My Imperfect Recipe

Yesterday I woke up at 4:30 am and made 60 quarts of pasta fagioli. For the last seven years, I have volunteered to make this soup as part of an annual school fundraiser. I spend one morning per year creating the soup base of onions and garlic — along with my two own secret ingredients — before adding the tomato sauce, beans, and ditalini and letting it all simmer. I change the recipe slightly every year to make it better with a little more of this and a little less of that. It usually takes about ten stock pots to get it all done. And then it takes about three days for my kitchen to no longer reek of garlic!

When my friend, Mary G., first convinced me – a pasta fagioli-making virgin – to participate in this fundraiser, she gave me some valuable advice: “Pasta fagioli is a very forgiving soup. You do not have to follow the recipe perfectly. Use whatever ingredients feel right. It is almost impossible to mess up!” This advice has taken on many layers of meaning over the years, as my pasta fagioli recipe and I have evolved together.

When my girls were younger, I volunteered for EVERYTHING. At the time, I do not think I even attempted to tell myself what I was doing was for altruistic reasons. Instead, I told myself it was my way of easing my conscience about having a career. But here is something I have never admitted before, even to myself: it was never about working mom’s guilt. Instead, it was about my insecurities and my fear of what others might think.

I assumed I was being judged because I chose to have a career and be a parent. So, to compensate for these feelings, in my usual fashion, I went hardcore. I volunteered for anything I could get my hands on. I wanted everyone to know what a dedicated and loving parent I was – – even with a career. But in doing so, I was not genuine. I was faking it. I was putting on an act. I was not being true to myself, my daughters, or anyone else.

The truth is that I never considered being a stay-at-home parent. Instead, a career was important to me and a personal choice that was right for my family and me. I no longer hide that reality. And while often imperfect, it was, in fact, my choice. And it is one that I have no regrets over.

I also want to be clear that my choices are not a reflection or statement of what anyone else should do or how anyone else should raise a family. Each of us should do what works best, both for our families and ourselves. Being a parent is not easy for anyone. We make it even harder when we pretend to be someone we are not.

That brings me full circle back to the pasta fagioli. I commit to making mass quantities for the annual Home & School Association fundraiser. It is a heavy lift in the moment, but it is over in a day and early in the school year. And it is my only school volunteer activity. So, I get that intense, early morning soup-making is not for everyone. But, it is perfect for me. I have come to enjoy it. I have had fun watching the process evolve over the years. And it frees me to do other things I genuinely love instead of those that make me miserable and are done just for appearances. As strange as it may sound, pasta fagioli has freed me from my insecurities as a parent and a member of my larger community.

As seems to be the case, every time I stop caring what anyone else thinks and take responsibility for my self-worth, putting “the soup on” once a year before the sun rises has become something I look forward to and cherish. It is an act of love – for my daughters, community, and myself. It is me at my best. I am my true, authentic self.

My journey has been an imperfect one, for sure. And I am okay with that. Much like pasta fagioli, none of us needs to be perfect, only forgiving. It is almost impossible to mess up when we live in a world where we are true to ourselves.

Photo Credit: Bill Koy

1 Comment

You’re the BEST Mom, hardest worker, and best pasta fagioli maker I know! Love you!!!