Published in the Rains County Leader on September 3, 2019:
Every Friday night for the past several years, David and I have attended a home Bible study with several friends from our church. As the name implies, we meet at the home of someone in the group where we share a meal, praises and prayer requests, and Bible study. On Mondays, I send out a group email that includes the prayer list and a link to the food sign-up sheet for the next Friday.
Early last week, Brenda signed up for the main dish with a notation that said “not sure what yet.” Being the witty writer that I am, I signed up for a salad with the added quip of “something to go with what Brenda makes.” A couple of days later she changed her post to “baby back ribs,” and since I didn’t want to settle for one of my default offerings of cole slaw or broccoli salad, I went to Google.
It took me about thirty minutes to settle on a recipe called “Easiest Pasta Salad.” The picture of the finished product was attractive, and the instructions said it only took fifteen minutes plus eight minutes to cook the pasta. I doubted those figures for several reasons. First, I had already invested half an hour in choosing the recipe, but that probably wasn’t figured into the estimated times. Second, I don’t like my pasta al dente, so I would have to add at least a couple of minutes to the cooking time. Finally, I’m slow. A friend once told me that God must have left out high gear when He created me, but that’s just how I roll.
Once I had selected my dish, I checked the ingredients against my pantry and made a shopping list. Of course, when I got to the grocery store, decisions had to be made. Did I want to spring for the seedless English cucumbers or go with the less expensive ordinary ones so I could use my fifty-cent coupon? Would it really make a difference if I bought the ten-ounce carton of cherry tomatoes for $3.99 instead of Roma tomatoes for $1.49 per pound? Making these and several other choices, as well as the time involved in making the list, added at least an hour to the prep time of the salad, especially if you add travel time.
By the time I entered the kitchen to begin the actual preparation, I was already well past the estimated time, and I knew I had a long way to go. Unlike Rachel Ray, I don’t have a staff of sous-chefs, so there was no array of pre-washed, pre-chopped, and pre-measured ingredients laid out beside the perfectly chosen pots and bowls along with the proper implements. And unlike trained chefs, I don’t chop and dice at light speed unless I want to add fingernails or finger tips to the list of ingredients. And so I began.
First I had to clear a spot on the island that was covered with groceries I hadn’t put away and the empty bags that had held items that were now in the refrigerator or freezer. Then I had to find my favorite knife, which was in the dishwasher instead of the knife drawer – and, yes, I know that’s not the proper way to care for and store knives, but that’s another subject for another day.
Next I had to decide exactly how much pasta salad to make. I checked the recipe – which was on my laptop which was hugging the edge of the cleared spot – to see how many it served. The estimate was 6-8 servings, and since the group averages around 10-12, I decided to increase it by half. The extra math would further extend the time involved, but it had to be done.
The final decision was the ice bath. I’ve been cooking since I was eleven years old, but I had never given my pasta an ice bath. However, since this recipe assured me that plunging my freshly cooked rotini into a pot of icy water would keep it firm and keep it from sticking together, I decided how best to accomplish this step – and I was finally ready to begin.
The actual preparation was easy – whip up a slightly creamy vinaigrette, cook the pasta, dunk it in ice and drain it, chop the other ingredients, dump it all in a bowl, and stir. The hard part was cleaning up the mess I’d made, but that’s to be expected when I cook. Mom and I had a deal – one cooked and the other cleaned. She always said that when I had to clean up after myself in the kitchen, I’d learn to be neater. That’s one thing she was wrong about.
The end result was a two-to-three-hour time investment, an enjoyable pasta salad, and lots left over for people to take home. (I didn’t need to increase the amount after all.) I’ll save the recipe in my “make again” file, but I think I’ll remove “Easiest” from the title. Then, I’ll cook meals that don’t require recipes for a couple of days until it’s time to decide what to make for next Friday night.