Santa Maria's mother, who broke her arm here over the weekend, is headed into surgery today, and I want to thank all the readers who have taken time out of their day to wish her well. I haven't been doing much worth reporting on the domestic front, as it's a rare (for us) moment of take-out Thai food, pizza with the kids, and no-time-to-make quinoa salad, but caring for Santa Maria and her family has reminded me of the value of good food and good company.
Years ago, I discovered Di Palo’s Fine Foods, a store in Little Italy that is a wonderland of Italian products—Novello olive oil, fresh as could be; aged Balsamic vinegars more expensive than wine and sweeter than jam; seasonal Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese that varied in taste depending on what kind of grass the cows had grazed on, sometimes pinkish, sometimes golden.
I would go to the store on special occasions. Once, before we had kids, I stocked up on its offerings for a huge holiday party in our present, soon to be vacated, fourth-floor apartment. A last hurrah before Santa Maria, robustly pregnant, gave birth to Nina. The party was so big that I lost my voice in the middle of it. There was dancing, drinking, and five kinds of cake. I remember my landlord, who I had invited, standing in the hallway as people shuffled past, saying as the floor bounced under everyone’s weight, “I hope these beams hold up.”
When Nina was born, we hired a post-partum doula to help us get settled. Diana was amazing. She reorganized our changing table, showed us how to swaddled the baby, and generally held our hands through the whole process. Nothing she did, though, was as impressive as offering to stop at Di Palo’s (she lived near the store) and bring us their marinated artichoke hearts, fresh ricotta and prosciutto. There’s a special sweetness to having a newborn in the house. In my case, it wasn't just sweet, it was mouthwatering.
I knew Di Palo’s store when it was so small that its clerks needed to step out a side door into the street and come back in through the front door to get from behind the counter to the place where the customers stood. The lines were always long enough to make new friends (and often long enough to have a falling out with them, and then to patch things up again).
Its owner, Lou Di Palo, knows about the value of family. He's a fourth-generation grocer. He finds may of his products by going back to his ancestral homeland, in Italy. He is patient and kind with every shopper. He is like a small-town postman, mayor, and priest rolled into one. He explains every product, and has done more to educate New Yorkers about Italian food than perhaps anyone. I always enjoy talking with him.
I haven’t been down to Di Palo’s in years. With two kids and a job, I just don’t have the time. While my family has been growing, so has Di Palo’s empire. They moved into a bigger store a few years ago, and now have a strong online presence. I just found out that Lou has been making videos. Now I don’t have go to the store to learn from him.
Here’s one of him making mozzarella. I always wondered how it was done, and now I know.