Theresa goes viral…

I came across the most perfect Mother’s Day inspiration today. My AMAZING mom posted a pic of my nana (who passed about 6 years ago) on her Facebook page. Then my crazy family started commenting and posting snippets of Theresa-isms.

Anyone out there from a crazy Italian/American family with all the stereotypes? The made up “italian” words, the hugs, the yelling, the love, the EATING, the traditions?

Then you’ll relate.

Nana passed when she was 96. (I know…I’m in for a long life, her sister is still kicking at 100.) In all seriousness, I swear it’s from the lack of preservatives; everything was homemade, the wine consumption, her undying faith in God, and her ENORMOUS love of her family. I miss the crap out of her and I am so grateful that she was here with us for so many memories. My mom reminds me more and more of her everyday now that I have kids of my own. I can only hope to be half the woman, mom, and nana that each of these ladies were and are. imageimage

What ended up being posted today was a hilarious video that my cousin Janine and her husband shot during a road trip to Easter at my Aunts house. This was the very last Easter we had my nana around.

As hilarious as it is, there are many lessons to be learned here from a wise old Italian Nana.  I will list them here:

  1. She’s so humble when given a compliment.
  2. Family holidays are a very big deal. Do not take them for granted. Travel if needed to keep a tradition going.
  3. Wearing a rain hat will prevent frizz.
  4. Even if someone is filming you in a car, it’s important to say your prayers.
  5. She loved all of our significant others so very much and treated them like part of the family.
  6. When asked if we can do a holiday meal without the meatballs and braciole, the obvious answer is no. Traditions are meant to be kept.
  7. She’s listening and understands everything you are saying even if she doesn’t respond right away or at all.
  8. When you ask whats wrong and when she says “Nothin”, that means something. Watch out.
  9. If you piss her off, her silence is deadly.
  10. When all is said and done, Family is first, ALWAYS. Forgive and forget.
  11. Bonus: When you arrive at the destination, you arrive humble and kind and ready for a good time.

So without further adieu, I’m going to give you a gift. I hope you laugh your ass off and can see why we all loved her so very much.

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xo friends and Happy Mother’s Day!!

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Just another overbooked Thursday…

Last week: Husband: “what are we gonna do with the grapes? Theres a ton of them.”

Me: “Oh, I forgot about the grapevine in the back yard.” Really I’ve forgotten about the entire backyard all together since its summer we are either at the beach or at someone’s pool when we venture outdoors. Hanging out on our own land is reserved for the spring and fall because GOD forbid the basketball court and plenty of room to play is enough in the summer for the children of suburbia in the year 2015…but anyway,

So we have this grapevine. It’s not just any grapevine because of course EVERYTHING  has it’s story. This grapevine (or a tiny piece of it) was given to my husband and I on the day of my nana’s funeral about 5 1/2 years ago. My nana whom you’ve read quite a bit about here over the past year, lived in a small mining town in upstate PA and had this amazing grapevine her backyard that as kids, my cousins and I would play under and around. This grapevine was supposedly brought here from Italy in the early 20th century. Now, I have no idea whether or not I should believe that a partial grapevine took a boat ride lasting a few weeks only to be smuggled into the country pre-WWI but its sounds like a sweet story so, OK. That’s what happened according to Theresa G.

From year to year the grapes were harvested off of this modest backyard vine. Sometimes the cousins and I would be involved in harvesting these grapes each fall. When I say involved I mean playing and making a mess while my mom and her siblings and my nana would pick, clean, cook and jar the jelly.

For me, and most of my cousins, the grapevine was just a really cool part of Nana’s backyard. It was a place to take pictures on Easter Sunday and hide the eggs for the hunt, and a place to hide from the adults in the house.  Nevertheless, We got a piece to keep as a memory. Mainly because my husband has a major green thumb and a knack for landscaping. He also loves a challenge and likes to learn new things. I’m not always that motivated in the gardening department. But I like pretty things so we (he) learned how to take care of it.

