Hot Mess Dinner Party and Acts of Letting Go
In the last few weeks, I’ve somehow been more able than usual to grasp the art of letting go. I wish I knew what caused it because I’d bottle it and give it to my friends when they need it, and take a big ol’ gulp every now and then myself. For now, though, I’m riding it out as long as I can and being grateful. Last night was a perfect example of something that would have driven me to a shuddering meltdown a few weeks ago, and instead turned out to be one of the best nights of my life.
The plan: Use gift cards that we got as wedding presents to procure a pasta machine. Make perfect handmade pasta, cover it in a fresh tomato sauce, and whip up a spectacular dessert to end a perfect evening.
The reality: A late start to Saturday left us with no time to get ready for the evening and go buy the pasta machine. Letting Go Act #1: ask friends if I could borrow their pasta machine. The reward: time. Precious, evasive time. And being able to test a product before buying it.
One of my best friends is an incredible chef. While baking and desserts are his particular specialties, everything he creates is culinary gold. He felt like baking a cheesecake, so Letting Go Act #2 was to not make my own dessert. The reward: more time to cook, less stress, and a totally amazing vanilla bean and chocolate cheesecake layered with chocolate ganache.
In our house, although NJS is perfectly capable of producing a tasty meal, I own the kitchen. I am the one who cooks, he is the one who cleans. But with time quickly running out to get the sauce started, I indulged in Letting Go Act #3 and let him take over the pasta making. The reward: he had fun making the pasta, I got the sauce finished in time, and I felt great knowing we worked together to make the meal.
As my kitchen filled with friends and my glass filled (again and again) with wine, I got a little lax in paying attention to making the meal. And by lax I mean I entirely forgot I’d put the garlic bread in the oven. I was very excited for this garlic bread, made with country bread filled with lots of holes in which the oil and garlic and organic local butter could get trapped. By the time I remembered, the edges were entirely black. Letting Go Act #4: put the bread out anyway and let people eat around the burned parts. The reward: everyone ate every crumb.
This is only the second time I’ve made my own pasta. So it didn’t even occur to me that bunching it together before it dried would be a bad idea. It clumped together and stayed that way through cooking, so instead of soft, slurpy noodles I had weird pasta lumps. But since I was becoming an old hand at letting go, Letting Go Act #5 was to serve it anyway. The reward: really tasty pasta lumps.
The lessons? Things I already knew. Sometimes the best things in life are hidden in ugly packages. My friends are not the sort of people who get bent out of shape about keeping up appearances, and that’s why they’re my friends. The only appropriate time to break out the expensive champagne is whenever you damn well feel like it. And you are rewarded with the most beautiful things when you learn to let go.
Want to try this at home? Here’s how I did it:
Pasta Machine: the one I used (and plan to immediately run out and buy for myself) was an Imperia and it worked beautifully.
Pasta recipe: I used Hodgson Mill Pasta Flour, and I found that my dough was much, much easier to work with than when I used AP flour. Threads on CHOW gave as many different answers as there are kinds of pasta, and in the end I cobbled together a recipe I’m very pleased with. I used one egg per cup of flour, mixed it in the food processor because Jamie Oliver made it look so easy, and let it rest in the fridge for an hour before rolling it.
Sauce recipe: Once again, Smitten Kitchen comes to the rescue with a recipe to produce exactly the taste I was craving. In the middle of a winter of weekly storms, it was lovely to taste something so fresh and summery. I used plum tomatoes, and put onion, carrot, red pepper and garlic into the food processor to make a paste. I also ended up using the blasphemous immersion blender as mentioned in the recipe.