Monday, September 29, 2014

An Insurance Story (That's Not Quite As Boring As I'd Like It To Be) ...

This is what I've learned: Insurance is meant to be purchased, not necessarily used.

I grew up in a State Farm home. Bob Gaspadarek was our insurance agent. I remember being at his office once. But mostly, I remember that each year as Christmas drew near, a desk calendar would arrive from Bob in the mail. I remember thinking that that was a nice thing. It folded in such as way as to sit at a slight angle, for at-a-glance viewing. I believe the lettering for his name, address, and phone number was gold.

And so, when I bought my first car, of course I insured my car with State Farm. And when I moved into my first apartment, of course I bought renters' insurance from State Farm. And when I bought my home, of course my homeowner's insurance was written with State Farm.

I had been a State Farm customer for more than 20 years. Notice the past tense there.

"Had been," because last month, State Farm dropped me.


Why? Because in recent years, I made three small claims, all related to weather and power outages related to weather. My deductible was $1,000, so I paid $3,000 toward rectifying those situations. State Farm paid, exactly, $6,488.49. In other words, I paid about one-third and State Farm paid about two-thirds. That seems like a pretty fair deal.

But this is what else I've learned: The dollar amount doesn't matter.

No, what matters is the number and frequency of the claims.


Never mind that I didn't make a claim for the first 15 years or so that I had any kind of coverage with State Farm.

Never mind that over my years as a policyholder, I paid far more into State Farm's coffers than $6,488.49.

Never mind that our climate is changing and weather-related claims are likely to increase for all of us.

Never mind that just last year, when my homeowner's policy renewed, State Farm applied a Claim Record Discount to my policy.

Nope, none of that mattered. My claim in February, for which State Farm paid out a whopping $1,175.65 (to my $1,000), is the reason that State Farm dropped my homeowner's policy.

Ideally, someone at my local office would have warned me. Ideally, someone would have said, "Beth, don't file this claim. This will cause us to drop you at renewal. Pay for the entire repair yourself."

But they didn't.

So it was up to me to find a new homeowner's policy. (Side note: I tweeted my problem and tagged @StateFarm each time. I received no response to my tweets. Ever. I also tagged @Allstate and someone replied within 20 minutes. If you're going to bother having Twitter accounts, companies, use them. They're a handy means of interacting with your current and prospective customers in real time. Nifty!)

I called a local Allstate office for auto and homeowner's quotes.

And I soon learned that Allstate would not write a homeowner's policy for me.

Because of the frequency of my claims. (With some insurers, claims stay on your "record" for five years, in case you didn't know. I didn't know. Now I do. And, if you're reading this, now you do, too. It would behoove you to ask your insurance agent about your insurance company's policy on this front and file any necessary claims accordingly.)

The dollar amount of my claims factored into Allstate's decision in no way. Two claims in five years would have been OK. Three claims in five years? No can do.

The woman I spoke with at Allstate was as helpful and informative as she could be. She shared the number of a broker who she suggested might be able to help me because, she said, I didn't want to end up with forced-placed insurance.

Force-placed insurance? Googling that phrase made my stomach turn.

Of course, it's a condition of my mortgage that I carry homeowner's insurance. But, in the event that I could not secure insurance on my own – my ability for which was in doubt – a bank would have put into force insurance to protect its investment – not me – and charge me for the coverage.

The problem is, according to my Googling, force-placed insurance, in some instances, is 10 times as expensive as typical policies.

TEN times. Banks have been sued in recent years for practices related to force-placed insurance. Thanks to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, those banks have reached settlements and have been ordered to refund consumers a portion of their payments, but still.

I freaked out at the notion that I might have to pay TEN times a typical monthly premium because State Farm was dropping me – and at least one insurer wouldn't cover me – because I had the temerity to avail myself of my homeowner's insurance, which I paid dutifully for 11 years. And then a derecho moved through the area and wiped out a couple of my trees as well as a portion of my fence. I had no control over that storm.

And then I had the temerity to avail myself of my homeowner's insurance again a year later when a slow-moving – or stalled – thunderstorm dumped inches and inches of rain across the area and the power went out which meant my sump pump failed and my finished basement took on water. I had no control over that storm nor the power company's inability to keep the power on.

(Here's another handy bit of information in case you aren't already aware: If your basement takes on water, so long as it's storm water, not sewer water, odds are it can be cleaned up and you won't need to tear out the carpeting and drywall and baseboards and such.)

