Nancy, Matt and I set out to the East Village one partly cloudy Saturday to discover some new noms to write about for Real Cheap Eats.
Nancy: aka Love Muffin
Matt: aka 40 lbs. We called Matt 40 lbs. when he was younger because he actually weighed 40 lbs. Personally, I skipped over those kinds of numbers and went right to triple digits.
There was a lot of eating, eating and walking. I also managed to find the perfect shade of pink lipstick while out on my journey.
We started at Senor Pollo, unassuming and surrounded by brunch spots and college bars - I was drawn in to this quaint Peruvian paradise because it’s anything but trendy (and it was cheap and had a pretty and properly decorated dining area).
Given the name of this joint, one might assume I went in for the chicken (1/4 of a bird and 2 sides will only set you back $8.50 and I’ve heard from friends that portions are hot, heaping, moist and bursting with rotisserie flavor), but I didn’t. I closed in on some favorites of fried yucca ($3.25), tostones ($3.00) and a delightful treat I’d never tried before - that of the papa a la huancaina ($5.00). Needless to say, I want to smother my body and someone else’s in huancaina sauce (made with aji amarillo, a yellow pepper native to Peru, which is combined with queso fresco and evaporated milk to make a super special somewhat spicy sauce) that covers a perfectly boiled potato.
Here are some photos and descriptions of what went down at Mr. Chicken:
Chicha Morada: Purple corn drink spiced with cloves and cinnamon, this beverage tastes best when washing down yucca dipped in hot sauce. It’s sweet, spicy and its fall flavors suit October in NY.
Papa a la Huancaina: boiled potato smothered in huancaina sauce. The sauce is cheesy, creamy - mildly spicy and made from queso fresco, aji amarillo (yellow pepper native to Peru), evaporated milk and oil. It’s served on a lettuce leaf and topped with a hard boiled egg and olives. Senor Pollo’s rendition was tasty and satisfying.
Chimichurri, Tostones and Fried Yucca: I’m still trying to figure out what the best part of this experience was - the fact that the waitress told me how to perfectly fry my yucca at home or the fact that you can purchase Senor Pollo’s chimichurri and hot sauce to go. Yes, to go (8 oz. for $3.00, 16 oz. for $5.00). The spicy fun can continue at home. The tostones and yucca both delicately fried and perfectly golden - make the perfect vehicle to get their stellar dipping sauces into your mouth and coating your belly.
Post Peruvian noms, we waddled over to St. Marks where the sign for the Dumpling Man drew us in. Pork and chive soup dumplings were had and enjoyed ($3.95 for 4). At the Dumpling Man you can also watch the dumpling making go down. Sit at the bar, take in the man and his two ladies while they make massive mixtures of veggie, pork and shrimp dumpling filling. See the stuffing and sealing happen first hand, then get your nom on.
Pork & Chive Soup Dumpling: thick skinned, purse shaped and generously packed with a tender, soft and somewhat fatty pork filling these soup dumplings were made with care. And the broth - not half bad. The ginger aftertaste, not too overpowering and pretty pleasing to the palette. Overall, I may go back for a little to go action on my way to a proper meal. Sometimes I can’t wait for dinner and a lady needs a scooby snack.
And in case you need to fit in a sweet, which we did, head over to Momofuku Milk Bar. I recommend taking on a slice of the crack pie (butter and brown sugar sex in your mouth) over the compost cookie (basically a kitchen sink like deal - with chips, pretzels, butterscotch and chocolate chips) - for a super sugar high.
Crack Pie at Momofuku Milk Bar
This little jaunt left us stuffed and carb loaded. I run a lot so I need to carb load. I only speak the truth here.
In case you’re interested in venturing to any one of these joints, here’s the info:
221 1st Ave.
NY, NY 10003
100 St. Marks
NY, NY 10009
Momofuku Milk Bar
251 East 13th
Stef and I had our very first wo-cation planned. We got our shit together (sometimes it’s hard for us to make a game plan), decided on New Orelans, booked flights and a room and were ready to go a month out from our decided departure date.
Wo-Cation: when two women that are lifetime friends go away on vacation to rage or, in our case, eat, shop and be merry.
