Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Why I could never give up carbs...

Last spring we moved my Grandmother out of her home. She had raised my father and his brothers there. She had lived a good life in this house. And, for me, it was a difficult time. It was difficult for the whole family. She wanted to leave, the house was too much for her. Too big, too much to clean, and too empty. My grandfather passed away about 15 years ago (how strange that is was so long ago) he left a lot of his pack rat life behind. Over the years we had moved a lot of stuff out...into the home of people who would care for the items he lovingly collected. His tools, his records, his drafting supplies. However, there was still a lot left.

Robby and I were lucky to grab some of these memories. I still mean to create a post that outlines some of these objects of my memories which have now become objects in my home. For today, I will concentrate on one.

The pasta maker.

Anyone with a nice Kitchen Aid mixed can purchase an attachment that will allow them to make pasta. Grandma has the skills and the tools to make it the old way. We spent some time over Christmas with her going through the process that she followed when she made pasta for her family, something she learned from her mother and grandmother. She told stories of times where the tools were not necessary - her mother and grandmother discussing the thickness of the noodles, agreeing on width and using their knives to make perfectly uniform noodles. They would create gnocchi with their thumbs and ravioli with the tines of a fork. Neither would fall apart in a pot of boiling water. My mother (the daughter-in-law) has had a hard time learning these skills. Grandma always tells her - well you use this and that and don't worry about the amount - you'll just know.

This is the part of our history that we are at risk of loosing - the "you'll just know". Especially when it comes to cooking. Grandma "just knows" because she has absorbed the old ways from her mother and grandmother. My mother and I have not had the daily exposure to this atmosphere. We know what we know from her. With this, and my grandmother's declining health, in mind my mother encouraged her to sit down with us during our Christmas Holiday and share the family way for making Pasta. It was a fabulous idea and, as with many exchanges with elderly family members, turned out to be so much more than a lesson in pasta making.

I have discussed my Grandmother and all that she is to me before. I adore her and know that there is some connection between her and I that is far beyond a normal granddaughter/grandmother relationship. I am fully aware of how strange this sounds but it's just the way is.

On to the pasta...

You need flower, about 3/4 cup per person.

We had about six people eating so we used about 4.5 cups of flour. Make a little hole in your mound of white and place 3 eggs into this. Grandma says you should always crack your eggs into another bowl because if they are bad you would want to know that before you ruin the flour (Grandma was a child of the depression. It makes no difference what-so-ever that the ruined flour would cost all of $0.50. Trust me, I pointed this out and got an ear full)

Using a folk (and not a wire whisk, again with the earful) slowly mix the eggs into the flour. You will need a bit of water set aside. After the eggs are mixed in add a little ittle ttle tle le e bit of water. Just enough to barely get everything damp.

This is the part of the recipe that you just have to "know" and honestly, I never would have "known" had I not had grandma (above with her coffee) guiding me. "No too much." "Oh, Okay, a bit more." You need just enough water to get it mixed...but not too much to make it sticky.

You can see here how crumbly the dough is...not to worry, you're going to kneed the shit out of it and it'll be Perfecto (insert Italian gesture here.) My mom (in the blue shirt) was super excited to be able to use her silpat. It made everything so much easier.

See the texture above? The dough should become really smooth, no bumps and very elastic-like. Kneading is not for the knitter. It hurts your wrists. If you can, get your sister to do it. Mine, unfortunately, was the group scribe. Robby, incidentally, was the group photographer.

At this point the dough must rest. We let it rest in a cover bowl at room temperature all day. You can skip this step if you'd like. We needed to run some errands, get a super cool massage, and take a shower (notice the change of cloths below?)

If you look real closely at the picture above you can probably see my ass-crack. Kidding! You cannot!! But, you can see my chubs...hi you...

This is what's going on in that picture: I'm rolling small pieces of dough out and my sister is putting them through the pasta maker. We have the flattening rolls attached here. My sister rigged up a board to help mount the maker to the table. Yes, the apples do not far from the tree (more on that later.) There is a lot of flour involved in all of these next few steps. Just keep adding until you can get through it all without stickiness.

You may have to send it through the press multiple times. This was another one of those "Grandma tells you when to stop" things. She said that you could make it as thick as you wanted. She was super good at judging the thickness without looking. I swear it must be in your blood. You just know.

After the dough is pressed I used a knife to cut down the center of the strip. This prepared the stripes for the cutting attachment. The cutting attachment rocks.

Look at all of the little spaghetti monsters. They were pretty good uncooked.

Here is Grandma helping me with the little monsters. The head lamp came in handy here.

The tree on the left and the apple on the right. My dad. I always wondered where the family trait of fixing things came from. The trait of having them "just right". The certain way to do things. Well, if I hadn't realized it before, I realized it during this family event. Grandma and my dad - two peas in a pod. They are exactly the same.

It was awesome.

