NaNoWriMo: The Spaghetti Incident

So I’ve been madly writing my book.  I knew that I would come out with a bang but I must say I’ve surprised even my own expectations.  Even though I started with my own story as a basis it has gone in some fun directions and I wanted to know what was going to happen as much as anyone else.  For the last 3 days I’ve written through until late at night, in my lunch break, while I’m watching TV, whatever.  By the end of the tonight I will be half done my book!!!!  I’m completely confident I will have it finished by the end of next week.  Crazy!  I’m not saying its the best book in the world but I like it.

I knew going into that certain scenes would be fun to write (and some would be painful to be frank).  I just completed one of my most anticipated chapters and it was such a satisfying experience.  I really felt like I relived one of the best moments of my life.  To read a different account of the actual incident read this post

When I was struggling in 2007 I had an experience where I cooked homemade spaghetti and meatballs for my roommate and guy in my ward who had one the meal in a ‘service auction’ (auction where people donate services for money to give to a charitable project).  While I have made the incident more dramatic for the book and added some humor it is something I will never forget.

I was about 2 hours late in cooking the meal for my friends because my job had kept me late.  I was tired and frazzled but knew I needed to make this meal if it killed me.  By the time I finished I was tired and my whole body ached.  I sat and ate the most delicious meal of my life (spaghetti and meatballs has always been one of my favorite foods but this sealed that forever).  It tasted so good that it made me happy in a primal, basic way.  As I was eating the thought came into my head ‘why isn’t the rest of my life this good?’

Why indeed?  I’m proud to say I made a lot of changes, took chances and my life much happier now than it used to be.  I wish I could say I’ve figured it all out but I will always have that moment to look back on and ask myself the question ‘why isn’t the rest of my life this good?’.

I thought it would be fun to share this section of the book with you.  Its still in rough stage but I’d like to give you a feel for what I am working on.
Please no critiques just yet.   Just enjoy!

I’m hungry for spaghetti and meatballs!

Chapter 7

“I’ll figure it out but in the meantime I have meatballs to make” I say with conviction.

“Are you sure?”  she says “We could just go to Schultzy’s instead.  They will all get here any minute.  There is no time for a big production.”

She adds with caution “we could heat up the frozen lasagna I bought as a back up”.

“No.  I’m tired of mediocre food and I’ve set my heart on this recipe.  Plus, there is nothing that is going to get me to cook another meal for Roy.  I don’t care if we eat at midnight. I promised him your favorite, well my favorite, home cooked meal and Gosh darn it that’s what he will get”

She smiles and says “Well, tell me what to do”.

“You are the best”.  I get out the recipe card and start a big pot of salted water for the pasta, a cast iron skillet to brown the meatballs in oil, another pot for the sauce and turn the oven up to 400 degrees.    With Jamie’s help I’m sure we can pump this out quickly.  How long can it really take?  Sammy must have been exaggerating.

She wasn’t.  An hour came and left and we chopped all the vegetables and got the sauce started pretty easily; albeit slow simmering away with only two incidents of tomato burping all over the stove and into my hair.   I wanted to start the pasta but the darn meatballs were taking forever.   Sammy was right.  These were way more work than I bargained for.  From now on I would look at the spaghetti and meatballs on the menu at Schultzy’s in a whole new light.  Someone was rolling meatballs for their job and it was not easy.  (Actually that job didn’t sound so bad. At least you would get to eat something delicious at the end of it.  There I go again…)

Roy and Oliver arrived just as I was getting started with the meatballs and I sent Jamie off to entertain them (in my eyes she had the harder task entering into any sort of conversation with Roy but she didn’t seem to mind the one-ended chatting).  Oliver had offered to help but I demurely refused.  This was supposed to me my ‘fun night’ to give back to everyone else.  Not the other way around.

My arms felt tired from grabbing meat and rolling little balls (The card had said to make the meatballs small or they wouldn’t cook all the way through.)  It was slimy and the meat mixture looked so unappealing that it was hard to imagine anything good coming from the whole endeavor. Roll, roll, roll, if I never rolled another meatball it wouldn’t be too soon.  After what felt like hours, I had three cookie sheets full of meatballs and my whole body ached of meat.  No wonder they were so fit in Italy.  This was how they burned off all those carbs!