With Hurricane Isaac on the horizon, wo-cation 2012 was in danger of not happening. We spent two nights on the phone, Stef in DC and me in NY, deciding whether or not we should brave the storm.
If there’s flooding and power outages, we’ll put on sundresses and galoshes and make it work!
If there’s flooding and power outages, we’ll be miserable and sweating!
We went back and forth, watched videos on the internet, tracked the storm on weather.com and even called the hotel to inquire about the state of things in New Orleans. Al Roker was standing in water as high as his thighs, Lester Holt almost blew away and the hotel couldn’t be reached. It was decided - we were not going away on wo-cation. Maybe sometime in the Spring we’ll come for you, New Orleans.
Where do two non-driving adults with expired passports go on vacation? The thought of re-booking and re-researching was too much for our Brooklyn-ness to handle.
Last year, Stef and I did a DC stay-cation - so this time around, NY was up for grabs.
Stef would arrive on a Friday and we would do things like eat homemade jambalaya and whiskey soaked bread pudding. We even went on a walk to score a massive horchata at Los Portales, a local Mexican restaurant.
On day 2 we hauled to the beach, something Stef and I would often do together when we were younger. B82 to the B9 to the Q53 to Neponsit Beach. This time we took the LIRR to Long Beach. The LIRR on Labor Day Weekend may leave you with anger, anxiety and regrets for the human race, but the beach sure was killer.
Long Beach style
At the beach we chowed on shrimp po’ boys (which never tasted so good).
Shrimp Po’ Boy
We also ventured to a carnival. I don’t recommend the Long Beach carnival. Actually - I do. Go and frighten your children, they’ll never ask you to take them to a carnival ever again. Stef did remind me that most of the carnivals we went to as kids were just like this one, low budget and a little shady.
On day 3 we got wild, walking and shopping (it’s kind of impossible to walk 5th Ave. without weaving in and out of Lord & Taylor and other shops), eating and afternoon drinking (a bottle of Rose, fish and a gelato topper were had at Eataly), and visit to the Museum of Sex (just so we could say we at least went to a museum).
Panda style (Stef coined panda style)
After the museum, we had an appetite - so we went off to eat once again. I had to take Stef to the Arepas Cafe for a Venezuelan treat, it’s one of my go to spots for late night noms and beers in the neighborhood.
On the morning of day 4, there was a bagel breakfast (Brooklyn Bagel makes the best around) and some quality time with Wendy Williams. We went for massages (because who doesn’t like getting their but rubbed and being mounted for $50 an hour), saw a Broadway show (Newsies - one of Stef’s all time favorite movies brought to the stage), dinner of mac & cheese, mussels and salad with a side of antics at William Hallet and dirty pickle martinis at Sweet Afton.
Day 5 was all about touring the city and not walking. The best way to do this? Clearly by taking a ride on a double decker bus! This ride will change your view of the city. As a native New Yorker I never thought about doing it, but the view from the top of the bus coupled with a nice breeze make for a perfect day.
The double decker bus tour was followed a hop-on hop-off boat ride. What views you can take in during a torrential downpour! I had also just gotten a dirty water dog before boarding the boat. When it started to rain, I nearly slipped and died. If I were to go, it would certainly be fitting if I had a hot dog in my hand.
The evening ended with an episode of The Mindy Project on hulu; over which we consumed an entire pizza pie from Sac’s Place.
Every night Stef would watch me fall asleep on the couch. If I’ve been out all day, stop to fill my belly and then sit - there’s no chance I’m staying awake - the need to sleep takes over my body. Stef could tell you that I’ve been this way since I was a wee-T.
Having Stef over gave me an excuse to cook. An excuse to serve and do and act like my mom (who I’m realizing I really am turning into despite my efforts to fight against).
I upped the ante by using double the amount of Bayou Blast in the jambalaya and for the po’ boys. The whiskey sauce for the bread pudding seemed like a little much, so I opted to free pour whiskey into the cream/milk mixture for the bread pudding. Chocolate chips also trump raisins in any dessert, so I replaced natures candy with the good dark stuff.
But, most of all, thanks for the lifetime of friendship - Stefanie Covey. I love you with my whole heart.
