Monday, July 24, 2017

Finding love in the back of a car

I don't look forward to summers the way I used to. Not since August 2013.

That's when Cousin John delivered this case of Manhattan Special to me. He'd packed it in the trunk of his car before he and Cousin Susie, his wife of 40-plus years, left their home on Long Island and made their annual summer drive to Maine. John always made a point of bringing something meaningful along on his visits and knew that, to me, a major stash of Manhattan Special surely qualified as that.

The sweet espresso soda has been one of my favorite indulgences since I was five and swiped my first little glass bottle of the stuff from my parents' candy store in Brooklyn. It tastes exactly the same today as it did then. And is still manufactured in Brooklyn, just as it's been since 1895. By the same family no less.

But they don't sell Manhattan Special in Maine. Worse, nobody here has even heard of the stuff, let alone tasted it. In the winter of 2012, I went so far as to prepare (and report on right here) a homemade batch of the soft drink. This desperate attempt did not go unnoticed by my cousin, as the case of real Manhattan Special arrived shortly afterward.

John's delivery in the summer of 2013 was much more than a thoughtful gift from an appreciative (and, let's face it, lobster-loving) houseguest: It was an extraordinary kindness, rooted in history, tradition and, most important of all, love.

Which didn't surprise me in the slightest.

John and I are as close as any cousins I know, and have been since I was in my late teens and he in his latter twenties. Of the many things I regret about moving away from my home and family in New York, 20-odd years ago now, a close proximity to this particular family member ranks high. For many years anticipating John's and Susie's weeklong summer visits went a good ways toward making the harsh Maine winters seem a little more bearable.

But he hasn't been back since. And I fear he won't again.

My cousin hasn't been well. He goes in and out of hospitals and doctors offices and testing facilities the way most of us run errands to the grocery store or the ATM. He's even taken up with mystics and healers hoping that they might have the answers that traditional medicine does not.

Even when John is feeling well he isn't feeling well enough to break the chains of his afflictions. The idea of traveling, to Maine or anyplace else where his known healthcare providers are not within immediate reach, has become, to his mind, just another risk that requires prudent avoidance.

And so we've learned to talk more on the phone and grab a quick lunch or dinner when I'm in New York. We reminisce about how we have missed our summer tradition, and John assures me that the next year will be different, and I tell him that that would be just sweller than swell, hoping that each next year will be different from the last one but not hoping so much as to be too disappointed when it isn't.

Driving my own case of soda from New York to Maine just doesn't cut it.

And it will never, ever feel as good.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Garlic scape aglio e olio

When you have more than 200 head of garlic growing in the garden this is the time of year people start showing up.

"What you doing there?" asked a neighbor I had not seen since early winter. "Those garlic scapes you're cutting?"

The woman left with a bag filled with 20 or so of my scapes. She said that she would make a pesto, which is what many people will do. I said that she ought to try this aglio e olio with a few of the scapes, but I'm pretty certain that she wasn't paying any attention.

Her loss.

A simple aglio e olio using garlic scapes instead of cloves is a great change of pace. And this is the only time of year that we get to do it.

Get yourself around four or five scapes.

Chop them up like so. (Get your pasta going, by the way, because this won't take very long at all.)

Saute at medium heat in plenty of olive oil with three or four anchovy filets and a little chopped hot pepper.

When your pasta is al dente add it to the pan, along with some of the well-salted pasta water, then turn up the heat to high and incorporate.

If only my neighbor had been listening.