Everything-in-the-Fridge Pasta Salad

Last night Sean reminded me of how wildly diverse the weather in Boston can be: 6 months ago, on February 3rd, it was 29 degrees with snow on the ground. Today, on July 3rd, it’s 90 degrees with 38% humidity.

Something happens to Bostonians in the summer, though. As we emerge from the dry, dark, icy tundra of Boston into a milder spring, we almost always forget about how bad the winter really was. Like mothers do after birth, we probably forget the trauma because it’s in our best interest: If we’re going to live here forever, summers are our reward and seasonal amnesia is our coping mechanism.

Lest we forget winter fully, though, I’d like to remind you of a blog I wrote on March 1, 2015, amidst snow flurries and 20 degree weather. The winter of 2015 was the most hellish winter I ever experienced in Boston.

Boston is a one-storm city – or at least that’s what they told me when I moved here. Boston winters are hard, they said, but if you can get through February, you’re good to go. I call bull. 

This year Boston was a four storm city – a four blizzard city, that is – with three or so small storms to round it all out. And while I love Boston, I’ll be honest: it hasn’t been fun. These days, the snow prevents most of us from getting to work or school. It makes walking down the sidewalks (without clinging to the snowbanks with our mittened claws) next to impossible. So to my friends on other coasts, in other states, in places where the sun still shines and the sidewalks are not coated in salty-icy, browning sludge, this one’s for you: this is what the Boston blizzards look like (and feel like, and smell like, and sound like). 

I’ll start with my body, which is so displeased by the winter that it’s decided to stage its own revolt. When I walk out the door, my eyelashes freeze. The weather makes my nostrils burn above the hot, damp fabric of the collar of my coat, which is forced over my mouth so I can breathe. I have chapped lips, peeling and dry. My hair brushes my face with static cling, so devoid of moisture that my hairdresser conditioned my hair three times last week – three! – “to save it.” In a ragged line behind my fellow Bostonians, I walk down the street most days with a slight limp because of the raw spot on my right heel, rubbed bloody by my heavy snow boots. Those boots have saved me from frozen toes and soggy socks, but damn I’d like to put something else on my feet for a change. And let’s not even discuss my sandpaper skin, my constantly dripping nose – which can be both burning and moist, apparently – and my cracking hands. 

Two weeks ago, I walked a mile and a half home (by then public transportation had completely come to a halt) in the swirling white snow at 10 pm. “Think positive,” I said to myself. “How beautiful.” In the spectacularly quiet city, trees sparkled. Roads were clear. Three strangers pushed a man’s car into his inclined spot. I ignored my frozen, burning fingers and the icy wind that forced me to squint. This could be beautiful. A plow approached in the distance. I stepped to the side, glancing up at the snow flakes. Then the snow plow passed, delivering a scoop of snow three feet high, directly onto my legs and into my boots. Fun.

And then there’s my house. When I’m indoors, the blizzard weather sounds like the dull, repetitive thunk of a three-foot long icicle that’s encased itself around the power lines outside my kitchen window. As the wind swirls the snow into the air, the icicle knocks against my house. And all around Boston, the snow is starting to sound like glass breaking as brief thaws send the icicles crashing – shattering – to the ground. These beautiful daggers rim our roofs, cracking window frames and sparkling dangerously when the sun peeks through clouds. Have you heard of ice dams? I hadn’t – until this year. Some days, I’m worried that the 20-foot tall column of ice on the side of my home will crack the whole house in half. My landlord, on the other hand, does not seem concerned.

I’ve also learned, this winter, that carbon monoxide is a silent killer. So when the carbon monoxide alarm went off in my basement some days ago, I went feet first into a snow bank two times my size behind my house – how can that be real? – to clear the snow from the drier vent. But after ten minutes in the snow bank, the vent clear and my boots full of icy water, shoulders burning from the shovel I held above my head, the damn alarm continued to beep. Ten minutes later, that particular Boston blizzard sounded less like softly falling snow and more like the mouth-breathing of a 911 operator, then the wailing of fire trucks, then the squeaking of the boots of burly, attractive firemen stomping across my clean apartment floor, axes in hand. “Take us to the alarm,” one said, looking patient and tired. He’d parked the fire truck two blocks from my house because my street was too narrowed by the snow for them to get any closer.

