I know a boy with a golden smile that outshines his speckled eyes and curly locks woven with tones of clear honey and pale lager. A deliberately early riser, he gets high on dancing in front of the television and playing air guitar while the rest of our home sleeps. There are days I hear him, bumbling about, making happy sounds against his cereal bowl with the edge of a spoon; these noisy melodies help rainy mornings pass comfortably, as I snuggle deeper into my white duvet, imploring my adult self to find her hunger for new experiences and go forth unabashedly into the day.
Returning to the memory of the day I first met him, I remember thinking determinedly, “I want to be part of this.”
At the time, it did not occur to me that being a stepmother involved so much more than bearing the weight of an ugly stereotype; but oftentimes I do not rationalize things and so I leapt in, oozing with outward confidence, hoping to be that stepmotherly change I wanted to see in the world. With that, my plate had become surprisingly full.
Swept away by my stepson’s passion, our clean-lined kitchen became a place bubbling with ideas as we opened ourselves up to new flavors. Always looking for more seductive ways to feed our newly assembled family, we all wanted to be do our part: my husband with his proficient grilling skills, my stepdaughter with her remarkable kneading abilities, my stepson with his delicate touch and discernible palate, and me — always trying to fit in.
Moving them farther and farther away from their bad eating habits, my stepchildren began to sincerely give in to their now ripened lust for good food. Do they still eat with the abandonment they learned in our home or have they reverted back to their plain-pasta-eating, bottled-salad-dressing selves? I do not know.
It has now been one year, one month and one day since we have last seen or spoken to the children. For reasons that stem from a bitter divorce, the children are paying the price of a dissolved marriage, the same way I once had to do with my parents.
Shutting our kitchen down for a few months except for the odd dish here and there to remind us that we still live in a functioning home albeit of two, it became difficult to find the inspiration to conjure up new dishes again. Equally harrowing was the meticulous making of previously cherished family meals. I have not had buttery mashed potatoes, pureed to a smooth velvet, since the first week of January 2011, or what I like to call “the incident.”
Will I only see the boy with the golden smile when his hair has darkened, older like his father’s buzz cut, tinged with nuances of roasted stout and milk chocolate? Will I twirl through our living room again with my bright-eyed stepdaughter after a mutual chili-high from generous lappings of Tom Yum Goong? Should I forget about them and what I have taught them because I am their mere stepmother?
I cannot answer these questions. I can only say that it doesn’t matter which house they’re at, they’ll always eat pasta with a tomato-based sauce and today for the first time I’m making a proper one without them. My growing girl would enjoy it with a thicker sauce while my boy with a sensitive stomach would prefer it light and fresh.
This recipe balances out both with a little bit of new: thick and chunky tomato flesh slowly roasted, a snappy sting of fresh chives and the elimination of heavy, concentrated tomato paste finished off with thin slices of unmelted Italian Pecorino cheese. I only hope that one day I’ll be able to share this with them as I have with you. Until then, I’ll hold on to a wish that someone with a moral code can take a look at our laws because I’d like to live in an Egypt where fathers can see their children and where I don’t have to worry about what they’re spraying on my food.
Roasted Tomato Elbow Macaroni
4 large tomatoes
½ a sweet red onion, finely diced
2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
¼ cup of breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1½ tablespoons of unsalted butter
400 grams of dry pasta
1 teaspoon of granulated sugar
A handful of chives, snipped with scissors
1/3 cup of Pecorino, shaved
Salt and black pepper to taste
Cook the macaroni in a pot of boiling salted water for approximately 8 minutes or until al dente. Reserve ¼ cup of the pasta liquid. Drain the macaroni. Place the tomatoes whole in a large baking dish and pop into the oven heated at 180 degrees Celsius. Roast for an hour or until the skin breaks and the tomato flesh becomes tender. If the tomatoes begin to brown, turn down the heat to 160 degrees Celsius. When the tomatoes are done, remove from the oven and set aside until they cool slightly. Remove the vines and crush with your hands into a bowl. In a large pan, toast the breadcrumbs then reserve in a small bowl. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil and 1½ tablespoons of butter over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and stir until soft. Pour in the crushed tomatoes and sugar. Cook for 5 minutes before stirring in the pasta liquid. Bring your sauce to a boil. Reduce heat and cook for 7-8 minutes. Season with salt and black pepper. Add pasta and cook for another minute while tossing to coat the pasta in sauce. Remove from the heat and sprinkle with shaved Pecorino, breadcrumbs and snipped chives.