There are days when the date night is another item on the to do list. We do it to continue the habit knowing that even in our exhaustion the time together is necessary. We never regret that time together because even in the most tired evenings, when it’s simply a cocktail and a 30 minute conversation, we are always glad that we had that time.
But then there are the times when I’m driving my son to school on Monday already dreaming of the menu for our date night on Thursday. When the thought of sauteing onions, sitting at a quiet table with my husband and talking about our hope for the new year seems about as close to perfection as I can imagine. Gabe and I have dated since I was 18 and yet there are still times when my stomach flutters as if it’s our first date. I’m grateful for those moments because they are the ones that sustain the not-so-fluttery moments.
He fed the kids a simple dinner while I poured us each a glass of red wine. At the store I had determined that the perfect appetizer for our date night meal of meatball sandwiches was Cool Ranch Doritos. He agreed and we both happily ate our chips and drank wine remarking out it was oddly not such a terrible pairing.
As Gabe tucked and re-tucked the kids into bed I mixed and formed the meatballs. They simmered in a bath of tomatoes while the food processor pureed a quick pesto – herby and bright with a punch of garlic so powerful that I’m sure the scent helped flavor our neighbor’s dinner.
“Smells great in here.” He said as he came down the stairs and grabbed another chip. I smiled proudly and continued with our dinner in between sips of wine.
While the sandwiches lounged in the oven snug in an aluminum foil blanket, giving them time for the cheese to melt and the bread to crisp, I threw together a simple salad. Ruffled leaves of butter lettuce, grapefruit with avocado and very little else.
Not much was said while we feasted on our sandwiches. I enjoyed the tomato-bathed meatballs fragrant with red wine and romano and happily feasted on the crisp, buttery, and bright salad but my satisfaction was in seeing my husband eating with great abandon. I fight the urge to sound like or even be this image of a 50’s era housewife or some sort of June Cleaver type woman who works tirelessly for the sake of her man, but golly did it ever feel good to love my husband through this meal. And I guess that too is part of love – when the joy of someone else becomes more valuable than your own.
For dessert a bit more wine and vulnerability in sharing our vision for the new year. I read him the draft of my last post and we talked about specific goals; some practical, others lofty. When the goals were as closely committed to stone as we could muster – a Sharpie on a large piece of white paper, we stacked the dishes in the sink for the next day, cozied up on the couch and watched more Homeland then we probably should have.
I soaked in the night that felt so easy and right. Without sounding too pessimistic I committed that feeling to memory knowing that its storage would serve useful on the hard days. This is how it is in a relationship. Some days things just come naturally. It’s not hard to remember why I said, “I do”. The days when his touch is electric, the sound of my name passing his lips makes me feel loved and I have nothing but joy and hope for our days ahead. And then there are the days where I have to work to catch those moments. Where I remember simple truths like: You can’t be healthy without eating well and a bit of exercise. You can’t be a writer without writing. And you can’t grow your marriage without some effort. Sometimes the effort feels like work or a sacrifice and then there are times when you make meatball sandwiches knowing how happy that will make him. You kiss him without thinking about it and you can think of nothing better than the rest of your life with him. Its these days that make the others worth working on.
Meatball Sandwich with Pesto Aioli
adapted from Tartine Bread
It’s quite possible I bought myself this book for Christmas and then had Gabe wrap it and put it under the tree for me. I did, however refrain from looking at it until I opened it Christmas morning which was when I spotted this sandwich that from the very first look, was destined to be a date night meal.
makes about 1 cup pesto / 1 ½ cups aioli
The original recipe calls for ¼ cup garlic. While I love garlic I found it far too much. So here I’ve cut it back. Also, I decided to turn the spread into an aioli because I’m just weak for a creamy spread on indulgent sandwiches such as this one.
2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic
¼ cup chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
¼ cup chopped fresh basil
½ cup chopped arugula
¼ cup toasted almonds
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan
1 teaspoon lemon zest
2 teaspoons lemon juice
salt and pepper
¼ – ½ cup mayonnaise
Combine everything except the mayonnaise in a food processor and process until a smooth paste is formed. Taste and adjust seasonings to your liking.
You could use it on the sandwich as just a pesto spread or, as we did, you could turn it into an aioli by adding some mayonnaise. Start with ¼ cup then taste and adjust if you’d like.
This can be made a few days in advance if well covered and refrigerated.
This recipe makes a lot of meatballs. For the sake of time and not wanting to eat meatballs everyday for a week I decided to freeze half the recipe. And now I’m already looking forward to a day when my dinner creativity is zapped and I can simply open the freezer for a quick meal.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 pound ground beef
1 pound ground pork
4 large eggs
1 cup whole milk
1 cup grated Romano cheese
¼ cup red wine
2 cups bread crumbs
1 bunch flat leaf parsley, stems removed and the leaves chopped
2 teaspoons kosher salt
½ teaspoon pepper
pinch red pepper flakes
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 can (28 oz) chopped tomatoes
soft ciabatta bread – or any other type you’d like to use
In a large skillet over medium heat add the oil and the onions and cook until transluscent and just beginning to brown, about 15 minutes. Let the onions cool.
In a large bowl combine the remainder of the ingredients with the cooled onions. Mix everything well using your hands as they are the best tool in the kitchen. The mixture is quite wet.
Shape the mixture into roughly apricot size meatballs.
Heat a large skillet with a bit more oil. Sear the meatballs on all sides working in batches as to not overcrowd the pan. Transfer the seared meatballs to a plate and continue to work in this way until all the meatballs have been seared.
Drain the fat from the skillet then return the pan to the stove over medium heat. Add the garlic and saute for two minutes. Add the tomatoes and with a wooden spoon scrape up any dark bits that cling to the bottom of the pan. Bring the tomatoes to a boil then reduce the heat to low. Return the meatballs to the pan and simmer for 20 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350*F. Spread half of the bread with the pesto aioli then place a few meatballs along with a bit of sauce on the other half. Top the meatballs with a slice of provolone. Wrap the sandwich in aluminum then place in the oven for about 15 minutes until the cheese has melted and the bread is crisp. Let stand before eating as the sandwich will be very hot.
Grapefruit and Avocado Salad
adapted from Canal House Cooks Every Day
There was a time when I thought salads were their best in the Summer but Winter, you’re winning me over with salads like this one. Also, I’d like to add that I’m hereby requesting to be an honorary member of the Canal House cooks. Maybe they’d let me do their dishes? This book also came to me by way of Christmas (although I didn’t buy it myself) and so far I couldn’t recommend it enough.
1 ruby red grapefruit
1 tablespoon champagne vinegar
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 pinch chile flakes
1 avocado, peeled and quartered
1 head butter lettuce
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
Remove the ends of the grapefruit with a sharp paring knife. Follow the curve of the fruit with the knife and slice off the peel and white pith exposing the flesh. Over a bowl, hold the grapefruit in one hand and cut out each segment by running the knife down both sides of the membrane. Let the segments drop into the bowl along with the juice. Add to the bowl the vinegar, chile flakes and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Taste.
On a platter arrange the butter lettuce and avocado. Drizzle the dressing and the grapefruit over the top. Dust the chives over it all. Serve immediately.