For some people it’s peanut butter cups, for others potato chips or maybe chocolate-chip-cookie-dough ice cream. For me, it’s Celentano Eggplant Parmigiana. I cannot remember when, but at some point in my life this particular frozen entree became my go-to stress-relief food. I vividly recall a down-on-its luck neighborhood grocery store in Binghamton, N.Y., and the path I wore out on the linoleum floor by making a beeline to the freezer case for my fix of C.E.P. through a succession of angsty finding-myself days. And then I moved to Niagara Falls, where I had to hunt it down at another grocery store so I could get through my phase of reckless finding-myself days, and then I moved to Green Bay, where I needed my beloved eggplant parm to deal with a series of a misguided finding-myself days.
As I moved from town to town, there would be the inevitable panic phase, because not all grocery stores actually carried the line. Shocking. So I’d load up on my trips to New Jersey, wrapping white boxes of frozen eggplant parm in newspaper and trusting they’d stay frozen in the belly of the jetliner long enough for me to smuggle them home, and, ultimately, eat them.
Here in Milwaukee, I have embraced and abandoned three grocery stores that stocked Celentano Eggplant Parmigiana, only to discontinue it. I can — and this pains me — no longer find it in my current metro market. I’ve made complaints, oh I have. I have considered lobbying my friends to make complaints, too, but my sense of shame prevented me. It is, after all, a very high-calorie, high-fat item. I should learn to live without it. And haven’t I found myself by now, anyway?
But then I happened across Celentano Eggplant Parmigiana on a trip to New York City. A place where they know a good frozen Italian entree when they see one. I was there on business and a friend was kind enough to let me use her apartment while she was out of town. She lives a few blocks from a D’Agostino Supermarket; there it was, smiling at me from the freezer case. I was reunited. The night before I left town I went back to my friend’s apartment and, in the city with the world’s densest concentration of good restaurants, I heated up a tray of Celentano Eggplant Parmigiana (in the oven, like you’re supposed to), cracked open a bottle of decent Chianti, and sat back to watch the city lights through the windows. No angst. Just happiness.
(This blog post is dedicated to my friend Suzanne, fellow C.E.P. devotee and my N.Y.C. host)