Don’t eat the playdough

It’s amazing what you can come up with on no sleep to entertain a child when he has been home for two weeks. We have made guitars out of coffee cans and rubber bands, sculpture from lots of glue, old Halloween teeth, glitter, bits of wood and stickers, wrapping paper for next year, valentines that Ferd can’t part with to send to his friends, cupcakes, cookies, tents for the dinousars, computer movies and this morning, a marathon play dough experiment. It’s not for eating, but it only takes five minutes to cook and it can keep Ferdinand busy for a good twenty minutes, which is standard available time for putting dinner on table. Play dough that you don’t cook only lasts a few hours before it starts to dry out and get crumbly. They say that the ones you do cook last for a few months if you keep the stuff in a plastic container. This is my favorite cooked: 1 cup of flour, 1/4 cup of salt, 2 T cream of tartar, 1 T of oil and a few drops of food coloring. Get all of your dry ingredients into the pan off the heat. Stir them around. Add the oil, water and food coloring. Turn on the heat and cook, stirring constantly until the whole thing comes into a big lumpy ball in the middle of the pan. Don’t worry about the lumps. Rest the thing on a cutting board or plate until it cools and then knead it to make it smooth. It’s great. We use a garlic press (because you know how I feel about using garlic presses for garlic), chopsticks, plastic forks, a rolling pin and cookie cutters for real mileage. For dinner I’m making orchiette with mushrooms. If you can’t find orchiette, use fusilli. You are looking for a shape that is going to trap a little of the cream that you use to make the sauce. Get your pasta water going with water that tastes almost like the sea. When it comes to a full boil, add 9 ounces of pasta. In a saute pan, add your best olive oil to cover the bottom of the pan. Slice three cloves of garlic, mince a shallot, and add this to the olive oil with an unchopped sprig of parsley and a sprig of fresh thyme, and cook over low to medium heat. If you don’t have the herbs, just leave them out. When all of this is done, scrape out your pan with one of those handy dandy heat resistant rubber spatulas (I don’t have one) and onto a plate. Add a little more oil, and add a 10 ounce box of sliced mushrooms. Turn the heat up to medium. DON’T MOVE THE MUSHROOMS. They should stay with no jostling for about two minutes in the pan so that they get a nice sear. Then give them a shake, add a little salt and pepper, and turn the heat down again, adding the garlic mixture, and cooking until the mushrooms are done. There should be a little umph left, not totally limp. When the pasta is al dente, strain and add to the mushrooms with a drizzle of heavy cream. Grate your best parmesan and serve. For a knock your socks off cream, reduce the whole pint of heavy cream with a clove of garlic and a sprig of thyme by half over a low flame. Add a little salt, and stir this into the pasta at the end instead of just your plain old drizzle. You don’t have to eat cream every day, so when you do, you may as well go for the gusto. This is really nice with that famous arugula salad with pan roasted asparagus, a few hard boiled egg slices (keep them yellow by shocking the eggs in ice water), some nicoise olives and parmesan shavings (use your vegetable peeler). And bread. And some wine, and a few candles. I think I may just break out the candles tonight, and maybe even clear the table. My sister Hannah has this thing about having junk on the dinner table. She clears the whole thing before every meal. For a lot of years you couldn’t see my plate for the junk on the table for a lot of reasons, but mostly because I gave up cleaning for a while. I don’t want to go off on a tangent, but I decided that I could get a lot more done in my life if I didn’t spend so much time cleaning. My theory is, you have to prioritize. Let’s say you clean for two hours every day. That’s practically a part time job. If you only cleaned for twenty mintues a day, and two hours every other week, your house isn’t going to look that much different, and you could read a book or write one in the time you saved. For a lot of years I cleaned like I was going to be inspected by the cleaning police, and the truth is, the cleaning police don’t live with me anymore. Balance is key; organization is a huge time saver and it’s great to have the feature on the table be dinner.

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