First Christmas.

A family is a system. A house is a place.

My sister and I have children (her first, my second) who are only a few months apart in age. Not long after they were born, our mother’s cancer returned, so that year we made plans for a Christmas christening celebration in Memphis, thinking it might be our last Christmas together. (It was not.)

It was the first Christmas after we bought Jackie’s house but before we started any of the renovation, before we knew what was really in store. We’d cleaned the house, to the extent possible, and had hired a painter to spray a thick coat of Kilz on the downstairs rooms outside of the kitchen, trying to cover years of nicotine and age. We were going to start with a clean slate.

We set up a photo shoot in the living room, taking advantage of the open space, ample natural light, and stained glass windows for a backdrop.

After the christening service, we had dinner at my mother’s house, all of us crammed together into her tiny but cozy quarters.

“I can imagine my niece coming down those grand stairs one night, years from now, to meet her prom date,” my sister said, as we sat in our mother’s living room, after everyone else had turned in for the night. “I can see all of the family stories that will happen in that house.”

A home is a system in place.


Simple Meat Pasta
(adapted from Marcella Hazan)

Among the meals brought by friends after our daughter was born, one stands out: Marcella Hazan’s simple meat pasta, served over wide egg noodles and paired with a simple green salad. The original recipe calls for ground veal, but I’ve found that ground turkey works perfectly. I’ve made this recipe countless times in the past 17 years, for family dinners and group celebrations alike.

To feed 4-6 people you’ll need:

  • 1 bag wide egg noodles
  • 1 lb. ground turkey
  • 1/2 of a white onion, chopped
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • Butter (2-3 T.)
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • Parmesan cheese

(Cook pasta while preparing the sauce)

In a large, heavy pot (I use a Dutch oven), saute onion in olive oil to take the edge off, then add meat, cooking until it’s no longer pink. Add tomatoes, stir, and let cook at a good pace for about 5-10 minutes, until the liquid has mostly evaporated. Add butter and stir. Using a slotted spoon (or something similar) scoop pasta from the pasta-cooking pot directly into the sauce; some of the pasta cooking water will ride along with the noodles, which is what you want. Stir the whole thing together. If it’s too liquidy, turn up the heat and let it cook a little longer.

Salt to taste. Serve with grated Parmesan cheese.


Note: This post is part of a series about our renovation of a house built in 1905 that we bought in 2003 from the woman who lived in it for 91 years. The first post in this series is “Jackie’s House.”

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