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In the summer of 2011, I embarked upon what was intended to be the most epic vacation of my 29 year existence: the first real vacation I was allowed to take in 7 years, a multi-city celebration of slaying the PhDragon with my loveliest near-and-dears from San Diego up to Seattle with a stopover in Moscow, Idaho. Intentions we always have, reality is with whom we always bargain: that first day in San Diego, I awoke to the worst catastrophe that ever could have bombed my Inbox–the PhDragon was still breathing fire from across the continent, the Atlantic, even, and suddenly I was embroiled in the same infernal battle once again. “Blasted towers, St. Michael, you motherscratcher, I thought you took care of this one!”

If only. Abandon the vacation, I did not.  A bag of baking tools slung across my shoulder, I ventured into each friend’s kitchen, first, barm in hand and ready-fed. I forged a little family and carved out a little home in every city–bread baking, dinner-making, stroll-taking–a warm base from which to carry out the days that I spent begrudgingly typing and revising, but also one of which I could every now and again venture out (vacay, dagnabbit!) and to which I would later return.No one teaches home economics anymore: roast a 3 to 4-pound chicken on a Sunday, eat until Tuesday, make stock Tuesday night and have soup on Wednesday and Thursday. Oh hey, you just made it through the week on $25!

The more important aspect of cooking, to me, is about the creation of both a time and a space in which you may commune with your own reality of living-in-the-world at that right-now-moment. If it is only you in the forest, you had better make friends with you.

Many of us are transient in this town.  Maybe you’ve found yourself living for 3 months in a room with a campfire stove and a dorm fridge: make a home a wherever you are. I get it, you’re tired and stressed out, the day has been long and the last thing that you want to do is cook; chop some garlic, it’s also good for your head. The beginning of all things begins when we arrive, so just right now go walk into your kitchen, lay down the cutting board and pick up the knife.  Oh look, dinner is practically already made.

If it weren’t for the homes that I’ve made everywhere, I’d just be lost; if in my worst-of-the-worst, I didn’t cook, I would just also be dead. If I have learned nothing else in the past 8 years and on my epic vacation, it is that I am certainly still alive. Here for you (you, just you) is a very easy way to know that you are very much, right at this moment, certainly still alive.

Photo via budgetbytes.com

Spaghetti with Tuscan Black Kale (Spaghetti con Cavolonero e L’uovo, Per Uno)

1 large bunch of lacinato kale, a.k.a. Dino or Tuscan Black kale, coarsely chopped
5 cloves of garlic, finely minced
¼ yellow onion, finely minced
Handful of flat leaf parsley, chopped
3-finger pinch of crushed red pepper
1 large tomato, chopped
1 large egg
Olive oil
Sea salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste
Pecorino cheese (mmm, salty!)
½ pound of a good quality dry spaghetti (you get leftovers!)

Cook the spaghetti in very salted, boiling water (taste it, it should be salty, and don’t forget to stir!), until al dente, likely about a minute or two before the time that the idiotic instructions have dictated to you on the package (taste it, it should be slightly chewy, neither totally soft nor totally hard!).

While the spaghetti is cooking, heat 4-5 tablespoons of olive oil in a medium skillet over medium high heat, until it shimmers. Add the garlic, onion, parsley and crushed red pepper and stir it together and throw in a good three-finger pinch of sea salt and several, liberal grinds of black pepper, cook for a moment and then add the tomato. Cook until the tomato starts to get a little saucy and then add the kale, turning several times to coat all of the leaves, they start to cook down fairly quickly. The greens will turn bright green after a short while, cook them a few minutes longer until they turn a deeper shade of green and consequently get a bit softer; taste for seasoning and set the pan aside.

While the kale is cooking, fry an egg: heat another tablespoon of olive oil in a small skillet over medium high heat, when it shimmers, crack the egg directly in the pan, season it lightly with salt and pepper and cook it until the white sets, either sunny-side-up or over easy; take it out of the pan and set it aside. Put it all together: drain the pasta and throw it into the pan with the kale, toss it well to coat all of the strands and then put half of it into a bowl. Place the egg atop the spaghetti in the bowl and then grate a good heaping sprinkle of pecorino on top of all of that. Yum!

Grab a fork, pour yourself a glass of Valpolicella or Montepulciano, sit down and say, “salute,” because you there alone, are really and truly eating dinner. Please, you, enjoy it.

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