People tell me it’s my fault, but I swear to you she was born that way. How else does one explain an 18-month old pushing away the apple juice, the milk, heck, the chocolate milk, and insisting, sorry, demanding, the Perrier?
“No puede ser,” stunned friends visiting our Florida home from Venezuela would comment as they watched my daughter’s plump fingers clasp the bottle and chug chug chug the fizzy imported content in one gulp.
“Why not a jugo de guayaba or a merengada de cambur?“worried relatives would suggest, reminding me of all the fresh guava juices and banana milkshakes I grew up on in Caracas.
My daughter would have none of that. She’d only have Perrier. Which meant Husband and I would make many visits to Costco, where one could most affordably buy it by the caseload.
I’ll admit, there was a distorted sense of pride in this newly-forming upscale palate. But of course, as things that are newly-forming tend to do, it grew stronger and, hmmm, more upscale.
Soon she discovered prosciutto. And not just any prosciutto, prosciutto di Parma. Because what’s a mother to do but only give her daughter the best? After that, it was foie gras. Foie gras in any shape or form: pan seared, torchon, terrine. As long as there was an endless supply, our toddler was happy.
“Remember the foie gras we served at our wedding,” Husband beamed, nudging me at a dimly light, quiet restaurant where even seasoned waiters were in awe of their young guest’s sophisticated taste. Our daughter sat focused and content, gobbling her serving and then mine before waiting eagerly for the grilled octopus that came next.
So…maybe we are a bit to blame. Some may call us enablers. We managed, oh heck, okay, bragged about it at playdates (“no, she hates peanut butter and jelly, but, by golly, give her quail eggs and she won’t stop eating!”)
It was only a matter of time before my daughter discovered caviar. She loved the whole prep work involved: mincing up hard boiled eggs and onion and serving them in separate bowls with tiny mother of pearl spoons. The baby toasts bowled her over as did the blini, Russian pancakes with which the delicacy is traditionally served. But after trying out all the accompaniments, she did what she always does, went straight for the good stuff, quietly pulling the tin of caviar closer to her and double-timing the scoops, working rather proficiently to snag the last roe.
She’s eighteen now and those habits haven’t changed a bit. If anything, she’s developed a keener radar to the more expensive tastes in life, something her father and I can’t help but glow with pride over, even if our wallets may keep getting skinnier.
National Caviar Day is this Tuesday, July 18th, and as a tribute some of Miami’s hotspots are celebrating the day with specials for those with fancy tastes. Seaspice will be offering Hokkaido Scallop Tartare on a bed of crispy bamboo rice topped with Ossetra caviar ($24), LaMuse Café , housed inside the chic Avant Gallery, is upping an American comfort classic with their Dora’s Deviled Eggs with Caviar ($18). If you want to people-watch and eat like a celeb, head over to Villa Azur for modestly-priced caviar specials such as lobster rolls: scallions, shallots, chives, dice radish, mayonnaise, yuzu sauce and finished with Kaluga caviar ($25).
You know, my husband and I said, way back when, we did this for our kids. They were little back then. Like, really little. They wouldn’t sit through a Passover Seder, the long, tedious amounts of reading, praying, and singing I’d been subjected to as a kid. I remember feeling that night to be endless, even if I had the coveted spot of sitting in between my mom and my dad.
And don’t get me wrong. My dad was quite the show man, and Pessach was no exception. No one could sing Dayenu faster than him. No one could storytell like he could. Glasses of wine stopped being counted, heck, in fact, we had a huge plastic bin filled to the rim with homemade Sangria providing a constant flow for those longing to remain sweetly and happily inebriated.
But there was still tradition. My father was still, after all, the son of Itzaak Abbady. And even though I never met my grandfather, I knew he was a hard core traditionalist. I’d heard from my dad, the rebel and adventurer of the family, as he sizzled up bacon on Saturday mornings in our Venezuelan home.
“Your saba would turn in his grave,” he say with mischief in his eye, nodding towards the pan as he flipped over a piece of bacon. I never knew if he was serious or not. I grew up on a steady diet of Jewish law rule-breaking, but, when it came to Passover, the Haggadah was pulled out and read from front to end.
I was always starving throughout it all. Matzoh, I tell you, isn’t much of an appetite repellent.
So when my husband and I found ourselves in the role of hosting the Seder, we turned to The Rugrats, our 2-year old’s favorite cartoon show. They, apparently, covered the whole thing in 32 bright and funny picture book pages.
That first Seder was a huge success. We cut up an ocean-themed shower curtain, nailed it over the front door, and announced everyone would cross the Red Sea. Craft paper covered our front entrance, paint brushes were handed out, and instructions shouted: “Here! Paint! Mark the house so God will pass over us!”
