Food for Thought

No virus, please, there’s pasta to make

It’s Thursday evening.

Time to get to the computer and write next week’s column.

I flip through some Internet sites to gain inspiration, none of them having much to do with food.

I cruise a site dedicated to troubleshooting procedures for in-house vacuum systems. We have such a system at our house and, since it’s been on the blink for a month or so, Kathy is getting a bit testy. She is, after all, allergic to everything. And everything is piling up on floors and shelves like sediments on an ancient seabed. If I don’t get the vacuum working soon, the sediments will turn to stone. There’s a flow chart on the Web site but I can’t figure out all those questions and arrows, so I move on.

There are several really cool sites dedicated to butterfly identification and, should I ever accidentally stray outdoors, the info could come in handy. I take notes.

I edge up on the topic of food when I apprise myself of up-to-date feeding methods used by Kobe beef ranchers. Oh, those wacky Wagyu. A slab of prime is worth a bout of gout.

I veer to a site that convinces full-figured people, like me, that we are every bit as physically attractive as near-anorexic runway models, and I feel a whole lot better about myself.

For a sec.

Just before it hits me.

I’m like a kid whose trike is stuck on the railway tracks when Old No. 5 roars around the curve behind him at a blinding speed. By the time I realize what’s happening, it’s on me. No contest.

Only it’s not Old No. 5 that runs me down — it’s a virus.

I’ll take the locomotive any day.

In fifteen minutes time, I am reduced from a chubby guy full of newly fertilized self-confidence to a blubbering mess, forehead on the desk, slumped in front of a laptop tuned to an Internet site featuring naughty moms.

It’s not often, thankfully, we’re given the gift of a disorder this vivid, this instructive.

It’s a gift because such nasty occurrences serve to hurl us to the basement of the human dwelling, to bedrock reality. A malady like this reminds us (or should remind us) of our frailty, the delicacy of our corporeal being, our susceptibility to organisms much tougher than we. Organisms that will survive nuclear war, an assault by modern medicine, global warming, even George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.

Viruses.

And this particular brute can be a contender at the Viral Olympics. Granted, it won’t win the gold medal as long as Ebola, Marburg and AIDS are flitting about, but it is a sure contender in any speed event.

Again, it takes no longer than 15 minutes for my somatic situation to turn on a dime: I begin to run a fever, my head starts to ache, I sweat and — my, isn’t this amusing? — I am chilled at the same time. I get dizzy; my digestive system does a sharp right turn and heads at lightning speed toward Troubleville.

It is but another 15 minutes before I am in bed, curled in the fetal position beneath eight blankets, shivering uncontrollably, wondering when the contents of my stomach will make an appearance on the scene. I am moaning (though Kathy is off at a meeting and my moans bring no response), my muscles and joints ache; it feels as if my bones are breaking.

It’s at times like these we turn to fundamental things. Some people seek the safe harbor of prayer. Some call out to their mommies. Others try in their increasingly weak states to reach telephones and dial 911.

Me, I wonder just how long this nasty situation is going to persist.

I have pasta to make.

Making this stuff requires energy. You can’t do it if you’re in the ICU.

Eating the pasta, moreover, requires a somewhat stable digestive system. Plus, since I want to make it for others to enjoy, I can’t risk passing this more than merely pesky invader off on anyone else.

To distract myself as I shiver, moan and ponder my mortality, I review my pasta options.

First: fresh or dry.

Fresh noodles differ from most of their dry cousins in ways other than the fact one is dry and the other not. First, is the addition of egg; second, the type of flour used. In the case of dry pastas, a hard wheat flour is generally part of the mix, paired with water to create the dough. In the case of the eggy pastas, the flour is finer, softer.

I’m making egg pasta.

Second choice: shape.

I’m goin’ wide. And flat. Like the wide beauties used in Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna to shoulder the burden of hefty, meaty-good loads.

There’s a bunch of wide pasta styles, some well known, some obscure, some, no doubt, known only to a particular family in a tiny town located out in the sticks, the pasta bearing the name of a long-gone relative who fought with Garibaldi’s army.

