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How Morning Smelled There
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On those muggy East Coast summer mornings, I’d wake in my twin bed — the one with the white and gold princess headboard, made up in pink gingham sheets — to the strong scents of my mother cooking downstairs in the kitchen. The daughter of a German Protestant father and an Italian Catholic mother, her repertoire ranged from crocks filled to the brim with sauerkraut & wurst, to splattering, overfull vats of spaghetti sauce. While I didn’t mind tucking into the former after the flavors had a chance to ferment, the pungent, unwashed socks smell of cabbage cooking down in the July heat would put me off breakfast and send me scurrying outdoors as quickly as possible. But the complex process of making the latter would lead me to linger in the house, anticipating layers of aromas. First came the clove-studded onion and several celery stalks softening in olive oil at the bottom of the heavy stock pot. Then a generously peppered pork chop was set to sizzle beside them. A whole head of peeled garlic cloves joined these ingredients for a flash sauté. And finally, multiple cans of juicy plum tomatoes were upended into the mixture along with a single bay leaf, to be stirred and simmered for hours on end. What would we get for dinner? That was the eternal question, since the sauce was simply the precursor to many rich, red delights: A large pan laden with a lasagna that would serve us the week through? A platter heaped with tender chicken cacciatore? Or a simple meal of store-bought spaghetti and my mother’s savory meatballs — the kind made with seasoned bread crumbs, dried parsley, granulated garlic powder, and an egg? I’d catch my mother popping small bites of the raw ground beef into her mouth as she shaped dozens of spheres and plopped them into the pot. In this way — through olfactory osmosis — I learned how to carry on these traditions in my own kitchen, 3000 miles away from my family. These foods taste like home.


I love the idea of your mother eating pieces of the raw meatballs! The whole piece makes us hungry, Megan.

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