Home Mountain Living Prairie Living

Making Bolognese and a Home

It’s been an exhausting month of settling in on the prairie.  For reasons that seem to come at me at sharp angles in the fall’s dwindling light, this move has been tough. Both Greg and I feel like our toy ships have been tossed on an inhospitable sea. On top of navigating the logistics of He from Denver and Me from the mountains, we’ve been negotiating shared territory and space along with drastically different styles about as gracefully as two bull elk:  there has been not a little locking of horns.  My M.O. is to charge where Greg meanders.  I want everything done now while Greg prefers to let things settle.

In my fantasy, my new home with the man I love pops up in days, not weeks or months. And driven by this energy, I made the house a cuckoo’s nest of lists and things to do. Between teaching full time and unpacking along with many many frustrated shopping trips looking for things we need for our new space, I don’t think I stopped, except to sleep, for four full weeks.

But one month to the day we moved in, the house miraculously came together and arrived at the conclusion called “presentable” just in time for Greg and I to host our first party for two dozen friends who picnicked on fried chicken and blue cheese chips, drinking champagne toasts to our new life together and marveling at the newly painted straw and clay colored walls with fairy lights and paper lanterns.  It was a moment of quiet (and triumph) in the storm.  

And yet much remains to be done. “When X is finished, I will feel better,” I keep telling myself as the sense of home continues to elude me.  I have it for brief moments—when Greg and I read the The New York Times in bed on a warm, pink Sunday morning with coffee and the sound of dozens of finches outside or watch friends wander, smilingly, from room to room, enjoying food and conversation.  But then I will look out across the plains to the distant mountains, which see so desperately far now, or endure a particularly aggravating commute filled with traffic and stop lights and I will feel as if my anchor has lost its perch.

So in anticipation of an arctic blast and in an effort to feel more grounded in my life, I dust off a tradition Bolognese recipe, cooking that will force me to stay put for four or five hours, inhabiting my kitchen and my home, as the ragu builds flavors. The recipe is simple:  meat, onion, finely chopped carrot and celery, some tomatoes, milk and white wine.  But the process requires attention. It’s Sunday morning, so I put on the Requiem as I sauté the onions until translucent before adding the carrot and celery along with a little layered salt, letting Mozart inspire a little contemplation. I always think of cooking as meditative.  

To the mixture on the stove, I add pancetta, like my grandfather did, and then a combination of ground chuck and pork. I picked up a coarse ground beef at my new favorite grocer, Lucky’s in Longmont,  that is thick with fat to ensure the Bolognese will be sweet. Once the mixture has just cooked but not browned, I add a cup of whole milk which will be absorbed into the sauce to give it a velvety texture. Then a cup of dry white wine, followed by Italian plum tomatoes. After each addition, I stir the sauce and wait for the liquid to be absorbed. This takes a few hours total and I find my mood calming with each passing minute. Just the idea of staying put makes me happy. Then, once the tomatoes are in, the sauce cooks for at least three hours, until the meat has absorbed everything and the mixture is a characteristically “dry” ragu.

Greg and I eat the Bolognese tossed with a tablespoon of butter over some lovely pappardelle, but, to my taste, it is only okay.

So often, I realize now, I design my life so carefully that I anticipate the exact result. When the sauce disappoints, I am irritated that all the time I “spent” did not reward me with a big payoff.  

But building flavor, like building a sense of home, takes time.

The next day, after some space to gather and stretch itself out, the ragu is much improved.  All I had to do was let it rest.  Greg and I eat it again and then I kiss him goodbye and head out the door.

As I write this, I am staring out at snow-filled pines and a frozen mountain lake. The temperature is well below zero; there’s a wood pecker hopping down a tree just outside the window. This landscape is one I have long associated with home, but I’m only a temporary resident, having returned to watch over friends’ dogs while they are away. My former little cabin is just 200 yards away lit by someone else’s fire. I wondered what it would be like to be back—I’ve been, at times, desperately missing the quiet and the space and the wildness these last few weeks. But Greg is tending the fires at our home on the prairie, and it comes to me about as suddenly as the cold descended just two days ago when the temperature plummeted from the 60’s to somewhere in the twenties in little over an hour:  My heart, which I once thought to be indivisible from the landscape outside, is with the man painting his own landscapes in his studio in our home down the mountain. 

What we’re making together is something bigger than landscape or a house. And, no matter how much I push and shove, it can’t be constructed in a handful of days. I have to let being together and making a home that suits us, gather its own juices and develop its own flavors in its own time, too.  

And me?  

I just have to get out of the way. 
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