Teaching Tim Meat Sauce

For the past week, I've been away from this blog, turning my energy to my kid brother, Tim, who's fighting for his life in a Miami hospital.

The situation is very critical and that's all I'm going to say. The reason I even mention him and what my family has been through is to share the link between cooking and the alleviation of sorrow and emotional distress that we all experience to varying degrees throughout our lifetimes.

Right now, while back in town temporarily, cooking is my salve, a healer, a soother, a tranquilizer. On a kitchen stool, I've placed a photo of we two and when time to prepare last night's dinner, I lit a candle by his side. Then I announced out loud that I would be teaching him how to make a proper meat sauce for spaghetti.

Tim is a good cook. Like me, he spent time behind the line in various restaurants and he's been my co-pilot during Thanksgiving meals of years past. The last time I spoke to him he was planning to grill pork chops for supper.

The weather here is about 40 degrees cooler than in Miami, so a hot pot of something to warm the spirits was in order.

"Okay, buddy, first you brown the meat, all by itself," I said. "I like to use a combination -- usually beef and pork -- for more flavor. Just let it go and brown and all you need at the end is some salt and pepper."

Meanwhile, I chopped an onion, a handful of garlic cloves and a small carrot. "This is more or less a mirepoix," I explained, "but I don't like celery in my meat sauce, so I leave it out. I'll be right back. I'm going out back to clip some herbs for the sauce."

I returned from the cold with a few sprigs of oregano and rosemary and placed some rosemary beside him. "Here, take a whiff," I said. "It's calming, good stuff."

I removed the meat from the pot and added a few tablespoons of oil in its place. In went the onions, garlic and carrots and as they softened, they released aromas that filled the room.

"Okay, I'm gonna add some red wine now," I said, "and I want to let it reduce so that the veggies absorb its flavor, which will give the sauce some depth."

I added the herbs to the pot, followed by a few containers of chopped tomatoes. When the sauce came up to a boil, I reduced the heat and returned the meat to the pot, allowing all the ingredients to mingle. "Everything's in the pot," I announced. "I'll give the sauce about an hour to simmer before I boil some spaghetti."

I poured myself a glass of wine and said, "Cheers." With its occasional rumble, the sauce would let me know if the heat needed to be lowered, or maybe it was my kitchen helper calling me to the stove.

Dinner was indeed delicious and it warmed the belly, no doubt, but on this night, a simple bowl of spaghetti and meat sauce was warm like the sun, radiating throughout.

I want to believe Tim now knows how to make meat sauce and maybe he does. Maybe he does.

Does cooking help you get through tough times? Share in the comments area below.

Meat Sauce for Spaghetti

1 ½ pounds ground meat - a combination of beef, pork and/or veal
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
1 carrot, peeled and minced
Sprigs of fresh oregano, thyme and/or rosemary
8 ounces red wine of choice (optional)
2 containers of chopped tomatoes (I used Pomi brand, available in boxes)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 pound spaghetti

Heat a heavy-bottomed pot and add ground meat, allowing it to completely brown, at least five minutes. Add salt and stir. Remove from pot and place in a bowl for later use.

Add oil and heat, then add onions, garlic and carrot, cooking over medium heat, until softened. Add herbs and wine; cook wine until reduced by half. Stir occasionally to minimize sticking. Add tomatoes and stir to combine. Bring sauce up to a boil, then reduce heat, so sauce can cook at a simmer. Return meat to pot and stir to combine. Cover pot and cook for up to one hour; remove herb sprigs and add salt and pepper to taste.

Boil spaghetti and drain when done. In a large bowl, mix pasta with enough sauce to coat, creating a balance between wet and dry. Garnish with grated parmigiano and/or chopped fresh parsley.

Makes at least four servings.

By Kim ODonnel |  October 26, 2006; 9:51 AM ET Hot Pot , Kitchen Musings
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Kim, we missed you and hope that your brother gets better soon.

We have had to resort to making our own pasta sauce due to my husband's sodium limitation. Thank goodness for the cans of tomatoes with no salt added. We are using garlic and other spices to try to make up for the salt ... thanks for this recipe .. I'll try it the next time I brew up a batch of sauce.

Posted by: peapod | October 26, 2006 10:32 AM

Hi Kim:

I'm so sorry you're going through such a tough time with your brother. I hope that he makes it.

