Wednesday, December 28, 2011

My friend Bill...

...personifies all that is good about this season: His smile lights the darkest corners; his generosity knows no bounds; and his faith in us all is automatic.

And I came to really learn this quite by accident - if chance ever plays a role when someone special graces your life, that is.

On a nippy Sunday two weeks before Christmas, we went to get our tree. (Yes, we're Jewish; yes, we have a tree. Christmas is a secular celebration in our house where Dad was raised Catholic.) And like most families, we have a tradition surrounding this adventure. Our favorite place is Bill's tree stand - where Dill, and now Jere, got their first tastes of employment - and where the trees and the maple syrup, like Bill, come from Vermont.

Once our fir was tied high atop the van and the car alarm finally stopped (a tale for another day!) and we tipped our helper (Thanks Jere!), Bill roped me into working for him too. Actually, he sweetly asked if I could spare a few hours helping decorate wreaths because his primo decorator had a family emergency.

So as John tangled with the tree at home, I set about wiring cones and berries and bows onto wreaths. For four and a half glorious hours. And when he asked me to work some more, I returned Monday armed with Wild Cookies and learned how to make garland out of fresh brush. Though I became the self-monikered Queen of Garland, I was sure I was doing it 'wrong' because I went through bunches of brush as soon as they were clipped. But people seemed to like the super lush, thick, garlands because each strand sold before I finished it and I started taking special orders.

So maybe I didn't need to bribe 'em with the cookies...but before I knew it, the cookies were gone and Chuck (Bill's right-hand man) told Bill I should sell 'em at the besides selling Chuck more dozens than I could count, I made my first professional cookie sales to people I didn't even know! A big step for Suzy's Wild Cookies, Yay!

Toting more cookies and heavy work gloves, I returned every day except the brilliant day Dill came home from university in Ireland. (More on that in a bit.) Over the next couple weeks, I reconnected with people I didn't expect to see and others I had hoped to - You college guys have grown into Mensch Men! - learned more about my community, and made new friends including Jim & Peg (Bill's NJ hosts) and Bill's son, Bret, who lived with us for a week.

Through Bill, the world grew smaller and my sense of self-worth grew larger. And I found a subtle peace that I lacked.

In a famous New York Sun editorial, the writer told an 8-year-old girl her "little friends were affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age." And a 114 years later, it's truer than ever.

But Bill turns that on its ear with his grace and appreciation and soulful optimism. When people arrive at the tree stand with neither the requisite cash nor check, he simply tells them - no matter who it is! - to return with the payment later. When older customers ask him to deliver their trees, he doesn't just plop it on their porches. No, not Bill. He'll bring it into the home and make sure it's sturdy and safe in its holder. And when people arrive at his stand just to say hello, I saw their crestfallen faces if he wasn't there. He's cultivated friends and turned them into his New Jersey family.

Some skeptics might say: Oh, well...this joy is due to the Holiday Season. But I say it's Bill's spirit: It's just his way...and his joy and his spirit have no season.

I've known one other person like Bill... and like the girl with skeptical friends, I was 8 when this 9-year-old boy wiped the sticky apple cider off my hand at the local farm...his eyes sparkled and he left an impression on me of all that is good and possible...I see that again in Bill and I am honored to have become part of his legion.

So to further paraphrase that well-known editorial: Yes, my friends - skeptics or not - there is a Santa Claus...and he is Bill Manning.

So onto the recipe...Bill makes amazing maple syrup so I've been experimenting with it in a variety of baked goods...I made this maple coffee cake the day Dill came home...but honestly, I didn't need to sweeten that day at all. When Dill came down the ramp to the baggage claim, he saw his brother and he saw his father....but he stared at me, came straight for me and held me so tightly for what seemed like forever...That, is the best present a mom could get.

