My husband is annoyingly good at sports. Most wives would be proud of that, and for the most part, I am. But it’s also frustrating at times how he takes to nearly every sport we do together like a duck to water.
Let me give you an example. When we took our first windsurfing lessons several years ago, he’d hopped on his board in the middle of the frigid waters of the San Francisco Bay and sailed off into the sunset, as if he’d been doing it for years. Me…not so much. I could barely stand up on my board for more than sixty seconds, if I was lucky. After forty-five minutes of standing and falling, usually with a cataclysmic splash into the icy waters, I finally resigned for the day, deciding instead to spend the remainder of the lesson floating on my board (seated) chatting with the other beginner in our class who was just as bad as I was.
A similar scenario played out when we first tried to surf together:
Marrow Man (aka, the husband if you’re new here): Jumps on board, stands up, and casually surfs towards the sand. Without a single lesson.
Me: Can barely paddle my board through the eight-foot waves without drowning.
And though we’ve both been snow skiing for years, the same damn thing happens on the mountain. (Well, he now snowboards, which he taught himself to do in an hour. I ski, which I’ve been doing since I was three.) He’ll usually board behind me for the first half of the run, kindly making sure I’m safe and comfortable; and then for the bottom half he’ll zoom past me, ear buds shoved deep in his ears, racing himself to the bottom.
He knows I won’t do black runs, though, so we tend to avoid them when we’re together. Despite my more than two decades of experience skiing on winter holidays, I still prefer to stick to the blues and greens—slopes I know I won’t kill myself on. Slopes that are made for making lazy S-turns and carelessly soaking up the surrounding winter scenes. The challenge and thrill of black runs isn’t worth the risk of falling and hurting myself, in my opinion.
But this past trip, we found ourselves on a black by accident. We ended up there after a series of wrong turns, both of us unfamiliar with the new mountain, made worse by the fact that trail markers are apparently non-existent on Mount Hood.
About a quarter of the way down the mountain, I began to realize something was off. The crowds thinned out and, soon enough, we were the only ones on the entire trail. I came to a stop and turned to my husband, “this doesn’t look right.” “Just keep going,” he’d said, “they would’ve marked it if there were black runs ahead.” I hesitated and continued on.
I came to a fork. To the right: a path that looked wide open and soft. To the left: a path that was narrower and icier. I started off towards the right, followed by my husband, hoping it would take us to the blue bowl we’d been planning to ski. But about twenty feet further and my skis were buried in a foot of fresh powder, light fluffy ungroomed snow falling into my boots. I could no longer see where I was going. I was blindly following my now indivisible skis, praying I didn’t hit a buried boulder or lose my control and run into a tree.
I came to a halt when I saw one lone snowboarder sitting at the top of what might as well have been a cliff. It also happened to be the only way down. It looked like a perfect 90-degree drop from where I stood at the top, my ski tips hanging over the edge. And the moguls populating it were everywhere. I could hardly imagine navigating my way down the impossibly steep mountain and around the mini-mountain moguls. “Excuse me, but is this a black run?” I asked him innocently, in my most polite voice. He looked back at me like I had two heads, probably annoyed that some silly blonde was interrupting his ultra-cool moment of confident solitude, before standing up and heading down the mountain.
When my husband arrived by my side, I knew he could see the trepidation—and just a hint or two of anger—in my eyes.
I’m not sure why I’m so scared of falling on a mountain. I’ve dived 140 feet into the Blue Hole in Belize and jumped out of two perfectly good airplanes. I’m not usually one to be afraid of adventure-y things. But for some reason, the idea of crashing on ice and snow—my skis twisting in different directions before popping off, my poles flying off into the trees, snow filling my jacket, pants, and boots—absolutely terrifies me.
“I’m going back up,” I said to him, shaking my head and preparing to hoist my skis over my shoulder for a grueling hike upwards. He laughed at me, knowing this was an impossibility. “Babe. You can do this. It’s all in your head. Just go for it!” I’d yelled something unpleasant to him, something probably akin to what women yelled to their partners during childbirth.