Once the damage was remediated, and not wanting to go through that again, I had a natural-gas-powered, hard-wired generator installed. They're very handy things, generators. They are not, however, inexpensive.

And then I had the temerity to avail myself of my homeowner's insurance again two years later when this winter dumped feet of snow on the ground and then rain arrived on top of it and though I shoveled snow away from my foundation and the power stayed on and my sump pump pumped, tree roots had grown into my sewer line and the volume of water trying to get out to the sewer was too great to get by the roots, and so – joy of joys – my finished basement took on water again.

We had another storm-related outage in July. My power was out for two days. If not for my generator, I would have had water in my basement again. (Even if you have an battery back-up attached to your sump pump, those batteries only last for so long.)

So when I received the notice that State Farm was dropping my coverage, I called my agent's office and spoke with a very nice member of his staff. And then, a day or two later, I spoke with my agent himself. I told him about the generator. I told him of my intended maintenance schedule to keep my sewer line rodded. He said he'd file an appeal.

He called back a week later to say that my appeal was being denied. The reason cited by corporate was that my generator was unable to keep up with the sump pump the first time my basement took on water.

"No, no, no," I said. "I didn't have the generator when that happened. I got the generator in response to that incident, which, ultimately, saves State Farm money."

He said he'd appeal the decision.

He called back a week later to say that State Farm was sticking with its decision to drop my coverage.

He was very apologetic and offered the number of a broker who might be able to help.

Through it all, I was very cordial to everyone I spoke with at the local office. I knew that they were doing what they could to retain my business. After all, my being dropped means less money in the agent's book of business; he's the one taking the direct financial hit.

His staffer thanked me for not yelling at her. I'm sure she finds herself on the receiving end of a lot of anger.

And then she, rather sheepishly, suggested that I consider State Farm when I need insurance again someday.

I laughed and said, "I can't imagine State Farm will be willing to take me on again."

"In five years," she said. "If you're shopping for better rates. State Farm will look at you again if you don't have claims for five years."

I didn't bother to tell her that there is no way in hell I will do business with State Farm again if I can help it.

But the State Farm amusement doesn't end there. Oh, no.

My auto insurance – which renews in mid-November – is also with State Farm. Once my homeowner's policy went out of force, my auto policy no longer qualified for the multi-line discount.

So State Farm sent an invoice to me for $20 and change, for the now-shortage.

Seriously, State Farm? After everything the company has put me through, for a policy that renews in a matter of weeks, someone there should have said, "Oh, let it go. Just send her a renewal notice at the increased rate."

I appreciate that all of this is automated, but still. It was irksome to receive that statement.

And then, as if to supply the cherry for this insurance-saga sundae, a week or so later, I received a letter "from" my local agent – again, auto-generated, I'm sure – that begins:

"Dear Beth:

Make sure you're getting the discounts you deserve.

Your business means a lot to me, and I hope you've already discovered why State Farm has such a strong reputation for customer service."

Yada, yada, yada.

In the end, I did find insurance. (No, I will not reveal the provider, not because I don't want to write nice things about the company but because I don't need to disclose that level of personal information for the entire world to read.) And I bundled my auto insurance. The first payment is due next week.

Which means that State Farm will have to send a wee check to me for the balance of my auto premium which would have renewed in November.

And that makes me smile.

So, there it is.

Caveat emptor, kids.

Ask questions about your insurance.

Know more than I did.

Query before you claim.

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Why I Cook: An Exploration ...

So, I just read a post that presented an argument for never cooking again, titled "An Argument for Never Cooking Again," and the most prominent thought I had while reading it was:

"I wonder how bitchy this woman could be if she tried."

Because she's plenty bitchy in an effortless sort of way. Or maybe she really was working at it. Or maybe she was trying so hard to be offensively clever (in the moment when she referred to her awful carrot pasta sauce as "goldfish cum") that she didn't realize her bitchiness but by God, she really, really, really wants you to know that she can make a fig galette.

Or maybe she was just tired. "Cutting up the vegetables took hours and pieces of them kept falling on the floor. The garbage can had been put outside because of an ant problem, so over the course of an hour I probably walked about a mile and a half throwing out vegetable scraps," she wrote.

To which my brain responded, "Right, because you couldn't possibly make a pile of scraps and throw them out all at once."

Who the fuck makes individual trips to the trash, wherever it may be, to throw out individual scraps?

I'm no fan of Rachael Ray but hey, the garbage bowl is a good idea.

ANYWAY ... .

