Wednesday 20 May 2020

20th of May, 2020 - Pasta La Vista Baby, Gates of Hell + Recent Wristwatches

           So, here we all are, in the midst of this adjusted existence in the grip of COVID-19. I'm still working three days a week at the moment, and that's the plan for May, but things could change without notice.
I hope you're all coping with things the way they are at the moment, and that you're all staying healthy, cautious, and above all, positive.
The only way out, is through. And this too shall pass.
As they say.

So basically, working less means a little more free time.  As my hours began getting cut in mid April, I figured it was a good time to take a shot at making pasta. 
For the first time.
From scratch. 


150gm of '00' (fine) plain flour
150gm of semolina flour
2 large eggs
1 tbsp of olive oil

But before I got started, I needed a rolling pin. Not just some crappy, tiny wooden thing that you get from your local supermarket.
Nope. I needed something heavy-duty. Something that reminded me of my childhood, when my mother would make pasta on a huge wooden chopping board, using a two-and-a-half-foot long rolling pin that looked to me like a short, fat broomstick. With a hole drilled through one end with a piece of old string looped through it so that it can be hung up when not in use.
So, instead of buying an actual rolling pin for five or ten bucks, I went to my local hardware store and bought a 1.2 metre (3',8") length of Tasmanian Oak. For thirty-four bucks.
I was aiming for heirloom quality, folks.

I cut off a 60cm piece and sanded it down to a smooth finish. At one end, I attached an eyelet hook and on the other, I wrote down the month and year. Then I gave both ends a light coat of teak oil. What I should do is sand down a hand's-width at both ends. Ideally, it should taper down at each end like a cigar, so that you can curl your fingers around it for better control, but it'll work okay as-is.

The small glass and spoon are the odd items in this photo. It's an espresso. A quick kick-start before getting stuck into proceedings.

My daughter helped with this endeavour. I thought it was gonna take ages, but it only took an hour or so. After mixing the two types of flour together, we made a 'crater' in the middle of the mound and then added the oil and eggs.
Mixing and kneading it by hand, I noticed bits would break off. No matter. Just add a little more oil or egg to help it bind together. If it sticks to the work surface, add a little more flour. If it keeps breaking, add a little more oil. Keep kneading it until you have a ball of pasta which 'springs back' a little when you press into it.
Give it a light dusting of flour, Glad-Wrap (TM) it and put it in the fridge for 20 minutes.

I was wearing the Seiko SARB033 while I waited (I need to get a more professional-looking apron.);

Then, it was time to use the pasta machine that belonged to my mother. The machine that hadn't been used since around 1978. I can still remember one of the last times she used this machine. She made flat sheets of pasta and then cut large circles out of them, about the size of a drink coaster. She filled one side of the discs with ricotta cheese and finely chopped spinach before folding over the other side and pressing the edge down with the tines of a Lucky Wood steel fork, creating a sunburst pattern in the pasta and sealing the edge.
Ravioli, thrill-seekers.

She was a fantastic cook when I was a kid. Really was. And that's not me remembering things with child-like simplicity. And then, sometime in the late '70s, she started working as a cook in a small, nearby Italian bistro. After that, her home cooking got a little robotic and 'procedural', if you know what I mean.
I didn't realise it at the time, but looking back, her cooking took on a by-the-numbers, production-line kind of feel. It still tasted good, but there was something missing. A little less care taken. A little less 'soul'. I think she had gotten too used to slinging out meals in ten or fifteen minutes flat. Too used to the pace and rhythm of a restaurant kitchen.
As a result, her cooking processes, in her own home, no longer took the time to breathe.

I got the ball of pasta out of the fridge and cut it in half. Then I went to work on it with the rolling pin, a flood of memories from my first job as a pizza maker back in December '79 filling my head as I gave the smooth timber a light dusting of flour before rolling it across the pasta.

I worked it into a long thin surfboard shape. It was now ready for some fine tuning from the machine. We ran it through about three times, adjusting the thickness each time by turning a knob on the side of the machine which narrowed the gap between the rollers. The machine gives you the options of making lasagna sheets, fettuccine or spaghetti. 

I figured we'd make fettuccine. If my recipe was wrong, the machine would be more forgiving with fettuccine ('cos it's wide) rather than spaghetti (which might break as it's lifted away from the machine). My daughter fed the pasta through the machine while turning the handle. I gently took the strands of pasta from the other side and rolled them around my knuckles to form them into little 'nests';

Geez, only four? That'll feed two people. I took another sip of my whatever-the-hell-this-drink-is (Aperol, Martini white vermouth, soda water) and looked over at my daughter.; "Okay, Sister Sledge, grab some more eggs and flour. We're making another batch."

I made another drink while she mixed up the two flours on the chopping board. This second batch took even less time to prepare, since we now had the hang of the whole process.

Once completed, we had three trays of pasta. I brought them into the lounge room, where my wife was seated on the couch with a magazine, and placed them gently on the ottoman stool in direct afternoon sunlight for about 20 minutes to dry them out a little.

The next evening, it was time to try this pasta. I was hoping it would cook properly. My main concern was that these ribbons of pasta might break or snap while cooking, resulting in a congealed mess.
I got a large pot of water on the boil and added just a dash of salt. The past cooked in three or four minutes, reaching its al dente state pretty quickly.
When cooking pasta, it needs to reach that point where, when you bite through it, you shouldn't see any white in the middle of the bitten-off piece, but the pasta should still offer some slight resistance to the bite.
This is al dente, which translates literally into 'to the tooth'. It's not so much your taste buds that determine when pasta is cooked.
It's your teeth and your eyes.

