comfort. italian style.

Before.

It’s been a decade or more since we’ve had a functioning oven in our house. As it turns out, finding a replacement 24-inch gas wall oven is significantly more difficult — and more expensive — than one might expect.

Much of the time, I don’t miss it. And by “much of the time,” I mean I don’t miss it in the summer, when I would be hesitant to turn it on anyway. The rest of the year, though, can be tough. I would totally bake cookies in December if I could. Having an oven could have improved my first crack at smoking a brisket earlier this year. And as the weather starts to cool off, my brain immediately starts craving things I can’t make — casseroles, baked ziti, stuffed shells … and lasagna.

Necessity is the mother of excessive kitchen toys, and at some point a few years back, my craving for lasagna drove me to the internet in search of a solution. And the internet told me that our crock pot could help.

I’ve tinkered with the original recipe to the point that it’s no longer derivative — it’s pretty much my own. And since you guys asked:

What you’ll need:

Olive oil

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 large onion, diced

2 jars of spaghetti sauce

1 small can of tomato paste

1 pound of ground beef

1 pound of ground sweet Italian sausage

1 box of lasagna noodles

15 oz tub of ricotta

About 3 cups of shredded mozzarella

About 2 cups of shredded parm

Spices: Italian seasoning, dried basil, dried oregano, parsley flakes, thyme, red pepper flakes, salt, black pepper, and a bay leaf

Sugar to taste

What you’ll do:

  1. Dump the cheeses in a mixing bowl and stir until all three are combined evenly. Set aside.
  2. Brown the meats in a skillet, breaking up the large pieces as you go. Drain the fat and set aside.
  3. Sweat the garlic and onions in enough olive oil to coat the bottom of a sauce pan. Add the jars of sauce and the seasonings. You’ll add about a tablespoon of each of the spices except salt and black pepper — add just a little of those. Drop in a bay leaf and let it simmer for a half hour. When time’s up, remove the bay leaf, add a little sugar to suit your personal taste and once you’ve got it down, add the meat. I’ll simmer this for a bit too, although with hours to come in the slow cooker, it’s probably not necessary.
  4. Haul out your crock pot and get ready to layer. You’ll go in this order: meat, noodles and cheese, and you’ll have enough stuff to repeat that for three layers. Note that the noodles are just straight out of the box; break them up to fit a full layer each time. The crock pot will take care of cooking them.
  5. Cook on low for four or five hours.

When you’re done, cut out a wedge of lasagna and drop it on your plate. If you’re lucky, you’ll have one whole side of that wedge kind of brown and crisp like those ridiculous brownie pans that are arranged so every piece is an end piece. Make a salad, open a bottle of red wine and go to town.

No oven necessary.

it’s very real.

You don’t have to look far these days to find plenty of examples of Karens and Kens throwing their weight around in public. I’ve even seen them out in the wild, usually after someone confronts them about the lack of a mask in a store where it’s required. There is generally some shouting, maybe some throwing of things and then a dramatic-but-hasty departure. Witnesses shake their heads and wonder how it came to this.

I’ve found myself thinking about how to handle a confrontation over our new normal, especially since a maskless jerk who seemed to think he was funny crowded my mom in the grocery store.

And now I know.

Just a little while ago, I was checking out at the little Giant Eagle store in our neighborhood. The woman running the register is one of my favorite people there, always chatty and friendly while customers unload their carts. I held out my phone so she could scan my loyalty card barcode and then stepped back to the end of the belt to pay with my card.

And there’s a guy standing there. Already unloading his stuff. Standing right in front of the card reader. I said, “Sir, could you please back up? I’ll pay real quick and be out of your way.”

He stepped to the back of the belt, but went no further.

“Sir, could you please back up to the sign on the floor so I can pay?”

He says he doesn’t need to back up any further.

I now notice he’s not wearing his mask; he’s just holding it up over his mouth. And, because my brain works like it does, I also notice that he looks an awful lot like the late pro wrestling manager Bobby Heenan, but with a cut-off t-shirt instead of the satin jacket.

