Kitchen Chronicles is a weekly series by Barbara Sibbald, a novelist and award-winning journalist and long-time contributor to Ottawa Magazine. Visit Kitchen Chronicles every Sunday for a new instalment — and a tested recipe.
Fiona turns down the pot of Bolognese sauce* to low. She can only make it on Sundays because it has to simmer a minimum of three hours. Luc and Gavin adore it. It’s her guilt recipe that she makes after a really busy week, when she’s been out almost every evening at some social event or another. The past week she’d worked late one night getting the magazine to bed, attended a friend’s book launch, the opening of a new tapas restaurant, and a movie with Anne. It’s too much, she thinks. I have a child. It’s not fair to Gavin. Then again, he’s busy too with sports after school. And there are nearly always sleepovers on the weekend. He’s growing up so fast. Separating, she thinks. From the time he was born really. First he separated from my body, and now that he’s a teenager, it’s going to get a lot more intense. That’s where the difficulties come from, she realizes. Separation.
She hears a tap at the back door and turns to see Trish, her eyes red and swollen, hair pulled back in a ponytail, no make-up. She looks astoundingly young and vulnerable. Fiona rushes to open the door.
— Trish! What’s wrong?
Trish falls into her arms and starts crying, her thin body shaking.
— Charles broke up with me! she says, pulling away. Bastard! He’s going back to his ex. Says he has unfinished business.
She blows her nose.
— Whoa, slow down, sit down. Who’s this ex? You’ve never mentioned…
— It’s that woman from our writing retreat last year. I think I told you about her…Julia. Great jet-black hair and wonderful clothes — expensive, all coordinated. I hated her the moment I saw her. I had the hots for Charles, but he and Julia hit it off big time. I still remember her hickies and the slinky green dress she wore two days running. Her smile. So self-satisfied. I was insanely jealous, not of her relationship with Charles per se, but of the obvious passion between them.
Fiona hands her a glass of water, she takes a sip.
— Thanks. Charles said the affair only lasted a few months. Turns out she was on the rebound — that’s what he told me anyway — and she had two pre-teen kids so he wasn’t sure about getting involved in all that. Plus she lived in Montreal. They broke up about three months before Charles and I started seeing each other.
— And now?
— Well, you remember I told you Charles went to Montreal on the weekend? He said he was going to go see his brother for some one-on-one time, but actually he went because she wanted to see him. I knew something was up.
— How could you know?
— I just knew it. I was so anxious when he left, but I dismissed it — never do that! Then he calls me Saturday afternoon, tells me he’s having dinner with Julia. Just wants to be honest with me, blah blah. So I ask the obvious: who called whom? And he says she called him last week, saying she was desperate to see him. And he says: How could I refuse? She’s still a friend after all. If we broke up and you called me and said that, I’d meet with you too.
— Yeah, well maybe, says Fiona, but he should have told you he was going to see her before he went to Montreal. If he wanted to be honest.
— That’s what I said! And he says he didn’t want me getting all upset for nothing.
— That’s so paternalistic! And cowardly!
— I know. Well, now I know. But on the phone all I said was that I was worried and I asked him to call me right after dinner.
— He didn’t call. Not all that night. And he knew I was worried. At first I was really upset, crying and all that. Then I got super angry — how dare he break his promise to me. Who does he think he is? Blah, blah. Then 15 minutes later I felt humiliated. I phoned you…
— We were at over at Anne and George’s for dinner and cards, says Fiona. It went pretty late.
— Well, eventually, at about 11 p.m. I get his brother on the phone and he didn’t even know that Charles was in town. So he’d lied about everything. I just cried for hours and then I eventually fell asleep. He finally called about an hour ago. I told him I talked to his brother, and called him a liar. All he says is that I had no right to call his brother. Then he spins this line about how he and Julia have unfinished business. That their breaking up was all a misunderstanding. He’d questioned whether he wanted to go out with a woman who had kids and she assumed that meant there was no future in their relationship so she walked out. But he says he was just thinking aloud. Being honest. And now they think they can get back together. They’ve made love. Who knows how many times…?
The tears come afresh. Fiona hands her a another Kleenex, gives her a hug.
— He’s so not worth your tears, she says. He’s a liar, you said it yourself. And he’s a cheat.
— But I love him!
— Do you? You were just saying the other week how you’d had it with him, how he was so self-centred. Always wanted to talk about his writing, never even asked how yours was going. How he was so critical of you all the time: what you wore or said. Who you were friends with. He hates me, that’s a given. So, what? You were going out with a guy who totally disapproved of everything in your life. And he treated you badly, Trish. You know that.
— Yeah, yeah.
She wipes her face, blows her nose.
— I was thinking about breaking up with him… I think I might have.
— Well, maybe he felt that and found his own way out of the relationship. A way where he wouldn’t be alone, where he would still have someone in his bed.
— Maybe the real problem is that you wish you’d broken off with him first.
— Maybe I just want to get him back so I can break up with him.
— Talk about control!
They laugh, although the tears haven’t yet dried on Trish’s face.
*Spectacular Bolognese sauce
1 stalk celery, with leaves, washed and chopped
2 large onions, peeled and chopped
2 green peppers, washed and chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 – 20 oz tins tomatoes
2 tins tomato paste
½ teaspoon cloves
½ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon sage
½ teaspoon cayenne
2 bay leaves
3 tablespoons grated parmesan
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons chopped green olives
1 pound ground steak
½ pound cleaned, sliced mushrooms
Grated parmesan at the table
1. Brown celery, onions, green peppers and garlic in olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat.
2. Add all the remaining ingredients except the final three (steak, mushrooms and parmesan).
3. Simmer slowly, uncovered, for 3-4 hours. Add water as it boils down.
4. A half-hour before serving, brown the ground steak and add to the sauce (or leave out for a vegetarian dish).
5. Cook spaghettini in a large pot of boiling, salted water.
6. While it’s cooking, sauté the mushrooms.
7. Spoon sauce over spaghettini, sprinkle with mushrooms and serve with freshly ground parmesan.
(Freezes well, but without the mushrooms.)