As I looked at my pretty balls I noticed a smell like a greasy vendor at the county fair.  “What is that? I said as I followed the smell”  To my shock,  the oil in my cast iron skillet is smoking and there is a small flame!

“Oh my gosh! “ I yell.   It smells awful and I begin to panic.  Without thinking  I dunk  the entire skillet into the sink and turn on the water.  This makes the pan go up in flames.  Terrified I run out of the room (never been much of a girl for intense situations like this!).

“Ahh! I scream and think about what items I want to grab before the whole house goes up in flames, dinner and all!  Should I call 911? I grab the phone while searching for an extinguisher or something.  The fire alarm goes off  (for once when it is supposed to) and the sound starts escalating until I can’t hear myself think.  “Crap, this is awful”.  My heart is beating fast and I feel like I’m going to swallow my tongue.  “I’m allowed to panic” I say to myself, “It is after all a fire in my house!”

Without missing a beat Oliver starts looking through the pantry and finds the box of banking soda and dumps it over the blaze.  The white powder creates a puff like one of those atomic bomb photos from the 40’s and the air tastes like the fizz in a new can of soda.  It takes a second to realize what has happened but when the powder dies I realize it has stifled the fire almost instantly and the sink is left with a skillet sizzling in a puddle of brown, foam and oil infused water.  It looks like some kind of chemical experiment gone awry, not dinner.

“Never put out a grease fire in water” he says with a voice of frustration and amazement.

I remember hearing that somewhere but in the heat of the moment and with my exhausted state of mind I had forgotten.   Still, somehow Oliver doesn’t seem annoyed but more concerned than anything else.  I feel less embarrassed than I probably should.   The feminist in me didn’t want to admit it but it was kind of nice to be the damsel in distress for once.

“That’s right.  Shoot.  Thank you for using your head. I’m sorry.” I take a look around the room and everyone’s rather stunned faces and wonder  if this night could get any worse?  I guess the house could have actually burned down.  “I’m sorry”  I say to the whole group and they all give a relieved ‘It’s ok’ in response.  Then I look dejectedly at my poor sad, raw, meatballs.  Maybe it was a lost cause?  Why does this meal matter so much to me? It was just food after all.

As if sensing my near abandonment of the project Oliver gives me a nudge and lets out a little chuckle.  Then Roy starts to laugh and Jamie and finally I get into a complete laughing fit.  For once wiping away a tear of laughter not pain, I resign myself to the giggles.   It’s almost hard for me to stand and my side aches from near hysterics.   I can’t think of when I laughed so hard. My soul feels bright and I look at Oliver, Jamie and then Roy and smile. Not my normal I’m surviving smile but a happiness smile.  They all look genuinely grateful to see me happy, even Roy.  What great unselfish friends.

“Maybe that is the magic of the meatballs?”  I smile and say a quick thank you to God for giving me a happy moment with such great people and for helping out with the whole fire thing…

I say to the whole group “Well, we could just have pasta and sauce without any meatballs? The skillet is going to take forever to cool down and then I’ll have to clean it or everything will taste like burned oil”

“That seems like such a shame when they are all ready. “says Jamie as she opens our windows and props the door open with a chair to air out the space.  Oliver has just turned off the smoke alarm using a damp dishrag.

“Wait I’ve got an idea” Jamie says and  jumps into the air and runs upstairs towards our neighbor Janna’s part of the house.  Knocking on the door they chat for a few minutes and she comes down with a beautiful, large iron skillet.  “I think this will do the job” she says with a smile “We will have meatballs after all”

“Jamie you’ve saved the day!”  I grab the skillet like it is my first born and put it over the burner.

“This time I will watch the oil like a hawk! I promise no more fires and at least I know how to put them out if they come”.  I say with a wink towards Oliver.  He smiles back.

In just a few minutes the oil gets to the right temperature (no fires) and I brown all of the meatballs on both sides.  Then into the oven they go for 20 more minutes.  Finally they simmer with the sauce for another 10 minutes (this must be why they call it Sunday sauce in Italy.  It’s the only day where you have time to slave in the kitchen this long!).  As they cook I finally put the spaghetti into a whole new pot of water (the previous one had completely cooked down until the pot was bare and the air filled with humidity).    It bubbles over for a second but I turn down the burner and it boils away.

