Monday, July 21, 2008

sweet potato ravioli

L's grandmother sprinkling parmigiano on tagliatelle that she and I had just finished making, in her oh-so-good ragù.

The other day I cooked sweet potato ravioli from scratch. I made the pasta dough, the filling, the sauce, everything. I had made it before, between the end of exams this year and graduation, but just for myself. I had had pumpkin ravioli at Buitoni, where L took me in Bologna for our anniversary, which got me thinking about such things, plus I had a sweet potato that I felt that I should probably use before moving out of my house for the summer. The first go-round, I just put it in a regular canned tomato sauce I had gotten for free after a fundraising spaghetti dinner, and it was gross. So I started experimenting with my own lighter, non-tomato sauces. And it was good.

My sister and her husband came over, so it was a big party, since my grandparents are still with us. Everyone, including my frequently appetite-less grandfather, raved. The pasta itself, which of course didn't have quite the integrity of the pasta that my boyfriend's grandmother taught me to make this summer in Italy, got rather gummy when left to sit for a long period of time filled with sweet potato mash. Perhaps that is why she made me knead it for about twice as long as I kneaded it, and perhaps the wrist-breaking rolling that took the better part of half an hour there was worth more substantial, not-gummy pasta. We shall see. I still intend one day to purchase one of those handy-dandy pasta roller press thingys. As my friend says, perhaps it is worth getting married just to acquire cool kitchen implements (for example: she wants a stand mixer). I'm not so sure about the married part just yet, but a fully stocked kitchen I'm ready to commit to.

The sauce: Sauteed onions and garlic in olive oil, with finely chopped walnuts, white wine, cream, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger. Ooh, I wonder how it would be with fresh ginger instead of powdered. Didn't think of that before...or ginger mixed into the sweet potatoes! I always garlic things up, which is hard (but definitely possible) to overdo, but perhaps I'll have to start watching myself to be sure not to over-ginger. That is DEFINITELY easy to do. I've been off ginger for a while since an unfortunate incident of eating too much crystallized ginger one time during exams, and getting that sort of vague nausea feeling every time I thought of the stuff. But in other things, or covered in chocolate, still goes. And goes well.

Served the ravioli with flash-boiled and baked asparagus with parmesan cheese (oh, how I wish I could have real parmigiano at Italian prices! where the price per kilo is what a wedge costs here!), Asiago cheese bread (sadly not my own-- I'll have to work on that one), and watermelon.

I wonder if there's anywhere around here to get ethically raised ground beef or pork to try again to make his grandmother's ragù. I may just have to wait til I can get back to school and my beloved hippy co-op grocery store, which sells meat from local farms. And there's Cliff's Meat Market. Yay, local economy. E, the stand-mixer friend, got a ham from someone at the farmer's market-- actually went to the farm and saw his pigs and approved one, and attempted to honey-bake it at home, so as not to disrupt her family's beach tradition of honey-baked ham, but also to satisfy her own ethical standards. I'm proud. I wonder if she'll be able to do that after moving to Chicago.

I would love to have been able to figure out a good wine to serve with it, but my tee-totaler grandparents would probably not have approved. I still don't know much about wine, really, but I think a smooth, dry white of some kind would have gone nicely. Maybe something with hints of vanilla?

Speaking of wine, this moratorium is kind of depressing, because I've been saving a bottle of wine that I bought in France my sophomore year of college at a vineyard to drink after graduation. Since we discovered my grandfather's cancer was way worse about two days before graduation, and life has been hectic and itinerant from then until they moved in about three weeks ago, and when they're there I'm uncomfortable suggesting it, there has been no official chance to celebrate and drink it. Boo.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

sources of happiness

Two of the keys to making life's insanity not drive me insane:
1) beauty.

2) laughing.

Sometimes, when you are, say, stuck in places where neither of these two things are abundant, I am made very very deeply thankful for photographs I have taken while traveling, being with friends, or doing nothing in particular but in a beautiful or picturesque place. Take, for example, these pictures from a trip to Italy.

