Category Archives: Essays & Rants

“Italian” Food

Italian Food

To many people, “Italian” food means tomatoes, garlic, and gooey melted cheese in the form of things like spaghetti and meatballs, garlic bread and veal cutlet parmesan.

Italian Food

Well, that’s not what Italians eat, especially not Italians in Italy. The food of Italy varies by region, and it’s not what’s typically served in American “Italian” restaurants. (I suppose the same is true for Chinese food. Tourists are disappointed when they go to China and expect to find spare ribs, fried rice and egg rolls.)
What may be common in Palermo might be rare in Milano. Types of pasta and sauces, aromatics, herbs and spices and preparation methods are so varied throughout the regions of Italy that America’s Olive Gardens couldn’t possibly keep up with it so they make up their own “Italian” recipes.Italian Food

“Italian” Spice – What exactly is it? I see it often in recipes – “add one teaspoon of Italian spice.” Try Googling Italian Spice and you’ll find dozens of combinations of spices including everything from garlic and fennel to dill and basil. Keep it simple and use the spices that fit the other ingredients in your recipe and not somebody else’s mix of what they think tastes good. Try asking for Italian Spice in a store in Italy and they won’t know what you’re talking about. Use good, fresh ingredients and limit the variety of spices – more isn’t necessarily better.

Italian Food


“Italian” Breadcrumbs – So what makes breadcrumbs Italian? It makes sense that they would be made from Italian bread but no, that’s not it.

Read the ingredientsNiacin, Ferrous Sulfate, Thiamin Mononitrate (Vitamin B1), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Folic Acid], High Fructose Corn Syrup, Corn Syrup, Vegetable Oil (Soybean And/Or Cottonseed And/Or Corn And/Or Canola Oils.

Italian Food

I’d rather have just breadcrumbs in my breadcrumbs. Season whatever it is that you’re going to bread. Coat it in flour, dip in an egg wash and then plain breadcrumbs. Fry it in good oil and leave out the chemicals listed above.

“Italian” Salad Dressing – This one is a lot like Italian spice. Everybody has something else to add. The Olive Garden actually uses Miracle Whip in their so-called Italian salad dressing. Miracle Whip – can you believe it?

Italian Food

Here’s a simple version of dressing that’s common in Italian-American homes and in Italy too.

Sprinkle salt and black pepper on the greens. Then a drizzle of olive oil and red wine vinegar (use balsamic if you like). Use more oil than vinegar. Toss and serve – that’s all.

Try this simple dressing on some cut up orange sections with a mix of arugula and romaine.

 

And don’t get me started on “Spaghetti Sauce.”

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Filomena’s Fettuccine with Alici and Tomato Sauce

Filomena’s Fettuccine with Alici and Tomato Sauce

Filomena’s Fettucine with Alici and Tomato Sauce

A few weeks ago, I posted a recipe for Anchovy Tomato Sauce that I got from a pizzeria chef I know.  I thought it was pretty good. A friend of mine showed it to his Sicilian grandmother who, to put it mildly, didn’t approve of it. The differences in the two recipes don’t seem too extreme to me but to her, there’s a world of difference. Out of respect for Nona Filomena, I’m posting her recipe. I tried them both and prefer Nona’s.Filomena’s Fettucine with Alici and Tomato Sauce
Filomena didn’t exactly give me a breakdown of ingredients and preparation so I’ll paraphrase our phone conversation and fill in a few blanks.