And it grew like crazy over the past 5 years. This year we had the most grapes to date. Enough to make some stuff. So what did I do? I called my mom. And overbooked a Thursday. Anything to keep a tradition alive.

I’m super awesome at organizing and delegating but it often takes a village (or just my mom and some of her grandkids)  to pull off my ideas while I tend to 4 thousand other things.

My Nana used to make Grape jelly and grape juice and sometimes Uncle Frank and Aunt Mimi made some super concentrated vino. We’re not ready for that yet so my mom came armed with all the trimmings to make the jelly and some juice. image

Step 1 get some kids to help nana (my mom) pick the grapes because of course Hubs and I are working that day. Well, I had a little bit of time to help clean them during my morning coffee…

Nana getting all up in the vine on a Thursday morning...

Nana getting all up in the vine on a Thursday morning…

the girls putting the picked ones into a pot

the girls putting the picked ones into a pot

me, pretending to help

me, pretending to help

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picking the grapes off the stems

picking the grapes off the stems

So here’s where the real work begins and I leave the scene. Of course as part of the overbooked Thursday Eloise and I have Kindergarten orientation (during my work day as well as the grape production – if you’re keeping track that is 3 projects).

So we split the scene for a wardrobe change (of course there’s a wardrobe change; the outfits for grape picking and kindergarten orientation are WAAAYYY different), leaving nana with 2 grandkids and a husband who was on his way out in 10 minutes, to finish the picking and cleaning. So mom took some pics of the next few steps; the cooking and draining process. This takes about 4 hours so there was plenty of time for my dear sister-in-law to come over armed with a delicious lunch from Trader Joes and also towing with her, the last grandkid. Eloise and I, after a successful orientation came back to food and no work.

cooking the cleaned grapes

cooking the cleaned grapes

straining

straining

cooking again

cooking again

jellying....

jellying….

what makes it jellified...

what makes it jellified…

Now this is not a recipe post as that’s not really the point but if you’re looking for a slightly similar but a little simpler one, you can find it in this month’s issue of Martha Stewart Living. This one doesn’t require the sure gel step. For whatever reason, I don’t know the reason because I haven’t read it. My mom told me. 🙂

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So that was that. We revived the tradition a little half-assed this year. After my mom finished the project (MAJOR PROPS) and we were all jarred up and cleaned up, we then had to cook some dinner, get ready for soccer and also a party at my sister-in-law’s house. Oh, and finish the actual work day. It all came together though. And we had a fun night under the stars. Thanks Suz 😉

A few observations:

  1. I wouldn’t have been a part of this at all if I was still commuting and working crazy retail schedule.
  2. The jelly and grape juice came out great and now my mom should be ready to really teach us all next year.
  3. Sometimes traditions go away for a bit but there’s always room to bring the important ones back. And what do I like most about traditions? Making them a party!
  4. So next year will be the 1st annual grape harvest at my house. We will make it a party; which means wine and food will be involved. It will be planned way in advance so all parties involved can help, and will not include work, school etc. It will be a weekend day with no sports. I’m putting this in writing.

And Nana TT will be watching (and silently judging lovingly), from heaven.

xo friendsimage

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Everything’s different, but the same…and Meatballs for breakfast on Easter Sunday.

Yesterday was Easter pie day.

Easter has always been a big deal in my family. It was always that one holiday that out “chaos-ed” every other holiday. Where family traveled from near and far to stay in my nana’s small 100-year-old house in an old italian mining town in upstate Pennsylvania to celebrate, cook, eat, visit older relatives, visit the dead ones too…at the cemetery (yes this was an activity), eat some more, and leave on Easter Sunday afternoon exhausted and with a dose of heartburn.

As the oldest grandchild I spent 34 Easters there. The ones spent with my cousins were the most memorable. We would spend our days running around to the playground, corner store and at elderly aunt’s houses, and spend the nights staying up too late and carving our names into the attic ceiling. As we grew up the only thing that really changed was the alcohol intake and some fierce games of scrabble.