I would not necessarily remember this just off the top of my head, but this was one of those moments of utter beauty and a source for many laughs. On an international flight, I was sitting next to a nice-looking Algerian business man in his mid thirties, who encouraged me regularly throughout the flight to sleep on his shoulder. While I did not take him up on his offer, nor did I remotely consider it, it certainly made the flight a good story. And if he hadn't been next to me, and mentioned taking a picture of this sunrise over the Atlantic, I probably would not have bothered to pull out my camera and keep this beautiful, beautiful image to be able to stare at in the future. I don't know what it is in our human brains that makes things like sunrises and sunsets-- things that happen EVERY SINGLE DAY, from the beginning of time to the end of it-- so breathtakingly beautiful. Why can such a commonplace occurance give us chills, and make us want to just sit still and stare? Such mysterious fascination with what could easily be commonplace beauty, or really the concept of beauty beyond the function of procreation, is one of those things that sets me up to never really give up belief in God no matter how far I might have wandered at a given moment. It's something that makes me want to pray.

Now, laughter, and general hilarity (I don't say humor because that just makes me think Jokes, though Jokes can be a good part of it), is of course the proverbial "best medicine," which I don't usually realize until I have a really good laugh with someone. I get so much satisfaction out of making other people laugh that I devote a lot of energy to that, and when someone else makes me laugh hard enough to nearly pee in my pants at 22, I'm always a little bit taken off guard. I always want to take pictures of funny things, too, so I can share them with other people. Laughter is one of those things that is certainly best shared, and so much more difficult when one is alone. I rarely laugh aloud when I'm not with other people. Recently I did while reading, which I didn't really expect, but sometimes things are just too funny.
But I take a lot of pictures of things when I wish I could share the moment with someone and share the laugh. Like this:

This was the menu ad outside the McDonalds in Venice. I had already cracked up over one in France when I first arrived in Monpellier, featuring summer sandwich specials: the McFarmer, McTimber, and McSummer. But for some reason, the McToast (which appears to have cheese and a slice of salami...) and the Crispy McBacon are just... I don't even know why these things are so funny. Do you?

Monday, July 7, 2008


Isn't it odd how with some people, relationships can stop for months and months, and then as soon as you see each other or speak to each other things just pick right back up? You fall back into old familiar spots-- which is great, when those spots were good, and painful when they weren't. Even when you know that your next conversation might not be for another year, for whatever reason, it's so nice to be comfortable enough with someone to be able to say what you're really thinking, and know what makes them feel good, and especially-- above all-- just be quiet together without feeling like you have to talk. I missed that so much during my year in France. As close as friendships became, I was rarely in a place where I could just be quiet with someone and be totally at ease. When I got that, it was only for a short time, and its departure was more depressing than its initial absence.

Currently, my relationships are almost all padded with distance. My closest girlfriends, from high school, have been dispersed for college, and are about to disperse even further, to other parts of the country. Some friends are leaving the country altogether. And yet when we do get together, we can dump ourselves out on the couch, breakfast-club style, and go through each other's crap, with no embarrassment. We get each other.

My boyfriend is home for the summer, across the ocean with his family and friends. Each period of separation gets easier, in a way. A combination of practice and maturity and flexibility makes it easier to be apart, though neither of us has had an easy go of it this summer. But for some reason, between us, distance has an odd effect on me. Every time we come back together, his voice-- which I hear regularly on the phone and on Skype-- is still completely familiar to me, but I have to reorient myself to his physical presence. It is never quite as I had it in my mind, and there's always a split second of panic that the guy that I'm running up to isn't the right one. But when he speaks, and I am allowed access to that part of him that I have maintained contact with, I am instantly at ease. And yet, when we are together, we can be quiet for hours without an ounce of trouble.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Dependence Day

My worst 4th of July ever is Just outclassed the year I was 10, when I spent hours decorating my bike for the parade and got all dressed up and then it rained and the parade and fireworks were canceled.