Jicama & Mango Salad
Honey Lime Chicken Tostadas
After 10 plus visits to various neighborhood delis, restaurants, trucks and even tracking down a lady rolling a granny cart stacked with packed coolers, I’m still hooked on Mexican flavors. Over the past month, along with some friends (who I kindly call Team Taco), we’ve probably managed to eat our weight in tacos, tostadas, tamales, sopes, huaraches, spicy tripe, nopales, and chilaquiles.
My love for spice, meat and cilantro has not been lost - instead a strange surge of cravings has surfaced.
Admittedly, I rarely eat out meals - and I like it that way. I was the kid that didn’t go out to lunch and could be found in a corner of the lunchroom, book in hand and chowing down on lentils , pasta patate or cabbage and rice (straight out of a California Raisins thermos). I grew up in a home where we never went out to dinner or ordered in. Mom would shop at large produce markets on Ave. U, in Brooklyn, and walk out with 12 bags filled with greens, root vegetables, beans and what not for $60 (which fed a family of 5+ for a week). Father’s Day was the only exception to the dining out rule because my grandpa favored Danny’s Szechuan Garden. Their offering of orange beef served on giant, crispy, bright green romaine leaves with red chilies, thick brown sauce and flecks of orange peel was his kryptonite. Food for all other occasions - be it a birthday, Mother’s day and all holiday’s were prepared at home.
I’d be lying if I didn’t note that this month of eating out has been a huge struggle for me. My life is centered around cooking at home and the joys of food shopping (I also have a strong connection to my couch and Netflix). I eat out maybe 3-4 times a month. Typically I spend Sunday’s preparing for my week of meals and lunch packing. Compulsive, maybe? But it’s the only way I know how to keep off 150 lbs and it’s worked for the past 10 years.
Given an evening to cook at home (they’ve been rare and, truth be told, I made this meal 3 weeks ago), I craved spices, cilantro, onions, green sauce and meat. I wanted a meal that was lighter than the deli-made chorizo tacos I’d been chowing down on (which tasted so good, but left me with morning regrets. Like many men I went home with in my 20’s).
Happily surprised that my local supermarket had nopales and tomatillos, I knew what I was supposed to be making at home.
Throughout this Mexican food award tour, there have been bad nopales and good nopales. My preference is grilled (some came steamed and sitting in water baths - not my style), but I braved my oven for this meal because I could only imagine they would be delicious slightly charred and roasted when slicked up with olive oil and salt. When cooked, the taste of a nopale could be likened to the flavor that would come about if an asparagus slept with a string bean. Somehow those two skinny bitches would make this giant, flat, paddle like, thorny threat of a vegetable.
Salsa verde samplings also ranged from stellar to poor. Thank you, Rick Bayless (I prefer roasting and adding more garlic and less water, per comments on the site).
The chicken was seasoned with fresh green and red chilies cumin, adobo, fresh garlic, honey and lime, and served with a side salad of jicama and mango (the delis were DELIGHTFUL but crunchy super fresh and a sort of sweet salad was in order).
Dear Kitchen, Pots, Pans, Knives, Mixing Bowls and Cutting Boards,
I’m glad we’re back together.
Chicken & Marinade
1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breast (sliced thinly crosswise and cut into chunks)
1/4 c. olive oil divided)
Juice of 2 limes
1 1/2 tsp. adobo
2 tsp. cumin
4 cloves garlic (minced)
3 chilies (red and green, seeded and diced)
3 T. honey
-Set chicken pieces in a pyrex dish with all ingredients, mix to coat, and let sit for 30 minutes
-Add remaining oil to a pan, over a medium high flame, and cook chicken (strained from liquid) for 8-12 minutes until no longer pink
-Spoon chicken on tostadas, top with fresh cilantro and onions and/or salsa verde
4-6 nopales (de-thorned and sliced lengthwise)
1/4 c. olive oil
Kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper
-Preheat oven to 400 degrees
-Coat nopales in olive oil, salt and pepper
-Roast on a baking sheet (spreading out evenly) for 20-25 minutes until browned on edges
Jicama & Mango Salad with Chili Lime Dressing
1 mango (cut into cubes)
1 jicama (sliced lengthwise)
1 small red onion (thinly sliced)
Juice of 1 lime
2 T. olive oil
3 T. chopped cilantro
Kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper
-Place mango, jicama and red onions in a large bowl and toss with lime juice, olive oil, and cilantro
-Salt, pepper and serve
Beet & Radish Greens with Rice Vermicelli
Pork Larb Letttuce Wrap
Once a month I walk into my office to find a Food & Wine magazine on my chair.
