Posts Tagged ‘Zia’

I hate the words dago, wop, guido, etc.  People in this country toss these words around quite casually and so I wasn’t always aware of how hurtful or degrading they can be.  When I was 8 or 9, the neighbor’s daughter walked past our house and called me a dago bitch.  I asked my mother what that meant.  Now I am an adult and realize the irony of the situation.  Our neighbor’s daughter was a female dog of Italian descent.  But there is a difference between being Italian and being of Italian descent.  And if you use words like dago and wop, you aren’t Italian.

Zia brought over some homemade prosciutto the other day and I like to pair it up with fresh pineapple.   It’s even better than with cantaloupe.

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Well it seems like the press has been beating down my door and begging for more!  Thank you for your compliments on my writing and for having confidence in me to continue.  I admit, I’ve been up against a writer’s block lately, but today I will attempt to scale that wall and the only way to do something is by starting with the first step.

I had a wonderful holiday weekend.  How about you?

Sunday morning Yim and I got up early, packed a picnic lunch and headed north to Butler County.  We hiked a 3 mile loop, Kildoo Trail, in McConnell’s Mill State Park before heading east to the South Shore of Lake Arthur in Moraine State Park.  There we laid our blanket in the grass and enjoyed deli sandwiches, cantaloupe, blueberries, strawberries, nectarines and sparkling mineral water.  After lunch we took the plunge into Lake Arthur and swam for a while.

Leaving the park we passed a sign next to an old barn and farm-house that read “Garage Sale”.  Woohoo!  Why not go to the first garage sale of the season in Butler County?  Yim found two roasters, sized large and medium, priced to sell separately.  He bargained for the set, the seller dropped her price and away we went with roasting pans perfect for the winter holidays or a family meal.  Zia will be envious!

On the drive home we took the secondary road through Zelienople and parked to take a stroll up and down their main drag.  Lucky us, we discovered the The Strand, which is where we will be next Friday night!

Back at home, Lord Mycol was finally rested from his hard work the night before and he was able to join us for our cookout.  We had grilled steaks and corn-on-the-cob.  There was no dessert because I’d been too tempted earlier and pulled over for a Dairy Queen dipped cone.  Sorry, Lord Mycol!

On Monday, having entirely enjoyed our Sunday, we got back down to business.  We pulled out the ladders, the scrapers, the wire brushes, the primer, the hammer and the screwdriver.  We put on our gloves and began to work.  One window and one door are scraped, cleaned and primed and ready for caulking.  Two other windows are now scraped and cleaned and ready for primer.  It was a good amount of work to accomplish before the thunderstorm shut us down.  No matter, though, as it was time to wash up and have an early dinner.  We had a lovely salad with our meal made with our homegrown lettuces and radishes, simply dressed with olive oil and salt; delicious!

What a fantastic weekend!  I am so excited about June, as I have a list of goals as long as I am tall to get started towards and the weather has promised to behave just the way I like it to.

What are your goals for the season?

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Well, yesterday was a glorious day.  Yim and I had Prantl’s burnt almond torte for breakfast with coffee.  It was left over from Yim‘s birthday celebration on Tuesday.  After breakfast we ran a couple of errands together.  We went to Home Depot for anchors and to Market District for lunch meat, rolls, Gerolsteiner and . . . Kennywood tickets!  (Yimmy loves it when I refer to Giant Eagle as Market District!  But, hey, my friend Alyssa calls it Hot Man Mecca!)

While I made a picnic lunch for us, Yimmy re-mounted my mailbox on the front of the house.  I’d given the mailbox a shiny new coat of black paint.  Incidentally, the mail has already come today, and the mailman opened the screen door and dropped the mail inside again, without any notice whatsoever of my newly painted and mounted box.

Once the chores were done and the picnic lunch was packed, Yim and I headed out to Kennywood.  The weather was phenomenal; clear, bright blue sky, dry warmth under the sun with wispy high clouds up above and a cool air circulating just enough so that one never felt uncomfortably hot.  The occasion was Yim‘s boy’s school Kennywood day and all three of his boys went there with their mother.  We shared the responsibility with her, trading off between the older and the younger so that everyone had the opportunity to ride.

