With summer plans stymied by an unprecedented state of uncertainty, most of us are grounded for the foreseeable future. Retreating to the confines of a deeply cushioned, roll arm wing chair, I remember travel. Travel boasted traffic delays and flight cancellations. Luggage carousels were part of the travel experience; not-so-merry-go-rounds of almost everyone’s American Tourister and Samsonite that successfully made the flight. We tossed around the words ‘tarmac,’ and ‘now boarding’ and ‘gate change’ with cockeyed optimism because the world was indeed, our oyster. With seatbelts tightly fastened and tray tables secure, we bemoaned the non-stop crying baby chorus on the non-stop flight. Even when it was the worst of flights, in hindsight, it was the best of times.
Currently confined to quarters with no travel on the horizon, my itinerary is limited, my favorite destination, the kitchen. I have become a step-ladder traveler, dragging a ladder from the basement, up the stairs, planting it firmly in front of the kitchen pantry. Teetering on the top rung of a supposedly “Non-slip 3 Step” feels somewhat safer than stepping out of my clogs and scaling a kitchen chair. It feels infinitely safer than boarding a plane.
My folding ladder offers a panoramic view of dry goods, canned goods, glass bottles and beveled jars. From my lofty perch, it is easy to scan the inventory, reacquainting myself with purchases lost in the shuffle of quarantine provisioning. It also affords an up close and personal view of items smuggled back from far-flung holidays. Wedged beside too many jars of peanut butter and just as many almond butters is a tiny jar of pistachio cream. The pistachio cream instantly conjures a gravity defying double scoop of gelato, eaten within view of an imposing duomo. The velvety pistachio concentrate was purchased in Siena, a jaw-dropping Tuscan hill town. It was in Siena that our merry band of travelers packed a week’s worth of sight-seeing into a single day. Access to the medieval city was dependent upon a casually reliable local bus with an elusive timetable. Winding through the Tuscan countryside, I was hell bent on visiting a bakery highly touted by the locals. Bini, known for its exquisitely rustic pastries and tempting salted almonds was a bakery nerd’s dream. I circled back to the glass-fronted display cases of the pasticceria four times in that single day, once after losing my way, and three times, intentionally.
Distracted only by Gothic-style churches, handmade leather goods, and waffle cones over-filled with gelato, our walking tour of Siena led us away from the Piazza del Campo, down a labyrinth of streets. A sliver of a grocery store jutting out from a row of residential buildings deserved a pause. A very patient man nodded while I attempted to converse in embarrassingly non-fluent Italian. Attired in an impeccably clean white jacket and slim black trousers, the merchant led me to a small wooden cabinet filled with jars. The cabinet housed specialty ingredients for both pasticceria and gelato. The shopkeeper pointed to a jar of Cremadelizia Pistacchio, closing his eyes in reverence. He paused for a moment before deliberately pointing to the ‘use by’ date. I nodded.
Too much time has lapsed between my trip to Tuscany and my current harboring at home status. Kneeling on the middle rung of the ladder, I examine the glass jar with the gold lid and pistachio green label. Squinting, the numerals on the 150 gram jar are sadly indistinguishable. Doing some quick travel math, it appears the pistachio cream train is preparing to leave the station. I bump it to the head of the baking line. Directly adjacent to the nut butters is an ongoing jam/jelly/confiture travelogue. Each jar on the pantry shelf traveled home buried in a suitcase, overwrapped in t-shirts and stray socks. Some jams were purchased at sun drenched farmers’ markets, others were recommended by locals, and a few were enjoyed over coffees, teas, and sweets. Behind the jams, a small tin of violet sugar from Provence and a bottle of rose extract, procured from a tiny shop in Florence, stand neglected. A palm-sized plastic bag offers a fistful of cardamom pods from Carlos’ House of Spice in Toronto. Remembering when a quick visit to Canada was still possible, I fold the step-ladder with regret and lug it back downstairs.
The lid of the pistachio cream is stubborn. Grasping a kitchen towel, I twist once, twice, and once again before tapping the lid with the handle of a knife. The lid pops, unleashing a buttery, nutty, purely Italian fragrance. Dipping a pinky into the smooth surface of the pistachio cream, I close my eyes. If you’re looking for me, I’ll be in Siena.
Professional Pie-isms & Seasonal Sarcasm