In keeping with my earlier attempts to beat the January doldrums, we had some friends over for dinner last weekend. While the boys took turns riding a dirt bike, the girls chatted and listened to music, and the adults discussed all kinds of unrelated things over some pumpkin beer and white wine. This family is of Italian descent, but that slipped my mind when I prepared a menu of two full baking dishes of cavatelli, garlic bread, and salad. Once they arrived, it occurred to me that none of my Italian dishes could possibly compete with what their grandmothers prepared. But it was too late to change my mind. I apologize for the somewhat blurry pictures today. I took these shots hurriedly with my tablet after a few glasses of wine as everyone watched and waited for me to be finished so we could finally eat. I'm not sure how other bloggers discreetly photograph their subjects for upcoming blog posts. I always feel rather embarrassed photographing in front of my guests.
Prepare 1 pound of wagon wheel pasta al dente. Drain and set aside. Bake 1 pound of Italian link sausage for 45-60 minutes until cooked through. Slice approximately 1/2 inch thick and set that aside. In a small skillet, cook 3 small diced onions and 2 minced garlic cloves in some olive oil until tender. In a baking dish, combine the cooked pasta and sausage, the onion mixture, 1 jar of spaghetti sauce, 1/2 cup of shredded mozzarella cheese, some oregano, basil, salt, and pepper. Toss gently to combine. Bake, covered, in a 375 degree oven for about 30 minutes or until center is hot. Uncover and sprinkle another 1/2 cup of shredded mozarella on top. Bake uncovered for another 5-10 minutes. This serves 6-8. I doubled the recipe to fill 2 baking dishes.
We picked up a couple of frozen loaves of garlic bread from the supermarket and put them in the oven right before it was time to eat. Along with a tossed salad with a simple oil/vinegar salad dressing recipe I use all the time, dinner was made for 11 people, and there was some cavatelli left over.
There are friends you're just so comfortable around that you can talk about anything easily. Somehow the topic of Botox came up. And Botox parties. And mobile Botox party trucks. And injections of Juvederm and a host of other mid-life topics. I don't even know how this all originated except I have only recently become aware of the existence of such things and have been rather curious about their effects. When I was in my twenties, I thought that when I reached my forties and fifties, I would finally be able to relax about my appearance. I mistakenly assumed that there would no longer be this pressure to look young, svelte, and...perfect. But somewhere in the past 20-30 years, it seems that the standards have definitely changed. I remember when a woman of 50, who could be a grandmother, would still look attractive, but she looked like an attractive middle-aged woman. She didn't continue to look 30. Now the checkout aisles are full of magazine covers of celebrities my age and much older who still look the way they did two or three decades ago. It doesn't seem fair that we women never get to relax. Not only are these women careful about their diets and exercise regimes, but I discovered a thick magazine in Barnes & Noble that is all about the latest products and procedures and surgeries that even non-celebrities go through in order to still look youthful and flawless. At what age does this immense pressure to look like the cast of Friends end? I hate that this exists, that I even think about it, and that my daughters will face this their entire lives. Anyway, that is sort of what the Botox dinner conversations were about. Only with good friends can these things be discussed at the dinner table along with politics, religion, and all those other impolite topics.
To finish off dinner, I made these sinful Dark Chocolate/Peanut Butter Chip Cookie Bars. Fortunately, they were gone by the end of the evening so there were no temptations for me the rest of the week.
Dark Chocolate/Peanut Butter Chip Cookie Bars
Stir together 2 1/4 cups flour, 1 teaspoon baking soda, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. In another bowl, beat (with mixer) 2 sticks of softened butter, 3/4 cup granulated sugar, 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar, and 1 teaspoon vanilla until creamy. Add 2 eggs and beat well. Gradually add flour mixture, beating well. Stir in 1/2 bag of Hershey's Special Dark mildly sweet chocolate chips and 1/2 bag of Reese's peanut butter chips. Spread in a greased baking dish and bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes.
As I end this blog post and continue to strive to age gracefully, I share the following quotes that keep me focused on what really matters:
"At the end of the day, you will not remember the person with the most beautiful face, but you will remember the person with the most beautiful heart and soul." (unknown)
"A pretty face gets old, a nice body will change. But a good woman will always be a good woman." (unknown)
"Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing, but a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised." (Proverbs 31:30)
"Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God's kindness: kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile." (Mother Teresa)
And a heartfelt thankyou goes out to all my friends and family who have blessed me with their companionship over the past few weeks. You are making winter fly by!