The REAL reason I visit my family. Part III: The Final Feeding

Here is the final in what turned out to be a culinary trilogy of home cooking in Cleveland.My grandmother immigrated from Calabria, Italy, to Cleveland when she was a young girl. Her mother taught her how to make marinara sauce the way her mother made it. My grandmother taught my mom how to make it and my mom taught my sister. My niece is next in line and she had better get on it and, more importantly, get it right.


I cannot provide the recipe because I don’t know it. It’s a mystery that’s been passed through the generations. I do know that you have to make it many, many times before you finally produce a successful batch.

I also know that it’s made the day before it’s to be served and allowed to sit overnight. I don’t know the science behind why that’s done but the end results can’t be described. I’m not a good enough wordsmith to tell you how good this stuff is.

It goes without saying that Italian sausage and meatballs are made with the sauce. They are a meal unto themselves.


In addition to sausage and meatballs, she throws in a few neck bones. I’ve been eating neck bones for most of my life and have never stopped to think of what animal that tender, sweet meat is from. I think it’s a cow but I suppose it could be a pig. I honestly don’t know. I don’t care.

Neck bone before
Neck bone after


I asked (practically begged) my sister to whip up some sauce for my visit. Initially, I thought the heat of August wasn’t conducive to a heavy pasta meal but then I considered that they probably eat pasta in August in Italy. If it’s good enough for my cultural brethren, it’s good enough for my family and I.

Do you know what this tastes like? It tastes like home.


A little bit of Great Lakes lore for you.

Micro brewing is popular in Cleveland (as it is in most regions). The Great Lakes Brewing Co. makes a lovely Porter called Edmund Fitzgerald. It’s named in honor of the Great Lakes freighter Edmund Fitzgerald. In 1975, the ship sank in Lake Superior during a gale. It happened so quickly that a distress signal was never sent. She was just 17 miles from safe harbor. All 29 of her crew perished, with none of the bodies recovered.

When the wreckage was located, it was discovered that she broke in half. When I was in the Coast Guard, I remember reading the controversial investigation reports. There are some interesting theories about what would cause a ship that size to split in half but, to this day, they still don’t know.


The REAL reason I visit my family: Part II

This probably isn’t going to have as wide an appeal as his bar-b-que ribs, but bro-in-law also knows how to glamor a package of bratwurst. Bratwurst, for the (unfortunate) uninitiated, are a German sausage that contains either veal, beef or pork. Or it could be all three for all I know. I’m not entirely sure, nor do I have any interest in finding out.

You could slap ’em on a grill and that’d be fine, but do you know what’s really good? Poke each brat 4x with a fork and allow those puppies to simmer for about :45 minutes in concoction of beer, onions and garlic.


At this point they’re ready for the grill. Put them over a hot flame until the skin becomes crispy. I like mine to be just a bit blackened.


Some common cheeseburgers were grilled for those who have more pedestrian tastes. Believe it or not, there are people who would turn their noses up at a grilled bratwurst. Like a certain wife I know.


All you need to do is drape a little Gulden’s Spicy Brown mustard on and THAT’S IT. They don’t need sauerkraut, relish, ketchup or any other condiment. You’ll ruin it. You don’t want to do anything to mask the flavor of the sausage. A little leftover potato salad and cole slaw on the side is highly recommended.


The REAL reason I visit my family

Twice a year I pack Mrs. Wife and The Daughters into the car and drive 480 miles from New Jersey to Cleveland to visit my family. I’d do it more frequently if I had more time off. We get along splendidly and the Daughters are crazy about their cousins. The days leading up to the trip, it’s all they talk about.

But there’s an underlying motivation for my efforts. Something that is unsaid but understood by all. Do you know what’s in this measuring cup?


This witch’s brew is my brother-in-law’s special bar-b-que sauce. I don’t know it for a fact, but I believe it contains a mysterious element that give it an addictive quality. It should be criminal to own it. Once poured over three racks of baby back ribs, you are powerless against it’s allure.


I’m not supposed to spread this around but fuck it. My readership isn’t that great. The ribs are first treated with a special dry rub of powdered garlic, powdered rotisserie chicken seasoning, paprika, white cane sugar, onion powder and Uncle Charlie’s Cajun spices. They’re allowed to marinate for a while and then tossed into an oven for two hours at 265, low heat being the key.

Then they’re slapped onto a grill and a wet rub is generously applied. The wet rub contains fresh garlic, honey, a half can of beer and Sweet Baby Ray’s bar-b-cue rib sauce. Then, the excruciating wait.