My wonderful, sweet grandparents are getting seriously old. My grandmother is 89, will be 90 in September, and is forgetting things and not really in her right mind. My grandfather, who is 84, got out of the hospital yesterday...I have so far seen him totally naked, reminded him to pull his scrotum forward so he doesn't sit on it, and held his hand while nurses hurt him.
Yesterday, my mother, uncle and I tried to talk to my grandparents about the possibility of them moving either to an assisted living community (Grandmother: Absolutely not); having a live-in nurse (Grandmother: Absolutely not); moving in with our family (Grandmother: No). She was finally convinced that they could come to our house at least temporarily until my grandfather is a little better and more independent, and it seemed that things were going to be okay, but then she decided she could live by herself. But of course she doesn't remember that this morning.

The morning started off-- at least for me-- with my mom arguing with my grandparents, trying to get them to get up, despite the fact that none of them had gotten sleep the night before, by grandfather having been up all night with horrible back pain and falling in the bathroom at 1, etc, and just having fallen back to sleep at 6am (this was about 8:30). My overtired mother was on edge and sounded angry, though you do have to kind of yell for my grandfather to hear you, and of course got more upset by attempts to get her to calm down.

Usually at home, my family runs the party on the 4th. My dad and I go down to South Carolina and get the "good" fireworks ahead of time-- the ones that are illegal here. We make homemade, hand-cranked peach ice cream, a big lunch, go watch the neighborhood parade (we used to participate, with bikes or a float or something), and have all the neighbors and close family friends over to join in after the official fireworks for our own private show.

This year, the holiday is pretty much a non-event. We'll just be here in the house, waiting for the home health nurse to come and meet with us, etc. I'm happy to be able to help with things, and it's not like it's Christmas, but it is sad.

Hey, things could be worse though! Despite all of our family's health problems, at least we're in a relatively stable country with plenty of resources and decent healthcare and no danger of being blown up at the grocery store.

And I get to be home for K's beautiful wedding next weekend. That's very exciting! If things go well, my grandparents very well may be at home with us by then....we'll see how that goes.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

walking blues

This summer I am working in the warehouse that my grandfather started, that my father runs, that my grandfather won't retire from. I sit at a desk most of the day and do nothing, which can be nice, and answer phones and occasionally do useful repetitive paperwork things for people. The people are interesting, very country. They love their hound dogs and motorcycles and bad haircuts, making jokes, being polite on the phone and then bashing people the moment they hang up. I am essentially incompetent except to pass the phone and bills to the other people in the office, but at least I get paid for it, and get to sit down.

Today, a truck driver told my co-worker that he was going to take me home with him. He was old and gray, and when he came back in and asked if my bags were packed I didn't know what to say. I thought, "No, but I have my sexual harrassment lawsuit all planned in my head." Another office worker-- who incidentally has been working here for longer than I have been alive, and whose ex-wife is about my age-- said he wanted me for his girlfriend the other day. Not as bad as being threatened with kidnapping by a sleazy truck driver.

But in the scheme of things in my family, having an old man want to take me home is really among the best afflictions to have. My sister is in Florida with her husband, who has been in the hospital for four months and just got out (minus one eye and with an open wound in his stomach). My mother is in Charlotte with her father, who is in the hospital because complications from his chemotherapy have caused his legs and (brace yourself) scrotum to swell to the point of, literally as of this morning, bursting. My father chopped off the tip of his thumb in a wood chopper shortly before my graduation from college this Spring. My boyfriend's mother has had some awful issues too. I feel like I bring bad luck and sickness on people around me-- don't get too close, world, your loved ones will drop like flies. I get to talk to them, try to help them piece things together. I feel guilty because I'm not getting emotionally involved in the suffering of my grandfather and brother-in-law, but if I were as consumed by it all as my mother, then I wouldn't be able to function. I'm detached, until I see them. Seeing my grandfather in the hospital the other day talking about how tired he was of waiting to get well, and knowing that my brother-in-law will be coming back to North Carolina eventually without an eye-- these things suck.

I want to fix them all, make eveything beautiful, relieve people's suffering and answer their deep questions and not be a source of stress for anyone. It's so awful that they're all in different places, my boyfriend in a different country, making it impossible to be with them all and expensive to visit any of them.