At least I know how to get pasta made to a perfect al dente and no, I did not throw it against the wall like they do in the movies.  I simply looked at the package and took off a minute or two and it was perfect.  Pasta drained.  Salad prepared.  Meatballs perfect.  I set the food out on a beautiful table.  Never mind the baking soda kitchen and the giant splotches of spaghetti sauce in my hair and all over my apron or the lingering smell of burnt grease, to me it looked perfect.

We sat down and I looked at the clock 10:30. It was 10:30!  Every bone in my body ached and I was starving and completely drained but I had done it!  I felt sorry for my friends but also grateful that I had stuck through it and I think we all agreed this better be the best darn pasta ever eaten.   Heck, it better be the best meal ever eaten!

We sat down and thanked God for the food (Boy did I ever thank him) and we all chuckled a little bit when Jamie added ‘thank you Heavenly Father for not letting the house catch on fire”.   It was funny but true.  Then she added ‘thank you to Rachel for making this meal and bless her to find happiness in her life.  Amen”

“Amen” we all agreed enthusiastically and dove in.

On my plate I piled a huge swirl of pasta and ladled on my sauce getting 3 or 4 meatballs.  I didn’t even go for salad first.  Just my pasta and sauce creation with a heaping tablespoon of parmesean cheese.

“Oh my gosh” I said probably too loudly and with great gusto. “Can you guys believe this?  This is so good!  It’s like the best thing I have ever eaten without a doubt”.  I looked up and they nodded that they all liked it.

“It’s very yummy” Jamie said.

Oliver praised it as ‘the best pasta he’s had since New York City”.   Roy said ‘it was delicious’ but wouldn’t branch out enough to say it was his favorite.

While I appreciated their praise it didn’t seem to encapsulate the experience I was having.  My mouth had never tasted anything like this.  I felt like my whole body was saying thank you to something so delicious.  It was an experience not just a meal.

Normally I would just throw something together because cooking for one seems too hard and hardly worth all the trouble, but just like the rest of my life it never left me very fulfilled.  This felt fulfilling.  It’s like I was starving physically and emotionally and I didn’t even know it.  Eating the pasta was exciting, passionate, and worthwhile in a way I hadn’t experienced since teaching for Mr. Thomas years ago.  It made me want to sing and even though every muscle in my body ached I felt happy. Not a passing happiness but a happiness that means something.  That lets you know you are human.   All of the sudden the thought occurred to me “why isn’t the rest of my life this good?”

Indeed “why isn’t the rest of my life this good?”  The statement hung there like a tightrope walker on the verge of falling.  Don’t I have the right to be this happy and certainly over an experience more meaningful than a plate of food?   It was a moment of clarity for sure.  Something to think about for sure.  What did it all mean?  Creating this kind of happiness had to be new goal, but how?   How do people achieve happiness?  Real happiness like these meatballs.

Truth was I was too tired to get an answer tonight but I’d touched a nerve for sure.  Despite my haggard appearance and rocky road to the finish line I had done it.  I had finished my goal in spectacular fashion and life had taught me a mini lesson along the way.   I raised my glass of cider and proposed a toast to “good meals, great (and very patient) friends and little moments of sublime happiness”.

“Cheers” we all said as our glasses clanked together.   It had taken everything but I had a feeling this would go down as one of the best days of my life.  They really were magic meatballs…


7 thoughts on “NaNoWriMo: The Spaghetti Incident

  1. That was fun to read about, even though I know it wasn’t fun to live through. (I had a sublime meatball moment, myself, a couple of weeks ago, when after 45 years of cooking I finally figured out a foolproof recipe for meatballs-to-die-for.)

    Let me know when you’re ready for critique; I have a writing suggestion you might like to try.

    1. That’s so nice. Thanks. You are a super fast reader. I’ve started a writing critique group which has helped a lot. It was my first time writing fiction, so it is less than perfect but I had so much fun writing it. I thought it was going to be a worthy chore but I had a blast

    2. I will love to get your help on writing later. Will keep you posted. Thanks for the blog-chat. :). I bet your meatballs are delish

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