Here goes:

-Preheat oven to 350F and grease and flour a 10"x16"-ish baking pan.
-In a small bowl, combine a half c white sugar with 1 T cinnamon and 1 c chopped pecans. Set aside.
-Incorporate 1 and a half c Maple Syrup - preferably Bill's Fancy grade! - and a half c dark brown sugar into 8oz'll be a tad separated, but that's OK.
-Add 2 beaten eggs and 1 c plain Greek-style yogurt and mix to combine.
-Add 2 and a half c flour, 1 T baking powder, a quarter t salt and 1 t cinnamon and beat to a thick batter.
-Spread half in pan sprinkle with 2/3 of the cinnamon sugar mixture and a nice handful of dried cranberries.
-Spread or plop the rest of the batter on top and sprinkle the remaining sugar mixture on top.
-Bake for 45 to 60 mins until a toothpick comes out clean from the center of the cake.
-Cool just until you can handle the pieces you cut and enjoy!

So when the days seem to be darkest - whether by calendar or clouds of blue - remember Bill's smile and Dill's hug and that the most real things in this world are those you can't see. After all, a new year is upon us and the best gifts come in magical, human, packages.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A stranger in a strange land*

Like the first Europeans to settle on these shores, my older son is giving thanks on foreign soil. And while it's sure to be strange for him,  I'm surprised at how odd I feel that he's not going to be here. I guess I could prepare myself only so much 'til Reality had it's charming way of hitting me upside the head.

I shouldn't be surprised really, I mean Reality's been having it's way with me for quite some time now. But does anything prepare a parent - a mom especially - for a the first child to head off to college? In another country no less?

No. Pure and simple, the answer is no.

With my mother-in-law's solid love and support, she and I brought him to Ireland, got him settled, shook our heads in wonder as he shopped for various sports jerseys, watched as he took the training wheels off his alcohol consumption - yes, it's legal for him to drink there - and generally marveled at his maturity.

I was prepared to cry the night before our flight home, but I didn't. I just didn't feel sad...I started to miss him the minute he wrestled himself free from my hug...but I was so happy, so proud of the man who got out of the car with barely a backwards glance. And I knew we were both ready for this next phase of his life to begin.

And while Ireland has always felt like Home to him, it's here - roughly 3200 miles away from our home - that tomorrow he will sit among other American students, most of whom are strangers to him, and between classes, partake of this iconic American holiday with Thanksgiving lunch served in a campus pub courtesy of the University's International Office's MotherHens.

How odd this must be for him.

With that in mind, and the bubbles reminding me to use that butternut squash and quick, I decided to make Thanksgiving Chili earlier this week. Yeah, it's a goofy name...but it's more of a riff on chili than it is Thanksgiving: The squash replaces the tomato chunks and the beer replaces the tomato sauce....

Here goes:

-Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
-Peel, seed and cube a hefty (~3 lbs) butternut squash - or just buy it done for you - and toss it in about 2 T olive oil, a nice sprinkle of salt, white pepper, ground cumin and dried sage.
-Place in single layer on baking tray and roast for about 15-20 minutes or until tender...but NOT mushy! on pan when done.
-Mince 3 large garlic cloves and chop a medium yellow onion and saute til soft in olive oil in a heavy pot.
-Add 1 lb ground turkey and break it up as you saute and cook it through.
-Season with 1 t salt, a half t white pepper, a quarter t each dried sage and ground cumin and a half t chili powder.
-Add the squash and all the drippings on the pan, 1 14-oz can butter beans (or cannellini) with their liquid, about 3/4 of a bottle of lager beer and 3 dried chipotle chilis cut into thin strips (use kitchen shears, it's much easier) and discard the really tough tops and some seeds - the more seeds you use, the spicier the chili will be.
-Optional Ingredient: Stir in about 10 pre-cooked chestnuts (halved).
-Simmer about 20 minutes and if it's too liquidy for you, break up 1 to 2 slices of bread and pop it in to absorb and thicken the sauce and simmer another 10 minutes to break down the bread.

This freezes well, so I set some aside for when my Dill gets home and gives me the lowdown on Thanksgiving in Ireland...

This Thanksgiving Eve, many friends are enjoying the relaxed company of their kids home from college...some others have an empty seat - because of work or school - just like me...So, if you're one of the former, would you give those kid(s) who walked in the door with tons of laundry and a hearty appetite an extra hug on behalf of those of us whose kids are still too far away? We'd really appreciate it...

