This was no ordinary summer’s day. Well, I suppose for anyone living under a rock, today could have been like any other hot, humid Sunday in July.
But today was different.
Today, lives would change forever and the future would suddenly be thrust into the present time.
Sure, our bustling Brooklyn neighborhood looked the same, but after today, everything and everyone would change.
Nonetheless, things didn’t seem any different at our house.
Since it was Sunday, Mamma was frying up eggplants in the kitchen. That familiar heavenly scent wafting down the hallway was a reminder that dinner was almost ready.
Just then and like clockwork, I heard the “L” train rattling noisily on the elevated tracks in front of our apartment. Papa huffed and turned up the TV in order to drown out this city sound, just like he always did with a grumble.
I looked out the window, watching the silver subway car speed by. I thought of all those passengers inside who were racing home to witness history in the making.
As I let my imagination run away with me, I noticed dark gray clouds on the horizon, seen through to the narrow space carved between the buildings across the street.
From the kitchen, Mamma must have noticed the same ominous sky.
She yelled out to me, “Joseph, hurry and go shut my bedroom window. A storm’s coming.”
Teresa had been practicing piano in the basement but upon hearing the muffled sound of my footsteps quickly crossing the living room floor, she quit tinkering and ran up the stairs, in an excited flurry of commotion.
“Are they on yet?” Teresa breathlessly inquired, while craning her neck towards the TV.
Papa muttered something and went back to reading his newspaper. Teresa, seemingly content to have understood his inaudible reply, bounded off to the kitchen to grab the first piece of crispy, golden eggplant, hot from the pan.
Mamma soon appeared in the living room, wiping her hands on a yellow, polka-dotted apron. Her raven-black hair was tied in a tight bun though some curls managed to fall from its grip. I snickered to myself, thinking that those rogue strands looked a little like spaghetti. God forbid if I’d mention that to Mamma though. Her vanity was as important to her as the height of the white waves perched atop her famous lemon meringue pie.
Mamma was a great cook with a heart of gold. She told stories of many men back in Italy who had asked for her hand in marriage after tasting her homemade cannoli. But it was Papa who had won her heart in the end.
“Ora di mangiare! Time to eat!” Mamma announced.
Papa neatly folded his newspaper and gingerly stood up from the couch. He let out a soft moan as he rose, placing his large, factory-worn hands on his lower back.
“If work doesn’t kill me, I don’t know what will.” he lamented.
Papa was a hard-working man who had spent years laboring in sweatshop after sweatshop. Lately, he seemed to be growing even more tired of work and of the city, in general. Papa took his frustration out on the noise from that darn “L” train, clattering down the tracks. He seemed, in fact, to have declared war on all urban reminders that he wasn’t in his small, Southern Italian village anymore.
The sublime perfume of Mamma’s eggplant parmigiana now reached the living room in full force so we all eagerly followed its scent to the kitchen table. Mamma caringly poured Papa a big glass of homemade red wine from a jug. She served us all gargantuan pieces of eggplant parmigiana, dripping in fresh tomato sauce and mile-long mozzarella.
Teresa poked at her piece and fidgeted in her chair.
“We’ve got to eat fast, otherwise we’ll miss it!” she warned.
“Teresa, mangia and don’t worry about those flying men. They’re probably eating now too so they’ll wait for us to finish.” said Mamma, reassuringly.
But Teresa didn’t seem to believe that those flying men required nourishment at an important time like this.
My little sister defiantly dropped her fork down on her plate and ran into the living room. Papa scolded her, ordering Teresa to sit back down but she pretended not to hear him and turned up the TV volume instead.
“Come, come” she cried out, “It’s almost time!”
Although Mamma’s luscious eggplant parmigiana could normally keep me seated at the table for an eternity, today was different.
The eggplant would have to wait.
The TV was much more important now. Our lives were about to change.
Mamma and Papa begrudgingly wiped their mouths and got up from the kitchen table to see the TV too. Papa brought his glass of wine with him.
Just then, as the transmission was about to begin, that looming dark gray cloud decided to let itself loose in a tyranny of thunder and sent heavy raindrops to angrily batter our windows.
The four of us were jolted by the tumultuous roar that was followed by the flickering of lights and an eventual loud “pop”, coming from the fuse box.
The future would have to wait for this family. We would catch up with it in tomorrow’s early edition.
We all walked back silently to our eggplant.
This piece of fiction I wrote came to me yesterday while I was cooking in my kitchen. With a pot of chili, stewing on the stove, I was cleaning up my apartment and found an old copy of The New York Times magazine that included a special insert inside. It was a reprint to commemorate the 45th anniversary of the Apollo moon landing on July 20, 1969.
As my chili bubbled on the stove, I thought about how exciting it must have been to watch the Apollo landing, live on TV. And oh, how our world has changed from that moment, now more than 46 years ago.
Hmmm, and just in case you too would like to make some of my “time-travel chili” (as I now like to call it), I’m including the recipe here below, along with an Instagram pic I posted yesterday of the final result!
And very special thanks to my amazing blogging friends for having given me the gentle nudge I needed to switch it up a bit and add “food blog” as a category on Lifestyles with Lia!
Buon appetito !
Spicy Chili, Space-Walk Style
(from Lifestyles with Lia’s “Time-Traveling Kitchen”)
1 15.5-ounce can red kidney beans (or two cups, cooked from dried beans)
1 cup of corn (cooked & cut from the cob, canned or frozen)
Approximately one pound of ground beef (or any other kind of ground meat or meat substitute you prefer)
1 28-ounce can of whole, peeled plum tomatoes (reserving its liquid)
a half of a red onion and half of a carrot, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
Drizzle of olive oil (enough to line the bottom of the pot)
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder salt and black pepper, to taste
1 teaspoon cumin powder
Shredded cheddar cheese , crackers, parsley, red onions etc as a garnish
1. In a large pot, sauté the chopped red onion, carrots and garlic in the olive oil, on medium heat, adding the cayenne pepper, turmeric, salt, black pepper and cumin to release their fragrance with the heat.
2. Once the onions, garlic and carrots are golden brown, add in the ground beef and cook on medium heat until the meat is no longer pink and the liquid released from the meat has evaporated. Add salt to flavor the beef while it cooks.
3. In a separate bowl, empty the contents of the can of peeled, while plum tomatoes, along with the liquid from the can. With your hands, crush the whole tomatoes into bite-sized pieces (but take care not to squirt tomato seeds all over yourself and kitchen, as I did!)
4. Add the hand-crushed tomatoes to the beef and cook over a high heat for about 10-15 minutes, stirring often.
5. Add the corn and red kidney beans and cook for another 5 minutes ( more or less, depending on whether you like your chili soupier or thicker since the tomato liquid will evaporate in time.)
6. Taste the chili, adjusting the salt/spice content to taste.
7. Serve the chili in deep bowls and garnish with chopped onions, shredded cheddar cheese, parsley, crackers (or any other of your favorite accompaniments!)
8. Mangia and enjoy!