Flour Wars, Mask Shortages – Improvising During a Pandemic

It was about 9:30 PM on a blustery early March night – a time when the Hillsborough Shop Rite was usually quiet – that the impact of the Corona Virus hit me.  This literally dark and stormy night the megastores’s parking lot was full. Crazed shoppers raced through the building. Shopping carts were piled high. People were wrenching paper towel rolls away from each other.  What the hell?  

Over the last few months, I bet all of us have seen long vacant toilet paper shelves and a sad empty paper towel aisle.  We have also seen resilience and creativity.  I found our cloth napkins – we use them for a few days before washing.  Why buy paper napkins? A cloth rag works well – who needs paper towels?  But flour and yeast – now that is another story.

You all know that my amazing cousin, Annarita, was trapped in our Condo.   What did we lust for?  Food Pontelandolfo Style.  I sobbed over the lack of good crusty bread – like those one kilo loaves made at Diglio Forno.  Annarita FaceTimed with her mom, Carmella, and groaned when she saw mamma’s fresh pasta.  Jack was aching for pizza from Sesto Senso.   Not, a problem, I thought.  If we can’t go to the village, let’s bring the village to us.

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Our Little Village in the Sannio Hills.  It was virus free!!!

With flour and yeast, Annarita would  replicate those gorgeous gluten powered treats.  So I thought.  Imagine my tears, when my end of March shop yielded not one wee bit of flour.  Yeast – who bought all the yeast? Not one packet of yeast was left on a shelf.  Did I look in more than one store – who are you asking?  Of course.  When did the entire population of Central Jersey start baking? This was not an isolated scene.  It may have been a global farina, mouka, mel, harina, flour shortage. My family in Pontelandolfo, who really do know how to bake, roast and toast, also said there was a run on yeast.  Obviously for the last few months, around the world, some folks were hoarding toilet paper – others – flour and yeast.  It took until April, but I did score flour.  Did I say score?  Sounds like I was jonesing for flour.  Obviously, I travelled far and wide in my quest for flour.

Now that we had flour, it was time for Annarita to do her magic.  She wanted to start with pasta and asked me where my pasta machine was.  Hmm, I thought where is that machine?  Oh yeah, when we moved to Italy I gave my New Jersey machine to my nephew, Christopher.  Rolling pin, she asked.  Hmmm, where did that go?  No problem, we are exceptional women and know how to improvise.  A quick search of our condo yielded –

You might think it is a closet rod but we saw a matterello, The long wooden dowel all the women in Pontelandolfo use to roll out dough.  Annarita asked if I had a pasta board.  Pasta board – you know that huge hunk of wood you knead and then roll dough on.  Years ago, when we sold our house in Flagtown, we sold everything and headed for Italy.  Who knew that we would buy a condo in New Jersey and be quarantined without furniture, dishes and things like a rolling pin. We were determined.  I bleached the counter, tossed down some flour and she was set.  We improvised.

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Need a place to dry pasta?  Improvise – go back to the closet and toss the clothes on the bed.

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Yeast?  Just ask my sister, Susan!  She sent me a link to a YouTube video  done by a cute Italian chef – “cuoredicioccolato” is the name of his channel.  The video explained how to make sourdough starter from stuff you have in the house!  Of course you do need flour.  Who knew honey, yogurt or raisons percolating in flour long enough started things growing!  Of course, this requires commitment – you have to keep feeding the sour beast flour daily!  My niece, Alex,  was committed –

Our family improvised it’s way around the crusty bread crisis. Others used their creativity problem solving.

My number one buddy, Janet, works at Somerset County Vocational Technical High School and was part of the team that made thousands of  plastic full face masks for medical workers.  Everyone knew there was a shortage of Personal Protection Equipment.  Faculty and students in the Mechatronics program fired up 3-D printers and voila 3-D printed plastic headbands popped out. Janet said the team scrounged the school to uncover every box of unused plastic transparencies.  They gave away thousands of completed masks to local hospitals.   Janet showed me one she made–

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I am no where near that creative.  But, I did solve our lack of masks problem. Masks had to be worn even on the short dash from our condo door to the mail room. Jack pointed out that he had tons of really old t-shirt material boxer shorts and asked if they would work.   I didn’t think we could walk around with under-gochies on our heads but hmmm.  One leg equals two layers of cotton.  Snip, snip – I cut off a leg. Found a stapler and stapled in pleats.  I do have a child’s sewing machine and was able to  toss a quick stitch or two down the outer edge to keep the pleats in.  Took out the staples and added panty streamers for ties.

