Holy Spiedini! It's Comfort Week ft. Jennifer Prezioso, butcheress at Albanese Meats & Poultry
The world is burning, so we're getting cozy.
Hello! Happy weekend! Let’s do this.
Part I: Getting comfy
CC: Taylore and I usually choose different topics, but today we’re writing about the same thing: what comforts us in an increasingly uncomfortable world.
Between repeated mass shootings, a widening wealth gap, climate chaos, and blatant + continual human rights violations here and abroad, it’s a lot to even wrap our heads around the world we live in, let alone knowing how to help. It’s easy to feel like solving these problems (or at least doom scrolling about them) should be prioritized over caring for our own little selves and our own little lives.
I love what Robin Wall Kimmerer says about reframing our relationship with nature; we think of nature as trees and rivers and mountains and talk about “going out into nature” as if it’s elsewhere. But, we are just as much nature as the trees and rivers and mountains. We can’t divorce ourselves from the rhythms and cycles of nature because we are nature. If we don’t rest and nurture ourselves and bathe in sunlight and the care of our communities, we won’t be in a place to do anything else well.
Take the damn nap. Cook yourself a nice breakfast. Banish email apps from your phone. Stop trying to prove that you’re worthy of rest, food, love, or security when they’re your birthright.
In a world of seemingly infinite problems, our approach to solving said problems must be sustainable, meaning that we must fuel ourselves with the love and care that we wish for the world.
Here are a few other things that help me do that:
A cup of tea and some poetry: When I need an instant hit of serenity, I generally turn to Mary Oliver, patron saint of neurodivergent, burnt-out millennials. Ross Gay, Nikki Giovanni, and W.S. Merwin are similarly restorative. Also, tea offers a nice baby caffeine boost while also offering L-Theanine, which helps moderate the highs and lows of caffeine. “Wellness” brands have started selling coffee with added L-Theanine, which I think is hilarious because just fucking drink a cup of tea after you drink your coffee? Why must we make things taste weird to make ourselves feel better about them? Anyway.
Doing the hard thing first: I love procrastination. My ADHD brain runs on it. But if there’s a task that I’m truly dreading, it’s usually kindest to myself to do that thing first. Then I can focus on doing all the other tasks, fueled by the triumph of my early success.
Being kinder to myself than I think I deserve: The miracle of getting an ADHD diagnosis at 30 is that all the things about myself that baffled and angered me for basically my entire life started to make sense. They’re not fatal flaws, they’re literally how my brain works. It’s dishonest, in a way, to hate the things about myself that are simply the B-sides of my strengths. I can learn from my mistakes without torturing myself with the memory of them. A revelation!
A plant walk: We love a hot girl walk. A stupid walk for our stupid mental health. Etc etc. My favorite version of this is a walk where I learn the names of plants that I don’t recognize along my route. I use the app “PictureThis” (the WORST name for a plant identifying app—I always forget the name when I’m trying to pull it up on my phone), but there are a few good options on this front. Appreciating and being curious about our surroundings is healing, I think, and this is an easy way to start.
Acts of love for my future self: K so this is a sneaky way to enjoy chores, which is a bit of a buzzkill I guess. But, most of us think of our future selves as basically strangers. We don’t hold animosity towards them, but we sure aren’t going out of our way for them, especially on a busy weekday.
Doing laundry is an act of love for my future self because I’ll be able to choose between a dozen pairs of underwear instead of needing to wear that stupid orange pair that’s a little too small (I guess getting rid of that pair would also be an act of love for my future self). Doing dishes is an act of love for my future self because my kitchen and dishes are ready and waiting for me whenever I’m ready to cook next. Throwing steel-cut oats in the instant pot tonight is an act of love for my tomorrow-morning self, which is especially useful, since no version of me is a morning person.
Going a little bit out of the way for my future self makes me feel magnanimous and productive, even though it’s arguably just life upkeep stuff. Plus, accomplishing physical tasks makes me feel more in control of my life and more comfortable in my body. A win for all my selves.
Part II: Mushy, In Every Sense
TG: Here are the things that bring me comfort, old and new.
The Tuna Noodles™: I visited my parents in Jersey last weekend, and my mom served the simple, perfect, go-to summer recipe my family makes for any family party or picnic that comes along: Tuna Noodles!
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A strange amount of people saw my post and asked for the recipe, and I’ve never felt sillier sending one. I can barely even call it a pasta salad, because it does the absolute bare minimum ingredient wise, which also makes it an ideal rent week meal. It’s cooked elbow macaroni, drained canned tuna, mayo (Hellman’s, not the good stuff like Kewpie) and salt and pepper to taste. You can make it as dry or wet as you like, but it’s vital to refrigerate it for a few hours before serving, because it’s best super cold. Don’t try and get fancy with capers or peppadews or any vegetables—that would have been my first thought, but it would compromise the integrity of The Tuna Noodles. It’s beige, summer-y mush, and it’s perfect the way it is.