And, have a Happy Thanksgiving!

*An update from the Auld Sod: My Stranger in a Strange Land opted to forgo the MotherHens' feast and chose instead to cook Thanksgiving dinner for his new chums! OK, so it turned out to be turkey sandwiches and stuffing and maybe pie too. Apparently the market didn't offer turkey parts for roasting, but Hey! Dill hosted 6 Irish lads and/or lasses for a taste of our tradition...and I know he gave thanks for having true friends around. And in a stroke of serendipity, the care package (with food and homemade peanut butter cookies, of course!) I sent just 3 days before - on the slowest airplane the USPS has - arrived 10 days early, on Thanksgiving Day. And for that tiny bit of home in his faraway dorm, I am grateful.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

It's all about flexibility

And not the ballet or Pilates or tai chi kind either. After all, we're talkin food's about knowing your pantry: What's on hand and what does it taste like.

Ah, nuthin like a heavy snow in October to abruptly bring on the desire for foods with the cozy factor of a thick down comforter. That's why I needed - yeah baby, needed! - creamy clam chowder that snowy Sunday. And while I had a lot of the provisions, I knew I needed to run out for cream, clam juice and celery. What I didn't know was that I didn't have everything from the original recipe I devised...because someone had failed to restock the pantry! Uh, yeah, that 'someone' is me, she types sheepishly. Doh!

So cue Flexibility, 'cuz I wasn't settling for anything else for dinner.

Now I knew off the bat that I was gonna start with some substitutions. First of all, Jere doesn't do seafood, so I planned to skim away some soup before adding the clams, throwing in some frozen corn and calling it a day. And second of all, I had 2 (6.5 oz) tins of (Trader Joe's in case you need to find some) whole cherrystone clams that would replace the fresh ones. But the rest of it I had to do on the fly...

I'll give you my Original version and put the Snowy Substitutions in green.

Here goes:

-In a sturdy stock pot (but not your biggest, save that for the soup), steam 3 dozen fresh little neck and 1 dozen cherry stone clams in a half cup to a cup of dry white wine. Some may take their sweet time to open, but don't pry 'em and if any don't open they're bad so: Pitch 'em!!

-When done, put the clams in a bowl to cool and add 3 8-oz bottles of clam juice to the pot.
(Snowy Substitution: crack open your tins - using 2 was good, using 3 would be better! and I think I had better yield than using the fresh ones, but anyway - and drain liquid into same type of sturdy stock pot and add bottled clam juice. Oh, and I didn't get enough clam juice when I went to the store, so I fortified with chicken broth...big whoop.)

-Cut 2 large potatoes into about 1/2-inch on is our preference, but hey, who am I to stop you from peeling 'em if you like doing the extra work and getting fewer nutrients?...and simmer in the clammy liquid til just tender.

-Meanwhile, in your fave large soup pot saute about 4 slices of bacon (applewood smoked is the standard around here now) that you've cut into 1/2-inch lardons until the fat is rendered and they are crispy. Remove the bacon and set aside.

-As the bacon's cooking, remove the clams from their shells saving as much liquid as you can (it's the Good Stuff!) and cut the larger ones in half. (Snowy Substitution: the tinned clams were all the larger size so I cut 'em all in half.)

-Add 2 T butter to the fat and sweat 4 minced garlic cloves with 1 medium diced onion (Snowy Substitution: 1 large shallot for the onion) for a couple minutes to get 'em started then add 2 chopped celery stalks. (This is so the celery doesn't quite turn to mush.) Add a little - as in small pinch - salt and white pepper.

-When translucent, add 2 T flour to make a roux.

-Whisk in the stock from the potato pot (you could've either put the potatoes into a bowl when they were done or pour the stock through a strainer so they don't plop into the soup - it all depends on timing and how much room there is in the dishwasher).

