Last month, I had a couple of hours to myself at home. I’d been feeling a bit down. I needed supper. The easy chair and the Internet were beckoning — or, to use the correct verb, “tempting.”
Instead, I switched things up. I decided to do something I had never done before: make fresh pasta, from scratch, by hand.
I had been thinking about it, learning about it, wanting to do it — and not doing it. It was a perfect opportunity. I could be my own guinea pig before rolling it out (pun intended) for my family and others. If I messed it up too badly, all I would be out is some basic ingredients, and it was only my own meal, so I could easily fall back on the usual fare.
So I did it. I put out the flour, made a well, tossed in eggs, and made dough, following the process I’d learned about. You don’t even need a recipe.
As advertised, it was really sticky at first, but it all came together. I kneaded it for a solid ten minutes, the gluten in the flour did its thing, and the result was a glorious ball of dough that looked exactly like it was supposed to.
I went simple on the sauce. While the dough rested, I gathered some ingredients — onion, garlic, cherry tomatoes, some olive oil and balsamic vinegar, some seasonings — and cooked that while the pasta cooked. I finished the whole dish with fresh grated Parmesan, cracked pepper, and crushed red pepper.
This was work. It took more than an hour. Rolling the dough out thin enough by hand was especially challenging.
But the end result was so worth it. It was certainly one of the best meals I have ever personally cooked, reminding me of my favorite locally owned Italian restaurant. It was a great learning experience that prepared me to do it better when I did it a few days later with my family.
Perhaps most surprisingly, the work was joyful. Admittedly, this was something new, which is often more fun. And I’m the sort of person who likes to cook when he feels like it. As a daily chore, I could see doing all this by hand being wearisome.
But I feel like there was more to it. Kneading the dough in front of the kitchen window on a sunny spring afternoon was profoundly peaceful. For someone whose daily work often consists of moving words around a screen, it was refreshing to work using my hands to develop the natural gifts God has given the world into delicious food.
I loved seeing the little ordinary, everyday miracle of a pile of flour turn, with the help of eggs and oil, first into a blob of sticky goo and then into a wonderfully elastic ball of dough.
I’m still a little awed by how frugal it was, by how little it cost to make such a wonderful, abundant, satisfying, even indulgent meal. (One of my inspirations for doing this was reading a book called “Good and Cheap: Eat Well on $4 a Day,” by Leanne Brown, which you can find for free download on the Internet.)
Then there was the time itself. That’s the big worry, right? Like walking to work when there’s a car in the driveway that will get you there in a fraction of the time or planting a garden that may only end up feeding the local wildlife while produce at the grocery store is easy and cheap, taking the time to make pasta from scratch when many now find even opening a box of dried pasta and boiling water too taxing can feel a little crazy.
But somewhat to my surprise, I had no regrets about spending that time. I felt like I’d used it well, better than I often do, and certainly better than I would have in the easy chair. The time spent later that week with my family making homemade tortillas and quesadillas and then a couple of days later making pasta with them was even better spent. They were some of the most enjoyable hours in recent memory.
As I reflect on why, I come up with a number of reasons. Of course I cherished my family’s company and their creativity and skill in a shared task. (We need more of that.) And in a world that often feels like it’s spiraling into insanity, there is something grounding about working at a task that’s ancient and concrete and natural, physically connected to the real world and therefore to the living God who made it.
Perhaps more subtly, spending time this way feels like a wholesome rebellion against the tyranny of efficiency, this attitude we can unwittingly embrace that demands every moment be spent in a maximally, measurably productive way.
This is the same attitude that keeps many of us from spending the time with God in prayer that is both our vocation and our birthright as Christians. Prayer, too, is often perceived as a “waste of time” when in reality it’s anything but. Communion with him is, after all, how we hope to spend eternity.
Giving yourself permission to “waste time with God” is actually a definition of prayer I like. Even though it’s never a waste, it can feel like it is, so giving ourselves permission to do it anyway is an explicit rejection of the strange modern idolatry that makes the clock the measure of all things.
We need to stand up to it. Even if you don’t do it with homemade pasta, you should definitely do it in your prayers, beginning with your approach to Mass this coming Sunday. Resolve to let it take as long as it takes. You’re practicing for eternity.
Deacon Kyle Eller is editor of The Northern Cross. Reach him at [email protected]