The Captain seated behind the Trader Joe's Customer Help desk assures me that both Peppermint Jo-Jos and Candy Cane Crunch Chocolate Bars are strictly seasonal items. Any hopes of dunking chocolate cookies sandwiched with peppermint cream into a cold glass of milk have been dashed. Like most shoppers steering their cart between dairy and produce, I am inevitably drawn to an expansive wall unit in the rear of the store, an area that pre-pandemic, was generously outfitted with coffee urns and small cups so you could caffeinate and shop simultaneously. Those were the glory days. Over time, the wall became a haven for seasonal/feature items. Currently, the area is awash in orange. It seems that each time I peruse this display, the oranges are assembled in a slightly new formation, a marketing ploy created as a subliminal pull of my coat sleeve, encouraging me to buy another bag. These purchases have caused some disgruntlement at my house; namely between other members of the citrus family fighting for elbow room in an already congested refrigerator. Clementines, Satsumas, Blood Oranges, Tangelos, Valencias and Cara Caras leave little room for lemons and limes, let alone Ruby Red grapefruits. Sure, I could leave them sprawling all willy-nilly across the countertops, but I have my hands full just wrangling the mesh bags into a semblance of order. Crafty, I'm not, so repurposing them into kitchen scrubbies or gift wrap is highly unlikely.
Freshly squeezed orange juice is a small luxury that my grandmother swore by. I don't remember oranges confined to mesh bags, more clearly I recall my mother pausing by a mountain of oranges at the A & P and hand picking each one, placing them in a large brown paper bag What I vividly remember is the daily wake up call of the Sunbeam juicer, a steady whirr-pause-whirr as the machine reliably separated pulp from juice, always wanting a second glass because it was so delicious. It took a little digging but it appears that in the early 1960s, oranges sold for 89 cents/dozen.
As a family dedicated to breakfast sweets, our allegiance was to Jessie's cinnamon swirled sugar buns. Crumb cake was something I enjoyed at a friend's house (hugely popular after slumber parties) but made infrequent appearances alongside my father's Chemex coffee maker. Fortunately, my grandmother had a fondness for the occasional slice of Entenmann's crumb cake, and when she moved to Florida, she would pick one up at the Publix, placing the box on top of her refrigerator for safe keeping.
I'm a devout believer in a cake-to-crumb ratio hovering near 50%. Spiking the cake batter with zest and a little orange juice (that has been reduced to concentrate the flavor) plays nicely against the sour cream cake. And though some might protest, you can add a thin layer of fruit or jam or curd, (all in the name of flavor and freeing up fridge space). But most critically, what distinguishes crumb cake from ordinary coffee cake is the heft of the brown sugar crumb. Ask any New Yorker and they'll tell you
Much in the same way an unwrapped garlic pickle permeates a refrigerator, the delicatessen experience is deeply imbued within my soul. Though Katz's on Manhattan's Lower East side is tethered to my youth, my deli memories span years and miles spent as both customer and waitress. Visits to both Wolfie's and the Rascal House in sunny Florida taught me the intricacies of the 'early bird special' and the proper way of concealing the contents of a bread basket in one's purse, should one so desire. Summers as a waitress at Larry's Deli in suburban New Jersey provided a deep (and sometimes painful) study of matzoh ball soup; specifically the gravitational dangers present when serving behemoth bowls to a group of diners wildly gesticulating with their hands. I learned that both 'hangry' and well fed diners can be lousy tippers, and that for many, Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray soda is considered essential to the Jewish deli experience. And for those not smitten with the herbacious soda, both Cream and Black Cherry rank high on the preferred beverage list. The glitzier beverage, the egg cream, is in my opinion, less of a thirst quencher and more of a dessert. Regardless, it is always the egg cream that inevitably overflows when attempting to make the transfer from tray to table, sending the harried waitress back to the wait station for a stack of kitchen towels. Mopping up a runaway egg cream is never simple; a river of chocolate and seltzer loves running rampant beyond the confines of a table top ultimately landing on the white linen trousers of a woman debating the cantaloupe with cottage cheese vs. a hollowed out bagel with light cream cheese.
Hal's Deli played a major role in my college experience, often providing comfort between two slices of seeded rye bread layered with thinly sliced meats, Swiss cheese and neon Russian dressing. Post college, I worked in an office for an individual in the entertainment industry who ordered lunch from the Stage Delicatessen on a daily basis. His selection, plucked from a dizzying menu of options, never deviated from one day to the next; a mammoth turkey leg which he consumed with audible enjoyment from his perch at a table overlooking Central Park.
All these years later, having long since retired my rubber-soled waitress shoes, over-stuffed sandwich emporiums still draw me in with equal parts love and trepidation. The pull of a carbohydrate busting blintz smothered in sour cream is strong. So is the hypnotic fragrance of salty meats wafting over a counter mingling with the jarring flavor of a sour pickle. But a tableful of demanding diners, arguing the virtues of kreplach and the density of matzoh balls, or insisting on 'center cut' tongue or a pastrami sandwich with extra rye bread, triggers my worst deli nightmares. Nightmares of forgotten soda straws, of mistakenly decanting Dr. Brown's Cream instead of Cherry, of retrieving the wrong sandwich from an overwrought line cook only to deliver it to a table you've already served; a table hungry for their check who will bicker over who ordered the cottage cheese and neglect to leave a gratuity.
The New York Historical Society's exhibition, "I'll Have What She's Having" has been on my go-to list for a while. It leaves you hungry for more; akin to a lunch made up of half a sandwich served alongside a cup of soup and a generous monkey dish of health salad. (For those who haven't worked in a deli, monkey dishes are small bowls with flat bottoms, often used for pickles, salads and cole slaw. Health salad is a curious non-specific mash-up of raw vegetables, notably driven by cabbage, dressed with sugary vinegar and void of mayonnaise, hence the subliminal message of health.) The artifacts explore deli's rightful place in popular culture, serving up plenty of details, while paying homage to the Ashkenazi immigrants who influenced and created the delicatessen as a uniquely American institution. Best to experience this installation on a full stomach; at the very least, pack your bag with a black and white cookie which should sustain you until you can wrap your hands around an over-stuffed sandwich, a side of slaw and a half sour pickle.
On this Friday the 13th, borrowing some humor from The New Yorker and some gospel from The Silver Palate. Quiche is the ideal breakfast/lunch/dinner/snack to guide you through a season of winter-y produce. Lean into the leeks and onions, scallions and herbs. Most any greens will appreciate a quick sauté, even those formerly destined for salad. Add some fresh herbs to your favorite pate brisee and take the time to blind bake the crust. Pouring custard into a quasi-baked pastry shell rarely leaves you with a well-baked crust. Taking the time to line the shell and blind baking it until raw dough no longer poses a threat is well worth the effort. The custard filling (3 eggs plus 1 & 1/2 cups of dairy), needs little more than salt, pepper, a grating of nutmeg and maybe a hit of @kozliks mustard. Don't skimp on the cheese and even though you might be dodging the wine, fill a festive glass with bitters and some sparkling water. Now pretend it's April (or October) in Paris.
Professional Pie-isms & Seasonal Sarcasm