December 26, 5:00 a.m. Hubby D and I left our Christmas-decorated house and headed west, our destination Cody, Wyoming, to spend the rest of our holiday with oldest son M and family. In Nebraska we even took time out for a two-hour stopover, where we visited Uncle J and his family who operate a goat farm and have built a thriving business producing bath and body goat by-products. The rest of our drive across the Great Plains and its long stretches of nothing was the type travelers can only hope for, in one word—uneventful.
Cody, at last, amidst all the hugs and more hugs with M, his wife A, and their three sons: C, A-2, and A-1, who at the tender age of 19 recently came home from a tour of duty in Afghanistan. Thank God for his safe return. It was time to relax, to listen and talk, and to gather around the dinner table every evening.
I’ve written about the kitchen in Cody before, my obsessive/compulsive need to improve on son M’s culinary endeavors. “This time will be different,” I told M. “I’m not going to invade your space unless invited.”
He seemed relieved.
My self-imposed exile lasted all of two days. That is, until M started making ravioli, his way, while D and I sat at the counter observing his every move. I spoke not a word but after I sucked in my breath one too many times, M finally said, “Okay, you can help.”
M had already prepared a meat/spinach/cheese filling and had mixed one batch of dough by hand when D commandeered the rolling pin and rolled out a perfect rectangle of pasta dough. In no time at all, M and I had assembled fifty ravioli, actually agnolotti, which is the Northern Italy Piemonte version of ravioli that uses meat in the filling instead of soft cheese. But wait, M had some meat filling left over. He practically grabbed the container from my reach, and said, “I’ll freeze the rest.”
“Nonsense,” I said, elbowing him aside as I rescued the filling. “I’ll make a second batch of dough—my way, in the food processor.”
So much for my way, his food processor shot craps on my first attempt. Back to the old school, I mixed the dough by hand, something I hadn’t done for years but still managed to turn out a decent product with just enough elasticity.
“That’s way too much dough,” M said.
“Patience, Little Grasshopper.”
After we made another thirty ravioli/agnolotti, D stepped in and rolled out the remaining dough paper thin, after which we folded the rectangle over and over unto a flat roll about two inches deep that we had M cut into half-inch strips. He used the perfect tool—a pizza roller. Voila! Tagliatelle—wonderful flat ribbons of fresh pasta meant to be cooked in boiling salted water. After three minutes the pasta can be finished off with grated cheese and butter, with a meat or marinara sauce, or with meat and a hardy gravy.
The next day I stayed out of the kitchen while M prepared his version of tagliatelle, Cody-style served with venison, tender cuts from an elk he’d shot the week before, along with a rich, dark sauce made from the natural juices. It reminded me of the deer venison we’d eaten in Italy’s Piemonte Region. They have elk too—known there as alce (AHL chay).
Two days later, grandsons C and A-1 got up early (for them) and went hunting. They soon returned with eleven ducks they’d brought down within forty-five minutes. Ah-h, yes, it is a different life out west, nothing like the St. Louis metro area where I taught our eldest how to hunt for meat in our local supermarket.
After M helped the hunters process their wild ducks, he soaked the breasts overnight in buttermilk to counteract the gamey taste. The next day he invited me back into the kitchen, this time to instruct C on the fine art of making a proper risotto, one that would be served with morsels of sautéed duck breast, and on the side, mushrooms sautéed in butter and olive oil. Meanwhile, M wrapped the remaining ducks with strips of bacon and roasted them in the oven. But not for long, otherwise those breasts would’ve dried out.
Yum, what a treat we enjoyed that evening. And so much better the treat when eaten at a table with family we don’t see often enough and with stories told and retold until we cried from laughing so hard.
Our week-long visit ended too soon, but M and family had other commitments as did D and I. We needed to beat a snowstorm threatening to blanket the Midwest. A few days before Wyoming had experienced about a nine-inch snowfall although Cody and its surrounding area had been spared with little more than a light dusting.
January 2, 5 a.m. D and I left Cody in the solitude of pre-dawn and headed south where we stopped for breakfast in Thermopolis. Stomachs full, we continued our journey. Little did we know the highway south of the Wind River Indian Reservation would still be snow-packed and covered with black ice, a treacherous condition that continued all the way to Casper and after Casper, a good portion of the way to Cheyenne. I couldn’t help but think about our last January trip from Cody. Wind conditions: eighty to ninety miles whipping at our tires, with highways being closed ten minutes behind us as we kept moving south, whatever it took to get out of Wyoming since D doesn’t believe in backtracking.
Suffice to say, that wind-driven January return trip and this snow-packed return trip could be summed up in one word—eventful.
So, how was your holiday? ###