Another Wednesday. I arrive home with both kids in tow from their various activities, a handful of drycleaning and a mouthful of mail. I throw it all on the couch and rush to get the dinner/homework festivities started when my friend Deb drops in.
Naturally we get to talking, and I offer her up some cheese, some crackers, some oranges, and a little wine.
And just as naturally, the rest of the evening is spent drinking said wine, shrieking and laughing and generally annoying the two kids, who complain that they can’t hear the movie they’re watching in the next room. At about eight they inquire about dinner. Dinner? I wave them off. “Just eat some cereal!” I tell them, and return to my conversation. I never even ask them about their homework.
The next day, full of remorse, I go to Trader Joe’s with the intent of buying some favored something for their meal – a real meal – that night. The guy at the sample counter was whipping up something that smelled delicious and had drawn a small crowd around his booth.
Bow tie pasta with chopped artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes and pesto. Oooh. That could work.
But when I ask him how he made the topping, which was tangy and full of flavor, he shrugs. “I dunno,” he says. “You just sorta chop it all up and mix them together.”
No no no no. I can’t do that kind of thing without a roadmap of some sort. When I press for some basic instruction on how to “just chop it all up and mix them together,” I get this advice: “Drain the artichoke hearts first. They come in liquid.” Thanks, pal. Nothing further is offered.
Well dang. How hard can it be after all? I buy the ingredients, plus some pasta seasoning, just in case, and proceed home.
The beauty of TJs is they make it easy for you (for you, please note. Not me.) They sell everything in little jars or cans. And so, operating under the delusion that this is a dish so simple even I can make it, I drain my little can of artichoke hearts and chop my little slivers of sun-dried tomatoes from a jar. And things look promising in the beginning.
Then I get ambitious and decide to add toasted pine nuts to the mix, even though, yes I know, pesto has pine nuts in it. I then discover that pine nuts can actually go over, if you leave them in the bag on the counter, as I do.
Scratch that plan. Walnuts! Walnuts are good toasted. Full of flavor and various healthy things.
I ignore what the Universe is trying to tell me and turn to my mixing bowl. I throw everything in, and try to channel the spirits of all great home cooks to inform of how much pesto to add to the mix. I dollop in two teaspoons. Then three.
The result: Glop. It doesn’t look remotely like what the guy at TJ’s made. But it doesn’t taste bad. I throw some seasoning on top of it to kick up the flavor. I spoon it over the pasta and serve it to the kids.
To her great credit, the girl eats with gusto and runs off to finish her homework. The boy, however, ingests two bowtie pastas, carefully wiping off the offending glop with a paper towel, and then informs me that he’d had three granola bars at Spanish that afternoon and wasn’t hungry.
Lessons from this Wednesday night experiment: Don’t experiment. Go with the old tried-and-true. And try not to forget the Two-Buck-Chuck next time. Guilt be damned.