Friday, June 26, 2009

Home Is Where the Heart (and the Hot Pastrami on Rye) Is

When I moved to New England, I was aware that I was moving to a place that is, essentially, a culinary wasteland. I knew full well, as I waved good-bye to my parents from in front of my dorm freshman year, that it would be months before I tasted a real bagel again. However, nothing brings to light this lack of culinary culture quite like pregnancy.

I have no appetite right now. At least, I have no appetite for foods that might be good for me, or, even available to me. Do I want the farm-fresh spinach in my fridge? No. Do I want the chicken and bok choy stir fry that we are supposed to make this week? No. Do I want any of the local delicacies—clam chowder, Boston brown bread (bread from a can????), baked beans, a crockpot full of kielbasa? Absolutely not.

But, if you offered me a bagel, schmeared so thickly with cream cheese that you can’t find the hole, I’d take it. Three nights ago, I had a dream about a pastrami sandwich, piled so high with meat that the backs of the bread didn’t touch (thank you, Mike, for that perfect description)—the bottom slice of rye was soggy with good greasiness, and on the side of my plate was a huge full-sour pickle, sliced in half so that the seeds glistened invitingly. I made the mistake of going to a local luncheonette-type place and getting their pastrami sandwich, in an attempt to satiate that craving. Bad move. Three slices of tough meat, on marble rye (?!?!?!), with so much Gulden’s mustard that I could barely taste anything else…That must have been the point.

As the days tick by in my pregnancy, my homesickness for New York gets worse. Knishes. Round ones, with an oniony tang. Maybe even some broccoli or mushrooms scattered throughout them. (Thank you, Mom, for the recent square knishes—they hit the spot!) Pizza. Dripping in oils that run down your arm and chin. Slices so big that you have to fold them in half to make them manageable. Bagels. Oh, bagels! Hot, so that I can dig out the doughy center and eat that, and then first start on the outside. Cooler, spread with toasted onion cream cheese. Crunchy bottoms, even though they have never seen a toaster. And, when they get a little old, toasted in the toaster oven with a single slice of cheese melted on top. Black and white cookies. Cakey bottom, perfectly firm, shiny icing. Split in half so that each person gets part vanilla and part chocolate when I’m sharing with Mom, but split so that I get the vanilla and he gets the chocolate when sharing with my brother.

No one warned me that dreams during pregnancy are incredibly vivid. Further, no one warned me that the strongest sense in my dreams was going to be taste, and that I was going to wake up with my stomach grumbling, and my heart aching to go home. To have the foods that have always comforted me nearby and readily available. To have the people I used to share those foods with even closer. No one warned me about quite how far away New England is from New York, when we are speaking in terms of appetite.

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