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Yes, that is a vodka bottle.  Yes, it was full when I started.

I know that each and everyone of you has been creative and resilient. Under comments share your improvisation!  I want to know what creative solutions you all came up with to survive the pandemic. PULEEZE – inquiring minds want to know!

Ci Vediamo

Midge

Midge Guerrera

Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo

 

 

Bar Elimar – My “Writer’s Room”

Hemingway had Soppy Joe’s Bar in Key West. F. Scott Fitzgerald had the Ritz Bar in Paris. Dylan Thomas had the White Horse Inn in Manhattan’s West Village,  I have Bar Elimar in Pontelandolfo, Italy.

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Some folks work at Staryucks.  I prefer the joint that makes the 90 cent real cappuccino.

Hey, reality check – I know I am not in the same league as those major writing players but I am willing to learn from them.  The first lesson – find a home away from home that will jump start your creative juices.  Or in my case, provide me with a tribe.  Some folks can work alone – I need the constant buzz of other folks around me.  They don’t even have to talk to me – just be there.

Sure I could sit at my desk, stare out the window at incredible mountains and maybe even pretend to write while I wallow in self pity and loneliness.  Or I could walk down the mountain to Bar Elimar – today I drove- have an incredible cappuccino, whip out my Macbook Air or iPad mini, stare at cool stuff and write about the people places and things I see.  A win win.

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The first thing I see is the cool art Marilina has drawn on my cappuccino foam. Yes, that is blood orange juice.

Some days, when my 6th decade body is dragging, I swear I steal an infusion of energy from the bar’s owners, Marilina Mazzamauro and Elio Di Muraglia.  This duo works from dawn until 4:30 the next morning.  Granted they do take shifts and it is a wee bit slower life in the winter but come warm nights the place is jumping. ( Did you figure out that Bar Elimar is the cute combining of the couple’s names?)  

Most mornings, Marilina makes me that double, taking care to paint a flower, treble clef or fluid design in chocolate on the top of the steaming milky foam.  That art as part of my daily life is all I need to get inspired to slap my fingers on the keys.

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The treble clef is my favorite. Music in the morning!
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Marilina Mazzamauro, the artiste of cappuccino. Notice her writer’s T-shirt!  I just did!

Bar Elimar is about four years old and a fixture of piazza life.  Located on Piazza Roma in Pontelandolfo (BN) it is often filled with pensioners shouting and slapping down cards in frenetic games. Hey – didn’t I write about them?  Yikes, I do steal stories from the bar.

Outside on warm days, the comfortable whicker couches, umbrellas and tables attract all from tweens to adults. 
Outside on warm days, the comfortable whicker couches, umbrellas and tables attract all from tweens to adults.

 What I like about the place, besides the morning coffee art, is that everyone feels welcome and the place is spotless.  I always feel secure enough to leave my MacBook Air on the table inside and go to the bathroom – ain’t no one going to steal my stuff with Marilina behind the counter.  Some days, my new friend Rocco – he’s about 8 years old – will plop next to me and pummel me with questions.  He also likes playing with my iPad – h’mm maybe that’s the attraction.  It is that feeling of inclusion – being part of the community that really resonates with me.

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An afternoon visit by my nephew Nick Losardo – the $.80 prosecco was mine.

 Bar Elimar has music often during the summer.  Marilina, how can you work until 4 a m and open at 7:30?  Children and adults – including this crazy American – sit around, order a drink or thee under the moon and sway to the music.  My question is after they pay the bands, rent the tables, rent the stage and hire the waitstaff do they make any money.  Some times I think that the good life of the village,is more important to the village merchants than the bottom line.  Could that be true?

Since I started back to my writers room, all the projects that I played with while in New Jersey have been percolating in my brain and my keyboard.  The work may not make me a star but writing for a few hours at Bar Elimar sure makes me feel like one.

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