I grew up on boxed. Boxed everything, or nearly. Boxed sugary cereals lined up in the pantry. I loved the faint tick as I flicked the tab back into the slit before placing the box back in position, slipped into the vacancy it had left in the cupboard nestled among the other boxed goods. Boxed meals-in-one, just add canned tuna or ground beef. Boxed ice cream in gallon rectangles in chocolate, strawberry and vanilla; split open the carton and lay it flat on the kitchen floor, one foot on each end to allow the dog to lick the sweet cream off of the empty box. Boxed cookies stacked up easily on the countertop, boxed cake mix my father’s playground. Boxed pudding, boxed powder to be made into pancakes or muffins, bright blue and yellow boxes of macaroni and cheese. Boxes of Saltines and oyster crackers, boxes of slim packets to be transformed into oatmeal for a quick morning meal.
The variety of treats that could be whipped up in a matter of minutes or just a few more from something boxed was beyond our wildest dreams and we loved it all.
Shake n’Bake, Rice a Roni, Kraft and Hamburger Helper, I was a boxed child.
4th grade. And 5th. And 6th. Decorated boxes sitting on the corner of each desk, a school assignment in the guise of holiday tradition. Out came the scissors and paste, the crepe and tissue papers in pristine white and delicate shades of pink or bright blood red, frilly paper doilies and shiny sparkly hearts and handfuls of glitter. From old worn shoebox to special Valentine box filled with a schoolgirl’s longing and desires.
With each tiny colored heart glued, each shake of silver glitter, my heart would pound as my mind flitted from boy to boy, from schoolgirl crush to schoolgirl crush, wondering who would slip a plain white envelope carefully inscribed with my name into my Valentine box, which classmate was, at this very moment, agonizing over a pile of store-bought Valentine’s Day cards, choosing just the right one for me as I was for him. I would finger the pile of tiny sweet candy hearts, each etched with a message of love, and debate whether or not to slip a few into this envelope or that and wonder if he – one or the other - would do the same for me and what words would he choose?
A week before that most emotional, angst-ridden of holidays, we would carry our boxes to school, walk the walk into the classroom and gently, lovingly but oh-so self-consciously place it on the corner of our desk for all the world to see, glancing jealously from desk to desk, box to box. The more self-assured of us, the popular ones, would bring in bigger boxes, knowing that the pile of Valentines that would be pushed through the slit would necessitate the space of an adult’s shoebox. The rest of us, grade school ugly ducklings, could pray all we wanted but knew in our heart of hearts that our own box would be stuffed with the minimum, the Valentine’s cards declaring faithful and long-lasting friendship, the “have a great day” cards, and our own beating hearts would sink in our chest as we gently pulled each card out of its envelope and glanced at the signature.
A Pandora’s box of truths, evil and hope.
Boxed chocolates, the sweetest gift. He once told me that he would never offer me chocolates, as chocolate was a vice and he would feed no vice. Yet each and every Valentine’s Day, I find a small box of chocolates on my lunch plate, a smile playing upon his lips.
Trips back home mean spending afternoons with my mother at the shopping mall, stopping at Grimaldi’s on the way home for boxes of chocolate coconut patties or chocolate dipped potato chips. Boxed gluttony and glee shared. Mother and daughter.
Boys barely out of their teens wooed me with red roses and boxes of Godiva chocolates, romantic dinners and sentimental words. Heart-shaped boxes of hand-dipped chocolates or tiny truffles delicately rolled between the palms of the hands, dusted with snowy powdery sugar or bitter cocoa, dark and wild and lovingly handed out on Valentine’s Day.
A collection of boxes sit on the marble top of my dresser in no particular order, no preference, no front row. Each box holds something precious to me. I shift the boxes around like the walnut game, a gem hidden under one shell, a sleight of hand whisking it away. Peep into the smooth wooden box that fits into the palm of my hand and one finds no stamps nestled inside as is promised by the elegant black script on the lid. Miniscule toys, a green pickle, a pink rat fink with one hard plastic ear showing definite signs of having been nibbled on by a young girl. Baby teeth, the first of my sons, A shell delicately coiled.
