Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Spaghetti a la Greg

missing someone can take its toll. their face, their smell, their spirit, their style -- people have so many facets that when you miss them, you miss the big, the small, and the whole of them. we are complex beings and, because of that, grief comes in different packages and guises, depending on the person you have... lost? no. sounds too much like misplacing them. you have had to go on in life without. better. i don't know of one word that would describe that kind of sorrow. and i'm (supposedly) a writer.

my father died. 12 years ago, 26 august. he died. gone. never to be seen again, except in memory, pictures and, luckily or not for me, film. my father is gone and he is never coming back. and as of 12 years ago, we had said our goodbyes in the lonely, silent place he had called his home for sometime, Las Vegas. and i miss him still. i miss him always.

my dad was a hard guy. truly. he had an edge that the streets and a rough life created far younger than anyone should bear. i remember hearing stories about how his mother handed him a "no more jim crow" sign when he was 3 and made him walk the line with her. 3. when my MIXED RACE sons were three, they were playing in a sandbox (or eating the sand, depending on which kid it was) and learning about sharing. shit.

i think sometimes, late at night, about how he might view my life, the world as it is now and the fact that we now have the first black president EVER. how amazing that all is. how i wish he was here to see it. and last night, as i celebrated this extraordinary event with friends at a feast i put together in the party room my sweeter than i ever say friend, melissa, was kind enough to provide and help me set up AND break down at her condo building, i couldn't help but think about my dad and, once in awhile, i had to excuse myself to the restroom and cry it out a bit. just a bit :o)

i learned to cook because of my father AND mother. they made the kitchen an amazing place to be and their sensibilities were geared toward homey food and fine food, both. my father was a true chops/grill kind of guy -- restaurants like Tail Of The Cock and Cock 'N Bull in L.A. were his staples, along with Musso & Frank's Grill and Hamburger Hamlet. he didn't much care for steaks, actually, or food cooked with wine, but he loved pot roast and ox tails and short ribs, deeply. and it was from him or through him or because of him that i discovered a true and unabiding adoration for soup. i love to make it, eat it and have it in my life. yum.

oh, and i also got my appetite -- which sucks -- from my dad. not his body type -- all legs, shoulders and skinny -- but his appetite. thanks.

when i was a kid, and i'm sure i've mentioned, my father would bring home these italian dinners created by one of the guys on his crew's mothers -- did that even make sense? let me try that again, dinners made by the mother of one of the guys at work. better. they were sicilian and she would make chicken cacciatore, lasagna and other things. my fave, for all time, was her spaghetti with sausage and boiled eggs. in sicily, because of money, boiled eggs in pasta are the poorman's meatball and i can't eat spaghetti without it now. nope. it's amazing. i adore it. it's one way to get me to eat pasta (of which i am, unfortunately, not a fan, unless it's asian or linguini alla vongole -- with clams/white sauce, not red, please). it is a heartwarming memory and a dish i perfected to the point that my father would ask me to make it for him whenever i'd see him. and i would. because i loved him (love him still).

SPAGHETTI AND BOILED EGGS -- this is a one pot meal. trust me
1 pound good, imported spaghetti
kosher salt
2 count of fruity olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 shallot, diced
large jar of pasta sauce (or your own homemade, which is what i use)
1 package good italian sausage -- either bulk or link, cooked and set aside
dried herbs: oregano, thyme, basil
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper to taste
4 boiled eggs, peeled
parmeggiano reggiano for sprinkling
crusty bread for dipping
your appetite

what to do:
1. so easy, really, cook the spaghetti or your fave long, thinnish pasta is good for this (not angel hair, too thin, and not fettucini, too flat and thick, although buccatini is yum with it) to the package directions, with a nice, healty pinch of salt to the water for taste. drain the spaghetti reserving about 1/4 cup of pasta water and DO NOT RINSE -- the starch that clings to pasta is what helps the sauce adhere to it. fun fact, i know.
2. in the same pot in which you cooked the pasta, heat it to medium for 10 seconds then add the 2 count of olive oil to the pan. let that heat for about 10 seconds then add the garlic and shallots and let them become aromatic, not browned (about 1-2 minutes). add the pasta sauce, cooked sausage (if using the links, just cut in two. you want big chunks with this), stir to combine, then add the herbs and let simmer a bit to get the flavors to mix.
3. taste for salt and pepper then add to your liking. add a bit of the pasta water for body, taste again, then add your boiled eggs, stir and let simmer for about 5-10 minutes, getting the flavor of the sauce into the eggs.
4. take a good forkful of pasta, put it in the center of the plate, laddle some sauce, add an egg then serve with plenty of good parmeggiano reggiano passed around.

