They say that a watched pot never boils.
That is, of course, a figure of speech. Set on a working burner that is turned on, a watched pot of water will eventually come to a boil. In fact, two pots of water—one closely observed and the other ignored—will come to a boil at the same time, given that all the variables—amount of water, starting temperature, and so on—are identical.
But the meaning of the expression is this: when you are waiting for a change to occur and you are paying attention to the process and watching for the change, it seems to take a lot longer than if you keep yourself busy with other matters and do not focus all your attention on the change you anticipate.
But that literal statement is far less poetic than, “A watched pot never boils.”
When I was a boy, I used to love to watch a pot of water come to a boil. First come the wisps of steam that indicate that the water is getting hotter. Then small bubbles begin to form on the bottom and sides of the pot. They grow bigger, until some of them rise to the surface and pop. More and more bubbles form, bigger and bigger bubbles, coming faster and faster, until finally the entire pot of water is at a roiling boil.
As a man, I don’t generally have time to watch water come to a boil. Usually other tasks need to be done—tend to the sauce, put away the spices, set the table—so when the water is boiling, I can drop in the pasta and know that the meal is just a few minutes away from being served.
Last night I made ragout. (For those who don’t know, “ragout” rhymes with Magoo.) Like goulash, ragout is a hearty stew which can be prepared in hundreds of different ways, from a planned recipe to “clean out the refrigerator and use whatever hasn’t spoiled.” My ragout recipe has developed over time and resembles spaghetti sauce, but with lots of vegetables as well as meat. I start with onions, garlic, green pepper, celery, and carrots, chopping each ingredient and then tossing the pieces into a skillet which has been heating a little vegetable oil. I add them in that order, so that the onions cook the longest and the carrots the shortest amount of time, keeping them crisp. Next I empty the skillet into a bowl and place 1 ½ pounds of meat in the skillet. I use a mixture of ground beef and pork sausage, but 1 ½ pounds of either would work too. When the meat is browned, I drain the grease and immediately add a cup of burgundy and a small can of tomato paste. I stir the mixture until the meat is coated, then add the spices: a bay leaf, a tablespoon of Italian Seasoning (a blend of oregano, thyme, and parsley), a teaspoon of chili powder, a teaspoon of cinnamon, and a teaspoon of Worchester sauce. Then I open and drain a can of mushroom pieces and add it to the sauce; also a large can of diced tomatoes. All this takes about forty-five minutes. Stir thoroughly, bring to a simmer, and leave at a simmer for another half an hour, stirring occasionally. During that half hour, I boil the pasta. I prefer egg noodles, but elbow macaroni or just about any other pasta would do as well.
The leftovers warm nicely in a microwave for lunches the rest of the week.
While the sauce simmered, and after the table was set, I got to watch the water come to a boil. It was just like being a boy again in my mother’s kitchen. J.