After having meatballs and easter pies for breakfast, Church was the big outing on Sunday. Sometimes I even went on Saturday night to hear my nana and her sisters sing at the vigil mass. I could always pick out her harmonies in that choir loft…She lived till 97 years old and even in the end, legally blind and a failing heart, she managed to get the pies done and thank goodness she passed it down to her kids..because near and far all four of them still do the pies, and the meatballs and still makes a big deal out of Easter, no matter who is there for the gathering.

My mom, aunt and I gathered at my sister-in-law’s house yesterday to get the pies done. Since I’m still a one-armed wonder and get scolded by a family member or medical professional every time I do something other than sit and take pictures, I did just that. (iPhone pics only since I only have the use of one arm, so I apologize for the pic quality..) I documented our old but new tradition, with some of nana’s great grandkids on hand to join in the fun and add to the chaos.

A pictorial follows and no you don’t get the recipes. All Italians have their own secret ingredients when it comes to these things and far be it from me to give them away. ps I don’t even have them yet.

dairy for days

dairy for days

"Eloise and Talulah" adding the meat to the mixture

“Eloise and Talulah” adding the meat to the mixture

beginnings of the meat pie

homemade dough for the crust

homemade dough for the crust

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making them full

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art form

the perfect ham and sausage Easter pies

the perfect ham and sausage Easter pies

Of course there’s more than one type of pie. duh. “We” also made spinach bread and rice pie (with the raisons) too…mmmmmm

Of course there was time for a toast using some of nana’s vintage glasses. chin chin! image

and there was plenty of dough left for the girls to make some apple turnovers! I was never this focused at 4.imageimageimage

dying eggs and some crafts were next. a tradition that carries on from the late 70’s with us grandkids…some years were more successful than others and some (like in the late 90’s) were accompanied by a lot of vino, making for some crazy eggs. but here’s a peak at this generation’s:image

These days we spend Easter Sunday at my aunt’s house with a lot of the same family members as well as some new ones and a lot more little ones. Yes, It’s different but the same. The same energy level, the same menu, the same jokes, the same chaos. It’s a nice beginning to the next generation’s childhood memories.

I wrote this email to my cousins about a year after nana passed to say happy Easter and that I always think of them on that day. It never fails that in some way, whether by phone, text, or in person we all connect still every easter.

“Happy Easter cousins! It’s obviously not the same as it used to be…I was thinking of taking the kids to the mall after baseball practice tomorrow to see the Easter bunny but we don’t have a Boscovs who’s first floor is full of strong smelling hyacinth and lots of old lady’s searching for the perfect Easter tablecloth..so it won’t feel the same.

I would watch Saturday night live tomorrow night but it’s not as fun if it’s not huddled in sleeping bags and afghans on a 70-year-old carpet.

I will try to fry up some garlic and peppers so my house can come close to smelling like nana’s and maybe we can pick up some pony beers just for old times sake.

I will look at the picture that Janine sketched for all of us of nana’s kitchen many times this weekend to conjure up the memories….”

Happy Easter friends! xo

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The age of Aquarius

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I couldn’t have said it better myself. All of that. And I’ve become more true to the definition of an Aquarius as I’ve gotten older. There’s no hiding for an Aquarius. We usually put it all out there. And I’m proud of that.

Always slightly different from the pack. Enough to be original and not too much as to alienate myself.

Water baby. Love the water, the sun, the outdoors to a fault. Les miserable in the winter months. Which is why I find it really strange that the Aquarius is born in the dead of winter. So anyway, I celebrated the big 40 (I hate that saying) last weekend. It was a bunch of small celebrations with family mostly. The big bonus? For the first time in I think 10 years it didn’t snow and was above freezing.  I have some fun sunshiny trips and outings planned for the rest of the year to feed my water sign personality so don’t worry, it’s a full year of celebrating. I think that’s fair for forty right?

Lets recap in pictures!

saturday started with some hot yoga (my new favorite thing) and continued in a normal fashion and then I put on a sequin skirt and went to dinner with my family. Food, WINE, and family.