Lunya Washable Silk Tee Set: Though this Skims loungewear is a close second (I was heavily influenced by Christine and I’m glad I was) this breezy sleepwear is SO COMFY. It’s breathable on these hotter summer nights when I kick my sheets off, and cute enough to wear around the house while lounging about with friends. I also love that I can just toss them in my laundry and they still look high-quality wash after wash.
Oatmeal the teddy bear: I recently fell down a #stuffedanimalrestoration TikTok hole, and it is equal parts mesmerizing and satisfying. The funny thing is many of these restorations aren’t for parents whose kids dunked their stuffed raccoon a muddle puddle or gave it to their golden retriever to borrow— they’re for adults who have been toting around their childhood playthings for so long that their stuffing is falling out, their fur is stained, and their button eyes are literally holding on by a thread.
I, personally, am about to hit 30 and still have a tiny grey live-in roommate that does no chores, has a broken squeaker, and lives in my room with me. I also realized that essentially every close adult friend I spend time with has some kind of furry friend or blanket stashed—or on full display—in their respective apartments. Are we just too soft? Are we the stuffed animals after all?
In short: no! There’s a reason an entire house of adults lost their shit on Are You The One? season six when that douchebag Kieth burned Alexis’ stuffed poodle Bridget in retaliation for making out with someone else. Unforgivable! On a more scientific level, Bridget was a transitional object. The term was coined by psychologist Donald Winnicott in 1951 for the objects children used as an emotional tool to help them transition in some way, like moving or starting a new school. It’s also incredibly common for that object to accompany its owner through adulthood and its harsher transitions— like, ya know, a pandemic! Or breakups, or layoffs, or moving into new apartments we can’t afford thanks to this fun little rent crisis. To the tune of “Wicked Game,” the world is on fire and no one can save me but Oatmeal.
TrueMedic truShiatsu Pro Foot Massager: On a Saturday night not too long ago, some friends and I drank too much wine and smoked cigars (wellness!) and took turns getting our feet tenderized in this thing. It feels like there’s four Things hiding inside of it working your arches over, dismantling every knot and pressure point. Bella Hadid apparently keeps one in her house, and I understand why, because fifteen minutes with it basically sedated me. If you’re a foot rub evangelist or wear heels a lot and you’d use it daily, it could be entirely worth the splurge. It’s also a SICK Father’s Day gift, IMO, and the brand has some more affordable options with less bells and whistles.
A Hotel Bubble Bath: A cliche, but I don’t trust my LES apartment’s drains, so a good soak is even more sacred to me these days. Whenever I’m lucky enough to attend a hotel staycation for work (The Mark has superior tub game, as did The Nomad, RIP), I make sure to bring along some of my favorite add-ins for maximum chill. To name a few:
Voya Lazy Days Detoxifying Seaweed Bath (Do not bring this to a hotel! There is some well-worth it clean up involved!)
Rice pudding, high and low: Rice pudding was my grandfather’s favorite dessert, so I order it whenever it’s on the menu. We enjoyed it together constantly: at our hometown Italian restaurants, and when I’d sleep over my grandparents’ house as a kid, we’d microwave Cozy Shack with a dash of cinnamon and eat it on the couch watching Nick at Nite. Once I’d moved to the city and would take NJ Transit home to visit, I’d pick up a silly new flavor from Rice to Riches on my way to Penn Station — Take Me to Tiramisu, The Edge of Rum Raisin — and drop by their house. "Watcha got for me this week, T?” he’d ask. That sweet mush brings me joy every time I have it, and because Cafe Patron was oddly one of his go-to drink orders, I now pair it with a shot every July on his birthday.
And speaking of grandfathers…
TG: I more formally met Jen during the pandemic, but I first saw her about seven years ago when I popped into Nolita’s neighborhood butcher shop to grab steaks for dinner. Her grandfather and Elizabeth Street treasure Moe the Butcher was inside, slinging a meat cleaver into a pile of pork belly. When he asked me how I found the shop, I told him that he was on a list of best downtown butchers. He set the cleaver down, left the counter, and pulled up a chair next to me and asked me to read him the article, so I did. (“What’s the Eater? How do they know how old I am? I don’t think I like that!”) That’s when Jen arrived to pick Moe up, and I couldn't believe how much they reminded me of my own grandfather and I.
Since Moe passed away in April of 2020, Jen has been the shop’s full-time butcheress, bringing meatballs, sausage, and the family’s famous cutlets to the neighborhood. For this week’s letter, Jen and I chatted about eating through the feelings one meal at a time, even when it’s a scorcher outside.
