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When Making Lasagna, Start with a Stiff Noodle

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Phoenix is a funny place, the desert and all its inhabitants. The Valley ebbs and flows with people, a revolving door of sorts. Most of the dynamic people I know who end up here have moved here for a job or a lover. I know very few people who came for "the weather," and the ones that do — sadists and freaks — I'm wary of.

Those who move here for the sun just hate the cold. The thing that really pisses me off is that no one moves here for the desert, the wonderful, estranged extreme heat and extreme beauty. Edward Abbey, one of my heroes, summed it up best in the opening quote to his book Desert Solitaire: "If the desert has taught me anything, it's that love can only blossom in openness and freedom."

Unfortunately, most of the truly good folks who end up here ultimately leave for greener pastures (literally). They lose their job or their love fades in the sun. Hey, even Jesus stayed in the desert for just 40 days and 40 nights. The good thing about being trapped here is that, like in jail, you get visitors, particularly when the weather gets nice.

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homemade lasagna

Unfortunately, not all passers-through are of the conjugal type, but at times they are just as rejuvenating to the soul.

I recently had such a refreshing visitor from Brooklyn, an artist type who flew the desert coop for the burgeoning creativity found only in the big city. We decided to meet downtown for coffee and some art. This girlfriend of mine, who's a real catch if you're a woman, is the bee's knees. She's artsy, attractive, sensitive, authentic, smart, liberal, mysterious, and funny . . . Makes me wish I had tits.

While at an art opening at eye lounge in downtown Phoenix, we were invited to a spur-of-the-moment Italian dinner. We had nothing planned, so we accepted and offered to bring a big salad to accompany the homemade lasagna. We headed for the nearest grocer.

Shopping with a woman brought back wonderful memories of times when I was in love, when I cared. Something about walking the aisles of fresh produce really makes one feel grounded. I swooned more than I shopped, but we managed to put together the ingredients for a salad with fresh pears and candied walnuts. We also purchased a bottle of wine for the host and a 70 percent dark chocolate bar for desert. Always bring something for the house!

Cindy, our gracious host, had the table set and the lasagna out of the oven just as we arrived. We whipped up the salad and started the meal. I couldn't believe she had thrown the feast together so quickly — how did she do it? Cindy is the queen of making hard tasks look simple, and she shared her secret: Don't cook the noodles, add extra sauce.

I was blown away by the notion that you could erect lasagna with a stiff noodle. (I just had to work in "erect, stiff, and noodle.") You build the lasagna the same way you normally would, but you just skip the step of cooking the noodles. (And Cindy swears you don't even need to use the "no boil" variety — any noodle will do.) Simply start building: extra sauce, ricotta, sausage, mushrooms and layer of stiff noodle, then repeat with whatever you want. If you are on a date, it's a must that you build the creation together. Creating together starts a bond between the two of you, like the magical bonding between the sausage and the sauce.

Genius! Maybe I'm just a lonely tool out in the boonies, but I hadn't heard of this quick lasagna. I'm a purist, but I'm also fine with cutting unnecessary corners, if it doesn't affect the final outcome.

I'm not sure if it was the mere pleasure of being among people, people I love. I'm not sure if it was being with a lovely woman fondling produce. Maybe it was just cherishing the few who have stayed behind here in the desert, and being blessed by one who escaped this arid place. One thing I know for certain is that Cindy's stiff noodle lasagna, and a smile from an old friend, filled me with everything I needed to make myself whole again.

P.S. Jesus was a pussy.

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