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ralph robert moore

Float is Copyright © 1998 by Ralph Robert Moore.

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Neil Simon, the playwright, said once the only two rules of the Universe are gravity and 'everybody loves Italian food'.

Grinders bring to your lips the best of Italian cuisine: a warmed, chewy length of roll, hotly stuffed with meat, tomato sauce, cheese, onions and peppers.

All you have to do is hold the heaviness of one in both hands, maneuver it into your mouth, close your eyes, and let teeth and tongue do what they've always wanted to do.

friends before food

Children tend to have sex with each other.

This truth stubbornly continues despite adults' best and worst efforts. No matter how well-buttoned the legislation, left alone in a tree house, a bird they've eventually given a name to, in their long hours up there, flickering down onto the wooden, paneless windowsill each time to watch, a boy and a girl still manage to wriggle out of and pull off their perfect toes any restrictions addressing them. Little boys still continue to find, in the parental disapproving loop, holes.

Sex is a celebration of love, skin and personality. Nowhere is that celebration better performed than in the back seat of a car, knees up, feet wide apart on upholstery, all the saliva kisses adding to that wonderful skin-stickiness of prolonged fucking.

All this studying at the library requires fuel. One of the best foods, sitting behind a steering wheel, drive-in movie flashing from scene to scene on a screen so large overhead airplanes can see the close-ups and clues, is the grinder.

Grinders are known by different names around the United States. Some call them meatball sandwiches, wedges, or subs. A national chain, Subway, produces a particularly soulless version on a white bread roll with a ketchupy sauce.

To make a grinder, you need meatballs, rolls, accompaniments, and sauce.

In this recipe I don't attempt to tell you how to make a sauce. Mary and I have tried different home sauces over the years, but they've all turned out orange and acidic. In one of our more ambitious efforts, we loaded an electric pot on our round kitchen table with a bushel of garden tomatoes and the usual ingredients, then added a pot roast, cut-up chicken and pork chops. Twelve hours later we had a dense, wonderfully-smelling sauce that was orange and acidic.

In other words, for your sauce buy a store product. We prefer Ragu, the Thick and Hearty variety. Get two red jars, 28 ounces each, preferably two different ones, to complex the final product.

For your rolls, buy either baguettes or a long French or Italian loaf. Ideally, the crust should be tan, rippled, hard and chewy, with a soft white interior.

To make the meatballs you'll need:

2 pounds of meat (preferably 1 pound of beef, and half a pound each of pork and veal)
1 large onion
3 cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon each of oregano, thyme and basil
Half a teaspoon of black pepper
1 tablespoon of dried parsley, or 3 tablespoons fresh parsley
Half a cup of quick one-minute Quaker Oats
1 egg
Olive oil (buy super virgin)
You may also want to have some Italian sausage on hand (hot or mild) (optional)

For the accompaniments you'll need:

1 large onion
1 large green bell pepper
Circular slices of provolone

Generously coat the bottom of a heated skillet with olive oil. Once the oil is heated, add the chopped-up onion. Stir occasionally between sips of beer or wine until the onion is pearly, then add the minced garlic (garlic should always be added after the juices from another vegetable have been exuded, or else it will burn and turn bitter). Once the aroma of the garlic bells up to your nostrils, which should occur pretty quickly, dump in the herbs and spices, stir, and remove from the heat.

In a large bowl mix together the three ground meats with the tips of your fingers. Cookbooks in the past ten years or so have suddenly started emphasizing the need to only lightly fluff-up ground meat, so it doesn't develop too dense a texture, but this is end-of-the-century silliness. Feel free to mash the meats together as much as you want to. Its final texture is going to depend on what you add to it and the amount of its fat content. How gently you handle it will have little effect.

Once you have the meats thoroughly combined, mix in the Quaker Oats (be very careful to use the quick one-minute version only. If you use regular Quaker Oats, they'll swell up inside you and make your morning miserable).

Tilt into this mixture the cooled contents of the skillet, then add the egg. Thoroughly combine.

Reach your four fingers and thumb down into the messy red mound in the bowl and, rolling each thick grab between your palms, make meatballs. The size of each should be a little larger than a golfball. Roll each meatball onto an ungreased cookie tin, then once all of them are placed in plump rows and columns on the tin, slide the tin into a preheated 350 degree oven for thirty minutes. If you're including sausages in this recipe (and you should), curl them around the edges.

Once the meatballs and sausages have baked for thirty minutes, scrape-lift them off the tin with a spatula, and drop them into a dutch oven simmering with the two 28-ounce jars of your favorite spaghetti sauce. Let them simmer in this sauce for half an hour.

While the meat simmers, slice an onion into rings, and a green bellpepper into squared-off strips. Sauté both in olive oil, the onions first, until their edges turn brown and their centers are buttery and bendable.

To assemble, for each sandwich take a baguette or length of French or Italian loaf, split it open from the top, leaving the bottom intact; then tuck one or two slices of provolone into the bread, so it lines bottom and sides. Tuck against the sides and bottom the sautéed onion and peppers, then place three or so steaming meatballs, like peas in a pod, or two sausages, sliced on the diagonal, or any combination thereof, in that pocket. Spoon some hot, red sauce across the bumpy meat, and if you want, drape another slice of provolone across the top, with additional sauce drizzled over. Don't be greedy in stuffing the roll.

Eat as is, or zap in the microwave for 30 seconds to melt the layer of cheese on top, or wrap in aluminum foil and let bake for fifteen minutes at 300 degrees.

Eat with a wide plate underneath if you're eating in bed with the TV on and the kids finally asleep in their clock and car pajamas under mobiles of Barney and Madeline, or with aluminum foil unfolded across the sugared zipper of your lap if you're at a drive-in with a long-haired blonde sitting next to you pulling a red sausage into her mouth with her perfect white teeth.