I take pasta salad to EVERY SINGLE ONE. Why? Because it’s easy and those assholes are just lucky that I’m arriving with something.
My entire extended family will act like they hate the fact that I never change my contribution. By the end of the summer, I’ll have to ignore the jeers coming from the peanut gallery as I’m walking toward the family-reunion pavilion, huge pink plastic bowl of pasta salad balanced in my arms once again.
“Oh, dear God, she’s at it with the fcking pasta salad again...”
“I tell her every year around this time that I’m so sick of her stupid pasta salad that I’m going to take one of those goddamned wet spiral noodles and beat the shit out of her with it, but I swear, this is the year I’m really going to do it…”
“Do you think she learned how to be an Extreme Couponer and bought like 500 boxes of rotini noodles all at once? The stores in her area have got to run out one of these days…at least that’s what I beg the Lord each night when I kneel down to pray…”
But I know that secretly, they’re just glad I’m finally contributing like an adult instead of stumbling into the party late like I did all throughout my 20’s, still drunk from the night before, a 12-pack of cheap beer tucked under one arm as I demanded to know whose cooler I could stuff it into since I hadn’t brought my own, obviously.
So basically, they can suck it.
I didn’t always have such a sweet relationship with pasta salad, though.
I went to a barbeque once, years ago, at my sister-in-law’s house just before my husband and I got married. There was a girl there, and I noticed that she was giving me dirty looks across the patio table as we sat outside. Then, when I would say something benign like, “Oh, look how sweet the kids are being with each other in the playhouse,” she would respond by narrowing her eyes and spitting “You’re an asshole” across the table at me.
Finally, I went into the house and pulled my sister-in-law aside. “What the hell is wrong with your friend Amber?” I asked. “She’s being really mean to me.”
“Oh,” my sister-in-law said, nodding because apparently she knew all about some deep-rooted issues that Amber—whom I’d only just met that very afternoon—had with me. “She’s mad because you said you don’t like pasta salad.”
I couldn’t even wrap my mind around something so ridiculous, and I guess my sister-in-law saw that I was struggling with it, so she clarified a bit further: “She found it offensive.”
I shook my head as if that would help me make sense of what my sister-in-law was telling me. “She found my personal distaste for pasta salad offensive?”
“Well,” my sister-in-law said, giving me a self-important look as if she were trying to teach me a life lesson, “she did bring the pasta salad tonight.”
“Okay, first of all, I didn’t know that,” I sputtered, “and secondly, I didn’t say I didn’t like HER pasta salad. I said I don’t like pasta salad in general!”
My sister-in-law shrugged, turning and heading back toward the deck to join the party. Before she got to the sliding glass doors, however, she called back to me over her shoulder. “Don’t you know, Shay? The first rule of pasta salad at a barbeque is you don’t TALK about your dislike of pasta salad at a barbeque.”
My sister-in-law had just brought Fight Club into it; shit was getting real.
I later learned, though, that maybe Amber should have been offended by my personal distaste for pasta salad, because as it turned out, it might truly have been a personal distaste for Amber’s pasta salad.
Here’s why: a couple of years later, when the hubs and I were living in the bowels of Arkansas and the only friend I had was a sweet country lady named Belinda who shared my love of wine and boxed hair bleach, I risked a taste of her pasta salad during a particularly strong fit of the drunken munchies.
And goddammit, it was delicious.
I saved my final judgment for the next day, though, because as any veteran drunk knows, a pile of dog shit would probably taste divine when you are drunk and hungry. So when I awoke in Belinda’s guest bedroom (no drinking and driving for this girl, thankyouverymuch), the first thing I did was stumble into the kitchen, retrieve the tinfoil-wrapped bowl of pasta salad from the refrigerator, and dig in.
And dammit, you guys, it was still delicious.
I asked Belinda the secret.
“What secret?” she replied, fixing herself a mimosa with cheap white wine instead of champagne. “You just throw some noodles together with some Italian dressing and VI-OLA.” She pronounced it like that: VI-OLA.
Remember, though, that I didn’t begin cooking until years later when the hubs and I had our first child and I became a stay-at-home mom. At this particular point in time, literally the only things I made were chicken breasts (that I bought frozen by the bag and zapped in the microwave) and spaghetti noodles—NOT spaghetti, as I didn’t know how to brown the hamburger. Just spaghetti noodles, boiled with some butter thrown in.
So that morning, I looked across the kitchen bar at Belinda and furrowed my brow in concentration. “So, what, you just buy a box of noodles and throw them into a bowl with the dressing? You don’t have to, like, boil them or anything? The dry noodles just soak up the Italian dressing as it all sits?”
It simply seemed too good to be true.
I realized by the look Belinda was giving me that it was, in fact, too good to be true. Because it was apparent all over her face that she was horrified by my stupidity—and this was coming from a woman who bleached her hair so white that it looked like a fluffy cotton ball resting gently atop her 35-year-old face…and then told me not to tell anyone because “everyone thinks it’s natural.”
Um…no, they don’t.
Honestly, her hair looked great on her. But natural? Well, I suppose it looked about as natural as my own hair still does to this day, bleached to the consistency of straw. Hell, I hardly even have to cut mine anymore; it pretty much just falls off of my head on its own when it gets sick of the abuse.
In any case, I adored Belinda. I adored her for accepting me for who I was, even when I was a drunken dumbass, which I was many nights so many years ago. And I adored her for her ability to be completely herself around me—her unassuming, I-don’t-give-a-shit-what-anyone-thinks-because-I’m-really-happy-with-who-I-am self (except don’t tell anyone my hair color isn’t natural). Those are my favorite kinds of friends.
And let’s not forget that she taught me how to make pasta salad, a gift I could never possibly repay. I mean, you can feed a horseface pasta salad for lunch, or you can teach a horseface how to make pasta salad and she’ll eat for years…or something like that.
Belinda actually called me over to her house to teach me how to make the pasta salad one Friday night that summer when our husbands were on a work trip together. It took all of about 10 minutes (and that includes boil time for the noodles), and after we were finished, I completely understood why she’d given me that horrified look when I asked about the specifics for making it.
Because you’d have to be a dumbass to not get it.
So here’s a recipe for all of the dumbasses like me out there who totally didn’t get it at first. Or for you girls and guys just starting out in adult life needing a very quick, very easy recipe to take to potlucks along with your 12-pack.
The Easiest Pasta Salad in the World
· 1 box tri-color rotini noodles (You can use any noodles; I just like to get fancy with my “tri-color”)
· 1 bottle of zesty Italian dressing from Dollar General (I swear Belinda specified that it HAD to be the Dollar General brand because it was the best kind—but I will admit that I have—GASP—used different brands, and it turned out just fine)
· Small cheese cubes (I’m a huge tightwad, so instead of buying the already-cubed cheese, I buy a big block of cheese and cut it up myself)
· Green olives (optional)
Boil the noodles according to package directions; drain. Add Italian dressing to taste; sometimes I use a full bottle per package of noodles, sometimes I use ¾ of the bottle. Add pepperonis and cheese…and VI-OLA!!