While on our trip in the Pacific Northwest last week, Alan and I paid a visit to a childhood
friend family he had grown up with, most of whom are now living in Seattle. On Christmas Eve, at around 5pm, we got hungry. The plan was to get pizza somewhere, a Seattle favorite perhaps, but once there, we found that everything was closed. As we sat in the car musing over the unlit restaurant with the chairs stacked neatly on top of the tables, we realized, as luck would have it, that it was Christmas Eve and on Christmas Eve things tend to close early. Disappointed, we drove to another restaurant, this one, Alan and I are told, with pizza not as good as the first, and observed that it, too, was closed. Because it was cold outside, and because we could not handle the heartbreak of discovering one more closed restaurant, our host called his eldest sister Anne.
Words were exchanged, something about the cold and the shrinking of our stomachs, and so it was agreed that we would go over to her house for dinner where it was warmer and where the kitchen was not closed. Up a hill we drove and parked in front of a beautifully decorated, stately home. It was the kind of home with stairs and doorways and sinks akin to the kind one might find in a five star hotel. And I was eating it up. Now, if there is anything I love more than being warm and being fed, it is rubbing elbows with the well to do and pretending, if even for a moment, that I am a part of the upper crust.
There are the well to do who flaunt their wealth in poor taste and those who wear it well, effortlessly. Anne and her family wear it as though it’s a favorite sweatshirt worn thin from the years of use, the one they wear on weekends before going outside to throw around a baseball. My favorite part of the night was when we all sat down at the table to enjoy dinner. In our bowls were short ribs braised in red wine and spices and perfectly cooked pasta with mushrooms. As we dug in, the flavors of the various mushrooms were discussed, and I had the pleasure of tasting my first ever morel, a mushroom so fancy that I was just then learning of its existence.
A small, delicate porcelain jar was passed around the table, and from where I sat, it appeared as though each person removed the jar’s tiny lid and then dipped their index finger and thumb in for a pinch of red chili flakes. As a woman who likes a bit of heat on her pasta, I waited for the jar to make its way over to me before following suit for some peppers. As I lifted the lid, I was surprised to find that instead of a jar full of pepper flakes, the jar contained dainty dried red peppers in the whole. Before anyone could notice my confusion, I recovered quickly, plucked a single pepper out and gently tore it open, spilling its seeds over my bowl’s contents.
The red pepper added dimensions of heat to the dish, a spiciness so unique, so delectable that I chose to give up my guise of a regular morel-eating, wine cooking, Le Creuset-owning sophisticate. I asked Anne where the peppers were from, and hoped they wouldn’t cost an arm and a leg at some posh grocery store. Do you know where the peppers were from? (And this is my favorite part). She picked them up herself from Italy, on one of the many trips her family takes there. She regularly stocks up on spices and peppers whenever she travels there. As someone who has never been to that country, I relished the taste of the Italian sun that had dried these peppers and in that moment, I swore to myself that someday I, too, would have a tiny jar on my kitchen table with only the best Italian red peppers.
I wondered if I might show Anne and her family my own drawer of red peppers if they were to ever visit the duplex.
“And here is our red pepper collection,” I’d say, pulling open the silverware drawer to expose the many individual packets of red peppers and parmesan cheese that we have accumulated from Round Table, Pizza Hut — all brands of pizza, they are there.
“My! What exquisite and adventurous tastes you have in your selection of pizza makers!” they would exclaim.
And then I would nod modestly, and we would enjoy our Le Creuset dinner.