Throughout the day Yim and I were prone to our own memories of childhood days spent running the park, from ride to ride, with our friends.  We didn’t leave until the park closed at 10pm and when we got home I collapsed on my bed, feeling the same satisfied exhaustion as I did at the end of a day back when I was 9 years old and had spent the hours running, laughing, riding and eating funnel cakes with Elisabeth.  I fell to sleep fast, with physical heaviness but mental levity, dreaming of all good things.

And so it was a great day, but there is more!

Yesterday marked the last day in the house of the Earth sign Taurus, which, other than my own Capricornian sign, I love the most.  It seems that so many of my favorite people have been born under the sign of the Bull:  Zia, Lord Mycol, Yim, and my brother, Rock.  If you follow the philosophy of the stars, it’s no wonder why.  Consider the following:

The Taurus and Capricorn combination is considered to be one of the best astrological combinations. When they unite there is a union of similar and positive creative forces and a subtle but powerful physical attraction. They understand each other’s weaknesses and strengths perfectly and act accordingly. Since both require a certain amount of acknowledgment of their positive qualities they do the same for each other. They fulfill each other emotionally, physically, intellectually and financially. Saturn and Venus the ruling planet of Capricorn and Taurus respectively complement each other. Taurus loves money and Capricorn wants security and sees financial stability as a way of security. Both are practical, sensual and calculative. They believe in hard work and success. So nothing can be better than this!!

Also, yesterday was, indeed, Rock’s birthday.

Before I get into wishing Rock a belated birthday I’d like to point out that I seem to have developed a habit of birthday posting, which puts a new kind of pressure on a person.  I no longer merely have to remember to check the calendar and get a card off in the mail, but now I must come up with some sort of brilliant tribute to the ones I love, lest any of them feel jilted.  This all started with a ridiculously fun post I wrote, a roast post, if you will, for the birthday of Elisabeth’s husband Dag.  It was one of the easiest and most fun things I’ve written to date.  On that day my blog stats reached their highest rating.  This created a two-fold reason to continue writing birthday blogs: 1) so as not to offend the others, hahaha, and 2) to strive towards beating my personal best where my stats are concerned (I’m talking about daily readership, folks).  This week I won some and lost some.  Let me put it to you this way; I beat my personal best on Tuesday, May 18th with “Feelin’ Good”.  That’s right, Dag, my post for Yim surpassed my post for you!  If I were a statistician I’d tell you by what percent.  On the other hand, I failed to put up a post for one of my most cherished Taureans, my brother Rock.  And so, short and late as it may be, without further adieu . . .

I’d like to tell you all the truth about how I feel about my brother.  I used to wish he was a sister!  I remember telling my mother that I wanted a playmate.  In my recollection of the past, like she’d waved a magic wand to grant my wish, the next thing I knew was that she’d gotten herself pregnant with a playmate exclusively for my sake.  Imagine my utter horror when, after months of giddy anticipation, she came home from the hospital with a boy-child!  What had gone wrong?  It went down like this:

One day my mother was so swollen with pregnancy that she could not find the energy to play with me.  I had no one else to play with at all.  I played imaginary games all by myself with my wooden farm set on the coffee table while she lie big on the sofa with heavy eyelids.  Then, in the dark of night in the middle of a spring rain, we had to leave the house.  There was a mild urgency – do you understand that? From the back seat on the way to my grandparents’ house I peered at blurry street lights through the rain drops on the windshield, glowing white, red, yellow, green, intermittently through the slash of the wipers.

It was likely 4 days later when Mummy returned from the hospital.  It was a sunny spring afternoon.  My grandparents lived in a 3 story large Victorian house and my mother came in through the back door to the sun-lit kitchen carrying the swaddled babe.  The excitement and joy expressed by those around me could not befog the circumstance.  There’d been a dirty trick played and this was not my requested playmate.  As I ran up the dramatic staircase in the entry hall, I stopped two-thirds of the way up, stuck my little head over the banister and screamed past the chandelier, “Why didn’t you tell the doctor we wanted a girl?!”

