Revisiting Spaghetti

When I was a kid I was never that big of a fan Spaghetti. My parents made Spaghetti with such a lack of passion. I believe it was always the meal made when my parents  were about at  end of last week’s grocery shop. To many of us, our parents made Spaghetti the same way. That is they poured a large quantity of ground beef in a cast iron skillet, added some Prego, then they let it sizzle away.  The grease would coagulate around the edges.  Honor to the previous generation for this, as I still have my cast iron skillet I somehow absconded from my parents. Without introducing  hyperbole, that cast iron pan is the oldest thing I still own. I truly cherish it.

The adventurous chef back then would add in some onions, garlic salt and Oregano. If it was made earlier in the week it had green peppers. My parents were cool that way, this is how they accidentally introduced me to Oregano . Still the Spaghetti of my parents was not something I looked forward to. In retrospect there were unusual customs and mores around eating Spaghetti.

You can not have milk with Spaghetti.

Do not make Spaghetti sandwiches with your Spaghetti.

Eat bread with Spaghetti . That was was quizzical in retrospect.

Of course wait 30 minutes before going swimming after eating Spaghetti.

And then on the following day my parents would prepare leftover Spaghetti. To this day I am perplexed that we actually ate the meal they prepared. My parents would dump the leftover Spaghetti in the same cast iron skillet. If I was really hungry I could quietly enjoy this Pennsylvania treat. Otherwise it was the dish from hell. The noodles were crispy and filled with grease. As kids, in this era,  this is something we were expected to enjoy. In retrospect, I enjoy the choices my parents made on such limited information. They stretched one meal into another meal. I respect that. My kids may write the same essay years in the future about their parents making pho.

We did love to go our Aunt Kitty’s house for Spaghetti. Aunt Kitty, She made real Spaghetti. She was of Italian descent and I was always amazed somebody could own a vessel of olive oil that large. Aunt Kitty’s spaghetti was a work of art before I knew art existed. Growing up in Pennsylvania Dutch country had its own little paradoxes. My cousins, obviously her kids, referred to Spaghetti as Italian Sauerkraut.

We all move out of our parents house and we drag some of the memories both pleasant and unpleasant. When I was in my early twenties I took up long distance running with voracity. I read every article about running, running attire as well as the proper diets in order to compete. In the eighties the rage was pasta. Running lore, was that your diet should consist of 40 percent carbohydrates, 30 percent protein and 30 percent I believe it was fruits and vegetables. So needless to say I ate plenty of pasta and it was usually in the form of Spaghetti. I remember one evening of enlightenment when my neighbor made Spaghetti for me. At the age of twenty three we no so little about the world.

Nancy was a true Italian girl, who grew up in the Bronx, and I looked forward to trying her spaghetti. What she served that night changed my like in a very subtle way. She served Spaghetti with large spears of broccoli in the sauce. I was dumbfounded, as Spaghetti was always a meat based sauce. However this it delicious.

Through my first few years of running long distance races I would religiously seek out a pasta dish the one or two nights before a big race. This was after a five days of eating a more protein intensive diet. The method to the madness was to deplete the muscles of stored energy so you could store extra glycogen as race day approached,  That is what it said to do in the running books and for the most part it worked. Running is not all that complicated as a sport. You basically put one foot in front of the other and march along from point A to point B.

A few years later I was living in Pennsylvania and decided to take a road trip down to Virginia Beach to run the Virginia Beach marathon. To this day it is still one of my favorite races. We left early Friday afternoon and rolled into the beach around 7:00. My buddy told me we would go out and do a pasta load. Yes my buddy EED from Williamsburg, Va. Unfortunately my buddy was more into Happy Hour than he was into actual carbo loading. He was running the 5 miler and probably planned on doing it with a hangover.

I started to internally panic as it was nine o’clock and the only thing we had consumed was a few draft beers. Not exactly the perfect pre-race strategy. My friend said don’t worry about it. You will be fine. He knew the owners of the bar and they would cook us some pasta.  Of course this bar had no pasta. To complicate matters I was completely vegetarian. Things were not looking real great. I had another beer.

Ten minutes later,  out of nowhere a bowl and beans and rice were sitting in front of me. It had a hint of Mexican spice and a subtle tomato base. I was hungry and it tasted rather good. It drowned out the the beers of a few hour earlier.

To make this short story even shorter I ran the race rather well. It was a windswept perfect mid March Virginia morning. The views of the ocean made the miles go by quickly. I actually ran negative splits. Yes,  I ran the the second 13 miles faster than the first 13 miles.  I never experienced the wall effects usually associated to this distance. There goes my entire thinking on carbo-loading albeit with a small sample size. Runners overthink everything, except this things that matter.

We went out after the run to this little restaurant called the Raven. I always liked that place. I remember eating a whole head of broccoli and probably some grease laden french fries. Endorphins make anything taste good.

And then I immediately walked down to the beach and went for a wonderful swim in the ocean. The water was not surprisingly bone chilling cold. it was the beginning of spring  Tradition and folklore set aside. I never told my parents. I swam in the ocean right after spaghetti. I think they figured out I did not drown,




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