And the pasta - boil it. That's the next step. Use lots of water. Grandma says you should not have to rinse the pasta when it is done. I think that this may be true if you pay attention to the lots of water instruction. We did not. And there was a lot of starch. I think this could be avoided with a larger pot (or rinsing, which I hate.)

Olympic Update - Still no decision on the project. I'm taking tomorrow afternoon off, so hopefully I'll have something by Doyle's. Team Boston - Doyles 7pm be there or be square.
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Blogger --Deb said...

I haven't made homemade pasta in a while, and admit that I usually let my KitchenAid mix it for me. (Your grandmother would be disgusted.) I only ever tried the pasta attachment once, though, and usually use my pasta roller instead. I love homemade pasta--the flavor, the texture are unlike anything else, including the "fresh" pasta at the grocery store.

But mostly? How WONDERFUL that you had your grandmother show you! I don't have any grandparents left (lost the last one when I was 18), and would have loved to have been able to sit with my grandmother and have her show me some of her specialties. I'm so glad for your sake (that's a plural "your," there) that you all did this!

2/09/2006 10:46 PM  
Anonymous Laura said...

What a great post. Is that an old pasta roller you have there or new? I hear ya on the grandmother who doesn't want to waste anything, but what does she think about your chubs and nearly crack showing???? That really made me laugh. heh

2/09/2006 11:04 PM  
Blogger Dani said...

I think it is so cool that you took the time to preserve a bit of your heritage. I feel the loss of old skills in a more general way. When I was a kid, every teenage girl knew how to braid hair. Now practically every black woman I know (including me) has to pay an exorbitant amount to the few women in town who still know how to do it. Unfortunately I didn't have a grandma to teach me the skill so I can't pass it on to my girls.

2/09/2006 11:19 PM  
Blogger Lauren said...

So sweet! And your family looks adorable (and very much like you). I am a huge pasta fan (although I don't think any of my ancestors ever made pasta from scratch). If you're down here sometime, you're welcome to use our kitchen:)

2/09/2006 11:46 PM  
Blogger janna said...

De-lurking because this post reminded me of my own grandma. She was German, not Italian, but she also made noodles by hand. She would roll out the dough on the kitchen table, then use a knife to cut the noodles. How did she cut them so straight? I don't know. German noodles are a little thicker than Italian pasta and Grandma cooked them in broth. I watched her make noodles many time but for some reason, she never taught me or any of my siblings/cousins. I've made pasta with my pasta maker and every time, I've thought that I should try to make Grandma's German noodles.

You've inspired me - maybe I'll do it this weekend (as a break from the Knitting Olympics!) Thanks for sharing the story, and take good care of your grandma.

2/10/2006 1:07 AM  
Blogger Carole said...

It's great that you sat down and did this with you Grandma. My grandma taught me to make Swedish meatballs and Swedish cardomom braid when I was young and I'm so glad I have the skills. Will you make pasta again? That's the critical question!

2/10/2006 6:12 AM  
Blogger maryse said...

it's early in the morning, so i'm at a loss for words. but that was a beautiful post.

2/10/2006 6:28 AM  
Blogger Sandysknitting said...

Wendy, that was so beautiful! My heart is touched. Wait! What's that in my eye? Yup. A tear. Thanks for sharing your wonderful story!
(is that right? :)

2/10/2006 6:31 AM  
Anonymous Kathleen said...

Wendy, very cool! You are so fortunate to have your grandma in your grandma was old and not the healthiest--we would take her to The Sizzler and some other fast food steak restaurant--whose name escapes me. What a wonderful experience. Thank you for sharing it.

2/10/2006 7:05 AM  
Blogger wenders said...

Just wonderful. WONDERFUL. My grandmother makes this cake that no one in the family likes, so no one has learned how to make it, but man, we need to get the recipe, just in case. :)

2/10/2006 8:54 AM  
Blogger katiedid said...

Yum, fresh pasta! I make it too but I'm not cool enough to have an actual pasta press/cutter. I fold the pasta sheets in half twice, cut with a big knife and have my son help me unroll them.

Soo cool that your Grandma can show you all her secrets.

2/10/2006 9:31 AM  
Blogger Vicki Knitorious said...

Super, super, super-duper cool! I love you, Wendy, and your family. I think my favorite part of this story is about the whisk. Totally love it.

I am definitely looking forward to more in this series. Mwah.

2/10/2006 9:32 AM  
Anonymous Kate said...

What a great post! If only i had the patience to make fresh pasta, I can only imagine how good and rewarding it is.

2/10/2006 9:42 AM  
Blogger Stitchy McYarnpants said...

What a great thing! It's so important to learn from your parents and grandparents. That's where family traditions come from and its how they survive. And I bet your grandmother was over the moon spending time with you guys in this way.

2/10/2006 9:47 AM  
Anonymous Jackie said...

Wow - I'm so glad that you shared this with us. It's so wonderful that you were able to have this time with your family and appreciate what is lost with the generations.

