Tomato Sauce with Sausage

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Once again my good intentions remain just that, and another month has passed between posts. The past few weeks have gone by in a blur, with more going on than I had initially expected. Jonji and I are both adjusting to life with new schedules and a new furry baby, and I just returned from a fast-paced weekend in Santa Cruz. I will not be offended if you skip down to the recipe on this one, because a lot has happened in the past month that I wouldn’t feel right excluding.

My first few weeks as an intern at Still Room have gone very well, with no driving mishaps and a pleasant realization that Verve is literally right around the corner. I also finally realized how different having a job, AKA “real life,” and being in school are. It’s wonderful not having homework to do at the end of the day, but I am also more exhausted after a work-day than I feel after a day at school.

Jonji started third year off with transplant surgery, which means he had several shifts during which he left at 7 AM one day and came home at 5 or 7 AM the following day. He took it all in stride and stayed in good spirits, even though his day off a week consisted of sleeping half the day away. The good news is that he’s getting some difficult weeks out of the way, and there will be some less-taxing times in the months to come.

Last weekend I flew home for Emma’s high school graduation. I was able to get to the airport on time, with even a little of it to kill, but American Airlines decided that the rest of my evening wasn’t destined to go so smoothly. After switching gates on me not once, not twice, but three times, they decided to switch our departure time around just as much. We ended up leaving an hour and a half late, and my fear of flying was not decreased as I shuddered through turbulence for almost the entire trip. I made it into San Jose at midnight, happy to be alive. After almost running through the airport with no idea where I was, I heard a honk through a random door and turned to see Mom, Emma, and Pip parked right outside. Emma and Pip fell asleep in the backseat on the ride home, while Mom stoically remained alert.

The next day Dad picked Cristy up on his way home from work, and after a workout at CFSC I joined the two of them in taking Pip out for a walk through the forest. The dense, sleepy quiet of a redwood forest blanketed in dappled sunlight is one of the most calming environments I can think of. We trekked through the golden light and green leaves for nearly an hour, our fingers expanding from the warm hike along with our good moods.

At 3 PM, we piled into the car to drive to Cabrillo for Emma’s 6 PM graduation. Each turn into a newly discovered line of traffic brought groans of despair and navigational strategies from my car-mates. Debates over the best routes to take ensued. Despite the frenzied atmosphere inside the car, we got there with two hours to spare and ended up being one of ten cars in the parking lot. As the plan was to tailgate with the Schmidts, we set up a shade structure and immediately attacked a spread of chips, avocado, chicken, and apple. By the time it was graduation time, we were ready for the next meal. We stuck around, however, since we like Emma. As far as graduations go, it was a pleasant one! Good speeches—succinct and sometimes funny—by all, and it was fun to cheer Emma as she walked up to receive her diploma. Three out of three O’Regan girls through high school!

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After taking pictures in the center of the swarm of graduates and their families, we trekked back to the car and drove to Bantam. There we ran into Allison, Cary, Nicole, and Heather as we waited for the big group table—gotta love small cities. The meal was superb, and we all got way more full than we had thought. We toasted Emma’s success with champagne, and Mom and Cristy got extra giggly after one glass each. Emma’s coworkers were especially sweet, and didn’t seem to mind very much when we were the last to leave the restaurant.

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The next day Dad, Bailey, and I started off the day with a workout, then attempted to do whatever it took to keep Mom’s stress levels low. For Cristy and I, that meant forming the AV Team, in charge of audio and visual elements of the party (AKA the slideshow). Bailey, who thought we were called the AB Team, kept shrieking at us to do some real work. For her, that meant peeling and chopping mangoes for salsa for three hours. The AV Team was way more fun, so I didn’t rush to switch jobs.

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Finally, the house was pristine, the mounds of food were ready for hungry mouths, and the AV Team had succeeded in preparing the slideshow for watching later that evening. People slowly trickled in at 4:15, and soon the backyard was full of friends and family. Lemon drops (a type of drink, not Dumbledore’s favorite candy) and homemade strawberry sodas were in full effect, and soon the taco spread was brought out. It was great to see friends and family from various aspects of my life—aunts and uncles, cousins, the Jacksons, Schmidts, Pat & Taz and their boys, CrossFit friends, and many others. I got to snuggle little Arrow while flitting around to different groups until his bedtime, and then I got to snuggle my full taco plate in his absence. A variety of mini Buttercup cupcakes made up the dessert table, which Auntie Trudy and I hovered over while debating over which flavor would be most delicious. Finally it was time for the slideshow that I had labored over the entire previous weekend, and thanks to the AV Team it went on without a hitch. Highlights include the opening song (the Shire theme song from LOTR) and the goofy video of Emma dancing that I threw in the middle. The rest of the night passed pleasantly, with lots of laughter around the table with Jay, Emily, Ollie, Matt, Bailey, and Dad, and then ended with a rerun of all three siblings’ slideshows.