“I’ll check the vent,” another said as he nodded out the window. Then he changed his mind. “Too deep.” Too deep, huh? I was soaked up to my arm pits. But all was well, he said – the wiring was just faulty, and the carbon monoxide detectors in their hands didn’t register poison, and I didn’t feel lightheaded or dead. The firemen stomped out and I crawled back into the pile of ten blankets on my bed, space heater whirring away. Did I mention that 30 degrees feels warm these days?

When I think of looking at Boston from a bird’s eye view right now, I giggle. We must look funny, all forced to walk down Boston’s sidewalks in single file lines between browning snow banks twice the height of us. The paths are only as wide as a shovel so we walk staring straight ahead with only our eyes exposed willing oncoming pedestrians to step aside. It’s a gamed of snow-laced chicken. I will say that people are kind – kinder than usual, in fact – because we’re all in this battle together. But our city looks ugly now, snow banks turned brown from car tires, feet and sand. The pristine white is gone. I now know where each dog has peed. Streets are littered with strange space savers – don’t you dare park in the spot I shoveled yesterday! – things like umbrellas, and desk lamps, and boxes of diapers. And with our belongings holding place for our other belongings, we all look and feel embattled, chapped, static-y, tired, legs burning from the mazes we walk through, patience fried from two hour commutes.

For now I’d just like to be able to move – that should be a simple request! I want to walk down the street right next to someone else, to breathe without something over my nose and mouth, to take off a mitten to send a text, to ride the train without budgeting an extra 45 minutes for my journey. But while we’re creeping toward that point in slowly moving trains and snow piles that are cemented, icy, melting, re-freezing, closing off sidewalks and freeway entrances and home entryways, I don’t think we’ll be there any time soon. So until the spring – the thaw that will be the greatest thaw Boston has seen in years – I will be here, chapped lips, bleeding heels, static hair, and all. I’ll be creeping down the streets in my snow boots with 3 pairs of socks, obsessively attending hot yoga and drinking too much ginger tea. Be glad you don’t have to join me.

In honor of that snowy memory, make yourself a batch of pasta salad on this summer afternoon and pour a glass of lemonade. Sit on your porch in the sun and remember, gloriously, how good we have it right now. Remember how strong this city has made us.


Everything-in-the-Fridge Pasta Salad

Serves 6-8
  • 3/4 pound macaroni noodles
  • 1 bell pepper, cut into chunks
  • 1/2 red onion, minced
  • 1/2 cucumber, cut into thin half moons
  • 2 medium-sized tomatoes, cut into chunks
  • 1/2 cup sharp-tasting cheese, chopped into chunks (cheddar and gouda are my favorites)
  • 1/4 cup hard cheese, shredded (parmesan is best)
  • 4 T fresh or dried herbs, minced (cilantro, basil and/or mint)
  • optional: 1/2 cup chopped salami or ham or chicken

Dressing:

  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 2 T dijon mustard
  • 1 T honey
  • 1/2 t kosher salt
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 T good olive oil
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Boil water and cook your pasta until it’s al dente. Strain them and run cold water over the noodles to stop them from cooking. Drizzle them with a tiny bit of olive oil to prevent sticking while they cool.

Meanwhile, prep all your veggies, meats, cheese and herbs and put them in a large bowl. Keep in mind that this is called “everything in the fridge” pasta salad for a reason — you can throw in everything you have. My recipe is just a suggestion! I usually add chopped bell peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, red onions, fresh herbs (basil and mint), a few types of cheese, and meat to the bowl. If you want to get crazy, roast those veggies in the oven for 20 minutes at 400 degrees to add extra flavor.

While your noodles cool, make the dressing by whisking together vinegar, mustard, honey, salt and garlic in a small bowl. Slowly add vegetable oil while continuing to stir, finishing with olive oil, salt and pepper.

Once your noodles are mostly cooled, add them to the large bowl with the mix-ins. Pour the dressing over the whole thing and stir to combine. Store in the fridge for up to 5 days.

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