I live alone. There are days I do not wish to cook. Because I don't have to. I don't have a child to feed or a husband to feed. Hell, I don't even have a dog to feed. So if I don't feel like cooking – as I didn't last night – and I cannot for the life of me figure out what I want to eat – as I couldn't last night – and if I drive around past every possible fast-food / take-out option yet can think of nothing that appeals to me – as I did last night – sometimes, I just don't eat.

Or I have some cheese.

But then there are days when I want to cook. The weather is turning cooler. The leaves are falling. Soup might be nice. Or chili. Or stew.

And yes, there are people in the world who will make soup or stew or chili for me and I could pay them instead, but there are days when I want to cook. Not because I'm out to impress anyone but because, well, first and foremost, food is what helps us to stay alive.

I was thinking the other day, as I was baking cookies, about how long I've been baking, about when I first started making what: My Aunt Anne taugh me how to bake bread when I was 8. I'm not sure when I made my first solo pan of brownies but I feel like I was around 10. Mom liked the idea of baking cookies for us but she really hated the portioning of the dough and the waiting through the multiple rounds of baking cookies one tray at a time, so she mixed the cookie dough and I did the portioning and baking, a nice division of labor.

I absolutely come from a family to whom box mixes were and are anathema. Just the other day, I clicked through to a recipe, saw that the first ingredient was yellow cake mix, and closed the window.

Mixes irk me. For the most part, they're just the dry ingredients of a recipe. Is it really too much trouble to measure out a teaspoon of baking soda on your own? Does someone really have to do that for you?

Many years ago, I had dinner at a friend's grandmother's house. I had asked what I could bring. I was given a simple assignment: salad. But, for the friend, it wasn't about the salad. It was about the gobsmackingly delicious garlic dressing that my parents used to buy from a restaurant in South Chicago. But I prepped all the indredients and put them into plastic bags and tossed everything together at the grandmother's house.

And I remember someone making some reference to me being a gourmet chef.

Heh. No. I am not a gourmet chef.

I once considered becoming a chef. Being a chef is hard. And, for me, would not be fun.

But I do have friends over for dinner from time to time.

And I like cooking for them, for us.

I do not strive to impress them. If they're impressed, that's nice. But I don't consult multiple cookbooks and devise menus that will require hours upon hours of prep.

Sometimes, I put in some effort (read: lasagna) and sometimes, I don't (read: the day my friend Dave and I decided to get together for dinner late in the day and I ended up making roasted shrimp and roasted asparagus; sticking two trays of food into an oven hardly qualifies as work).

But here's the key: If people enjoy what I prepare for them, it's because I prepared it for them with love.

Yes, I have a baseline level of knowledge about food, because I've been cooking for most of my life. And maybe I have slightly more of a knack for it than others do. (Once upon a time, Mom made chicken tetrazzini, the sauce for which is a doctored-up bechamel. One of my distant cousins asked Mom, of the sauce, "Do you saute it?" So, yes, I know more than her. I know that just because "sauce" and "saute" vary only by one letter, they are not foodstuff and method, respectively). But I just cook. Mom just cooks. She's had people in her church mention that they're loathe to cook for her (like when she and my father were recuperating after concurrent hospital stays) because they're embarrassed by what they'd be able to offer, given her food renown. That makes her sad. She told one woman that she'd be happy with a PB&J.

Intent means a lot. A PB&J made with love is delicious, just as a fistful of dandelions from a little hand are the most beautiful flowers in the world.

And, also, if you're fortunate enough to have other people in your life who love to cook or bake, spending time with them in the kitchen fortifies the soul. Every year, Mom and I make ridiculous quantities of sauce out of roma tomatoes and onions and garlic and mushrooms and wine. And it's delicious. But it's really not the sauce that matters. It's the tradition. By the time the marathon is over, my back aches from standing too long on the tile floor, but I love those hours that we spend in the kitchen, chopping and stirring and chatting.

A winter or two ago, I made bread, and as the loaves were finishing their rise, I called Mom and asked her if she wanted to come by while the bread baked. We sat in the living room as the daylight waned and chatted and inhaled the aroma of the baking bread. It doesn't get much better than that.

So, yes, some people can surely rely on other people to prepare their food for the rest of their lives. (Whether they can afford it may be another story.) But food is not a foe. There are reasons to cook other than attempts to impress your friends. In fact, that may be the worst reason that exists. Cook because you love them. Cook because you want to spend time with them. Cook because it makes you happy, helps you focus, melts away the frustration of a crappy day.

