Wednesday, August 29, 2012


Mama why is everything about Bella I can't carry this it's too heavy I wish Dash had never been born mama you are ruining my life you are the worst person ever why can't we have cotton candy you always say no why won't you get in the water you're no fun.

Times 100. For three days straight. I'm done yelling. It's time to bust out my ninth grade acting skills.

I throw down the boogie boards and leave my kids behind on the Santa Monica Beach Boardwalk. As I march away with an exaggerated sense of purpose and a smothered giggle, I can feel their astonishment in the back of my neck. I count to ten in my head and then throw my arms up in the air and yell out with pretty impressive fake tears I can't stand it anymore and I'm going home. I hit the top of the stairs, round the corner, and peek back down the path and there they are gesticulating, conferring, panicking. Then I see Bella comforting Dash by putting her hands on his shoulders, followed by a hardcore finger-wagging warning like whatever you do Dash don't cross the bike path and wait for me here and I'll see what I can do about mama. He nods and sits down on a boogie board. As she runs up the stairs to find me, she glows with a maturity that's way beyond her nine years. She's tears-in-her-eyes sorry. We hug. And our beach day begins.

Very quickly, Dash is tap dancing, arabesquing, conducting, funky chickening, and José Limóning down the beach, all the while chasing birds and smashing sand castles. Bella is way too far out, diving underneath the waves, staying out of sight a bit longer with each entry. Over and over again I inhale sharply, firming the muscles in my body to gather the strength required to jump up and run into the water and swim out in three seconds flat to save her life. And then she pops back up and I get to exhale. I start to wonder how much more my heart can take of this whole parenting thing.

Dash gets braver and takes his dance into the waves and under the water he goes and I am shit crap fuck Dash where are you running to find him and pull him up and out but he's not yet as resilient as Bella so he needs to recover from the washing machine of the Pacific Ocean. I burrito-wrap him in his towel and plunk him down on his butt between my extended legs, my knees pressing in to contain him as he presses out and the rhythm continues in out in out in out like I'm working a Suzanne Somers' thigh master because even at rest my son vibrates with movement. I give Dash the job of never ever taking his eyes off of Bella. You, Dash, are in charge of keeping her alive. He likes this job. And I'm psyched that I only need to track one child. And since I have the rare connection of my mouth to Dash's ear I decide to address a few pressing issues.

Dash, I want us all to stop yelling. And to stop hitting each other.

Yeah, mama, we need to find some love.

 And we need to stop being so naughty.

You mean like last night when I poked holes in the air mattress and when I put the glue all over the wall and at the restaurant last night when I ran away from the dinner table and locked myself into the bathroom like that like that mama?

Suddenly, all I want to discuss is food.

Oh, Dash, how I loved that dinner last night. Let's talk about the pasta sauce. How do you think you spell it?

Allamoonalabasomething. All I know is it starts with an a.
He helps me write the letters in the sand.

A L L ' A M A T R I C I A N A

It's Italian. I wonder what's in that tasty tasty tasty sauce?

I don't know, mama. Look it up on your iPhone.

No. Let's guess and then make up our own. I say tomatoes, anchovies, garlic, and some yummy fatty pig.

Mama, all I can say is I just loved slurping up that thick pasta.

And I loved watching him across the table as he maneuvered the drinking straw bucatini, sucking it in with such gusto that his lips got slammed and stained with sauce. 

I miss our kitchen, Dashi. I want to make that sauce right now.

He looks way way past Bella and out to the boats.

Mama, are pirates real? With the boat and the bird and guns and stuff?

They are real. But they don't always have birds.

Mama, do birds have eyeballs on the backs of their heads?

Before I can answer, he's tearing off down the beach to find out.

At first it's cute to watch him run. Then I realize that he's not going to stop and I need to go get him. No I don't need to get him, he'll be fine. He's just a speck now. Yes, I do need to get him. No, I don't. And then I run like a motherfucker down the beach to capture my baby boy before he completely disappears.
Full disclosure, I did look up all'amatriciana sauce on my iPhone when Dash wasn't looking. I found so many variations but decided to stick with what we had guessed with the addition of red pepper flakes and an onion. I think a few Italians might get mad at me for adding an onion. And my market was out of guanciale so I used pancetta. And it's the height of heirloom tomato excitement around here so I went in that direction. I'm trying to be flexible as a cook and a parent (it's much easier with cooking).

This is a simmer-all-day sauce; it's the kind of home cooking that takes over your apartment, seeping into your sheets and rugs and sofa pillows and summer dresses, lingering for days. But the final sauce is a wonderfully balanced red jam that's sweet, salty, acidic, and packed with disintegrating fatty nuggets of pork. It doesn't require much effort, just don't rush it.

Makes enough sauce to serve 4. It's intense so you just need enough to lightly coat the pasta. It would also make a great sauce for lasagna. Or you can freeze it to enjoy in the middle of the winter.

