And then there were four weeks, that is. Just four weeks and a few extra days until the end of my first semester of grad school. Like many of life’s seasons, some days it feels like I’ve been here forever and some days it feels like my one-way flight to Boston was just yesterday.
I’m proud of the work I’ve accomplished so far and the fact that I, most likely, will finish at least one semester of grad school. Ok, alright, I’ll stop exaggerating. I fully intend to finish all semesters of grad school. But first I have an unbelievably overwhelming amount of work to do. I’m in two classes this semester, one called Understanding Food: Theory and Methodology, and the other called U.S. Food Policy and Cultural Politics. The two could not be more different, which is a wee little miracle because it means they’ve kept my attention span interested. One class lives and breathes in the Ivory Tower and the other is much more practical. My policy professor calls herself a “scholar activist.” Now that is something I can wrap my head around.
But before I can relax on the beaches of southern California, surrounded by my family and my favorite dog, I have to complete a critical reading response paper, an analytical book review, a literature review, an abstract and outline for a term paper, the term paper itself, and a final exam. All while keeping up with my weekly readings of, gulp, hundreds of pages. No biggie. I’m all over it. All I have to do is keep allowing myself some space away from reading and writing and cramming. Those wonderful moments when I can somehow free myself of the guilt-ridden feeling that I should be working instead of doing something relaxing and fun.
For me, nothing helps this cause like a countertop full of good ingredients and a yummy bottle of wine. To make things even better I’ll throw in a delicious cheese and some tasty crackers to
fill up snack on while I get to cooking. Tonight my counter was filled with spaghetti, mushrooms, spinach, tomato sauce, basil, pecorino and parmesan cheeses, garlic, onion, and heavy cream. Oh yes, my friends. Relaxing.
Spaghetti with Tomato Cream Sauce
Serves 3-4, depending on the level of aforementioned cheese and cracker consumption.
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp butter
1/2 medium onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups sliced mushrooms
2 generous handfuls of fresh spinach leaves
1 can, 15 oz, of tomato sauce
1 can, 15 oz, of diced tomatoes
Salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste
Dash of sugar, to taste
1/2 cup heavy cream, or half and half if you choose
Grated pecorino or parmesan cheese, to taste (anywhere from 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup)
8 leaves of fresh basil, chiffonade or cut into long, thin strips
8 oz spaghetti
Heat 1 tbsp oil and butter over medium-low to medium heat in a large skillet. Don’t heat your fats too high or you’ll chance burning the garlic and onion. Add onion and garlic to the pan and saute for about five minutes until soft and tender but not browned.
Pour the tomato sauce and drained can of diced tomatoes into the pan. Add salt, pepper, and sugar to taste. The sugar is used to cut down the acidity of the fresh tomato sauce. Start conservatively and continue adding sugar and spices until you achieve a taste that you like.
Stir the sauce and cook, covered, over low heat for 25 to 30 minutes. Stir occasionally.
In a separate skillet, heat the other 1 tbsp of olive oil. Once the oil is heated through, add the mushrooms to the pan, stirring to coat them in the oil. Let the mushrooms sit for about five minutes before touching them again. Don’t crowd the mushrooms! I love that phrase. Continue cooking the mushrooms until they are browned on both sides.
In the meantime, cook the pasta according to package directions.
When the sauce is done, remove it from the heat and stir in the half and half. Add the mushrooms, spinach, and grated cheese. Stir to coat the spinach so that it can wilt slightly. Taste the sauce at this point and add any spices or cheese if you want to enhance the flavor.
Once the pasta is cooked, put it directly into the sauce or drain it and then put it into the sauce. Don’t rinse the pasta. By doing this you rinse off the starch on the cooked pasta and the starch is what helps the sauce stick to the pasta. Did you know this?! Life changing tips. I’ll be here all week, people.
Add the basil, serve, and enjoy! Don’t forget the wine.