Approximately :20 minutes later they’re done. They’re CAREFULLY lifted off the grill because, at this point, the meat is falling off the bone. It takes a delicate touch. You need someone with the hands of a skilled surgeon. This isn’t a job for amateurs. That’s why I stay the hell out of his way.

Just look at them in all their grilled perfection. It brings a tear to my eye. I’m an evolved human being. I can understand why someone would choose to be a vegetarian. Actually, that’s not true. I have no idea why anyone would deny themselves this succulent, singular pleasure.


Garnish with homemade potato salad and cole slaw. Resistance is futile. Feel free to lick your monitor. Welcome to August in Cleveland.


Mr. Loving-Kindness

Loving-kindness is one of the types of Buddhist meditation I practice. It brings about a peaceful, loving mind that accepts the world in a compassionate light. That being the case, how do you explain the following:

A few days ago I read in the New York Times that it was the first anniversary of the detainment and imprisonment of three young Americans who were hiking near the Iranian boarder. Apparently, there are some pretty waterfalls in the area and it’s a popular area to hike. They either strayed over the boarder into Iran or got close enough to be grabbed and are now being held in prison. The government of Iran has accused them of being spies. There is no trial date set.

The first thought in my loving-kindness mind? Why the hell are you hiking alone near the Iranian boarder?! Use you head. Their poor families are tormented. After that bit of rudeness, I meditated on their release.

The very next day I read a horrific story in the local paper about an 18-year old high school football player who died in an auto accident. He was driving a 2009 BMW at 1:00 a.m., lost control and crashed into a house at a high rate of speed.

The first thought out of my loving-kindness mind? Why the hell would you let an 18-year old high school football player (they tend to be on the aggressive side) drive a rocket like a 2009 BMW?! At 1:00 in the morning? Use your head. Do you know what my kids are going to drive when they’re 18 and still in high school? This:


When I was done with my negative thoughts, I meditated for the family’s grief and wished them well.

Meditation has taught me that I can be a judgmental prick sometimes.

I am shown how it’s done:

A few days later, I was sitting by a fountain with 8-Year Old Daughter. She pointed out a brass placard attached to it that said all the money taken from the fountain is donated to charity. She asked for a penny. She held it in her hand, closed her eyes tight and tossed it in. We sat quietly for a few moments and watched the water dance. I asked her what she wished for, certain it would be a new Pillow Pet (the current rage in the suburbs) or some other bauble.

“I wished that a lot of people would throw money into the fountain for the charity.”

What do you do with a kid like that?

* * *

Tomorrow morning we’re leaving for lovely Cleveland to visit my family. There will be swimming. There will be a county fair. There will be expertly grilled ribs and homemade marinara sauce with, perhaps, some oxtail in it.

Cringe-worthy art

Lever House is considered by many architectural purists to be one of the more important buildings in Manhattan. Located at Park Avenue and 49th Street, many of its revolutionary design elements were co-opted by other architects (as is often the case). There’s an emphasis placed on the public space and the skin of the building is made of a heat resistant blue/green glass that doesn’t have windows you could open and close.

Lever House acquired a fancy art collection and uses its lobby as gallery space to show it off. They have a rotation of pretty interesting exhibits but the one that’s on display now is a big, dumb, mess.

Mike Bidlo’s Not Warhol (Brillo Boxes, 1964), 2005 is up through September 11. The piece is merely a recreation of Andy Warhol’s stacked Brillo boxes. It’s a stunning display of laziness and low ambition.


Bidlo “thought it would be interesting to appropriate a work by another appropriator.” I’ve seen Warhol’s work. He’s no Warhol, if that’s what he’s trying to imply. Can you imagine? You are given a commission to do a piece in a high profile venue like the Lever House gallery and the best you can come up with is copying Warhol. Shame on you. They try to draw a thread between the original exhibit and this one by displaying a Brillo box from Warhol’s exhibit inside a Plexiglas cube.


The exhibit’s unintentionally comical bio states that “Bidlo is best known for his incredibly accurate replications of masterworks by important twentieth century artists…” That’s just lazy. It doesn’t require any original thought. During a 1982 exhibit where Bidlo made replicas of Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings, he “re-enacted Pollock’s infamous act of urinating into Peggy Guggenheim’s fireplace (which Bidlo finds relevant to Pollock’s painting technique and is related to Bidlo’s later recreations of Warhol’s urine splashed “Oxidation” paintings).” What an idiot. Why do curators fall for this crap? He also has the nerve to claim he comes from the same school of thought as Richard Prince and Barbara Kruger. Yeah, you wish.

The Lever House plaza includes a Noguchi sculpture garden where you’ll find this playful Hello Kitty sculpture. It’s not Great Art, but it’s a hell of a lot more interesting than what’s going on inside the lobby.