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National Story Project
With Paul Auster

national story project for june 2001 about cooking for one's significant other June 2001 -- Paul Auster reads a story from Kristina Streeter of Napa, California. Hear the audio from the program.

The Mysteries of Tortellini

Brian and I were a few months into our relationship, and I still hadn't cooked for him. He was a classically trained, professional chef, and that intimidated the hell out of me. I was an appreciative audience, though, and would try anything he prepared for me when he came to my house with his wok and knives and saute pans to seduce me with his cooking. But the thought of cooking for a chef terrified me. Mostly because the foods I knew how to make involved cans and jars and pounds of meat, your choice, which you threw into one pot and called a meal. Casserole. Lasagna. Or my roommate's specialty: pork chops smothered in cream of mushroom soup. Standard fare from our southern Ohio upbringing. But definitely not something to serve to a California chef.

But I was beginning to feel guilty. So one Wednesday, after he had cooked one of his meals for me, I announced that I would make dinner for him Saturday night. He looked impressed and said that he would be over at seven o'clock.

I bought an Italian cookbook at the drugstore and found a recipe that looked doable: Tortellini. From scratch.

Saturday afternoon, I made the filling. No problem. I made the dough, starting with the egg in the well of flour, which magically transformed into a mound of dough. I began to feel pretty confident. Even cocky, if truth be told.

"Keryn, where's that rolling pin?" I called out to my roommate, who had promised to disappear for the evening.

"What rolling pin?" she yelled from the living room.

"You know," I said, "the wooden one."

"We don't have a rolling pin," she called out.

Stopping to close my eyes, I remembered where that pin was. In my mother's kitchen. 2000 miles away. And it was 6:30 p.m.

I glanced around the kitchen, swearing under my breath. My eyes lit on a bottle of wine I had bought to go with dinner. Not as good as my mother's rolling pin, since it had only one handle, but it would have to do. I rolled as best I could, breaking into a sweat even though the air conditioner was going. I then cut the dough with a water glass, and from there I seemed to be back on track. I covered a baking sheet with tortellini, properly filled and twisted into shape.

Just as I was finishing, the doorbell rang. I slammed the tray of pasta into the fridge and greeted my dinner guest, flour dusting my clothes, my face shiny and flushed. He had brought along a bottle of sparkling wine and a rose to celebrate the occasion.

A glass of champagne later, I was collected enough to begin cooking the tortellini. The pot of water began to boil. He watched with interest as I pulled the baking sheet out of the refrigerator, and his eyes popped when he saw the rows of tiny twisted shapes. "You made that? By hand? I don't even make that, and I have a pasta machine."

I dropped the pasta into the boiling water, then served them. They looked beautiful. We sat down, and I watched as he put one in his mouth and chewed. And chewed. And chewed. I tried one. They were as dense as a pencil eraser.

It was over. I knew it. I had had a good thing going and now he'd survive the meal, then beg off early with a headache and disappear into the summer evening, his box of knives and pans never to spend the night in my apartment again.

But he ate them. Every last one of them, only admitting that, yes, there were a little thick, but really not bad. So I confessed the story of the rolling pin. He didn't laugh. His look told me that this guy was the one.

When people ask us when we knew it was the real thing, Brian says, "The first time she cooked dinner for me. She made me tortellini - from scratch." And I say, "The first time I cooked for him, he ate my tortellini."

– Kristina Streeter
Napa, California

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