When we read about the 10 plagues, toy frogs and wild animals whirled across the table at each other, making sure Eliyahu’s cup didn’t get knocked over.
So, here’s the secret:
If you include a shower curtain, red paint, and toys in your Passover Seder, people pay attention, people come back.
The funny thing is that, as you have also figured, kids grow up. From babies to teens, ours, and everyone else’s grew in front of Eliyahu. But the Rugrats still reigned during Passover Seder. The Rugrats, actually, are still in high demand.
This year my daughter will graduate from high school, but in between making her list for what she will need for college and figuring out what classes she will take once there, she is still a killer frog thrower. Knows how to zonk one right on her dad’s forehead.
Those things hurt, you know.
They are small and plastic and surprisingly pick up speed, efficiently bypassing plates of chariest and half a rosemary-infused lamb. My husband may flinch at first impact, but he does what makes this night even more special, he laughs, and immediately throws one right back.
That’s all you can do. It’s a war zone of flying plastic frogs at our Seder. Attack or be attacked.
We keep a fresh supply of plastic frogs handy. Next year they’ll all come back again.
This is not how I wanted you to learn of Amatrice. No. Not this way. Not this footage of distraught relatives, of broken families. Of rubble. Of desperation. Of so many lost lives.
I want you to learn of the Amatrice I first discovered as a recent college graduate in 1992, the Amatrice that greeted a young, curious foodie exploring the culinary treasures nestled in the smallest Italian towns.
“Where to next?” my traveling partner had asked, and I had replied, “Amatrice,” with my finger set on the tiny spot half-way down our weathered Italian map.
The earthquake that hit Italy on August 24, 2016 destroyed most of the town I visited almost twenty-five years ago. “Amatrice is not here anymore,” the mayor was quoted as saying in response to the earthquake that registered a 6.2 magnitude. I, like the rest of the world, stopped at the gravity of those words, wondering, how can an entire town be gone, just like that?
My partner did not know of this town, I could tell by the confused look he gave me as my finger froze over a web of lines and names. But he could tell from my smile that I did. Because even back then, in an era before Tripadvisor or Yelp or Google, I did my research of where to eat what, when. I did this recognizance old school- namely scouring through a dog-eared copy of The Lonely Planet and by asking as many locals as I could in broken Italian (courtesy of my 9th grade language teacher, Signora DiLeo) :
“Dove è il posto migliore per mangiare?” Where is the best place to eat?
The failproof source to ask were old men sitting at the piazza, chatting and chain smoking. Every town had them. They’d glow at the opportunity to dazzle a pretty young Americana and would always steer me well.
“Amatrice! Amatrice!”, these chosen men had answered in unison, their face falling a bit when they noticed The Boyfriend staring protectively by the fontana over there. But they had all been young once and surely in love, and of course, still knew how to eat well, so they nodded in approval at him and continued, “Prove la pasta!”
They were right. Spaghetti all’amatriciana is a delight and, as it turns out, quite simple to make.
Guanciale (pork jowl), is one of the local ingredients used in this dish. It is hard to come by here in the States, but pancetta serves as a worthy replacement. Bucatini, also known as perciatelli, is a thicker spaghetti with a hole running through it, and is the pasta traditionally used. The long strand is perfect for absorbing the rich, smoky flavors of sun and meat.
This is what I remember of Amatrice. This splendid meal I had on a bright sunny day, amongst friendly, kind people with the man I most loved and still most love today. It is simple, pure comfort food, what one is craving in sadness and happiness as well.
¼ cup cilantro, chopped plus some extra for serving
2 tbsp. canola oil
1 large white onion, sliced crosswise into ¾"-thick rings, plus 1/2 cup roughly chopped, for serving
Juice of 2 limes, plus lime wedges for serving
1 lbs. skirt steak, cut crosswise into 4 steaks
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 jalapeño, stemmed
Warm tortillas, for serving
Combine the first three ingredients in a bowl. Add steak and let marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes, flipping over after 15 minutes. If you are not in a rush, you can allow steak to marinate (turning over a few times) for up to 3 hours.
Heat a grill pan over high heat and grill, 5 minutes on each side (for medium/rare.)
Remove meat from pan, add salt and pepper, and let rest for 5 more minutes.
Meanwhile, place remaining onion and jalapeño on grill, and cook, turning as needed, until charred and softened, about 10 minutes.
Slice steaks into 1” strips and serve with grilled vegetables and warm tortillas.
Add fresh lime juice, chopped onion and cilantro. If you like, you can serve pico de gallo or salsa verde on the side.