St. Agatha’s nipple


Reader Claire writes:

I’m a reader of Emily Magazine from way back, and I’m writing to ask your food advice.  You seem to know your way around ethnic eats in this town.  Here’s my conundrum: I’m a high school teacher, and I’m teaching a short story class this fall.  One problem I encounter every year is students who come in with limited literacy and, like clockwork, pronounce every story “boring” about two paragraphs in.  They haven’t learned the stamina and open-mindedness of good readers; they only want to read one kind of story, if they want to read anything at all.  I had a crazy idea that I would start hosting “teas” in class where I’d serve tea and a bizarre, unusual (to my students) dessert from a far-away place.  At first, they would be afraid to try it, only to discover that it was delicious.  Thus, I would point out the benefits – even the delight – of being brave and trying out new, strange things (like reading Grace Paley stories).

Do you have suggestions for unusual, delicious desserts from the various ethnic neighborhoods in the city?  I’m willing to travel far.  I’d prefer desserts that could stand a train ride or two – I’ll probably seek them out on Sundays and serve them Monday morning.

I would appreciate help with this one.  This is what I wrote back to Claire, but it’s only a beginning …

“I have a friend who teaches freshman comp to accounting majors at Brooklyn College who has a similar problem; it has actually been very eye-opening for her.  She assigned her class to read the Joan Didion essay Goodbye To All That with the thought that *everyone* relates deeply to that essay.  Of course, none of her students liked it or sympathized at all with young Joan. It turns out that it’s mostly only white middle class people, who did not grow up in New York City but who moved there with high hopes, who want to leave the city simply because they’re no longer very young and they’ve realized they’ll never rule it.

Using exotic dessert as metaphor for the rewards of patience with difficult reading seems like a roundabout way of tackling this problem.  Serving them something that’s more immediately delicious-seeming, reading-wise, might meet with more success. I’m sure this has occurred to you!  Or maybe you don’t get to choose what they read?  Anyway, I don’t actually know a ton about unusual ethnic desserts.  I guess you can get any number of ornate red bean paste-containing things in Chinatown, or mochi, or fancy French-by-way-of-Russian-style pastries in Brighton Beach, or baklava in Astoria.  But for my money your best bet is the weird Italian pastry shop in the East Village that’s on the opposite side of 1st Ave from Veniero’s (so, 1st and 11th st.), De Robertis.  They have a traditional Italian pastry for a Saint’s day that is shaped like a boob, with a little maraschino nipple, and cookies shaped like human bones.  Also Moishe’s Bakery, on 2nd Ave, has a chocolate confection that really does look exactly like a poop.

Good luck, and let me know how it goes!”

8 comments to St. Agatha’s nipple

  • Make your bored, illiterate students sit through a screening of the movie “Amadeus” and serve these things at the moment Salieri mentions a similar confection he calls, “Venus’s Nipples.”

    Music AND literature AND high-sugar carbs, all coming together to create a peak learning experience! What’s not to love?

  • Claire

    You’re right about serving them delicious stories, of course – to that end, every student has a book of their choosing (like a young adult novel, or a book from home) that they read during a “silent reading” period. In the class, I had a lot of success with Rita Williams-Garcia’s searing story “Wishing it Away,” which is about a girl from Bed Stuy who has a baby in secret and tries to get rid of it. It’s tough; I’m always trying to entice kids into reading, to soothe, challenge, AND provoke them. Things like reading aloud, exciting pre-reading activities, and lots of discussion can make some old literature seem pretty sexy. Believe it or not, they loved Carson McCullers last year, and Langston Hughes, and Judith Ortiz-Cofer. We read “Good Job Gone” (Hughes), and they were like, ‘This is a story about prostitution!’ Which was true.

    I think the “tea” idea is just as much about how much my students love it when I feed them as it is about the metaphor.

  • PS, I forgot to include my blog address. Now it’s clickable above.

  • ow a paper cut

    Claire sounds like a terrific teacher. : )

  • emily

    I know, right?

  • sera

    Paper cut, I was going to say that too! Claire, you sound like an awesome teacher. To go to that much effort to inspire and engage your students is seriously cool.

  • sjm

    have you ever checked out the village voice blog “strange snacks of the world”? it really is fun in that experience expanding way you seem to be going for.

    also, re: specific sweets, the bird’s nest at laziza of ny. delicious and beautiful.

  • Thanks, everybody!! SJM, I’ll be sure to check out the Voice link.

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