Tag Archive | "Brooklyn"

(Almost) 100 Things Recap (Things I’ve Done and Sort of Done)

(Almost) 100 Things Recap (Things I’ve Done and Sort of Done)


It’s been nearly three months since I posted my list of (almost) 100 things I want to do this year. I have to say, I nearly forgot about it for a few weeks (it’s been a distracting month) until it hit me that I was doing things on the list without even meaning to. I’d find myself pickling something, sitting by a lake, or hanging out in Georgia and realize that it all felt very familiar. My list! So I’ve come back to it and plan to take it more seriously from now on. Here’s a little recap on my progress. I’m off to a slow start (and I still need to add another 50 items to make this 100!) but some major milestones have been hit. And I have a few other things brewing…

# 5: Go to the Prospect Park lake: Done, but with room for improvement. Joe and I spent a Saturday morning at the lake with bagels and coffee, but it was freezing and even a little rainy. It was still fun, and at least we found the lake (something I hadn’t done in my four years living in Park Slope). We need a sunny replay, though.

# 6: Make something on my sewing machine: I sort of did this. Or, er, I’m on my way to really doing it. Until last week, I hadn’t touched my sewing machine in 2 years. I had the genius idea to sew a projector screen for Slice’s Literary Jeopardy on the 19th. It didn’t quite work out. But in the process, I found that I DO remember how to thread the machine. I even figured out how to fix it during a few snags. I realize this is nothing for most competent crafters, but for me, it’s a serious milestone. I’m still working on sewing straight lines. One thing at a time. #’s 32 and 41 will be dominated soon. I can feel it.

#9: Discover 5 new bands I love: Yes! I’m getting there. While in Athens (see # 16) last month I stumbled on Yo Soybean at the 40 Watt Club. I bought three of their albums on the spot and did not regret it. If you can appreciate jangly twangy bluegrassy rock, please check them out. And I met a fascinating gal earlier this year, whose band Family Band brings me to tears. And dammit, the rock snob in me was embarrassed to admit this for a long time, but I fell in love with Darius Rucker this year. Yes, the former lead singer of Hootie and the Blowfish. See? You’re probably laughing. Joe went on a country kick last fall and I laughed at him the whole time. Then he bought home a Darius Rucker album and I shut right up. Yeah, it’s sad bastard country music, but damn, it’s good. And it rocks.

#10: Make my grandfather’s pickled peppers stuff with sardines: It’s funny. I made these, and I’m completely disgusted by them. They’re nothing like my grandfather’s even though I followed all of his instructions. I can’t even look at them. I’ll probably just throw them out. This is sad, considering I was more excited to make these than anything on my cooking to-do list. I realize that most people would be repulsed by just the thought of these, but believe me: when done right, they’re a salt-, hot pepper-, and sardine-lover’s dream.

#16: Go to Athens, Georgia: Check! You’ve already heard about my little REM pilgrimage. I won’t recount my craziness here, but I’ll leave you with this photo, which perfectly illustrates my madness.

# 21: Get any National album I don’t already own: I got Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers. I still need Alligator. This must be done.

# 22: Get to know the Decemberists: It’s happening! I’m currently listening to Her Majesty the Decemberists and Picaresque on repeat. I. Cant. Stop.

#28: Make marzipan Easter lambs with Mom: Done and done. Only, I can’t share the recipe with you here because it’s being published in this month’s issue of BUST magazine! Hooray! But I’ll give you a step-by-step next year. I promise.

# 46: Make pickled garlic: I sort of did this. Only problem is, they turned blue. Yes, blue (see above). Does anyone know what happened?? I’m going to try again once I figure this out.

# 56: Finish my website: Done! I’d still like to make this design a little more fun, but it gets the job done for now. If you want an overview of everything I do when I’m not eating, sleeping, obsessing over bands, or watching Mad Men, check out www.mariagagliano.com. And hey, if you need a writer or editor, call me!


