A decade ago, Rachel and Matthew (“Matt”) Buchanan opened The Leaning Pear—an ambitious farm-to-table café in Wimberley, Texas. Despite the long odds of opening a successful restaurant in a small town, not only did theirs work, it has become a culinary destination. And in 2013, “The Pear,” as it’s affectionately referred to by locals, grew out of its original location in an old historic home and into a sleek, new, environmentally friendly glass and rustic wood building on a bluff overlooking Cypress Creek.
During the years the Buchanans were building their business, they were also starting a family—their eldest, Quintin, is nearly 8; Oliver is 6; and baby sister Clara is 2 ½. All of those years working the line and managing a restaurant seem to have made Rachel and Matt completely unflappable, which is good, because a weeknight meal at the Buchanan house could be a study in love-filled chaos management…a graduate study. With three children under 8, the couple usually gets the kids involved in making dinner so they can keep an eye on them. Fortunately, the kids love to help.
Tonight’s dinner is pasta Bolognese, a dish Rachel and Matt encountered often during their studies abroad in Italy. Both were attending Texas A&M at the time, and both independently signed up for a scholastic trip to Italy where they met and became friends. “We were just friends throughout the trip,” Rachel says as she checks on the bread baking in the oven. “Only at the end did it become something more. Matt left a few weeks before I did…and I realized…I MISSED HIM! He surprised me by proposing on New Year’s. We wanted to go back to Italy after graduation to teach English, so we got married before we went back.”
“This was before cellphones,” Matt interjects. “It was nice, because you’d have a weekly phone call with your parents, just to let them know you were okay. Otherwise, we were totally out of touch; there wasn’t even email back then! We were just completely cut off from our normal lives, exploring Italy. I feel sorry for my kids, because I guess they’ll never experience that.” He turns to the boys who have begun racing around the room. “Quintin! Oliver! I have Parmesan!” The boys rush over to the cutting board to grab slices before racing off again.
“The place we lived when we studied abroad was this former monastery,” continues Matt. “Margarita and her assistant were feeding…gosh…probably forty-five college students a day—all big bowls of family-style pasta. Pasta Bolognese was definitely in the rotation. I usually make a big ol’ batch, then I vacuum-freeze it for quick dinners. It’s especially great when the grandparents are watching [the kids], or babysitters…you know, one less thing to think about.” Rachel interrupts and laughs as she gathers vegetables from the refrigerator. “Since he got that sous-vide [machine] he’s been sealing everything!”
While the sauce is warming slowly on the stovetop, the pasta machine waits on the huge kitchen-counter island ready to go. All of a sudden, all three children are on the island, too—vying for the honor of helping to make the pasta. Both boys are old hands at feeding the increasingly thin sheets of fresh pasta through the rollers, Oliver being especially fond of looping the pasta sheets so that they feed themselves through. When all the pasta is made, the kids slide back down to the floor to continue on with their business.
“We’re going to have an ‘Oliver Chopped Salad,’” Rachel announces—looking toward the 6-year-old. “Honey, can you tell us about it?” she asks. “It’s got CARROTS and GRAPE TOMATOES and ARUGULA,” he says with the intensity of a scientist, then he abruptly changes his mind and says, “I think I need to wilt the arugula.” Matt hands him a pan and he goes for it while Rachel gets Clara settled in her high chair.
Soon, silky fresh pasta is tossed with rich, meaty Bolognese sauce and topped with Parmesan. Oliver’s simple wilted arugula is served on the side and warm garlic bread rounds out the meal. It’s no struggle to get these kids to sit down and eat, and five minutes later, bowls are clean and the love-filled chaos relocates to the backyard, laughing and yelling.
By Kathleen Thornberry • Photography by Melanie Grizzel