Keep it simple. Be generous with the love and care. Light a candle or two. Odds are, you won't regret it.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Design Moments That Make Me Stabby: Part The Whatever ...

I didn't renew my subscription to Elle Decor.

I don't receive any shelter publications anymore, which, on the one hand, makes me sad, but, on the other hand, is probably good for my psyche because some things in shelter publications piss me off.

To wit, this stool:


It's copper-plated steel with leather upholstery.

It's also, per Elle Decor, $4,690.

I do not like vanity pricing.

Nearly five grand? Five thousand dollars?

And, of course, nobody buys one stool. My kitchen, for instance, contains four.

The idea of spending nearly $20,000 on four stools for my kitchen gives me chest pains.

Even if I have that kind of disposable income lying around someday, I vow to you that I will not spend nearly $20,000 on four stools for my kitchen.

And I lament more than a little that I live in world in which people will spend nearly $20,000 for four stools for their kitchen.

Note: If you've recently spent nearly $20,000 for four stools for your kitchen, please don't tell me.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Reading For Reading's Sake ...

One of the perils of spending so much of my time editing is this: It becomes damn near impossible to not edit. It's involuntary at this point. I see mistakes everywhere.

Ev-ry-where.

Billboards. Menus. Road signs. Books.

So reading for pleasure is often not at all pleasurable.

Which is a shame. Because I love it. I really do.

So I'm delighted – delighted! – to happen upon books that suck me in and keep me turning the pages until the very end with nary an instance of "Well, I wouldn't have said that that way" or "She should have flipped the order of those words."

Yes, sometimes that part of my brain shuts the hell up and instead, I enjoy a well-turned phrase and a compelling story.

I'm a non-fiction gal for the most part. I read novels from time to time, but non-fiction's my thing.

And Doreen has been on a purging jag of late, so she offered me two titles she had bought and had read and felt no need to keep.

Last Saturday, I picked up one of the books and was prepared to read the first page or so to decide if I wanted to read more.

Sunday, midday-ish, I turned the last page. It helped that I couldn't really sleep during the night in between so I turned on my bedside lamp and read. In bed. Which is normally a thing that puts me to sleep, not a thing that I do while I'm quite awake. But I read. And then I did turn off the lamp and sleep for a while. But when I woke up again, I kept on reading.

That book was Frances Kuffel's Love Sick.

As I wrote on Pinterest:

I rarely finish a book in less than a day. But Frances is a fine, fine writer. "That seems often to be my job: giving people words" made me nod in agreement. And "He loved parts of me the way mammals love salt" is an outstanding sentence. This is 260 pages of generosity, of wading into the online world of looking for love so you don't have to, voyeurism without the guilt.

And when I finished Frances's book, I got up, refilled my water bottled, returned to the love seat in my living room, and picked up Kristen Johnston's Guts.

As I wrote on Pinterest:

And for my second book this weekend … . (Not sure where this compulsive reading jag has come from, but I dig it.) The book starts out a bit glib, as if she's nervous to introduce her story (I totally relate to that), but it only gets more interesting and compelling so stick with it. I was proud of her by the end. A brave story, well told.

I remember that story being in the news when she went through her awful health episode and I remember seeing the book floating through my feed on Facebook, but then I forgot about it. Until Doreen shared it. And pointed out that the type is on the big side, as are the margins, and that it's a one-day book.

Indeed. I was done with it that evening. But it's an interesting story, and I have a soft spot in my heart for Kristen because when I worked for Thomson after I quit the Tribune, Jen, the queen of the editors, kept a running list of who would play each of the staffers if Hollywood ever made a movie about our life in that office, and when she asked me who would play me, I said Kristen Johnston, because someone I knew at a radio station in town had told me that one day when I visited the morning show (and said about five words on the air). We're both tall. I could be blonde again. And we have similar voices.

I'm glad Kristen's OK. And I hope Frances finds who she's looking for, be that a new man or no one at all.

I have many more books on my to-read shelf. And I put in a request at the library for Charles Blow's Fire Shut Up In My Bones. It's being ordered, according to the library's site. I hope it arrives soon.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Sadness Of Abandoning A Book ...

I rarely fail to finish a book.

If I begin a book, it is with the intention of finishing the book. I like the sensation of turning the last page. Sometimes, that moment brings with it a sense of satisfaction. Sometimes, that moment brings with it a sense of regret, not for having read the story but for having come to the end. If Memoirs of a Geisha would have contained an index, I would have read it. I hated to bid that book farewell.