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My Brief Life as a Stoop-Sitting Seventy-Year-Old

My Brief Life as a Stoop-Sitting Seventy-Year-Old


Last month’s spaghetti with clams recipe got me thinking about neighbors. When I was growing up in Brooklyn, we had the kind of neighbors you’d share a stoop with on summer nights, killing time waiting for the ice cream truck to pass (at least, that’s what I was waiting for). Our stoop mates were Mr. Joe and Marie upstairs, and Helen and Tony downstairs. We shared a three-family house with them until I was seven. They were in their sixties and seventies at the time, but the age difference meant nothing. They were my friends. Tony and I, in particular, were great buddies. He was one of those retired guys who turned stoop-sitting into a way of life. I’d climb the living room couch every day to look out the window for his white, combed-over head. Everyone from the pigeons to the neighborhood kids knew Tony, and we were always happy to see him.

Although Tony talked to every kid on our block, I liked to believe I was special. For one, we shared a stoop. That had to mean something. And our close proximity meant more face time, which I figured also won me extra points. I was desperate to be his favorite friend. His best friend, even. He’d tell me stories about his son in Florida, where he planned to move one day to be with his grandkids. I secretly hated those grandkids, wondering if he’d rather be with them all those times he hung out with me. I worried I was just a kid fill-in. Sometimes I’d promise myself I wouldn’t go out there for a week just to see if he’d miss me. Would he ask where I’d been? Would he say the stoop hadn’t been the same without me? But it never lasted. I couldn’t resist running out the door every time I saw him on those steps.

Most of our time was spent feeding pigeons. There were tricks, he’d tell me. You can’t just throw bread onto the sidewalk, all willy nilly. To start, you had to break the bread down to the right size. Too big and the pigeons couldn’t hold the pieces in their beak. Too small and it turned to dust. Make the hunks the size of nickels. And don’t toss your whole supply at once. Sprinkle a little at a time. When one batch is almost done, sprinkle some more. That’s how they’ll get to know you. You have to stand there with the bread bag and talk to the pigeons while they’re eating. They’ll look up at you when supplies are low. Then—and only then—should you throw more. Make sure they see that you’re the one with the food. That way, they won’t forget you.

On the few nice days when Tony didn’t feel like sitting outside, he’d leave a bag of bread on the bottom step. I liked to believe it was for me—that it was our secret handshake of sorts. But I never actually used it since I wasn’t allowed to sit outside alone. And, anyway, those days were rare; Tony was usually there, warming the steps, and if he wasn’t talking to me or the other kids he had a little circle going with Helen, Marie, and Mr. Joe. I’d sit with them, even on those days, nodding and laughing at whatever they talked about. They complained a lot—about the careless teenage cashiers at CTown, about the new hair colors Helen tried that looked nothing like the picture on the box, about heartburn and blood pressure. Mr. Joe was hard of hearing, so everything he said came out in a holler. “IT’S LIKE THEY PUT THE EGGS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE BAG ON PURPOSE.”

I couldn’t believe how long they could go on talking about things like groceries (“SHORT RIBS WERE ON SALE, BUT YOU DON’T WANT THAT—THE MEAT IS GREASY”), TV (“I am so tired of that weatherman who always says partly cloudy/partly sunny”), and similarly fascinating topics (“You know you can go to the podiatrist and they’ll cut your nails for you. You shouldn’t bend down like that!”). They included me in their conversations, or, at least, they didn’t tell me to go away. They just kept talking, I fed the pigeons when I could, and they watched for traffic when I sprinted to the curb for ice cream.

I thought their mundane conversations were brilliant. Who would think to care about the placement of eggs in the grocery bag? And who knew people could bond over such a thing as toenails? I had yet to engage in the pleasures of everyday venting with friends, but my stoop-mates made me excited about the prospect. I never knew what to talk about with people. They made it look so easy.