On summer comfort food:
In the summer when I'm here at the store, there's no air conditioning. In July, it can be 85 degrees in here. I have nothing here besides the fridges, so it’s very much light eating. My go-to is watermelon. I will cut a whole thing for myself and pick at it throughout the day. It’s very comforting and cooling. I usually just have a lot of fresh fruit: mangoes, watermelon, cherries, whatever.
On the shop’s warm weather best-sellers:
Right now, we’re doing things that are quick and easy to make: little mini pinwheels of sausage, sirloin skewers, things like that. Last summer, we did spiedini. It’s basically thin, breaded pieces of meat on a skewer. They can be chicken beef, or pork; I do veal. They're really popular Sicily, but in different parts of Italy, they call them different things. We don't, but they can be stuffed with cheese. It’s a very easy, quick-cooking meal in a pan or under the broiler. (Scroll down for Jen’s family recipe.) We did try not doing meatballs for summer, and all my customers were like, "Wait, where are the meatballs?" I was like, "Yell at my mom, because she was the one that said no one was going to want them anymore." I don't know if people are making meatball sandwiches instead of having a three-hour sauce going on Sunday or what, so had the meatballs on special days.
On pantry picks:
The things that I like in my pantry are really flavorful for when I don't have time to cook. I love anchovies; I carry these at the store. I add them in pasta very simply or just put them in a salad, and that just adds a lot of flavor. Capers, pine nuts, tomato paste. I have a lot of random canned fish — sardines and canned mackerel. They’re both nice options if you need protein in a pinch. Even though I'm a butcher, I'll probably only have meat once a day. Here we go… I'm the butcher talking about fish!
On the shop’s signature cutlets:
The cutlets and I have a love/hate relationship. I love to eat them, but they are a labor of love for me to make because I cut them with my hands. They were actually the most difficult thing for me to learn how to cut from my grandpa. They were the last thing I learned — the easiest was the ribeye, and the most difficult were the veal and chicken cutlets. Other places keep in certain nerves and things like that, which I take out. I personally go pick out the meat myself at the market. I’ve got to keep them here; they're just too good.
I love to bake. That's my strength in the family household. I love to make a rhubarb strawberry crisp. I'm obsessed with it, and I was really sad because I didn't have time to go to the farmer's market this Saturday to get the rhubarb. This is also kind of funny: there used to be this bakery by my house growing up in Brooklyn and they used to get things from Italy, and I fell in love with this one cake. It had a pastry bottom, really good cream in the middle, and all these blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries then on top were. Anyway, I was obsessed with this cake so I had it pretty much almost every year for my birthday in July because I loved it so much. Eventually I found out it’s a Bindi cake, which is the Italian equivalent to, like, Carvel. It's definitely not a high-end situation, but it's still something that was probably in everybody's house at some point. I see the truck from time to time here. It’s totally not a cool thing, but a nice little bit of nostalgia.
On eating through grief:
Sometimes you make that food and it brings you somewhere, whether that’s a place or a person. You feel all the feelings. Recently, I’ve been missing a lot of people that were in my life or people that I don’t get to see a lot, and sometimes, the best way [through] is cooking the things that they loved so much. Just this weekend, we were barbecuing chicken, and my mom had this moment of really missing my grandpa because he was so good at cooking chicken on the grill. He was so patient, and though it would take him forever, it was the most delicious. Fortunately, he taught my stepdad how to do it, and it was the first time my mom and I had this moment of ‘Ah! It feels like he’s here.’
My grandma also passed away in March, and she used to make these delicious cream puffs. She made this amazing pasta sauce with tons of onions, too. There’s one place in Coney Island that makes it close to her style, so now I’m thinking I have to go there and have it this summer. My mom would always joke whenever I came back home smelling like onions that we definitely had eaten her pasta!
Even my partner — right now, we’re in a long distance relationship — always had Parmesan cheese as a snack, or he’d give me a slice of prosciutto when my stomach hurt. So sometimes I have that, and it makes me feel happy and close to him.
Jen Prezioso’s Spiedini
No exact measurements here! Makes one skewer, multiple accordingly
4 small, thin cutlets (chicken, veal, pork, or beef)
Pecorino cheese, grated
Fresh parsley, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
Mozzarella cheese (optional)
Lemon juice to taste
Make breadcrumb mixture by combining breadcrumbs (“No seasoning, and don’t buy whatever’s in the can. Get them from a bakery or get some bread and make them yourself!”) pecorino cheese, fresh parsley, garlic, and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Dip a cutlet in olive oil until it’s coated but not soaking wet, then coat in breadcrumb mixture, roll up it up, and slide onto the skewer. Repeat with remaining cutlets. Then add a good squeeze of lemon juice. Optional: add slices of mozzarella or anything else you’re in the mood for (You can put all sorts of shit in there!”) before rolling, or add to skewer between cutlets.
Pan fry with olive oil or broil on low until golden brown, flipping halfway through.
Add one more big squeeze of lemon juice and serve.
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