Aglio e olio: Chapter Two

Every white boy I’ve ever made spaghetti with garlic and oil for loved it.

I don’t know at what age human beings first become aware of what they look like and where they fit in; who their tribe is; what group they belong to.

The first four years of my life I lived in an Italian-Jewish neighborhood in the Bronx. I have no memory of awareness of anyone being any different from anyone else. The only difference, in my experience, between Italians and Jews is the day they go to church.

When my grandmother sold the house we lived in we moved to the projects, still in the Bronx but now with a more mixed bag of neighbors. (For those unfamiliar with the term ‘projects’ they are public housing – you know, for poor people.) I remember that our neighbors directly across from our apartment were named “Rivera”.  Since us kids were pretty the same age the doors were always left open and we floated back and forth between the two apartments.

Back in the old days your parent’s friends were called Aunt and Uncle.  My mother had a friend, Margie Yates. Margie was from Jamaica, the Caribbean Island, not the neighborhood in Queens.  And yes, Aunt Margie was Black.  I adored her. I loved to hear her talk, that Jamaican accent – musical and magical.

Walking home from school with my friend Sheryl, I told her she had to come up and meet my Aunt Margie, who I knew was visiting that day. I don’t remember any of that encounter but I do remember that when Sheryl and I went outside to play, I guess I was gushing about Aunt Margie. Sheryl blurted out (this is the 19050’s remember) “But she’s colored! My reply? “No, she’s my Aunt Margie.”

I was perhaps 6 or 7 years old and still wasn’t aware that what you looked like mattered.  No one had told me. I hadn’t experienced being different yet.

When I was 8 we moved to Queens and that all changed.

~~~ To be continued

For Melissa – Recipe for spaghetti with garlic and oil.

Also known as spaghetti aglio e olio.  Personally I use linguini  but you can also use spaghettini but NEVER angel hair.  You want a thin macaroni, spaghetti is really too thick and angel hair, in my opinion is gross.

The way I do it is the way I like it – there are variations to-taste.

Put up the pot to boil. Take a small (6 inch) frying pan, add olive oil and garlic. Use low heat (or low flame) to just get the garlic fragrant. Turn off the heat.

When the macaroni is cooked drain it but not too much, you want it fairly wet. Put the macaroni back in the pot, add the garlic/olive oil. Keep a low heat under the pot while you mix it all together (coating the macaroni), add fresh ground black pepper.

Dump onto a plate add the grated cheese of your choice – Eccolo!

Variations to taste (and answers to questions you might have):

~ I always add a little bit of lemon juice to the olive oil/garlic pan. It just seems to brighten it up.

~ Some folks add hot red pepper flakes – you can add them to the olive oil pan or to the pot after the pasta has been coated.  Your choice – to your taste or not at all.

~ The garlic – you can slice it VERY thinly, you can mince it, you can use a garlic press – whatever you like.

~ How much garlic? Hey, you’re eating it, please yourself. While I have an apron that says “There is no such thing as too much garlic” – that’s not true but you get to decide that.

~ How much olive oil?  Ah, – who knows – enough to nicely coat however much macaroni you are cooking.  You can always add more olive oil after you’ve mixed everything together if it looks to dry or you just want more olive oil.

~ Grated cheese – I like Romano – specifically Locatelli Romano which is not always easy to get and it’s way expensive so plain Romano has to do. You can use Parmesan if that’s how you roll.

~ Also – depending on which, or how many, greasy pans you want to wash – You can use a bigger frying pan to do the garlic and oil and then put the pasta into that pan to coat the macaroni. I do the small frying pan into the macaroni pot.  I’ll use a spoon to get out all the garlic bits and olive oil.

I use this as a side dish but there is nothing to stop you from making it a main dish.

See – easy peasy.

Spaghetti with garlic and oil: Chapter One

Every white boy I’ve ever made spaghetti with garlic and oil for loved it.

I used to be 96% Italian, that’s been downgraded to 86% Southern Italian and the remaining 14% various other Mediterranean ethnicities – as you can see. The Southern Italy portion is confined to Sicily yet recent history has my father’s family living in and around Naples. Still considered Southern Italy but not as far south as Sicily.

An exotic little son-of-a-gun, aren’t I?

Mediterranean people tend to the darker side – hair, eyes, skin. And so I do tend. But not everyone in my family tended that way. One of the (many) pointless lies my mother told was that her father had flaming red hair and blue eyes. I found his draft card online and he was described as having black hair and brown eyes. WTH? I have said that my mother never met a lie she would not embrace wholeheartedly but this is a corker. That said, my cousin Camille,  my mother’s sister’s daughter had red hair – Lucy Ball red only natural.

When my elder male sibling was born he was described as looking like a little old man because he had white hair, blue eyes and dead white skin. When I was born 2 years later I was described as a monkey – covered in black hair, black eyes and dark skin. The hair fell off, so not werewolf syndrome but it was also said that I was born with a caul.

Needless to say when my mother took the two of us out she got a lot of sidelong glances. Where did that “white” kid come from? My father was dark but my mother had medium brown hair and hazel eyes, olive skin but not the yellow-cast olive tone that I have. Yet, she said that when she was young they called her ‘blackie’.

Which brings me to – Italians weren’t considered “white”. Indeed we were referred to as ‘blackies’ and perhaps that was what my mother was referring to – racist taunts. in the 1890’s, when there was a large influx of Italians into the United States, particularly in New York City, the general opinion was that the Italians were animals, savages and should be deported.

(Here’s a fun web site – The Racial Slur Database – the page for Italian is HERE.)

I was born in 1946 in New York City, a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-national city where one would think ethnicity wouldn’t be much of an issue. But of course it was. NYC was populated with human beings – and human beings love to hate.

~~~To be continued

My heart’s desire

has always been to own a bookstore. I keep myself awake at night planning my shop. Where it will be; what it looks like outside; constantly rearranging the layout inside. I run over in my mind how to set up the legal end of owning a shop and accounting procedures;  how to source books; what kind of computer set-up I will need to track inventory, even what kind of payment I will accept and how to manage that. I worry about all the practical aspects of owning a shop.

The kind of books I will sell? That’s the easy part. I will only sell what I love, what I like. It will be a bookstore doomed to failure because of that. When love is the driving force then failure is a given.

You can’t make someone love something. Regardless of how truly fabulous and wonderful it might be. You can’t take your joy and pour it on someone and expect it to be absorbed, to become their joy.

Yesterday I needed to experience joy. So I started reading, again, for the 4th time, “The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry” by Gabrielle Zevin. This book is joy to me. This book is about love. This book is about the love of books. There is something about people who love books .  They are picky, opinionated but devoted and loyal to a fault when they love – be it books or people.

Rory asked in a post this morning “What is your favorite quote and why do you like it so much?”  How could anyone pick just one? If you are a reader then you have so many quotes that transported you, spoke to you on a deeply intimate level, raised you up, comforted you, challenged your perceptions.

If you have neither the time nor the inclination to read “The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry” then I offer you some of my favorite quotes from the book – share my joy.

“We aren’t the things we collect, acquire, read. We are, for as long as we are here, only love. The things we loved. The people we loved. And these, I think these really do live on.”

“The words you can’t find, you borrow. We read to know we’re not alone. We read because we are alone. We read and we are not alone. We are not alone.”

“My life is in these books. Read these and know my heart. We are not quite novels. We are not quite short stories. In the end we are collected works.”