Things started to change right before we moved to New Jersey. Mr. Joe died of a heart attack on an unassuming summer afternoon. Our apartment didn’t feel right without the hum of his evening news blaring through the ceiling. Marie stayed upstairs for a little while, then moved away to be near her kids. Helen and Tony stuck with their apartment for a good five years after we left. We’d still see Tony out on the stoop when we came back to visit my grandparents. Tony and I were excited as ever to see each other, but something was lost from our pigeon days, when we could sit in silence and just be pals. Now it was, “Oh, you got so tall,” that sort of conversation. They did make it to Florida, where Tony lived another decade with his grandkids. Helen is still there, in her nineties now. She and my grandmother share the occasional gossip when they call for holidays. And she always asks about us.

My grandparents still live across the street but our old house was sold. It’s strange seeing complete strangers in those windows, curtained in fabric we never would have chosen. And in all the years they’ve lived there, they’ve never embraced the house’s biggest selling point: that shared stoop. It just sits there, empty, waiting for someone to warm it up.

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Persian Soup-e jow (Cream of Barley Soup), Slice- and Saba-Style

Persian Soup-e jow (Cream of Barley Soup), Slice- and Saba-Style

(c) Andrea Sparacio


My favorite dish on the menu at Joe and Ian’s beer pairing dinners for Slice was a Persian Soup-e jow inspired by our friend Saba. His mom Zarrin would make huge batches of this soup for household gatherings when he was growing up. I got to hang around while he and Joe made a test batch at our apartment last week, Saba calling his mom every few minutes for tips. It was pretty damn sweet. Folks who know her say she’s the best Persian cook around—and incidentally, she’s not Persian, she’s Indian. I have my eye on Saba for more of his family recipes, so stay tuned. That’s right, Saba. I’m looking at you.

Here’s the recipe the boys used for the benefit dinners, straight from Zarrin’s kitchen to 100 hungry Slice supporters.


Cream of Barley Soup (Soup-e jow)

Adapted from New Food of Life by Najmieh Batmanglij

This is really a combination of the Ash-e jow and Soup-e jow recipes from New Food of Life.

2 onions, peeled and thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
3 tablespoons oil
1 teaspoon tumeric
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ cup pearl barley
4 cups water
3 dried limes, with 3 holes poked into each
3 cups chicken broth
3 leeks, finely chopped
1 carrot, grated
¼ cup chopped fresh dill
2 cups red beans

2 tablespoons olive oil
½ onion, peeled and diced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 tablespoon dried mint leaves
½ cup plain whole milk yogurt
2 tablespoons chopped parsley

1. In a large pot, brown the onions and garlic in the oil. Add the tumeric, cumin, salt, and pepper when the onions begin to soften.

2. When the onions brown, add the barley and sauté  for a few minutes.

3. Add the water and limes and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 1 hour.

4. Add the chicken broth, leeks, carrot, dill and beans. Simmer for another 30 to 40 minutes.

For the Garnish
1. Sauté the onions in olive oil. As they begin to brown, add the garlic and sauté until golden.

2. Remove onions and garlic from the heat and mix in the dried mint. Mix well.

3. Garnish each serving with a dollop of yogurt and a sprinkle of chopped parsley.

Serves about 12.

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Oh, Awesome Weekend: Slice, Sixpoint, and Better Friends Than Anyone Could Ask For

Oh, Awesome Weekend: Slice, Sixpoint, and Better Friends Than Anyone Could Ask For

(c) Andrea Sparacio

This weekend was something else.

Some of you know that when I’m not blogging, I’m a book geek. By day, I’m a book editor. By night/ weekend/ any-other-free-second, I’m a co-publisher of Slice, a literary magazine I started in 2007 with my dear friend Celia. As a non-profit magazine on a shoestring budget, we’ve gotten pretty creative with our fundraising. In a pinch, we’ve gone as far as hosting bake sales on our stoop in Park Slope. Seven issues, dozens of volunteers, and two patient husbands later, Slice is just getting started.

This weekend was a major milestone for Slice. We’ve always been about building community—writers, readers, editors, agents, designers, photographers, or any sort of bookworm. Slice brings us all together. But this weekend sparked a community unlike anything we’d seen.

