Last night I dreamt I was at “big” Kings on old Rt. 24 in Short Hills.
It is a supermarket that I know so well that I can put together a shopping list on an aisle by aisle basis. I guess shopping in the same store for over 40 years will do that to you. But in my dream, I was not there to do a “big” shop. I was there on a tactical mission. First stop, aisle one to pick up a loaf of Calandra’s Italian Bread. Then a quick sprint to aisle three to pick up a large jar of Skippy Super Crunch Peanut Butter. I don’t remember paying for either item but found myself in the front seat of my car spreading heaps of peanut butter on chunks of that delicious crusty bread. I could not stop. I just kept eating more and more.
Then I woke up. I found that I still had the taste of peanut butter in my mouth. It was such an intense flavor that I found it impossible to roll over and go back to sleep despite the fact it was 3am. Every time I rolled over and tried to fall asleep the taste sensation of me eating peanut butter on Italian bread would return.
Here is the odd thing. While I like peanut butter and almost always have a jar in the fridge (yes, I am one of those) it is not even close to being one of my favorites. Yet, I could not for the life of me get the taste of peanut butter out of my mouth. It was so intense that it forced me out of my bed and downstairs to the kitchen for a mid-sleep snack.
I was joined by Romeow on my kitchen raid. I am amazed how much noise a single cat can make walking down the stairs. He is making more noise than I am, and I am wearing flip flops. It might be time to cut back on his food ration.
The cat, tail in full question mark position leads the parade into the kitchen. He runs (more of a swaying waddle) and leaps surprisingly well onto the counter where his food is kept. I am relieved when he does not crack the granite on landing. Then he meows. It means, I have learned, feed me (imagine Audrey from Little Shop of Horrors with a Brazilian accent and slightly more intimidating) Commanded, I pour a little kibble in a bowl and when he looks up at me as if to say “What are you kidding. More is required” I vow to let Elaine put the beast on a diet.
Cat tended to; I open the pantry doors in the hopes that I will find something that will supplant the peanut butter craving that I have developed in my sleep. Ideally, I would find a jar of Skippy’s finest sitting there awaiting my arrival. Sadly, that is not the case. The care package my nephew Sean has sent me 3 weeks ago, that contains this precious cargo, has been held in customs for three weeks. I scan the shelves and finally fixate onto a basket that contains our collection of crackers and other savory snacks.
I am excited when I see a familiar metallic blue bag that I suspect may contain peanuts. While not the chunky stuff I am jonesing for, it is adequate for tonight’s craving. When I examine the bag more closely I am saddened to find Amendoim Tipo Japones and this variety is “Mais Croconate.” For those of you lacking Portuguese language skills it means extra crunchy peanuts Japanese style. Many people enjoy this style of peanut, which is essentially a deep-fried batter dip peanut and, in this case, extra crunchy. I enjoy them from time to time. But at this moment in time I am wondering why you take a perfectly good product and batter dip it. I feel the same way about Oreos at state fairs. Just say no. And so, I do.
There are a variety of other crackers in the bowl and my eyes light on a product called. Pit Stop Recheado Integral Peito de Peru. It sounds melodramatic (imagine it being said dramatically with a deep male voice with a Lusophone accent.) It means whole wheat crackers stuffed with turkey breast filling. I decide to eat it, while I am scrounging up something else that can better soothe my itch for peanut butter. I am surprised when it actually tastes good. Sadly, there are only two crackers and my hunger are quite a bit bigger than that so I continue my foraging.
This takes me to our refrigerator. I did not want to go here as what is stored inside almost by definition will have to be reheated in the microwave. I have long thought that if you are having to use a microwave during your dark of night food scavenging, it ceases to be a snack and becomes a meal. And, I am on a snacking mission.
I see almost right away the remains of our meal from the night before. Chicken parmesan. Back home in New Jersey this is one of my favorite comfort food meals. I revel in the rich bath of Napolitano red sauce and its rich coating of Mozzarella, But I have suspected for sometime the Italians who immigrated to Brazil came from a different region than those who came to US and the New York Metro area. The sauce is not as rich, and the chicken looks like it has been blessed in sauce instead of bathed. The Mozzarella tastes different and is stingily applied. Finally, they add a layer of ham between the chicken and the cheese. It is not unlikeable. It is just not home.
This leads to other food imponderables.
Why ham in everything? Well maybe not everything but the lasagna I had the other night had a layer of ham in it. It didn’t taste bad, but I would have preferred a layer of mixed ground beef and Italian sausage. The other day Elaine ordered a side dish of French fries, hearts of palm, and ham. Again, not bad, and high marks for imagination on the pairing, but I am still left wondering why?
Don’t even ask about Pizza. Perhaps I am spoiled having grown up in the region that is responsible for the finest pizza in the world but the Brazilian version while having a crust, sauce and toppings is more like soggy bread with stuff thrown on top. For god’s sake, they eat it with a knife and fork. The most stunning indictment of Brazilian pizza is that the best we have found is delivered by Dominos.
I would love to find those familiar Chinese food take out containers in the refrigerator. I would love some everything fried rice, mooshu pork, sesame noodles…. But I know I won’t find the remains of anything like that in the refrigerator because as far as we have been able to determine it does not exist in Rio. Mexican…yes, Japanese…yes, Arab…yes, kosher. Yes, German…yes but Chinese no. Well actually that is not true. There is a restaurant called China Box, but the food is so vile it begs the question that the most popular food in the world has not established a foot hold here in South America’s most populous nation.
Perhaps it is the farofa factor. Farofa is a toasted cassava flour usually served with egg, bacon and other add ins. It has a subtle flavor and a texture that many consider akin to sand. I like it. But when I am in the United States, I don’t miss it at all. On the other hand, when Elaine is in the states, she yearns for it, so we keep a supply of manioc flour in our pantry.
Then there is Brazilian cream cheese. It tastes good, albeit differently, then what we have back home but instead of having the consistency of butter it resembles plain yogurt. If you could find a bagel there would be no schmearing, it would more closely resemble spritzing.
I close the refrigerator door. There is nothing within that interests me. Briefly, I consider raiding he freezer and my stash of Ben and Jerry’s Doughlicious but in addition to its being precious merchandise my hungry is more savory.
It is then I realize what my dream was all about. It was not about Skippy Extra Chunky. It was missing my comfort food at a time when comfort food consumption should be mandated by law. Wasn’t it Shakespeare who once wrote “An Oreo, an Oreo, my kingdom for an Oreo.” Sadly, I leave the kitchen realizing that there is nothing here that will scratch that comfort food itch. “Perhaps, Sean’s care package will finally be released from customs tomorrow.”
When I reach the stairs, I make a note to ask Elaine if we can order from Bob’s Burgers (can you believe it) tomorrow. Their milkshake, French Fry, 200-gram cheeseburger combination is as close to American comfort food as you can find near us.
I crawl into bed. Elaine is gently purring, and I know that all the comfort in the world is wrapped up in her. But still, I fall asleep hoping to dream of Sloppy Joes.