Sausage & Onion Pasta with Balsamic Brown Butter

“It’s a funny thing coming home. Nothing changes. Everything looks the same, feels the same, even smells the same. You realize what’s changed, is you.”

I visited Boston last week, my first visit to my old home since moving to Seattle. I expected to be sad to come back to Seattle. I wasn’t. But I expected everything to be the same in Boston and that, too, wasn’t quite true.

It’s weird to go back to a place you once lived, especially a place you lived for a long time. People still did the same things. They drink in the same bars, go to the same jobs, live in the same apartments. The same train lines are bad and certain parts of the city are still dirty. Boston roads remain ridiculous and Boston people are still direct and sassy, just like before. Returning to Boston felt like putting on my favorite comfy old sweater — except at the end of every day, I didn’t go back to my old apartment. It wasn’t quite my old life. And after a few days, I didn’t actually want to wear that old sweater anymore (let’s be honest, that old sweater has holes and isn’t acceptable in public, anyway).

Change is hard, so hard. My move here has been anything but easy. Boston was comfortable for me in so many ways, to the point that I rarely had to think about anything I did. I had built-in friends, a community at my yoga studio, places I trusted to cut my hair and serve my coffee and wax my eyebrows. But somewhere in those last few years of Boston, I lost my risky edge. I lost my curiosity, became complacent with the city and its people and my routines. I couldn’t see it then but I could see it when I returned, clear as day, on full blast. In Boston, I’d been stuck in a rut.

Getting unstuck has been a process of many “what the hell am I doing!”s, full of sobbing moments mixed with moments of incandescent joy. I’ve gotten lost, taken the wrong buses, felt lonely and frustrated at new cultural norms. I’ve missed my old haunts, my easy friendships, my risk-free version of life in Boston. But I feel so empowered by my Seattle risks, by taking a chance on a new person or a new place, by how awake my brain feels when I explore a place I’ve never been or fall deep into conversation with a stranger. I notice more here, which means I feel more and see more. And with that “more” comes more good and more bad — that’s part of the deal.

So yes, Boston is the same as when I left it. I’m sure it will always feel comfortable and easy. But I’m different, so different now. Different in a way that would have been unfathomable just a few months away. I’d forgotten that the best way to light a fire in your life is to accept a challenge, a big challenge, a challenge you’re not quite sure you can conquer. That space where fear and courage meet — that’s the space that allows us to grow (thanks, Brene Brown), the space that allows us to become better, more mindful versions of ourselves. And isn’t that the whole point?

Sausage and Onion Pasta with Balsamic Brown Butter

Or “the recipe I always made, but different.” Serves 4.
  • 1 pound Italian sausage
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 cups pasta (bow ties or penne noodles work best for this)
  • 3 T butter
  • 1 t dried thyme
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 cup pasta water
  • 1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese

Cook the Italian sausage over medium heat, until no pink remains. Remove the sausage from the sauce pan and cover it with foil. Meanwhile, bring water to a boil for the pasta.

Add the onion to the sausage saucepan (without the sausage) with a bit of olive oil and cook for 5 minutes, until translucent. Add the garlic and butter and thyme, then cook for 2 more minutes or until the butter and garlic begin to lightly brown. Once the water boils, drop the pasta in and allow it to cook for 5-10 minutes, until al dente. Before draining the noodles, reserve 1 cup of pasta water.

Turn the heat to low under the onions and garlic, then add 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar and stir to combine. Once the pasta is cooked, add the pasta to the pan and return the heat to medium. Add parmesan cheese and 1/4 cup pasta water. If the dish appears dry, add more pasta water — up to 1 cup but probably somewhere between 1/4 cup and 1/2 cup (I find that this changes every time I make this recipe!). Garnish with salt and pepper and another pinch of parmesan cheese. Enjoy!



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