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Fluff: How Sfogliatelle Saved My Life

August 17, 2010

Quick: let’s do a food association:

Cranberry Sauce: Christmas. Lemonade: Summer. Cake: Birthdays

Sfogliatelle: The only thing that stood between me and imminent death last Thanksgiving morning.

Any good Italian sb knows what a sfogliatelle is, but in case you are not of the Neapolitan ilk, I’ll explain. Sfogliatelle (or “sfoie”) are shell shaped pastry stuffed with a mixture of ricotta, cinnamon, and citrus (orange or lemon) as filling. The pastry texture resembles leaves stacked on top of one another (the word “sfogliatelle” means “many layers” or “many leaves”). Sfoie originated in a monastery in Salerno, Italian, in the 17th century- leave it to the monks to create something so profligate meant to be eaten for breakfast, of all meals. They are crispy on the outside, almost chewy on the inside, and possess the power to revive someone who has already been pronounced DOA.

In my line of work, the winter holidays are the busiest time of the year. In particular, the three days leading up to Thanksgiving can fell even the healthiest, strongest, and most mentally fit of all humans. When your job is to provide holiday food for every single person in town, there is not much room for error. When you are also in charge of all of the people providing that food, and the building that houses all of that food, your task is that much more stressful. Fortunately for me, I have a secret weapon- his name is George.

Last year the pressure to make the most of the holidays was really on- as the economy tanked, so did the budgets of those buying their holiday meals. My stress level went up as I struggled to remain calm in the face of falling morale and two tons of homeless mashed potatoes in the walk-in cooler. But every day, just when I thought things would fall apart, there was my co-worker George (George is a CWoSB). Walking in every day with a smile on his face and the energy of a 5 year old on speed, George also carried a neatly tied box on those three days before Thanksgiving. For him, getting through the day- and getting me through the day- meant Modern Pastry, ricotta pie, and sfogliatelle.

Whenever I stopped in my office to make a call or find my coffee, there was pastry on my desk. Not just about the sugar rush for energy, the sfoie were a reminder that yes, this was the holidays and yes, we were working our asses off- but we still deserved a few clandestine moments and bites, stolen away from the masses, to laugh and joke about whatever ridiculous thing was happening, or to reminisce about our past holiday memories. But it wasn’t that office sfogliatelle that saved my life.

Last Thanksgiving Eve, I worked from 7am to 10pm, too concerned to go in later, to hyper to go home early, too insane to sit down the entire day. By 11pm, when George, myself, and a small crew of holdouts convened for some drinks to decompress, I could barely stand. My abs ached, my legs were gone. It was all I could do to lift that first beer bottle to my mouth.

Though, once I did, the second and third bottles seemed much lighter.

By 3am I begged off, citing my 6:30am plane ride home for Thanksgiving dinner with my family. I had been looking forward to it all year, but as I showered and finished packing, still in a complete stupor, I silently thanked my father for instilling in me a sense of organization that had forced me to arrange a cab two days in advance, before I had all but killed myself. When the cab pulled up I slumped into the backseat, mumbled something about logan airport, and passed out.

Kicked to the curb at the jetblue terminal, I literally crawled through security, breathing hard and struggling to remain upright. I knew the end was near, and I decided I had two choices: give up now, or find the nearest airport bar and keep drinking. I rummaged in my purse (at least I remembered my purse!) for my wallet, and there, wrapped tightly in a paper towel and taped shut on both ends, was a sfogliatelle. I had never eaten something so fast or with such – almost religious- fervor. I sent George a text message: “This sfoie just saved my life.” And even though it was 5:55am on Thanksgiving morning, he replied: “Ha! Enjoy! Happy Thanksgiving!”

As I’m sure you’ve already guessed, this isn’t really a story about the healing power of pastry. Its a story about the magic of George.

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