Let me start from the beginning.

A few years ago, my husband Joe and Celia’s husband Ian started hosting beer pairing dinners in our apartment (the four of us lived together before we were married, TV sitcom-style). They’d home brew five beers, design a five-course menu tailored to those beers, and invite 35 of their pals over for dinner. These events are no joke: Ian happens to be the head brewer at Sixpoint Craft Ales, and Joe has been designing gourmet, improv recipes since he was in diapers. They’re pretty good at what they do. We knew they were on to something when the dinners would fill up within 10 minutes of emailing people. They couldn’t keep up with the demand. So we’ve been itching to get the boys into a more public setting, where all the world could see their greatness.

Fast forward three years. We Slice ladies were fretting over fundraising for Issue 7. The boys were brainstorming breakout plans for their next dinner. And incidentally, our friend Dave Liatti was putting the finishing touches on his new restaurant, 61 Local in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. All great minds came together, and with that, Slice‘s first annual beer pairing dinners were born.

Joe and Ian hosted a four-course benefit dinner for 50 people on both Friday and Saturday night. Dave kindly donated his space at 61 Local for the private event before it even opened (they’ll open officially next month). And Sixpoint Craft Ales donated some exclusive brews for the weekend. While our guys sweated in the kitchen, Slice‘s tireless staff (everyone from our Art Director and Editor-in-Chief to submissions readers, writers, and straight-up fans) bussed tables, poured beer, plated food, took photos, and made it all come together. Celia and I hid in a corner washing dishes and taking it all in. This, my friends, was community in action. It was amazing. Everyone and everything was more than we could have asked for.

Our friend Andrea snapped these gorgeous photos in between bussing tables and running food. Visit her blog for the full collage. And stay tuned for more from Slice’s fabulous art director, Amy Sly. I saw her shooting away all night. Can’t wait to see what she unveils.

Oh, and stay tuned very soon for a recipe from the big weekend….!

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On Family Tables, Upstairs (and Downstairs) Neighbors, and Insatiable Clam Obsessions (Spaghetti with Clams)

On Family Tables, Upstairs (and Downstairs) Neighbors, and Insatiable Clam Obsessions (Spaghetti with Clams)


I’ve talked about clams before. I like them. A lot. Okay, more than a lot. It’s a problem. Sometimes, they’re all I can think about. When I get it in my mind that I want them, nothing else will suffice. It’s like a nervous tick. I’m sure it has to do with my childhood. I’ve mentioned how clams are always on my family’s table for mini celebrations—so much so that we can hardly celebrate anything without them. They’re more essential than a birthday cake. And I don’t like eating them with anyone other than my family. It’s just not the same without my dad cutting lemon wedges at the kitchen counter, digging the Tobasco bottle from that dark corner of the fridge before he sits down. A very special meal will include the triple header: raw clams for an appetizer, then pasta with clams, followed by baked clams.

My husband Joe has experienced the Gagliano clam extravaganza at my parents’ house, but I decided recently that I have to master this fine art now, before we have a family of our own to continue the madness with. I was also feeling a little homesick, so I broke my own rule and made spaghetti with clams without my parents. It was amazing, but I really did miss the big family table, my mom scrunching her nose at the raw clams, and the inevitable stories that emerge over dinner. It often goes back to Brooklyn, sharing memories of clam nights with the neighbors who lived above and below us. Mr. Joe and his wife Marie lived upstairs. Mr. Joe loved clams–almost as much as me. He would call us up for clam dinners at least once a month. And what could be better? Tony and Helen, who lived downstairs, and also shared the love.

They were all elderly and treated my parents like their own kids. My brothers and I were their honorary grandkids, even though our grandparents lived right across the street. We didn’t mind. We had so much in common—our love for clams most of all. We’d all gather in our cramped kitchens, noses running from too much Tobasco, pasta water boiling over, shouting at one another, men arguing over shucking methods, like one big dysfunctional neighborly family.