Among the more familiar styles, there’s fettucini, about a quarter-inch wide and its sturdier brother, fettuce. There’s the lesser version of a lasagna noodle, lasagnette.

You’ve got your tagliatelle, your maltagliati (crudely fashioned triangles) and there’s the short, flat sagnarelli.

But, for me, the choice is pappardelle — a thick egg noodle cut a half-inch or more wide.

This is real pasta, folks. If you are like me and you relish the pasta as much, or more, than a sauce — if you like the toothiness, taste and mouthfeel of this wondrous, simple food — pappardelle is a cinch to please.

Well, not exactly a cinch since, as I noted above, making the fresh pasta is labor-intensive. You could exhaust yourself in its production and collapse before you relish the fruits of your mighty efforts.

Especially if you are playing host to a virus.

The ingredients: flour (for this application, all-purpose flour is just fine), eggs, olive oil, water, salt.

The amount of each ingredient varies, of course, with the number of diners to be fed and with a particular cook’s favorite recipe. Go to the books or the Web to get amounts once you have decided how many people you’ll invite to dinner.

Made your choice? Here’s where the energy expenditure amps up, if you intend to do this the traditional way — by hand. If you do, it might not hurt to undergo a week’s regimen of human growth hormone injections prior to producing a batch of pappardelle.

Or, in the absence of access to a corrupt physician or “athletic trainer,” you might purchase a pasta machine.

Mound the flour on a clean, flat surface, or in a large, shallow bowl. Make a broad well in the center of the mound. Sprinkle the flour with the salt. Put the eggs, oil and water into the well and, using a fork, draw the flour from the sides of the mound into the liquid, a little at a time, and quickly, until it is incorporated and you have a sticky dough. Knead the dough for a while, until it is uniform and elastic. Flour the kneading surface only enough to make sure the dough does not stick. You want to avoid incorporating too much additional flour into the dough. Roll the dough into a ball, flatten slightly, encase in plastic wrap and let it rest for an hour or so.

The rolling process, by machine or by hand, is essentially the same. Cut the ball into four or five parts then flatten and square up each hunk. The size, if you are using a machine, should be adjusted in accord with the width of the rollers on the machine.

Roll out a slab in a fairly thick sheet, fold the sheet in thirds, roll out again. Repeat. Three or four times. Have a lightly floured sheet of parchment handy on the surface at the back of the machine, on which the pasta can land — like a runway.

Then, begin to roll each sheet into a progressively thinner sheet, running it through the machine at increasingly smaller dial settings, until the desired thickness is reached. Pappardelle, the way I like it, is relatively thick. Cut each finished sheet in half and place the halves on a floured surface.

Take each sheet of dough, flour the surface lightly and roll into a cylinder. Cut the noodles from the cylinder (half to three-quarters inch wide) and fluff them out. Shake them around with a teensy bit of flour and let them sit until they dry just a bit.

To cook the pappardelle, bring a big pot of salted water to a boil. Drop in the noodles and cook them at a gentle boil for just a few minutes, as little as three to four minutes. It is all too easy to overcook this fresh product, so be careful. Drain and serve immediately with the sauce of choice — anything from a simple garlic butter and oil, anchovy, green peas and chopped parsley up to a full-race ragu Bolognese — all beefy, porky and tossed with the pasta. And cheese.

Try as I might, shivering, bones breaking, I cannot sustain the vision of the bowl of pappardelle I will consume. I cannot force myself to zero in on the cooking method, on the shower of freshly-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano that floats down to meet the surface of the steaming, hearty goodies.

There is something terribly wrong in downtown Karl.

Something unspeakable is about to happen. And it has nothing to do with naughty moms.

How does that go, again? A nine, followed by two ones?


Obituaries

Lt. Gen. Hugh M. Elwood

Lieutenant Gen. Hugh M. Elwood passed away April 18, 2008. He is survived by his wife, Harriet Theobald Elwood, and three children: Nan Rowe, of Pagosa Springs; Hugh T. Elwood and his wife, Marilyn; and Barbara Elwood, of Santa Fe, N.M.

