I’m not sure how it first began, the Johnson’s collective love affair with the cheese pocket at Little Lebanon. I recall one day, several years ago, stopping at the hole-in-the-wall joint after some outdoor excursion; hoping to procure something akin to the Doner we used to eat in Berlin.
The professor returned to the car (I believe it was still a ‘car’ then, not a rusty van with ill-functioning power doors) with an assortment of savory pastries. As well as a Donair. Which is not at all the same as a Doner.
Maybe because the Doner are made by Turks and the Donair by Lebanese and never the twain shall meet.
After visiting Little Lebanon a few more times, I determined that I only needed to buy their cheese pocket: a thin disk of homemade dough, rolled out, sprinkled with grated white cheese, folded with crimped edges and placed in one of those ultra hot open ended ovens with conveyor belts for three to four minutes.
After the seemingly interminable wait – spent eating the free piece of baklava the friendly owner gives every customer – the cheese pocket is placed in a white paper envelope and wrapped in a brown bag and, with grease stains already surfacing, handed to its recipient.
Then there is an arduous five minute period while we wait in the car for the cheese pocket(s) to cool slightly, so as to only be ‘very hot’ instead of ‘searingly hot’. All whilst the backseat choir cries ‘I want a cheese pocket, we never get a cheese pocket, you’re going to eat all the cheese pocket,’ etcetera.
This past winter, we began frequenting Little Lebanon a little more….frequently. So much so that two weeks ago, Percy threw a complete fit when his father had the audacity to drive past the cheese pocket store, instead of stopping for one. That was the day I knew we had a problem on our hands. Also my pants stopped fitting and I knew the pockets of molten cheese were largely responsible.
Then, as fate would have it, I picked up the Hen from preschool on Monday. While waiting for him to finish using his ‘gross motor skills’ at the playground, I chatted with one of the moms who mentioned she was Lebanese. ‘Oh, do you ever go to Little Lebanon,’ I asked. Because I’m ultra eloquent and always say smart things when conversing with people. ‘We go sometimes,’ she answered gracefully, ‘but we cook a lot at home.’ And then I told her about the Johnson boys’ obsession with the cheese pockets. ‘You should just make them,’ she castigated, ‘instead of paying $4.75 for one.’
She’d unwittingly tapped into my culinary-thrifty side. ‘Which cheese should I buy,’ I asked, because I’d seen the wrapped hunks of cheese in the refrigerated display case and figured one of them had to be responsible for my ill-fitting pants, ‘Akawie,’ she told me, ‘and you can just buy some pizza dough.’ ‘No, I assured her, I’m a good cooker.’
Like I said, eloquent. This may be why I’m working on eliminating interpersonal conversation altogether.
Two days later, on the way to pick up the Hen from preschool, I stopped at Little Lebanon for ‘the cheese’. I found myself wondering if buying cheese would entitle me to the coveted piece of free baklava. Because I figured the professor would be all sorts of annoyed if I bought the cheese and a cheese pocket. Luckily the owner placed a piece of syrupy phyllo goodness in my hand while ringing up my purchase.
It was $10 for the hunk of white cheese. ‘That’s two cheese pockets,’ I did the math. ‘I’d need to make at least three pockets for this endeavor to be cost effective and/or worthwhile.’
I came home and made pizza dough because my Lebanese friend hadn’t entrusted me with the secret dough recipe.
Several hours later, I rolled out a piece of dough. Not in the perfectly round shape they have at Little Lebanon. I sprinkled a handful of white cheese on the dough and folded it into something that looked nothing like the crescent shaped pockets I’ve become accustomed to.
I cooked it for an indeterminate amount of time and served it to the hovering wolves. ‘You need to cook this longer,’ my ever-honest eight year old instructed. My technique improved somewhat over the course of the experiment, and by number 3 or was it 4, I had a decent looking pocket. But the fact remains, it did not taste the same. Whether because of the pizza dough. Or because my Lebanese friend had steered me wrong on the cheese selection.
‘So how much was the cheese,’ the professor asked. ‘Ten bucks.’ ‘Yeah, not worth it,’ he made the call.
I spent the rest of the evening clutching my belly from the gut bomb I’d consumed. Some things are just worth the money.