At the corner table in the front of Hoboken’s Hummus Bar, a little boy foregoes his fork. It looks like he is finger painting with his falafel. I am on my lunch break watching curly haired and cranky Drew whine while his patient saint of a mother insists he take just one more bite.
Meanwhile, my cabbage and red beet salad pita has me salivating. I dote on the savory sweet yet tart treat while Drew protests finishing his chickpeas. In Drew’s defense I find myself questioning ordering falafel for a four year old. It’s not exactly a happy meal.
To be fair though, I start thinking back to my own childhood, wondering what I liked when I was Drew’s age. Pastina. A simple bowl of just boiled orzo looking pasta made of wheat flour and egg doused in butter and my mother’s love. That is and was my comfort food at four and fifteen on a colder night before dance classes.
Pastina unlike its irregularly shaped counterparts tastes delicious sprinkled with butter and butter only. It absorbs broth like none other and I associate it most closely with my Nona who eats it nightly because she cannot chew most other things.
Back in the front of the restaurant from his booster seat, Drew begrudgingly opens his mouth. Mom knows best. She knows better than to allow Drew to shovel the food into his mouth. She also knows that she can seal this deal with promise of another sip of freshly squeezed lemonade, well played Drew’s mom.
My own lunch box never hosted lemonade or soda when I was a kid. It boasted farina looking polenta (last night’s leftovers) or semolina bread sodden mortadella with Extra Virgin and Arnie the Butcher’s roasted red peppers. My mom picked up cold pilaf special and would serve it as a “side” with our Osso Bucco or Scaloppini on Tuesday nights.
My lunch box did not know what a chickpea or ham sandwich was. It still cringes when it smells Annabelle’s bologna and cheese concoction or Jimmy’s mom’s leftover meatloaf. My brother and I just weren’t raised to look forward to mom’s grilled cheese and Campbell’s reheated condensed tomato. We never ate the “hot lunch” cheeseburger with a side of fries unless mom ran out of fresh Italian bread and the bus came on time, leaving us no choice.
Even now, when I pack my lunch for work – it hosts Watercress with its peppery propensity to pair well with things like candied pecans and dried cranberries or peeled Granny Smith’s. I bring to work a last night’s cutlet or Pete’s “mutz” with its buffalo finish. I dip crackers in just sliced cheese and drizzle it with apricot. I munch on tomatoes on the vine like the fruit that they are, thrilled about their juice on my jaw. When I pack lunch, I do not think of afternoons past when Drew’s mom cut my lunch, but I do remember eating Mediterranean faire and I look at Drew and I wink.