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March 25, 2000
a year ago
two years ago

Company Over

Since we had to get ready for the dinner tonight, we had a quick breakfast. Some part of my brain wanted to make muffins or some other baked good, but we ended up making toasted English muffins with eggs, ham, and a slice of cheese. Quick food with plenty of protein to at least last the morning's worth of errands we had to get through. There was plenty we had to do before tonight.

The funniest thing was realizing that I didn't know what I was going to make for dinner, mostly because I didn't have a name for what it was I wanted to do. We had the entire roast chicken leftover from last week, and I knew I wanted to reduce onions and peppers, sweet peppers, to make an intensely flavored dish with the chicken, some cream, and some Parmesan cheese. I wanted to serve that on pasta, but couldn't decide if I really wanted to make it myself or if I wanted to buy something widened flat to hold the cream sauce. Cream... I guess I wanted a cream sauce. John kept calling it chicken Alfredo, and it was close, but I didn't want to add all the butter that a classic Alfredo has in it.

Worse yet, it's been nearly a month since Fezzik got a bath, and he was a mildly stinky dog. So John and I tackled Fezzik out on the porch with three brushes, toenail clippers, and lots of patience. Fezzik did have a number of mats, which he was very unhappy about us working on. He has the patience of a saint around kids, or something that is smaller than he is but around us he was waving his teeth around and growling at us when we did stuff he didn't like. Once we showed him a little dominance, however, he did quiet down and become resigned to all the attention. Once he was completely brushed out we put him into the back of Borax and headed off to Mutt Puddles.

The dog washing store was pretty busy, the we had to wait a little while until she cleaned up a tub and wash area. There was a German shepherd also waiting, and Fezzik and the pup wanted to make friends, but there wasn't really enough room for two active huge dogs to play. So the people kept the dogs apart.

John and I lifted Fezzik into the tub once we were assigned a cleaned one, and the washing began. It's actually far easier to wash a dog in a waist level tub than on the lawn or in a regular tub on the floor, not having to bend was a relief on the lower back. We got through two entire bottles of shampoo before Fezzik was soaped up enough for us to get his skin wet all over. As usual, he looked really skinny and silly while completely wet. We took nearly as much time to rinse him off as we did to soap him up, but it was good to make sure he was completely and cleanly rinsed off. I put a towel around his head to protect his eyes, and John started in on the blow dryer. It's a high-speed dryer with no heat, the high-speed air actually blows the water off Fezzik's fur. When we were done, he was damp dry, and into the still damp fur we worked a good deal of leave-in cherry conditioner. The stuff really makes his fur soft and shiny and easy to brush once he's completely dry.

The very same strip mall that contained Mutt Puddles also had a Safeway, so we went there for groceries for tonight. We only needed a few things, including an assortment of sweet peppers and a little more whipping cream for the Alfredo-like sauce. They had, on special, some really beautiful, fat asparagus spears for less than the dollar a pound. I had to get some of those and planned to have that as a vegetable next to the pasta.

Once we got home I felt a little bit like I felt last week, as if the only thing I was really do it was waiting until tonight. I watched TV, knit a little bit on some socks, and listened to John work on the laptop for a bit. Thinking back on it, I probably could have made the pasta at this time, tossed it with a little semolina flour, and refrigerated the mass until it was time to eat. But it actually worked out pretty well. I started the sauce around 5 PM, smashing and cleaning garlic, slicing onions, cleaning the sweet peppers of many colors and slicing them as well. I put olive oil into my heavy cast iron pot, scattered the garlic into the oil and let that become aromatic before adding the onions and peppers. I tossed all the vegetables in the oil until they were all coated and then just let them cook on a low heat. While they cooked I started the handmade pasta by beating two eggs into a mixture of semolina and regular flour. While I was still just using the fork, it was easy to go over to the pot and stir things occasionally; but once I put my hands onto the pasta dough in order to knead it well I had to ask John to do the stirring for me.

The pasta dough came together very well. It got smooth and elastic pretty quick, and I started rolling it out when Jenny and Colin arrived. They were fairly astonished that it was handmade pasta and watched, fascinated as I finished rolling it until I could see the flour underneath the dough through the transluscently thin sheet. Good enough. I could probably have made it thinner, but I didn't really have the time.

I poured a large amount of marsala wine into the reduced vegetables and then let the wine reduce while I put a big pot of water on to boil and shredded cooked chicken from last week. I just picked the tender white meat for the dish as more would have probably been too much what with the bulk of the pasta and the other things in the sauce. Halfway through prepping the chicken I poured a cup of whipping weight cream into the sauce as well and let that cook down some, to completely coat everything. I added the chicken when it was ready and the grated half a cup of parmesan on top of that and stirred the cheese in to melt and thicken the sauce.

While it thickened I cut the pasta and had Colin and Jenny unfold each strand, it was pretty sticky work at first, but once I actually let the other surface dry a bit, it got better. So they had some investment in the pasta, which turned out to be a good thing, as they'd never made it before.

No time or room, really, for the asparagus and Jenny had fun cutting her bread and Colin had made an absolutely huge spinach salad. I love the stuff, so I was glad he'd brought it with eggs and a bit of bacon crumble and walnuts along with a black pepper dressing that was very sharp and nice. We sat down to dinner exactly three minutes after the pasta went into the boiling water and it came out perfect. Tender to the bite but with the characteristic body and texture of a handmade pasta. Yum. It took really well to the sauce, too.

I was a little worried that there would not be enough pasta for everyone, but I shouldn't have worried, there was plenty and then some. Colin even gave Jenny some of his, plain, which she ate with relish and that was fun. The conversation flowed as readily as the food and we sat and talked happily when I went to whip up the eggs for the chocolate things. John was really happy about getting to eat chocolate things two weeks in a row. He happily showed them pictures of Breckenridge while the chocolate things baked and they enjoyed the scent of them up there. One good thing about cooking while someone is working up there is that they can smell when dinner is ready. Colin really liked the pictures and he's been thinking about buying some kind of off-road vehicle. Should be interesting to see what he comes up with.

The desserts left them speechless for a bit. That was very keen. I like it when it does that. Just a dab of whipped cream on top and that was all it needed. Happiness. How something so simple can be so good just astonishes me. I also had fun introducing Jenny to my collection of teas as I have a good dozen herbal varieties that don't have any caffeine, so we had fun picking one for her by letting her smell them. Also, she'd never had loose leaf tea, so it was a bit of an adventure to have some of the Flowering Herb tea by The Republic of Teas. I really like the stuff and I really enjoy the tea basket that they sell for in the mug infusions. Really nice. It was cool to share the stuff.

After they left I collapsed into the couch to watch a little TV to wind down. I caught just the last glimpse of the Good Eats episode having to do with shrimp cocktail, and I hadn't known that there was going to be late show of that particular show on Saturday. So I wondered if my taping had gone badly, so we checked the previous episode on the tape and it turned out to be the shrimp cocktail episode. I happily watched it, and now I want to do it, probably tomorrow. We'll see if that happens.

We didn't get to sleep until after midnight, what with winding down, cleaning things up, and generally getting ready to go back to our usual life. Maybe we will do this often enough in the future that it won't feel quite so strange and strenuous.

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