-(Snowy Substitution: since I didn't use white wine to steam the clams, I poured in about 2 T brandy at this point to round out the flavors. Ya know what? A splash of tequila would work here too.)

-Add 3 sprigs fresh thyme (Snowy Substitution: mince the leaves of 2 fresh rosemary sprigs), 1 quart cream, 1 t hot sauce (Snowy Substitution: about a quarter t cayenne) and the reserved potatoes.

-(Snowy Substitution: if catering to a non-clammy crowd, now's the time to add about a half cup frozen corn kernels and pull out 1 or 2 servings into a smaller pot to keep warm. Hey, if ya wanna add the corn with the clams, Go for it! It's just a Variation on a Theme.)

-Add the clams and their accumulated juices, season with a touch more salt and white pepper *if necessary!!* The clams and bacon are already salty, so you may not need it. Simmer about 15 mins and serve either version with some of the bacon on top.

(Leftovers are really good and it freezes well too!)

After being so rigid about what I wanted to eat, I knew I had to be flexible in how I got there... Compromise comes in every flavor doesn't it? And it's tasty too! (Especially with the French Bread I had made earlier in the day...but I'll save that tale for another day!)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Some women invited their mothers...

...others chose Golda Meir, Barbra Streisand and Michelle Obama. Still others picked the mom of freed Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Me? I involked Moo to come join us in the sukkah last evening.

What's a sukkah, you ask? It's a temporary outdoor structure, a hut, built for the week-long festival of Sukkot with 3 sides and barely covered so you can see the becomes the Gathering Place - the hearth so to speak - for friends and family. It's a place of connection and true community, even if you're alone. And though the sukkah symbolizes frailty and the temporary nature of life, what happens in a sukkah can be very powerful indeed.

Especially when you have 40 or so women gathering to celebrate the new month, or Rosh Chodesh.

(Rosh means head, so since it's at the top it also means start, and chodesh is month...Jewish women's groups often adopt Rosh Chodesh as a time to gather because of a woman's connection with the moon - ours is a lunar calendar after all - and we both have 28-day cycles. Oh! And because the women remained level-headed and faithful wandering in the desert for 40 years while the men ran off half-cocked, yelling "FIRE!" and smelting a silly little cow o'gold. So we were rewarded with a holiday...but I digress...)

So as if there weren't enough gals spilling out of the sukkah onto the patio and lining the adjacent rock wall, our fearless leader called for reinforcements! It's a tradition that for each night of Sukkot, you ceremonially 'welcome' a biblical figure into the sukkah with you, and that became our celebration... getting to know each other a little better by whose spirit she invoked.

So we introduced ourselves and said what woman - biblical, historical or current, Jewish or not - we would I said, I 'brought' Moo. I really don't know why. She wasn't particularly observant; I don't even know if she belonged to the women's club at her own synagogue. But she was the first woman to pop in my head and there she stayed...giggling with me, talking to my friends and inspecting the baked goods.

I think she fit in well with the crowd...each woman a testament to strength over vulnerability...Maybe that's why she came to me: The sukkah may be flimsy, but what's inside is enduring.

To make sure the guys endured without me, I made meatloaf the night before so they'd have leftovers.

Here goes:

-Preheat oven to 375 and line a sheet pan with parchment paper.
-In a bowl, combine 1 lb ground beef, 1lb ground turkey, 2 eggs, 2 T worcestershire sauce, a quarter to a third cup red wine, a quarter cup bread crumbs - I used matzah meal 'cuz it was the first thing I saw in the pantry! - 1 finely chopped medium shallot, 4 minced garlic cloves, 1 and a half t salt, lotsa ground black pepper and 1 and a half t dried oregano.
-Combine with your hands until well mixed, but don't mix it to death.
-Place on sheet pan and shape into a loaf.
-Pour on 1 4-oz tin tomato sauce - or as much as it'll take...
-And pop into oven for about an hour and a half...internal temp should be 160 when done.
-When done, let it rest another 10 minutes out of the oven so you're not serving crumbs.

And though their eyes weren't glowing quite as brightly when I came home as they were the first night they had this, they were happy. And so was I.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Sometimes, prayers really are answered...

