When I think of immigrants and their food, that they bring by hook or crook to their new land, I think of my best friend in high school, who was from Serbia.
Meals were replete with massive amounts of feta cheese (bought by the bucket in Chicago, where there's a sizeable Serbian population) and carefully cooked pork. Followed by an exotic tiny cup of coffee, so thick that my younger self could only drink it with ample sugar and milk.
I think of the Ethiopian restaurant in San Diego I used to frequent. I loved the foreignness of eating with my hand (right only, please!). And the market next door, filled with delicacies so odd that I couldn't even imagine how they were prepared.
I think of alien words that roll around my mouth like marbles.
I think of new frontiers. New dishes. What I do not think of is biscuits. Good ole Southern-style buttermilk biscuits.
Flavors of an Entire Life
And yet biscuits are exactly what I've been thinking about for days. I grew up in Texas and Arkansas, and my favorite days started with homemade biscuits straight out of the oven. (or a very good imitation of homemade, a frozen brand called Mary B's. Thank the goddess for Mary!).
When I moved to San Diego, I must have gushed about my love of biscuits, because one of my best friends gave me a cookbook entirely consisting of biscuit recipes.
We began leaving notes on the pages to indicate a recipe's worthiness of being made again.
There were those favorites (Cracklin' Cat's Head Biscuits: "Hell yea! I am feline it right meow!") and those we wouldn't return to (Mrs. Dull's Humble Soda Biscuits: "Merp. Tasted a little like baking soda. White taste.")
And here I am now, living in the south of Italy, still craving this piece of home...whatever HOME is.
The recipe is tricky. There are a million types of flour here, and none really matches good ole American all-purpose flour. I can't find baking powder, so I have to make it with bicarbonate and tartar. The flavor's off, but now I'm on a mission to redefine the biscuit, Italian style.
Foods Tell a Story
Biscuits aren't the only food this immigrant clings to. Every trip back to the States, I load up on canned cheese dip as if the zombie apocalypse was headed my way. Mexican food is my go-to comfort food. The chips here are rough (and come in ridiculously tiny portions) and the salsa is essentially tomato sauce, but I imagine myself eating nachos with my friend J at a taqueria after a night of drinking, and that makes them taste better.
I also (as embarrassed as I am to admit it) brought candy with me. Peeps, in fact. You Americans know what I'm talking about: those unnaturally bright yellow, pink, and purple marshmallows covered in sugar and shaped like bunnies and chicks. I have had an unhealthy relationship with them my entire life, so I shouldn't be surprised that I stocked up last year when Easter candy went on sale.
What I AM surprised at is the fact that I still have them in my pantry. They now taste too sweet. Evidence that Italy is changing me.
I'm not the American who refuses to eat the local cuisine and rushes to the nearest McDonald's (which is, in fact, 10 minutes away and I refuse to go with my boyfriend). I adore pasta. Maybe not to the level of an Italian though.
My running joke with Francesco is:
"What did you have for lunch, Fra?"
"What a surprise!"
And while I've always cooked Italian food, I'm finding my groove here. I make a mean pinsa (like a pizza but lighter crust). Even my bolognese is decent (to me, anyway). And I love picking up interesting shapes of pasta whenever I'm at the store.
But will I ever stop making biscuits? Or Asian food? Mexican?
No. Because every food that I have adopted is now part of the mosaic cookbook that is my life. Every dish is a page in that book, and it's one I will read and reread for the rest of my life.