I am going through a similar tough time with my mother, who has cancer. I find, however, that I have no energy for cooking, although I crave simple comfort foods like cottage cheese and scrambled eggs.

Perhaps your example will inspire me to get cooking.

My thoughts are with you.

Posted by: Bethesda Mom | October 26, 2006 10:33 AM

I am so sorry to hear about your brother, and I hope things improve for him and your family. I often turn to cooking when I'm sad, or stressed (cupcakes! and, comforting soup!), and it often helps soothe me ... Lots of good thoughts send your way. Take care-

Posted by: nicole | October 26, 2006 10:33 AM

Kim, my thoughts are with your brother. Food can definitely be a healer. I learned this when my grandfather was in the hospital and my grandmother's best friend made it her job to bring her lunch practically every day. It wasn't just a sandwich either. Homemade soups, homemade noodles and broth. She still talks about those meals with a certain amount of fondness. Food can sometimes keep you grounded in a way nothing else can. I look forward to trying your sauce. Keep cooking.

Posted by: sissyp | October 26, 2006 10:39 AM

Kim, my thoughts are with you, your brother, and your family at this difficult time. I cook (bake mostly) when I am upset or need comfort - it reminds me of home and the delicious warm, comforting smells wafting through the kitchen. Like you, cooking is my healer. Taking the time to go back to the steady tradition and routine of preparing a chicken to roast or a cake to bake is not only comforting - it's like I'm performing a ritual... a ritual that helps me regroup, and put current problems behind me, if only for an hour.

Posted by: Heather | October 26, 2006 11:06 AM

Dear Kim,

I am sitting here with tears in my eyes and an ache in my heart for you and everyone who is touched by Tim's trauma. My fervent prayer is that he will recover to co-pilot with you again. The greatest privilege would be to be present with both of you in the kitchen when that time comes.

I am going home and making meat sauce tonight.

With deepest affection,


Posted by: Nancy F | October 26, 2006 11:07 AM

Holding you and your fmaily in love and light.

Posted by: Kate & Jon | October 26, 2006 11:33 AM

Oh Kim,

I'm thinking of you and the baby bro with best wishes.

When I was young, my mother almost died from cancer over christmas. Prognosis was bad. My father cooked chinese duck soup every day for a week. I picked out vegetables with him and we cooked together, altering the soup sligtly each time. A year later we had christmas eve dinner of duck soup with dumplings. So keep cooking out that stress.

Posted by: Rita | October 26, 2006 11:36 AM


My thoughts are with you, and I wish you and your family the strength to make it through this. When my father died suddenly in my early twenties, members of the community were amazing--they worked up a schedule so that a different family brought us a hot dinner every day for a month! It was generous beyond words, but even so, I found myself in the kitchen, cooking up food that we didn't need, just for the comfort it brought me. Stews, soups, chilis and sauces--warm things that simmer and slowly mingle together, becoming deeper and stronger, more than the sums of their parts, to become something rich and physically satisfying. Good luck to you.

Posted by: JS | October 26, 2006 11:51 AM

Sending you and Tim healing thoughts.

Posted by: SS Cook | October 26, 2006 11:56 AM


Apparently you and your brother suffer from the same life choices - sorry but it was a choice. Live with it; die from it.

Posted by: sizzlewhip | October 26, 2006 12:03 PM

You are in my thoughts and prayers, that you might have peace and Tim might have strength. Just as I think we can convey love (and cooking instructions) through the very air we share, so too I think we can send healing, positive energy, prayers (whatever you wish to name it) to those in need.

Glad you are doing what you need to to do take care of yourself as well as taking care of your family.

When I am hurting in some way, I tend to turn to the scrub brush more than the basting brush --clean the entire house as if my life depended on it. On the other hand, if I need to tend to someone else who is hurting, the kitchen is the first place I go.

Wishing you happy meals with the entire family, soon.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 26, 2006 12:08 PM

Will be thinking of you and your family through this time.

Posted by: Pru | October 26, 2006 12:26 PM

Dearest Kim, so sorry to hear about your brother's fight for his life which he will win. Know that we are all praying for you and your family. We miss you.

Posted by: Washington, DC | October 26, 2006 12:35 PM

Kim, I'm so sorry about your brother, I hope he recovers soon.

