specialty. Here is the recipe from Simply Recipes.

Easy Shepherd’s Pie

Ingredients
1-1/2 lbs. ground beef
1 onion, chopped
1-2 c. vegetables (carrots, corn, peas)
1-1/2 – 2 lbs. potatoes (3 big ones)
8 T. butter
½ c. beef broth
1 t. Worcestershire sauce
Salt, pepper, seasonings of choice

Process
Peel and quarter potatoes, boil in salted water until tender (about 20 minutes). While potatoes are cooking, melt 4 T. butter in large frying pan. Sauté onions in butter until tender over medium heat, about 10 minutes. If you are adding vegetables, add them according to cooking time. Put any carrots in with the onions. Add corn or peas either at the end of the cooking of the onions, or after the meat has initially cooked.

Add ground beef and sauté until no longer pink. Add salt and pepper, Worcestershire sauce, and half a cup of beef broth. Cook uncovered over low heat for 10 minutes.

Mash the potatoes in bowl with remainder of butter; season to taste.

Place beef and vegetable mix into a baking dish. Spread mashed potatoes over the top. Bake in 400 degree oven until bubbling and brown (about 30 minutes). Broil for last few minute if necessary to brown.

Nana’s Notes: I did not make mashed potatoes; instead, I bought the already packaged kind. Very easy. I used fresh carrots that I diced and frozen corn. The Call the Midwife special was awesome!

Frozen Solid

I woke up early yesterday morning and got on Amazon to place my Christmas order. I found everything I wanted and put it in my shopping cart, but decided to wait until afternoon to push the button because I wanted to ask one of my daughters-in-law what her youngest would like for Christmas. I thought I might be able to include it in the order.

By jove, I got her suggestion yesterday afternoon, went back to my computer, and my Amazon world had changed. Some things were no longer available; the price on one thing had gone up significantly; the delivery date for another was not until after Christmas. Holy Moley! Only four hours later. Cyber Monday v. Nana, and Cyber Monday won.

Still, I was able to figure most everything out, and now a big chunk of my Christmas shopping is done. The rest should be easy. As an interesting side note, according to Jeff Bezos (the Amazon czar), in a relatively short period of time (sometime after 2015), my order will possibly be delivered by a tiny little drone that will land in my front yard. Seriously, it gets creepier and creepier.

The four hours I spent not pushing the “place order” button on Amazon.com were not spent unwisely, however. I took two of my granddaughters to see the movie Frozen. It was a 1:15 showing, and after plopping down $23 for tickets and another $12 for popcorn, watermelon-flavored Sour Patch Kids and fruit-flavored Mike & Ikes, I hurried them into the theater, hoping we could still get a seat as the movie was scheduled to begin in a couple of minutes. Much to my surprise, the theater was entirely empty. Apparently, if people weren’t at work, they were either shopping at the malls or sitting at home buying all of my Amazon items. The movie, Friends, was phenomenal. Seriously, I enjoyed it very much. The animation was amazing and the music was awesome. Typical Disney princess story line, only in a frozen tundra. But some of the characters offered dialogue that made me laugh out loud.

I am so happy that they make children’s movies now that are also enjoyable to the adult person taking them to the movie. Back when my son was small, the movies I had to sit through were terrible. I will accept the PG rating for the new kids’ movies as long as I can enjoy them as well. They don’t understand the PG stuff anyway.

I highly recommend the movie.

Tonight, in keeping with my healthy eating post-Thanksgiving, I made a version of my mother’s chili recipe, adding delicious vegetables and a couple of kinds of beans to add fiber. When all is said and done, it really isn’t much like my mother’s chili, but I’m going to give you her recipe, exactly as it is on the recipe card, because it makes me laugh every time I see it.

Beckie’s Chili (originally my chili)

Ingredients
1 lb. ground beef
1 lg. onion, chopped
1 t. salt
2-3 T. chili powder
1 T vinegar
1-1/2 T. brown sugar
1 c. water
1 8 oz. can tomato sauce
1 can kidney beans
Garlic salt

Process
Brown ground beef and onion. Add rest of ingredients.

Nana’s Notes: It always makes me laugh that she calls it Beckie’s chili, but adds that it was originally her chili. Is my sister Beckie a chili recipe thief? Or is it just that Mom always loved her best so she will attribute her recipe to Beckie? I will never know.

My version uses very lean ground beef (sometimes I use half ground beef and half ground turkey). I sauté a clove of garlic with the onion and beef and leave out the garlic salt. In addition to the chili powder, I also add a tsp. of ground cumin. I leave out the vinegar and the brown sugar. Instead of tomato sauce, I used a can of tomato paste and a can of fire-roasted diced tomatoes. I also added a green pepper for flavor and vitamins. Finally, in addition to kidney beans, I also added a can of black beans. I know I was going to go low-carb this week, but beans are good carbs with lots of fiber. I won’t apologize.

