As I prepared for bed last night, Alexi texted me a picture of paella cooking over a beach fire; he spoke of silly talk about imaginary bad words. He and Cal are away for the weekend with almost all of the dads and sons in the third grade. Since kindergarten, their camping trips have marked the beginning and end of the school year. I lay thinking about them as I drifted off to sleep until a random, overwhelming impulse to write a letter pulled me briefly back to the surface.
The next thing I knew, Abbott was rousing me to eat the eggs and toast he prepared. We went to the barbershop, and afterward, caught up on the neighborhood gossip walking to and from the farmer’s market. A small child told me Nelly looked like a roasted marshmallow.
The urge that had awoken me last night resurfaced. I sat down with my laptop to write a letter to a man I met the summer of 1989, and the words left my fingertips of their own accord, re-creating that time in the cathedral of Prince William Sound. I wrote as the woman I am now, about the girl I was then and in gratitude for the shock of self-discovery that I experienced with him. The threads of memory unspooled. I was slain the instant I laid eyes on him; I literally stopped in my tracks as a figure in my peripheral vision caught my eye, his grey-blue lakes of eyes locking with mine. I learned he was a boat captain, in Valdez for the summer to work on the oil spill cleanup. Most of the time he was at sea, with brief, intermittent trips to town. It wasn’t until the last 48 hours of the summer that we became lovers. Every minute crackled with an intensity I didn’t experience again for another decade and two relationships, when I met Alexi. I wrote out everything I had to say as one long exhale, and then I sent it to the computer’s recycling bin. Some part of me had needed to see that time in my life with 25 years of distance; to hold it in my hand and examine it, turn it over carefully. I packed those Polaroid images of memory back into their shoebox for safe storage.
I bring the past forward, time and again, merging younger versions of me with my current self, wrapping past and present into one common skein of wholeness. I wonder if feeling grounded and whole is something to strive for, or if it’s something innate we only have to detect and claim in ourselves? Or maybe the seeking of wholeness is in itself the grounding that moves us forward.
About the pasta. The leftovers of a rustic Italian dish I had for lunch are as good as it gets. The flavors in it are very Roman. Some might call it food for the gods.
I trim the artichokes sort of like this. He's much more thorough than I am - I don't cut off as much of the top or pull out the choke at this point. I also don't really worry about them oxidizing, although it's a good idea.
Spaghetti with Artichokes
adapted from Franny's by Andrew Feinberg, Francine Stephens, and Melissa Clark
8 small or 4 large artichokes, trimmed
3⁄4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
8 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1⁄2 teaspoon chili flakes
1⁄2 cup water
1 pound spaghetti
1⁄2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
3 tablespoons finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1⁄4 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
4 teaspoons finely grated Pecorino Romano, plus more if desired
Halve the trimmed artichokes lengthwise, then slice them lengthwise into 1⁄4-inch-thick slices. In a very large skillet or a Dutch oven, warm the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the artichokes, garlic, and salt, and cook until the artichokes are nicely browned and a little soft and the garlic is golden around the edges, 6 to 7 minutes. Add the chili flakes and cook for 1 minute. Add the water, just enough to not quite cover the artichokes, and let it simmer until the artichokes are very soft, about 2 minutes. There should still be some liquid remaining in the pan. Remove from the heat.
Meanwhile, in a large pot of well-salted boiling water, cook the pasta according to the package instructions until 2 minutes shy of al dente; drain.
Toss the spaghetti in the skillet or dutch oven with the artichokes, parsley, Parmigiano-Reggiano, butter, and pepper, and cook until the pasta is just al dente, 1 to 2 minutes, adding 2 tablespoons water if the sauce seems dry.
Divide the pasta among four individual serving plates or bowls and finish each with a drizzle of olive oil and a teaspoon or more of Pecorino Romano.
Yield: 4 servings