This story deserves to be told. It is the story of one day in New Jersey , in the house of someone I didn't know.
Here it is me, still in middle of the so-called “nowhere”.
Am I really here? I asked this simple and deep questions several time to myself in these days in U.S.A.
It is Saturday January 21st, 2017. From Penn Station, NYC, I take the train New Jersey Transit. After about 10 minutes of dark – which i suppose was a tunnel – here it is the train in the day light.
Iron and iron and iron around me. Then, after e few more minutes, water. Not nice water. Looks dark … marshy… with dead water plants, some oil, broken tires here and there, dismissed huts. Then , after a few more minutes, canards, more oil in the water, long iron bridges, then ugly buildings on the other side of the water.
The train goes and I hope to see a nice neighborhood with nice houses. Usually I am invited to nice houses to cook special meals.
No nice houses around. My destination is Rahway. It comes after the station of Elizaberh and Linden. The train arrives. I get off. I see the sign that says Rahway.
Thus this must be the right place.
Just I cannot see the station.
I am on an elevated track. The group of houses below me must be the town called Rahway.
Mr Spitzer was supposed to pick me at the station.
As I do not see the station, I do not see Mr Spitzer either.
Actually I do not remember the face of Mr Spitzer. But there is nobody here so I don’t risk a bad figure, in case there were some men.
I decide to go down the elevated track. Just i do not know if going to the right or to the left at the end of the stairs. I option for the left as I see a little green roof that could be the waiting aera or the ticket office.
No… there is a man, sitting on the only bench, with the un-mistake-able paper bag in his hand and the aspect of a homeless. I am sorry for him… bug I hope that is not Mr Spitzer.
Time to turn on the roaming and try to call.
Fortunately I have phone numbers. Mrs Spigzer, Jeanne, answers. She says: my husband is there, try to call him, his number is like mine just replace the last 3 with 4. So i do.
I am secretely ready to catch the first train back….. Anyways… Mr Spiter answers.
- Hello…Gerry? It s Marcella here. I am at the station of Rahway but… I do not see you..-
- … know what? You are right in front of me.
Gerry Spitzer gets off a big black American car, parked right in front of me. I go forward him. I do not recognize his faces….. damn!...... ok, never mind… for sure he knows me…… after all that exchange of emails back and forth - about 50... - to agree on date, numbers of guests, menu……..how can he not know me?????
I had been searching for reports of his lesson, photos, receipts in my pc. Not found any… but, you know, sometimes in high season I do not have tome to take pictures and save them… I know that often I give up that part of my work. I know is the guilty part of my professionality…… but, what can i do? If I have no time…. I have no time.
So… for sure I do not recognize him, ma he knows who I am.
Otherwise it would not make sense he calls me to organize a dinner party in his house.
We are in front of each other now. We look at each other.
- So… are you Marcella?
- Yes I am
- Where is your husband?
- ….. my husband? He is in Italy
- Ah… he is not with you…?
- No…I am travelling alone.
Silence. Maybe only for a few seconds.
- I was expecting two people
- I have never told I would have come with my husband
- Actually it is true. You never mentioned that in your email…. For some reason I thought that….. but….…………….. Are you Valentino’s wife?
- Valentino ?!?! –
I thought he must not have understood the proper name the time we met. Actually the name of my partner can be mistaken….
– my husband’s name is Pellegrino….like the water.
A few more seconds of silence while Mr Spirzer looks up. Then again at me
- Can you cook?
I must have had a question mark om my face…. I do not understand the question. But I answer
- Of course i cook
- That’s good….. ok…. Let’s jump into the car
I was a little frick out. But i tried to conseil myself. I had spoken with a woman…hopefully his wife…maybe he does not remember my face – I don”t either – but his wife will.
If not…. Everyone at home knows the address I am going to…. Someone would find my body….
The conversation in the car started to become interesting. Some more short meaningful questions by him… some long answers by me.
Then finally the truth came up.
We never met.
We had never seen each other before.
