Thursday, December 29, 2011

My life with pasta

Homemade ravioli for Christmas dinner
Lately I'm all about homemade pasta. You would think this activity would be in my DNA or something. Don't all Eye-talians know how to make pasta and sing opera?

Frankly, though, I had to teach myself like anybody else.

I didn't grow up eating a whole lot of fresh pasta. Occasionally my grandmother would take a day and make homemade noodles to go with chicken soup. This was before pasta machines were available to just anybody. She'd roll out the dough herself, fold it up and cut it into thin strips. Then she'd lay a tablecloth out on my parents' queen-size bed, dust it with flour and shake each batch out to dry until dinner time.

Oh -- and she kept the bedroom door closed so the dog wouldn't get the noodles. I, however, had opposable thumbs (still do!). So I would try to sneak in and eat the raw noodles...oh, how I loved the raw noodles...more than the cooked ones. Of course, if I got caught I incurred the wrath of my grandmother, who was convinced I was going to get worms from eating raw dough. I've lived to tell the tale -- wormless.

I do recall, that as she got older, the noodles got thicker and thicker until they more like dumplings; good dumplings -- but still not the tender, toothsome strands they were supposed to be. And for the most part, when she made chicken noodle soup, the pasta of choice was acini de pepe out of a box.

I would occasionally make homemade pasta when the kids were growing up -- usually on days they weren't home and it was just Dirtman and me. It takes a long time to make, roll out and shape enough pasta for four people, particularly when they're used to filling their bowls to over flowing. My success in those days was erratic -- sometimes it flowed smoothly and was delicious; sometimes it was an exhausting nightmare of tight, unyielding dough with an ultimate mediocre texture; sometimes the whole thing wound up in the trash.

I didn't begin to enjoy making pasta until the Christmas Dirtman bought me the pasta-making attachment for my blender (Dirtman will happily buy me all the kitchen equipment I want. Recently at K-Mart he tried to foist a fryer on me). I don't know why this is, because a pasta machine only does half the work of pasta-making -- the shaping. And the shaping is the easy part if you've put together a proper dough.

Having read up on the subject and following the directions of countless different methods, I'm convinced the only way to learn to make pasta is to just make pasta. I've worked with the step-by-step directions in front of my face -- directions written out carefully by someone whose handiwork I'd admired -- and had to, at some point, just let The Force take over. Whether it's because it really is in my DNA or whether it was because I just relaxed at this point and enjoyed the process, I've never had trouble since.

Today I'm making lasagna noodles (and the lasagna). Two batches should be more than enough -- I prefer making a lot of smaller batches than a single large batch. When I work with too much, the pasta is always tough; and, honestly, I just love the feel of that nice, smooth little lump of  pasta dough sliding like silk on the board. (I wish there was a job where I could do nothing all day but knead dough -- bread dough, pasta dough, whatever; love to knead dough).

It's something I'd like to see incorporated into the cafe on a limited basis -- say, fresh noodles for the chicken and beef noodle soups. It's a little fiddly and I certainly wouldn't commit to fresh pasta dishes if we were a full-service restaurant (God bless restaurants that do!). But a couple of days a week, a couple of batches of noodles shouldn't be too much fuss.

Monday, December 26, 2011

There's got to be a morning after

At around 8 p.m. Christmas Day, I start looking forward to December 26.

Please realize, I love hosting these big holiday get-togethers and, as strange as we all are, we're a fun bunch to be around. The current game of choice is called The Game of Things where you are given a category (say, "Things you might say during a lull in the conversation") and everyone's written answer is read out loud. You then have to guess who said which "thing." Needless to say, the Linguini version defies my attempts to keep the answers on high ground. Our gaming always lasts into the wee hours, this after an already hectic day. I truly love every minute of it.

But, whereas Christmas Day has required a month of logistical planning to produced a carefully-choreographed balance of feast, activity and sentimentality, the day after is a clean slate defying any attempts at scheduling or formality.

