Bring it on back

I was up last night killing mosquitoes, and whenever I drifted into sleep, I had crazy dreams about me on one side of a barbed wire fence and Ferdinand on the other. I have a great job, planning and writing and writing and planning at my desk in NY and then off to Italy to cook my way through 6 week stints of teaching and laughing and eating and watching the sun melt over purple hills and fields of wheat. But when it’s time to go, leaving my boy behind is like pulling teeth with a string and a doorknob. I look at a can of tomatoes and can’t remember what it’s good for. I may as well be a busdriver with no bus.
For a week I have been standing no more than 6 inches away from anybody who eats my food, waiting to see if it’s good or not good. When I’m about to cross a very big pond to teach people to want to cook, to love to cook, to wake up feeling the happiness of deliciousness running through their bloodstreams, I need to be prepared. I need to wake myself up from the inside out. I need to get the mojo going, get the game on, get the “yea, it’s all right” to a glow in the eyes that says, “I’m not gettin’ up from this table until I finish.” There is a difference, and to get there, sometimes you just have to go back. You have to do nothing too quickly; you have to make something that’s going to take time, to keep you chopping and stirring and smelling and sipping and up close and personal with the food until you know every whimper. And then you have to make something that is going to remind your hands of the language of touch. You need your hands to tell you as much as anything else about the quality of a canned tomato or the readiness of a pasta dough or if your melted chocolate has been folded into the whipped cream or if it hasn’t.

Here is the menu that’s going to make it happen:

Day 1 homemade gnocchi with a slow simmered meat sauce, wilted spinach with garlic and chocolate mousse cake.

(Homemade pasta demands that you use your 6th sense to know how much flour you need, and how many times to turn the dough. Trying to use a recipe for this is like trying to tell someone, “if you massage a shoulder for 4 minutes, that shoulder will be yours.” There is no recipe for that. You don’t know how long that is going to take, and you don’t know exactly how long it’s going to take to knead the pasta. You have to allow yourself to have instinct.
The sauce will regnite my red blood cells–I’ll caramelize a soffritto of celery, onion, garlic, and carrot, to get my breathing going, because you can’t resist breathing just a little deeper when you have a mix like that on the stove, filling up the house with all kinds of goodness for 30 minutes, before it’s done. And then I’ll add my chopped meat, with just a little pork, a little beef, then a few sausages, and I’ve gotten word that a lamb chop might take it that much further.
The cake is nothing more than 2 parts heavy cream every so lightly whipped, and not so cold, and 1 part warm melted chocolate (not too warm, but warm enough to incorporate). Fold it together using your hand cupped, as if you were swimming the breast stroke, letting the outside edge of your hand scrape around the sides and then the bottom of the bowl.
Simmer a chianti (1 part sugar to 3 parts wine) with a strip of lemon zest (no pith) until it reduced by half. Serve this in a drizzle around your mousse and feel your cooking self come back to the living.

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