Spaghetti alla Carbonara

spaghetti

There aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done before the holiday.  Case notes are overdue, someone wants help with a cover letter, and I have to find housing for an at-risk youth immediately.  Stacks of paperwork to be filed, faxed or shredded are piling up and merging together, soon they will be united in one beautiful mess on the floor.  Everything seems urgent and under a deadline to be finished yesterday or sooner.

Fortunately, my new co-worker isn’t plagued by silly deadlines or job duties.  He is instead focused on a different type of work of which we were not hired to do, something perhaps more noble and beneficent, and certainly more worthy of his time:  the perfection of his spaghetti alla carbonara recipe.

The cheap linoleum floor squeaked with each step as he moved between the counter, stove and sink.  Slicing, dicing, chopping and stirring, he added a pinch of this and a shake of that.  He pulled ingredients from a large, mysterious canvas bag with the speed and confidence of a magician, only he knew of the magic within the bag’s depths.

It was not long after he started cooking that a hazy smoke filled the office. The kitchen magician forgot to take a pan from the gas flame and the smoke detectors began to scream its warning.  True fact: scorched bacon creates a special smell that clings to one’s hair and clothing for the duration of at least eight hours.

Once the smoke alarm was silenced, the chef was able to return to his life’s passion.

After no less than an hour, the chef was heard smacking his lips after presumable slurping down a noodle and shouted, “Voila!”

I crept out of my office to investigate my co-worker’s carbonara progress and slid into a chair at the lunch table with my peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It wasn’t much compared with the still-steaming pile of saucy noodles that lay in a lovely heaped pile on a paper plate in front of the chef.

He forked up a mouthful of noodles, noisily slurping the spaghetti, and declared, “At last! Perfection.”

Satisfied that his efforts paid off, my co-worker finished off the pile of noodles and dropped the dirty pots and pans into the sink with a clatter. With a mighty stretch, he rubbed his belly and packed up for the day. He pulled on his coat, one sleeve at a time and glanced at the clock over my head.

“Well, I’m going to get out of here, gotta get to a doctor’s appointment across town. Have a good afternoon.”

With a wave, he left and time-warped forward to 5:00pm into an alternative universe in which people are paid to do the things they love and love the things they do.

How could I be mad?
Elicit

Chitlins’ just for you, darling.

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“They gon’ stink, ok, so warn your husband.  He might want to leave while they cookin’.”

The old, black woman explained from a broken down couch.  Holding her hand up, she stopped me from asking more questions.  She started coughing and wheezing as she tried to catch her breath from so much talking.  She wore a blue and yellow dashiki with wooden earrings that swung violently back and forth as she continued to cough and struggle to breathe.

“Should I be writing this down?” I asked with my pen poised to take notes.

“No,” she rasped, “I’ll tell you what you do.  Get the water boiling and call me, I’ll walk you through the rest of it.”

The conversation started when the visit should have been ending.

I couldn’t help myself but to ask the loaded question, “Any Thanksgiving plans?”

After the woman regained her breath, I went home ready to boil a pot of ‘chitlins’ or chitterlings, as they are formally called.  However, it didn’t take long before I was stopped cold in my culinary tracks – temporarily.

“I’m not eating those,” my husband declared, when he discovered what I was about to make. “You know what they are right?” he asked.

“Of course I know, they’re a Southern treat served at Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter,” I replied.

Anxious to bust my Southern cooking bubble, my husband grinned, “Pig intestines, hog guts- that’s what they are and I’m not eating them.”

I quickly re-strategized to gain his support and sweetly asked, “Won’t you at least humor me and try one?”

The bad man laughed, “We aren’t courting anymore.  I don’t have to eat anything I don’t want to anymore.”

I knew he meant it and that’s when my next plan hatched, bigger than just a pot of chitlins.  I thought, poor husband, you will be hungry this Thanksgiving when I prepare a feast that you refuse to eat.

In the true spirit of Southern cooking, I enlisted the help of my mother (the rock climber) to try out as many recipes that I can gather from my clients.  My clients are giving me tips and food combinations that I’ve never considered, but make my mouth water to think about, which I frequently do.  None of these recipes are written down, they come straight from memory more or less the same as their mammy’s taught them and their mammy’s mammy taught them.

Collard greens, fried chicken, macaroni salad, pineapple and brown sugar encrusted turkey, mashed potatoes, Brussels sprouts, chitlins (of course), and sweet potato pie and any other dishes, sides or desserts that I can glean from my clients over the next few days will be served.

We’ll open the windows as the chitlins stew to let out the smell into the open air, and when my husband complains, I’ll say, “I warned you, they gon’ stink.”