You may be wondering how this magazine mysteriously appears every month…
A good friend, who shall remain unnamed, moved into an apartment where the last tenants never transferred their subscription to Food & Wine - so she has bestowed upon me this monthly gift.
I’m trying to get in the habit of using more recipes to cook, so I’m not drawing everything from past meals with my family and our four star Southern Italian peasant food (which I do love to make and share).
Why not use this stolen, rather, found (stolen is harsh and it’s not really stolen), magazine subscription to do so?
I took the liberty of tweaking the Food & Wine recipe for Thai lettuce wraps by adding radishes and cucumbers so there was more crunch with my meat (since boston lettuce is so buttery and soft, and the red onions were the only item to add different texture alongside the meat). I also added more lime to the dressing to balance the sweet of the sugar and heat from the chiles.
Using leftover beet and radish greens from the farmers market (I never waste my greens, they always make their way into a meal) I cooked up some rice noodles; infusing those with similar Asian flavors of fish sauce, sugar, chiles, garlic, shallots and lime - to tie it in to the lettuce wraps.
A refreshing meal for a 90 degree night.
*The meat from the lettuce wraps was spooned a top the noodles so as to combine leftovers and make a tasty lunch.
Rice Vermicelli with Beet & Radish Greens
1/2 pack of rice vermicelli (cooked until soft)
Greens (spinach, diced bok choy or any left-over leafy greens work - I used beet and radish greens)
2 T. sunflower oil
6 cloves of garlic (thinly sliced)
2 shallots (minced)
2 chiles (minced - do not discard seeds)
2 tsp. sugar
1 T. fish sauce
Juice of 2 limes
-In a large skillet, heat oil and cook garlic and shallot until light brown
-Add chiles and saute for an additional 2 minutes
-Add sugar and fish sauce, mixing with ingredients until sugar dissolves
-Add greens and saute until cooked down
-Salt and remove from heat
-Add noodles to the greens and top with lime juice
Pork Larb Lettuce Wrap
*I doubled the Food & Wine recipe and added 3 diced radishes and half of a cucumber - also diced.
Sauteed Globe Squash With Roasted Peppers, Mozzarella & Basil
Today the farmers market at Socrates Sculpture Park was offering a bodacious bounty of summer squash. Every farm stand had a variety to offer, from vibrant green and yellow zucchini to the small, round and plump pale green globe squash.
This was my first shopping trip since arriving home from NJ. I went a little crazy and, per usual, purchased enough produce for a family of five (which should suffice for me alone). I also hit all of the usual suspects after the farmers market, including my local meat man for pork and turkey (to be made into Asian lettuce wraps and turkey meatballs in white wine this week) and the Italian deli for fresh mozzarella and Locatelli (eggplant Siciliana is also on my mind).
For tonight’s globe squash, I cooked it as I would any zucchini and sauteed it with olive oil, garlic and freshly minced chile peppers - until the white flesh became a deep caramelized brown (but without burning). I let the squash come to room temperature and added bell peppers I roasted this afternoon, a splash of white balsamic vinegar - for a sweet tang -and basil from my very own plant (which I’m shocked is thriving because, admittedly, I’m not the best with plants).
Serve this summer salad on thinly sliced baguette and top with a piece of fresh mozzarella (or layer on top of the mozzarella).
This evening’s leftovers will certainly make it into Sunday morning’s frittata, or it will be spooned atop pan fried tilapia tomorrow night.
