Italian Cravings || GAbriela Acero
I’m standing in the restaurant kitchen, once again chopping [onions, garlic, squash, eggplant] when my mind begins to wander…
...that hot steam as you take the lid off. The gentle tenderness of lifting that packet of joy into your spoon without breaking it. Nibbling off a corner, and testing the temperature, or just going for it, and burning the shit out of your mouth. Pouring a bit of soy into the waiting, steaming opening. Nudging the side so enough liquid comes out that you can slurp it once it’s cooled. And then, blessedly, being able to down the whole thing in one go and end up with a full mouth of meaty, chewy, acid-pop, warm and comforting.
That whole, slightly pornographic, vision passes in front of my mind’s eye in a flash, and I look around, embarrassed. Has anyone noticed that I’ve stopped chopping? Or that I am salivating? (Also, when did I start salivating??)
I continue chopping and then casually throw out, “Hey, so, what foods do you guys miss the most?”
My “innocent” question is met with groans and sighs and intense moments of looking into space, or closing of eyes and clutching of breasts. And then I know I’m not alone.
We have been in Tuscany cooking for almost 2 months now. Now, don’t get me wrong, Italian food and ingredients are amazing. But it’s been fascinating to realize how traditional the flavors are, and that there is really no interest in varying from a fairly classic palate or ingredient base. Thus began the day dreaming. I think I miss Asian flavors the most - the sichuan-numbing spice of a noodle soup from Yiwanmen, or the lovely tang-pop of the Vietnamese riff on beef tartare at Compagnie. Set lunches at Okonomi, or the dan-dan noodles at Kings County Imperial. We can always argue about where the best soup dumplings are, but I have my loyalties to Shanghai Cafe Deluxe, and must always get a side of the fried long beans. Then there was the devastation of watching as Lam Zhao closed, only to be lifted up to a heaven of happiness when it reopened because of the knowledge I would once again be able to get those hand-torn noodles.
Once I open the door, my mind is off and running. I move on to other inanities: things I don’t even eat that often when I’m home, but suddenly whose absence has created a black hole of desire. I was grabbing sugar to sprinkle on top of eggplant caponata before baking and spied a tiny jar of Skippy. Peanut butter. Oh beautiful luscious peanut butter! But funnily, I can’t even remember the last time I ate Skippy. I live in Bushwick and have fully graduated to being a hipster asshole that only consumes artisanal, hand-churned alternative-nut butter. But that little blue plastic top on that jar was like a beacon of hope. I grabbed it and quickly spun the top off (that’s one thing I’ll give to a plastic jar, those tops slide smooth and even when you’re twisting them in a hurry, there are no choppy halts as the ridges catch on the wrong groove - it’s pretty magical). As I lift the top away I confirm what I already knew from a glance through the clear bottom - it’s empty. What kind of fucking monster finished this jar of Skippy - and I mean FINISHED, like with a mini-spatula - and then puts it back on the shelf?? I threw it out in disgust and returned to my aubergine. What’s worse is that a week later I saw the same jar. I felt like I was going crazy. I’d thrown it out hadn’t I? Was somebody fucking with me? Taunting me with ghosts of America in the form of forlorn, empty, processed-food containers? I left it on the shelf and turned off the light. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice and I might have a meltdown...
The problem is, once you open the flood gates of imaginative longing, you are locked into a devastating roller coaster of emotion and spit, as your mouth fills up with liquid in anticipation of these wonderful flavors that simply aren’t there.
Countdown to NYC has begun.