on friendships, and braised beef short ribs

I’ve been thinking a lot about friends lately.

The first friend I remember having was in preschool. It seems like her name was Cindy, but that was also the name of my imaginary friend, the one who lived in the upper branches of the tall pine tree across the dirt road from my house. One day, Cindy (the real one) and her father were riding a tractor on their farm. She fell off, was run over by the tractor and killed. I remember the sadness I felt when she didn’t return to school, sadness at her being taken from me. I couldn’t have been more than 4 when this happened, just a year younger than my son is now, but I vividly remember my parents telling me of her death. They didn’t hide the facts of what happened.

I met Carrie when I was in third grade. Her family – her mom and dad and three sisters – had moved from Ohio to our small town in north Florida, and we were instantly fast friends. Carrie’s family lived much like we did – in an old home without air conditioning, without much money, and with parents somewhere on the strong end of the hippie spectrum. Carrie and I were avid readers growing up, and we often sat in the back of the classroom, devouring books after finishing our classwork, usually well ahead of other students. We stayed best friends throughout our school years, but we began growing apart during college when we our lives and interests started diverging. Though we never spoke of it, our waning friendship felt like a break-up to me, and I felt heartache for a long time.

For many years – probably all of my 20s – I never felt entirely settled with who I was as a person. And maybe because of that insecurity, I didn’t let many people get too close to me. I had a lot of stressful things going on in my life. I was working full time and trying to get into medical school. Within one year, I was accepted to medical school, got married, then moved away to a big city to attend school. My brother was in the initial phases of getting diagnosed and treated for schizophrenia, spending time in and out of the psych ward. I spent a lot of time being angry and scared and overwhelmingly sad at what was happening to him.

I had friends during those years, but I didn’t open myself up to them in the way that they deserved. The way I deserved. I held back. I had so much going on that I didn’t want to risk getting hurt.

Something changed when I reached my 30s, and it drastically changed when I began writing and sharing my life openly, here and on the blog I had prior to this one. This act of putting my words to screen, giving them life outside of my own head, has allowed me to express myself in ways that I’m often not very good at verbally. On this screen, I can be completely honest and open and let people in. And I’ve come to realize that I don’t care if I’m being judged for my words, for my personal stories. They’re my stories, my life. This is who I am.

Last weekend in New York, I spent a glorious three days with my friend Julia. Over those days, we shared some pretty amazing meals – and conversation – with several women whom I’ve come to know and love, and one that I’m thrilled to have met during this trip. Since we returned, I’ve been reflecting on the people that this blog — that my writing — has brought into my life, and I feel blessed to have these friends by my side.

Friendship is such a beautiful, precious thing. I am so grateful for it.

*    *    *    *    *

Several weeks ago, for New Year’s Eve, a group of our friends gathered around our table to share a meal. Among other things, I served these braised beef short ribs. The meal was wonderful, but the company was even better.

Braised short ribs are best if they’re allowed to rest overnight after cooking. When preparing for the New Year’s Eve dinner, I started these ribs the day before. The aromas coming out of my oven as the ribs simmered gently in the heavy dutch oven for more than two hours were enchanting. It was hard not to dig in immediately, but I knew that I would be rewarded for my patience when I finally served them the following day.

A couple of hours before dinner was to be served, I brought the ribs back up to a simmer and finished them off, adding carrots toward the end of cooking. The meat was perfect – tender and moist, and the overnight rest allowed the savory flavors to richen and deepen. The beef threatened to fall off the bone when I reached in with tongs to serve it, and in many cases, it did.

Now, it’s hard for me to think of braised beef short ribs without thinking of my good friends gathered around the table to enjoy them. And that’s not a bad thing at all.

Yield: 6 servings.

Braised Beef Short Ribs

Braised short ribs taste best the following day. I recommend braising these the day before you want to serve them. It's a breeze to warm them up in the oven. Creamy grits, polenta, or mashed potatoes make a great base for these hearty ribs.


2 tablespoons olive oil
6 pounds meaty beef short ribs
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
1/4 cup finely chopped shallot
1 tablespoon tomato paste
12 whole cloves garlic, peeled
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon dried herbes de Provence
2 cups red wine (such as Zinfandel or Cabernet Sauvignon or Malbec)
2-1/2 cups canned lower-sodium beef broth
1 can (14.5 ounces) diced tomatoes
2 bay leaves
1/2 cup (approx) water
24 baby carrots
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper


Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a heavy large oven-proof pot (such as a Dutch oven) over medium high heat. Sprinkle ribs with Kosher salt and pepper. Working in batches, add ribs to pot, taking care not to overcrowd, and brown well, turning often, about 8 minutes per batch. Transfer ribs to a large bowl with tongs.

Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of drippings (or add oil as necessary to measure 2 tablespoons). Add onion, chopped carrot, celery, and shallot, and cook over medium-low heat until vegetables are soft, stirring frequently, about 10 minutes. Add tomato paste and cook, stirring frequently, for 1 minute. Add garlic, flour, and herbes de Provence; stir 1 minute. Add wine and 2 cups broth; bring to a boil over high heat, scraping up browned bits from bottom of pan. Add tomatoes with juices and bay leaves. Return ribs and any accumulated juices to pot. If necessary, add 1/2 cup water (or more) to pot to barely cover ribs. Bring to a boil.

Cover pot tightly and transfer to oven. Bake until ribs are very tender, about 2 hours 15 minutes. (Note: If making ahead, stop at this point and refrigerate uncovered until cold. Cover and keep refrigerated. Bring to a simmer on the stove top or in a 300 degree oven before continuing.)

Add remaining 1/2 cup broth and baby carrots; press carrots gently to submerge. Cover, return to oven, and continue cooking at 350 degrees until carrots are tender, about 15 minutes. Discard bay leaves. Transfer short ribs and carrots to platter; tent with foil to keep warm. Boil sauce to thicken slightly and season to taste with salt and pepper.

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18 Responses to “on friendships, and braised beef short ribs”

  1. 1
    DessertForTwo — February 10, 2012 @ 10:56 am

    I echo your sentiments about never allowing myself to be close friends with someone until I was older. I’ve always been really driven in school and now with my career, so I rarely made time for things like friends. When I moved to Cali for grad school, I met the most wonderful group of girls and we instantly connected. I have never had female friends so wonderful. I can’t imagine life without them. Sometimes, I still find myself holding back details of my life from them and I don’t know why. It is such a joy to be able to call a friend and discuss anything my heart desires. And it makes me light up when they call me or need me in return.

    Lovely post, as always, MJ 🙂

  2. 2
    Jenny — February 10, 2012 @ 11:08 am

    When I was growing up – I wasn’t allowed to have friends. My parents – one an alcoholic and the other with mental illness were abusive and controlling – they didn’t want anyone to “hurt” me – so no play dates, movies, parks – no anything. It took a long time – a very long time to learn how to be a friend – and now I am lucky to have many friends – those I have met and those I haven’t. I still shy away at first – but I try very hard to let people into my life. You wouldn’t think that would be true as much as I share on my blog and in the social media – I guess there I feel safe. I share my love through food with my friends and family — that comes so easy to me. I so enjoy your beautiful words.

  3. 3
    Janis — February 10, 2012 @ 4:56 pm

    I love this blog post for oh so many reasons.

  4. 4
    Rachel @ Not Rachael Ray — February 10, 2012 @ 5:14 pm

    I always love your posts so much (I’m quite sure I would love these ribs too). It’s funny, some of my blogger friends (whom I haven’t even met) have been the best support and checked on me more than my in-real-life friends during the last couple of weeks. Both varieties of friends mean the world to me–but friendship sure is an interesting thing. I think friends begin to mean more as we start to know OURSELVES better, which happens as we age. Anyways–you said it better than me 🙂

  5. 5
    Maureen — February 10, 2012 @ 5:36 pm

    What a beautiful post. I could feel the raw emotion when you talked about friends. I believe friends come into our lives and go out of it as if it’s planned — because we need them at that time.

    I’ve lost some good friends who’ve recently died and so many things trigger memories of them. Especially food. 🙂

    These ribs look so good. I haven’t made them since moving from the states. I haven’t seen them at the butcher. Maybe I should ask.

  6. 6
    Liren — February 10, 2012 @ 6:32 pm

    I loved this piece, MJ. When you open yourself to someone, whether in real life or on the screen, there is a vulnerability that can be frightening. I’ve always been the type that considers friendship something you foster for life, so the first time I drifted from a friend I took it very personally as a failure. But such is life, and we can just be grateful for the ones who are present and share with us each day. I’m so glad you had a lovely weekend and delicious meal with good friends 🙂

  7. 7
    Flavia — February 10, 2012 @ 7:26 pm

    What a lovely post, Merry. I have had several special, longtime girlfriends in my life whom I cherish very much, and they are still a big part of my life to this day. I also feel so blessed and incredibly happy to have met so many wonderful friends through my blog and Twitter (you are one of them!). When I first left the corporate world to stay home full-time, I felt very lonely. Most of my close friends are back in my home state of Maryland and the few friends I have here in Houston have busy lives and I don’t see them often. Once I started my blog and started connecting with new people who shared the same passions for food, cooking, writing and photography, the loneliness I felt faded away. It has been so wonderful to become part of such a rich and inspiring community!

