jussulent.

WordBowl: jussulent, a delicious term meaning “full of soup or broth”, common vernacular in the early 1600s, falling out of favor around 1658. Our first “dead word” suggested with fervor by 11-year-old Noah, submitted via his Auntie Jasmine.

Noah, son of S&S, inveterate explorer, WordBowl conquistador.

Happy Hour view of Gramercy Park from the bar at Maialino

Happy Hour view of Gramercy Park from the bar at Maialino

A burbling, jubilant gumbo is a joy to behold, a wonderland of endless combinations of crawfish, chicken, shrimp, smoked ham, andouille,  a tilt-a-whirl of spices, Old Bay and some secret blend passed from Great-Great Aunt to grandmother to daughter, or in more contemporary eras, packaged powders bearing the images of Paul Prudhomme, Emeril. Spices subtle or BAM! eye-watering heat to sear the senses, with an undercurrent of smokiness, redolent of Bayou waters, crawfish boils, deer stands and campfires. A bewitching concoction of mystical power, capable of calming the most savage of hangover beasts, awakening the senses to appreciate the culinary delights of courses to come, comforting a heartache residing in the gut and soul, too recent to articulate.

Gumbo has been known to unite family amidst varying degrees of feuds in one fell swoop of a spoon.

Mexico has pozole, their sacred soup. Japan, miso. Italy their legendary minestrone, and a fishy analogy to bouillabaisse, the composition of which is a more reliable regional designation than any lines on a map. France, the home of bouillabaisse, the grand-pere of soups. Vietnam, pho. Manhattan and Maine, their warring chowders.

Texas, chili.

There is an aura about Vin Sur Vingt the camera cannot quite capture.

There is an aura about Vin Sur Vingt the camera cannot quite capture.

In Mississippi we had no slow-simmering stovetop cauldron, other than a Crock-Pot of white bean soup to accompany the Coca-Cola glazed, pineapple-festooned ham on Easter, we were strictly a Campbell’s family.

Which made the soup tureen puzzling, an inheritance from Great Aunt Myrtle, who I cannot ever recall serving soup in her pristine dining room with cream velvet drapes and delicate lace table runners. Part of the posthumous largess I hauled from the South to my newly adult home of San Francisco in a less-spoken-of-the-better road trip, the ornate serving tureen stood stoic, displayed in an inherited china cabinet in a succession of apartments as I tried on successive lives.  Tureen unloved, as I had yet to find the persona to embrace its vintage value.

Incidentally, there is no indigenous soup of Northern California.

The tureen and accompanying china service for twelve — eight, if doing full place settings, as salad plates and soup bowls shattered throughout the years —along with all the other items inherited too young to fully appreciate, boxed up for the Great Donation Drop-Off in preparation for my cross-country move to Manhattan where I would lack the appropriate square footage to entertain in grand style.

vinsurjussulentNew York City, where I discovered the glories of delivery Chinese and their cornucopia of soups: Hot and Sour, Egg Drop, Wonton. Celebratory Shark Fin, supped in Chinatown, of questionable price and authenticity. In one of the once-grand-gone-to-tourist temples of Dim Sum, I was introduced to the penultimate jewel in the Chinese soup constellation: Soup Dumpling Soup.

Often served o in bamboo steamers, tang bao — diaphanous soup-filled dumplings — on special occasions can be found bobbing, suspended, in an aromatic savory broth. A grand soup, worthy of Great Aunt Myrtle’s serving tureen.

If only knowledge of an ideal soup and possession of an ideal vessel occurred in a convergent moment in time.

Almond Milk Latte at the flower-decked communal farm table.

Almond Milk Latte at the flower-decked communal farm table.

 

The crafting of “jussulent”  required a bit of simmering, first handwritten in the waning Happy Hour sunlight at Maialino (grammercy), revised over a bouillabaisse-friendly Bordeaux at Vin Sur Vingt (west village), edited with a restorative almond milk latte at Nourish (west village).

Have a word you would like to toss into WordBowl? Use the form below. I look forward to writing something inspired by you!

cazzo!

Today’s WordBowl word is our first non-English term, used as a noun, an intensifier, an insult. Cazzo appears in countless phrases flung at enemies loved ones alike.   

For the literal minded: It means D–k.  So it’s our first profanity WordBowl word. 

Cazzo is from Ariella Papa, who writes about Italians & the words they say in A SEMESTER ABROAD

Peck in Milan, Italy

Peck in Milan, Italy

I was raised in an America that referred to relatives of spaghetti as “noodles”, dumped cans of Chef Boyardee in a pot and called it dinner, crowned Ragu the king of tomato sauces. My knowledge of wine was confined to Blue Nun, a German white with which I celebrated my fifteenth birthday by getting drunk with a monk on our flight to Rome, so I have always associated it with Italy.

How I landed, fresh out of college, a catering sales job for a lauded Italian landmark in the tony Pacific Heights neighborhood of San Francisco, is a bit of a mystery. The greater mystery, to my parents, was why I chucked a mortgage banking offer for food service.

The writing cocktail-or-coffee conundrum resolved

The writing cocktail-or-coffee conundrum resolved

Modeled after Peck’s in Milan, the business was in part a no-reservations café — the lunch lines snaking through the retail store with its beguiling bottles of oils, vinegars, crook-necked wines, take-away fresh prepared foods — as well as a  thriving catering business run out of the offices downstairs.

It was an immersion in the language of food, seasonal produce, imported products. Morning Amaros to settle the stomach, afternoon wine tastings to create perfect pairings.

The waiters and retail counter personnel spoke in a customer-charming hybrid English-Italian, the kitchen staff a staccato English-Spanish-Cantonese-Italian, while my catering van driver shouted combative Italian at inconvenient stop signs, parallel parking spots a scant too short.

I learned shouting did not necessarily equate anger.

The bilingual chef-owner delighted in introducing us to puttanesca (“whore’s spaghetti”) and cosce di manaca (plums known as “nun’s thighs”), reveling in the history of these confluences of — in his mind — the sacred (food) and the profane (religion).

TOO SOON showcasing Cynar (Italian artichoke bitters) at The Beagle

TOO SOON showcasing Cynar (Italian artichoke bitters) at The Beagle

After my first year, a new Sous Chef roared in on his Italian crotch-rocket of a motorcycle, sporting a shaved head and multiple piercings, brandishing tribal tattoos. He snatched sizzling bites from pans bare-fingered, flexing sculpted, scar-seared forearms. He wore tight pants to rival British rock stars.

Dangerous, the proximity to flaming fire, unctuous oils, the exposed flesh of bulbous vegetables. Our overripe world.

During high seasons, we were often the first to arrive, him kneading dough, me reviewing spreadsheets and schedules, us, alone, him in the open kitchen firing ovens and tossing pans, me in the cramped unfinished “offices” that doubled as storage, reworking budgets on what was even then an ancient computer, downing espressos.

He buzzed my phone from the kitchen requesting my presence for a tasting  — whether to taste a dish or a taste of each other left tantalizingly ambiguous — I joined him in the early morning kitchen light, pots steaming, the room already teeming with scent, rosemary and garlic and sweating onions as he massaged whole chickens with olive oil, lifted tasting spoons, licked his lips.

He smelled of smoke and meat and sweat.

You can, I suspect, envision the rest, the dramas both personal and professional.

To this day, whenever I catch a whiff of smoked or roasted chicken, I experience a titillating fission of excitement I pass off to others as mere culinary anticipation.

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cazzo! was handwritten with a Cynar (Italian artichoke bitters) cocktail at The Beagle (east village, nyc) and with a Negroni (and espresso) at Morandi (west village, nyc)