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Sunday was a real treat. Sunday I went to the spa with the beauties pictured above. And then some delicious fresh Mexican mmmmm…

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A champagne surprise!

A champagne surprise!

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The wallpaper here was trippy...

The wallpaper here was trippy…

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I can not explain in words how good this was.

I can not explain in words how good this was.

A perfect gift from a super amazing cousin.

A perfect gift from a super amazing cousin.

I wanted to take this chair but I think it would have been frowned upon.

I wanted to take this chair but I think it would have been frowned upon.

Monday (my actual birthday) hubs told me to take the day off and we wandered around sans les enfants. Not to worry the kids gave me gifts Friday (my new yoga pants and a gift card for many yoga classes!) and we celebrated after gymnastics on Monday with waffles and ice cream. Mr. 3rd grader thought it would be fun to write the numbers 4-0 in chocolate sauce on the waffles as well.  And I can’t help but mention the fact that elliemonster wrapped up one of my moms necklaces and gave it to me as her very own gift.

But back to Monday afternoon. Meandering through Longwood Gardens.

We spent most of the time in the conservatory with all the retirees because it’s February but just being around flowers, plants and life was re-energizing  and inspiring. Then onto a very relaxing, almost vacation like lunch at Terrain.

We didn’t talk about the kids. Yes we did. But not the whole time. Some pics…

Reminded me of the old lady's mansion in Great Expectations

Reminded me of the old lady’s mansion in Great Expectations

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The largest green wall in the world (this is only a section obvi because that's a pretty big statement)

The largest green wall in the world (this is only a section obvi because that’s a pretty big statement)

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For the ride home

For the ride home

A few more gift snaps…

Another amazing special gift from a super amazing cousin. We have a very creative family ;)

Another special gift from another super amazing cousin. We have a very creative family 😉

My new grown up bag

My new grown up bag

A gift from a friend and a gift to myself...

A gift from a friend and a gift to myself…

So that was that. Super appreciative of all the good wishes and all the thoughtful gifts and fun moments. Looking froward to 10 more months filled with fun 40 celebrations because more than a few of you are turning that same number…

Getting a little closer each year.

Getting a little closer each year.

Here’s to us!

Xo friends!

“could ya go a meatball?” -Nana Greco

My cousin sent a group text to all the cousins last week that I didn’t see right away. When I finally did there were 28 of them. After trying to get back to the beginning while laughing the whole time at the back and forth between 7 cousins across 2 continents and 3 coasts, I saw the first post. It simply read, “Could ya go a Meatball?” Please know that when you read this you should be reading it in an upstate Pennsylvanian accent and sound slightly off the boat from Italy. But an american Italia, if that makes any sense. Did you try it? Ha! That’s my Nana. Her name was Theresa.

And she fed us. Not only did she make sure we were well fed on regular visits but the family gatherings and parties were ALL about the food. Good Fresh Homemade Food. I swear that woman lived till almost 100 because she never had a preservative. But that in itself is a whole other convo that I probably will not be attempting to discuss here. Ever.

The texts sent me down memory lane for a while; particularly through family gatherings and holiday parties of my childhood on up. Food was always the star and Nana, my mom and my fabulous God-mom Mimi, always were very effortless about it. There was a ton of prep, sometimes days worth. They didn’t have Pinterest. There was no search for the perfectly “crafted” cupcake in the shape of a vintage ornament or whatever, or the most fancy pureed squash soup sprinkled with pancetta. Just passed down recipes and good food. There was also this organized chaos in the kitchen, which in my later years I learned to appreciate. Not everything was “done” exactly when the guests arrived. There was always something left to do, or help with; and always a glass of vino offered while you were helping. It was ok that not everything was perfect and it was way more fun that way. In the past 10 years or so my cousins and I have taken to hosting quite a few of these gatherings and things run pretty much the same way as they did growing up. We learned from the best. (oh, and the “best” still helps by bringing a sh#t ton of food too)

This holiday season, I am hosting a few family gatherings and will be having friends and their families over as well. I started down that Pinterest road unknowingly a couple of nights ago, just to “get some loose ideas”. Then the gorgeous pictures started to give me anxiety. Pinxiety if you will. Too pretty. Too much to choose from. GIIIIRL. PUT. THE. IPAD. DOWN.