Filomena’s Fettucine with Alici and Tomato Sauce

“You start with a small can of alici (anchovies) in a frying pan with some oil (olive). When they start to dissolve, put in your garlic (2 cloves) finely chopped so you don’t mistake it for a pinole. You cook that a little bit (5 minutes)and then put in a small can of paste (6 oz.). Stir it until it absorbs the oil and then a little of the pasta water to thin it, but not too much. Put in the pinoles (pine nuts) and currants (about 1/3 cup each). Now, a little sugar (two teaspoons) to cut the acid of the tomatoes. Let it cook until it’s done (about 20 minutes) and maybe if you need it, a little more pasta water. You should taste it then. There’s probably enough salt from the alici but if you like it salty you might want more. No cheese with this but you put a bowl of fried breadcrumbs on the table and people help themselves.”
A few of Nona Filomena’s comments:
  • No parsley in this sauce. It doesn’t belong.
  • You make this with fettuccine. No other kind of pasta.
  • You don’t put the toasted breadcrumbs in the sauce as it’s cooking because they get soggy. You want them crisp.
  • It’s all right to finish cooking the fettuccine in the sauce but if you’re making two or three pounds when the whole family is coming, you don’t have to do that.
  • No red pepper in this – just black.

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Excerpt from La Cucina Povera

Excerpt from La Cucina Povera

From an article in Gastronomica about my family’s cooking –

Excerpt from La Cucina Povera. . . There’s none of that restaurant-style lasagna or ‘‘veal parm’’ in our cookbook with their rubbery layers of mozzarella and loads of garlic. For us there’s no simple thing called ‘‘spaghetti sauce’’; we have dozens of sauces that go with various types of pasta in strict combination. Most of the recipes we include are the ones our grandmother, Nicolina, brought with her to America from Salerno more than a hundred years ago. This is truly la cucina povera, the cooking of the poor.


Excerpt from La Cucina Povera

. . . The next course was pasta frutti di mare. If guests asked for cheese to sprinkle on their pasta, we of course had to tell them they couldn’t have any. Everyone should know it’s a mortal sin to put cheese on seafood. The pasta course was followed by other things that swim and were available at the end of December. A standard was baccala, dried cod fish, prepared both as a salad and a stew. It’s so dry it resembles a plank of wood when you buy it.


Excerpt from La Cucina Povera

. . . We’d also serve cured meats like prosciutto and capocollo but which we pronounce in Grandma’s dialect, ‘‘braschute’’ and ‘‘gabbagoul.’’


Excerpt from La Cucina Povera

. . .  When I think about my childhood family meals I can still smell fresh-cut lemons and dried oregano, and hear the sizzle of my mother’s breaded veal cutlets frying in olive oil. The shades of color in an arugula, romaine, and blood orange salad bring back memories of much more than just something to eat.


Excerpt from La Cucina Povera

. . . I handed my fourteen-year-old granddaughter, Molly, a sharp knife, a cutting board, and five pounds of sardines and asked her to clean them. After I showed her how it to do it, she worked on them until she was left with a neat pile of fillets, without once saying ‘‘Ew’’ or ‘‘Yuck.’’


Excerpt from La Cucina Povera

. . .  As I unwrapped it and put the heart on the kitchen counter, Bridget left the room and wouldn’t come back. . . I don’t remember ever seeing anything like that in my Mother’s kitchen, and it didn’t look at all like the dainty bits in the finished dish she served. I didn’t know where to start and after calling Nicki, found she didn’t either, so I Googled, ‘‘preparation beef heart,’’ and came up with a method of cleaning it.


Complete article – La Cucina Povera

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Excerpt from La Cosa Nostra

Excerpt from La Cosa Nostra
This isn’t about the Mafia. Cosa nostra literally means “our thing.” And in this story, the thing is how an Italian woman feels about her cooking. In New York’s Little Italy there was a Neapolitan-Sicilian cooking rivalry between housewives.

 

My Aunt Lena, a first-generation Neapolitan-American who grew up in Manhattan’s Little Italy, happened to fall in love with a first-generation Sicilian-American. This wasn’t quite as tragic as Romeo and Juliet. Really, it was no big deal—except where cooking was concerned. Shortly after the wedding, Aunt Lena’s Sicilian-born mother-in-law, Rose, came to dinner. My aunt put together an extensive menu, including a Neapolitan standard: lasagna. The basic family recipe is broad pasta layered and baked with a garlic based tomato sauce, three cheeses (ricotta, mozzarella, and Parmesan), and meatballs “no bigger than a dime.” My mother and aunt could roll these little gems between their palms three at a time.

