Saturday, April 27, 2013

Marriage Lessons from Crunchy Pasta

Being married to my husband for nearly nine years, I have discovered that we have a few differences, one of them being the way we like our pasta cooked. He didn't mention it at first, but several years in when he was confident that doing so wouldn't provoke a negative reaction, he very gently told me that I over-cooked the pasta. Every time. (He likes it quite al dente.) Well.....I wasn't offended, naturally; we do have different tastes in some culinary minutiae and it isn't an oddity for us to disagree on what constitutes perfectly prepared food. (Lesson 1a- Don't sweat the small stuff. Does it harm anyone, upset anyone, or cause sin, angst, or discomfort? If not, who cares if we disagree? In this case, particularly- it's freakin' pasta. It doesn't mean one of our tastes is "right", necessarily- we just have different preferences. And that's fine. Lesson 1b- Even if it had been a case of doing something wrong vs doing something a little differently, I still would not have been nonplussed. Why? Because I don't find my identity in cooking perfect pasta. I find my identity in very few things, and they're either not performance related, or they're something I do very, very well. Choose the entities to which you tie your identity and self-worth very, very carefully. Lesson 1c- personal growth/ improvement/ achieving a better understanding of something should come before needing to be Right. Always.)

I first asked him to show me how he liked it cooked, and finding it personally palatable, asked him what methods he used to achieve this pasta perfection. (Lesson 2, and a chapter from Egalitarian Marriage 101- if one person cares very much about a thing, and the other person really doesn't, the preferences of the person who really cares should win out. My husband cares about the done-ness of his pasta far more than I do, so in light of my ambivalence I try to honor his wishes.) Basically, he likes to time the pasta exactly, rinse it immediately, put butter in it, (ewww- this I don't do for him. Because I care much more about keeping butter out of my pasta than I do about how done it is) and serve it as soon as it's ready.

One thing I've discovered- when my husband cooks, that's usually all he's doing. When I cook, I am often doing other things as well. (spooning up pureed squash for Mr. 9 mo-old, doing dishes, teaching math, et c) If I'm not actively engaged in multitasking, I'm off in my own head listening to music, or arranging a song, or imagining a hypothetical scenario, or whatever. So..... perfectly done pasta is easier said than done for me. Because I'm off in la-la land, I'm usually thinking about More Important Things than perfect pasta, and because I really don't care exactly how done it is as long as it's neither mushy nor overly crunchy, I've always been ok with this. Now, if I'm to cook the pasta the way he likes it, I must consciously amend my procedure. It's taken some getting used to, but I now uniformly pay more attention to the pasta, and have even been known to Use a Timer. (Lesson 3- knowing your individual personalities and tendencies is very helpful. I know I tend to be in my head and not paying close attention to the mundane tasks I'm doing, and I've learned how to fix my attention on a particular (boring and mundane) thing if need be. I simply turn it into a problem to be solved, a thing to be conquered, and all is well. It's actually fun sometimes.)

When it's just the kids and I, I still make the pasta a wee bit softer. So now, when we're having pasta, the kids sometimes request "mommy pasta" (soft) or "daddy pasta." (crunchy) It's a running joke in our family- cooking pasta, under- or over-. (Lesson 4- humor is a wonderful thing. If you have the choice to get pissy about a disagreement or make a running joke out of it, always choose the latter. It's much more fun.)  I want to teach my kids to resolve conflict well, not back away from it, but I also want to teach them that not everything has to be right-or-wrong, and disagreements and differences of opinion can be amicable and even fun. It's ok to have their own preferences, and they should know how to express them graciously and without fear of offense. That's really what good family is- a place where you can be yourself, agree or disagree, and still have a good laugh over some crunchy pasta.


  1. The smallest amount of water you should ever boil pasta in (even if it is only one noodle) is 1 gallon. You should wait for the water to boil before putting the pasta in the water. Once the pasta enters the boiling water immediately start a timer for 6'30". when the 6'30" has elapsed remove the pasta from the water to a colander or sieve and COMPLETELY drain the excess water off. Then toss the cooked pasta in the warm pan with a pat of butter (it prevents the pasta from sticking to itself). At that point it is done perfectly and ready to serve.

    If you want cool pasta, boil for 7 minutes and rinse with cool water when you remove it from the pan. No butter in cool pasta. Usually it will have some sort of dressing added to prevent sticking together.

    All this said, pasta doesn't really matter. If I don't like it I am not forced to eat it. It is appropriate, if I don't prefer a certain way my lovely bride cooks something, to let her know why I choose not to partake.

  2. Thanks, dear. :) You are much, much more particular than I am, I must say. (And for the record, y'all, he really doesn't turn up his nose and refuse to eat his pasta if it's not perfect.)But you do bring up a good point- that, if we have an issue with something, it is so, so important to say so, with as much specificity as possible. It is very helpful. :)