There’s a couple of days on the calendar each year I dread.
There’s no way around them. I wish I could pretend they don’t exist.
But they do.
And that sucks.
March 5 is the day my Mom passed away in 1984.
May 7 is the day my Dad passed away in 2007.
I was going to do the same for my Dad but my life is so in flux and high stress right now that it seemed doing it more subtle was the way to go this time. I love multi-blogger events, and participate in them often. But the thought of adding any more “to do’s” right now would just send me pitching over the edge.
So I’m flying solo for Dad’s day today. Which when you really think about it seems appropriate. My Dad was a bit of a lone wolf. He was a tad anti-social most of the time. So this probably suits him better.
and all of you reading.
Yah, he is likely rolling over in his grave knowing his little girl is on the interwebs, talking about him, posting pictures of him. He’s likely going to haunt me for this one.
My Dad was an odd fellow. He came off very grumpy and curmudgeon like. Yet deep down he was a giant softie. But like really deep, deep down. You had to dig a little.
When you did the payoff was spectacular.
My Dad and me got to really know each other beyond the surface stuff when he got sick. In Fall of 2006 he called me to ask if I’d take him for a test. He was not very forthcoming about it all. But I knew he hadn’t been feeling well and something was up. When he called a second time I forced myself into the doctor’s appointment with him only to be horrified they were draining his lungs and talking about what Dad called the “C” word. By November it was tons of appointments and tests. By December I was with him about 20-22 hours a day. By Boxing Day he got word it was in fact the “C” word, he had terminal lung cancer. Time was short.
He tried chemo, which almost killed him. He ended up so sick he was admitted to the hospital for 2 weeks. The bottom line was he was not responding well to chemo and after 2 rounds it was decided not to continue with it. The doctors wanted him to do radiation, but he refused. So we made plans to bring him home to spend however much time he had in his own home. They told him 3 months. He died almost to the minute of that timeline.
I was blessed to be able to be a part of the process. I know most people will find that hard to fathom, but it really was a blessing. I had a very volatile and complicated relationship with my Dad. Much of that stemmed from how he treated my Mom. I was still very bitter and angry with him. So during this incredibly emotional time we made peace with things, talked things out, came to understand each other and finally accept one another, flaws and all. It was not an easy journey. My dad was a hard man, prone to cruel remarks and lashing out at people close to him. Yet I wouldn’t trade that time with him for anything, or change anything about the way it all went down. All those hours spent with him were spent talking. And I’m ever grateful I got to know the man beneath that grumpy exterior.
After Dad passed I was in charge of cleaning out his house, I now live in the house my parents built, and both passed in. I came across so many things my Dad kept that just flew in the face of his grumpy persona. I learned he kept every single card and note we ever gave him. Even silly ones like “gone to work, do we need milk?” He also kept every single gift us kids gave him. Even the ones he hated, like the year I thought he would love a machete for Christmas. Um, yah, true story.
He kept every photo, note, card, gift and memento like they were a timeline. And they really were. Looking at them all laid out and seeing his life in sentimental technicolor was truly amazing.
I was able to read letters his own father wrote to him while he was away at war. They shook me up something terrible, I came to realize where my Dad’s hard exterior came from. I always thought my Dad was a mean person, but once I knew why he was that way I was able to understand him better. That was life altering for me.
My Dad taught me many things as a kid. He taught me even more as an adult. I learned I had to let the past go and move on. I could stay bitter but to be quite frank, that meant I would wind up like him. I think both he and I were determined that was not going to happen. So we hashed it out, talked about the painful stuff, the things you don’t want to talk about. We forgave and we put it all in the past. Both he and I were able to spend the last weeks of his life at peace with each other. It was the best and worst time of my life.
One of the many things I remember about my Dad was how much he loved food. This man could eat, and he loved his treats. We always called his middle area his ice cream belly. Most men have beer bellies, Dad an ice cream one. We lived a couple of blocks from Dad so I was around a lot to cook. One thing I was asked to make often over the years was Lasagna. It was the most requested dish by Dad. He had some tummy woes, like me, that worsened as he got older. Yet he would always request lasagna, and on occasion he threw caution to the wind and he’d ask me to make my spicy version. It’s something we’ve modified over the years. Lasagna was one of the first things I learned to make. I make many versions. There’s the regular version, the spicy version, the meatless version, the veggie packed version, the long and slow version, and Dad’s personal favourite The Spicy Version. We would all lay around after holding our tummies and stand up wind of each other. But we all loved to eat like little piggies when the spicy version made an appearance.
If I had to count how many lasagnas I made for my Dad over the years it would like be triple digits. You figure at least 6 lasagnas per year, for about 25 years. That’s a lot of lasagna. I’ve gotten good at them. Some are pretty and stacked to perfection. Some are down and dirty, oozing with cheese and sauce. Dad liked the down and dirty versions. The more it slid around on the plate the happier Dad was. More meat, more cheese, more sauce, he loved it that way.
So this one’s for Dad.
I had two helpings in your honour dude. Then sat with the family down wind enough to be a perfect ass, just like I was taught. Miss you, you grumpy son of a bitch!
- 1 package of lasagna noodles, cooked al dente (do not use oven ready, they blow)
- 3 jars of pasta sauce (650 ml)
- 1 to 1½ pounds of ground beef
- ¼ cup sugar
- 3 tablespoons dried basil
- 4 tablespoons dried oregano
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 4 bay leaves, to be discarded after simmering sauce
- 3 to 4 shallots, diced, cook in the microwave for about 30- 40 seconds till soft
- ½ large sweet onion, diced, cook in the microwave for about 1 to 1½ minutes till soft
- 4 to 5 cloves of garlic, pressed
- ½ to 1 cup of parmesan cheese, grated
- 5 to 6 cups of mozzarella cheese, grated ( I am seriously partial to the pizza mozzarella, even on lasagna)
- This will make two 9 x 13 pans, two layers deep
- Preheat oven to 375 to 400 depending on how your oven works. I set mine to 400 degrees F.