With the exception of the clothes, this is REALLY close.

I am no longer being polite. Or quiet. “Back up. And put on your mask.”

The woman checking me out is now no longer behind the register; she’s standing next to the guy, asking him to move back. At this point she’s the reasonable one, saying if he could just back up for a minute, she’d get him checked out right away.

He says, to her and to me, that he doesn’t have to back up. There is now a lot of shouting. He pretends to swing at me once, after I asked him what was so fucking hard about this whole thing. He is red in the face (I probably was too) and telling me he’s going to break my jaw.

I made one mistake. I tossed his gallon jug of iced tea back in his cart. It came open, and poured out on the floor. He sensed that this was an opening, because he immediately started to shout about me assaulting him. “He ripped off my mask! He shoved me! Did you see it? Someone call the cops!”

A couple employees show up with mops, and they move his cart back — way back — and begin to clean up the iced tea. Another employee said the police were on their way. He stepped up to me one last time. “You’re going to jail, asshole. I guarantee it.”

I laughed. “You know the cops are going to ask other people what happened, right? Lying to a cop is a really bad idea.”

We’re now separated. I paid and moved my cart over to the service desk. The woman who checked me out — she is also the front of house manager — says to me, quietly, “Don’t worry, sweetie — I’ll tell the police exactly what happened.” And I apologized to her, repeatedly, for the scene and for spilling the dude’s iced tea on the floor.

He practically sprinted out of the store, still making cartoonish gestures at me, when the police arrived. I thanked the manager one more time for her support and understanding and stepped outside, away from Mr. Heenan. I told one officer what happened while the other officer spoke to the guy. When the second officer came over to me, I learned that the story had apparently changed back to something close to reality — no mentions of assault or vicious mask removal. The second cop made sure I wasn’t parked near my friend. Then smiled, shook his head and said to have a nice night.

But I haven’t had a nice night. It’s nearly two hours later, and the adrenaline is still pumping. I still feel guilty about causing a problem for the people who work in the store — they shouldn’t have to be the ones to deal with shit like this. I’ve gone over — and over and over — the confrontation in my head, and I don’t think I’d do anything differently — except for the iced tea thing — if this happens again.

Or, maybe, when it happens again.

That’s the thing I don’t get. Why did this happen? Did the guy come in the store thinking he was going to pick a fight with someone? Was he just having a bad day? And even if the latter is the case, what is so hard about being respectful? Or even just tolerant? I mean, I was literally 60 seconds away from walking my cart out to the car. I wouldn’t think twice about taking a step back to let someone finish up their purchase. I go back to the question in the first paragraph: How did we get here?

And more importantly: Can we please go back?

woooo, cross-promotion.

Thing you guys already know: I am a college football freak.

True, my freakishness is a bit myopic, in that nearly all of it is filtered through the lens of Ohio State football and what everything might mean for the Buckeyes. But that doesn’t diminish my freakdom, and it doesn’t mean I can’t sit in front of a TV for 12 hours on a fall Saturday, trying not to sprain my remote-changing thumb.

I’ve written about college football stuff here for years, and I’ve written about it elsewhere as well, mostly for the now-defunct Draft Day Suit blog. And that … led to this:

CnClogo

Let’s back up. I had been contributing to DDS for a while when we started kicking around ways to add different kinds of media to the lineup; one natural was to get together a weekly video chat where we could make NFL picks. They were fun, pretty good and the source of perhaps my greatest moment of football punditry, when early in the 2012 season I told Goon Squad Sarah that third-round pick Russell Wilson would be a better NFL quarterback than second overall pick RGIII. I will never tire of reminding pretty much everyone how right I was about that.

At some point during that season, my friend and former colleague Carla — who was not only a DDS contributor but also an actual sportswriter at the time — decided to branch out into picking college games. As I recall, the first season — and probably the subsequent two or three — were a bit erratic; we didn’t do shows every week and we didn’t really settle on a format for a long time. But there we were, posting the vids from our chats on the blog and on the socials.

