In my high school days, I was a drama kid. As in, I acted in plays and musicals. And I both looked up to and feared one of my drama teachers, Jeff. I feared him because everyone feared that if you made him mad enough, he’d never cast you in a play again.
One time, I got asked to babysit his kids, which was essentially equivalent to being invited into the inner circle, I think. It meant he trusted you enough to trust you with his own children and thought you were responsible. In my 16-year-old brain, this translated directly into being considered responsible enough to play a leading role in some upcoming play.
I arrived at his house (getting to see where a teacher lived was always so weird and exciting), got my babysitting instructions and met the dog, and then he and Koleen headed out for the night. The kids were easy — a great age, pretty autonomous and I already knew them — and the job was going to be a slam dunk. I was convinced that if I could just be the best babysitter they’d ever had, I’d be his favorite student from then on. Lead roles straight through until graduation.
Job number one was to feed the kids. They had left me a blue box of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese — easy. But somehow (and I do not even know how this is possible) I burnt it. Ruined it. And then I panicked. The kids had to eat something! I couldn’t put his children to sleep with empty bellies! What was I going to do?!
With the kids’ help, I started rummaging around in the pantry, looking for something else to feed them. I guess there wasn’t anything dinner-like that I knew how to cook, so somehow I settled on Pop-Tarts. Then I guiltily swore the kids to secrecy, knowing that my own mother would not approve of this as an acceptable dinner food. I feared I’d be watching every show from the wings if they found out I fed their kids Pop-Tarts for dinner. The burnt macaroni and cheese in the garbage can couldn’t possibly have given me up.
I put the kids to bed in the middle of a sugar high and spent roughly the next two months interpreting everything he said to me as a possible reaction to my poor babysitting skills. But they grew up pretty great, and Jeff is now my friend and not my scary teacher, so I’d say we made it through OK.
There is no sign of burnt macaroni at Grassa, in Portland’s West End district. The pasta here is creamy, delicious and handcrafted. We split an arugula salad with fresh ground hazelnuts, then enjoyed an order of the strozzapretti (anchovies, olives, capers and chilies) and the bucatini (with hazelnut pesto). It was a simple, lovely dinner and we’ll certainly be back again.