It's sad in my family, my experience with our Irish heritage is that everything was lost when my great-grandparents came over. No one wanted to remember the old country and their ways, because everyone was starving, and everyone was hitting the bottle, and hard at that. The things that have been passed down are intangible - like the laughing no matter what happens and the wit and the clannish attitudes towards family.

Do you beat the eggs with a fork before you add them to the pile of flour? Or do you add them unmixed?

By the way, I love your Grandma's sweater.

2/10/2006 9:50 AM  
Blogger Martita said...

What a special day! You'll have to make sure to practice your new pasta making skills. Maybe you can become the next expert pasta maker in your family!

2/10/2006 9:59 AM  
Blogger Gina said...

How wonderful. I know that I must make time soon to visit my grandmother and learn the secret of her tomato wine. It sounds rank, but it's really quite lovely -- and powerful.

2/10/2006 10:23 AM  
Anonymous Julie said...

Oh, that post was wonderful - makes me miss my own Italian Nana! She taught me how to make the pasta and it was the same thing with the measurements (or lack thereof). She'd fill "the big yellow bowl" with flour and dig a hole in the center. I can remember every Saturday she made the pasta. She must have been the strongest 4'11" woman in the world! She rolled that pasta out by hand with this MONSTER long rolling pin into great big circles which would then dry on every bed in her house for hours. She cut it by hand and every Sunday morning we woke to the smell of garlic - she always started the sauce and meatballs before church and we had a bowl of sauce and some meatballs and her homemade bread when we got home. Unfortunately, no one has the bread recipe :-(

2/10/2006 12:44 PM  
Anonymous Monica said...

I enjoyed reading about your day capturing family tradition, knowledge, memories. Now that my last grandmother is in her own world, I should spend some time learning some of my mom's recipes, get a head start. :)

2/10/2006 1:02 PM  
Blogger Beck said...

Sounds like you had a great day. I can understand the special relationship you have with your Grandma, I have one with mine even though she is so far away from me right now. I had a good chuckle at the pic of your dad and Grandma and the whole apple and tree thing...very funny.

2/10/2006 1:22 PM  
Blogger Susan said...

I love your post! There are so many cool family recipes where "you just know" is the key ingredient. My mom's dressing recipe is like that. So are the biscuit and cornbread recipes. What a wonderful way to spend your day.

2/10/2006 2:35 PM  
Blogger wrtrmaus said...

What a great post, thanks so much for sharing this piece of your life.

2/10/2006 8:36 PM  
Blogger CynCyn said...

what a great photo journal/recounting of the yarn making passing down a few generations.... I remember fondly when my parents taught my brother and I how to make chinese dumplings/potstickers. There too, is a lot of "add some of this stuff until the mixture smells right". Huh? But somehow, I know.

2/11/2006 3:56 AM  
Anonymous etherknitter said...

Quite wonderful. You are very lucky to have the mentoring. The most my grandma could tell us of anything was the Yiddish for "a little of this, a little of that". Her recipes died with her.

2/11/2006 9:01 AM  
Blogger Wanda said...

I think it's wonderful that you were able to sit down with your grandmother, mother and sibling and spend time with each other and learn the art of pasta-making. It was truly a memorable day!

2/11/2006 4:25 PM  
Anonymous samantha said...

How very very awesomely cool that you were able to do this! What a wonderful day, and tasty too.

My grandma was ukranian, and made to die for pierogies, stuffed cabbages, and other delights. Not even her own sisters have been able to duplicate the stuffed cabbages. A few months after my grandma died (sophomore year of college for me), I saw frozen stuffed cabbages in the grocery store, and just started bawling. Those amazing family foods are some of the best memories ever.

2/11/2006 9:02 PM  
Blogger julia fc said...

How wonderful, the time together, the homemade pasta, the legacy of the thing and how to use it. I am a little envious.

2/12/2006 9:13 AM  
Blogger Fannie Pie said...

thanks for sharing that wonderful day! I learned to quilt from one grandmother and her mother. My other grandmother was quite different, her family was Bohemian, and she was a painter. I remember painting with her at her dining room table, with her good oil paints and nice paper. I was about 5 years old. She was working on a still life, I was painting portraits of Bert and Ernie.

Thanks for making me think of that day. My painting grandmother was once the sole illustrator for the Detroit Free Press, you inspired me to contact them and the Detroit public library to see if I can find some of her drawings in their archives.

You and your grandmother are lucky to have each other!

2/12/2006 10:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, so beautiful. You have to SAVE this post. Our neighbor in Watertown was appalled when he learned one day that I did not make my own pasta. He used to bring me bouquets of basil and oregano from his little garden. I learned to hide my daily trip to Dunkin' Donuts for a cup of coffee. I didn't want to give the poor guy a heart attack. I could juse see him behind the lace curtains muttering, "She doesn't make her own pasta nor brew her own coffee!" ;)


2/17/2006 9:02 AM  
Blogger Zee said...

what a wonderful post!

2/28/2006 10:39 AM  

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