Only Dirtman had to drag himself out to work and I wasn't exactly pressed, dressed and faithfully waving goodbye to him from the front door. As I recall, having poured myself a second cup of coffee, I had sunk back into bed with TCM on low and only woke up briefly when he kissed me goodbye and assuaged my guilt by "ordering" me to stay in bed today and rest.

Well, if you insist...

Heating up my third cup of coffee made me the most active person remaining in the house, since the Heirs hadn't yet touched foot to floor. Later, while shoving a stale Christmas cookie into my mouth to go with the third cup of coffee, I noticed Heir 2, sleeping on the couch for the holidays, checking his e-mail from his lap top. He mumbled something I took to be "Good morning." I didn't bother to correct him on his assumption of the time of day and returned to bed, turning on the Food Network.

They had great recipes I have no intention of cooking today. Have another stale cookie.

Oh...and all that rich food that seemed such a good idea yesterday? Forget it. I just want a salad. There is a head of romaine lettuce and a bag of scallions in the crisper that I could cut up.

Instead I stand at the refrigerator, eat a cold leftover shrimp and take a spoonful of the leftover tiramasu that didn't set properly. I grab another stale cookie and go back to bed.

I am reminded by Zsa Zsa that I have dogs and that they require my opening the door for them to relieve themselves. Her nudge and stare make me feel guilty and I feel worse when I notice the water bowl is empty. Even Whiskers the cat is looking at me like I'm scum.

I let the dogs out, fill the water dish, and let them all back in.

It's nap time for the dogs. And me. I've worked hard.

There are stirrings in the kitchen. The Heirs have woken up hungry. I told them about the salad they could make, but they come in munching on the last of the cookies that were left out.

Heir 2 mentions setting up the Blu-Ray player John Boy brought us yesterday. Then he crawls back onto the couch. Heir 1 heads to his bedroom with leftover bacon-wrapped scallops and a glass of milk. He points out that the scallops were wrapped with water chestnuts and that the water chestnuts were the only vegetable we've had in two days. I reminded him that the tortilla chips had corn in them and the queso dip had tomatoes. I am a good mother.

Okay. Maybe I'll make up that salad for everyone.


After a nap.

Saturday, December 24, 2011


We have come to accept that, during the holiday season, we won't be able to get a whole lot done toward opening our cafe. Our excitement over this new venture is not shared by the various bureaucratic agencies through whose hoops we are required to jump.We're waiting for our FEIN; they're kvetching over their chintzy Secret Santa gift.

There is another dark cloud  tempering our enthusiasm -- I need to find housing closer to the cafe. Rentals, even for the most pathetic hovel, are exorbitant and, even in a rural area and with dogs as wonderful as mine, it's hard to find someone to rent to a pet owner.

This is not the cabin, only a facsimile of where I may be spending my off hours
Still, we soldier on, which lead to the following e-mail exchange between me and Dark Garden, who you need to know is a captain in his county's sheriff's department and their head investigator.

Me: Come whenever on Christmas. I'm doing a ham and it'll just be an all-day buffet.

DG: Don't know about this weekend right now. Caught a murder this morning. Old, rickety cabin -- two-week old body was found (what follows is a stomach churning account of smells and fluids that DG can't help but go into detail about, but that I will spare you the detail of) this place is falling apart and we had to pull the body out and...(more details of limbs and corpse transportation). I'll let you know later today.

Me: So...........................................................................................................................................................
..............................................................there's a cabin available?

*I'll bet you thought this post was going to be a lot deeper.

Friday, December 23, 2011

In keepin' with the situation...*

We have had some wild Christmases; we've had some quiet Christmases; we've had some weird Christmases; and we've had some really sucky Christmases.

I've decided to call this year's holiday our Deconstructed Christmas. 'Cause -- really -- I'll be good to get the bathroom cleaned.