Excerpt from La Cosa Nostra

Rose said she loved it, and sometime after that, she invited my aunt to dinner, saying she liked her lasagna so much she thought she’d serve her own version of it—of course, with a Sicilian twist. In Rose’s version, the garlicky sauce was supplemented with chopped onions. In addition to the three traditional cheeses, Rose added a good amount of provolone. And, layered with the strips of pasta, she added sliced hardboiled eggs and some sopressata. The all-important little meatballs were gone. My aunt politely ate some of Rose’s dish and commented on how good it was, all the while hiding her outrage that a family recipe should be so casually bastardized. She hoped she would soon have her chance to avenge this affront to the cuisine of Naples. She didn’t have to wait long, as March 19th was coming up. That’s the feast day of St. Joseph, when many Sicilian households traditionally serve pasta con sarde. The name means “pasta with sardines,” . . .

Excerpt from La Cosa Nostra

So my Aunt Lena invited Rose for a St. Joseph’s day dinner, and said she wanted to serve pasta con sarde. Like a good daughter-in-law, she asked her for her family recipe, and Rose was happy to supply it. My aunt followed the instructions precisely, but during the simmering of the sauce, she added enough crushed San Marzano plum tomatoes (imported from Naples, of course) to turn Rose’s green sauce red. Rose, in turn, controlled her reaction to this wrong-colored sauce, and said it was all delicious. My aunt’s honor was satisfied.

Excerpt from La Cosa Nostra


. . . I was twelve when I ate lunch at a friend’s home, where his grandmother served us delicious sandwiches made with breaded flounder fillets. When I got home, I made two mistakes. First, in my innocence, I asked my mother and aunt, “How come your fillets aren’t as tasty as the ones Vinnie’s grandmother makes?” Second, I forgot that Vinnie’s grandmother was Sicilian. My mother and aunt always treated me like a little prince who could do no wrong, but this time I really made them angry.

Excerpt from La Cosa Nostra

“If you like Vinnie’s grandmother’s cooking so much,” my mother huffed, “you should eat there from now on.” And she wouldn’t talk to me after that. I knew she didn’t mean it, but I also knew she was very upset. When I sat at my family’s dinner table that evening, hoping the afternoon’s conversation had been forgotten, I discovered that I wasn’t allowed to have any of the pasta lenticchie and pork chops with vinegar peppers everyone else was eating.

Excerpt from La Cosa Nostra

“Since you don’t appreciate the way we cook,” announced my aunt, “this is what you’ll eat from now on.” And she and my mother made a big show of serving me a baloney sandwich on Wonder Bread. When I’d finished the sandwich my penance was complete. They forgave me, and gave me my real dinner. And I was very careful to watch what I said about their cooking after that.


. . . Not being able to talk about food, or exchange recipes, or even go grocery shopping together without some subtle eye-rolling, made it difficult for the Neapolitan and Sicilian housewives of my childhood to become close friends. But they did have at least one thing that bound them together: They all looked down their noses at the Toscana housewives from the north who cooked with butter instead of good southern olive oil.

Excerpt from La Cosa Nostra

 

La Cosa Nostra the whole story from TOMATO SLICES

My Aunt Lena’s Pasta con Sarde Recipe

 Traditional Pasta con Sarde Recipe

Pasta Lenticchie  and  Pork Chops with Vinegar Peppers recipes

Excerpt from Hanging Out on A Sunday Afternoon

Excerpt from Hanging Out on A Sunday Afternoon

 

Hanging Out on a Sunday Afternoon

“Hey, Sam the knish guy is coming down from Houston Street. Let’s go get one.”
An old Jewish man named Sam passed by with his cart just about every day selling hot potato knishes. Joe got his with mustard. Mine was plain. I knew it would take the edge off of my appetite for Sunday dinner but I couldn’t help myself.
Hanging Out on a Sunday Afternoon
Joe said, “Let’s go back to Dom’s and get a Lime Rickey to go with this. It’s funny; I like Lime Rickeys, which you can only get in the summer, but I can’t wait for colder weather when the sweet potato guy sets up his cart on Allen Street. I love those things.”

