Thursday, May 21, 2009

I Want To Be Good, But ...

I want to be good. Really I do.

I want to eat the right foods and burn off the necessary number of calories each week.

I want to go to church and be politically correct and do good works and minimize my carbon footprint.

I want to be a model parent and raise socially-informed, athletically-gifted, musically-distinguished, academically-unrivaled ...

Whoa. Did I just go there? Yikes. That wasn't the plan. I'd intended to write about my own frailties and shortcomings, not about the excesses and egos of cutthroat, competitive parenting.

But you see my point, right? Where does this striving for perfection end?

'Cause truly -- grains, fruits and vegetables are good, but to my way of thinking, sometimes chocolate, wine and the occasional single malt scotch are better. And as good as I feel after a 600-calorie workout, I also feel perfectly fine stretched out on the sofa watching a DVR'd episode of Trust Me. Particularly if there's a bag of Pepperidge Farm Bordeaux cookies around. Besides, after watching TV, I don't have to take another hour to cool down, stretch out, and shower. Pretty efficient time-management, right?

There are gracious plenty Sunday mornings when I entirely yield to the urge to lounge and end up indulging in a beverage served in a disposable cup with a non-recyclable lid, which I know, despite my fervent hopes and disregard, will remain in our landfills for generations to come. As good as I want to be, though, I'm just not ready to turn my back on a venti, non-fat, no-foam chai tea latte. (Even as I type it, I know how arrogant it sounds. But have you ever had one? You'd swell the ranks of Sunday school slackers in no time.)

And regarding the superior parenting thing? The God's honest truth is, I just can't compete. And more brutally honest, my kids don't want me to.

It's not that I'm ready to throw my hands up. It's not that I want to settle and yield to the lowest common denominator. It's that I sometimes want to acknowledge that "good enough" is "plenty good." It's not a matter of seeing life as "as good as it gets." It's a matter of seeing the life we have as already being "pretty darn good."

Yes, I can do better. But I can't do better every time. I can't even do "the best I can" every time. I'm working on it, but I can't.

So today, I had a plenty healthy lunch. Fresh fruit salad. Grilled chicken salad (no dressing) with lots of dark, leafy greens. Unsweetened tea (with lemon). A small bite of dessert. All the right stuff.

Not for dinner, though. At home tonight, we're back to the kids' favorite food group -- sausage. Try as you may, you just can't say anything redeeming about sausage. I don't want to read the nutritional information about it, I don't want to know where it comes from, and I don't want to see it made.

At our house, though, it's one of those ingredients that, when it's on the menu, everyone seems to linger at the table. Everyone seems to have more stories to tell about their day. Everyone seems to have a few more minutes to spare away from their cell phones and iPods and bikes and computers. Everyone seems to be happy enough just to be a member of the family.

I don't know what it says about us that there's this attitudinal (if that's a word) shift that hovers over any sausage-based meal. I'm not necessarily proud that our emotions are so easily affected by ground, seasoned pork. I'm just saying ...

So even though I want to be good, I'll choose an engaging dinner conversation and a chance to connect with my kids every time. For me, that's more than good enough. It's the best ever.

Pasta Sauce With Sausage
This is a great, hugely flavorful sauce, which is easily doubled and tripled.

1 lb. (about 3 links) Italian sweet sausage, grilled, cooled and thinly sliced (alternatively, remove casings and saute instead of grilling)

1 onion, chopped
10-12 baby carrots, chopped (trust me, no one will ever know)
8 oz. fresh mushrooms, sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced

2 teaspoons dried basil
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 bay leaf
1 sprig fresh rosemary

Generous splash (about 1/2 cup) red wine
generous grinding of black pepper
1 teaspoon kosher salt (maybe more)
28-oz can crushed tomatoes in puree
1 cup water

Over medium high heat, saute sliced sausage in a large, deep skillet. Once sausage starts to brown, stir in onion. When onion begins to turn translucent, stir in carrots and mushrooms. When carrots and mushrooms start brown, stir in garlic. Continue sautéing over medium heat for another 10-15 minutes.

Stir in herbs. Stir in red wine, salt and black pepper. Cook for an additional 5-10 minutes until wine is somewhat reduced. Stir in crushed tomatoes. Pour 1 cup water into emptied tomato can and swirl around. Pour water into sauce, stir well, then cover. Cook at a reduced heat for another 45-60 minutes.

Serve hot over fresh cooked spaghetti -- or even better, a "chunkier" pasta, such as penne rigate, fusille or orrechiete. Sauce freezes well, for at least 6 months.

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