  8. 8
    Jill Mant~a SaucyCook — February 11, 2012 @ 1:25 am

    I can not imagine my life without my girlfriends. They have held me up when I thought I could not go on, cheered me on through my triumphs, just listened to me when I have needed to talk, and sat and said nothing when I needed only to know they were there. My girlfriends have laughed with me until we cried, shared secrets we will take to our graves and been the “aunts” to my children that my own sister just couldn’t be. They are my life line.
    I would like to be your friend and come for braised short ribs!

  9. 9
    Gail — February 11, 2012 @ 7:04 am

    So sweet, MJ.
    Love you, too. You’re one of the best gifts I’ve received from Twitter.

    Oh, and the short ribs and grits don’t look bad either!


  10. 10
    marla — February 11, 2012 @ 9:01 am

    Friendship is a true gift, thanks for reminding us not to take it for granted. Such a comforting recipe too 🙂

  11. 11
    Macaroni Mama — February 11, 2012 @ 5:08 pm

    Merry Jennifer, this is a beautiful post. When you and Carrie grew apart, my heart was broken too. You guys were so close for so many years. By the way, your shortribs and grits looks scrumptious. Love you.

  12. 12
    Elizabeth — February 11, 2012 @ 7:59 pm

    I used to always spend New Year’s Eve with a group of good friends, but since we’ve turned into bona fide grown-ups it’s been harder and harder to get together. So glad you had the chance to share such a delicious meal with so many wonderful people (those ribs look incredible!).

  13. 13
    Paula — February 12, 2012 @ 9:33 pm

    Your friends are as blessed to have you as you them (I’m sure they know that). I think it is wonderful that your blog, your writing, has opened many doors to new people, friends and possibilities but it is you who had to keep those doors open and walk through them. I’m happy, grateful, that you are and that you are not holding back.

    Your fall-off-the-bone short ribs look amazing!

  14. 14
    Paula- bell'alimento — February 12, 2012 @ 9:59 pm

    Love these short ribs and YOU! xoxo

  15. 15
    kyleen — February 13, 2012 @ 10:34 pm

    Friendship is truly one of the best things in life. I have a best friend, whom I’ve known since eighth grade, which isn’t that long in retrospect (considering I’m only in the eleventh grade). Anyways, I hope that we’ll stay friends for a long, long time, despite the fact that we go to different high schools and that we’re most likely going to different universities in different parts of the world. It’s scary…

    This post was beautiful and it really made me reflect about the value of friendship. Thank you for sharing.

    The braised short ribs look delicious, by the way.

  16. 16
    Alyson — February 17, 2012 @ 7:16 pm

    Kyleen – maintaining friendships from a distance takes some dedication, but I have found that there are some people in life who you can always return to and pick up where you left off no matter how much time has passed. I’m 31 and have had the same best friend since I was in the 3rd grade. She never left our hometown. I left for college and never went back. She got became a teacher, got married, and had a baby much faster than I did. It didn’t matter. We are still best friends. Unfortunately, for every story like that, there are lots of people who you love for a period of time, who serve a purpose, and they leave your life for whatever reason. I hope you and your friend stay friends forever, but if not, you always have wonderful memories and if she helped you become who you are she is forever a part of you.

    MJ – I love this post. For the longest time I thought life was about how many friends you had and not the quality or depth of the friendship. I tried so hard to be friends with everyone. Some time in my mid to late 20’s I realized you just can’t spread yourself too thin and only certain people are truly worth the effort. I love and cherish the friends who love me enough to be there during the crazy times. Those friends who you really can tell anything to and not be judged. Friends are like extra sisters God sends us along the way. Our friend group went through some crazy things recently – from losing a parent to cancer to fertility issues, all sorts of “the stuff of life” – and without each other it sure would be a longer, lonelier road. Thank God for friends.

  17. 17
    Tobias — February 18, 2012 @ 4:41 pm

    I just stumbled upon your blog and can nothing but admire your open and expressive way of writing in this post and can only assume that your other posts are similar. I for now am far away from opening up that much and give so much insight into my life (which may not be the best attribute for a blogger).

    Those ribs look pretty amazing, by the way. 🙂


  18. 18
    Chris — February 19, 2012 @ 5:14 pm

    I don’t have any true friends other than family these days. A lot of close acquaintances, but not like the friends I used to have.

    The ribs and grits really rock! I love grits anyway and topped with the succulent ribs? Oh yeah, I’ll take seconds!

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