Oh, the follies of youth.  I’d like to tell you now that I would have it no other way than to have my playmate be my brother Rock.  Despite a fight here and there we got along marvelously.  I love him so much.

In the winter time when we were confined to playing indoors a lot, we used to take his crib mattress and prop it against the bedroom wall.  We mimicked Muhammed Ali and Leon Spinks, sparring with the mattress, fancy-footing around the room and sticking our faces in the mist from the humidifier for the dramatic effect of profuse sweating.

We have been playing together since he could walk and talk and the fun has never come to an end.  There is only one person in the world who really understands what my childhood experience was all about and that is him.  And vice versa.

Still, I did dress him up as a girl and call him Rebecca for about 4 years, until Mummy made me stop.  There is photographic evidence to support this claim.  I suppose you’re wondering which years, as from 12 to 16 would be rather strange, huh?  Don’t worry, he was hardly big enough to defend himself.

I called my brother yesterday and wished him a Happy Birthday and he told me it was his second best to date, the first best being the day he was actually born.  I am so glad his wishes came true.  He met one of his idols, Dave Matthews, who, ironically, shares his birthday with mine.  You see how Taureans and Capricorns love each other?  Rock and his wife, Luvy, were granted a backstage audience (with photos) with Dave, Tim Reynolds and Jane Goodall before enjoying the show up close.  An ecstatic experience for my brother and I am happy for him.

Happy Birthday, Rock!  I love you, brother!

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Pick Me Up

Two weeks ago I made strawberry tiramisu for Zia’s birthday.  Click the link for the recipe.  It tasted great and I didn’t use any high fructose corn syrup!  Here’s how it looked . . .

The plastic forks were used to hold the plastic wrap above the strawberries.

I know one person who is salivating enviously, but I shall not name any names!  If you think you are the one, let me know in comments and if you are right, I’ll confirm.   😉

Then, for Lord Mycol’s birthday, I made a lemon cloud tart with blackberry compote.

I’ve always loved making desserts.  In fact, I learned to bake before I learned to cook, however, neither of the desserts shown here require any baking!

Maybe you made something yummy for your mummy today?  I hope so!

Happy Mother’s Day to all of the dedicated moms in the world today!

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There is no love sincerer than the love of food. — Shaw

Yim and I talk about food a lot.  After all, he is the Food Vigilante.  We talk about the foods we love, the foods we are growing, the foods we grew up eating, and the junk we see people consuming everyday.  We talk about the home cooked meals we were raised on, prepared by frugal mothers with cooking skills.  There was no microwave in our kitchen.  We talk about the slender stature of nearly everyone when we were young, particularly the men.  In all of the old photos, the men were skinny relative to today’s standard male.  Today, I can sit on a park bench and watch the masses go by and wonder at their health.  They hobble along, lumbering on their swollen ankles.  They smoke with one hand and drink a 12 ounce can of corn syrup with the other.  Their bellies lead the way and there is no baby due.

These days, I feel lucky to have been raised by a family with farming sense.  For them, farming sense translated to food sense, which translates to health.  And though health is the ultimate objective, the bonus is that whole foods taste so much better than anything you could possible concoct in a laboratory, and they are a pleasure to work with.  You just have to learn how to prepare them, because it’s not as simple as peeling the top off of a Styrofoam bowl, adding water and popping it in the microwave for 3 minutes.  I happen to love the process of cooking from beginning to end.  When I am in the kitchen cooking, I always consider how wonderful the colors of the vegetables are (that’s my sense of vision kicking in).  I consider how everything feels; the weight of the vegetables or fruit, the grains of rice, the dry beans, the fleshy meat or fish.  Whatever it is, I consider the feel of it (there’s my sense of touch).  I consider the smell; the crisp smell of a cucumber or bell pepper when you slice it, the pungency of an onion, the oils released from the garlic.  All of my senses begin to engage and prepare my body to eat and absorb everything it can in the way of nutrition from these whole foods that are from the same planet as I am from.  Unfortunately, for people who don’t cook, life can find a way even when it’s fed on junk.  Furthermore, it seems that the body adapts to whatever it is fed regularly and begins to send warning signals to the brain when changes are detected by the senses.  For instance, so many children have become picky eaters because their brains go haywire when healthy food is placed on the tongue.  You can see the repulsion on their little faces.  They don’t know what to do besides cry and spit – surely they won’t swallow – because their receptors are getting high on vitamins and minerals absorbed through the tongue and it’s a shock to the system every time because they are accustomed to eating melted cardboard for dinner.  Seriously, try putting cardboard in their mouths and you’ll get no reaction.  So these picky eaters potentially become adults – some you may know – who refuse to eat anything different.  Green vegetables?  NO WAY!  Nothing green other than iceberg lettuce.  Medium rare steak?  You must be nuts; they want it burnt.  Sushi?  What are you, crazy?  Listen, folks; I have tasted green vegetables and they are better than corn!  I have had my steak both well-done and medium rare and guess what?  Medium rare is a lot tastier, not to mention easier to chew.  And sushi?  Sushi tastes less like fish than cooked fish!  It is fresh and clean tasting.  Could 128 million Japanese people be wong?  I mean, wrong?  Why wouldn’t you try it?

