Day 48: Photographing Legacy

Good news about this year of pasta: James has learned how to eat at restaurants like a professional. He orders his own kids’ pizza with grapes on the side, he calmly asks for water instead of juice because he knows he doesn’t need the sugar hit–and because he’s concerned about the bottom line–and he has his camera with him at all times to capture the most important parts of the meal: the food. Although he seems to be picking up some of my storytelling legacy, he has yet to start his own blog or instagram, so I guess he’s still learning.

This is a photo of the fruity drink I purchased. I don’t remember what it was called but it was one of those made-up corporate labels for drinks that is just so much the hybrid of descriptive words that you can’t even tell if it’s a real name or not anymore. It took me forty-eight trips to my Italian kitchen to order a drink for myself. I’m definitely from the James school of water-preference. It’s not even about the cost, entirely, it’s just that I’d rather eat my calories than drink them. I want credit for chomping them down, rather than to see them mysteriously appear around my middle out of nowhere. This was all right, anyway: sparkling water and strawberry and other juice, I guess? I wasn’t too focused on taste, but mostly on having something to photograph. Part of my legacy is be refusing to order drinks when dining out, and I think that tells you a lot about who I am, what I believe in.

Our final piece of the visual tour is this salt shaker from the table. I’m of the opinion that, chemically-speaking, salt is salt. It’s just that simple. However, the salt shaker out our table proudly heralded its European origins. Presumably, like me, the salt did one of those Ancestry DNA tests, and found out that it’s ancestors were Europeans, maybe some of them from the coasts of the Mediterranean. That’s great, and all, but I don’t think Italian salt–if it’s even from Italy–taste any different than American salt. But then, I suppose that’s the point of those DNA tests, too. If you’re European, you’re not taking a test like that: you know exactly where you come from. We Americans are the ones desperate to figure out who exactly we are, where exactly we come from–especially if we didn’t immigrate very recently. Yet, no matter what the percentages come back as, no matter how “European” your salt is–you’re still just an American looking for a home.


Item 1: linguine with meat sauce and crispy shrimpy


Breadsticks: 3

Weight: 169

Life lessons: threeve

Day 47: Secret Menu Item 4!

Wow, two secrets in like a week. I really spoil you guys.

Okay this secret I didn’t even know about until our server kindly tipped us off.

So for the second time on this crusade I’ve ordered the soup as my side instead of the salad (2/47 is about 4-5% for you mathematicians). It’s a rare thing not just because I’d rather eat soup than salad, but also because Chrissi usually wants soup (minestrone) and so I get salad as to be able to supply the whole family with salad.

But Chrissi didn’t want soup this time, so I was free to order it for myself. I went with the chicken gnocchi because it’s like a bowl of cream and chicken and complicated potato, and all those things sound good.

Yet when my soup came out, it turned out to be a secret menu item!

Instead of creamy chicken gnocchi it was just creamy chicken.

The server apologized and said he would bring me another bowl as soon as the kitchen had gotten the next round going. It seems that this present bowl was at the tail end of the last round of soup, and it was all gnocchied out. I said thank you, not ironically, not because I felt strongly about this one way or the other, but because it gave me something to blog about.

So that’s the secret: if for some very specific reason you’d prefer he chicken gnocchi soup without the gnocchi, all you have to do is arrive at the moment when the last batch of soup is very low and the next one isn’t quite ready yet. (He did bring me a new bowl of soup after that.)

That’s the thing, though: if you force yourself to think over and respond to the events and actions of your day, you see things differently. I, desperate for blogging content, will prefer any possible deviation from the norm to having everything be perfectly standard.

So if you want to see just how much you can become absorbed in pointless details, just commit to blogging every single time you do something. You’ll become an expert in some kind of minutiae, and that seems to be what our time is all about.


Item 1: Cavatappi (mixing it up!), five-cheese marinara (whoa, slow down there, wild man!) and meatballs (oh, okay, that’s normal)


Breadsticks: 3

Weight: 168

Time: right in between two vats of soup

Day 46: Pass

This one is just an attempt to pass the time. And, later, the pasta.

It’s good to have goals, like blogging every pasta event. But at some point the goals are no longer serving you, but mastering you.

I’ve definitely reached that point in this log series.

There’s some guy out there who does his own Pasta Pass blog and gets a pass every year, as far as I can tell. It might sound good to the outsider, but even at this rate that we have managed–roughly once a week over the course of almost 11 months–it’s almost a punishment to come to this place and eat the same food again and again. And this other dude does it like every day. For years.

In our time, if you want to get noticed, you have to push to the extremes. Nobody cares that you went to Olive Garden 50 times in a year. They’ll say, call me when you hit 500 times. This is natural, as society has gone from the 50 people who live within a few miles to encompassing the 500 million people in North America.

I realized pretty early on with this project that there was an upper limit on just how many times I could or would go to the same restaurant. Even if it was right next door, it would have been hard to maintain the pace we began with (3-4 times a week). And yet with all the people in this nation, there’s somebody out there hitting that pace without a Pasta Pass. Just by the law of averages.

No matter how much things seem to change in our lives, we’ll always float back to our median. It’s impossible to live too long in the high or the low, or to be too generous or too tight-fisted for very long. It’s too hard to be happy or sad forever, or to work too hard or relax too often for very much time at all.