Elwood retired from active duty June 28, 1973, ending more than 35 years of military service. During those years, at least several of Pagosa’s retired military personnel recall having served simultaneously with Gen. Elwood at the same duty stations, including Ralph Goulds, Captain, USN (retired); and Sepp Ramsperger, Colonel, USMC (retired).

Elwood was born Nov. 15, 1915, in Pittsburgh, Pa., and graduated from Oakmont High School, Oakmont, Pa. He enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps Aug. 2, 1932.

Elwood served as executive officer and later commanding officer of Marine Fighting Squadron 212 in the Solomon Islands area during World War II. During this assignment, he shot down five enemy aircraft and was designated a Marine Corps Ace.

On his return to the United States, he commanded the Marine Air Force and the Marine Air Detachment, Marine Air Reserve Training Command, St. Louis, Mo., until July 1949. He was next assigned to the Naval Academy where he was an instructor in the Aviation Department for two years.

Ordered to Korea in August 1951, he took part in combat as executive officer and tactical officer, Marine Aircraft Group 12, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing. He earned a Gold Star in lieu of a second Distinguished Flying Cross for heroism in this capacity on Jan. 26, 1952, when he led his division on a 12-plane interdiction mission against 15 hostile tanks, executed a series of devastating bombing and strafing attacks in the face of enemy antiaircraft fire, then escorted the damaged plane of his wingman safely back to base. He also earned a Bronze Star Medal and a Gold Star in lieu of a second Air Medal in Korea.

In January 1963, he was named assistant deputy chief of staff (Plans), at Headquarters Marine Corps, and the following month was promoted to brigadier general.

He was assigned duty as assistant chief of staff, (J-3), Operations, Staff of the Commander in Chief, Pacific (Admiral John S. McCain, Jr.), in Hawaii. He earned the Distinguished Service Medal for his service in this capacity. While serving with the Commander in Chief, he was nominated for promotion to the three-star rank by President Nixon in October 1970, his nomination confirmed by the Senate Dec. 9, 1970.

A complete list of medals and decorations include: the Distinguished Service Medal with gold stir in lieu of second award; the Legion of Merit with Combat “V”; the Distinguished Flying Cross with one gold star in lieu of second award; the Bronze Star Medal with Combat “V”; the Air Medal with gold stars in lieu of second and third awards, the Presidential Unit Citation with one bronze star; Navy Unit Commendation; the American Defense Service Medal; the American Campaign Medal; one Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with two bronze stars, the World War II Victory Medal; the National Defense Service Medal with one bronze star; the Korean Service Medal with three bronze stars; the Vietnamese Service Medal with two bronze stars; the Peruvian Aviation Cross-First Class; the National Order of Vietnam-5th Class; the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with palm; the United Nations Service Medal; he Korean Presidential Unit Citation; and the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal.

General Elwood will be interred with full military honors June 26, 2008, at Arlington National Cemetery.

Ryan Lister

Ryan was born June 2, 1985, in Salt Lake City, Utah. His parents are Lawrence (Lonnie) Ells, and Pam Lister.

He died in Bad Salzhausen, Germany, April 21, 2008.

Ryan enjoyed baseball, soccer, basketball and BMX biking.  He earned his GED diploma from Pagosa Springs Education Center and, after graduation, worked in the construction field, most recently as a roofer. He was diagnosed with cancer in September 2007, and died of complications from esophageal cancer.

Ryan and Jesika Brule had a son, Hunter Brule, who lives in Pagosa Springs.

Ryan was cremated, and an account has been established at Wells Fargo — the Ryan M. Lister Fund — to defray medical bills, and to help with the cost of returning Ryan’s remains back to Pagosa Springs in time for a scheduled memorial.

A Rosary is set for Friday at 6 p.m., and a church service will take place Saturday, May 3, at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church.