I’m sorry I’ve taken from you the possibility of an independent State of Lobster. If all the eggs I came to possess had been fertilised and grown up to be big, strong, purposeful lobsters, there would have been no hope for any of us. This would have been a lobster-ruled planet and orange would be good again.
Mea culpa. But also, mea lobster.
Subhead: But First, Mayaro
Buy a duck in Valencia. The duck is not going to share any secrets about life or lobster but, as I am quickly learning, this is the road-trip rule: buy things. I don’t want an inflatable turtle or a giant pumpkin or piggly ears today. It will have to be the duck.
In truth, it starts with, “Let’s go to Mayaro for chip-chip.” That sounds like fun. I don’t need chip-chip but I would like to do something with my Saturday that does not involve laundry. I’m in. And not much is asked of me. All I have to do is be on the look out for the very specific markers that will tell us where the chip-chip seller will be.
“It’s a sign that says ‘Chip-chip’. It may be blue. It’s in front of a house.”
Sure. It’s not like there are any houses or signs or blue things anywhere between Port-of-Spain and Mayaro.
Surprisingly it is as simple as that. There is the sign. There, the house. There the table covered in tiny shells and a few glasses stacked in the corner. But there is also no one around. Call, honk, rap on the front step, scare the family pets—all for naught. Thirty feet away, the men at the oyster stall ignore us.
Townish reserve gives way to the spirit of village life and my companion bravely parlays with the oyster men. They are swindling her to the nth degree. But, swindle as they may, it can’t detract from the joy of a phone number for a new chip-chip seller, directions to her house, and about half a cup of over-priced oysters.
Uphill and down, up and around again and at last the place is found, the chip-chip is gathered unto us and home we head.
Until I see the lobsters. Or did they see me? Who can say how these moments of magic occur. Once there was only me. (Okay, plus the friend and a duck and some oysters and the blessed chip-chip and a wooden cutting board and a Brazil nut). So, once there was me. Then there was me and two of the most beautiful lobsters I’ve ever seen. One is a big girl majestically covered in roe.
If there was any ambition of including a recipe here it would go something like this:
Phone number for the lady who sells chip-chip
Three bags of chip-chip
Nine to ten hours
With that in mind, I have some confidence you don’t want a recipe. There will be no recipe.
I was always going to ignore the purveyor of lobster who wanted me to add nutmeg and milk to spawn yet another good-for-the-back punch. But then the books, the collection of magazines and newsletters, yea, even unto the Internet turned on me. Turned their collective backs on me and said of the lobster roe: make a flavoured butter—or worse—use as garnish.
After some endless hours of tormented research, I find it. Noodles with roe. Yes. Oh yes. I summon the kitchen mercenary. A knife for hire. The most lethally precise cutter of all things. I will need her because I don’t have a pasta maker and people fear my unorthodox views on appliances. I’m sure everyone has pasta machines and just won’t let me near them. I’m not worried. My knifestress likes her odds against dough.
Now, about the actual making. Italian peasants and fancy restaurants have been making pasta by hand for eons. This is a doable thing. The recipe is—not to be ungrateful for whatever guidance there is for the asking—hopelessly imperfect. We need more of everything dry and less of everything wet. We knead and knead until the mixture releases us and the whole ball is bright with the tiny orange gems. Now would be the time to start drinking.
Beloved wooden kitchen table is covered in wax paper secured with really sturdy packaging tape. If that dough even looks at the wood grain the table will never be seen again. The knifestress and I are divided on the idea of how to undertake the flattening process. She recommends a rolling pin. I think throwing. On her side, a great history across cultures of rolling squishy things to make them into sheets. On my side, a two-month pottery course that left me with a certainty that this was my true calling—the tossing of an impossible soft ball of clay until it achieves a pleasing state of even thinness.
I throw. And throw. And discover that a mixture similar to what you need for dumplings is nothing at all like clay. I can’t stress this enough. Not even a little. Not even to spare me absolute surrender.
She rolls. She wins. Exquisitely thin sheets like the finest setting on any machine. For the cutting, I thought fettuccini. Then realized tagliatelle might happen. But no, I underestimated her. She cuts strips closer to taglierini (the super skinny sister of the other two). There’s rolling and cutting and flour everywhere. But as I begin to drape half the house in pasta—this really is what I’ve been reduced to, I hang the strips out to dry—I have the light-headed sensation of being in the presence of greatness. More than greatness: rightness. It is real pasta. It really is pasta. It is ready to be cooked and to fill us with joy and pride.
And it is extraordinarily bland. It is bland pasta. With what feels like bits of sand caught in it. Making it took five hours. A haze of flour fills the air. Flour and sticky dough coat tables, furniture, utensils, dogs and cats. There is the soft hum of despair as the knifestress and I regard each other over the shredded sheets of wax paper. Then, clarity. It needs simply what all pasta needs: a good sauce.
There are no words, only a shared sense of purpose and a grab for the car keys. Alfredo.