Hold the Sauce

On one of our first dates (circa 1987) Rudy invited me to his bachelor pad for dinner. When I got to the door he invited me in and offered me a seat on a (dodgy) sofa and a glass of wine. He had a glass too but his glass didn’t match. I was on alert. He excused himself to go into the kitchen; there was no “open concept” so I couldn’t see what he was up to but I knew he was making dinner. I peaked in to see him stirring a pot; the red sauce simmering and splattering. It was the first of many future dinners.

The meal was delicious. There was more wine and the sparks were flying like the tomato sauce spitting on the stove. We were making a connection that would last a lifetime.

Over the next few months we continued to explore our relationship and I met his parents. At first I was a bit shocked at their humble home in the east end of Hamilton. But the warm welcome inside assuaged any misgivings. The welcome wasn’t the only warm thing in the home; the kitchen was definitely the hot spot if this abode. Rudy’s mom was a great cook. Her tiny rustic kitchen was bustling with aromas and activity. What was that delicious familiar smell? Tomato sauce.

At that moment I made up my mind about two things:

1. Rudy most likely didn’t make the sauce he served for dinner on that first date.

2. I would never be able to compete with the culinary skills on display at 147 Glow.

Over the years I would enjoy many a feast in that tiny kitchen. Surrounded by people who were as real as their food. That red sauce made an appearance at many of the meals in various forms. And on too many occasions to count a doggy bag was offered and taken. The sauce was legendary.

Alas, Rudy’s mom slowed down the last few years and the kitchen was mostly idle. There were so many gourmet treasures that would be lost forever. No one would ever replace the unique flavours of Rudy’s mom. Her cooking was one of a kind. Since she’s been gone we’ve often reminisced about the things we miss most. She had the Polish/Italian fusion down to a T.

Rudy has sampled many a pierogie (another of his faves) but none are alike. It’s a labour intensive operation. Every now and again he can venture to Toronto where a specific restaurant fits the bill. And a few Italian restaurants have decent sauce. But none are as good as grandmas.

For some reason (actually, the reason is I needed a frozen block for my groceries to tackle the Florida heat) I bought a slab of ground beef recently. I ask Rudy if he wants chilli or stuffed peppers. Or, I venture, we could make meatballs and sauce. What has come over me?? After all these years I suggest the taboo sauce. Rudy immediately says sauce and meatballs. Ok. Here we go.

In order to avoid the red sauce dilemma I have always made a garlicky oil sauce or pesto. I leave the tomato sauce to the pros. I googled a few recipes and have found an easy Italian plan. We pick up a few necessary ingredients from the store (crushed tomatoes and tomato paste) I have everything else on hand. It’s not a complex list. Rudy agrees to help me. He’s the only one who can operate the ridiculous electric can opener. He also minces the onion and garlic while I make the daily phone call to the parents. The sauce is simmering. We are trying to avoid the red splatter. I’m having flashbacks. And it’s great. I ask Rudy if we have added everything and he thinks so but his mom may have added sugar too. That’s something we don’t have. We carry on.

Rudy mixes the meat concoction. More onions. Bread soaked in milk. An egg. Very simple and basic. I roll the meat into balls. We broil the meatballs for several minutes. When the first batch comes out Rudy is the sampler. He tests a meatball and sauce. Yes, he says, it’s very good. We finish our next batch of balls, add some to the simmering sauce and freeze the rest. We plan on having the finished product for lunch the next day.

On our way home the following day we analyze the lunch plans. We will get the sauce simmering again and boil some noodles. I will make a side salad. Our taste buds are jumping in anticipation.

When the food is served we are both like kids at Christmas. Will the results be as expected?

Drum roll please.

All I can say is “YUM”. Rudy’s mom would be so pleased with our efforts. We dig in and savour every bite. As we eat we think of all of the other purposes for tomato sauce and our excitement builds. Then we laugh and wonder what took us so long to make this eureka discovery. I guess the time was right.

Or as Rudy’s mom used to say: the spirit moved us.

Bon appetite! Thanks for the memories Grandma ❤️

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