Thursday, May 21, 2009


What is it with pistachios in the middle of the night? I have always loved these tree nuts with their mottled purple-green color and their use in savory and sweet dishes from the exotic east. I have come across some sublime uses of pistachios in Europe as well: a recipe for a red grapefruit-pistachio tart that I found in the company of a French chef friend, plus the creamiest Italian gelato . . . makes eating the typical pistachio ice cream here in the States pretty much pointless. I won't even mention the time that I decided to make my own and used salted nuts in the frozen custard base instead of unsalted. (Except that I just did mention it.) Could've been a happy accident, as many culinary discoveries are—but it wasn't. I ate the stuff anyway, because I can't bear wasting food. There are two memories I have, though, of pistachios past the midnight hour: one funny, the other incredibly unfunny. The not-at-all funny moment involved my pregnancy. I have to say that I got off easy those nine months, really didn't have "morning" sickness at all. Had a couple moments of mild nausea—literally a couple—and that was it. Eating a Saltine would resolve whatever queasiness I felt, instantly. I wasn't turned off to any foods or smells, didn't particularly have cravings . . . except once, for pistachio gelato, but that can strike me at any time. I don't remember where I went if I went to an ice cream shop; don't remember, if I bought a pint at a grocery store, what brand it was. I'm sure the product itself was fine, but that night after eating it, I was decidedly not fine. I passed the single most miserable night of my pregnancy (and it topped the list of all-time miserable nights, pregnant or not) thanks to my pistachio indulgence. I thought it particularly cruel that the one sudden urge I got in pregnancy to eat a particular food, and it was exactly the thing that the baby inside decided to veto completely. I was on the bathroom floor all night. But enough of that. The funny middle-of-the-night pistachio memory involves my parents' fax machine. For a time, while I was staying with them during graduate school, the global pistachio trade became a source of daily entertainment. It started with one fax coming in at a time when all of us were sleeping (or trying to), the machine making its beeping and sheet-feeding noises in an otherwise silent and darkened apartment. In the morning, wondering who would have been sending faxes in the wee hours, we discovered a stack of pages transmitted from India—an apparent shipment confirmation for a large order of nuts. Wrong number. We recycled the pages. But then more faxes came, and still more, all at odd hours and getting increasingly urgent in tone. Because of the nut content, we began to call the sender of the faxes "Pistachio." We'd hear the machine, check it, and say, "It's Pistachio again." We started looking forward to the transmissions. We'd read the cover pages, and it must be said that they were hilarious in their non-native mangling of English idiom. I wish I remembered some of the expressions, but sadly I don't. For a long time, I saved a stack of pages, knowing that if I didn't it would be impossible to remember or invent them. They were priceless, but somewhere along the way I let them go. The sad part, though, was that the faxes were starting to sound distraught. The level of language was very formal, very polite and businesslike, but the frustration of botched communication began to add new layers of difficulty to the language barrier. For all we could tell, the success of the business may have depended on this single order. We considered calling India or faxing back to explain that we were not the clients they thought we were. Before we did, the faxes stopped. Hopefully this was because someone who loved pistachios (and cashews) received their order from India and put them to good use. Maybe even in making a stellar pistachio ice cream. I can still dream . . . or try my own (unsalted!) hand at another batch this summer.

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