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The next morning Mom and Dad, being the wonderful parents they are, joined Cristy and I in waking up at 4:30 to drive us to the SJ airport in order to make my 6:30 flight home. Saying goodbye was hard, as usual, but fortunately the rest of the morning went well. I made it home, safe and sound, with the memories of the exceptional weekend still running through my head.

One cool thing that happened to Jonji and I recently: Jonji invited me into Westwood for a quick dinner before his 11–5 AM surgery, so I joined him for ramen. A doctor, eating with his wife at the same restaurant, asked Jonji about himself, as he was still in scrubs, and they chatted for a minute. After dinner the waiter ecstatically told us that the doctor and his wife had paid for our, along with another couple’s, meals. He then told us that the doctor’s wife happened to be Geena Davis, of Thelma & Louise and A League of Their Own, to name a few. So random, but definitely one of our best celebrity encounters so far.

As I mentioned before, we got Kitty a friend! They are far from friends now, but I’m hoping that Kitty will accept little Babushka soon. Babushka is a small, 5-year-old Russian Blue with bright green eyes who loves to show off her little belly and chirps loudly whenever we walk in the room. She has so far been really good about approaching Kitty but, alas, Kitty won’t tolerate having her less than 10 inches away. Any closer and she goes into full attack-mode. However, it’s only been a few weeks since they met, so I’m hoping for the best. Only time, and constant vigilance on my part, can bring about any positive changes.

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The tomatoes are back in season at our market! The thing that I look forward to using them for most is this tomato sauce with sausage. It’s the perfect combination of savory meat and herbs with sweet, bright tomatoes. If you can’t find tomatoes that look and smell perfectly in-season, don’t bother with this one. Otherwise, the flavor just won’t be there. I highly recommend a trip to your closest Farmer’s Market, where vendors sell tomatoes that are picked much more recently than those at the store. Market-ready tomatoes are so brightly red and perfect that you’ll want to buy them all, and I won’t judge you if you do!

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Tomato Sauce with Sausage
serves 4

4 sausages, any kind

6-8 large red tomatoes, very ripe
1 red onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp chopped fresh thyme
2 tbsp chopped fresh oregano
1 tbsp chopped basil leaves (optional)
1 tbsp tomato paste
1/2 cup or a couple glugs of red wine
salt and pepper

1 packet any type of pasta, cooked according to the package’s instructions

Set a large pot of water to boil. Remove any stems from the tomatoes and make a small, shallow slice in the skin of each one. Once the water comes to a boil, lower the tomatoes into the water and boil for 3 minutes. Drain the tomatoes into a colander and let cool.

While you’re waiting for the water to come to a boil, cook the sausages. Here, you have two options. Option 1: remove the sausage meat from the casing and cook over medium heat, breaking the meat apart and stirring often. Cook until the meat is broken into chunks, and is cooked through (about 10 minutes). Option 2: Heat a tbsp of olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the sausages and brown, a couple of minutes per side. Pour 1/3 cup water into the pan, turn the heat down to low, and cover. Cook for 15-18 minutes. Remove the lid, turn the heat back to medium, and cook the sausages until the liquid evaporates and they are well browned, making sure to turn them occasionally. Set aside to cool.

Once the tomatoes are cool enough to handle, set a sieve over a large bowl. Place one tomato in the sieve, core it, slip off its skin, and seed it.* Place the “meat” of the tomato in the bowl beneath the sieve. Repeat with the remaining tomatoes. Once each is seeded and skinned, throw out the leftover seeds and puree the tomato meat and juice in a blender until smooth. Set aside.

Set a pot over medium heat and add roughly 3 tbsp of olive oil. When it’s hot, add the diced onion, minced garlic, 1/4 tsp salt, some freshly ground pepper, and half the chopped herbs. Cook, stirring often, until the onion has softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste. Once that’s mixed in, pour in the wine and cook for two minutes. Add the tomato puree, along with the rest of the herbs, 1/4 tsp salt, and some pepper, and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to low and simmer for about 30 minutes. Once you set the heat to simmer, boil water for your pasta and cook according to the instructions on the package.

Slice the sausages into chunks and add them to the sauce halfway through its simmer time (or simply add in the already cooked chunks if you used option 1). Serve the sauce hot over freshly cooked pasta. Enjoy!

*A tomato has four seed sacs inside. They come out quite easily when hot if you simply run your fingers through the tomato.

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