six months

So. Six months to write this post. Six months ago today Mom left this world for another. September 6, 2011. 12:52 pm to be exact. I’ve really struggled with how to blog about this. Or even how to begin. I mean, how do you process all the emotions while also honoring someone you love? How do you wade through all the crap to get to the good stuff? How do you unravel the complicated? I figured the blogging was over – what more could I possibly have to say? Other than, hey, my mom died, and I feel really shitty about it? Who wants to listen to me go on and on and on about it? But time is an amazing thing. And I had too much of it on my hands.

It’s like making noodles. (Um, what?? Bear with me…) I’m talking about THE family noodle recipe. The Redenbarger technique passed down from generation to generation. It’s a delicate, time-consuming, yet fulfilling process. The end result is almost cathartic. Like you can’t believe you just made something so wonderful out of practically nothing. So, for my own sanity, I knew – I KNEW, without a doubt – that I needed to write about this. When you have the time, make noodles.

The funny thing about this post is the ridiculous number of times I tried to start it. At least, the part about missing my Mom. How many random pages did I end up tossing? All those incoherent bits and pieces in my journal? And the lame attempts at expressing my grief? All complete rubbish. BUT… the first time I made noodles? Hell, yeah. They were PERFECT. Didn’t take several million tries; they were outstanding from that very first attempt. Mom was still alive and there to applaud.

So I made the decision to write about the noodles. It’s not an exact science, this making of the noodles. AT ALL. Which makes it doubly difficult to execute. And to explain. No recipe exists. Never has. It’s all been retained in the minds of our family. Maybe that’s why I feel it is so appropriate to share with you, Dear Reader, as I also write to you about my Mom’s passing. Because no matter how much you think you’re prepared for something, life throws you that damn curve-ball.

You start with three simple ingredients: eggs, flour, salt. And from this, you create perfection. You must ask yourself: how many noodles do you want to make? Or, how many people do you want to feed? Not an easy answer, mind you. As much as Mom probably would have hated it, I’ve boiled it down to this simple formula:

x/4 = how many dozen eggs you need
(where x = the number of people you wish to feed)

Scientific, I know. And by scientific, I mean I don’t know what I’m really talking about. This is where having access to someone who knows HOW to make the noodles pays off. The key is: this formula can and will change on any given day due to factors beyond your control. (More on that later.) So, for every dozen, you use 11 yolks and 1 whole egg. To give you some perspective, Mom used to make SIX-DOZEN eggs-worth for Thanksgiving. Holy choline. I made four dozen this year and it fed the entire family. Plus doggies. Plus a small village. With leftovers. Add a heaping tablespoon of flour at a time; I usually make it to 6 or so before I start mixing. A generous pinch of salt.

A moment of digression… You have to appreciate and understand the history of this celebrated recipe. It came from Germany with my great-great-great-grandmother. You see, noodles go with our mashed potatoes. We don’t “do” gravy. It’s noodlesandmashedpotatoes. Said in the same breath. Notice how the noodles even come first, BEFORE mashed potatoes? That’s how superior they are. Every generation since has learned to make them. I watched Mom do it for the first time at Thanksgiving 5 years ago. I paid attention, but soon forgot. After all, Mom would be around forever, right? Then, in November 2010, when she was well into a second year of chemo, I made sure to memorize every detail. I made them for the first time later that summer, specifically for her to taste and critique. I passed with flying colors. :)

Moving on. You mix until the ingredients start to come together nicely. Only through touch and feel can you sense how much more flour is needed. But I caution you. Several arbitrary factors serve to ruin a flawlessly tender noodle, thwarting your brilliant efforts. The weather outside. The humidity inside. The freshness of the eggs. The quality of flour. The warmth of your hands. The surface you roll on. There have been times when I’ve added what seemed like buckets and buckets of flour. But the end goal is the same: a wonderfully pliant, somewhat gummy ball of buttercup-yellow dough – with ENOUGH flour to make for easy rolling, but NOT too much as to turn your hard work into cardboard.

