Hi there! I know it’s been awhile and I thank you for being patient with my break from the blog. I did not stay away because I was avoiding you, honest! January was an emotional month, with the loss of an old friend and the usual January Business Anxiety, though I must admit that this was our best January yet for the cafe. I missed talking with you and I do have some things to report, but today is Valentine’s Day and I think it is a good time for a love story.

I don’t mind telling you that I love the movie An Affair to Remember, and still get teary when Terry McKay (Debra Kerr) says to a bewildered Nicky (Cary Grant) “It was my own fault, I was looking up. You were there… it was the nearest thing to heaven!” I think that the greatest love story in movie form (ever to exist in the universe!) is Robert Bernigni’s ‘La Vita e Bella’ and I still smile each time I am in Cortona Italy and see the theater from the movie.

Led Zeppelin’s ‘Thank You’ and The Beatles ‘In My Life’ are my top two picks for love songs, and I find it appropriate that they were both written by famous couples, even if they were not romantic couples. I do not have a favorite love story in book form (too many! I love them all!) though right now I am reading Elizabeth Edwards’ book ‘Resilience’ and I am falling in love with it! So many forms of love, so few ways to express them… Love is the answer. Love opens all doors. Love, love, love. And we all have many love stories throughout our lives, romantic love, familial, love of friends, work, food, travel; love of fun, nature; spiritual love, physical love, emotional love… we can go on all day. I am going to tell you a love story and it is my love story with Mark, and there is not a happy ending, or rather I should tell you there is no ending at all, because we are still living our story. I have been told it is a good story and I certainly think so, though perhaps mainly because I seem to benefit more than anyone else from it. Mark may disagree with me there, though I think he is the only one who could challenge that statement.

I was 14 years old when I was a freshman in high school. It was a new school, new neighborhood, new everything and of course it was all very confusing. I made a few friends and this one boy, Chris, had the CUTEST older brother who was a senior. He had a curly red afro and even though he didn’t really know who I was, my stomach fluttered when he looked at me. At the age of 16 I was a junior and ready for my first job. I worked at the Renton Sheraton after school and on weekends, in the restaurant as a ‘bus girl’ and in room service. Chris’ older brother Mark was my trainer and so here I was, 2 years later, working with this cute guy! He was quiet and not interested in a high school junior, after all he was 20 years old, but he was very nice and taught me how to do a good job. This was in 1984 and long before caller ID, and as young goofy girls we would get together and call boys. When they came to the phone we would giggle and hang up and then scream with nervous laughter at each other for not having the nerve to talk to him. Mark got his share of giggly hang up calls, to be sure.

I don’t remember who left the Sheraton first. We each went on our way, I went to college and Mark eventually joined the Marine Corps. When I was a senior in high school I had a boyfriend for 8 months whom I loved as much as any 17 year old girl loves her first boyfriend. One of my college jobs was at the Maple Valley Golf Course, at Charlie’s Bar & Grill, where I learned the ropes in the kitchen. My first chef was an ex prison chef and while he was a mean SOB, I learned a ton from him about making everything from scratch. This restaurant was not fine dining, though we had the best food around because we even cut and breaded our own cheese sticks; everything tasted great there because we made it ourselves. The other chef that I worked under at Charlie’s was Greg Rooter and he introduced me to the world of catering (from the kitchen perspective, I had done lots of catering as a server) and BBQ. Greg built a BBQ pit in the back of our kitchen so we could smoke all kinds of meats… sorry, I am digressing to a different love story: the love of cooking great food! So while I was at Charlie’s we hired my old high school friend Chris and I was working with him. I counted Chris as a good friend and one day he invited me to a big party down at his house for his brother who was coming home from boot camp.

I went to the party where I saw lots of old friends from High School and there was Mark. He was fresh out of boot camp and looking really good! My insides did that floppy thing again and I tried to hang out near him that evening. I didn’t see him again until December, when he came ‘home’ on leave. I began hanging out at Chris’ house with all the guys, hoping he would notice that I was a fun gal to be around. I let him borrow my car to go visit friends and I took him places when I needed my car. I worked at a different restaurant kitchen then and brought food from work when I could. Finally, when it seemed he would never get the clues and there were only a couple of days left before he went back to California, I asked him out. I was pretty excited when he said yes! I don’t remember everything we did on that date, though we visited some friends and he taught me to play pool, which is a very good first date thing to do! We were together until very late because he was leaving the next day and I did not know when I would see him again. My mom tells me (and I truly have no recollection of this event) that when I got home from that date I told her that “I was with the man I am going to marry” and she about fainted.

You see, I was never a girly girl and I did not fall in love easily. I never dreamed about my wedding day, or wished for a prince charming and I did not page through bridal magazines fantasizing of the dress I would one day wear. That was never me, and in fact I had written essays about why marriage was not for me. I had well researched, intellectual arguments against marriage as a result of our culture and societal refusal to evolve our thinking around the marital institution. So when I told her that I was with the man I was going to marry, my mom was aghast. I did not say things like this lightly, and I still do not remember saying it at all, though I know she did not make it up. I went 3 weeks without hearing from Mark and then one day Chris says to me in passing ‘oh by the way, Mark has been asking for your address and phone number, and I keep forgetting to tell you’. Oh by the way, I almost killed Chris that day, but I was so relieved and excited that I forgot to! I had to call his mom for Mark’s address because Chris didn’t have it and that was nerve-wracking! I am sure she just rolled her eyes at the little twit calling to get her son’s mailing address, but she gave it to me anyway.

