“I just called to say I love you .. ” ~ Stevie Wonder
Now that my kids have families of their own, I love hearing stories of what they're making for dinner. They always bring back such great memories.
Like the time I taught them how to cut a hole in a piece of bread with a biscuit cutter to fry an egg in clarified butter. And my piece was more than a little singed because Wally the puppy was barking at (who knows what?) and I got distracted by something shiny on my way back to the kitchen.
“How much salt should you put in the water when shocking green beans?”
Me: “Enough that it will taste like the ocean.”
“Remember the chocolate chip cookies you used to make all the time?”
Me: “Wait for the nutty smell when the butter starts to brown.”
Mostly, I love the memories of making dinner to the sounds of my son playing video games upstairs, and my daughter reading at the kitchen island. It’s the life I wanted. The one I want for them too,
whatever version makes them happiest
Of course, we also talk about the things they loved to eat when they were little, and I've been trying to capture the recipes (or techniques) as best I'm able. In the process, I've realized how challenging it is to translate cooking into words.
There are always exceptions and variations. Heat sources vary. It’s hard to remember exactly what I did. What details should I include? History? Failed attempts? How in the world do you teach someone to cook without bogging them down with too much information?
— — —
So instead, when writing my recipes, I've developed a different technique. I'll start with the specific ingredients and tell them a story.
Often, I'll find myself reverting to imagery. A sponge cake is done when it springs back like a baby’s tummy. When the sugar starts to caramelize, it reminds me of cotton candy. Take your oatmeal raisin cookies out of the oven when their edges are just beginning to get firm (the middles will still look like mud puddles)
Mostly, just make the oatmeal raisin cookies
Sometimes I wonder. How many bowls of buttery parmesan noodles did I make for my daughter (and friends) over the years?
Truth be told? Looking back, I'm a little conflicted about it all. The nutritionist in me says it's important to eat as well as we can. But the mom in me knows the hunger we feed isn't always for kale or hempseed. Sometimes a bowl of buttery, cheesy noddles is good for the soul
So I start with a story of the first time we made them together
“The large pot in the bottom cabinet? Let's fill it, idk, maybe three-quarters full of water? Grab a handful of salt, more than you think you'll need, and swirl it around in the water with your spoon. Ok, Sweetie, now give it a taste.”
“Ewww .. “
I try it too. That's it. “Never fear, most of the salt will stay be washed down the drain. Only a little bit clings to the pasta, and well-salted pasta is a very good thing.”
When the water was boiling in little spurts and rhythms, you lowered the tagliatelle into the maelstrom. I could have sworn our shape of choice was spaghetti, but you remember penne. “Stir the pasta ever so gently, and then we'll let it cook”
You skip into the living room to pirouette.
It isn't long until our timer dings, and we check.
“Let's fish one out, shall we? Now, give it a pinch. If your noodle is mushy, we've cooked it too long. Does it start to yield then stop? That’s, my dear, is called al dente. Otherwise known as perfection.” You try the process, the noodles slipping and sliding back into the water several times before you find the confidence to hold it.
Even though we drained most of the water, we kept a little in a glass off to the side.
The pasta went back into the pot, we splashed in a bit of the cooking water and stirred. You dropped the butter in and stirred some more. I showed you how to grate the Parmesan on top, and we stirred yet again
“More salt,” I declared after a quick taste. So you shook, and we watched as salt rained down into our pot. “The Parmesan will be salty. Let's grate in a little more and stir again.” You slurped a noodle and smiled
We put another few scapes of Parmesan on top, and you danced the bowl into the dining room to eat.
As I tidy up in the kitchen, I offer a prayer; for the days when you're older, when you have children of your own. In lieu of the drive-through or reaching for a box of mac and cheese, that you would instead remember this day
And take a few extra moments to cook a little something comforting for yourself. Knowing how very much you're loved ..
— — —
- 8 oz penne pasta (gluten-free if you’re avoiding gluten)
- 2 Tbsp butter
- ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
- salt + pepper, to taste
- 1 - 2 Tbsp minced fresh parsley (optional)
- Cook the noodles to al dente, according to the package directions (Reserve ¼ cup of the pasta cooking liquid and drain the noodles)
- Add the drained and hot noodles back into the pot they cooked in. Stir in a tablespoon or two of the pasta cooking water
- Add the butter and Parmesan and stir until the butter has melted.
- Depending on the consistency, stir in another tablespoon or two of the pasta cooking water.
- Add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
- Stir in the chopped parsley (if using)