(This is what transpired Saturday...and how I got another chance...)

Today is Yom Kippur. And I’ve been feeling crap for longer than I’ve wanted…often asking G-d to help me leave this place (metaphysically) and have some peace.

If I play my cards correctly, I just may be able to achieve it. Metaphysically. And if that happens, I will have gained the Awe of these 10 Days.

Before last night’s 1st Al Chet (the confessional prayer), our Rabbi read some personal confessions from congregants that were humorous (the kids’) and poignant (the adults’) and my own formulated out of my pain: And for the sin of not knowing how to start to make thing right, selach lanu, mechal lanu, karpeir lanu. (Forgive us, pardon us, grant us atonement.)

And I cried through the rest of the prayer.

After services, I greeted my friend and she asked if I’ve been writing…my inner Eeyore kicked in and I replied: Only cover letters, lots and lots, that no one is reading.

Throughout the evening and in my dreams, I kept thinking of my Al Chet, and how I replied to my friend. These weighed on my mind through services this morning. Earlier I had a little brekkie and I told myself that I broke the fast because I felt weak when I woke and because I’d lost a few pounds over the week. I felt I had rationalized and that is a form of beating myself up. My prevailing feeling was negative. I exuded negativity. And negativity is physically heavy and draining and a burden and only encourages more of the same. And it feels simply awful. Nothing good – what I craved above all else – ever comes of it. Ever.

When we stood a bit later, the little girl behind me inadvertently pushed my chair into my knees and quite automatically, I pushed it back. Then I thought: Why be that person? She didn’t do it intentionally. Find another solution. And I did.

That’s when it hit me. Just be Positive. While I’ve always been grateful for all that I have – too many wonderful things about my life and in my life to list here – I have let negativity and to some degree self-pity have its way with me. It was one aspect of Me I couldn’t shake; it was seeping from my pores. And I realized that if I let it persist, I’d remain unemployed and I’d remain down and I’d remain in this rut I’ve carved for myself.

Before Rosh Hashanah started, someone suggested that for this new year, I should resolve to not put myself down. I thought – rationalizing maybe? – that I was just being self-deprecating. Apparently, my friend saw through the all-too-often put downs and called it what it was. This was also on my mind throughout these High Holy Days and was the spark I needed to survive. And to grow.

So now, as I think about having broken the fast before it began, I’m not assailing myself for sinning. I honestly feel that I’ve done as commanded: I removed the distraction, the weakness in my body, that would have impeded my concentration as I sought to gain insight and spirituality on this Holy Day.

That’s what resolutions and spirituality and growth are all about, right?

Maybe I’ll email my friend and share this as a way of explaining my downer reply – Maybe I’ll just let her see the new me – Maybe the peace I’ve found today will transform me back to the person I know lives inside –

Maybe I won’t have to say a word.
            For the sin of negativity,
            And for the sin of repressing ourselves –
            Selach lanu, mechal lanu, karpeir lanu.

And may we all be written into the Book of a Positive life.

And with a small piece of sweet Pumpkin Bread, I truly broke my fast.

Here goes:

-Preheat oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a loaf pan with spray oil.
-Put 4 (store-bought) crispy ginger snaps or spice cookies in a zip-top bag and bash into small chunks. Set aside.
-In mixer, beat 6 T butter (room temp) with 3/4 cup dark brown sugar and a 1/4 cup regular sugar until fluffy then beat in 2 large (room temp) eggs, one at a time, until well incorporated.
-Add in 1 can (14 to 15 oz) pumpkin puree, a half t vanilla extract, 1 and a half cups flour, 1 t baking soda, a quarter t baking powder, 1 t salt, 2 t cinnamon, 1 t ground ginger, a half t each of grated nutmeg and cloves and 2 handfuls of walnuts.
-Carefully beat until just blended then pour batter into prepared pan. Top with reserved cookie crumbs.
-Pop into the oven for 1 hour 25's done when a skewer comes out clean from the middle.