Tony, Helen, Mr. Joe, Marie, this one’s for you, wherever you are.

Spaghetti with Clams
1 dozen fresh cherrystone clams
3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil
½ medium white onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, diced
Approximately 10 sprigs of fresh parsley, chopped
1 pound spaghetti
Romano cheese, grated
freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Shuck the clams, taking special care to reserve the juice. This is the trickiest part. I use a neurotic two-bowl method created by my mom. Keep one large bowl, where all the juice will eventually end up. But open each clam over a smaller, separate bowl. Catch the juice in the small bowl and give it a good sniff. If it doesn’t smell funky, pour it into the large bowl. That way, if you happen upon a bad clam you won’t ruin the entire batch.

Set the actual clams in a separate dish for later. If you need a quick lesson in clam-shucking, I refer you once again to our good friends in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn.

Once you have a good bowl of juice, filter out the sand. The fine pores in a plain cotton handkerchief are perfect for this. Line a new bowl with a (clean!) handkerchief large enough to cover the entire bowl, with room to fold over the rim. With the handkerchief securely in place, pour the clam juice into the bowl, making sure the cloth doesn’t fall in.



Gather the handkerchief’s four corners and lift, creating a sack. The juice will drip slowly through the fabric, leaving the sand behind. Set aside.



You can adjust your clammy levels depending on the severity of your clam obsession. I, for one, would name my firtborn Littleneck if it were socially acceptable. But seeing as how it’s not, I choose, instead, to make a super clammy pasta. If you’re like me, cut the dozen clams you’d set aside into bite-size pieces. If you want a slightly less clammy experience, use half the clams (or however many you want, really). You can bake the rest, or call me and I’ll come pick them up.

In a large saucepan, sauté the onions and garlic in the olive oil. Add ¾ of the parsley and sauté until it begins to soften, then add the clam juice. Cover the pot and let it simmer on low heat for about 15 minutes. In the meantime, get your pasta water boiling and make the spaghetti. I’ll spare you the step-by-step on how to boil pasta, but if you need help, visit this lovely blog.

Set the cooked spaghetti aside and tend to your sauce again. Its base is essentially ocean water, so it’s going to be really salty. Taste it and add water as needed. Your pasta water is perfect for this if you haven’t already dumped it. Once you get the liquid to your liking, add the chopped clams. They only need about a minute to cook, so add them at this very last stage. Overcooked clams will get rubbery.

Pour the clam sauce over the cooked pasta, mix, and serve. Top each serving with a dash of the remaining parsley, Romano cheese, and pepper. Call and invite me over for dinner.

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Getting a Little Territorial Over Tomato Cucumber Salad

Getting a Little Territorial Over Tomato Cucumber Salad


A kid’s universe really unfolds when they start to see things in the world that they’d previously only known at home. Like the first time I’d heard people speaking Sicilian who weren’t my family or neighbors. Obviously, I knew we hadn’t invented the language. I understood that millions of immigrants brought it with them from Sicily. But still, hearing it outside my little bubble was unsettling. Even worse was hearing other variations—dialects from other regions that were similar enough for me to understand, but certainly not the Sicilian I knew. Something primal and territorial would kick in. Who are you, and what do you know about that world? I’d wonder.

I’ve moved on from such childish reactions, but I often surprise myself when I get “what do you mean this wasn’t invented in my house?” feelings. They still creep up, but now I’m more shocked at myself than I am at the world. Who am I kidding? It’s all been done before. And I say that with affection for all those who share traditions. It’s nice to remember that even though we don’t know one another, the same dishes cover our tables; the same values bind our families; and the same roots brought us to where we are.

I wasn’t expecting to feel that territorial response toward my Netflix queue. But there it was, smack in the middle of a No Reservations episode. There was Tony, hanging out in the fields of Sicily with some old caper farmers when they sat down to lunch. And right there, among the pasta and wine and bread was my parents’ tomato, onion, and cucumber salad. The salad they’d invented in our kitchen for Sunday lunches back in the ’80s. Hmph. My world. Shattered again. Oh, well.

