I’m experiencing a typical northern Indiana spring day: dreary, rainy, chilly with no let up to the grey skies. Only the tiny new shoots on the bushes and the grass turning greener by the hour show any sign of growth. Oh, and the mint is up despite the snow showers.
As I go on my first long run of the year, and my jacket soaks up the steady rain, I return in my mind’s eye to a brighter place and time. Only a month ago, Jim and I left Goshen with a cold wind blowing and arrived 15 hours later in sunny Girona, Spain, where the skies are deep blue and the temperatures mild.
After a couple of months of hard work, we needed a rejuvenating break in a familiar spot. With the kind of work that we do, it is hard to actually stop working if we remain in our usual residence. So we left the winter here to find springtime across the ocean.
Our apartment there is up four flights of steps in an old building that has stood there for at least a hundred years. We like it because its windows open up onto the river Onyar, and we can sit and soak in the sun and just listen to the world going on around us without moving from our breakfast table. So breakfast here can take two hours.
We watch as the sun slowly rises in the sky and shines upon the colorful houses across the river. We hear the sound of voices speaking in Spanish and Catalan as they cross the pedestrian bridges spanning the water. Human sounds carry in this neighborhood where cars are closely regulated. We hear the higher pitched voices of school children, the chanting of university students demonstrating, the low hum of gossiping friends, the bark of a walked dog.
We sip coffee as the world around us comes to life, and from it we draw new life for ourselves. In that space and time, we truly find recreation. Toward noon, we make our way down those flights of stairs and open the door onto that world. We walk the cobblestone streets and mingle with the pedestrians. Only a two minute walk away, we find the bakery where we like to get our bread. To our left, a wide flight of stone stairs takes us to the next street where a small square holds small tables and some chairs. People are sitting enjoying a drink. We opt for the next flight of stairs which is narrow and beckons to us with an open arch. This passage takes us to the cathedral where another two flights of stairs open onto the entrance. We sit in the garden beside the old Roman stone wall and let the sun cleanse our minds with its brightness.
As we watch the world go by across the ocean from Goshen, we think about our life back there. We imagine what it would be like to live it here. Does living in the same space as all these old walls and buildings change the way that you see the world? Does knowing that humans have walked these same streets thousands of years ago mean anything to those walking here now? Sometimes I feel the shadow of those humans and I almost feel myself walking in their footprints and I decide that it does make a difference. I live my life more carefully when I honor those who have gone before me. I imagine not just myself, but a cohort of people like myself thinking these same thoughts and living out their lives together.
Now I’m back in Goshen. I soak in the first rays of sun I’ve seen in a week, like others have. I walk among the woods where others have walked. I sniff the scent of spring in the air as many have done before. And I find myself glad to be part of a community of humans. I want to live respecting the past and looking toward the future, but always aware of the present beside me. And it’s comforting to know that right now, in Girona, humans are doing the same.
To put myself totally back in the present, here is a simple dish I like to make when I don’t have the energy to go all out. Comforting and filling, tasty and delicious, it fulfills all of my requirements for down home food.
WHOLE WHEAT PENNE AND CHEESE
Serving size: 4 to 6, depending on your appetite
- 1 box of whole wheat penne
- 2 tablespoons butter, melted
- 1/2 medium onion, diced
- 3 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 1 1/2 to 2 cups milk
- At least 2 cups of grated cheese (I like to use a mix of Cheddar, Emmental, Parmesan and Gruyère, but make sure you use some tangy and flavorful cheeses. A bit of blue cheese is also a good choice!)
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup granola
- In a large pot, add water and bring to a boil. Add the pasta when the water begins to boil.
- Heat the oven to 375 F.
- In a small saucepan, melt the butter on medium low heat. When melted, add the onions and cook until translucent.
- Add the garlic and stir another 30 seconds. Add the spices. Then stir in the flour and cook for a minute.
- On medium heat, add in the milk while continually stirring. Keep stirring until the sauce thickens and just starts to bubble. Turn the heat off and slowly stir in the grated cheeses.
- Meanwhile, cook the penne al dente as directed on the package and drain.
- In a greased casserole dish, layer the pasta. Mix in the cheese until the penne is well coated. Sprinkle on the granola.
- In the oven, bake for 5 to 10 minutes until nice and hot.
- Serve with a crispy green salad.