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Robert St. John

Restaurateur, author, enthusiastic traveler, & world-class eater.

Rocking and Carpooling and Rocking Out While Carpooling

April 25, 2016

Of all of the joys and pleasures in life, the unforeseen and unplanned ones seem to ring the truest.

Parenting is filled with challenges and victories mixed with alternating moments of pride and frustration. Sometimes in the middle of the fray it’s hard to see the forest for the trees. When a parent has teenagers, it’s all trees.

I can remember back to the days of early fatherhood sitting in a rocking chair trying to calm a seemingly inconsolable crying baby. Even through the frustration that those moments brought, I can remember telling myself— in between thoughts of “why won’t this baby stop crying?”— one day this baby will be grown and you will miss these moments. It’s true. I miss those moments. As maddening as they seemed at the time, I would love to be rocking one of my children— a tiny head rested on my shoulder, or even a mad, red-faced baby locked up and rigid in the middle of a full-body bawl— at this very moment.

I like rocking babies. Seriously, I like everything about it. I like the way their little heads smell like lavender-scented baby wash. I like when their tiny fingers wrap around one of my fingers, and I especially like the spontaneous smiles that come when least expected.

I like rocking babies so much that I once volunteered to work in the church nursery. My children were several years past the rocking stage and I was missing that part of fatherhood. During the announcement portion of a Sunday morning service a staff member stated that volunteers were needed to help in the church nursery. “I could do that,” I thought to myself. Rocking babies would be way better than working a shift in the parking lot.

So I showed up one morning eager and ready to rock. I learned quickly— judging from the looks on some of the nursery ladies faces— that baby rocking in the nursery isn’t typically a position filled by men, much less a 260-pound, burly, bearded man. That didn’t deter me. I could rock with the best of them. I certainly wasn’t a pro or anything— my wife had probably done 90% of that type thing when our children were that age— but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

The faces of my co-volunteers was nothing compared to the faces of the new mothers— many of whom were nervous about leaving their baby with anyone in the nursery in the first place— when they realized that they were handing over their baby to me for the next hour or so. Those looks on new mother’s faces were the reason I only lasted one Sunday in the nursery at church. I politely bowed out.

My newest parenting joy and pleasure is driving my 14-year old son to school. It’s one of the last parenting duties left on the list. He is one year away from being able to drive himself to school. So, as with rocking, it is one of those things where time is not on my side.

Again, his mother drives the majority of mornings, but I gladly pick up that mantle on many mornings. I did it with my daughter, too. She’s in college now and drives herself everywhere. School drop-off is one of those duties that might seem laborious on occasion, but one has to keep reminding themselves that one day they will be gone and this, along with many other aspects of parenthood, will be missed.

On-the-way-to-school conversations are unique for a parent. I am not sure what my wife and son talk about when they are on the way to school, but my son and I talk music and sports. My daughter and I mostly talked about music. She would make requests off of my iPod or iPhone and we would listen to whatever she wanted to hear. The beauty of that is that when I hear one of those songs today, it immediately takes me back to those mornings on the way to school with her in the passenger seat.

I am never in a hurry on the way to school. I’ll take the long way in a heartbeat if it means more conversation time or one more song off of the playlist. Morning conversations are often filled with questions, and that’s a good thing. It seems that once the pre-school questions— “Dad, why is the sky blue? Dad, why are the clouds moving?”— go away, most questioning stops. We then find ourselves trying to force information into our children’s brains. Not so on the morning drive.

The day is new. They haven’t plugged in with their friends just yet. They haven’t encountered the daily challenges that school brings. They are fresh, sometimes grumpy, but always ready for a good tune or to hear the answer to a sports trivia query.

That is why I am milking these moments for all they are worth. It’s another one of those parenting duties that will soon fall by the wayside like rocking and all of those other responsibilities that seemed laborious at the time, but ones that I miss today.

Someone once told me, “It goes too fast.” That might be the truest thing I ever heard.

Bucatini al Amatriciana

 This classic Italian dish comes from the town of Amatrice in the Lazio Region— which includes Rome— and Pecorino Romano is the cheese that is used in this dish. Period. They are serious about that. It’s not Amatriciana with any other cheese.

1 lb.                 Dry bucatini pasta
1 gallon           Water
¼ cup             Kosher salt
2 TB                Extra virgin olive oil
¼ lb.               Guanciale (cured pork cheek) or pancetta, medium diced
2 cups             Marinara
¾ cups           Yellow onion, small diced
1 TB                Garlic, minced
½ tsp              Crushed red pepper
Grated Pecorino Romano as needed

Cook the bucatini following the directions on the package.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the pancetta, stirring frequently so as not to burn, until cooked, about 6-8 minutes. Add the onion and garlic and continue until the onions are soft, not browned, about 5 minutes. Add marinara and crushed red pepper and stir until sauce is hot.

Transfer to a large mixing bowl. Add the hot bucatini pasta and combine thoroughly.

Divide among six serving bowls. Finish each with the grated cheese as needed.



 ¼ cup             Extra virgin olive oil
1 ½ cups         Diced yellow onion
1 cup                Shredded carrot
2 Tbl                Minced garlic
1 TB                 Dried basil
½ TB               Dried oregano
3 ea.                 Bay leaf
2 TB                 Kosher salt
1 TB                 Fresh ground black pepper
¾ tsp              Crushed red pepper
1 – 6 oz. can   Tomato paste
2 – 28 oz. cans San Marzano Italian whole peeled tomatoes, crushed by hand
2 cups             Vegetable stock
1 TB                 Balsamic vinegar

Heat oil over medium heat. Add onions, carrots and garlic. Cook 10 minutes, stirring often.

Add basil, oregano, salt, black pepper, crushed red pepper and tomato paste. Cook 5-6 minutes, stirring frequently, to caramelize tomato paste.


Add canned tomatoes, stock and bay leaves. Simmer on low heat for 1 hour, stirring often.


Add balsamic vinegar and remove heat.


Yield: 1 gallon

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