The older I get, the more I notice a profound difference between the things I want to do and the things I want to have done.
I guess it’s because when you’re little, there’s not too much pleasure to be gleaned from having accomplished things. The only exceptions I can think of, at least for me, were practicing the piano (which I did not like to do) and doing my homework (which I did. Yes, I was a nerd.)
But as I’ve gotten older, the difference between these two groups of tasks has grown much larger. The things that I want to do tend to be lazy things, things that don’t require much effort — watching TV, having a beer, lounging all day in my pajamas — whereas the list of things that I want to have done grows ever longer, and ever more neglected.
It’s a shame, though; while some parts of my list of things I want to have done — like sweeping the bathroom floor and doing the dishes — are not actually enjoyable, most of them — like rereading Les Misérables, working on my novel, or — ahem — writing blog posts — are actually really fun once I get started. There’s just this Pavlovian reaction stemming from that feeling that I should be doing something that makes me profoundly unmotivated.
It’s like that Dorothy Parker quote I love — “I hate writing, I love having written.” Except my version would be, “I hate starting to write, but I love writing.” And reading Les Misérables, writing in my journal, folding laundry, and even, sometimes, doing the dishes.
And what’s more, all those lazy things that I think that I want to do don’t bring me bliss. They make me content in the moment, and when I’m done — watching TV, having a beer, lounging all day in my pajamas — I always get the same feeling. “Ugh… Why did I do that?” On the other hand, while the hump I have to get over in order to something that I really enjoy always seems unsurmountable, once I get myself over it, I’m so much happier — not just content, but happy.
So I’m giving myself a new challenge. I’m going to try to really do the things that I know make me happy — in my heart of hearts — even if they demand more effort, and even if the motivation it takes me to pick up a pen and write in my journal or tie on my sneakers and go for a run seems impossible to gather, I’m going to buck up and do it. Because the end of a day where you’ve done the things you wanted to have done, rather than the things you wanted to do in the moment, is just that more pleasant.
What does lasagna have to do with all this, you wonder? Well, lasagna is the Country Boy’s absolute favorite meal. And while some versions of lasagna don’t actually take all that much effort, my lasagna is a three-day affair that involves a slow-cooked sauce and — usually — homemade pasta. For this version, I somewhat shamefully went for boxed pasta sheets, but I did simmer the pork shoulder for several hours and refrigerate it overnight to make it even more tender and flavorful the next day.
And you know what? It was so worth it.
For the ragu:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pork shoulder (600 g)
2 onions, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small can tomato paste
2 liters passata
20 ounces (600 g) ground beef
salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes
For the béchamel:
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
2 1/2 cups whole milk
salt, pepper, and nutmeg
For the lasagna:
1 box lasagna sheets
1 ball fresh mozzarella
Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large pot with a lid (I use a stovetop pressure cooker), and sear the pork shoulder on all sides. Set aside. Add the onion, and cook until translucent and slightly caramelized, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and the tomato paste, and fry for 1 minute.
Add 1 liter of passata and 1/2 liter of water. Add the pork shoulder back to the pot, and season with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. Cover and cook until the pork is fall-apart tender (2-4 hours).
Remove the pork from the sauce, and reduce slightly if needed. Use two forks to shred the pork while still hot and return to the sauce. Set aside.
In another pan, heat the second tablespoon of olive oil. Brown the beef on all sides, season with salt and pepper, and add the other liter of passata. Simmer for 10 minutes, then add to the pork ragu. Refrigerate overnight. (This isn’t necessary, but I find it adds flavor and it’s also nice to get a break!)
When ready to make the lasagna, preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Make the béchamel: heat the butter and flour in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Whisk together and cook until the flour has cooked in the butter and is slightly golden. Add the milk bit by bit, whisking constantly, until the sauce is thick. Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg, and set aside.
Spread some of the sauce on the bottom of a baking dish. Cover with a layer of pasta, then top with a thick layer of sauce. Pour about a third of the béchamel over the sauce. Top with another layer of pasta sheets and another layer of sauce and béchamel. Top with a final layer of pasta sheets and the rest of the béchamel. Slice the mozzarella and scatter over the top.
Bake for about 30 minutes, or until golden brown on top. Wait 15 minutes before cutting and serving.