Hanging Out on a Sunday Afternoon

“I know who you mean but I’m not too crazy about sweet potatoes,” I said.
Joe paid no attention to me. He was feeling nostalgic again.

 

Hanging Out on a Sunday Afternoon

“But what I really miss is the old guy who used to sell jelly apples all winter outside the school at three o’clock. He’d dip them in hot jelly when you ordered one so the jelly would still be hot and soft as you ate it. And if you wanted, he’d roll it in coconut – no extra charge. I haven’t had a good jelly apple since the old guy died.”

 

Hanging Out on a Sunday Afternoon

We ate our knishes and talked as we walked to our building. I asked Joe if he wanted to have dinner with us. He declined but said he would stop by later. We climbed the stairs and he went into his apartment as I entered my crowded kitchen where dinner was being prepared. My mother, aunt and sisters were cooking. My father, although he didn’t help except to grate enough parmigiana cheese for the meal, often seemed to find reasons to pass through just to see what was going on. When we finally sat down to eat, the dishes seemed to just keep coming. There was someone constantly getting up to bring still more in from the kitchen.
Once, a high school classmate of my older sister joined us. She wasn’t Italian and asked for a knife to cut her pasta.
My mother sometimes took offense when someone simply asked to pass the salt, saying, “Why, I didn’t put enough salt?” But this time she said, “Hon, let me show you how to twirl your fusilli on a fork.”
Hanging Out on a Sunday Afternoon
Dinner ended with the inevitable question, “Who wants black or brown?” meaning espresso or American coffee. As the coffee was being served there was a knock at the door. It was Joe who wanted to see if I was ready to go out.
“Come in, Joe,” my mother said. “We’re just finishing dinner. Come in and have something to eat.”
“Hello everyone,” he said as he entered the dining room, “No thanks. I just ate.”
“Well, sit down anyway and have some coffee. You know everyone here. This is my cousin Gloria from Staten Island.”

 

Hanging Out on a Sunday Afternoon

“I remember Joe when he was a little boy,” Gloria said. “Have a piece of Blackout cake. I got it at Ebbingers on the way over.”
“Honest, I’m really full.”
“All right, sit down anyway. Somebody cut him a piece of cake to go with his coffee.”
“OK, just a little piece.” Joe knew he couldn’t win.

 

Hanging Out on a Sunday Afternoon


Latkes for Chanukah

Latkes for Chanukah

If you’ve been following my blog you know that I’m Italian-American and most often post Italian recipes. But not this time. I grew up in New York and specifically on the Lower East Side so that means I grew up with Jewish food. Latkes have always been one of my favorites and my grandmother used to make them. If you think about it, a Jewish latke isn’t very different than an Italian  potato and egg frittata.
My father’s mother, Amalia came to America from Italy in the early 1880s as a young teenager. Her family settled on Prince Street in what was to become Little Italy but was then a mix of Irish, Jewish and Italian immigrants. Her first job was in a nearby Jewish garment factory and being surrounded by girls and women speaking nothing but Yiddish, that was the first language she learned in America. English came later.

 

My Aunt Sis told me that once when she was shopping with her mother, she saw a coat she liked. Grandma said it cost too much and started to leave the store.
One of the shopkeepers told the other in Yiddish, “These Italian mothers always give in to their kids. She’ll be back for the coat.”
My grandmother turned to him and said in impeccable Yiddish, “It’s too expensive but I might buy it if we could negotiate a better price.” The surprised shopkeeper did just that.
I remember family dinners at her apartment on Prince Street and there were often some of her garment worker friends invited. Grandma spoke perfect English and Italian and it was always fun for us grandchildren to hear her conversing with her old friends in Yiddish.
I think I’ve figured out the Latke recipe she used although it’s possible she fried them in olive oil. But whatever kind you use, the oil is a reminder during Chanukah of what was burned to keep the eternal flame alive the temple.