In truth, I’m happy to see this masterpiece out and about. It deserves the credit. It reminds me of Sunday nights growing up, when we’d flip meals and have lunch at dinnertime since “Sunday dinner” was at noon. This salad was always on our Sunday night lunch table.

Maybe my parents and those caper farmers knew the same guy—the guy in Sicily who invented this. Or maybe it’s just one of those things that we all share without knowing.

Tomato Cucumber Salad
I didn’t have capers and olives when I made this recently, so they’re not in the picture. But if you can, add them! It wouldn’t be Sunday night lunch without them.

For the salad:
2 ripe tomatoes (vine tomatoes are great, but anything will do)
½ red or sweet white onion, sliced into thin moons
2 cucumbers, peeled and sliced into half moons
1 tablespoon capers, rinsed
1 handful cracked green olives

For the dressing:
1 to 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons olive oil
dried oregano, to taste
salt, to taste

Throw it all together. Taste. Adjust any ingredients until you love it. And please don’t let that vinaigrette at the bottom of the bowl go to waste! Something happens after the vegetables have been hanging out in it for a while. It would be a mortal sin if you didn’t soak it up with a hunk of crusty bread. A sin. What would your grandparents think? Please, don’t let us down. Get the bread. Make us proud.

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The Highlight of Every Bensonhurst Kid’s Summer: The Santa Rosalia Feast

The Highlight of Every Bensonhurst Kid’s Summer: The Santa Rosalia Feast

This week I introduced my dear friend C to the Feast of Santa Rosalia, Bensonhurt’s annual street fair honoring the patron saint of Palermo, Sicily. “The feast” was the highlight of our summers growing up. Yes, we loved getting out of the city, hiking, swimming, etc., but nothing thrilled us more than a sticky August evening at the feast. It was just a few blocks from my Nonna Rosalia’s house (yes, she had an entire feast dedicated to her), so we’d go on Sundays after everyone–all 18 cousins, plus aunts and uncles–piled into her apartment for dinner. We’d spend the night trying to win goldfish; eating fried dough, gelato, sausage, and clams; listening to terrible Sicilian folk bands; watching people tuck dollar bills into the Santa Rosalia status. It was chaotic, ridiculous, and delicious: like most good things in my life.

It’s amazing how differently things from childhood look after so many years. This feast was HUGE when I was a kid. Walking up those seven blocks of 18th Avenue took all night, it seemed. You were always sandwiched by people; getting poked in the back by someone’s canolli, some stranger’s gelato dripping on your shoe. I once lost track of my family thanks to the fat guy with that giant snake draped over his shoulders every year. They were gone for a full few seconds (i.e., eternity) when I found my brother Sal and attached myself to him. I don’t think they realized I was missing.

Snake guy wasn’t there this year, and the crowds were a little thinner than I remembered. The neighborhood’s changed—immigrant groups come and go and the Sicilians are fewer and fewer—but it was still as magical as ever. Only this time, those seven blocks took about 30 minutes to cover, and that included a stop at the venerable Villabate Bakery. I know I’ve gotten bigger, but did the feast also get smaller? No matter. Here’s our night, in pictures.

First stop, stuffing dollar bills into Santa Rosalia’s skirt. C and I didn’t do this, nor did my family ever do it. Seems like a strange ritual, no?

First on the menu, some high-quality cheese sauce and sausages. We didn’t partake in this, though, because we were saving ourselves for…..

THIS thing of beauty. We call them sfingi in Sicilian, but they’re also known as zeppole by some.  (Another pastry with the same name is made for St. Joseph’s day. It’s confusing.) Call them what you want, they’re fried dough balls. Funnel cake in ball form, if you will.

You can’t walk 18th Avenue in Bensonhurst without a stop at Villabate, the best bakery in town. After sfingi, our dinner consisted of….

Chocolate and coffee gelato. But not just any old gelato cup…

Gelato on a brioche roll. If you’re going to do gelato for dinner, this is really the only way to do it.

