When my parents come from Chicago to visit me in Atlanta, they don't book a flight. Instead of hopping a two-hour flight, they make a 12-hour trek through five states because what they're bringing would never pass those TSA agents.
There is no exemption to the liquid rule when it comes to homemade marinara sauce. What they have will not fit in those quart-sized zip-top bags, not to mention the concern that might arise from the smoking coolers filled with dry ice keeping homemade Chicago goodness fresh on its southern journey. So, they pack up the car and drive.
Personally, I think they're crazy - but I won't complain too much because that cooler of food is destined for my refrigerator. That pan of lasagna conjures up memories of home, family and tradition. When I smell the homemade red sauce, I instantly think of my mom in her kitchen (yes, HER kitchen) stirring a huge pot. She always says a great sauce (or gravy) doesn't drip through a fork.
Also in that blue and white cooler: two tubs of my mom's legendary Italian ice. If you have not had a proper lemon ice, do yourself a favor. My parents spend a day in the kitchen squeezing fresh lemons to get the flavor just right. It's a recipe perfected years ago to replicate the lemon ice they enjoyed as kids from the street vendors in Chicago.
For my parents, food is a therapy and a comfort. It's a ministry. My mom, dad and that cooler stay ready at a moment's notice for family and friends. Someone moving? Grab the Sloppy Joes and pick up some buns on the way. Someone lose their job? Let's bring them a meatloaf. Someone sick in the hospital? That family needs some soup. Who just had a baby? Get the spare lasagna. And not to mention holiday parties, where my mom's kitchen looks like a scene out of "The Sopranos" based on both food and characters.
This is what I think of when the smell of my mom's lasagna seeps from the oven in my Decatur apartment. And I certainly can't keep this goodness to myself because that's not the way our family does it. So, a few friends come over for dinner and after I explain to them the journey of this lasagna, we pour some red wine and toast to James and Linda Binder for the delicious, home-cooked meal. Salute!
1 envelope unflavored gelatin (recommended brand: Knox)
1. Combine gelatin, sugar and water in a medium-size saucepan. Stir over low heat until sugar and gelatin are dissolved, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in lemon juice and rind, cool.