Latkes for Chanukah

Mix the flour, salt, baking powder and pepper in a large bowl. Add the beaten eggs and stir until the flour is absorbed. Use the coarse side of a grater to grate the potatoes and onion. Latkes for ChanukahDo this right over a dish towel and then squeeze out and discard as much of the liquid as you can. Add potatoes and onions to the flour and egg mix and blend thoroughly.Latkes for Chanukah

Heat the oil in a heavy frying pan. Put a tablespoon of the potato mix in the pan (I use an ice cream scoop) and flatten it with a spatula. Don’t worry about rough edges – they’ll get crisp and that’s what you want.Latkes for Chanukah
Cook them for about 4-5 minutes and turn them. Then the same on the 2nd side. When they’re done, drain them on a paper tower (or a brown paper bag like Grandma did) and sprinkle with salt. Serve them hot with apple sauce and sour cream. Happy Chanukah!Latkes for Chanukah

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Talking About the Movies

(John Ford’s  STAGECOACH, staring John Wayne – 1939)

Talking About the Movies
They speak about hardware, software, LANs, WANs and USBs. These are the usual topics of conversation whenever I join my wife, Bridget at a business dinner. She’s in information technology – electronic communications to be specific. My wife is terrific, but if she’s with people in her field she becomes a strange and different person and although she normally uses English when she speaks to me, her language changes to “Hi-Tech.”

Typically these dinners are with another couple, one of whom is the techie who works with Bridget. The spouse is in the same boat I am so we usually have a separate conversation. I’ve met some interesting people this way, and as a night out it’s not too bad.
A couple Bridget had worked with in Chicago was passing through New York recently and invited us to go out. I expected the worst since this time, not just one but both of them were “computer professionals” so I would be the only one not able to communicate in the common language. To soften the blow, we picked one of my favorite restaurants, Gallagher’s Steak House on West 52nd Street, so I would at least be sure to enjoy the food if not the talk. Talking About the Movies
They seemed nice enough, and at the beginning of the meal everyone tried to include me in the conversation as we had our crab meat cocktails and little necks on the half shell appetizers.
I’m considered fairly proficient with a computer, but they were light years beyond me. Every time I tried to change the subject, it inevitably went back to their shop talk. I gave up and simply smiled and nodded while I thought of other things and ate my sirloin. Then I began to daydream and eventually just zoned out.
While I was in this state of deep boredom, some of the conversation from an adjoining table got through to me. My ears perked up because they were discussing movies and were in the midst of an argument about the name of an actor. Talking About the Movies
I heard a female voice ask, “Who played the corrupt cop that Michael Corleone shot in The Godfather?”
I couldn’t see who was talking because their table was behind me, but I heard a male voice respond, “I don’t know, but he was the same guy who played the crazy general in Doctor Strangelove.”
 A second male voice said, “That’s Robert Ryan.”
The female spoke again, “No, they just look alike, but it wasn’t him. Let’s ask the waiter.”

Talking About the Movies

The waiter didn’t know either, but as he was walking away, I called him over and told him the name they were looking for was Sterling Hayden. He went back to tell them and actually got a round of applause. At this point, I asked myself why wasn’t I having dinner with these nice people who were engaged in such civilized and amusing conversation? When the waiter told them it was I who had come up with the actor’s name they looked my way, and one of them said they had another question they’d been wondering about.
“My husband says that Mean Streets was the first time Harvey Keitel worked with Martin Scorsese. Do you think that’s right?”

Talking About the Movies

I happened to know that while Scorsese was at NYU, he did a student film called Who’s That Knocking at My Door and that was the first time he and Keitel worked together. My response got me an invitation to join them. With a wink at Bridget, I excused myself from my table, picked up my wine glass and took a seat with them.

 

Talking About the MoviesLa Dolce Vita and Stardust Memories

 

Talking About the MoviesThis Gun for Hire and Rome, Open City

We spoke about John Ford and John Wayne, Fellini and Woody Allen, Film Noir and Neo-Realism, and even listed some of Hitchcock’s blonde heroines.

Talking About the Movies

Madeline Carroll, Tippi Hedren, Janet Leigh, Grace Kelly

None of us had any professional connection with the film industry, but we all just loved the movies. The language at the first part of the evening might have been “Hi-Tech” but now I was with my kind of people, and we were speaking pure “Classic Film.”
When they left, I went back to my table. I don’t know what her friends thought of me, but I was sure Bridget understood.

