When I was growing up my mother always cooked a roast chicken on Purge night. She preferred roast chickens to roast turkeys—understandably—and she did them right with crispy skin and an herbed, lemony stuffing. She’d take pride in them, and to all of us at home it was like a miniature Thanksgiving. In many ways it was better because we didn’t have to have the extended family over and make it a whole to-do.
While my dad and brother screwed plywood over the glass doors to the veranda and checked that the cat was inside, I would watch TV. For her part my mother prepared the mashed potatoes along with this incredible escarole salad, green beans with shallots, a simple dressing of lemon and olive oil, a key lime pie, and of course the bird. Aside from watching Joanne Nesti and Al Terzi covering the Purge on the local NBC station during commercial breaks in The Shawshank Redemption, I was kind of oblivious to the whole thing. It really was my favorite holiday.
I live in Bushwick now, and the only place to buy whole chickens is a new gentrifier spot called Foster’s Sundry. Trust me, I really “get” that they’re fucking up our neighborhood, but I’m so thankful for its existence. It’s the only place where you can buy non-GMO poultry, cheese, in-season ramps, and a wide selection of artisinal pantry items: harissa, champagne vinegar etc. They’re also trans-friendly.
Despite Foster’s best efforts to overstock the shelves leading up to Purge night, they got cleaned out in no time, as you can imagine. Even on non-Purge weeks, PR girls race home on the L train to sweep up Bushwick’s finest Jamon Iberico and Humboldt Fog, along with the Sundry’s own mixed greens. Dinner is served! We knew we were screwed when, two days before Purge night, a sign appeared in the window reading:
“OUT OF OUR DEEPEST RESPECT AND GRATITUDE FOR OUR LOCAL FARMERS, THE SUNDRY WILL BE CLOSED FOR THE NEXT THREE DAYS IN OBSERVANCE OF THE ANNUAL PURGE.”
I was running late on Purge day. It was 6:15 and I was still trying to get out of WME, the agency where I worked. My coverage on Emma Kline’s The Girls was due the following day and I wanted to finish it before leaving so I could relax that night. RECOMMEND. I knew we wouldn’t be able to get a chicken at Foster’s, so I did some quick thinking and divined a recipe that we could prepare from the dregs of Associated, the non-gentrifier supermarket. I texted my girlfriend Heather for her to pick up the ingredients to Spaghetti Carbonara, a light salad and two bottles of Whispering Angel. She responded quickly, “U got it baby. Can’t wait to eat carbs and Purge with mon bébé.”
The train was a sweaty nightmare but I made it home by 7:05. We had 45 minutes til the Purge commenced, and I wanted to work out a little and get a shower in before the hubbub really started. I ran two miles (15:22, not bad) and took a hot shower. As I was locking the swinging metal grates on our dirty apartment windows, Heather strolled in carrying the grocery bags and a bottle of sub-$10 wine. She deadbolted the door behind her and flopped on the couch to locate an episode of Chef’s Table that neither of us had seen. I had already watched them all while she was sleeping, but I was fine to watch one again.
In the kitchen I started sautéeing the pancetta and boiling the water for the spaghetti. I beat the eggs in a bowl and cracked a ton of fresh pepper into them. I’ve made Carbonara a hundred times, and I know to make the “sauce” by slowly heating the egg with the pancetta and parmesan cheese. Not too hot to avoid scrambling the eggs, but warm enough that the eggs aren’t raw. In an ideal world the warmed egg, cheese, and pepper mixture should coat all the noodles for a rich, delicious blend. That’s just how it goes. But as I reached for the parmesan to shred, I noticed it wasn’t there. Then I rooted through the grocery bags; still couldn’t see it. Next I checked in the fridge and it was nowhere to be found there, either. I started panicking and yelled to Heather in the other room asking where she put it. By now it was 7:52. There was no time to run out and grab a hardened triangle from Associated, and besides, they were surely lowering their pathetic iron gates by now.
Heather came into the kitchen and said she was so sorry, she forgot to get it, she was all foggy with the excitement of the Purge. She reminded me there was a little bit of cheddar in the cheese drawer, and could I maybe use that instead? My heart skipped a beat.
There are four ingredients in Carbonara: spaghetti, eggs, pepper (from which the dish gets its name), and a healthy portion of Parmesan cheese. I didn’t understand how someone could forget one of the four ingredients to a meal. Knowing that the Carbonara would be shit without the cheese, I took her suggestion to check the fridge drawer, and my dread only set in deeper: there was only an old container of Sabra, a bag of rotting baby carrots and a little sliver of cheddar. Certainly nothing to turn my Roman disaster around. I looked at the clock and it was 8:01. I grabbed my knife off the counter and slit Heather’s throat then and there because what the fuck. I couldn’t have a girlfriend who forgets the parmesan cheese.
I ended up eating the scrambled eggs and cooked pancetta, using the cheddar after all to get a cheesy scramble. It was stupid of me to slit her throat in the kitchen before I made dinner because I kept slipping and sliding in her blood as I hovered over the stove, trying to cool myself down. Instead of Chef’s Table I watched the “Palestinian Chicken” episode of Curb. When it was over I wrote “parmesan” on a post-it note and stuck it by the front door.
— Vish Velandy