- Fill a large stock pot with water and bring to a boil on the stove.
- Once it's boiling, add some salt.
- Toss in your noddles, I find alternating the way they lay helps. Allow to cook according to the package minus about 1 to 2 minutes.
- Drain, pat dry and get ready to line the pan
- While the water is cooking for the noodles cook your ground beef in a skillet till brown, and juices run clear. Do not overcook, it keeps the flavour from getting in there.
- In a large dutch oven combine the sauce, sugar, cooked ground beef, spices, bay leaves, shallots, onions and garlic. Stir and cook over medium heat till it boils. Let it bubble like that while stirring for about 3 or 4 minutes, reduce to simmer and allow to cook until the noodles are done.
- Once finished you need to take out the bay leaves and throw away.
- Spray your casserole dish with non stick spray.
- Scoop about 2 tablespoons of sauce into each pan to line the bottom thinly. This helps keep noddles from sticking to the bottom and getting a wicked crispy bottom.
- Depending on your brand of noodles you should be able to use 4 or 5 noodles per layer. I was able to use 5. So I lay three, then place two more on top.
- Toss a bit of mozzarella cheese on top of the noodles (trust me!)
- Spoon ¼ of the sauce over that layer. Spread evenly
- Toss one fourth of the parmesan cheese over top. (trust me!)
- Toss about ¼ of the cheese over top.
- Lay another layer of noodles.
- Then another thin toss of mozzarella cheese. (trust me!)
- Then another layer of sauce.
- Then toss on one fourth of the amount of parmesan cheese (trust me!)
- Another layer of mozzarella.
- Now repeat with second casserole dish, or if you're like me you can layer them at the same time so you can divide evenly.
- Now place in the preheated oven.
- Cook uncovered for about 15 to 20 minutes, depending on how golden brown you want the top. It's a good idea to start checking at 10 minutes since every oven is different and all cheeses vary depending on moisture content.
- Remove from oven.
- Grab a spatula and wish for a clean slice.
- Serve with a big old "my tummy hurts, but in a good way| smile!
This is a quick version so it's not scratch sauce. Unless you keep extra jars of homemade sauce around. I often do, But when I don't have them on hand and I need a store bought one I tend to like Classico. Ragu is too watery for me, Primo too chunky for me, and Batali's is too pricey for me. You are not an evil doer if you use jarred sauce. Don't let foodies make you feel bad. You're busy, it's totally cool to cut corner when you need to!
If you need a homemade version I'll list one in the post.
While I love making my own soffritto most days for that sweet flavour, if I'm busy and need a quick sweet sauce I use sugar to sweeten it. You can dial the amount down, or amp it up. Again, it's not a crime not to make a soffritto.
If you want a good bolognese there's one listed in the post though.
I like spice. This is dialed down so I don't injure any of my readers. It still might be too much for any wimps among the group. It's okay if you're a wimp. I am with Mexican food so I can relate. Adjust your spices as you go. You can also add more, but you can't subtract so start slow and build.
Yes I use parmesan in my lasagna on occasion. If any Italians want to arrest me, feel free. Just make sure you have Mario Batali on my jury. He's my idol.
I completely love the pizza mozzarella out right now. We buy Saputo and swear by it. It's great on pizza and lasagna. Trust me!
You can cook this at 350 for 20/25 minutes if you want a longer, slower cook time. You can also do this in the microwave if you like, I grew up always cooking ours in the microwave. The cheese gets bubbly without getting brown.
Okay here’s where I admit I’m a total lasagna whore. If you are a regular reader you know it’s a favourite around here. I’d almost feel bad about it but I’m too busy shoveling lasagna into my pie hole.
It’s okay, you can be a lasagna whore too. I shall lead the way to lasagna utopia. You just may need to roll me through the gateways, m’kay.
Here’s a list of how many ways I’ve cooked it up for you since blogging:
Great Sauce Recipes for you as well:
Bolognese Sauce: this is my all time fave slow cooked sauce. It’s divine and worth the effort when you have time. Just click the name of the recipe to get to it!
Slow Cooker Red Sauce: this one is low and slow, very good. Just click the name of the recipe to get to it!
Simple Sauce: this one has missing photos but it’s a great basic sauce to use. Just click the name of the recipe to get to it!
I just love Italian food. Whether it’s a recipe you spend all day tinkering in the kitchen over, or something fast and easy. It’s all good to me. As long as it tastes out of this world and is smothered in cheese I’m a happy girl.
Let me know if you try this out. It’s such an easy and wonderful recipe. Just remember to taste as you go. It’s quite honestly the best way to learn to cook. You make small adjustments as you go and the perk is you get to nosh as you cook. It’s win-win.
So thanks for visiting me on this bittersweet day. I really wanted to do a fundraiser for hospice in Dad’s honour but would rather do it when I have time to plan it properly. So I may do something like that down the road. For now I just wanted to share my memories and my recipe with you.
For any of you who have lost parents, or any one who has lost someone they love to cancer please feel free to share your story with me today. If you aren’t comfortable enough to leave a comment feel free to email me at cravingsofalunatic @ gmail (dot) com. We are all connected by this crazy, stupid disease. One day I hope they find a cure. Until then we can all just try to support one another and help those fighting their battles with it.
See you soon.
Toodles and smoochies! xx