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Bagels

  Bagels

There’s the basic Plain Bagel, then Poppy, Sesame, Onion and even Pumpernickel – Bialys too. After that it starts to get a little crazy – blueberry? cinnamon walnut? jalapeno? Well, I guess there’s something for everybody.
As a New Yorker, it goes without saying that I like bagels. All New Yorkers do. We grew up with them. It’s a standard New York practice for mothers to give their babies a smooth plain bagel for teething.
With butter or a schmear* and coffee for breakfast or with Nova** for lunch, it’s perfect. Go to a New York event – a seminar, corporate meeting, workshop – if it’s in the morning and it’s catered there will be bagels. And if it’s just muffins, there will be complaints.
When I was in the army and stationed in the South in the late 1960s, I tried to order a bagel in Augusta, Georgia. The response was “What’s a bagel?” I was offered a honeybun instead, which wasn’t bad. But now, at least they know what bagels are, even if honeybuns are still more popular.
Without getting into too much history, I can say this – the bagel originated in Eastern Europe, it’s Jewish and the name is Yiddish. New York City bagels are supposed to be the best in the country because of our water. Maybe that’s true and maybe it isn’t but when friends visit, having a New York bagel is on their list of things to do because, they say, they can’t get a good one back home.

* a schmear is Yiddish for a thin layer of cream cheese

** Nova – Nova Scotia is like lox but a little less salty

 

Wordsmithing

Wordsmithing

According to the Global Language Monitor, the English language has over a million words. The million mark was hit in June 2009. With so many words and so many choices, why do some people use the same ones over and over and incorrectly at that?


I was waiting my turn at a coffee shop and heard the customer ahead of me place his order.  The exchange of words was fine up to a point. It ended with the man behind the counter saying to the customer, “You can pick up your coffee at the cashier.”

The customer’s response: “Awesome.”

No, the Grand Canyon is awesome. Notre Dame and the pyramids at Giza are awesome but not coffee. Awesome is breathtaking, astonishing, even fearsome, and as much as I love coffee, getting a container of it isn’t any of those things.


Out of those million English words, I always thought there were enough verbs, but I must have been wrong because people are creating new ones. Since we’ve been speaking Middle English, the word for ‘to transfer possession of’ has been give but lately the noun gift is being used in its place. Give, giving and gave has become gift, gifting and gifted. It seems to work but doesn’t that make a ‘gifted child’ someone’s son or daughter they no longer want and pass on to a friend at Christmas?


There’s another verb that although also around for a long time, has taken on a different and contemporary definition.  It’s rocking, and is being used in place of wearing, as in ‘wearing clothing.’ But you have to be careful about which types of clothing you apply it to.  It goes perfectly with Air Jordan Super Flys and skinny brim hipster hats, but no one will ever rock Birkenstocks and babushkas.


Here’s a verb that’s changed by, I’d say, about ninety-percent. Decimate is currently being used to mean ‘to destroy a large part’ but it originally meant ‘to reduce by ten percent,’ and only ten percent. Its root is the Latin decem or ten. When a Roman legion’s mutiny was put down, they were decimated. The soldiers were lined up, and every tenth one was beaten to death by nine others, a very precise and deadly way of reducing by ten-percent.


A sector that’s often guilty of not so much misusing words, but using them pretentiously, is the corporate world. Limits become parameters, detailed becomes nuanced and accountability is now transparency. There’s also a belief in that culture that the more syllables a word has, the more important the speaker must be.  Functionality is three syllables better than function, and they’ll never use use when they can use utilize. An exception to that corporate multi-syllable rule is shop. Calling a corporate center or office a shop gives it something it doesn’t have. A shop implies physical creativity as might be found in an atelier or studio. Edison had a shop at Menlo Park. Spreadsheets and Gantt charts just don’t come up to that level.


