Leaving the Island

Growing up, I lived in a circle with a radius of approximately 5 miles. I rode the school bus 4.8 miles to middle school, rode 6.6 miles to the Mall of New Hampshire, rode my bike 4.6 miles to the Bedford Bluffs where I spent every day during the summer and walked .4 miles to visit my best friend (or .2 miles if I cut through the woods).

When I was in high school, the circle expanded to a radius of approximately 60 miles. I drove 6.6 miles east to school, 55.6 miles south-east to swim practice and 73.9 miles south to visit Matt. Needless to say, I spent a lot of time in the car. During those days, I knew every song on the radio, perfected my ability to dance while sitting, and learned the location of every Dunkin Donuts along Route 3. I attribute my relationship with one of my best friends to the fact that we spent at least 2 hours in the car together every day, not to mention the fact that we shared a near death experience when I decided to shut my eyes for a quick second while driving to practice. We spent a lot of time chatting about school, swimming, and of course, boys.

My life is very different now that I live in New York. I traded my car in for a subway pass, my one hour commute to swim practice in for a 30 minute subway ride to Union Square, and the 3 miles drive to the grocery store to a 3 minute walk to Whole Foods down the block. While living in a city does make some things much more convenient, I would be lying if I said I didn’t miss suburbia.

Now I live on an island.  An island that is 13.4 miles long and 2.3 miles wide. A 23 square mile island with more than 1.6 million people. No longer do I live in a circle with a 60 mile radius. Now I live within a rectangle that is 10 square miles smaller than my hometown, yet has a population that is 80 times larger. I travel within a circle that has a two-mile radius and I never leave the island. That is, until today.

For my Birthday, Matt promised to take me to a cooking class. We have done this before, see prior post, and it was a lot of fun. However, instead of going back to the Institute of Culinary Education, Matt decided to try out The Brooklyn Kitchen, a smaller, “off the beaten path” location (follow their blog here). After reading through the course offerings, we decided on the Fresh Pasta Sunday course. So this afternoon, after a delicious breakfast of irish oatmeal and some time in the gym, Matt and I ventured off the island and into Brooklyn.

We arrived to tree-lined streets, buildings no taller than 5 stories and a strange, but enjoyable, quietness. We could easily walk down the sidewalks to the kitchen without having to dodge tourists and hundreds of people. I suddenly felt at home in Brooklyn.

Our class was amazing. We learned how to make the dough from scratch and worked with a pasta machine. As we put the pasta through the machine a few times, our dough grew into a long sheet. As we cranked the pasta through the machine it flattened out and grew in length. Working together to maneuver this large sheet of pasta, we were able to make angel hair pasta, fettuccine and butternut squash ravioli. At the end of class, we were able to taste the fruits of our labor and bring some of the uncooked pasta home. It was a great experience and I can’t wait to invite Matt into our kitchen at home more often. He is an amazing sous-chef!

I encourage you all to leave your island and expand your radius; you never know what you will find.

Date Night

After Matt and I got engaged, my mother shared with me a photocopied section from a 1954 home economics text book.

HOW TO BE A GOOD WIFE
Home Economics High School Text Book, 1954

Have dinner ready. Plan ahead, even the night before, to have a delicious meal, on time. This is a way of letting him know that you have been thinking about him and are concerned about his needs. Most men are hungry when they come home and the prospect of a good meal are part of the warm welcome needed.

Prepare yourself. Take 15 minutes to rest so that you’ll be refreshed when he arrives. Touch up your makeup, put a ribbon in your hair and be fresh-looking. He has just been with a lot of work-weary people. Be a little gay and a little more interesting. His boring day may need a lift.

Clear away the clutter. Make one last trip through the main part of the home just before your husband arrives, gather up schoolbooks, toys, paper, etc. Then run a dust cloth over the tables. Your husband will feel he has reached a haven of rest and order, and it will give you a lift, too.

Prepare the children. Take a few minutes to wash the children’s hands and faces (if they are small), comb their hair, and if necessary change their clothes. They are little treasures and he would like to see them playing the part.