We decided to be nice and bring something home for our boys…

The canolli won. They fly in their ricotta  from Palermo for these babies every day. Not exactly eco-friendly, but….still a beautiful end to an evening.

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A Necklace for You, A Necklace for Me

I’m not one to obsess over the day I have kids. I’m excited about it eventually, yes, but I’ve tried not to latch on to ideals of how I plan to raise them, or what I swear I will or will not do as the perfect parent. Lord knows I’ll probably start messing up my kids the first day we meet, in those subtle ways we never realize. I’m okay with that.

But I have thought a lot about the things I’d like for my kids to associate with me. I don’t mean when I’m dead or anything. Just little things that will make them think of me. For example, the smell of sautéing garlic and parsley brings me straight to my parents’ kitchen. Oil of Olay on a freshly washed face is my mom completely.

I know it’s strange—I’m planning ahead for nostalgia. But the smell of bread baking last winter made the whole thing so clear: I want my future kids to smell fresh bread and think of me. That’s not too much to ask. Warmth, comfort, coziness, and good food, all wrapped up into one person.

Then there are the pasta necklaces, and the sick days. These are at the top of my nostalgia-planning list, a combo that I hope to carry down from my mom. Because I can’t look at a piece of dry tubular pasta, or stay home sick, without thinking of our pasta necklace-making days. I don’t think we even made them more than a couple of times, but the memory is too good not to pass down.

It starts with a kid, stuck home on a couch, missing a fun event because she’s sick. That girl’s mom (or dad) will also be stuck on said couch, missing said fun event. In my case, I was five years old, home for weeks with pneumonia, missing a cousin’s wedding. We thought I’d be okay, but realized at the last minute that I really couldn’t go out. So we changed plans: Dad went with the brothers, and Mom and I stayed home watching the Wonderful World of Disney.

Man, was I bummed. All I could think of was my brothers and dad pigging out at the oyster bar (even then, I had my priorities straight), feeling sorry for myself quarantined at home. Through my moping I could hear my mom shuffling through drawers in her sewing table, then the clatter of what sounded like pebbles being poured into a glass bowl. It was all very curious. I sat up as she approached the couch with her supplies—what turned out to be a bowl of ditalini pasta and thread.

“What are you doing,” I asked. Back then, I could eat a bowl of raw pasta like it was popcorn. It was a special weakness of mine. I doubted that my mom pitied me so much that she’d actually let me do it, though.

“I used to do this when I was little. Look—if you tie the string around one piece of pasta at the end, then use it as a chain for a necklace, you can make jewelry.” She demonstrated the technique as I crunched on a few pieces from the bowl. This was quite the revelation. I’d never seen pasta used for anything other than its intended purpose. Then the light bulb went off. Pneumonia be damned, I had found my calling right there on that vinyl-covered couch.

“Wow, I can wear this everywhere!” I was overwhelmed with joy and possibility. Just thinking of the endless accessories I could make, the potential for pasta combinations, the special orders from Manhattan. (Ditalini and rigatoni on a bracelet? Why, yes, I can make a custom order for you, m’am. Oh, you want little star shapes for those earrings? Let me see if I can get those with a hole in the middle, sir.) My design options were boundless. I’d be the most famous pasta jewelry designer the 1980’s had ever seen. I couldn’t believe how much time I’d already wasted watching My Little Pony when I could have been creating. Too bad Etsy was still decades away.

I’ve spent the last twenty-odd years with that night fondly tucked in my back pocket. We watched whatever Disney movie was on (who could remember?) and made jewelry for my grandmas and for each other. When we were done, we even made them for my dad and brothers. I wore them like candy necklaces every day, stealing a bite when no one was looking, until my collection was entirely consumed and it was back to designing the new season’s styles.

I grew out of the pastime, but I still can’t see pasta as just a meal anymore. It’s fashion, it’s a creative medium, it’s my mom and me owning the night when we could have just watched TV. It’s part of a memory I hope to recreate for someone someday.

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