The second box is as old as my parent’s marriage, a small square box of silky black lacquered wood embedded with tiny mother of pearl fish, a souvenir. Tip back the lid to find a jumble of jewelry; earrings from my husband, a ring that belonged to my mother, my father’s mezuzah from Israel, the sterling silver heart-in-hand pendant I had purchased for and offered to my grandmother so many years ago. Fading memories, chains intertwined, hearts and hands.
Two lovely boxes, oh so feminine, boxes that once held the secret to womanhood, a touch of romance, the beguiling wiles of enchantment. Powder puffs atop a poof of scented dusting talc. Now these boxes hold bits and bobs of my own, flowers from my wedding bouquet, dried and preserved, brooches once belonging to my mother, a handmade bauble from my brother.
One box more modern in chocolate brown leather, a gift from my husband holding mementos from my sons, tokens from my lover, keepsakes. It stands near the crystal box from my sister, my initials gracefully etched into the silver lid, offered to me at her wedding. And a tin box, not as beautiful yet loving and handsome in its own way. A metal box upon which is glued the invitation to my Bat Mitzvah, one like those offered to each of my siblings and I, now a catchall.
It is somewhat odd to think how much in my cupboard is boxed. No matter how we endeavor to visit the market thrice weekly for fresh meats, seafood, fruits and vegetables, no matter how we are conscious of the good fresh will do to a body and how full of love a homemade meal is, we often rely on the boxed.
Boxed soup snipped open, poured into a bowl, each and every tiny noodle, bean or perfectly cubed carrot scraped out with a spoon, is warm comfort indeed of a lazy, chilly evening. Boxed pasta in every shape known to man has a shelf to itself, the boxes fit into the space like a puzzle; spaghetti, angel hair, tubes, squiggles, bowties, macaroni and teensy weensy shells, our favorite. Boxed meals of the faux-Mexican style, our son’s passion; burritos and tacos, just add ground meat!
Tiny boxes from far away. Pop open the box and find the can – a tin box, you could say! Sardines and tuna belly, mussels and squid. Keep the colorful box as a souvenir. Boxed risotto, aux champignons, asparagus or saffron, stands next to boxed tomato purée bright red; boxed coffee filters elbow for space among the boxed polenta, crackers and cookies.
But boxed wine? Never! A slippery slope.
My little son always preferred the box to the gift.
Catching images in a little square box, the old black plastic Brownie camera. Black and white images in boxy little squares, frilly edges, grainy moments in time, boxed in.
Boxed into a character, the nice one, the quiet one, the shy one. Ensnared, trapped in a cartoon image, a persona I never wanted hung on my shoulders, wrapped around me like a cloak. How does one break out…put on the boxing gloves and pummeling, pounding one’s way out of the box. Boxed up on dreams and expectations.
Boxes piled up on top of the cheese counter; boxes for eggs stacked up, tipping perilously, askew. Ask for six of those or half a dozen of the other, organic or free range, medium, large or extra large, boxed up to go. Boxes of mushrooms, figs and grapes and jostle for space on the fruitmonger’s stall. Boxed stinco di maiale, a favorite, from the Italian stand. Throw in the hand-ravioli filled with ricotta and pesto, boxed pretty as you please.
Finding a recipe for this post meant, and excuse the obvious pun, thinking out of the box because what boxed food can you make apart from the meals that are either already made or of the type open the box, add water and mix? The answered stared me in the face when I opened my fridge: eggs! Not only do they come boxed when we buy them, but they are also naturally boxed in by their shells. So frittata it was, I would have preferred to have used the combination potatoes and spinach which is my favourite but broccoli is just as good.
ILVA'S FRITTATA WITH POTATOES AND BROCCOLI
4 tbs freshly grated parmesan cheese
1 small broccoli
1 small chili pepper
extra-virgin olive oil
Peel and dice the potatoes, divide the broccoli into smaller florets and braise them in olive oil with a little water in a skillet until they are soft. Add the chilli pepper if you want the frittata to have some sting to it.
Meanwhile, whisk eggs, parmesan and salt with a few strokes, don't mix too much. When the vegetables are ready, pour the eggs over and fry on both sides