Sunday, January 16, 2011

Lasagna = Love

Nothing says love like the long process of making a lasagna. The chopping of vegetables, grinding of meats, mixing of herbs, long stewing of sauce, rolling of dough, boiling sheets of pasta, ginger handling of hot boiled sheets of pasta that you pray won't stick, swift and deft arrangement of cheeses to get a little bit of every variety in every bite. Oh yes. To make lasagna is to proclaim your love. Not that there aren't other ways to express love, but lasagna is the exclamation point to "I love you!"

Most nights, I give Mr. Rose the option of having whatever he wants for dinner. As we head home from work on weeknights, or when I wake up on weekends, knowing that I have a few hours for a bigger production, I always ask what he wants. In reality, he doesn't actually get anything he wants, because sometimes the ingredients aren't readily available; sometimes I'm just not in the mood to make it. But I always ask, for conversation sake and to make him at least *feel* like he gets to make that decision.

Several nights in the last few weeks, Mr. Rose requested lasagna. Of the meaty variety. Night after night, I declined, gently nudging him to something less time-consuming or less-fattening. But one can only deny a loved one of lasagna for so long before said loved one has wandered over to the Olive Garden at lunch for a big heap of carb-laden mediocrity.

So I rolled up my sleeves one Wednesday night and got to work. None of it, with the exception of the part where I parboiled pasta, was all that difficult.

Sauce, so long as one has plenty of good ingredients, is forgiving. Because you're going to be stewing it for a couple of hours, you can just keep adjusting the flavor as necessary. I'd been reserving two tins of tomatoes, imported from Italy, for this sort of occasion. Add some chopped onions, carrots, celery, herbs, ground pork, and beef and you've got yourself a party.

Pasta dough has become quite easy, though I still find it to be a bit of a challenge to make perfectly rectangular sheets for the lasagna pan. With linguine, no one has to know that it's coming in random lengths, and probably no one notices that the edge pieces aren't quite rectilinear. But rolling pasta has become therapeutic for me, so it was actually quite nice to work the dough so meticulously. It's amazing that pasta dough, when raw, is so easy to handle, but then becomes so finicky when boiled. You have to handle it gingerly or it tears, but you have to move quickly because it's both (a) burning your hands, and (b) threatening to permanently stick to itself or its neighbors.

Last, but certainly not least, was the cheese. I used three varieties: romano, mozzarella, and ricotta. I managed to spread an even and tidy layer between each layer of pasta and sauce, and reserve some for the top.  The lasagna baked with beautifully browned cheesiness.  No, I didn't make any of those cheeses from scratch -- it was, after all, a weeknight. I think I got just enough love in there for a Wednesday.

Happy Anniversary, Mr. Rose.

Sunday, January 09, 2011


Wabi-sabi (侘寂) represents a comprehensive Japanese world view or aesthetic centered on the acceptance of transience.  The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is "incomplete, impermanent, and imperfect."  It's kind of an on-going theme here.

Incomplete: I'd had a few posts that never quite got done, including a review of the Savory Spice Shop's holiday party at Colt & Gray (I'll get to it eventually, but here's a plot spoiler: Colt & Gray rocks). 

Impermanent: I get fleeting moments of inspiration (and energy) to kick off a Speakeasy Kitchen in Denver.  

Imperfect: I occasionally get pretty far off perfection, which causes me to steer in a different direction.

Take, for example, the macaroon.  I found a recipe with detailed instructions for what sounded like a heavenly little treat.  French macaroons with raspberry-rose buttercream frosting.  I've often heard that macaroons seem harder than they actually are.  I'm here to say that's not really true. 

I had tidy, but imprecise, little rows of macaroon batter, piped out of a gallon freezer ziplock baggie because I don't own a pastry bag.  I was proud of my ingenuity.  The batter was slightly drippy as the recipe had warned it would be.  It flowed.

And it flowed.

Except when it burnt.  (Imperfect.)

This was my second attempt at macaroons and it came out worse than the first.  I felt as hollow inside as this crisp-skinned one.  "They'll be a great crunchy treat that I can dip in my coffee tomorrow," said Mr. Rose in his most consoling tone.  But that wasn't going to work for dessert for a bunch of lawyers and judges whom I'd be feeding tomorrow night.  (Incomplete.)

"You make good rice pudding," offered Mr. Rose.

And so I went back to the pantry to cobble something altogether different.  (Impermanent!)  It would be a dessert I couldn't mess up at this late hour.  I made a lavender-lemon rice pudding.

I sewed a little pouch full of lavender and dropped it into the pot.

I felt a lot more comfortable improvising in this way than I was with full instructions for the macaroons. 

It was more Englishy than the Frenchy dessert I'd planned, but it's a dessert that will compliment the rest of the menu and that the judges will hopefully enjoy anyway.  Sometimes you just have to go with the flow, and when the wabi goes too sabi, it's time to switch gears. 

It's a beautiful thing.