Sauteed Globe Squash With Roasted Peppers, Mozzarella & Basil
2 globe squashes (cut in half and sliced in 1/4” thick half moons)
4 cloves of garlic (peeled and smashed)
1 red chile pepper (minced)
1 roasted pepper
1-2 T. olive oil
1-2 tsp. white balsamic vinegar
3-4 basil leaves (chiffonade)
4 oz. fresh mozzarella
1 medium baguette
Shaved pecorino (optional)
-Heat non-stick pan over a medium high flame with olive oil and garlic
-Once garlic is light brown and fragrant, add squash and saute until deep golden brown, about 10-12 minutes
-Salt and put aside or chill in the refrigerator
For Roasted Peppers
*If you have a barbecue, roasting is simple. If you’re working in your tiny apartment kitchen and you’re not afraid of the oven, blast it to broil and let your peppers char. Since I fear heating up my already steamy kitchen, I chose to roast directly over my stove burner.
-Place pepper directly on flame and rotate as the pepper blackens
-Once the entire pepper is charred, remove from the flame, place in a bowl and cover with plastic
-When pepper is cool enough to handle, remove blackened skin from the pepper, de-seed, slice thinly and set aside.
For Salad Prep
-Mix sliced roasted peppers with squash, toss with white balsamic vinegar and fresh basil
-Slice baguette, top with thin slices of fresh mozzarella and spoon vegetables over top
-Serve with shaved pecorino for a super salty kick
*my marvelous basil plant
I arrived home from Spanish class at 10:15pm to a grumbling belly. I usually don’t work myself up to the point of hunger pangs, as I can often be found snacking - an almond here, a cherry there, a dark chocolate square in the purse - I’m rarely cornered without provisions. Admittedly, my diet has suffered over the past few days because I haven’t gotten to the grocery store after spending this past weekend away. I’ve been enjoying a lot of fruit juice from a mid-town truck (however they’ve lost my patronage after today’s slimy watermelon juice incident. And of course, I still drank it - I was desperate.), I had mediocre (and overpriced) dumplings from the Rickshaw stand in Times Square (dry wrappers, dipping sauce that was missing depth of flavor), yogurt pretzels - undoubtedly my highlight - and a Weight Watchers granola bar I managed to snag from my aunt and uncles pantry before hauling ass back to NY on a NJ Transit Bus.
The thought and sight of an empty refrigerator gives me anxiety. Refrigerators filled solely with condiments, carrots so dry they’re flaking white and garlic so old it’s sprouting - make me uncomfortable. The one thing I always manage to leave in my refrigerator are eggs. Eggs can save any dinner, any evening you arrive home drunk and starving at 3am, and any morning after breakfast you might have with a gent if you let him stay.
Tonight, I turned to my eggs. With the sensation of lingering r’s on my tongue - lesson 1 in class included rolling - I entered my kitchen and let an egg rescue me. Into my omelet went the few cherry tomatoes I hadn’t eaten last week, scallions that stayed fresh, and a bit of brie that survived its time in my home (normally cheese is not safe in my presence). Finally, my mouth met a real meal.
I moved from my kitchen to my livingroom, turned on the television and planted myself on the couch. I broke my own rules regarding eating on the sofa and watching tv while doing so - double shame.
An Olive Garden commercial reminded me of the very first date I ever went on. During my senior year in college a close friend was kind enough to set me up with a boy that was delightfully awkward. He came to my door bearing flowers and we shared spaghetti pomodoro, unlimited bread sticks and a never ending salad as we sat across from one another at a small candlelit table at the Olive Garden . When we kissed his tongue crept inside of my mouth, moving back and forth like a fish just released from the water - rapidly flopping its tail fin until it ceased to move any longer. His tongue felt wrong, and despite those kisses we continued to date and engage in odd conversations about Celine Dion and the importance of waxing the floors when a guest is coming to visit.
He’s now married and living in Brooklyn. I hope he and his wife enjoy breakfast for dinner as they cuddle and share kisses.
I sat on my couch, in my slip, braless, fan pointing towards my face but cooling my whole body. For a moment I imagined what it would be like to be Beyonce, as I quietly hummed Bootylicious while commercials buzzed in the background. I felt my lips stretch across my face and form the shape of a smile. I was thankful to be alone in my home.
Relieved to be alone and eating eggs for one, at least in this moment.
A proper dinner indeed.
