I asked my mother why she broke the spaghetti. I expected some culinary explanation that had evolved from years of experience in home cooking.
I was cleaning my home office for at least the fifth time in a month. How easily my desk became cluttered with old files. The pattern on the carpet never had a chance to fade because it was perpetually shielded from sunlight by a coating of papers I looked at it time and again but never quite determined what to do about. And each time I set out to clear it all away, I had the same thought: Why did I let it get this way? Again?
I seemed to be stuck, doing the same things over and over. When I thought I couldn’t get out of the annoying syndrome, I suddenly remembered my mother’s spaghetti.
My mother always bought boxed spaghetti. She took out the stiff spaghetti strands and broke them in half and then slid them into the boiling water in her favorite pot. I never knew any other way to cook it so when I married, I made spaghetti the same way. That was how a person cooked spaghetti, wasn’t it? But I noticed that when I ate in an Italian restaurant, the pasta was long and could be twirled around a fork. I asked my mother why she broke the spaghetti. I expected some culinary explanation that had evolved from years of experience in home cooking. She said she did it so it would fit in the pot!
It was such a startling, simple answer that I began questioning my taken-for-granted kitchen activities. I had a larger pot was it necessary for me to continue breaking my spaghetti or even using dried pasta at all? I liked the texture and flavor of the homemade pasta the restaurants served so why didn’t I buy that kind instead?
I was soon thinking of a bunch of new ways to cook. Did fresh herbs taste better than dried? Could I substitute ingredients in a recipe and still make it taste good? What would happen to a cake if I changed the size of the baking pan? Would a cold version of a favorite soup be as good as its usual hot presentation?
The awareness of being free to experiment with food opened up a part of me that could allow me to rethink whatever I was doing. Perhaps now I could bring that flexibility into all of my daily activities.
So I stopped berating myself for being messy and started doing things differently. Instead of trying to do everything at once, I began putting away one thing at a time. Before I knew it, my office looked neat and it was easy to find what I needed without going through a slew of unrelated papers. That led to my wondering how I could organize my pantry so I wouldn’t have to sift through every box looking for the one I needed. And doing laundry became a way to cleanse my spirit, as well as my clothes, when I was feeling overwhelmed.
I decided to celebrate. One day I invited some friends over for lunch. We sat and chatted and when it was time to serve the meal, I presented a dish of long strands of spaghetti coated with (no, not tomato sauce) chickpeas and artichoke antipasto with a generous sprinkling of cheddar cheese. It wasn’t traditional, to be sure, but everyone loved it.
I silently toasted Mom with my iced tea, a drink she would never have chosen over her beloved coffee, and thanked her for helping me see beyond spaghetti.