If I were smart, I would have waited until Thursday to serve chili as the high is only expected to reach 8. Yikes!

Impatiently Waiting for Patience

We’ve had a really pretty and fairly warm autumn. My heavy winter coat still hasn’t seen the light of day. But this morning we all woke up to snow and the temperatures probably won’t get out of the mid-teens. Thankfully Bill got most of the leaves picked up during the warm weather last week, and the snow will make certain the rest will come down this weekend. Our daughter and her family will be making their way from Vermont on Friday, and this weather, which is supposed to last the next few days, won’t be anything new to them.

As you can see, I don’t really have much in the way of a theme this morning. Yesterday Bill had his semiannual checkup with his neurologist/movement disorder specialist. He is always calm; I, on the other hand, am always a wreck. Having survived yesterday, my mind is kind of weary.

I’m happy to say that his appointment went well. His progression remains slow, and he was put on a different medication which is purported to be practically magical in how well it treats the symptoms! Keeping my fingers crossed.

There is no point in dwelling every day on why Bill has Parkinson’s. The reality is that no one knows why anyone gets it. I’ve never believed, certainly, that God sits up on his big white throne in heaven and points at people and says, “You’re going to get cancer, and you’re going to be in a car accident, and you’re going to get PD.” He put us on earth and we have free will and the way the earth was created leads to weather events and so forth. And, frankly, yucky stuff happens to people who don’t deserve it, and nobody understands why.

What I do spend a lot of time thinking about, however, is how Bill and I can handle our life and what we can we get out of it. Bill, for his part, handles his PD with absolute grace and dignity. He pretty much just ignores the fact that he has PD and lives his life, perhaps doing things different ways or asking me or others for help with no embarrasment. I am telling you, the man NEVER, EVER COMPLAINS.

I complain a lot, I’m afraid. Maybe not to others, but to myself, through impatience. But I believe that I am slowly but surely learning to be more patient. The other day I was walking down a narrow aisle behind a woman with a slight walking impairment who was moving quite slowly. I found myself getting so impatient, though I had nowhere I had to be. The good news is that I recognized my fault. She is clearly unable to walk faster, I reminded myself, and she likely wishes she could. Get a grip!

Patience is a virtue, isn’t it? It’s hard for me to wait to gain that particular virtue! (Wow. I crack myself up.)

I was tired after the appointment and knew I wouldn’t want to cook, so we made a stop at the grocery store and I bought the fixings for a really cheating dinner. I bought a half pound of ground beef, a bottle of good spaghetti sauce, and some spinach and grated carrots from the salad bar. At home I browned the ground beef and added the vegetables to the browned meat to soften. I added the sauce and served it over spaghetti. A one-pot meal! I didn’t even have to bother with making a salad.

Theology and 5-Yr.Olds

Our oldest granddaughter will be moving on to middle school next year (nooooooo, say it isn’t so!). It used to be so easy knowing which school your child will be attending, but now the multitude of options leads to the need for much more consideration about where to go. There are math magnets and science magnets and music and arts magnets, for example. There is also the neighborhood school where it is likely that most of her classmates will go.

Anyhoo, Addie spent much of yesterday shadowing a middle school student at the neighborhood school as part of her consideration process. In the morning, her mom and dad attended a parents’ meeting. That left the other three kids without rides to school, so Nana and Papa to the rescue! Bill took the two middle kids to their nearby school, and I took the little one, along with a neighborhood friend, to their kindergarten class which is a ways away.

Let me tell you, if you are in a bad mood, just drive two exceptionally bright 5-year-old girls to school and listen to their conversation. You will undoubtedly be smiling when you drop them off. At one point, my granddaughter was telling her friend about skiing Mt. Kilarest. Hmmm. Mt. Kilarest might be a mountain with the height and majesty of Mt. Everest and the volcanoes of Mt. Kilimanjaro. Perhaps it’s located somewhere in Nepal? I don’t remember her being gone for that long. But she said it with such conviction that I certainly believed her.

I especially liked our theological conversation. My little Maggie tells me, “Nana, I have a dad who will never die.” I asked her to explain. “God,” she said, ever the good little church-going Presbyterian. Her little friend, not to be undone, says, “And Mary is our mother.” I nod enthusiastically, happy that they are absorbing their Sunday school lessons. Then Maggie’s friend asks me, “Nana Kris, is Mary dead?”

Now, I was in no mood to get into Catholic vs. Protestant theology. (As you may know, Catholics believe that Mary did not die, but instead was assumed body and soul into heaven.) “Well,” I said, “I am sure she is in heaven because she was the mother of Jesus. Now, Molly, have you ever skied Mt. Kilarest?” I am the master at changing the subject with kids.

