Walls swathed in a generic, blanket-soft grey, ache from another coat of house paint. Nail holes recently filled, bring forth a dotted landscape of tiny broken hills in the living room and bedrooms–a slapdashed effort by the owner to erase the stories of others from the memory of this left-side duplex. A chemically-clean carpet smell permeates abandoned kitchen cabinets. The bathrooms are bleached and are probably in the highest sanitary state they will be (for as long as we reside here anyway).
I immediately open every window and let in fresh air. The scent of a neighbor’s lilac bush and horse manure from fields surrounding a nearby veterinary clinic carries with it the excited chatter of our children claiming their swings from the playset out back. It’s almost time for lunch and it’s time to fill this space with the scent of my family.
Our first meal is chicken cutlets. (It’s the very first dish I learned to cook–I’m sure I was no older than three delighting in my reign as head of the breading station while perched upon a kitchen chair.)
Each breast I slice in half and pound paper-thin between sheets of plastic wrap and although our moving van, still miles away, has my mallet, I find a brick in the overgrown corner of the yard and make do first wrapping it in a couple layers of aluminum foil.
I then dip each cutlet in a lightly beaten egg mixture thinned with a few drops of milk before dredging (and patting a little) in a combination of plain bread crumbs, at least a tablespoon of garlic powder, salt and pepper and no less than a quarter cup of grated Pecorino Romano cheese. (Please see note below.)
I fill a saute pan (I remembered to pack this pan in our car along with a pot) with olive oil as deep as a pinky’s first joint –give or take–and let it warm on medium heat. Soon our house begins to smell familiar of the local Italian meat and cheese market in New Jersey, the one where Paul will pound the cutlets for me before wrapping them in white butcher paper and always asks about my family.
We eat our comfort with spoonfuls of white rice and drink Hershey’s chocolate milk from plastic cups. With paper plates in our laps, the husband and I eat together on the floor while the kids dine at the makeshift “counter” that is the window seat of the kitchen bay window. Their little coolies shifting on stools made of small moving boxes.
*If you’re a child of the Jersey Shore then you are familiar with this cutlet process having had it done to you numerous times. You, the chicken, come running out of the ocean, soaked cold to your very little bones only to find an older sibling or cousin waiting to throw you down and roll you mercilessly head to foot in sand.