When I was a kid, my grandmother made the BEST sauce. I know everyone says this about their grandmother, but this wasn’t the Italian grandmother who made “gravy” every Sunday. This was my little Grandma Nora who worked at a shoe store and sometimes made sauce on a Wednesday. This grandmother was a spitfire and lived to be 99 years old with only the last few years of that life in a nursing home.
So, what was so special about this sauce? Nothing. It just smelled great and tasted good. And what made this even more interesting is that it was not even particularly “homemade.” My grandmother cooked but did not really care about the circumstances around what she made. She had no issue with what she made as long as she liked it. She did not care if it was healthy or organic or made from fresh anything. She regularly kept Chef Boyardee in the pantry, and we kind of loved it as kids. She made whatever she felt like, and a lot of the time that involved an electric frying pan with an inch of cooking oil in it.
Why am I mentioning this? I think that sometimes in this world of expectations and perfect Facebook and Instagram lives, we are all worried about what we are doing and how it’s done. We feel bad if we don’t make our own sauce. In all honesty, our kids do not care. I mean really, in the end, no matter what we make, they will always prefer a Happy Meal . . . especially if we let them get a soda in place of the milk or juice. We aren’t making the sauce for them. We are making the sauce to say that we made the sauce to our family and friends and in-laws (who always think you should be doing it differently and better). We are making sauce to post a picture of it on Facebook or Instagram or Pinterest or Snapchat. We make the sauce as some notion of the fact that we are somehow nailing it as a parent because we conquered sauce for our family.
Now don’t get me wrong, I have people in my life who cook and love to make sauce. I actually love to make homemade sauce. However, the real world of living and working and raising kids doesn’t always allow me the time to stay home half a day to let sauce simmer on a stove. There are days I eat a dinner which consists of Chex cereal at 9 p.m. because I worked until 8 p.m. and the kids ate at my parents. This is real life, and honestly, I am just starting to realize this is okay. I am 41 years old — this realization has taken me too long and I have wasted too much time trying to meet other people’s expectations in the meantime.
And equally note, just because this is real life, it doesn’t mean that we should feel like we can’t have pasta if we didn’t make our own sauce (let’s not even start about if we made the macaroni!). We also shouldn’t feel like we are less of a parent because we opened a jar instead of taking our own sauce out of the pot or freezer. It also doesn’t mean that you can’t make great sauce in about a third of the time. It also does not mean that your life is wrong because you are living it your own way.
Back to Grandma Nora, her sauce was literally ridiculous. I would crave this sauce that consisted of literally two jars of store bought sauce (her favorite being Francesco Rinaldi) and ground beef. She tossed in some spices and sugar, but literally this was it . . . and she didn’t care . . . and I didn’t care. And it took me all of this time to realize that she didn’t stand there all day making it. What I remember most about my grandmother was that time stopped when we got there. I remember that she would play silly games with us and let us take all her spices out or play wedding in her “formal” living room. And that’s what matters. That’s what our kids and our families and our friends care about. They want us to be present and joyful in whatever we are doing.
So today, as I craved some “homemade” sauce, but looked at the tons of stuff I had to do while I had a baby fussing in the background, I made some of Grandma Nora’s sauce. Honestly, if I had company over, would anyone know I didn’t peel tomatoes to make this? And would they care? I mean, really? Would the people that matter in our lives care if we were so awful that we served them “doctored” sauce instead of something I made from scratch? If they are, maybe they are not the best people in our lives?
I wondered why my grandmother lived to be 99. What was her big secret to living so long? I don’t really know. It could be genetics, or it could be that piece of cake she ate EVERY day (that’s another story). But it could be not worrying about stuff like homemade sauce and the people who are judging you because you didn’t make it. Grandma Nora worried about a million other things, but how her sauce got made and put on the boxed pasta was not one of them. This is how we should all live. Enjoy your kids and your life and whatever makes you happy and open that jar and enjoy that “homemade” sauce!
Mama’s Homemade Sauce
1Lb ground beef
2 jars bottled sauce (any brand but Classico Tomato & Basil is my favorite)
Sugar – about a Teaspoon
2 Beef Bouillon Cubes
(Disclaimer: I do not measure when I cook. It’s not important to me. This is my crazy Italian heritage coming through. I know when it tastes good to me. Most of the time my measurement is about 3 shakes of whatever I am putting in).
Drizzle olive oil in the bottom of a pot. Place beef & spices into the pot. Brown the meat while breaking it up into small pieces.
Once beef is browned, pour in jars of sauce. Add more spices and bouillon cubes. Let simmer for about 30 minutes.
Make your pasta & enjoy it with people you love!
Amy Hlavaty Belcher owns a dance studio in Northeast PA where she also serves on the Board of Directors for a local non-profit. She is the single mother of 2 boys – ages 9 & 1.