this serves four and can be made the day before and kept in the fridge to really get the flavors blended. i'm certain this is NOT the original recipe of my dad's crew guy's mom, but it's the one i began working up when i was a kid and it's stuck. what's changed for me is i make my own meatballs and add them in, my own pasta sauce and cook the sauce for a lot longer, simmer it for awhile and give extra eggs to whomever wants them. sounds odd, but the meal works.

and, as always, a little interesting history about this: the last time my father was in the hospital, my bro and i were up in vegas checking him out, taking care of his apartment, moving him from upstairs to downstairs, because he was too weak to make it up the stairs anymore and just settling him in. for the last time, it would turn out, but we didn't know that. or, really? we did know it, inside somehow. there was a gentleness to everything we did, a fulfillment of a promise that was unspoken in some way.

during the last day of our being there, helping out, my brother and my dad were going to go check on some things out on the town while i stayed behind at my dad's place and did these specifically requested things for him: he wanted me to make him some pot roast, fry him some chicken, cook him up some greens, do a lasagna and, most importantly, make my spaghetti and eggs so he could have food. now, my brother and i had rented one car for the two of us and my dad and he took that when they went out on their errands. one of my brother's best friends from the elementary school days who was now living in las vegas was going to be around and suggested he drive me to the market and help me out. our flight was leaving that night, so i had a limited time to do all the cooking i needed to, and i was grateful for the help. okay, ecstatic. that morning, my brother dropped me at my dad's while he went off with him to go erranding for the day and while i waited for my brother's friend, who was like family to us, to come and pick me up...

... and waited...
...and waited...
... then called his pager...
... and waited (this is pre-portable cellphones that didn't cost a million bucks to own)...
... called his house and left a message...
... paged him again... paged him again... called his house again...
... and waited...

i toyed with calling a cab, but didn't know when my brother would be back, how long it would take the cab to come, get me to the market, get me back, and all that. did i still have time to cook this stuff? what was i going to do?

just as my brother returned with my father, a mere hour before our plane was leaving, my brother's friend finally showed up. this is as i am hugging my father goodbye, telling him how sorry i was that i didn't get to cook his stuff, and then rushing to get into the rental to return it to the airport. this guy showed up then.

my father died 2 months later and i never saw him again.
and i never will in my lifetime see my father walk into a room again.
it took me more years than i like to think to forgive this guy for bailing on me. i don't know if i really ever have. i mean, i adore him and all his irresponsible foibles -- he is a sweet man, his heart is in the right place, but life just gets in the way sometimes, doesn't it? yes, it does. and so i do forgive him that. i forgive him the human issues that arise for all of us, because i have them myself. hey, i suck at housekeeping, still live like i'm in a dorm room and wonder why my head is so full of crap all the time. and i have two kids, all my own, who need me to be WAY more responsible about this kind of role model shit than i am, but whatcha gonna do, right? and, so, my heart is still open and full of this guy, my bro's friend who is like family.

but i never got to cook the stuff for my dad again. i didn't and that is something my mind has a bit of a hard time processing, for all my self-investigationg, inner awareness and getting to a place of peace. i'm still the little girl inside looking up at her impossibly tall father and thinking he would live forever.

last night's celebration was wonderful, exhausting and i'm so tired, i can't sleep because of it. we celebrated a new day, friendship, life in general. sometimes you just need a party. for me, i celebrated this moment in history and wept for the fact that my father had not lived to see this. a man who admitted that the reason he didn't march with martin luther king, jr. was because "the first time someone threw a rock at a child, i'd kick their ass. not very good for the passivity movement, i'm afraid." and i know, now, my father would be so incredibly proud of his country, a country he and my mother taught me to believe in and in which i had lost belief. but i found it again, and i think, more than anything, that would make my father happy. that i found a way to believe again. cuz my dad loved me. and that matters to me.