There are some other words that are fine when used alone but not when combined with certain other words. One is hone. Its misuse is so common that it’s almost become accepted. Hone is defined as ‘to sharpen or make perfect,’ like when someone ‘hones their skills.’ Lately, it’s being used incorrectly in place of the verb home, as in, ‘to move toward a goal’ or ‘to guide to a target’ like a homing device on a missile or even a homing pigeon. You can hone something but you can’t ‘hone in.’ There’s only a one letter variation between ‘home in’ and’ hone in’ but what a difference that makes to anyone who knows the difference. Another common but incorrect combination is ‘most unique.’ Unique already says it all, and it can’t be topped and made more superlative. Saying ‘most unique’ is as pointless as saying ‘most best’ or ‘most favorite.’ The adjective is just not necessary.


I’ll finish with a commonly used pronoun that signifies ‘no matter what’ but has recently taken on a very powerful new meaning. The word is whatever. If you want to end a discussion by implying that the discussion is beneath you and the person you’re speaking with is inconsequential and thereby dismissed, simply say, “Whatever!” and walk away.  It’ll do it every time.


Robert Iulo – Writing Site and  Yelp

The Ham Sandwich

The Ham Sandwich

Rushing home to get on my computer for a one pm meeting, I still had time to stop at the deli and get something to go. I’d mute my mic while I ate and no one would ever know the difference. Glad there was no line when I arrived, I was upset to see Ali the Master Sandwich Maker wasn’t behind the counter. He took pride in his work, as any craftsman should. But he wasn’t there. Instead, a pretty young woman new to the deli stood in his place. Pretty or not, could she fill Ali’s shoes and live up to his excellent sandwich making skills?

“Hi, where’s Ali?”

She smiled but didn’t answer. Maybe she didn’t hear me.

I let it go and said, “Ham and Swiss cheese on a roll with mustard and lettuce, please.”

She held up two rolls, one on each side of her cheerful face, sesame on the left and poppy on the right. Now that was something Ali never did. He’d just pick up any old roll and that’s what I got. I pointed to the poppy and started to think that maybe his replacement wasn’t going to be too bad after all.

I got home and to my desk just in time, about two minutes to one. The meeting started and I muted so they couldn’t hear the crinkling of wax paper as I unwrapped my ham and Swiss. It was a good thing they couldn’t hear me because I said something unprintable when I saw orange American cheese instead of the Swiss I had asked for – very disappointing. As I explained some figures on a spread sheet to my associates, I quietly began to peel off the offending American cheese when I almost cursed again – mayo instead of mustard.

That was two strikes against the new sandwich maker. As quickly as I could, I ran to the fridge and grabbed the Gulden’s, reached in a drawer for a knife to spread it and got back to my meeting before anyone missed me. Most of the mayo was on the lettuce so I removed it and scrapped the rest of it off the bread. My desk began to look like a compost heap.

I thought I was finally ready to eat but no, I couldn’t. She might have been pretty, but she didn’t understand the underlying structure of a well-made sandwich. One has to be built, with each item carefully placed to evenly cover the bread to the right thickness, as Ali did. She cut a few slices of ham, folded them over and just laid them there leaving one side higher than the other. And she left bare spots, where a bite would result in a mouthful of bread and nothing else. I had to relocate each slice and by the time I corrected her amateurish mistakes, my keyboard was smeared with mayo and mustard.

American instead of Swiss and mayo instead of mustard.

Could she have sabotaged my sandwich on purpose? She seemed so sweet I couldn’t accept that. The only other explanation was that she didn’t understand English, and not just that, she must have come from a culture that didn’t understand sandwiches. When I made my order, she got “ham” and “cheese” but all the rest seemed to have been guess work on her part.

I half-heartedly ate my sandwich and continued with the meeting but I was distracted. I thought about the time Judge Sol Wachtler was in the news a few years back. Dissatisfied with the way the New York grand jury system worked, he felt it should be done away with. He said prosecutors had so much influence they could always get an indictment. They could even get the jury to “indict a ham sandwich.” If ever a ham sandwich deserved to be indicted, it was the one I had just eaten.


Another meeting, another sandwich – just right this time.


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