Pasta And The Serenity Prayer

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Pasta and the Serenity Prayer

My husband and I are in Gainesville, Florida, green, peaceful, humid Gainesville.

We arrived here on Friday night, and our third day in town was intense. We are preparing his house for sale, so I expected the week ahead to be sentimental, nostalgic, and difficult at times . 

On Monday, a late afternoon thunderstorm rained on Gainesville. Ben was packing old books with one of his sisters and I helped, grateful to be able to get to know his parents from a distance, his past, and his history. But I also felt overwhelmed by mixed emotions; I was worried, sad, very tired. I have a thick skin, but life doesn’t simply pass me by — I feel every second of it, for better or for worse.

The beautiful house is surrounded by greenery, loving memories hang on every wall, but the lights were dim and melancholic like a winter morning in the Alps, where I am from.

I am 10 years old, in the kitchen the TV is on with the morning news, on Channel 5, and the green curtains pulled along the narrow balcony make the small room look dark and wintry. I am sad, and I don’t want to go out. At the white, round table I have eaten too much for breakfast; my body is uncomfortable and foreign. The kitchen cabinets are brown with a brushed metal rim; it’s the ’80s, and even if they are quite fashionable at the time I know that I don’t like the colors. The bathroom is narrow, and it’s for the four of us; I don’t yet know that my parents have worked hard and made sacrifices for that apartment, I am only ten.

I didn’t like the feeling that the dark light of the Gainesville house had reawakened in me, and that time of the day when I start thinking about supper had arrived:

I don’t feel like cooking tonight,

I said. 

Ben suggested we dine out, but we still had to shower, and we had more packing to do. Life changes are difficult to take in, and the balance between the different personalities in the house had suddenly become more delicate. I didn’t feel like going out either. 

When I come across days like this, my brain is in a haze. When I have to process mixed emotions and uncomfortable feelings I tend to always hit an emotional bottom to be reminded that I don’t have to, that I have tools, that I can breathe, trust, cook.

And it was in a haze that I walked to the kitchen to get some water. I cut a slice of lime, I added some ice, and I poured the Pellegrino in my tumbler. I drank from it, and I paused. I looked around me and I saw the stove — not mine, therefore difficult to recognize as my friend, and yet a stove. 

We didn’t have much in the house being that the day had been a busy one; all we had were cherry tomatoes, some half and half, a slice of Swiss cheese, and eggs. 

I considered my options:

We really don’t have much, but what if I try and make a pasta…

And turn it into heaven?

my sister in law asked, smilingly.

I smiled and didn’t promise much, but they got happily on board. Ben’s other sister had not yet arrived home, I didn’t know what her plans were, but I knew there would be enough for four. 

And so I cooked.

I cut the cherry tomatoes in a half, and I slowly cooked them with some extra-virgin olive oil. I couldn’t find onions, so I added some onion powder, then salt, and a teaspoon of sugar.  As the tomatoes bubbled in their small pot my head went quiet; I could actually listen to the sound of the rain. My heart felt lighter, too, because at the stove, as on paper, I can rest and find the answers, acceptance, and gratitude. 

When my mind is quiet miracles happen. When my mind is in the light I am able to see miracles. And miracles aren’t the answer to my wishes; they are the answer to my real needs. 

Does the oven work?

I asked.

From the initial idea of a simple sauce with leftover tomatoes I had decided to roast the pasta in the oven with some cheese, eggs, and half and half.

Yes,

Ben said. 

pastaAnd so it was, my ’emergency pasta al forno‘ came to light, a little on the dry side, but good nonetheless. By the time we all sat at the dining table the clouds had moved away. 

Sometimes it’s hard to do the right thing. And it is also hard to make things happen when all I see is an empty fridge, darkness, lack of resources, obstacles. However, once I accept what I cannot change, I become able to appreciate what has already changed. When I don’t listen to my ego I can see ingredients that were hidden in the kitchen cabinets; they may not be organic or the ones I am used to, but I can make something happen if I use them with an open mind. 

I always believed that I had to pay my dues in life, that I had to work hard to make something happen, to keep learning,

says chef Niki Nakayama, an inspiring woman who, throughout her life and career, has always strived to keep a light on.

I had not planned to watch her episode on Chef’s Table, at the end of a day when darkness seemed to have prevailed. But I do not believe in happenstance.

There are lessons to learn all around us,

she continues picking a cherry tomato that had taken three months to grow.

Nature is trying to teach us something. 

And I do believe that there are lessons all around us; they are in the kitchen and the orchard, in Ben’s house where his sister has lived for so long, or at the local grocery store where I can’t find organic green onions.

On that thunderous day in Gainesville I didn’t make my signature dish, but I kept a light on when the room had seemed dark. 

watermelon pastaAs I said, the pasta was good, but not special enough to share the recipe with you. Try my watermelon salad with queso fresco and cherry tomatoes instead. Here’s the recipe; the one to keep your light on is already within you. 

ps. We had missed Randall Marsh a good deal, so we shared the salad with him!

pasta benmont tench randall marsh

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