Every few months, my mom and I spiral into a heated debate about living in Brooklyn. It starts with the most well-intentioned comment, and without trying, we’ll quickly elevate each others’ blood pressure over our most irreconcilable difference: Brooklyn neighborhoods. Her argument is this: If Joe and I lived further out in Brooklyn (i.e., Bensonhurst, our home neighborhood), we could get a bigger apartment for a fraction of our current rent. If we moved out there, she continues, we could better save for a house and wouldn’t be cramped in an itty one-bedroom. She’s right; there are amazing deals to be had out there. I actually wholeheartedly agree with every one of her points, which is what makes my argument so tough.
I love our old neighborhood. My grandparents still live there, you can’t walk a block without stumbling into a great bakery, and really, the rent is amazing. I wouldn’t mind walking down the same streets I did as a kid, passing my old (now empty) Catholic school, or actually have space to park a car. The layers of family history on those streets are palpable. It’s the neighborhood my family immigrated to in the ’50s and ’60s; where my brothers and I were born in the ’70s and ’80s. It’s where my parents met; where my brother got in his first schoolyard fight; and where I discovered Boy George, Carvel ice cream, and electric guitars. There’s a lot to love in Bensonhurst.
But I also love my apartment. Tiny as it may be, it’s our home. It’s the only time I’ve felt this way about a rented apartment. It’s the first place Joe and I have called our own; it’s our cozy hobbit hole. We have dear friends all around and get along with our neighbors. The laundry list stops there, but it’s enough for me.
The argument flared up again last week. This time, we didn’t just weigh pros and cons; the disagreement was really about choices and sacrifices. How we kids need to get over our fancy neighborhoods and convenient locations and make honest sacrifices so we can have a better life later. I hear all of that; I do. But can’t we make sacrifices in other ways? Rather than leave my home, how about I avoid spending money elsewhere? I pointed out how we don’t have cable and never go out to dinner. We bring lunch from home and cook from scratch. That has to count for something…
That sparked a memory. She started telling us about another family who immigrated to their neighborhood at the same time in 1968. Neighbors joked that all they ate was pane e cipuda. Bread and onions. For protein, they had only eggs. Meanwhile, the family worked and saved; saved and worked. Everyone mocked them until they were the first among their peers to buy a house–only a year after immigrating.
I’m not sure whether this story’s telling meant she agreed with our alternative sacrifices, or if it was just a subject change. Either way, it inspired Joe and me to revive our own version of pane e cipuda. We raided the cupboards last night to see what we could make with what we had. Incidentally, we had enough to make something we’d pay decent money for: hummus and crackers. These recipes used about $3 worth of groceries. We’d have paid at least $15 for the same thing at the store. We’ll get that house yet.
Roasted Garlic Hummus
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more as needed
4 cups cooked chickpeas
1 head roasted garlic, peeled and chopped*
1 clove raw garlic, chopped
juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
salt and pepper to taste
Liquid from cooked chickpeas, or water
Make a tahini-like paste by blending the sesame seeds and 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a food processor until smooth. Add chickpeas, 4 cloves (or more, to taste) of roasted garlic, raw garlic, lemon juice, ½ teaspoon salt (to start) and a dash of pepper. Blend again until smooth, adding small amounts of cooking liquid as needed to get a smooth consistency.
* To make the roasted garlic, wrap a head of garlic in aluminum foil and bake at 400 degrees F for 20 minutes, or until soft.
Whole Wheat Crackers
1 ½ cups whole wheat flour
1 ½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ cup sesame seeds
2 tablespoons olive oil
¾ cup water
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Mix the flour, salt, baking powder, and sesame seeds in a large bowl.