It's all my own doing, I admit; which is why I can't really complain. And, while I indulged in a good couple of weeks of self-loathing, I realize that it's all part of the flow. Some years you're Martha Stewart; some years you're Ebenezer Scrooge; and some years you're Bartleby the Scrivner and "prefer not to."

So I've been Bartleby for the past few weeks and  -- waddaya know! -- stuff got done (thanks to Charley and Emily). So I am not the Hub of the Yuletide Universe after all!

Still, there are no piles of tins containing Christmas cookies or no handmade ornaments. There is no wreath on the door since I never made it out to cut the greens and the swag on the mantlepiece is fake.

We'll have ham Christmas day because ham isn't so much cooking as "heating up." We're probably too many to sit at the table anyway -- and I have to admit that just about everyone prefers milling around and picking at stuff. I usually feel like I'm breaking up people having fun by making them file to the table and sit in their assigned seats.

Besides, I think the best times we've had have been when Dark Garden and I just start yanking things out of the fridge and cooking them (and making John Boy taste them first...and poor Dirtman stuck with the washing up). We have created some amazing dishes, only to look at each other and say, "Did you write any of that down? How did we do that?" Sometimes we'll actually remember -- depending on how many martinis fueled our creativity.

Then we send plates of our experiments out to the nephews, who are parked in front of the TV with whatever video game they bought each other. I never worry about spillage -- the dogs are on the job.

I think I've written myself from Bartleby to Martha after all. I amy conjure up some pies. Maybe I'll make up a batch of fresh pasta and do fried ravioli (lately, everything we cook has the added chore of being a test for our restaurant); perhaps some ubiquitous bacon-wrapped scallops...REAL EGG NOG!!!

See? I can manifest Christmas least when it comes to food...

*Yes, another movie quote. The 1951 version of A Christmas Carol -- our favorite and most-quoted.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Here we come on the run with a burger and a bun...*

My mother always advised, "The only people you can ever trust in this world is family."

The dynamics of my mother's relationship with her sisters and my grandmother are the stuff of which legends are told. Given the volatility of any interaction between the various players, it's amazing to me that she somehow convinced my father not once (a nursing home), but twice (a grocery store) to throw his lot in with this family whose members wore their issues with each other so prominently on their shirt sleeves and go into business with them.

Of course, conventional wisdom says, "Never go into business with family;" and certainly Ma and Pa are a testament to that. Both ventures left them financially depleted and one landed them in court.

Yet here we are, me and Da Bros, entering into a business together -- something we've talked about doing for years. I could enumerate the differences between my parents' misguided ventures and this one, but I think the most significant is our history of going to the mat for each other. While we have a lot of happy memories of our childhood, we went through some pretty scary stuff that forced us to rely on each other.

A very old photo of the cousins
It's not something we talk about, but it is the reason why we can enter this business knowing that each of us would sooner sacrifice ourselves personally rather than betray each other. (Da Bros are, at this point, becoming uncomfortable, so we shall never speak of this again.)

The Courthouse Corner Cafe will probably open Feb. 1, 2012, in Romney, WV, and will feature, along with the ubiquitous specialty coffees, homemade soups, baked goods, panini and sandwiches. This is a family venture, so along with Dark Garden, John Boy and me, Dirtman will also be involved as well as the Heirs and the Twinz and, we hope, guest appearances by John Boy's son, Jason.

For the most part, it will be me and DG, since one of our favorite things to do on weekends in get together and cook ... um ... stuff. Dirtman has subbed as a barista and Jason and Heir 2 have worked as baristas, though they're both employed elsewhere. Heir 1 worked at Panera Bread for a year; the Twinz -- Mickey D's.

Then there's John Boy, who DG insists will sit in the front of the cafe sipping wine and eating gruel. He might even tell about a little thing called the Pony Express...

Yeah. Right. We're happy to serve you. You gotta problem with that?
*The Flintstones -- come on, People!