Minimize all noise. At the time of his arrival, eliminate all noise of the washer, dryer, dishwasher, or vacuum. Try to encourage the children to be quiet. Be happy to see him. Greet him with a warm smile and be glad he is home.

Some don’ts: Don’t greet him with problems or complaints. Don’t complain if he is late for dinner. Count this as minor compared with what he might have gone through that day. Make him comfortable. Have him lean back in a comfortable chair or suggest he lie down in the bedroom. Have a cool or warm drink ready for him. Arrange his pillow and offer to take off his shoes. Speak in a low, soft, soothing and pleasant voice. Allow him to relax and unwind.

Listen to him. You may have a dozen things to tell him, but the moment of his arrival is not the time. Let him talk first.

Make the evening his. Never complain if he does not take you out to dinner or to other places of entertainment. Instead, try to understand his world of strain and pressure, his need to be home and relax.

The Goal: Try to make your home a place of peace and order where your husband can renew himself in body and spirit.

I decided that, although I have over a year before I get married, I should work my way down the list starting with the first one: dinner. While my baking skills pretty strong, I am the first to admit that my cooking skills are lacking. I have tried to improve them by making an effort to cook a few home-cooked meals each week and I have even taken a few cooking classes at the Institute for Culinary Education.

While I enjoy playing the role of Betty Draper, it is the year 2010, and Matt is not going to find himself playing the role of Don Draper. Before we got engaged, I made a comment one day (after being frustrated by Matt’s lack of culinary skills) that he needed to learn how to cook five different meals before I would agree to marry him, While this was more of a joke, Matt took on this challenge fully. The next few months, Matt would surprise me with dinners every so often. His five meals consisted of: fajita pizza, shepherd’s pie, chicken parm, chicken alfredo and enchiladas. He certainly proved himself to be a good cook.

While his cooking skills have slowly fallen off pace since he sealed the deal with the ring, he still makes “Egg McMatt’s” nearly every weekend for breakfast and can make a mean cup of coffee in our K-cup Keurig machine. For Christmas Matt bought me a gift certificate to take a couples cooking class at ICE. So on Friday, we finally went to a class where we could both work to improve our cooking abilities.

The class that we took was called “Couples Like it Hot!” and had a menu geared around spicy dishes. Matt and I had a great time and learned a lot. I’ve included some pictures and recipes below!

Cheese Twists:
1 1/2 cups grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
1 sheet puff pastry

Preheat over to 425. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Dust a work surface with flour.

1. Sprinkle 1/2 cup of the cheese on the right half of the dough. Sprinkle half the cayenne on top and fold the left side of the dough over the filling. Press the edges together. Roll the dough out lightly to a thickness of about 1/4 inch.
2. Sprinkle half the dough with another 1/2 cup of cheese and the remaining half of the cayenne, fold in half again, and press the edges together.
3. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on the dough and roll the dough into a rectangle about 1/4 inch think.
4. Cut the dough into long half-inch wide strips. Twist each strip a few times, then lay them out about 1/2 inch apart on the parchment-lined baking sheet.
5. Bake until golden, about 10-12 minutes. Allow to cool slightly, then remove from paper and serve.
Spicy Mac ‘n Cheese:
1 pound Barilla elbow macaroni
1 1/3 cups whole milk, divided
1 cup mascarpone
3 cups extra-sharp shredded cheddar cheese
3 cups shredded pepper jack cheese
1 1/3 cups Jalapeno Puree (recipe follows)
1. Cook pasta al dente and drain.
2. Return the empty pasta pot to a low burner and add half of the milk, all of the mascarpone and the hot pasta to the pot, mix well.
3. Add half of each cheese (3/4 cups each) and mix well. Add the remaining milk and cheese and mix well.
4. Stir in the Jalapeno Puree and heat through. Serve immediately or transfer to a serving dish and keep warm.
Jalapeno Puree:
6 to 8 large jalapeno peppers, depending on heat
1 1/2 cups chopped yellow onion
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
Puree together in a mini-processor.