As we went through subsequent seasons, we took gradual steps towards something that one could almost call “polished.” The above logo (which was all Carla’s doing). Consistent naming and format conventions. A Facebook page. And, as of 2017, an audio version — I believe the kids call it a podcast — that posted to iTunes and a whole bunch of other places. We’ve even added a correspondent — hi, AJ! — who gives us a rundown of the stupid fun Group of Five games I’m too old to stay up and watch.

We’re now in our eighth season. And I bring up the show here because we’re actually having a pretty good season so far. The format is solid, we have some fun little things we do each week and — somewhat oddly — we’ve actually been pretty good with our picks. And while I don’t want to speak for Carla, it feels like a lot of fun this time around, even after we spent the month of August boggling at the notion that we’d been doing this for eight years.

Look. This is a little show. I’m sure it’s mostly friends and family who are listening. And hey — that’s you guys. If you’re of a like mind as far as college football goes, give us a listen.

the good old days.

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Fall used to be a lot busier than it is these days.

For most of the last two decades, about half of our fall weekends were spent driving to Columbus, prepping a tailgate party for somewhere between 10 and 20 people, going to Ohio State’s home game and then coming home on Sunday. For several of those years, we would get home just in time for me to turn around and drive to work for my regular Sunday night shift.

It was a blast. And even when we were in our early forties, it was exhausting. And now that it’s ten years later? It would be impossible.

For me, there was a turning point a few years ago, with a game against, I think, a directional Florida. It was early September and stinking hot, as Columbus can be. It also rained all the way through tailgate “party,” which mostly consisted of us huddled under a canopy, eating soggy food and trying keep rain out of our beers. And when the rain ended, it didn’t help — it just made it feel even more humid.

There was talk among the adults initially — even in my mid-40s at that point, I am not one of the adults — and several decided they were going to do the comfortable thing: Go home and watch on TV. At that point, I was pretty hardcore — even leaving the game early was something you just did not do; skipping a game entirely was out of the question.

But once the sweat became so profuse that I could feel it running down my back, I started listening: Air conditioning. Cold beer. No lines for food or bathrooms. A 70-inch television, comfortable chairs and no danger (well, not much) that someone would dump a gallon of Diet Coke down my back.

OK. I relented. And it was awfully nice.

With the exception of the mostly-annual big deal non-conference game or the home opener, the September games were the first to go. They generally didn’t mean much, and Columbus can be as hot in September as it is in July.

Next, we started paring back on the not-as-big-deal Big Ten games. You know the ones — they would be historic upsets if they happened (and they occasionally did), and who wants to brag about watching Illinois upsetting Ohio State in Cbus in 2007?

(Spoiler alert: We were there. BUT I’M NOT BRAGGING.)

Once my folks made the decision to stop going to games, this became a bit easier. We had one season, two years ago, when we had four seats together, and four of us made it to a few games that season together — and they were awesome. But there were only a couple of them, and realistically, it was too much of a chore for my folks to get into the stadium, deal with the crowd and still be able to enjoy — or even see — the game.

I’m not at all suggesting that they are responsible for this change. It was part of it, but we’re getting old too. And when we were able to do a full weekend, we were exhausted by the time we got home on Sunday.

So we don’t do it. And life is better. We did four home games last year, and we’re about to go to our second of four this season. Mom and dad still love the tailgate parties — so do we — and we’ll have four good ones in 2019. They go home and watch on TV, and we go inside the Shoe and see some college football that many fans would kill to see live.

I haven’t made too many concessions to my 52-year-old self yet, but this one has been good. And I still get to see Michigan State, Wisconsin and Penn State, have great tailgate parties with the Killer Nuts Tailgating group that’s been doing this for 20 years — and I don’t feel like I’m doing to die by the time December begins.

 

why not?

So. What if I tried to post every day in October?

Nah. That’s dumb.

Hm.

While I decide, here’s a picture of our cats.

IMG_5214

No, I don’t know what they’re doing either.