Yanna Lee

I’ve been trying to find meaning in making pasta. After all, this summer I made a lot of pasta, an obscene amount of pasta, sometimes the same pasta dish three times in one week. There must be a reason for this and a reason why I keep thinking about those recipes even now: carbonara and lemon spaghetti and aglio e olio. I close my eyes, and I’m standing in my kitchen again. Salt is sticking to my palms, garlic, chili pepper and basil linger in the air, thick and heady steam rises from the pot. It makes my face warm.

Part of it, I suppose, is the novelty. I’ve never been a cook, much less a serious cook, and only during these past few months have I begun to consider that I could make food — actual, honest, edible food. Pasta was the first dish I latched on to. I copied the recipes from the Food Channel website word-for-word, following the measurements so, so carefully: six ounces of spaghetti, half a cup of Parmesan, a pinch of seasoning to taste. There was a certain gravity to the process that even now I can’t quite explain. It’s almost like growing up, almost like taking responsibility. I think back to sitting at the dinner table as a kid, kicking my legs against the chair, impatient — and now, here I am at the stove, spatula and everything.

Yet, I’ve realized most of this only in retrospect. To be honest, in those moments — straining macaroni, dicing tomatoes, drizzling olive oil in the pan and watching everything stew and simmer and bubble — I didn’t reflect much. I thought about which pot to use, how to peel garlic, when I should turn the heat down, if I should salt the water, if it was finally al dente. Everything in those hours was very singular, very compact, very … current.

It’s been a long time since I’ve done anything without wondering about its greater implications. I guess it’s a consequence of achievement and ambition, the ever-looming next step, the specter of that ultimate question: “Will this get me to where I want to go?” In school, I always feel like there’s some kind of ulterior motive at play, whether in plain sight, hidden, or ignored; because these classes are for my major, and these extracurriculars are for medical school, and these things and those things — I have a calendar overflowing with events, all tied to the future.

Don’t get me wrong: I know why I’m doing this. But, with pasta, it’s different. Different because there’s no other purpose than the now, than the water in the pot and the greens on the cutting board.

When I’m in the house alone, Netflix in the background, it’s just for me, it’s just for the present. I can follow the rules; I can break the rules. Giada de Laurentiis suggests I zest a lemon with a zester; I take a knife and hack away at the peel. Everything is so spontaneous and so active and so vibrant. It’s a luxury that I haven’t had the chance to explore at Yale, a feeling I didn’t know I missed.

I guess this is why, sitting here now in my dorm room, I imagine renting out the Davenport student kitchen and making pasta again. I imagine finishing my classes for the day, changing into comfortable clothes and slipping into that space — alone. I will put on good music and wear no shoes. Garlic, chili pepper, basil.

It is 7 p.m. on a weekday, and I am taking some time for myself.

Contact Alice Zhao at alice.zhao@yale.edu .