I recently went through a breakup with my boyfriend of 4 1/2 years. There was no anger – just the sad realization that we are on different life paths (I want to get married and have kids someday, while he doesn’t know if he even believes in the concept of marriage or when/if he’ll ever want a family). Fortunately, we realized that before any bitterness or resentment built up. I’d say we are some of the lucky ones to be able to end things on amicable terms. I’m grateful for that because I’m left only with happy memories from our time together. It doesn’t change the fact that the sadness was, and still is, overwhelming at moments. It digs a hole into your soul, and the only way to get out is to embrace it and push through the pain. Definitely easier said than done, especially when the only sense of relief you have is time, which feels like both a blessing and a curse…on my best days, I choose to see it as a blessing.
This wasn’t a perspective that I came to immediately. The first week I was a complete wreck. I don’t think I’ve ever cried that much consistently. The day after our breakup, six people (essentially, half my class in culinary school) asked me what was wrong with my eyes. Not surprising given the fact that I wear my emotions on my sleeve, but what was actually surprising was the unexpected kindness and sense of comfort from my fellow chefs-in-training. First, let me acknowledge that I’m so blessed to have a wonderful group of friends outside of culinary school – not all from the same group, but a cherished assortment of personalities that I have collected over the years and love dearly for individually different reasons. I’ve relied heavily on a number of them during this tough time, and I can’t thank them enough for enduring the endless text messages, phone calls, and meet-ups to listen to me vent and watch the free-flowing tears without judgment. I’ve also had the pleasure of meeting some amazing new individuals through culinary school, whom I can now proudly call friends, and I owe each of them so much gratitude and thanks for helping me to cope. When you’re in the kitchen, there’s no time to think about anything else other than the daily – or in our case, nightly – menu. Life issues and distractions become obsolete, and the only thing that matters is the food. All parts of it – the recipe, the story behind the dish, the technique, the food preparation, cooking the dish so that it tastes as delicious as possible, assembling the dish and plating it on time, and, last but not least, enjoying the finished product family-style.
That first week, I lost all joy, including my joy in cooking. As much as I didn’t want to, I forced myself to find the motivation to go to class and, despite my puffy eyes, I’m so glad I did. Little by little, with each passing day, I found bits of joy coming back, and I thank culinary school and mainly my classmates for that. The kitchen is both an intimate and uniquely impersonal environment (at least in a classroom setting – I can’t speak from experience in a professional kitchen yet, but I suspect it to be the same); you get into a natural rhythm of moving around all of these other bodies and, in very close proximity with one another, you learn what makes each person’s personality tick, you come to know their food allergies and taste preferences, and you deal with tensions running high as the dishes pile up – all this without really knowing who they are as people because, in the kitchen, nothing else matters except for the food. That truth is strangely enough what I’ve found comfort in. It is nice to be asked how I’m feeling and if I’m doing ok, but at the same time, I appreciate the absence of it and being completely distracted with life in the kitchen. For those few hours in class, I’m able to forget about the sadness and suppress the pain of a broken heart.
The decision to attend culinary school was mine, but I owe my former boyfriend a lot of credit for helping me come to that realization. Our relationship was rooted in food from the beginning, something we both found happiness in and loved to explore and share with one another. We went on a culinary journey around New York City and were fortunate enough to have multiple opportunities to continue that journey around the country and abroad. I first discovered zapote on our visit to Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, shared some of the best dim sum I’ve ever tasted in Vancouver, tried duck confit for the first time together in the Berkshires, got lost in the mountains of Puerto Rico while on the hunt for Lechon in Guavate, drank port in the streets of Lisbon, had my favorite bite of an egg at at gem of a tapas place in Seville, and learned to love braised lamb shanks thanks to Elote, one of our favorite restaurants in Sedona. Every dining experience at home and abroad was an excuse to taste new foods and share in that experience together. We were adventurous eaters, always eager to try something new, but one cuisine we always reverted back to and continually found comfort in was Italian. Sadly, we never made it to Italy together. I still plan to go someday (maybe with a new partner who loves food as much as I do), but until then, I’m taking a trip there in the only way I know how to right now: through my grief. With all things in life, change is inevitable, and the only way to survive it is to embrace it. In an effort to accept and embrace my new life path, which I still can’t quite see clearly, I ventured down memory lane and recreated a favorite Italian meal of ours, but with a unique twist, because I believe that’s what relationships are: familiar but ever-changing in an interesting and hopefully positive way. I leave you with my take on Tuscan ragu and tiramisu. To love and food! Enjoy.
Brooklyn, EAT your heart out!
- 1/2 pound Fusilli pasta, or any long shaped pasta of your choice
- 1 pound sweet Italian sausage, ground or out of the casing
- 2 carrots, small dice
- 2 stalks celery, small dice
- 1/2 large onion or 1 medium onion, small dice
- 2 garlic gloves, minced
- 1 cup peas
- 28 ounces San Marzano tomatoes
- 1/4 cup water
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 2 tablespoons red pepper flakes, plus some extra for garnish (optional)
- 2 sprig thyme
- 2 sprig rosemary
- Oil, as needed
- Salt and pepper, as needed
- 2 tablespoons parsley, minced, for garnish
- Parmesan, grated (optional)
- Render sausage in pan with oil
- Add carrot, celery, onion, and garlic
- Cook over medium heat until sausage is brown and veggies are tender, about 30-40 minutes
- Add San Marzano tomatoes and water, and bring to boil
- Stir in tomato paste, sugar, red pepper flakes, and season with salt and pepper
- Add thyme and rosemary sprigs, lower heat and let simmer for 1 hour
- Add peas and let simmer for another 15-20 minutes
- While the sauce is simmering, bring a salted pot of water to a boil and cook the pasta
- Drain pasta and set aside
- Taste sauce and adjust seasoning as needed
- Mix sauce into the pasta
- Garnish with parsley, parmesan and red pepper flakes
- Plate and enjoy!
Tiramisu (Mascarpone Cream Pudding with Ladyfingers and Rum Soaked Currants)
Servings: 1-10×8 inch serving dish, roughly 10 – 12
- 2 cups heavy whipping cream
- 6 egg yolks
- 24 ounces mascarpone
- 1 cup sugar
- 3 cups coffee
- 2 tablespoons vanilla liquor, or other coffee flavored liquor of your choice
- 3 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 24 ladyfinger cookies
- 3 tablespoons currants, soaked overnight in rum
- 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
- 2 tablespoons cinnamon
- Mix heavy whipping cream until peaks form, and set aside
- In a separate bowl, mix egg yolks and sugar until tripled in size
- Mix in the mascarpone and vanilla extract
- Fold the whip cream into the mascarpone and egg mixture
- In another bowl, combine the coffee and liquor
- One by one, dip ladyfingers into the coffee/liquor mixture, and cover the bottom of the serving dish
- Top with a layer of the whip cream mixture and currants
- Continue alternating layers of ladyfingers, the whip cream mixture, and currants, ending with a layer of whip cream
- Mix the cocoa powder and cinnamon, and sprinkle on top
- Cover and refrigerate 4 – 6 hours, if not overnight. Note the longer this dish sits in the fridge the firmer it gets. If you prefer a more pudding like consistency keep in the fridge for 4 hours, and overnight if you prefer more density.
- Plate and enjoy!
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