In light of these sentiments and in the style of the Pioneer Woman, I’d like to share with you a series of photos I took while cooking dinner the other night.  This is typical of the meals I like, which is to say that they nearly always involve chopped vegetables sautéed in olive oil.  I only cook with First Cold Press Extra Virgin Olive Oil and I use onions and garlic in almost every dish.

This meal started with these organic chicken sausages that were in my refrigerator.  I’d gotten them on sale, because otherwise they are too damn expensive, and realized at the last minute that day that they were still in my refrigerator and needed to be used or thrown out.

I decided to make a sausage, onion and pepper saute, which I would then serve with red beans and rice.  Yim and I had the best red beans and rice in Puerto Rico and have made them frequently since that trip.

Preparing the red beans (kidney beans) and rice was a little more detailed.  First, since I didn’t do an overnight soak for these dry beans, I had to bring them to a boil and simmer them for almost 2 hours.

I chopped up about 5 pieces of bacon and started it in a cold pan.

Once the bacon was crispy and the fat had been rendered, I threw in chopped onions, garlic and red bell pepper.

I mixed the spices; salt, cumin, and Spanish smoked paprika, with bay leaves and tomato paste.  ZP brought this tube of tomato paste from Italy for me, so don’t try to find it at the Piggly Wiggly.  Those bay leaves are also from Italy, but you can get them anywhere.

Somehow I missed the shot of the spices and the brown rice added to the saute pan, but that is what I did.  I let it cook for a few minutes and then added hot water.  I brought it to a boil, then reduced to a simmer and covered to cook for about an hour and a half.  The brown rice takes a bit longer than the white.  The point is just to get all of the liquid absorbed.

And voila!  Dinner is served and it is made entirely from fresh, whole, nutritious ingredients.  I hope that I have inspired you to eat better, cook from scratch more often and to try new things.

The discovery of a new dish does more for the happiness of man than the discovery of a star. — Brillat-Savarin

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Buon Compleanno, Zia!

To honor Zia on this day of her birth, I would like to say a few things about her character.

Ask anyone who knows our family, “Who has the biggest heart?” and they will tell you it is Zia.  She never had children of her own to share her love with, but she has dispensed her unconditional love on me, Rock, and Lord Mycol.

She plays better with children than anyone I’ve ever seen before – she enters the world of make-believe and connects with the spirit of the child.  No wonder she was always my favorite aunt.

She loves to dance and has light rhythm in her petite feet.  She used to have the most marvelous variety of high-heeled shoes and I can only imagine her dancing away the night in them.

She was born in an American camp for Italian refugees in the deep south of Italy.  Born into struggle, she has the strongest character and never suffers the pitfalls of a low self-esteem.  Because of her strength, she has no need to utter biting words towards others.  She is always kind and giving.

She is the caregiver of the family.  She dedicated much of her life to taking care of her parents, me and my son.  She gladly cooks and cleans for you – her maternal instincts – it is one way she shows her affection and she knows it is appreciated.

She embraces her heritage, loves the opera and tango music.  She can laugh with all her heart at your jokes and she has a quick wit for humor herself.