The bolognese (pronounced 'Bollon-yeah-zeh', not 'Bollog-nayz') sauce that my wife made was the perfect one for this meal.
The pasta held together nicely and tasted surprisingly good - considering it was my first time - , but what took me back 40 or so years was the feel of the pasta on my teeth and palate. Not smooth. Each strand had a certain texture or roughness to it.
If I had closed my eyes right then, I would have thought my mother had made it.
And I probably would have burst into tears. 
That's my Italian side coming out. 
Wristwatch-wise, I wore the Hamilton Khaki Auto. I've ordered a couple of NATO straps for this watch, from a site called...

Cheapest NATO

...which was started by a young lady in Sweden in an attempt to offer these nylon straps at low prices. She soon expanded into stocking other types of watch straps.
The COVID-19 situation has resulted in a sharp drop in sales on her site. Subsequently, she posted news on Instagram about a current sale of all stock at up to 70% off her usual low pricing.

I purchased a couple of bare-bones leather straps from them about five years ago and they weren't great, but their other items have been very good quality and value. Maybe I'll take another look at those bare-bones leather straps. In any event, I decided to get a couple of nylon NATO straps and a couple of leather NATOs as well. To give the watch a real WWII vibe.
Real or imagined.

The Hamilton will see more time on the wrist as a 'beater', which is a term used by collectors to refer to a watch that's used for rough duty and runs a higher risk of getting scratched, nicked or dented. I figured this watch might look a little better with a few battle scars, even if they only occur while pulling out weeds in the front lawn, sanding a strip of timber or taking out the rubbish.

Since my last post, I also wore...

The Oris Big Crown Pointer Date, from circa 1996. This is the 36mm model and, on a bracelet, it has a nice Jazz Age vibe to it, even though its design dates back to the late 1930s rather than the decade previous.

The 36mm Omega Railmaster, from 2009. This one hasn't been getting a lot of wear, but whenever I do put it on, it stays on for a few days at a time.

And the 2017 Movember Edition Oris Divers SixtyFive, seen here on top of a recipe book that I was sifting through one day. I jotted down a few notes and bookmarked a few pages here and there which featured basic recipes for staple dishes. I want to try making a vegetable stock sometime, as my aim is to try and re-create a thin broth or brodo with butterfly pasta in it. Butterfly pasta is not made from butterflies, in case you're wondering. In Italian, a bow-tie is called a farfalla, which is what Italians also call a butterfly, since their shapes are similar. Butterfly pasta is usually quite small. You could balance one on your thumbnail, so they therefore make a nice pasta for a chicken or vegetable broth.

This is the old gate that leads through to the side passage-way of our house. I decide to try and fix it. Upon closer inspection however, I noticed that the timber had rotted beyond repair and also. one of the hinges had snapped off due to rust. Stupidly, I decided to use this old gate as the template for a new one. Now, I should point out that I'm no handyman. Sure, I built some bookshelves a few years ago, but there's not one straight line to be found in them. That's okay. A neighbour of ours (who is a carpenter) described these bookshelves as 'rustic'. "If anybody asks, that what you call them", he said.
Regarding this gate, I should have just gone out and bought a new one. Which would have cost me about $135.oo, and I could have (probably) modified it to fit the doorway where it was meant to go.
Anyway, without going too much into the details, it required much measuring, re-measuring, cutting and sanding, a lot of swearing, and finally, some repeated going-over with a plane, on both the edge of the gate and the door-frame, but I finally got it done and hung.

Not a perfect job, but it will do. If it falls apart by next Summer, I'll just measure the door-frame and take another stab at making a new gate from scratch. The piece of timber on the right-hand side needs to be painted and I also want to cut away the lower section of the central slat in the gate to create a small  opening for the cats to get through the next time they're being chased by a neighbour's dog. 
Not sure about the rope on the top left. I'm not really crazy about putting in a new latch because I don't like the choices from my local hardware chain. Basically, they have one latch to choose from and it's just like the old one, as seen in the photo above.
No thanks.
Also, after spending longer on this gate than I had planned, I don't wanna look at the damned thing anymore for a while.
Still, it hangs true and straight along the hinged edge. Which was surprising.
Next up, a seven-foot tall, 12-inch wide bookshelf, to go between two larger shelves in the study. Let's see if that ends up taking me six or seven weeks.

My wife and I went for a walk one morning and chanced across this beauty. No seats, no steering wheel, no engine, no bonnet (hood), but somebody's gonna spend some time and money bringing this thing back to life. Best of luck to them. Who doesn't love a Mustang? Looks like one of the early ones from late 1964. And I know nothing about cars.

You know what, gang? This post has gotten long and, while other stuff has happened, I think I'll end it here and start a new post.

I'm feeling a little stale with this one.

Stay safe and thanks for reading!

*Recipe taken from;

Ferrigno, U. (2006) Ursula Ferrigno's complete Italian cookery course. 1st ed. Great Britain: Mitchell Beazley, pp.12-17. 

I had a different recipe taken from the weekly epicurean section of a local newspaper, but once I'd read and re-read both recipes, I decided that Ferrigno's was the more straight-forward one.