So this is just to say I couldn’t have blown you all away with this project even if I’d worked at it harder. This is my median: maybe one Olive Garden trip a week.

I will not be purchasing a Pasta Pass for next year, either. Got to float back to normalcy.


Item 1: linguine, mushroom Alfredo, breaded shrimp


Breadsticks: 3

Weight: 168

Times I’ve questioned my life choices: at least 46

Day 45: Circles

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote an essay about circles that’s both boring and interesting. I assigned it to a class once and that was the verdict that came forth, and I was in no position to disagree with my students.

The essay is about how everything important is a circle, and it reminds me of my own philosophical that everything in the universe can be reduced to feedback loops. As in, everything increases/improves exponentially, or decreases/declines to nothing.

Emerson, though has some winners in this essay: circles are everywhere, he says:

The eye is the first circle; the horizon which it forms is the second; and throughout nature this primary figure is repeated without end.

All right, fair enough. If you say something succinctly enough, it deserves to be right, at least, even if it isn’t. I guess things do begin with our eyes, but even though the eye is a circle, it’s sort of arbitrary, you know? Circles just happen to be the most efficient shape, and spheres the most efficient form. Unless you’re my eyes: the reason I ordered up a new pair of glasses is because my eyes are a little less than perfectly spherical, and you notice it. But I’m not really seeing circles all the time. Unless I’m driving at night.

Emerson goes on to write that:

Circles, like the soul, are neverending and turn round and round without a stop.

I think this was actually stolen from Coleridge, but that makes it even better. It’s almost like Emerson–and Coleridge, I guess–was prefiguring the neverending pasta bowl! Emerson, the seer, could somehow imagine an endless bowl of pasta, with noodles piled in circles, turning round and round into themselves in an infinite know of carbohydrates.

Even the new upholstery seems to admit to this. The endless pasta bowls are whorls and circles, mandalas in the very seats where our semolina-stuffed butts sit. The bowls on the walls are circles, the glasses are circles… hmmm. Crayons are circular. Maybe there’s something to it.

Emerson serves up plenty of burns in this essay, too. I mean, I realize that eating so much pasta this year doesn’t make me a smart man, wellness-wise, but Emerson just slices into me anyway:

Beware when the great God lets loose a thinker on this planet.

Come on, it’s not like I’m thinking of getting another pass for next year (which go on sale next week…).

Ralph adds,

Conversation is a game of circles.

I mean, I guess so. It’s a lot of back and forth. Somebody else breaks off and we start to fill in the blank. Maybe so. 

Finally Emerson observes:

People wish to be settled; [but] only as far as they are unsettled is there any hope for them.

This could be taken a couple of different ways. For one, it means that being in motion, like a circle, means you’re going somewhere, and when you’ve stopped, your life kind of stops with it. He doesn’t put much stock into settled, respectable, boring folks (like most of us). But there’s another sense here, too, in these words: those who aren’t settled, who aren’t finished, who are still restless, are the only ones with hope. Because if you keep looking out your two circles at the circular horizon, you keep believing you’ll find something new and better. To keep hope alive is to stop looking for the end, and to keep moving toward the next arc of the circle. It sounds frustrating, but there’s something genuine in that.


Item 1: linguine, meat sauce, meatballs


Breadsticks: 3?

Weight: 167

Circles: Never-ending

Day 44: Secret Menu Item 3!

I know, we forgot about building the secret menu. I’ll try to make it up to you with this crazy healthy, delicious hack!

I know how much everybody loves Olive Garden breadsticks. I’m the same way. What we don’t all love is how halfway through a fresh stick you end up with a tongue full of salt and this quickening in your chest that probably isn’t caused by the excitement of eating at your favorite restaurant.

So, if you want to enjoy your bread and eat it, too, here’s a simple secret you can try.

Step 1: order drinks (just water for me, thanks)

Step 2: when the waiter starts to leave, make this hurried sound like you just remembered some other thing you wanted, so he doesn’t think you’ve been planning to screw up their system or anything (oh, I’m sorry, would it be possible to get the breadsticks plain? Without the topping?)

Step 3: after the waiter nods, and says, sure, you cut off anything else he wants to say to dissuade you from throwing a wrench into the kitchen’s gears (we don’t mind waiting!)

Step 4: clearly he doesn’t mind waiting either if he’s still working here. As he goes off to complain about you to the chefs, you can relax and count how many more breadsticks you can eat without the topping on it.

The fact of the matter is, when these babies are fresh, they’re great. And even if they’re not painted over with a salt-and-grease wash, they’re actually quite good. Especially if you dip them into your sauces, in particular the Alfredo sauces.

Now, this isn’t a health tip unless you want to pretend it is. But I’d rather eat my salt and oil with flavor, rather than just heaped on top of other salt and oil. Call me uncultured.

Also, since they go to all the trouble to bake you up some clean bread, the waiter will usually bring you out a bigger basket of them than you’d get with a normal round. So even though refilling that basket might take a while, you likely won’t need to.

Anyway, if you forget these tips, just tell yourself this:

Use your head: wipe the bread.


Item 1: linguine, meat sauce, grilled chicken


Breadsticks: 2

Weight: 168

Wait: “Oh, I don’t mind, thanks so much!”