I am feeling really good about 27.
I’m not too good at figuring out what my feelings are. I don’t have a lot of them — I mostly just have moods. Moods are not necessarily excellent when you’re being raised by my mother — of German extraction and not a huge fan of moods — but I have them all the same, even now, maybe more so now, than I did when I was a moody teenager. Maybe it’s because I don’t feel like a stereotype anymore. It’s just the way I am.
But ever since I turned 27 a bit over three months ago, I’ve been feeling really good about it, in a way that I haven’t felt all that great about most of my 20s… a large part of which has to do with the fact that I really, really enjoyed being 17. I don’t know if everyone feels this way about certain ages, but as one of those kids that people were always calling an “old soul,” I’ve never quite felt that the age I was was the age I should be. With a few exceptions.
I loved turning 7. Not only was it what we elementary school kids in the know called “my magic birthday,” (I was born on the 7th of the month), but I also had a fantastic party complete with a baker dressed up as Snow White teaching us to make frosting rosettes on the dining room table we otherwise never used and a “pin the apple on the wicked witch” drawn to perfection by my father.
And it wasn’t just the party. Being 7 felt right to me. There were 4 of us then, aged 1, 3, 5 and 7. I liked the evenness of it. (Aside: I have always been excellent at counting by twos. I aced those 2nd grade tests.)
But after turning 7, I didn’t really feel that way about another age. I liked being 10, because that’s double-digits, which everyone knows is awesome. I enjoyed turning 16, because I had a great group of friends, a fantastically obsessive crush on a boy, and an excellent summer to look forward to. But 17… 17 was kind of a magic number.
I guess the best way I can explain it is that I felt like myself at 17. Many of the things that, today, still feel like me were things that I started doing that year. I’ve always read a lot, but 17 was the year I started carrying a book everywhere — then in cargo pants, now in an oversize purse which, let’s be honest, is just a more socially acceptable version of said cargo pants. I started carrying a coffee thermos around with me everywhere. I started spending evenings wandering New York in the dark with my best friend.
What’s strange, looking back, is that I remember feeling very clearly at 17 that I wasn’t having the experience of the age that most people do. I didn’t drink or smoke or do drugs. I listened to ‘At 17′ by Janis Ian and felt very far removed from the lyrics. But still, I have felt slightly 17, in one way or another, since I turned 17.
Until this year, that is.
Is it because a decade has passed? Decades have meaning because of our numbers system, so I have a hard time believing that the number 10 could be so important to my way of identifying myself, but maybe it is. More than that though, I feel like maybe it’s the number 7. I was born on the 7th; maybe all of my 7 birthdays are magic birthdays.
Or maybe I’ve just found my way back to the things that were important to me at 17.
Another thing that I really, really felt connected to at 17 was my Italian origins. 17 was the year I wrote two embarrassingly poor plays, one of which was a cheap, transparent adaptation of Goodfellas and the other of which was about a 17-year-old girl who finds out that her grandfather was a mafioso, which actually could have been good, except that I am and always have been a strict realist and refused to take my teacher’s advice to create some sort of drama, because I was convinced that even a mafioso wouldn’t start a full-out war on Christmas in front of his grandchildren.
Mafia references aside, my interest in my Italian background had me trying my hand at dozens of Italian specialties once I got my own kitchen, the following year. Eggplant parmegiana was one of them, though I never really got it right.
This version isn’t exactly traditional, but I find it even more delicious. The eggplant stays crispy, the scant mozzarella doesn’t turn globby but adds flavor and texture, and the homemade tomato sauce adds the perfect amount of tanginess and freshness.
Eggplant Parmesan Stacks
For the sauce:
1 clove garlic
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 can peeled tomatoes
2 tsp. soy sauce (optional)
salt and pepper
1/2 cup flour
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
olive oil for shallow frying
6 oz. mozzarella
To make the sauce, finely chop the onions and mince the garlic. Heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pot and add the onions. Season them with salt and cook until translucent and slightly browned, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, 1 minute.
Add the juice from the whole peeled tomatoes and cook until reduced and thick. Add the tomatoes, using a spoon to break them up, and reduce the heat to low.
Simmer the sauce for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, slice the eggplant into rounds. place them in an even layer on paper towels and salt them.
After about 30 minutes of simmering, taste the sauce. If it lacks depth, add the soy sauce. (I nearly always do, but it depends on the quality of your tomatoes.) Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, and purée the sauce with an immersion blender.
When the sauce is finished, brush the excess salt off the eggplant. Set up bowls of flour, beaten egg and panko. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and heat a pan over medium-high heat with a thin layer of olive oil.
Dredge the eggplant slices in flour, then dip in the beaten egg, and finally into the panko. Add to the frying pan and fry on both sides until golden brown.
When all of the eggplant slices are fried, place a layer of tomato sauce in the bottom of a glass baking dish. Stack the eggplant slices by threes, trying to keep slices of the same size together. Add a small amount of mozzarella between each slice, and top each stack with a bit of mozzarella. Bake for about 15-20 minutes, until the cheese is melted and the eggplant is soft all the way through.
Top each stack with a basil leaf. Serve with extra sauce on the side and a side of pasta.