Homemade Pasta Pride

My daughters rescue the 20-year-old manual pasta machine and restore my dreams (sniff!)

I didn't set out to be the kind of mother who saddles her children with her unfulfilled goals and unmet potential. I've never wanted either girl to, say, become a doctor because I was an English major, nor do I hypocritically pressure them to fall in love with rich, tall guys, or master high heels and makeup, or finish an entire one-hour aerobics class without sneaking out to read magazines in the lobby.

At the same time, I've tried not to let their many academic-artistic-kindly successes go to my head. They're their own people, not me, right?

But every once in a while, something catches me off guard, and I'm overcome with maternal pride before I even realize I've started grinning like a fool. Like when my younger daughter, Frances, was 11 and for the first time in our family's history successfully read the books for the library's summer program and turned in her form before the deadline to get the pizza and other rewards. Or when my older daughter Lucy, maybe 14 at the time, fixed the persnickety sewing machine for the 4-H instructors at a summer camp (I can't even wind a bobbin).

This phenomenon snuck up on me again recently, in ravioli form. It's been at least 20 years since I became the proud possessor of a manual Pasta Queen 150, which resembles a chrome-plated mini-piano crossed with a hand-crank meat grinder. The girls' father, John Hall, found it for me at a Watson's basement sale (Watson's, youngsters and recent immigrants, was a zany department store on Market Square where Koi and the Knoxville Chamber are now). I fully intended to master homemade pasta just like the fettuccine and wide noodles in the vintage cookbook I was reading: the 1967 Leone's Italian Cookbook by Gene Leone, son of New York's famous Mama Leone, with foreword by Dwight D. Eisenhower.

This pasta maker never made it out of the box. John and I split up after a few years, but it stayed right there on the shelf, never making the trip to Goodwill, nor to the counter. I guess I kept assuming I'd start crafting excellent pasta any evening, maybe like the lobster ravioli at Naples or the manicotti at Dazzo's. Meanwhile, the girls subsisted on the store-bought version: multi-color trumpets and alphabet-shaped noodles from the Food Co-Op (long before it transformed into Three Rivers Market); "fresh" angel hair from the deli case at Kroger's; and a box of tennis-racket shaped De Cecco pasta as a standard in their Christmas stockings.

And then, this past winter break, the daughters rescued the Queen. Their first turnout was so-so, buckwheat noodles—but this weekend, spring break, oh my. Ravioli. Lucy's nice and square and even-edged; Frances' less uniform but still melt-in-your mouth and tender. Stuffed with herbs, Parmesan, ricotta from that store on Chapman Highway I still think of as the Bargain Barn, some with carmelized organic onions—all I or Mama Leone could ever hope for. The next night, cheese tortellinis. Heavenly.

I was so proud, so pleased with these children, the torch-bearers, the conquerors, though I did nothing but eat and later wipe flour from the counter.

Now, though, the kids are gone, the Queen back in the cupboard. I dug out Leone's book, then tried calling Lucy in Chicago to see what recipe she'd used. No answer. She's finishing her senior history thesis, something about race and the media and the South, so too busy, I guess.

Ah, who am I kidding? I'll only have homemade pasta again when the girls show up, maybe this summer, and make it for me. I hope that doesn't take another 20 years. But if it does, well, I'm very good at waiting—and I'm proud of that.