I have great faith in most authors and their work. Even if a book is leaving me cold, I hold out hope that it will get better. I keep reading. And then, by the time it becomes clear that a particular book will most likely not improve, I'm so far into it that it seems a shame to not persevere. It's like quitting a marathon with the finish line in sight. May as well finish for the sake of finishing, right?

I can remember giving up on The Shipping News. Everyone raved about that book. For the life of me, I couldn't figure out why. (I saw the movie because Kevin Spacey had the lead and, as you know, I will watch Kevin Spacey wait for a bus. I remember the beginning of the movie. I don't remember the end.)

I can remember wishing that I'd given up on The Fourth K. How Mario Puzo could write a masterpiece like The Godfather and then write such utter dreck will forever remain a mystery. It's not like I can ask him what happened.

I gave up on Twilight (and was amused, re-reading this post).

And now it's happened again.

I am loathe to write negative posts about books because, hey, I've never written a book. I have one with which I've been noodling around. It may be worthwhile. It may not. I may finish it someday. I may not.

But today, I gave up on a book.

On Sunday, I tweeted:



Later, I added this:



I did not finish it. It went back to the library. Someone else is waiting for it. Perhaps they'll enjoy it more than I did.

Mind you, I loved The Alchemist. Me and eleventymillion other people on the planet.

And I'm well aware that any author who writes such a phenomenon of a book is destined to never repeat that success. Lightning rarely strikes twice. Liz Gilbert knew that she would never again write another Eat, Pray, Love, though her latest book, a work of fiction, is doing very well.

But I expected a book titled Adultery to be steamy and fascinating, an examination of the complexities of love and relationships, full of moments of insight and explanation of our psyches.

It is not that. (After I gave up reading, I went to Good Reads to read reviews – I don't read reviews in advance of books or movies – and I found that I was very much not alone in my thinking. At the moment, Good Reads reviewers give the book an average of 3.14 out of 5 stars.)

Not only did I not relate to the main character, I found her rather disgusting but not in a fascinating "Oh, why would she do the things she's doing?" kind of way, but rather in a "What a vile person" kind of way. I felt no empathy. I had no desire to find a reason to empathize.

But my bigger issue was with the writing.

It's tricky for me to read books anymore because I can't disengage the editor part of my brain. Some books are so well written that they sweep me along and I can't find any flaws.

But as with Twilight and "When we entered the classroom, Angela went to sit at a black-topped lab table exactly like the ones I was used to," the sentence in Adultery that really made me want to give up appeared on page 77: "But who wouldn't like to say that her husband was president of Switzerland, otherwise known as the Swiss Confederation?"

I read that and thought, "Well, later on in the book, I guess there will be a need for me to know that Switzerland is also known as the Swiss Confederation."

There were other instances. I didn't bother to flag them at the time and I didn't take the time to find them before I returned the book to the library.

I did read the last page, so I have a general sense of how the story played out.

But meh.

I have many other books on my radar and some on my shelves. Hope springs eternal.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Where Does The Time Go? ...

Some nights ago – I can't remember how many, exactly, which is fitting, given the point of this post – I was watching my beloved Rachel Maddow and she mentioned the botched execution of Clayton Lockett ... in April.

Whoa. My first thought was, "Rachel is wrong."

But Rachel is rarely wrong. (And when she is, she corrects her errors on camera as soon as possible.)

My second thought was, "That can't have happened in April because this is September."

I mentioned this to Doreen. She was in my "Rachel is wrong" camp.

But I looked up the date of Clayton's death and, sure enough, he was executed on April 29.

Which is almost May, but still. That happened in April.

And this is September.

Which means that since that news happened, May, June, July, and August have come and gone.

Holy crap. A third of a year, gone.

Now, May was busy and then my father had a health episode in June which lasted into July, and other life-type things came up and needed tending, but still, it was disconcerting to hear something in September about something that happened in April and not be able to account for much of the time.

But you know what I haven't done in a really long time?

Record. Or sing in front of other people.

The latter is far more scary to me than the former – which is why, though I've done it, I need to do it more often.

My friend Briggetta was over for dinner recently and asked about my singing. As in, was I?

Nope, I said. I've lost touch with my recording connection and I haven't had the means in recent years to plunk down cash for studio time. Not to just play around.

She mentioned that she's told some people about my voice. She compared me to Diana Krall.

Which was very sweet of her. And which made me think, "And she rich and married to Elvis Costello!"

Not that I expect to get rich. And I'm sure she and Elvis are very happy together.

But I need to get back to it. Because I really, really miss it.