I decided to pretend it was let’s say… 2005 again. Get out the cookbooks and recipe cards. What have I made before? What do I love to cook? What have people liked in the past? I also have a notebook that I’ve saved from pretty much every gathering I’ve had since 2001 (when I got married). It helps. Because a lot of those things I’ve made time and time again, whether it be for a party I threw or even to bring as a guest to someone else’s party.

I’ll share with you my go to books for entertaining here. They are not your typical ones though. I like a bit of inspiration and story with my cookbooks so I go for the memoir type. I also like to choose from books that have more of a family-style vibe. These days there’s rarely an occasion that the kids aren’t invited. There needs to be something for everyone and the food should look good and be inviting (and on nice plates) without being too fancy. Here are my recommendations for some good recipes and a good read:

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The Family Dinner by Laurie David. What I like about this book is that although it’s not really geared toward entertaining per say, it covers a lot of different topics.

– The family dinner and how to get everyone to eat together on a daily basis; The extended family dinners; Fun topics to bring up with kids at the table; Games; Cooking together.

There are some good recipes that work for both regular nights and entertaining. She kind of leaves room for editing the recipes to your taste.

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The chapters on cooking with kids and cooking with grandparents are really fun and attainable and not at all “too perfect”.

The next one is an old favorite: The Barefoot Contessa Family Style

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I got this for a wedding shower gift. It is used often. I used to be kind of obsessed with this lady. I loved watching her food network show back in the day (before Nickelodeon and International Soccer took over my TV). She always seemed to whip up a table full of food for a party in Nantucket just as her guests were arriving and sipping their first cocktail in the garden. And she ALWAYS sat down unflustered to eat with them right away. Must have been that Pinot Grigio she was sippin while roasting that cauliflower….Anyway, my faves in the book can be made for a party of 2 or 20 easily.

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Saffron Risotto with Butternut Squash. So goooood and you can easily do this with mushrooms and onions instead of the squash; give or take a little more garlic. It’s just a really good base recipe for risotto.

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And, her roasted asparagus with Parmesan (see the YES tab on the page? means I make it. A lot).

Lastly, I am not ashamed to admit that I’m completely obsessed with this book. And her blog. You should read it. Today. Dinner: A Love Story by Jenny Rosenstrach. This woman and her husband are awesome. http://www.dinneralovestory.com I’ve been following her for a few years now. I found her in my search to make dinner a pleasant experience for my family and I.

2010: 1 super picky kid, 1 baby who seemed to love everything if only it was pureed, and 2 working parents who had no time to cook, or shop…my story hasn’t changed much at all. Everyone is just a bit older and my daughter now can eat solid foods. Ha!

I digress, please check out the blog and book. For the purpose of this post, I love using this book for parties. There are many, easy and delicious recipes and drink recipes not to mention tips and tricks on how to pull it all together with kids in the house.

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A favorite recipe for gatherings is the pork ragout that you can put over egg noodles or do as sammies with crusty rolls and cheese.

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I also really appreciate her honesty about having a crazy schedule and pipe dreams about entertaining. It’s real, and funny and captivating. The carefree attitude and family and friends first attitude are slightly reminiscent of Ms. Julia Child.

Speaking of, I HIGHLY recommend Julia’s memoir: My Life in France. What an inspiring woman. I hope this post inspires you to maybe put down the tech and grab a book. a cookbook, a memoir, a cooking magazine, or an old family recipe for your holiday gatherings this year 😉

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Sweet and Sour meatballs: a memoir 1984-2014

Whenever I’m asked to bring an appetizer or dessert to a grown-up, no kids party my immediate reaction is “Of course I’d love too! I can think of so many things to bring!”

