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April 15, 2013
by Lillibeth Navarro, CALIF Executive Director and Founder
This weekend was my sister’s bridal shower and as we were about to leave after getting settled in the van, there was a sudden deafening blast on our street startling everyone. The next thing I knew was smoke was coming from the hood of the car and we had to vacate the van and wait for its replacement. It was very unsettling to say the least but a friend came by and said, “Thank God, you weren’t on the freeway!” and his comment was a moment to say amen indeed.
When we got to the venue, my youngest sister Tin who was hosting the party had to leave with her boys to the basketball game and Rami, her housekeeper, expressed relief that she had more help. Tito Frank proceeded to the garden and started to do the decorations and set up for the event. Myla started sweeping the porch and Vic and Joy at the kitchen. “How can I help?” I asked. ‘Please—with the pasta…Tin likes this book, “BAREFOOT CONTESSA” and this particular recipe—Pasta with sun-dried tomatoes. But I never cooked this before!’ “OK,” I said, “let me have the book” and I reviewed the recipe. How many are we feeding?” I asked. ’50!’
So I proceeded to check on her ingredients and saw what was needed. The recipe measurements were for a party of 8. She already finished cooking a pack of noodles and was going to cook three more packs. So I calculated how much else was needed to complete the entire project—4 more cans of sun-dried tomatoes, more tomatoes to quarter, a bottle of red wine vinegar, four cans of black olives, more mozzarella cheese, another bottle of parmesan cheese, 4 more little packs of bazil leaves. I sent them to the store with my credit card and Mom drove them to Ralphs. There was quite a bit of calls back and forth as Rami added to the grocery list but finally, they made it back. So I surveyed our supplies and looked at my crew—Joy, Rami’s son had big muscles and Victoria is quite petite. “Joy—let’s get those muscles pumping,” I said—help me with the pasta. And Vic, please proceed with opening all these cans and draining them.”
So, back to the book and my thinking cap, I proceeded to direct them, using common sense and my imagined conversation with Ina Garten of Barefoot Contessa… ‘…don’t throw all the liquid from the sun-dried tomatoes, we might need that later. No, we don’t need the liquid from the olives…careful with that. Ok, the pasta needs to be moist with olive oil and kosher salt—mix it well, layer by layer—make sure the flavors blend, yes, some more…hold it, now add the sun-dried tomatoes…’
“Now we do the dressing…where’s the red wine vinegar?...My crew was excellent and at this point, we needed a food processor to mix all the ingredients for the dressing. Rami dug into the cabinet and there was the 18-year old food blender which belonged to Ray’s late mother. The little machine began to whir ever so slowly as though losing steam until, just as the task was completed, it began to smoke, rendering its last service for a gigantic pot of pasta!
As we mixed everything together—we kept checking on the flavors blending…not an inch of pasta without flavor and color so a little more cheese, I said, more of the pepper….until we got to ‘WOW—yummy’ For a first, I was happy about the taste. Of course, I was a little anxious until I got the definitive nod from Tin.
As we gathered to say grace, Tin introduced the food and when it got to the pasta, she said—and this is Ate Beth’s wheelchair contessa! As we were getting complements for the pasta, I was thinking…it turned out only well because of the careful, step by step application of a formula and attention to detail…the recipe…a couple of words, barely filling one single page of the book. Could it be that life, like cooking, applies the same way? Indeed, it does—we just have to choose the right recipe! And with that, even a lame contessa can cook!