2 eggs + 1 white (beaten)
2 tsp. olive oil
2 scallions (whites only)
8 cherry tomatoes (sliced into rounds)
Red pepper flakes
1-2 oz. cheese
-Heat olive oil in a non-stick skillet, sauteing scallions and cherry tomatoes - then sprinkle with red pepper flakes
-Add eggs and cheese, sprinkle with salt
-Serve with buttered toast and find comfort in eating breakfast for dinner
Peaches & Wine
Picture it: Brooklyn, Summer, 1990, loud men and women gathered around 4 square card tables in a concrete backyard. Voices colliding, carrying and competing to be heard, hands flying, over eating and too much drinking - typical. Every piece of our meal was crafted with care, from the mismatched tablecloths and seating arrangements to the food and wine.
My grandmother never had one tablecloth long enough to accommodate the connecting card tables that formed our one meeting place for food. She did crafty things like sew a floral tablecloth to a plaid one in an effort to create one stretch of rectangular fabric that would work. If a tablecloth had a hole, it would be met with another to cover its wear so it could still be put to use. Apples partied with polka dots and solids melded with stripes. In my grandmothers world different patterns were not enemies, but friends banned together to meet one common goal - to cover our soon to be food filled table. Professionally, she was a seamstress and she made everything from drapes, to dresses, to Barbie outfits, to plus-sized skirts when I was too round to wear anything cute. She collected fabric, she walked around in housecoats with curlers in her hair, she was heavy handed with hot pepper in all of her food, and not a day goes by when I don’t think of her.
The table was surrounded by wrought iron chairs made by my grandfather. The chairs butting so close to one another that once you were in your seat, you were trapped at the table for the evening of feasting. I was often squished between my brothers and Uncle Anthony. Uncle Anthony, doused in cologne, decked out in sweats, a local pizzeria t-shirt and Keds. Keys clipped to the top of his sweatpants (his t-shirt was always tucked in and he wore paper towel bibs even as a grown man) would clank on the edge of the table every time he extended his arm over his belly to reach for his food. I couldn’t stand the smell of his cologne - and right now I would do anything to smell him again.
The mismatched tablecloths were covered end to end with food. Fried cubanelle peppers, slightly browned on the tips and topped with a fiery red sauce - boiled potatoes and string beans glistening with oil and the most perfectly cut paper thin slices of red onion - chicken bathed in rosemary, basil, parsley, tangy red wine vinegar and breadcrumbs. I remember the food so well, so well I can still see my uncles passing plates back and forth, arguing over who was going to dip their bread in the bottom of the bowls filled with sauce, red pepper flakes, oil, and red onion remains. I can still feel my thighs touching and my legs dangling from the chair. With every bite of food, I kicked my feet in the air - sometimes hitting the top of the table. Sometimes triggering my uncles to let their marble mouths explode, accusing me of fidgeting. My brothers poking me in my arm, my father circling the table with a camera - his out of control wavy, Italo-fro flopping in the summer breeze, my mom obedient and smiling while she plated, cleared and listened to Italian dialect.
Next to my grandfather, at the head of the table, parallel to his glass and a two liter bottle of 7UP, sat a pitcher of peaches and wine. Peaches sliced to a medium thickness, velvety skin still in tact, bobbing in a carafe filled to the brim with wine. The peaches would sit in red or white wine for a few hours and the boozy sweet treat was then unveiled at our family meal. My grandfather could not have a meal without wine, there was no such thing. A summer meal without peaches and wine would be blasphemous.
The wine smelled fresh, like summer - the yellow flesh of the peaches, plump and saturated with a red hue or transforming to a deep golden yellow if they’d been sitting in a white wine bath. While my grandparents, parents and all of my aunts and uncles drank their peaches and wine out of tall water glasses, I would receive a small juice glass - filled mainly with 7UP and a splash of wine with one lone slice of peach. I sipped my wine cooler in between bites of chicken and oily sides spiced to perfection, while the loud voices, arguing, picture snapping, poking, smiling and jokes fell to the background. I kicked my feet and I didn’t care.
