AROUND THE CITY | LAURA ANDERSON
It’s no secret that I am mathematically challenged. In high school, I never got past geometry, and even then the only way to survive was to go to class twice a day; once for my regular class and once during my lunch break. Somehow I managed to go from an “F” one quarter to a “B” the next, but it was a fight. I also bombarded chemistry because, to balance chemical equations, you have to do math. I squeaked. First year of college, I had to take a basic math course as a requirement and my willingness to meet the teacher throughout the semester saved me from failure. And there ended the formal training of my mathematical abilities. Or disabilities as the case may be.
Math teachers have always emphasized the importance of math in our daily lives, and we teens and young adults have mostly pooped that idea. What does a writer need in math? However, even with the advent of calculators, computers, and Excel spreadsheets that can help with calculations for the user, there comes a time when we all have to attempt a quick calculation to complete a daily task. And one in particular always reminds me of what I’m failing in math.
I can never calculate the right ratio of spaghetti to sauce.
You laugh, but that’s a real fault on my part. Once every two weeks I’m going to cook a batch of the sauce from scratch as my family prefers it over the potted variety and it’s easier when it comes to my husband’s many food allergies. I’m going to brown the meat, sauté the onions, put in a few cans of crushed tomatoes, a glass of wine, some Italian seasoning and (don’t judge me!) A spoonful of brown sugar. It boils for a few hours on the fire, thickening well. And then comes the moment of truth. The sauce is ready, the pasta water is boiling and I open the box of spaghetti and take a break. Entire box? Half box? Three quarters of a box? How many of us eat? How much did the sauce cook? What is the right percentage of pasta to cook so that there is no leftover sauce without pasta and no leftover pasta without sauce?
It never works well no matter how I try. Invariably, we end up with a large jar of leftover pasta and a smaller jar of sauce. Or vice versa. When there is more leftover sauce than pasta, you can always cook more pasta. But beware! You could cook too much pasta to complement the pasta not enough to accompany the overly heavy sauce, then everything will go to hell in a hand basket. What if it was angel hair pasta? It turns everything upside down. Why does a box of fine spaghetti make about nine cups of cooked spaghetti, but a box of angel hair pasta makes enough cooked angel hair to feed all the New England Patriots?
This lack of pasta-to-sauce ratio reminds me of the summers I worked at McDonald’s throughout college. I have never worked on the grid, always the cash register. But when the time came for the cook to flip the burgers (what they called “the round”), the cook would call whoever was in the front to ask, “How much ham and how much cheese?” Quickly, I had to assess how many of each we currently had in the stove, then calculate how many new burgers had to be cheese and how many could remain naked. There was a standard ratio that was used because people were ordering more cheeseburgers than burgers, and if I was wrong, we wouldn’t have enough of one and too much of the other. The question stressed me out, I never mastered the “tour” formula and finally offered to clean the hall or do some other housekeeping chore when I saw the cook throw burgers on the table. grill.
When life gives you too much pasta, there’s always butter and Parmesan cheese. When there is too much sauce, there are a few pieces of bread just begging to be made into Sloppy Joes. When you are faced with a mathematical challenge and it impacts your life experience, you learn to recognize your disability and make the most of it.
Once you do, you’ll quickly learn that your pasta is endless.