Never Accept Defeat

For the last few months, I've been dating a wonderful man who has a gift for turning up delicious dishes in the blink of an eye. Having worked as a cook on a ship for many years, his brain is a bank of mouth-watering recipes he can quickly scan through and pair for dinners that'll knock anyone's socks off and certainly don't leave me yearning for my egg-for-dinner days. As if that weren't enough, he can also make it all seem effortless and I've been aching to strap on an apron, roll up my sleeves, crack a cookbook, and reciprocate.

Egg volcano

So we organized a dinner party and divvied up the tasks. I set out to make fresh pasta— something my mom had recently shown me how to make and I felt confident I could replicate with ease, my brother and sister-in-law would bring meatballs (again, my mother's recipe), and everyone else took charge of drinks.  On Sunday, the day guests were coming over, the sun was out and gracing Chicago with uncharacteristic late-October warmth. We were laid out on the back deck lazily working away at the crossword with lemon water at arm's reach—a throwback scene from summer— when I dragged myself out of the last hug of the late season heat and went to face my cooking project.

In terms of ingredients, it couldn't get more basic- 540 grams of flour, 5 eggs, and a teaspoon of salt. I dumped the flour onto the cooking platform and fashioned it into a small volcano with a pit in the middle ready for its egg yolk lava, mimicking the one my mom had demo-ed a month or so ago. In my delight at this miniature mount, akin to that of a 3rd grader showing off a project at a school science fair, I failed to notice that the egg whites had started to spew over the edge of the floury crag and slip down its sides like a volcano in the onset of eruption.

"Rats!" I thought when this finally clicked, and I quickly whisked at the yolks in the middle with my fork in an effort to incorporate the eggs and flour, but to my dismay, they did not merge as easily as I'd remembered them doing for my mom, who had managed to show me as she chatted away, making it look as easy as walking or breathing. In fact, a few yolks got loose! They slid down the flour slope- yellow-suited children sledding down a snowy bank. I quickly tried to scoop them back towards the mound, herding them up like cattle and hoping my beau did not catch a peak of my amateur attempt at cooking that was slowly slipping into chaos. Fortunately, he had gone downstairs to look for a tea candle to light our jack-o-lantern and was having an exceptionally hard time finding one.

By the time he'd made it back upstairs, I'd managed to fold the eggs into the flour and start kneading the dough. It was too dry, so I added an egg. Then it was too wet, so I added some flour. I tossed the dough into the KitchenAid mixer to help get an even knead.  This see-sawing action seemed to work and the dough began to take on a more balanced consistence- not to dry and not too wet. "Phew!" I thought, as I coated it with oil and, wrapped it in saran wrap, and set it to the side to rest.

An hour before dinner, it was time to make the pasta. Fairly confident that this part of the process would go smoothly, I cut off a chunk of the well-rested dough, patted it somewhat flat, and went to feed it through the pasta roller (a KitchenAid attachment). Disaster! The dough wouldn't feed through and when it did, the press mashed it into small chunks that separated from the whole. Panic began to settle in and I started to make a mental list of pizza delivery places we could call as a Plan B. Sensing my stress, my beau stepped in, radiating coolness.

"Never accept defeat!" he encouraged, as he began flouring the dough— something I'd neglected to do, and rolling it out into more manageable chunks.

I fed one of the floured and rolled pieces of dough through and.... it worked! After that, the process went quickly and smoothly. I turned to find a neat row of smaller piece of dough all ready for the pasta press, and admired the beau's professional touch. The pasta was rolled and cut with plenty of time for our guests to arrive. Soon they began to trickle in and after a pre-dinner cocktail, we threw down the pasta and sat down to dinner.

The dinner was wonderful. The recipe turned up a heaping bowl of pasta- plenty for 7, though we were only five. We served it with red pesto—a recipe made much like traditional pesto, but with sun dried tomatoes instead of basil, and it was delicious. The meatballs (polpette) would have made my mother proud and a mist of good conversation and banter buzzed over the table all evening. I was happy I hadn't accepted defeat and worked with the dough instead of dumping it all in the trash and calling for pizza. Although, even if I had, the company would have still made the evening just as great.

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