Peaches & Wine
4 peaches (sliced, skin on)
1 bottle red or white table wine
-Slice peaches 1/4” thick and place in a carafe
-Fill carafe with white or red wine
-Allow peaches and wine to sit for a few hours so the wine becomes infused with peach
Every Sunday, after church, my dad and I would go to Landi’s Pork Store. After church, this was the place to be - as women in their Sunday best lined up, shoved and shouted orders over one another; flirting with the young deli men behind the counter.
Jerry Corrado, silent and strong - no pushing or shoving, but giving a steady nod to the owner across the store - would grab a ticket and get in line to order up the usual round of goods to accompany our dinner.
My dad swore by Landi’s pin-wheel sausage, grizzly, speckled with parsley, and perfectly coiled so it could easily rest on a barbecue grill rack. Their potato croquettes, stuffed with ham and mozzarella, rolled in breadcrumbs and deep fried can make my mouth water just upon conjuring up the memory of them - pudgy, oily and squished in their little rectangular foil container awaiting a date with my maw.
To the right of the meat case was the antipasto display. I stared (and can still stare) at that antipasto case for hours. Oily mushrooms sitting in fresh herbs and vinegar, crunchy antipasto salad coated with little yellow pearls of oil, tomatoes and olives, doused with lemon juice and parsley. Olives so round, wrinkly, and speckled with red pepper flakes - pitted and sitting in individual pools of black salted water - they were all beautiful in their own right. I listened to my father order each and every item. He always went over board. Everyone in there loved Jerry Corrado, and I stood quietly next to him. His smaller chubby shadow, the little girl he made and fed well.
The guys behind the counter would smile at me in my too tight Sunday dress, and I would look down at the saw dust covered tiled floor - concentrating on my my muffin top feet as they burst out from top of my little white flats. Getting lost in the eyelet trim around my socks; I always begged my mom for eyelet socks. My dresses and skirts were often too tight, but I could always look down to spy pretty ankles.
I was shy. I couldn’t look any of them in the eye, as they sliced, smiled, laughed, cursed and sounded so Brooklyn - wiping their hands on their white smocks, adding to the sauce, oil and meat stains that were already there.
I was offered tastings of mozzarella and soppressata over the counter. The deli man would reach, meet my hand with a salty treat and I would smile, accept, fill my mouth and dart my eyes directly back to the floor. I would chew in silence, without muttering a word.
Every Sunday this process excited me, although I’m sure I came off as being Jerry’s mute daughter (things have certainly changed since then).
I would help my father carry his bags out to the car. Sometimes one of the deli guys would help, open the door, take my hand - lead me into the van - and prop plastic bags, donning a giant pig logo, all around me. As my father drove away from Landi’s I would crane my neck - as if wanting to extend my whole body through the glass of the back window - so I could have one more moment with man behind the counter who passed me my salty snacks.
Toto Cutugno was playing on cassette, and I could see my dad moving his lips and mouthing the words to his L’Italiano. While he sang I would sneak my hands into each bag, feeling around for a container to open. Once my fingers met a lid, I’d pop the cover off and grab what I could. An olive, a piece of celery, a tomato. My father was lost in his music and had no clue what I was up to as I sat in the back seat lost in my own world of salt, snacking, and crunchy celery - wishing I’d said thank you to the deli man who graciously sated my mind and belly.
This salad works as a refreshing antipasto. Add pieces fresh mozzarella and/or soppressata to the mix and eat as a meal with warm crostini or a piece of bread.
Simple, salty, satisfying and delicious.
6 ribs of celery (chopped, including leaves)
1/2 pint cherry tomatoes (halved)
1 roasted red pepper (sliced)
1/2 can of artichoke hearts
3-4 cloves of garlic (minced)
20-30 olives (pitted and halved)
1/4 flat leaf parsley (coarsely chopped)
Juice of 1 lemon
1/4 c. olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Optional (not pictured here because I’m detoxing from momo, milanese and taco overload from this past weekends eating explorations)
4-6 oz. fresh mozzarella (cubed)
4 oz. soppressata (cut into thin rounds)
-Add first 6 ingredients to a bowl and toss with salt and pepper
-Optional: add mozzarella and soppressata for a more satisfying starter, side or meal