4 cloves garlic
4 anchovy fillets packed in oil
1 tablespoon tomato paste
a pinch of red pepper flakes (or more if you like)
1 tablespoon olive oil
6 pieces thinly sliced guanciale (pancetta or bacon), chopped or cut with scissors into 2" pieces
1 yellow or white onion, diced
1/3 cup red wine
6 large heirloom tomatoes (stick with colors in the red family for a vibrant red sauce), cored and sliced and then cut into about 1" square pieces
salt and pepper to taste
1 pound dried bucatini (or spaghetti)
handful of salt (for pasta water)
1/3 cup chopped parsley
1/2 cup grated parmesan, pecorino, or piave cheese
olive oil
coarse salt

Make a paste out of garlic, anchovies, tomato paste, and red pepper flakes with a mortar and pestle or food processor. Set aside.

Cook pork over medium heat until golden and crispy on both sides. Removed with slotted spoon and place on paper towel. Pour out half of rendered fat. Place back on medium heat. Add onion and cook until softened (about 5 minutes). Add  cooked pork and garlic/anchovy puree and cook for about a minute, stirring the whole time.  Don't let it brown. Add wine and cook until it's mostly evaporated. Add tomatoes. When it comes to a boil, turn it down to a simmer. Cook for many hours, stirring about every 30 minutes or so. When it's nice and thick (3-4 hours), taste and adjust seasonings with salt and pepper.

Bring a big pot of water to the boil. Add a handful of kosher salt.  Add pasta. Cook until al dente. Before draining pasta, scoop out a cup or so of pasta water into a pitcher. Drain pasta and place pasta back in pot. Add about a cup of the sauce and a splash of pasta water. Crank heat. Stir for a few seconds until pasta is coated with sauce. You might need to add a bit more sauce or pasta water. Serve immediately with the following toppings at the table: pasta water, chopped parsley,  grated cheese, olive oil, and coarse salt.


  1. Had a challenging day - this made me smile. I will definitely try this thanks. Rosemarie

  2. My 4 year old son vibrates even while sitting still too.

    Can I just say other blog excites, inspires and makes me fall in love with food all over again more than yours, Phyllis. I've got some serious, SERIOUS love for your style of writing.

    And this pasta looks freakin' AMAZING. Mm!

  3. This post was worth waiting for. Times 100.

  4. Thank you for writing. Please don't stop.

    As no.2 is cooking away in the belly, the fear of being a mom for 2 kids under 2 grow each day. But this post took it away.


    1. when dash was cooking away in my belly i was ridiculously freaked out. i understand. so glad i could help. what a beautiful comment.

  5. love the sauce. love the writing even more. the everyday fear can be quite overwhelming. the sauceslurpingbeachdancing moments even more so. love from faraway berlin,anja

  6. can only repeat the above comments! question: how much pancetta do you use?

    1. thanks for catching that! about 6 pieces of thinly sliced pancetta or bacon or guanciale. changed above too! thank you.

  7. Amazing...simply amazing and sweet and decidedly fun!

  8. I always love your insights on momming and cooking! Thank you.

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  10. I don't know how you do it... There are so many mom blogs out there that I have read and feel absolutely no connection with. Yet, every one of your posts feels like the motherhood that I experience. There's a reality that is not trite or oversimplified or boastful or complaining that just feels right and true. And thank you for the recipes, they help so much when the everyday cooking starts to become onerous.

  11. That sauce is the REAL THING!!! I can't wait to make it.
    As the mother of 2 grown, 40 plus year old dare-devils, I can tell you it does get easier after they leave home and do things that you don't have to know about. Then when they tell you later, after they've survived, you can freak out to a lesser degree.
    Love your honesty.

  12. I miss the warm Pacific Ocean. In my youth, I hung out in Laguna Beach (my grandmother lived there) and Corona del Mar. I've moved to the foothills of Northern California and the Pacific Coast up here is cold, rocky and beautiful. Our "beaches" consist of lakes and rivers--wonderful in their own way, but not the Pacific! I stumbled across your blog this morning when I should be canning salsa, but will be back. The kids grow up too soon--enjoy them. If you think you have drama now, wait until the teen years! That is dramatic!

  13. my favorite sauce ever. the beach (at nearly the exact spot where i'm obsessed with relocating). family mayhem.
    love this post.
    thanks for the recipe, too. can't wait to try it.

  14. Wonderful recipe (my kitchen is still full of the scent) and beautiful blog entry... I teared up, remembering a too similar episode with just me and my own small Dashiell (now nine), with each of "crossing out" love and vacations and happiness, and then hugging and crying and falling all over ourselves and seeking solace in the nearby gelato cart run by a very patient, lovely, and bemused old italian man...

  15. Phyllis. I'm all teary-eyed here, at the beach, but it's my kids and our day. And you are brilliant with words.

  16. love this. and yes, it would be tragic to be hit by a bike on that menacing bike path. we tried it. it's no fun at all. making some pasta tomorrow after we hike our first fourteener with kids and all try not to fall off the top. this will be our reward. thanx for writing.

  17. Sarah in AustraliaDecember 4, 2012 at 5:39 PM

    This is the best version of this dish I have ever managed to pull off at home - thank you so much!

    Thank you also for keeping it real - you reassure me that when this little bean is out and there are three of us eating this sauce - I'll still be me, just a mama as well.

    1. what a touching comment. and yes. we all need to be reminded to keep it real. thank you.

  18. If tomatoes aren't in season, can we just use the same amount of canned & peeled San Marzanos or something?

    Looks delicious - thank you!

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