Mr Spitzer even confessed me to have been afraid to have felt into a froud to steel money from him since he was trying to recognize me at the station.
So…? What’s the matter?
It seems that Gerry Spitzer and his family were in Italy last year, precisely in the area of Lucca, Tuscany. They wanted a cooking class. So they contacted me. Then they decided to not come to Florence from Lucca for a cooking class – I don’t blame them, driving in Tuscany and coming into Florence in the summer time can be the anticamera of hell, with that un-breathable heat...! They decided to take a cooking class with a lady in Lucca instead. They had fun and enjoyed the experience.
Their email remained in my mailing list that is how they got to know I was going to NY .
Mr Spizter mistook me with the lady from Lucca.
So he contacted me believing I was the lady from Lucca.
At the train station he was waiting for this lady with her husband Valentino.
The rest of the ride was a long laught.
Finally we introduced to one other.
Finally I saw the pretty neighborhood with the pretty houses.
Finally I met his kind and lovely wife, Jeanne.
Finally, in the nice kitchen, the action started.
The pretty table setting shows the care for details of..
...Mrs Jeanne Spitzer.
We prepared some finger foods in advance, so that the “cooking guests” would have had something to nibble on while working: shrimps with coriander and holed zucchini filled with shrimps , served with red sauce.
When the friends arrived, we cooked all together:
Marinated eggplants served with a good Pecorino cheese I brought from Tuscany (for this unknown family)
Gnocchi with sausage sauce
Beef stewed in wine
Everybody had fun… especially after knowing the story. Everybody had good food and good wine.
I have to say: this friendly happy group was a little loud…. But they were all nice and we all laughted. I have to say also that, at the of the meal, they did not let me wash any more dish or pot. Everybody helped, without even agreeing between themselves. They all knew what to do and they did it instantly. The kitchen was again clean after a few minutes. Magic. Thank you all, guys.
I slept there, as the Spitzer family has been so trusting to offer a nice bedroom to this un known Italian woman.
The next morning we had time for a pleasant conversation before Gerry took me to Rahway to catch the train to NY. They got to know more about me, my cooking life, the people I met, some of them famous. I got to know more about him and his family.
I know he works for banks and also that we have a common “known person”, Mr Arthur Martinez – when you say small world…-. He was impressed by the fact that, through my job, I met many well known people: Julie Merck, Dick Wolf, Berno Hamilton. He was impressed by the fact that a couple of hours later I would have met Michael Cartellone, the actual drummer of the band Lynyrd Skynyrd and his pretty and talended wife, the soprano Nancy Meyer.
Now…well…dear Mr and Mrs Spitzer: we cannot say anymore we do not know each other. More, I want to say that I am very happy to have met you. It doesn’t happen often to find people who welcome strangers in their house. You have something special to share: your simple way of being. Thank you. Sincerely.
ANELLI DI ZUCCHINI E GAMBERI
RINGS OF ZUCCHINI AND SHRIMPS
INGREDIENTS: for 6:
6 large zucchinis
18 jumbo shrimps
400 gr ( 7 Oz) fresh tomatoes, diced or canned pureed tomatos
100 gr ( 3 Oz) smoked bacon, sliced
250 ml (1 cup) white wine
6 sage leaves
2 red hot chilli peppers
90 gr ( 3 Oz) Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Peel the shrimps and take out the intestine and the heads.
Make a broth with the shrimps heads and shells, scallions , the wine, same amount of water. Cook to reduce. Filter through a sifter. Gather the jus and cook the tomato puree in it. Regulate salt and pepper.
Mince the sage and sprinkle it upon the shrimps tails.
Make a hole lengthwise inside the zucchini. Toss them in boiling salted water and cook 2 minutes. Drain. Stuff the zucchini with the prepared tails.
Wrap them with the bacon slices and put in the oven for 5 minutes at 200° (400 F)
Cut the zucchini rolls in smaller rings.
Serve them in individual “spoons “ or “little trays” for finger food with some of the sauce.