Later in the day, Bill and I had a late breakfast at a neighborhood restaurant, where I had a rather pleasant experience. As we walked in, the hostess, who looked to be no older than 25 or so, greeted us with “Just the two of us?” Now, I am a big fan of vocal jazz, and one of my favorite songs is Just the Two of Us. Quite obviously, Bill Withers isn’t a big star amongst the 20-something age group (or really any age group, except those of us who like vocal jazz). Before thinking (which I am wont to do), I sang the first line of that song: “Just the two of us, we can make it if we try.” Much to my surprise, the young woman completed the next line: “Just the two of us, you and I.”

“Well,” I said. “I am surprised that you know that song. Are you a fan of Bill Withers?” She told me that she grew up in Iowa, and her mother would take her out for breakfast, at which she would invariably sing “Just the two of us, we can make it if we try…..” Her story seriously made me tear up. Here’s why. As parents or grandparents, we are never sure which of the things we say to our children or grandchildren have an impact. But it seems to me that it is usually those things that seem absolutely unimportant at the time. My new friend’s mother likely had no idea that her singing that song would be such a pleasant, and obviously lifelong, memory to her daughter.

It made me think back to my conversation with the two little girls in the car that morning. I rather doubt that anything I said will change their lives. But I must not forget that it’s the little things that my grandkids are going to remember about me, and they’d better be good.

And speaking of memories, one of my favorite memories is my mother making her delicious meat loaf. I am a big fan of the meat loaf, but this recipe is different than most meat loaf recipes. Perhaps the biggest difference is NO KETCHUP. That is in the plus column for me. I don’t particularly dislike ketchup, but I’m not nuts about it as part of my meat loaf.

I wouldn’t be surprised if many of you reading this blog have a favorite meat loaf recipe. Share it with me via comments! Even if it has ketchup.

Mom’s Onion Gravy Meatloaf

Ingredients
1 lb. ground beef
1 slice bread, torn into small pieces
1 c. milk
1/8 t. celery salt
1 pkg. onion gravy mix
1 egg, beaten

Process
Place the bread in a small bowl and pour the milk over it. Add the package of onion gravy mix. Let it sit for 15-30 min., until the bread has absorbed most of the milk. Add the ground beef and the beaten egg, and mix just until combined.

Bake in a loaf pan for one hour at 350 degrees.

Nana’s Note: The resulting meat loaf is more moist than your typical meat loaf. I have played around with the recipe, decreasing the amount of milk, using bread crumbs instead of cubed bread, etc. I have never been satisfied, because it then doesn’t taste like the meat loaf my mommy made. I serve it with mashed potatoes and additional gravy.

Blood, Sweat and Prayers

Bill and I are pretty religious about going to 24 Hour Fitness three times a week. We both do interval training on a treadmill for about 45 minutes or thereabouts. Neither one of us like to exercise. We often point out that we NEVER look forward to going to the gym and we NEVER enjoy the time during which we are working out. In fact, the only time we feel content is when our time is up – likely a combination of endorphins and knowing we don’t have to face the treadmill for another 48 hours.

But we have pretty good motivation. In 2009, Bill was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. PD has no known cause or cure as of yet. Surprisingly little is understood about it except that it just sucks to have it. Research is showing, however, that aerobic exercise can slow progression. So Bill and I faithfully exercise.

And I pray. I pray and pray and pray. Every morning I ask for Bill to be cured of his affliction. While doing so, I recognize there is no cure as of yet. Still, all three of Sunday’s Mass scripture readings remind us to pray relentlessly. In the Old Testament reading, you had the Israelites winning the war against the Amaleks as long as Moses’ hands were raised in prayer. St. Paul’s second letter to Timothy reminded him (and us) to “be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient….” And finally, and most obviously, in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus uses the parable of the nagging widow and the judge to remind us to never stop asking God to answer our prayers. When I heard that, I thought, “Hey, if there is one thing I am good at, it’s nagging!”

A number of years ago I came across a quote about prayer that I never forget. Here it is: God answers all of our prayers in one of three ways – yes, not now, or I have a better idea. I will continue to nag, I mean, pray, and God will answer my prayer. In fact, I remind myself that he answers my prayer every day by making Bill’s progression blessedly slow. We help out by exercising.

On a side note, I recently was working out very hard on the treadmill, scarcely noticing who was on the treadmill next to me. I finished one of my fast intervals, and my neighbor says, “My, you really work hard, don’t you?” I looked over to see a really pretty white-haired woman. I’m bad at ages, but I took her to be a minimum of 80 years old. We began chatting about the importance of exercise. She told me she works out three times a week on the treadmill for a half hour, and then goes to a seniors’ weight class for an hour. I glanced down to see that she was walking at a speed of 3 mph. (For reference, my intervals are at 4 and 6 mph.) I complimented her on her diligence and she informed me that she was 92 years old.

Now that’s inspiration!