Posted by: Phoebe | October 26, 2006 12:50 PM

Sizzlewhip, whatever your snarky comment was referring to, it was among the most callous, heartless statements I have read on this blog. You should be ashamed.

Posted by: Mott The Hoople | October 26, 2006 12:57 PM

Sizzlewhip just goes to show that some people are *born* A-hats.

Posted by: Anon | October 26, 2006 1:13 PM

Every now and then an article covers its ostensible subject well, yet transcends it by striking a deep and vibrant human note. When it happens, the author's suffering gives rise to both the reader's shared sense of grief, and of profound aesthetic delight. This is a beautiful article.

Posted by: Doug | October 26, 2006 1:15 PM

Kim Sweet Soul, My eyes are filled with tears. But you are a healer. You are an inspiration. You are yoga. Thank you for sharing you strenght. Your heart. For you illustrate the power of love, compassion, faith, and moving through.

Love from all of us who are blessed to share the path with you,

Posted by: JIllian | October 26, 2006 1:17 PM

Kim, I am so sorry to hear about your brother's illness. I will be thinking of you and your family and fervently hoping that he heals fully and quickly.

This was a gorgeous article, thank you for sharing such a personal part of your life. Please disregard the nasty and mean-spirited comments of people who are not worth your consideration.

Posted by: Divine Ms. K | October 26, 2006 1:37 PM

My thoughts and prayers are with you, your brother and family during this difficult time.
We were newcomers to rural Virginia from the urban West when my father died of a sudden, massive heart attack. We all felt much alone, on alien turf, until, from out of nowhere, came throngs of then-strangers, bearing condolences, home-cooked food and more than ample shoulders to cry upon. Our new neighbors and friends, who remain our neighbors and friends 20 years later, sustained us through our grief, and ultimately, our healing.
Blessings to you!

Posted by: Rebecca | October 26, 2006 2:29 PM

My heart goes out to you and your family. When my father had cancer the drs weren't sure if he was going to make it or not so I went home (MO) for a month to help my mother and just spend time with him. I packed an entire suitcase full of exotic spices and gourmet food. My father had never cooked before, but in spending every day together, we ended up cooking together for the first time, usually something to surprise my mother with. He's now cancer-free, and back to not cooking, but I'll treasure those weeks that we spent together.

Posted by: jhkimball | October 26, 2006 3:24 PM

Hope your brother gets well soon. . .

A grammatical note: the 2nd sentence in paragraph 3 should read, "us two," and not "we two" b/c it is objective case (object of the preposition, "of").

Cheers and blessings.

Posted by: Blessings | October 26, 2006 3:41 PM

Doug, your post really nailed it. I've never been to this blog before, it probably sounds callous but I've been struggling to produce a good straightforward meat sauce and that caught my eye. Kim's post is truly an excellent example of the writer's craft, and your post is also. To Kim: I've been through a similar situation for the past year and a half, and its sucked a lot out of me. Don't forget to take care of yourself. Best wishes.

Posted by: Steve | October 26, 2006 3:56 PM

What a beautiful article. Kim, I'm holding you and your brother in the light--may your cooking bring you both peace and healing.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 26, 2006 4:40 PM

Kim -- thinking about you and wishing your brother and your family well. God Bless.

Posted by: Erin | October 26, 2006 4:53 PM


My sympathies to you and your family. It's always difficult to have an ill family member.

When my wife was first having her health problems, I also spent a great deal of time in the kitchen - it was during that time that I perfected my own stocks, and taught myself to make Indian and Morroccan dishes. It helped so much to work on some real, solid tasks that had tangible results. Cooking gave me a sense of accomplishment and control at a time when my life was lacking such things.

One thing I have to advise, though I was bad at this myself - don't forget to take care of yourself during this difficult time.

Posted by: Under my Desk | October 26, 2006 5:11 PM

Kim - You write eloquently always. I hope that things improve for your brother and that the stress is tolerable for you.
Thank you for sharing your recipes and yourself in these blogs. I too turn to cooking for comfort and sustenance of the heart and body - soups, brownies, whole meals for a friend whose young daughter has cancer.
Don't forget to take care of yourself and allow others to do so.