But the truth is, he was right. I was capable of doing it. I just didn’t want to do it. My head was sending signals to my body that this was the end. My legs were shaking. My eyes began to fill up and two small, would-be tears turned into tiny frigid eye-daggers in the 10-degree (F) weather. And after ten minutes of moaning and groaning to the point of near crying, I sucked it up and thought to myself: Fuck it. If the only way I’m getting off this damn trail is to ski my way down it, then I better get going. After all, this could take a while.
So I slowly started my decent, taking the straight downward plunge into the unknown. The first turn was the worst and I was convinced for a second that I wouldn’t make it to turn number two before crashing. But I did. Followed by turns three and four. And eventually, I found myself at the bottom of the mountain in one piece, looking up at my husband shredding it. (Like a pro, I might add. Jerk.)
He arrived by my side in a fraction of the amount of time that it had taken me to get down the mountain, grinning and saying, “See? Told you you could do it!” I smiled up at him, proud of myself for not falling and also very thankful for his sweet patience and encouragement despite my unkind words, before informing him he was on his own for the rest of the afternoon. I had an après-ski date with myself that I had to get to. (Aka, several cold beers on a warm barstool.)
In honor of the black run that I successfully lived through that day, I’m fixing a Homemade Tagliatelle with Black Garlic Eggplant Sauce. (How’s that for a segue?) Black garlic is one of those market items that I always get excited over when I find it. It’s the same species as regular garlic, but has been fermented for months, making it black in color and its insides almost squishy in texture.
Unlike regular garlic, however, which is slightly spicy, black garlic has a slightly sweet and sour flavor to it, almost like tamarind, which lends itself well to Asian cuisine. But here I use it with Italian-inspired flavors, creating a creamy sauce out of it with bitter roasted eggplant, spicy red pepper, and just a dash of bright lemon zest before tossing it with a fresh tagliatelle. I honestly wasn’t sure how this particular pairing would turn out, but I can say now that the result vastly exceeded my expectations.
Kind of like how I actually made it down that black diamond run without ending up in the hospital. The biggest difference is that I’ll make this pasta dish for years to come. That particular run? Let’s just say I’d be happy if we never saw each other again.
- 2 large eggplants
- ¾ pound of fresh tagliatelle (see above) or about 8 ounces of dried pasta, with 1 cup of pasta cooking liquid reserved and set aside
- olive oil, enough for tossing the cooked pasta
- 1 head of black garlic, peeled
- 1 teaspoon of red pepper flakes
- ⅛ teaspoon of lemon zest, or just a few swift passes over a micrograter
- ½ to 1 teaspoon of sea salt (depending on tastes)
- ¼ teaspoon of black pepper
- fresh herbs (such as basil or parsley) for garnish
- grated parmesan cheese, for garnish
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Pierce each eggplant with a fork a few times and then wrap in aluminum foil. Place on a rimmed baking tray and roast until the inside of the eggplant is soft and cooked through, about 1 hour.
- Remove the eggplant from the oven, slice each eggplant in half and scoop out “meat” of the eggplant with a spoon, placing it into a large pot or skillet, making sure not to get any of the skin.
- Add the black garlic to the skillet, along with the lemon zest, sea salt, and black pepper. Using an immersion blender, blend the eggplant and black garlic mixture until smooth. This should yield about 2 cups of sauce. You may or may not want to use all of it, depending on taste. Once the sauce is finished, set it over low heat while you prepare the pasta.
- Boil a large pot of water. Once water is boiling, drop pasta in and cook (about 3 minutes for fresh pasta; follow package directions for dry pasta.) Before straining the cooked pasta, be sure to scoop out roughly 1 cup of pasta liquid and set it aside. Once you’ve strained the pasta, toss with olive oil and 2 egg yolks.
- In a separate bowl, combine the pasta and the eggplant sauce and toss until coated thoroughly. Incorporate some of the pasta liquid, a little bit (about 1 tablespoon) at a time, until sauce is to desired consistency. You may find you don’t need much of the pasta liquid at all (I used 2-3 tablespoons) but this little trick helps bind the pasta to the sauce, even if it’s just a bit of liquid. Garnish with herbs and fresh parmesan cheese.
Black garlic is a hit or miss item, but I’ve had good luck with finding it in Trader Joe’s. In the Portland area, you can usually find it at New Seasons too. It typically comes in bags and is in the vegetable section, though it’s not refrigerated.