Recently Bill asked me to make pasta with Bolognese. I love cooking this sauce, first, because it’s yummy, and second, because it takes several hours to cook and I love the way the house smells while the sauce perks away. As always, when I make anything Italian, I bring out one of my old, red-sauce-stained Lidia cookbooks. Lidia Bastianich is my favorite Italian chef, and maybe my favorite anything chef, of all time. That’s why my Lidia cookbooks are wrinkled and stained. A sign that a cookbook is loved.

Meat Sauce Bolognese

Directions
3 T. olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, minced (about 1 c.)
1 medium carrot, peeled and finely shredded (about ½ c.)
½ c. minced celery, with leaves
Salt
1 lb. ground beef
1 lb. ground pork
½ c. dry red wine
1 T tomato paste
3 . canned Italian plum tomatoes, with their liquid, crushed
3 bay leaves
Freshly ground black pepper
4 c. hot water, or as needed

Process
Heat the olive oil in a wide 3-4 qt. pan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Stir in the onion, carrot, and celery, season them lightly with salt, and cook, stirring, until the onion is translucent, about 4 min. Crumble in the ground beef and pork and continue cooking, stirring to break up the meat, until all the liquid the meat has given off is evaporated and the meat is lightly browned, about 10 min. Pour in the wine and cook, scraping the bottom of the pan, until the wine is evaporated, 3-4 min. Stir in the tomato paste and cook a few minutes. Pour in the tomatoes, toss in the bay leaves, and season lightly with salt and pepper.

Bring to a boil, then lower the heat so the sauce is at a lively simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is dense but juicy and a rich dark-red color. Most likely a noticeable layer of oil will float to the top toward the end of cooking. This will take about 2-3 hours – the longer you cook it, the better it will become. While the sauce is cooking, add hot water as necessary to keep the meat and vegetables covered. The oil can be removed with a spoon or reincorporated in the sauce, which is what is done traditionally.

Makes 6 c., enough to dress about 1-1/2 lbs. dried pasta

Nana’s Notes: Traditionally, a long, flat pasta is used, such as tagliolini. I frequently use spaghetti, but used penne this time and it worked very well. Also, I cut the recipe in half, and it worked great for the two of us. I had some left over that won’t go to waste! Just try not tasting it throughout the afternoon. I dare you.

An Arizona Bash

Last Friday Bill and I climbed into our car and began making our way to our desert house.

A couple of years ago, my sister suggested to us that we consider purchasing a second home with her in Arizona. It made sense. Nearly all of our extended families are here. And we all dislike the cold and snow more and more as we get older. We took the plunge and haven’t looked back. Bill and I spend Christmas to Mother’s Day here, and Jen, who is still working, comes as often as possible. We find we are very good house mates.

We all arrived here on Saturday, and hit the ground running, hosting a huge family party at our house (which we have dubbed Bungalow Bill’s) in honor of my sister’s grandson’s 3rd birthday. We had nearly the entire Arizona gang here, except my older sister who is traveling in Europe, her son who is sick with a cold, and his 7-year-old daughter who was at a sleepover. I have spoken before about my wonderful family, all of whom are enthusiastic, loving, funny, and full of life. Our parties are always lively and there is always a plethora of food. My sister Jennifer was the primary chef this time, and her offerings centered around delicious cheese-stuffed meatballs with rigatoni.

She busily cooked, all the while dodging the kids – cousins ranging in age from 7 months to 7 years and two more on the way – and enjoying the background noise of laughter, squealing kids, and football. We munched on chips and guac and a delicious salami appetizer Jen had gotten from an episode of Barefoot Contessa.

There is hardly anything in the world I love more than getting together with family. All that’s left of this gathering are deflating balloons and a left-behind pacifier! Signs of a good party.

Gatherings of loved ones, no matter how big or how small, remind us that we are not solitary creatures, and that all of those little problems we think are insurmountable really aren’t as long as you have friends and family who love you.

Jen’s meatballs came from a recipe she got from Mix and Match Mama’s blog. Here it is:

Provolone Stuffed Meatballs

Ingredients
1 lb. ground beef
1/2 onion, grated
4 cloves garlic, grated
1 c. panko breadcrumbs
1/2 c. Parmesan cheese, grated
2 eggs, beaten
2 splashes milk
1 t. crushed red pepper
4-6 oz. Provolone cheese
Salt and pepper
Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Process
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

In a medium bowl, combine ground beef, onion, garlic, bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, eggs, milk, crushed red pepper and salt and pepper. As you roll a meatball, take a piece of your provolone and stick it in the center, rolling the meat mixture all the way around it and then place on a foil-lined, lightly greased baking pan. Drizzle about a tablespoon of olive oil over all of the meatballs. Roast in the oven about 20 minutes, or until brown.

Serve over spaghetti or have them as individual appetizers.