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Lucky numbers


On a quick trip home for Mom’s 89th birthday, Sabra and I stopped at a Subway for lunch.
The sandwich shop is a good fit for us, especially when we’re on the road.
Sabra typically gets a 6-inch chicken or veggie with a few select toppings. It’s agony for both of us, as she goes down the list asking herself if she should or should not add cheese, if so which cheese, onions or no onions, peppers or no peppers, etc. I can feel myself wasting away while she decides between mustard or vinegar as the final dressing.
Me, I got it down to a science.
“Foot-long, whole wheat, turkey with cheese toasted please,” is my standard order. When I get to the toppings person I’m equally terse and certain, “Everything, extra jalapenos, and spicy mustard please.” Invariably, my bread is as stuffed as a church at Christmas.
Consistently, I praise the creator for their work, “You are a true sandwich artist!” I’ll say it loud enough for the other people in line to hear. Without fail, the comment gets a smile and a “thanks” from the assembly line worker.
My love of humor comes from Dad, who always has a witty line ready. For example before the trip, I called to ask him how old Mom was.
He answered with, “Oh, that’s easy to figure out because she was born in the seventh month on the twenty-seventh day of the year nineteen-seventeen.” Okay, nothing funny but then he tosses in, “and her favorite number is eight,” as if to say, after 75 years of marriage, I still don’t understand that woman sometimes.
I come by my habits of saying please, thanking the creator, and loving food through Mom. True to the German tradition of women being in charge of Kinder, Kuche und Kirche (children, cooking and church), Mom was a great cook, taught us to be polite and reminded us to say thanks to everyone, especially God. Now a somewhat derogatory phrase, like barefoot and pregnant, I don’t think she felt limited or put down at all in her role in the family. The hand that rocks the cradle, after all, rules the world.
Besides a great lunch, I also get a smile with my joke.
So, I’ve eaten there a million times.
That’s why I was taken aback when the gal waiting on me asked, “Do you want some of these peppers, too?” She pointed to a tub of chunky relish.
I recognized it immediately as giardineria and was thrilled, as condiments rock my world.
Giardineria is spelled several different ways, the original Italian version of it was more like pickles, but instead of featuring cucumbers, it typically contained bell pepper, celery, cauliflower and gherkins. It was marinated in vinegar along with herbs, spices and olive oil. The recipe migrated to the States and became especially popular in the Chicago area. It went great on an Italian Beef. The Chicago-style giardineria is commonly made “hot” with sport peppers kicking bells out of first place for the primary ingredient, and olive oil drowning out vinegar.
Sports, by the way, are the traditional pepper served on the Chicago-style hotdog. It resembles a Serrano in size and shape, but is its own distinct cultivar. I think it’s about as spicy as pickled jalapenos, others say it’s milder and yet others hotter. Besides a pleasant spicy flavor, I like the mouth feel of biting through one. In a pinch, giardineria is an acceptable substitute for the sports on a dog. Just don’t put any ketchup on it.
Besides beefs and dogs, giardineria also works to spice up a pizza or to add pizzazz to a plate of garden tomatoes, cucumbers, onion and cheese. This time of year, with all the fresh veggies coming from the garden, I can go through a quart of it in a week.
Speaking of hotdogs, we took Pearl with us on this last trip. She used to get really nervous in the car and drool all over the place but, now that she’s going on 9, she just sleeps the entire way. Because she was in the car, we staggered our jaunts to get the sandwiches so she wasn’t alone and also make sure the car didn’t get too hot. Sabra went first and was waiting when I came back. I eagerly told her about my new culinary bonanza: giardineria at Subway. I expected her to be as surprised and jubilant as me, but she just smiled and offered, “That’s nice, dear.”
I don’t even know what her lucky number is.