It's traditional to celebrate the new year and new beginnings with something sweet...and it's always good to say thanks for being blessed with life, sustained, and for reaching this day.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

I like easy...

Easy is keeping up with current events with the noon news and seeing a silly story about 'personal products' fetching a pretty eBay penny...

Easy is chatting with an old friend - whose dad is a Sports Legend - about our favorite sport...and ssshhhh, it's not his dad's...

Easy is realizing you forgot to portion out the bulk-buy chicken after yesterday's GPS (grocery procurement sprint) and when you do it tonight, half becomes dinner! WooHoo! Quite the coup since the bubbles have been helping other folks lately...

Ah, but what to do with those chicken thighs? Broiling came to mind first...with a marinade or a glaze? Hmmmmm....let's poke around the internet for inspiration....Oooo, what's this? A 25-minute braise, a way to get rid of the overly-sweet, not-champagne-as-advertised wine and do it all in one pot? Now, I call that easy.

A morsel on inspiration...I've often said that it can come from anywhere for anything...this time, I trolled looking for a "new" or "under-appreciated" flavor combination that would work for the grill (or broiler)...and the first recipe I tripped across was totally what? It tripped my button's and that's the name of the inspiration game, right? Right.

Here goes:

-Preheat oven to 350.
-Pat dry 6 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs, season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper and brown skin side first in a heavy (oven-proof) pot coated with olive oil. Do it in batches if necessary and keep warm on plate.
-Add 2 cleaned, trimmed medium leeks - whites and pale greens in half-inch slices - and saute on lowish heat to soften. Add sprig of fresh rosemary and 14.5-oz can diced tomatoes and their juice.
-Return chicken to pot, add accumulated juices, a C of a 'sweeter' wine (Riesling or leftover 'champagne-ish' ick), salt and pepper, cover and bring to a boil before popping into the oven for about 25 mins or until the chicken is done.

I served this with easy mashed potatoes and was rather appreciative and appreciated!
An easy Yum all the way around!

Monday, January 17, 2011

I may not get to Carnegie Hall

As with anything worth doing, practice is the key. You know this, right? Driving takes practice; a slap shot takes practice; a pirouette takes practice...and yes, pasta takes practice.

A lot of practice...more-than-I-expected practice...definitely worth-it practice.

Now, that's a huge turn-around from someone who cooks from the seat of her pants and was considered a better foot tapper than flute player in high school...nah, to me, repetition always felt redundant.

But something about making pasta - and making it well - demanded I keep trying. I mean it seems easy enough:

Take a few ingredients...00 flour, eggs, salt, olive oil and perhaps a sprinkle of water...

Combine them simply...mix, knead and roll...

And you create a firm yet velvety bliss to become a cooking icon where your skill is extolled in smugly jealous whispers about over-achievers who never buy dried fettuccine... fantasy got the better of me...

After visiting Italy in September, I came home aching for the extraordinary flavor and texture of fresh pasta. There is nothing like the taste of pure wheat that feels dense on your teeth and is more than a vehicle for sauce. After four attempts feeding gracious family members, I received a couple accolades for my almost-there pasta but could not figure out why it was alternately grainy, clumpy, tough or sticky. Until...

...until I did two things: One, realize I was making a dough and two, realize I was making a dough. The first is important because if the mixture was coming together too dry, I could add a bit of water. Duh! And the second is important because I needed to increase elasticity that happens when you form gluten in the dough...and how do you do that? You knead it to smoothness, then let it rest.

Did any recipe I consulted tell me these things? Nope! Should I have "known" these things by intuition? Probably. But sometimes, intuition only kicks in with practice.

Armed with this epiphany I set out to try again, ravioli this time and two different fillings and ya know what? The fifth's the charm...

Small print: Blaming technology first - silly me - we thought the extruder on the Kitchen Aid may've contributed to my less-than-perfect pasta. So my sweet, hungry, toy-crazed guys put a bona fide Italian pasta maker under the menorah. I hear a rolling pin works well too...