Then you roll it all out. Divide the dough into several smaller workable portions. A wooden rolling pin. A generously floured surface. Methodical swishes, one long roll in each direction, lifting the pin up and starting over again. NOT the rapid back-and-forth motion sure to create mayhem with your dough. Roll as thin as possible – like, a sixteenth of an inch. Be sure to flip the dough over often to prevent sticking. Yes, you may have to re-roll. Roll out all the portions to form what almost looks like a lovely giraffe-spotted pattern on your tables. My entire life is dotted with memories of these uneven yellow discs laid out ceremoniously on the kitchen and dining room tables, signaling the start of any holiday. Mom was quite proud of this tradition; she made noodles often. I feel the same. I am so glad I know how and to be so trusted in carrying on this important piece of our family history.

Now. Sit back and wait patiently. The noodles must have time to relax and dry out. This makes for easier cutting later. So, go read a book. Watch a movie. Do some errands. These noodles have a mind of their own. Also, protect them from the reach of curious pets. (My doggies have snitched their fair share of noodle dough when I wasn’t looking.) In many ways, I had to wait patiently for the words to come together for this post. I would try to force it – and was left with either a lot of nonsense or not much meaningful to say. Patience. Reflection. Timing. Often, timing is everything.

Once dry, the truly dedicated process starts – THE CUTTING. I capitalize here, because this could go on, well, forever. Cut each disc into 1-½-inch wide vertical strips. Some will be uneven around the edges. That’s okay. Stack these strips one on top of each other, 5 or 6 strips high. Then start slicing these stacks horizontally, creating 1-½-inch long noodles of approximately 1/16 or 1/8 inch width. This takes time and precision. You cannot rush the process. You have to slice your way through dozens and dozens of these strips. But what are you left with? Marvelous piles of thin tender noodles. The need to touch them will be overwhelming. A gentle “ruffle” through the pile may be required to separate your cuts. The dough – even in this stage – can still pose a little stickiness. Sprinkle some flour on the pile to help. Rake your fingers through the golden goodness. Inhale the sweet homemade smell.

The second time I made my noodle pile, I felt the closest to Mom that I had since she’d passed away. It was like she was right there in the kitchen, helping me, cheering me on. I miss her. I miss the way she would teach me these things – the intricacies of making something she’d perfected in her own mind a hundred times ago. I will miss that sharing of wisdom more than anything (except maybe her hugs ♥). She always was the teacher – in every single thing she did. And I was the eternal student, ever eager to learn. I can hardly believe six months has passed. For all I know and feel, it was six days ago. But I do know this: noodle-making makes me feel more connected to Mom than just about anything. And in the larger scheme of things, it ties me to her whole family – my grandparents, my aunts, my ancestors, my Redenbarger side.

So, how to serve these yummy morsels? Heat up some homemade chicken stock (see my chicken salad recipe here). Two quarts is a good starting place. Bring to a boil. Add 6 cups of noodles (fresh or frozen). Reduce heat and simmer for about 20 minutes. Taste for tenderness. From beginning to end, this entire process can take the larger part of a day. But, man-oh-man, is it worth it. Side note: Noodles freeze very well. Make more than you need. (See that super-scientific formula above.) Save some for later in Ziploc bags. You’ll be glad you have them.

This past Thanksgiving, I still had one bag of noodles Mom had made from the holidays the year before. I had been saving it – for God knows what – not sure if I was even going to use it. It was like some tangible part of her had been frozen here on Earth. Noodles were also one of the last things Mom ever made before she died. I didn’t want to lose that. This is the new challenge before me… to make glorious, delicious noodles without the care and tender touch of my Mom. To move forward with my life, without my Mom, minus perhaps the strongest person I ever knew.

So I have to keep writing – in some form. Just like I have to keep making noodles. The more I looked at that solitary bag in the freezer, I knew I had to do something with it. And so, with as little fanfare as possible, it was mixed into the four-dozen-batch of noodles I made at Thanksgiving – added to the steamy rich broth, stirred together with love and sadness, one noodle indistinguishable from the other.

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