It was October of 2006. Earlier that year, I moved back to New York from a 16-year stint in Los Angeles, and I was living in a railroad apartment near Columbia University with my brother, Max. I didn’t have a lot of work or a lot of friends, but I did have a predilection for a 4:00 cocktail and built a small life looking busy until that hour struck. 4:00, 5:00, 6:00 always felt full of life to me. Even if I was sitting alone with a bottle of wine, I felt almighty and determined. I would crank the music up and strategize my way to success.
Booze is charming and seductive, but it quits on you suddenly. The album ends, and there’s just quiet. All the strength and clarity you had one second ago is gone. And I would be sitting, alone in my apartment, wondering how I would survive until 4:00 the next day.
I remember one night specifically. It was the night before my 37th birthday, and I had no special plans scheduled. It was a crisp Autumn evening, and the gas heat clanged through the radiator for the first time since early Spring. I sat by my bedroom window, open just enough to let in the smell of damp leaves and burning wood from the corner pizza grill. I could let Fall scents wash over me forever; calming, soothing, wooing. My room was in the back of our long apartment, with a view of neighboring building’s overgrown courtyards. That night, there was laughter and clinking glasses from a small dinner party thrown by a social butterfly who lived one block south. I frequently eavesdropped on her celebrations. I couldn’t see the attendees or suss out much of their conversation, but my imagination ran wild with these parties. I envisioned beautiful women in vintage dresses and pointy shoes, sipping indifferently on cocktails that they would or wouldn’t finish. Their dates were handsome and strong, witty and kind. They would all relax at the dinner table to eat fresh fish or tender cuts of meat while laughing effortlessly about their work or family life. I sat in the window with my microwaved leftovers and head-spins; listening, pining, imagining.
By 2010, I had wrestled the beast of my alcoholism into submission and stopped drinking altogether. My business had grown enough for me to support myself without help and I moved into my own apartment. My circle of friends, while still intimate, was loyal and true and they would happily show up to taste whatever recipes I was working on for clients. One night, in late October, I threw myself a birthday party. I was setting down the platter of braised short ribs over nutmeg-smashed potatoes to a table full of cheering buddies when I realized what had happened. We had become the people I had enviously eavesdropped on years before. Quite literally too, as I had moved exactly one block south, my new dining room overlooking that same courtyard. Our glasses clinked, and our laughter shook the windows, and I paused to send a thought-bubble to my former self, “You’re going to be ok. You’re going to figure it out. It’ll be hard, but it will happen.”
I was reminded of this story this past weekend as I was pushing pasta dough through a roller I purchased as a birthday present for myself in October of 2011. I had courageously marched into Crate and Barrel to buy this newer version of myself. Alison 2.0, you know? I figured I’d be rolling pasta weekly; for clients, friends, and family. I imagined I would do it so often that it would be effortless and I would never leave behind a speck of flour or a smudge of sauce.
I think I took the pasta machine out of the box once. Maybe twice. It felt challenging and messy. I guess I had to stay the old version of myself for a while longer.
But just like clockwork (or a calendar), October has shown up again to prove that I am, indeed, a work-in-progress. Ten years after my drunken eavesdropping, and five years after my Crate and Barrel purchase, I find myself in Portland, making pasta with the man of my dreams for a birthday party with a new group of friends. And it feels effortless in a wonderfully messy and ridiculous way. I’m not perfect, never have been, but I’m changing and growing into the person I want to be. I seem to get that reminder every October.
So thank you to everyone who celebrated carbs-a-plenty (we made fettuccine puttanesca, fettuccine with marinara, tortellini with pesto, roasted asparagus and broccolini, tri-colore salad, fresh bread, and chocolate cake) us this past weekend and everyone else for the birthday wishes. I am very, very lucky.
Three Cheese Tortellini Skewers
Ingredients for Tortellini (makes about 25 tortellini)
- 1 cup all purpose flour
- 1 egg
- 1 egg yolk
- Pinch of salt
- Dump the flour onto a board and make a well in the center of the mound. Into the well, crack the egg, the yolk, and the salt. Mix, starting with a fork and then with your fingers to make a smooth ball of dough for about 7 minutes. Wrap in plastic wrap and let rest for at least a half hour.
- Take the dough out, cut into quarters, and roll through your pasta machine, working your way up to the 6th or 7th setting. Lay the flat dough out on a floured surface and, using a round 2 ½ inch cookie cutter, cut circles of pasta dough.
- ½ cup ricotta cheese
- 2 tablespoons pecorino romano cheese
- 2 tablespoons parmesan cheese
- 1 egg
- ½ teaspoon nutmeg
- ¼ teaspoon white pepper
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- Mix filling ingredients together in a bowl.
- Fill a small bowl with water. Place about a ¼ – ½ teaspoon of filling into the center of the pasta round. Run your finger through the water and wet one-half of the pasta circle edge. Fold that edge over and press together, making a half-moon shape. Fold the corners of the half-moon together and press. (I often make tortellini ahead of time, so I put it in the freezer until I’m ready to boil it.)
- Bring a pan of salted water to a boil and cook the tortellini for about 3 minutes. Skewer and serve with sauce of your choice (I’m a sucker for fresh pesto).