She doesn’t pronounce ‘H’ at the beginning of a word.  For instance, ‘Howard’ becomes ‘Oward’ or ‘hang’ becomes ‘ang’.  But she puts an ‘H’ in front of words where it doesn’t belong.  ‘Apple’  becomes ‘happle’.  And so . . . “Do you ave any happles?”  leads to gales of laughter and iperhactivity.  She says ‘her’ ‘are’, and ‘worm’ ‘warm’.  She doesn’t like it if you spend too much time ‘ting-a-ring’ around.  But hall you ave to do is talk to are in are hown language, hand she will laugh hout loud.

She knows all the old movie stars and could have been in pictures herself.  She could’ve been a spy, the way she can talk to anyone comfortably.

She was the style maven of the family, with closets full of fun clothes and jewelry boxes filled to the brim.

She is an example of loyalty, honesty, strength and love that is much needed in any family.  I am blessed that she is a part of mine.

And on top of all of that, she is beautiful and sexy, too.

Happy Birthday, Zia!  You are always Number One in my heart.

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Italian Potato Dumplings

The main event the day before Easter was the gnocchi.  Gnocchi has long been a favorite dish in our family, made ever more desirable by the fact that it takes a day of labor to provide the hungry with about a half an hour of devouring the scrumptious dumplings until they are but a memory one is left longing for until the next time.

(Are you tired of Easter posts already?  Well, life takes precedent over writing a daily journal, uploading photos to share, and organizing said journal and photos into a comprehensive article that can be shared with the interested and dearly loved.  Certainly the dearly loved still anticipate a recap of the holiday, yes?)

Zia got started early at her own place and then UB chauffeured her down to the Estate where she continued to work.

For those who don’t know, gnocchi are Italian potato dumplings.  Here Zia is removing the skins from the boiled potatoes.  It is essential to use a good potato like an Idaho.  Nonna always insisted upon “eee-da-ho patate.”  Speaking of Nonna, all of my life I can remember yearning for her gnocchi, but you know, as with any pasta dish, it is the sauce that makes or breaks it.  Without a good sauce, you cannot clinch the blue ribbon.  Fortunately, Zia mastered the sauce before Nonna died and we are still able to enjoy our traditional Italian dishes just the way she used to make them.  Also, while Zia made the gnocchi we all conversed about Nonna and Tata.  When we are all together and collectively remembering them and talking about them, that is exactly when they are still with us.  And why wouldn’t they be?  In my opinion, that is the meaning of eternal life; i.e., that when you have lived, laughed, and loved well, you will live on as long as the lives you touched are still feeling the effects of your existence.

When Nonna was alive, she taught me to make gnocchi.  Zia taught Rock to make gnocchi.  But if Zia is around and there is gnocchi to be made, you’ll be lucky if she lets you help.  Yim asked her to teach him for my birthday dinner, but she mainly made him watch!  This time, though, she put Luvy to work.

Once the potatoes have cooled and are peeled, they are pushed through a ricer.

On the night that Luvy went into labor with Rockwell, we were all together at their house.  That day, while Luvy and Rock were at work, Zia, Mummy, and I made gnocchi.  We were sure that baby was going to come sometime soon and we were in a celebratory mood.  By the time Luvy got home from work the table was set with heaping bowls of gnocchi ready to be eaten.  But Luvy went straight to her room to lie down.  By the time Rock got home from work and checked on her, she was moaning in pain.  Rock came out of their bedroom and announced that we’d better eat quick.  That little baby smelled our gnocchi and was trying to push his way out.  Of course Zia let Gnocchi Rocky help, as well.

Once the dumplings were made there was time to relax, regroup, and do the dishes.  Rockwell watched a video while the womenfolks set the table.

The day stretched on towards mealtime and we gathered to the feast.

When Zia and I host an Italian Ladies Social Club get-together, we should make gnocchi.  But half of the members are going dairy-free vegan on me.  I may be forced to serve lettuce and wine.

After dinner the menfolk sat around looking at YouTube while the gals colored Easter eggs with Rockwell.

A late evening banana makes for a good night’s sleep for little Rockwell.

And everyone dreamt of the baskets filled with chocolate goodies the Easter bunny would leave that night.

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