As if days, weeks, months, years are only things to weather—to hunker down and power through—the uncharactered middle lengths of a road trip. In February I live by false peaks, and it ticks by fast, danced forward by its quiet drumbeat of minor celebrations. But now the Valentine flowers are dying. The office holiday Monday flickered away with the insouciance of a flaking dinner guest. We barely noticed the passage of the Lunar New Year; our city was buried, my family lived in a different world. And yesterday a birthday came and went, the saddest celebration of all, hungry as birthdays are, bloated as they are with exaggerated significance.
And now what. Now March. March, hungover from a monthlong party. March, empty of occasions to string me through unwanted weeks. And so the question, the question of courage, maybe of nerve: the question of what it takes to get us through it, if it is empty or hard or both. Weekends are a possibility. I’m as hungry for leisure as the next person, as hungry for off time, remember what this means. Failing weekends I could arrange trips. I could buy shoes. Throw dinner parties. Make lofty goals. Art. Eat. Begin to run again. Begin again.
But none of these are answers, I mean day-to-day, workable answers to the kind of despair that sets in when you realize you were happier, fuller, better off doing what you were doing a year ago, and when you realize you can’t go back. Allow me to be young for a moment, reader. I’m hungry for something to get me through my weeks that will fill me up. That will give me nerve. I’m hungry for something that won’t make me feel sick after a month of too much of it. And I’m open to suggestions.
All I’ve got to bracket my days these days is desire, that daylong pet, the thing my life boils down to. Desire, and striving, and crankiness, and soreness, and routine, and desire. Desire bookends every thought’s sentence. It quickens the heart and deepens the silences.
And maybe that’s an answer to a question, reader. This seems possible. Maybe just wanting is an answer to getting through. We could do worse than to spend our days in longing. But even desire needs its reminders, its charms against melancholy, against complaint.
And if that reminder is something as deeply unhip as a good lunch, as meatballs and spaghetti, so be it.
Meatballs and Spaghetti
For the meatballs:
– Half pound each of ground chuck, ground veal and ground pork
– 2/3 cup Panko breadcrumbs, wetted with milk
– 2 eggs
– 3 cloves of pulverized garlic
– Handful of Italian parsley, chopped
– 1 Tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
– 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
– Salt and pepper
– Canola oil
For the sauce:
– 1 24-oz can whole San Marzano tomatoes
– 2 shallots, finely chopped
– 3 anchovy fillets
– 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
– 1/4 tsp dried oregano
– Red pepper flakes
– Salt and pepper
– Olive oil
Make the meatballs. In a large bowl, combine ground meats, breadcrumbs, eggs, garlic, cheese, parsley, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Don’t be afraid to use your hands. Don’t overwork the meat. Season the mixture well. If you’re serious, check the seasoning on the meat before moving forward: form a little test-meatball and cook it in a skillet. Once it’s seasoned properly, refrigerate for at least 20 minutes.
While meatball mixture is firming up, make the sauce. Heat olive oil in a deep skillet over medium heat. Cook shallots with anchovies, oregano and a sprinkle of red pepper flakes until shallots turn translucent and anchovies melt. Add garlic, season lightly with salt, then add tomatoes, gently crushing each in your fist before it hits the pan. Then add all the juices from the can. You will make a mess. This is ok.
Simmer tomatoes over low heat.
Remove meatball mixture from refrigerator, and working quickly, form into 1 or 1.5 ounce balls.
Heat canola oil in a cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Sear meatballs on all sides until browned, and remove onto a paper-towel-lined plate.
Finish cooking meatballs by submerging them in tomato sauce. Simmer for at least 20 minutes. Remove from sauce, reserving sauce. You can stop here. These are fantastic to eat on their own.
Or you can boil spaghetti in salted water until it’s just barely crunchy, and add it to the skillet with the reserved sauce along with some of its cooking water and (this is important) simmer it until it’s al dente.
And plate it with the meatballs with some grated Parmesan and a sprig of parsley and I promise it’ll be the best damn dinner or lunch on this side of February.