25 minutes later and a quick glance at the daily schedules leading up to said events my reaction is, “Ugh. I have no idea what to make and when I’m going to make it and how its going to in any way look like I tried.”

The morning of said event my reaction is, “How many minutes do I have between work/and or soccer/gymnastics etc to go buy something to bring that needs little or no assembly?”

I know you’re all just like me. (Well there may be a percentage of overachievers amongst you but please don’t out yourselves. I’ll just feel more inadequate).  Well, this one time I was determined to make something for a change. Something that was not a dip or cookie. No matter what appointments, or needy little children got in my way.

Growing up when my parents would entertain or throw a party, I loved watching them prep the day of. My mom moving around the furniture to make space, my dad running out to the liquor store to get beer, mixers and ice (and apple cider donuts for me and my brother) and the sweet and savory smells of whatever was going to be on he menu. PS- I’m totally romanticizing this. I mean I’m sure the day was interrupted by my brother and I fighting over some lego/barbie situation and I’m sure my mom on more than one occasion said, “I can’t understand why your father waits till the last-minute to do what he needs to do.” Nevertheless, It’s how I remember it.

Later on when things were just about ready, my mom would still be setting up, starting to put the appetizers on the 6′ table with a fancy cloth in the family room while dressed in her silk blouse and fancy slacks and heels (this was the early 80’s think Meredith Baxter-Bernie in Family Ties x-mas episode style, or even Julia Sugarbaker from Designing Women…) it’s funny what we remember and how the images are ingrained in our heads isn’t it 😉

The night would then begin with the guests arriving. My brother and I would be allowed to stay downstairs to say hello for a few minutes and then we got to spend the evening in my parents room watching movies (mostly Star Wars and Goonies) and eating snacks. We would always sneak halfway down the stairs though to listen in on the grown up’s fun and laughter only to race back upstairs when we heard someone turning the corner so they didn’t see us.

They usually threw a big bash on St. Patty’s Day as I recall, and my mom always had sweet and sour meatballs on the menu. In fact I can’t remember a party or family get together without them.

Fast forward 30ish years later… I still haven’t attempted to make them even though she hand wrote the recipe on one of those index cards for me like 13 years ago when I got married; WAY before Pinterest. So this weekend after working all week, a multi-family bonfire/hayride friday night, a funeral and picking up the kids Saturday afternoon with just 2 hours left to make or buy something for a party that evening … I decided to go for it.

What follows is a pictorial ode to my version of the meatballs. I say my version because my husband bought the hot chile sauce instead of regular so in the end they became not sweet and sour but sweet and very spicy and sometimes sour.

 

My mom ALWAYS took her rings off while mixing the meat. So I oblige.

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Mix 2lbs. ground meat (I used 85/15 because meatballs need some fat people come on…my nana taught me that) with 2 beaten eggs, a minced (or roughly chopped because I don’t own a mincer) onion, salt and pepper, and 1/2 cup crushed corn flakes in a bowl and set aside. 

DSC_0779In a pan, combine 12oz bottle of chile sauce (without those hot pepper flakes you see pictured…or with if you want my version), 6oz of grape jelly (but because of the hot sauce, I added a bit more), and the juice of a lemon. simmer for 5 mins or so. 

the culprit

the culprit

You know what? They were super spicy but I got a lot of compliments and no one knew they weren’t supposed to be until I said something. Plus it made for more consumption of the homemade Sangria that the hostess made. Win. Win.

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While the sauce is simmering, roll those meatballs one by one and plop them on in. My mom’s recipe says it makes 65 BUT I only got 35ish. I think I made them a tad too large. Again, whatever.

So simmer the meatballs for about an hour. try not to let your husband or whoever eat too many before the party because then you’re SOL and will have to run out for a package of frozen dumplings. You can refrigerate these puppies for 2-3 days or freeze them. you can totally make 2 batches and freeze one for the next gathering. defrost and go. Genius.

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Yes. Wine was involved in the making of this recipe. So was the Otis Redding Pandora station. It’s really all about the experience anyway right?

Thanks Mom. xo