Details? Here goes:

Pasta (makes about 1 lb)
- Dump 400 grams 00 flour mixed with a healthy pinch of kosher salt (about 2t) onto (clean! Do I hafta say that?) counter and make a wide well in the center that will contain the liquid.
- Pour about a T olive oil into the well and then beat 4 whole large eggs and 1 additional yolk and add to well. Have a cup of room temp water handy in case you need it.
- Slowly, using a fork (yuck) or your fingers (yay) begin to pull in small amounts of flour into the egg mixture gathering more and more flour from the center until you can 'break' the walls of the well without getting eggs everywhere.
- As you pull everything together, this is where you might need a splash - really 1T at a time - of water to help incorporate all the flour. More small print: I didn't think it mattered if I couldn't work in all the flour, but with a small bit of water you can...and more flour means more gluten and more gluten means smoothness and strength.
- Now, the work begins. Knead that baby in long strokes til your arm hurts, then knead it for another 10 mins...or better yet, ask your Master Mixologist to do it! Really. I didn't knead it enough and it wasn't until I went past the 'oh, it's OK like that' stage that I saw and felt the transformation. It became soft, smooth and creamy while not being wet. That's when I knew practice makes perfect.
- Wrap the dough in plastic, flatten in a disk and let it rest on the counter for 30 mins to an hour.

No futzing for at least a half hour! Plenty o'time to whip up a filling or two for ravioli. In anticipation, I'd roasted small chunks of a whole butternut squash tossed in olive oil and coated with kosher salt, white pepper and cumin in a 425-degree oven for 35 mins until it was soft and easily smooshy. This became the basis for Rav I and frozen spinach became the basis for Rav II.

Butternut Squash Ravioli filling
- To the aforementioned roasted squash, mix in 1T balsamic vinegar, a quarter c mascarpone cheese and 2T parmesan cheese.
- Combine well and pop into a quart-sized zip-top bag for easy squeezing onto the pasta.

Spinach Ricotta Ravioli filling
- Thaw about 12oz frozen spinach (nuking it is fine, just don't 'cook' it) and squeeze out the copious water.
- Add about 1c ricotta, a beaten egg, kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper, about a half t freshly grated nutmeg and about a quarter t cayenne.
- Combine well and pop into it's own quart-sized zip-top bag.

Now's a good time to put up a pot of well-salted water to cook the pasta and lightly flour some tea towels or baking trays lined with parchment as a landing area for the just-filled or rolled out pasta. Oh, and get out a cup of water and a pastry brush.

Cut the pasta into quarters making sure to keep any pieces you're not immediately working with covered. Take your first quarter and starting on the 0 (or widest setting) start rolling the dough...we did it 3 times each on the 0 and 1 settings and sequentially moved on to #6 so the dough was less than a mm thick - I think.

Now, the assembly:
Take the rolled pasta and paint it lightly with water on one side, then snip a corner of your filling bag so the hole has about a half-inch diameter and squeeze a nice T of filling onto your sheet, leaving about an inch-and-a-half between dollops.

These pix show how I placed the filling so I could fold the top of the pasta over it, press it down over the filling so the air isn't trapped inside (so the flavor explosion is in the mouth, not the cooking pot!) and sealed by the water we 'painted' earlier.

  Cut out the raviolis and place on the towels or this:

And boil til they float or freeze...Yum! Oh wait, I forgot the sauce...

It's easy peasy...really!

- In a saute pan, gently melt 1 stick butter and as it slowly browns, add 3 bruised rosemary stalks.
- Thinly slice 2 large shallots and mince 3 large-ish garlic cloves and add to butter to sweat.
- Add salt and pepper...then add a half c boxed chicken stock....let all soften, then raise heat and bring to boil to thicken a bit.
- Mix in a third c parmesan and then a quarter to a third c heavy cream...simmer, but don't boil...check seasonings, then add cooked pasta to sauce to coat, comme ca:

 Whew...that's everything! Well, everything except how ridiculously delicious it is. Unbelievable, actually...and all it took was a little practice...

And while I may not get to Carnegie Hall, this pasta did get me back to Italy and put a little symphony in my mouth.