Brown Bread vs. Bacalaitos


Jessica won't generally let me do the food shopping because of my attention deficit (yes, this is a confirmed diagnosis).  For me, ADHD is like attempting to carry a load of clean laundry from the dryer   without a basket.  First a shirt hits the ground, then a sock.  If I bend over to pick them up, I drop some underwear and some pants.  Eventually the whole armload falls apart.  If only I had brought a basket.  You get me.  Too many tasks sans proper preparation equals struggle.  

So back to the food shopping (incidental ADHD tangent).  Jessi won't let me go.  She doesn't even like me to join her because I tend to stray and return with non-essentials.  On a recent date night we took a romantic detour to the supermarket and I refused to wait in the car.  While she was tackling her system-committed-to-memory, I found it.  The brown bread.  If you're not from Massachusetts you don't know what you're missing because brown bread was a Saturday night tradition.  Beans, franks, and brown bread from a can. You heard me right, the brown bread is from a can and its bomb.  You slice it with butter and heat it up.  It's full of molasses and other unhealthiness but Mema (our beloved grandmother) nostalgia kicked in and I enthusiastically introduced Jessi to the brown bread.  

She was puzzled:

"I don't understand.  It's in a can?  How is the bread in a can? That's impossible."

Her Facebook post about the brown bread received more responses than she's ever received, as Jessica's Bostonian coworkers and friends confirmed this is indeed a local tradition.

I recall a similar moment in 1996 upon a visit to her childhood home in New Jersey when her mother handed me a fried fritter and said, "Try this bacalaito."  A whole world of Puerto Rican cuisine had recently opened up to me and I enthusiastically took a bite.  Except it wasn't sweet like a piece of fried dough.  It was salty. I needed a second:

"What's in this?" I asked.

"Codfish," she said.

Wait.  There's fish in the fried dough?  Fried dough has butter, cinnamon and sugar.  Not fish.  

I took another bite within my new framework.  Then another. Then I went in for seconds because that fish fried dough was my new jam.

Jess and I have been a couple for twenty one years, and we've established our own household culture while simultaneously continuing to appreciate our respective traditions.  I love Puerto Rican food (I'm partial to dishes prepared by Morales women).  It's now part of my family tradition.  Visiting New Jersey means being welcomed into the home by that delicious aroma.

Similarly, Jess unfolded a brown bread tasting party at our Cape Cod vacation a few weeks later.  Granted, her reaction differed from my bacalaito enthusiasm, but I appreciated the effort.