Mixing Metaphors

Mixing Metaphors

This weekend, my husband and I made pasta from scratch. Simple ingredients of egg, water, salt and flour – Red Fife being our current favourite. Rather than a rolling pin like his mother used, we had a stainless steel, hand-crank pasta machine that I borrowed from my sister years ago.

After mixing the ingredients, I had a small clump of dough that seemed barely enough to feed the two of us and I wondered how my mother-in-law managed to make homemade pasta for eight children, seven of whom were boys with hearty appetites. I kneaded briefly, then let the dough rest for thirty minutes.

This resting is an important step. It allows the flour to fully absorb the water and egg, which fuses the flavours. Resting also allows the gluten to do its thing – either relaxing the gluten so it doesn’t spring back like bread or strengthening so the dough stretches easily – depending on which explanation one finds online. Either way, the rest is necessary.

While the dough rested, hubby and I got creative and improvised some drying racks – a curtain rod between upper kitchen cabinets, with several plastic hangars strung across the pole.

After the rest period, I separated the dough ball into four smaller pieces and fed them, one at a time, through the pasta machine’s rollers. Using the dial, one is able to manually adjust the thickness of the pasta, the first setting being for the thickest noodles. With each successive pressing, the dial is turned to another setting, reducing the thickness between the rollers and, thus, the thickness of the pasta.

After the first press, I had lasagna-like noodles, which I carefully laid onto parchment paper. Adjusting the dial, each noodle was fed through a second time. The noodles were getting thinner, wider and longer, but also stronger. I needed another sheet of parchment paper, then another, as the pasta quadrupled and I began to understand how mia suocera could feed a large family from such humble beginnings.

Another turn of the crank. Roll the dough. Turn, roll and press. The repetitiveness was calming, almost meditative.

Handmade pasta cannot be hurried!

The first time I tried to make pasta, I thought I could skip all the settings and proceed directly to the thinnest level. Instead of dough that rolled out flat and smooth, it broke apart. Without the passage of time, without being subjected to the kneading and pressure from successive pressings, the dough lacked strength and integrity. It was weak and, literally, full of holes.

Writing a book, like handmade pasta, is a process that can’t be hurried. A story starts with simple ingredients – an idea, a character or two, maybe a theme or some hint of conflict. 

Then, let it rest.

This is where I am – at the resting stage – with my next novel. While the ideas are resting – some might say percolating, but that would be mixing metaphors – I research. For this story, that means World War I, conscription, home children, and all things circa 1918 – medicine, the city of London, Ontario, women’s issues, Spanish flu, clothing, politics.

As I research, the characters start to develop. I hear their voices. They visit my dreams. I feel their emotions fusing into a plot.

Next, I will press pen to paper, fingertips to laptop keys, to roll out the beginnings of a story outline. Perhaps some character development sheets with aims, motivations, backgrounds.

Press again, and the setting unfolds. Street names, a timeline of historical events.

With each pressing, words multiply into scenes, into dialogue, into chapters. Edit. Re‑write. Repeat. Each step is necessary to the final result. Without revision after revision, the story, like hurried pasta, would be weak, lack integrity, and be full of plot holes.

Some time in the future, I will enjoy the repast of a finished manuscript. For now, my plate is filled with homemade tagliatelli, covered with pine nuts, parmesan, and garden-fresh pesto – slow, healthy food brimming with quality and flavour.

Buon appetito!

Photo by Jorge Zapata on Unsplash

One Reply to “Mixing Metaphors”

  1. Very well done. Didnt know that time and patience is required in the making of pasta. Thanks for the insight. Good luck 8n your novel.

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