Mark and I began a correspondence and telephonic relationship, and then he came home for an entire month in May. We spent every moment possible together and if I had any doubts prior to that, by the end of the month I was very confident in my love for him. He took a little convincing, but I was not worried because I knew we would have the rest of our lives together. He called my from Japan on my 21st birthday and every Sunday after that. On one of those calls he told me he loved me. I remember the feeling that came over me as we hung up the phone and I began squealing with excitement and jumping up and down on my bed. My roommate ran in to see what was going on and I exclaimed “HE SAID ‘I LOVE YOU’! HE LOVES ME! HE LOVES ME!”… I visited him in California twice and he came home a couple of times to see me when he saw his family. In 1990 he decided against renewing his enlistment and came home for good, just 2 months before I graduated with my BA in Criminal Justice. He moved in to my little studio apartment and then we got a 1 bedroom together after that. He got a job at his godfather’s auto service station and over 16 years became manager. I became a police dispatcher (among other things) and we rented a house, and bought our first house. We got married in 1991 with a few family & friends around us at Lake Tahoe, then came back and had a big party/reception.

That first year of marriage was really difficult; Mark was laid off while upgrades were made to the station and we bickered a lot. My grandmother died within days of his, and the funerals were on the same day, which is what snapped us back into sync since we needed to really support one another. We worked different shifts with different days off and took 2-week and month-long vacations together. Just like everyone does, we had our ups and downs and ins and outs, all with the calm knowledge in the back of our minds that nothing really matters in the end because we have our whole lives to figure it out.

In 1997 I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia and began a 2 year education to become a Certified Nutritional Herbalist and Reiki Master, and Mark said ‘ok honey, whatever you need to do for you I support’. I dabbled in that as a business, but it wasn’t right for me. I still use the skills and knowledge that I gained for my own health management, as well as for family and friends, and I owe it to Mark for supporting me when I needed it. That same year we were on SR 16 through Gig Harbor, driving home from Hood Canal after scattering the ashes of my great-grandmother. Mark sighed and said ‘I wish we could live in a place like this’ and I said ‘WHY CAN’T WE??’ If that is both what we want, then we should move here! Mark balked for a moment and then slowly said ‘ok honey, if you think we can do it then we can! We will both be happier over here so let’s move’. We eventually bought some property, lived with my parents, rented an apartment, and then bought another house, and we love it here. Mark commuted to Bellevue 4 days a week and I went to Seattle, then Renton, 5 days a week on swing shift.

After 15 years I decided that I needed a career change and I quit my job with no real plans as to what I would do. Mark said ‘ok honey, you not working makes me nervous, but I trust you to do what is best for us.’ Can you believe that? And then when I decided not only that I wanted to have a restaurant, and then figured out that I wanted this restaurant that was also a bakery, and also that in order for it to work he would have to quit his job and work it with me, he only hesitated for one minute. One minute!Then he said ‘ok honey, this scares the crap out of me, but I trust that we will do the best for us and that you are planning this out as best you can’. So we both took that leap of faith and we haven’t landed yet! 5 years ago today I did not know what was going to happen. The previous owner had been afraid to commit so I had stepped away and told her to call me when she was ready. I was running errands when I ran into my dad and his friend Mort as they were going to lunch at a Chinese restuarant in Gig Harbor, and they invited me to join them, so I did. I still have the fortune that came out of my cookie. It reads: “Don’t lose sight of what you want” and I look at it almost every day. I never do lose sight.

So that is the reader’s digest version of our love story. Every time I have a new idea for the cafe, or our lives, no matter how nervous it makes him, Mark always supports me. He expresses his fears and concerns and when I confidently say ‘I don’t know the answers, let’s just try it!’ he always supports me. I would not be here without him and I wouldn’t know where to go if he were not here with me. Our love story continues to unfold and even these days when we are too tired and broke to go out on dates, I know he is here for me. When we say ‘I love you more’ it is not a contest with one another, it means more than yesterday and more than ever and more than anyone else. And I do, Mark. I love you more.

A recipe? After all that? Ok, I will tell you how to make Spaghetti Carbonara, which after being in Rome I found out I make pretty darn well.

1 lb dried spaghetti and a huge pot of boiling water to cook it in.

olive oil
1 lb pancetta or bacon, diced
5 eggs, well beaten and set aside
1 or more cups grated parmesan, or pecorino romano, or asiago, or a combo
1 or more TBS ground black pepper

In a large saute pan render and crisp up the pancetta or bacon in the olive oil. Meanwhile bring the water to boil and salt it well; salty like the sea is a good rule for cooking pasta.

Cook the pasta 1-2 minutes less than what the package recommends, then drain it but reserve 2 cups of the liquid.

Toss the pasta in with the pancetta, pour the eggs and cheese and pepper over it and stir it, off the heat, until it is all incorporated and a creamy sauce has formed. If it seems a bit dry or stiff, add in some of the pasta water and keep stirring.

The residual heat will cook the eggs all the way through, and there should be a very good amount of black pepper throughout the dish. Stir it up well and toss it until it is all incorporated, then serve it up! Top with more cheese and pepper if you like it! This is the perfect dish to make for someone you love. It will feed them well and it is comforting to boot!

I will admit that I also saute onions and garlic with the pancetta, though that is not traditional and not necessary, I just can’t help it!