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happy birthday, and thanks for all the fish

last night, i went into the kitchen to make dinner. now, i can’t cook in a messy kitchen and brni has a habit of dumping stuff on the counter which means i MUST clear the counter before i can cook (even when the offending stuff is not in my way).

so i pick up a plastic shopping bag and ask brni, “what is this?” he says, “it’s your birthday present.” i am taken aback and exclaim, “we don’t DO birthday presents!” and i look in the bag. it’s a wacom tablet. i’ve wanted a wacom tablet for years!

i cry.

then he gives me another present — baccala!

for those of you who are not italian and are not initiated in italian foodways, baccala is salt-cured codfish. the fish is split, filleted, salted and hung to dry. it looks just like a large ping-pong paddle, only stinky.

in the old days, dried, salt-cured cod, or baccala, was found hung in the kitchen of every italian home. before cooking, the baccala was soaked in water for 3 days. the water was changed everyday to both hydrate the fish and rinse away the excess salt. after the baccala was all plumped up, it was cut into chunks and poached in a tomato, onion and pepper sauce. of course, every region had it’s own variation, but for the most part, this was the theme.

now, italian women, being very practical, had the concept of multi-tasking down before there was even a word for it. so, it’s no wonder that when the children were acting up they were threatened with the biggest, hardest thing at hand–baccala! this was such a common household weapon that baccala became slang for spanking.

“you want a baccala? no? then get out of here!”

the practice of hanging baccala in the kitchen died out a generation or two before i came along, but i grew up with the threat of baccala over my head just the same. i think i was a teenager before i knew that baccala wasn’t the english word for spanking.

and yesterday, brni gave me my first, real baccala. it’s real stinky, but it’s the best birthday present ever!

i think i know what i’ll be making for our anniversary dinner on april fools day.

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