Posted by: NewtonMA Mom (and sister of Bethesda Mom | October 26, 2006 7:13 PM

I have been Tim's friend and roommate for almost a year now. After reading your article and having the pleasure to speak with your mother, I know where Tim gets his inner beauty. My thoughts are with Tim
every minute and his Garden and plants in our yard miss him.
I will print this recipe and place it near our stove and wait for Tim to come back to our kitchen and whip up some of his
O'Donnel magic!
My Thoughts are with all of You!

Posted by: Tim's Roommate | October 27, 2006 6:03 AM

Wow. Heart-felt thanks for the comments and personal stories. They keep me strong.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | October 27, 2006 9:58 AM

When I went through a similar situation - waiting to find out if my sister would be okay - I started craving all the foods that she loved. For example, I hardly ever drank milk by itself, but I was guzzling glasses of it, just like her. It made me feel closer to her...

Posted by: K | October 27, 2006 12:08 PM


It's a beautiful post. Our prayers are with you and your family.

Posted by: Snyder | October 27, 2006 12:21 PM

Sizzled and whipped- Okay Rush, No time for distractions - get back to work... Michael J's running another ad.

Posted by: Karl | October 27, 2006 1:09 PM

This forum reminds us there IS community. Even among strangers, we all share more in common than we realize as we post our comments or pass eachother on the street- we all know fear, loss, sadness, laughter, and then there is the love of food and its nurturing properties. It's our turn to give you strength and inspiration, Kim. Just as you have been by our side in all of our kitchens in some way or another--our laptop screens on the counter or printout as we are trying to save a dish from taking a turn, a recipe for the last minute supper party, or soothing soup to heal a cold, we are there for you.

Posted by: SeattleStrength | October 28, 2006 1:16 PM

Kim - I am just catching up on my reading. I am so sorry to hear about your brother. You and your family are in my thoughts. I, too, turn to the kitchen when I am stressed/scared/worried.

Posted by: Colleen | October 29, 2006 7:55 PM

Dearest Sister Kim, I have been away from my desk and so did not see your blog until now.

Your courageously tasteful creativity, verve and love bring a poignance to all of our lives that must will serve and sustain the happiness of your brother, forever.

Thank you for such gifts as we could have no right to expect...

With Love,

Posted by: Anonymous | October 30, 2006 9:01 AM

Kim --Through your blog and chats, I feel as if I've gotten to know you, so your post about Tim brought tears to my eyes. I fervently hope and pray that he is okay. And Sizzlewhip's post took my breath away. We all make choices in life and the inevitable outcome is the only certainty, but illness is not "just deserts" for life choices, and people who think that are shallow and soulless. Please draw from these comments all the love and support that most of us are sending your way and take care of yourself. You are fabulous.

Posted by: Samantha | October 30, 2006 7:46 PM

You and your brother and your family are in my thoughts. I lost my mother suddenly and unexpectedly last year. Many recipes that I learned from her or cooked with her are very comforting to me today. For example, one tradition we always had was baking holiday cookies early in the holiday season. Last year my sister in law and I continued the tradition without my mom and it helped so tremendously to be able to continue doing something I had so enjoyed doing with my mom. I am sending Lots of comfort and positive vibes your way! Cooking does help heal the heart.

Posted by: montgomery village mom | November 1, 2006 3:05 PM

Reading this reminds me of the times I have found myself baking once I found out family members were near death. Cooking their favorite dishes with their love in my mind and heart and chasing down the FedEx driver to overnight the goodies, whatever the cost. Another time, when my grandma was gravely ill my sister and I flew to Ft. Worth. The food section the day before a surgery that would save her life or kill her was devoted to---funeral food. It was written by a northerner. Even my sister and I living up here had not heard of most of the dishes (but the 'special from other paper' gave away the location). Article discussed macaroni salad in depth. We found out my grandma despises macaroni salad before she made us hide the paper lest it send our mother and aunt over the edge. Gave her some relief to talk about what might very well be her near fate. To this day when she is unwell my sister and I threaten a wake full of macaroni salad unless she fights. When she ceases to give us "that look" then I will know her time has indeed come. If anyone brings macaroni salad I will throw it away. It did provide her a bit of focus when she needed it, and for us an inside joke.

I am glad you are doing this now. Peace and tranquility to you all. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Posted by: secretfun | November 11, 2006 1:57 PM

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