As a young girl, my mother was known as Ellie Belly. Her mother had a predilection for big, rich, jolly meals. Although we were not religious, there was lots of cross-cultural cooking in our Florida family: Once a week, I’d visit my Jewish grandmother Rose, who favored chopped liver or lox and bagels, while my mother baked Christmas cookies and filled Easter baskets. But Mom was obsessed about fat, and smoked cigarettes to keep her weight down. (The not-so-subtle cultural standards for women didn’t help.)
When I was eight, my parents’ marriage ended, and as a young divorced woman, Mom went through a period of anorexia. She also became obsessive about planning and organizing meals, even when she went back to college for her master’s degree and started teaching English and drama at Miramar High School (Johnny Depp was her student). She would post a dinner menu for my brother and me so we’d know what to expect every night—plenty of comfort food like pork chops and applesauce or lasagna.
I was a sad, needy, and rebellious teenager, looking for love in all the wrong places. I resented not having stylish clothing like my friends—my sneakers were red, white, and blue like the American flag, but the cool shoes were PRO-Keds. I wanted the iconic Farrah Fawcett-Majors haircut with feathered bangs, but my mom took me to a beauty college, and I ended up with two light bulb shapes on the sides of my head.
Acting was where I felt most comfortable. I wanted to be an actor ever since the boy who was supposed to play Santa Claus in our school play got sick, and since I’d memorized his part and mine, I wound up playing both Mr. and Mrs. Claus. I hoped to major in theater at college, but my mother demanded that I learn how to earn “a real living.” I knew that I was loved, but she thought it would be difficult to support myself as an actor (ironically, it became difficult to live by not doing what I really needed to do). I was crushed, and graduated with a communications degree, trying to bury the acting bug. But it was useless to stifle something that was meant to be.
Mom and I stopped fighting when we finally learned to accept each other—something I try to do with everyone. We’re close now. And her lasagna is still to die for.
Jennifer Elderman Sanz is an actor.
1 1/2 lb. ground beef
2 16-oz. cans tomato sauce
2 8-oz. cans whole tomatoes
salt and pepper to taste
1 t. garlic powder
1 t. dried oregano
1 t. spaghetti seasoning
1 boullion cube
1 lb. dried lasagna noodles
1/2 c. grated Parmesan cheese
8 oz. ricotta
2 c. mozzarella
In large saucepan, brown the ground beef, then drain and set aside.
Cook tomato sauce and whole tomatoes with salt, pepper, garlic powder, oregano, and spaghetti seasoning until thick, about 1 hour.
Add browned beef and cook 15 minutes.
Bring a large pot of salted water to boil with bouillon cube, and cook pasta until al dente. Drain.
Preheat oven to 350 F.
In a large oiled casserole, layer noodles, sauce, Parmesan, ricotta, and mozzarella.
Repeat layers, ending with noodles, a little sauce, and a sprinkling of Parmesan.
Bake for 1/2 hour.