So today, I pinged my recording connection. I may not hear from him. Or I may. We shall see.

And I checked out the schedule at Davenport's: Yup, Mondays are still open-mic nights. And yup, George Howe is still the man at the piano on those nights. He's the one I sang with before. And I lived to tell about it. So I feel good about singing with him again.

There's something about fall that brings out my creativity. I wanted to make bread today just to make it. Have no real inclination to eat it. I just want to bake it. (And I would have, if I had enough flour on hand. Any any yeast. I must stock up on baking supplies.)

So here's to singing again, at long last. I'll post songs if I have them to post, on my web site, where you can hear what I've noodled around with in the past.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Sauce, Now Even Better ...

I've posted a post similar to this in the past. This is updated with recipe improvements.

Every year, we make sauce.

Mom and I procure some amount of plum tomatoes – somewhat easily had at this time of year, and this year, we procured a bushel, in an honest-to-God bushel – and then we procure the rest of the ingredients and then, when we're both feeling ambitious, we convene to make sauce.

The division of labor is as follows: I dice tomatoes. Mom does everything else.

Lest you think that I'm getting off easy, allow me to assure you that I do not.

Have you seen a bushel of tomatoes?! That's a freakin' lot of tomatoes!

There are always a few tomato casualties, tomatoes that are far past their prime. But for the most part, I don't have to trim up most of the tomatoes, and so today, I diced the entire bushel's worth and we made half of the sauce that we will eventually make. But now all of the tomatoes are diced, and handily portioned into ginormous Ziploc bags, so the rest of the process will be easy, as the recipe is a snap and all Mom will have to do is dice onion and press garlic and measure out the other stuff.

When all was said and done, I diced enough to total 96 cups of tomatoes, which doesn't sound like that much, considering that dice tomatoes was all I did for most of the afternoon.

But it's nice to do once a year and Mom has a commercial freezer, so she stashes the tidy pints and lets the flavors meld over time and then, in the middle of winter when the closest thing to nature is a twig sticking out of the snow, she can pull out a couple of pints and boil some pasta or simmer down a couple of pints to use as pizza sauce or defrost a few pints as a base for soup. (Me, I'm perfectly happy to pile in meatballs and an embarrassment of Parmesan cheese and stir it all up and dig in. I don't miss the pasta.)

It really is delightful stuff. And simple. So if you have a lot of tomatoes on hand and you're stumped for an idea, give this a try.

Beth Note: The recipe below is for a single batch of sauce, but we always double each recipe and adjust accordingly. So the first amount is for a single batch and (the amounts in parentheses) are our tweaks and substitutions for a double recipe.

Spaghetti Sauce

1 cup chopped yellow onion (2 cups)
2 tablespoons butter (3 tablespoons)
5 cloves garlic, pressed (1 head garlic; there is no such thing as too much garlic)
12 cups chopped fresh tomatoes (24 cups; we use plum tomatoes)
2 cups dry red wine (1 bottle; the recipe as written calls for Burgundy, but somewhere along the way, we started using Chianti, so now we use Chianti)
12 ounces tomato paste (Yep, the recipe for a single batch calls for 12 ounces of tomato paste. Mom and I both think that's nuts. Twelve ounces for a double batch is perfect, so: 12 ounces)
2 teaspoons instant beef bouillon granules (5 teaspoons beef base)
4 teaspoons dried basil (6 teaspoons dried basil; rub it between your palms to crush it)
2 bay leaves (4 bay leaves)
8 ounces sliced mushrooms (16 ounces; we buy prewashed, sliced mushrooms; save yourself the effort)
Improvement for 2014: If you have some Parmesan rinds in the freezer – and you should; don't throw them away! – toss a couple in to simmer with the sauce. Oh, yeah, that's a good idea.

Saute the onion in butter until translucent. (We use 16-quart stock pots just to give ourselves plenty of room to stir and to allow a nice amount of surface area for simmering.) Add the garlic and saute until fragrant. Add the tomatoes in batches, giving yourself a chance to incorporate them with the onions and garlic. If you dump in 24 cups of tomatoes at once, it's trickier to get everything stirred together.) Add everything else. Simmer about 1 hour. Then sprinkle with a bit of baking soda and stir. (It's rather atomic!) Continue cooking for 10 minutes. Ladle into freezer containers (you can buy sleeves of 'em at food-service stores for just a few bucks). Be sure to leave a bit of room for expansion. Top with lids and stash in the freezer. Makes about eight pints. (Or 15-ish pints when doubled.)