The Return of Saturn & Spaghetti
Tomorrow marks the first day of the last 366 days of my twenties. A tip of the hat to the Laws of Leap Year for seeing it fit to allow me one extra day of sweet, sweet immaturity before the inevitability of time strips me of my youth and issues me a pair of bifocals and an antacid. Somewhere up in the astral heavens, Saturn is swinging around its orbit of the Sun around the same place it was when I was first brought into this world, a time when crapping my pants and crying for various reasons dominated my schedule. Depending on who you ask, they might tell you not much has changed since then. Nevertheless, I have managed to put one foot in front of the other and ya know–not die–for a solid 29 years in a row now and so it seems as good a time as any to pump the brakes and take a moment to reflect.
Last week, I wrote about my dad and a time when I cooked Shrimp and Grits for him for his birthday. That led me to thinking about the various requests I had made for my birthday dinner over the years. While the menu has changed somewhat over time, keeping pace with a developing palate and curiosity for new things, there was a long stretch of time in my tween years that I methodically asked for Spaghetti Carbonara year after year. It’s almost puzzling to me now, seeing as I have maybe eaten pasta 10 times in the past 5 years, that my taste could have changed so much. After falling into the entrapping combination of nostalgia, sentimentality and home-cooking last week, it became fairly clear that there was no way around making Spaghetti Carbonara this week. It simply had to be done.
After patiently waiting all week, it was finally time to get down to business last night and whip up a little bit of childhood birthday magic. Having actually never made the dish before, I was a little surprised at how simple the ingredient list was. While it doesn’t take much intellectual firepower to recognize the winning combination of bacon, eggs and cheese when you see it, much less taste it, I was inexplicably happy to see that this treasured dish of my adolescence was comprised of no more than four ingredients. Something about it being associated with a special occasion enshrouded Carbonara in secrecy in my mind, as if some special Italian fairy godmother possessed my mother for an hour every March 16th and magically guided her hands to create the pasta out of the ether. Nevertheless, there I was in my kitchen with the recipe in my hands, appreciating its simplicity much like the first time I saw the sheet music for “Let it Be.” It was a simple reminder that less is more, and it always will be.
Any time you are struck by an epiphany, it’s a great thing, but when intense clarity smacks you across the face while you are elbow deep in a bowl of pasta, it’s a truly transcendent experience. Those who are closest to me know that I wear my heart on my sleeve and my dinner on my shirt, and have had the odd experience of sitting across from me, usually in the twilight hours, and watching with confusion and amusement as I drunkenly weep into a plate of late-night grub. I am oddly emotional about food. It’s in the fine print of my personality contract. Dr. House may find diagnostic connections while bouncing a ball against the wall and mocking his medical team, but I have had more than one life changing revelation come to me while chowing down. Last night was just the latest episode of enlightenment while eating.
It occurred to me that I have lost touch with many of the things I had in abundance when I was child. Much of my time was spent playing in the woods, hanging out with my friends from school, and scheming up ways with my brother about the fastest way get money for the next video game we wanted to play, concerned with little more than what was for dinner and getting in front of the TV in time to watch the latest episode of The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. My point is that our lives can be as simple or as complex as we make them. Somewhere between bowls of Spaghetti Carbonara, I have allowed my life to become incredibly complex and burdened by the mindset of want, wanting more and wanting it now. It can be a beneficial perspective in times where we need extra motivation and drive to get through challenging times, but if left unattended, it can become a dangerous and volatile mental state that strips your thoughts of appreciation and gratitude.
Over the next year of my life, I am going to be working on reducing my ingredient list. There will be no fancy garnishes, no foams nor reductions, no specialty utensils made of Mother of Pearl – none of that will be needed in this new life. In the spring I will plant a garden on the balcony of our apartment and I will eat from it every chance I get. I will spend more time in the woods, even if the ones immediately available to me are surrounded by cars and concrete. Bit by bit, the return of Saturn and spaghetti will help me simplify my life and my approach to it. And to anyone else feeling like they are losing touch or balance in their lives, don’t wait twenty nine years, start simplifying your life today. I, on the other hand, will be starting all of this tomorrow because, ya know, I’m not 29 yet!