Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Ghost Story

My daughter, Nikki, works for an attorney.

The job's pretty good.  She gets a decent salary.  She goes downtown every day.  The work is sort of interesting and the attorney's not a bad guy.  The only pain-in-the-ass she has in her life is one of her co-workers.

We've all been there.  I don't have the heart to tell her that as soon as you get rid of one, another will just crop up in her place.  It's like they're ordered from the Batshit-Crazy Co-worker Factory, on special.

This particular piece-of-work eats off-season Peeps for breakfast, wears clothes that tell you where she's from in Indiana, whistles, talks about her three ex-husbands constantly, and mouths off to the boss.  Pretty standard issue.  On top of it all, she has a bizarre name.  I can't tell you what it is, for legal reasons, but I will tell you that:
  1. It rhymes;
  2. It's hilariously descriptive.
And it's not even her maiden name.  It's, like, the name of her second ex-husband.  She CHOSE to keep the name, which tells me that this woman may have some redeeming qualities after all.

One day Nikki was telling me a story about work.  A bunch of "the girls" were sitting around the lunchroom, talking about lasagna or something, when suddenly Miss Congeniality piped in with, "I don't believe in ghosts."(?)  She proceded to descibe a creepy event that happened back in her trailer park in Indiana that - she is sure - had nothing to do with ghosts.  Because, you know, only stupid people believe in ghosts.  And on and on, until everybody remembered they had some work to do.

So I said to Nikki, "Oh, yeah?  Did you tell her about The Veal Marsala from Beyond?"

She didn't, because that would have prolonged the agony.  But I defy anybody to tell me they don't believe in ghosts after hearing this story:

Once, about twenty years ago, I was sitting around the house, when my neighbor Ruthie called me.  "I need your veal marsala recipe."

"Hold on," I said and went to grab my favorite Italian cookbook.  Only my favorite Italian cookbook wasn't there.  "Let me call you back."

I turned the house upside down every-which-way-to-Tuesday.  No cookbook.  This is the out-of-print, published by Culinary Arts Institute of Chicago in 1954, best-marinara-recipe-ever, book that my father-in-law had given me.  A little pamphlet of a thing.  And the freaking motherlode of Italian recipes.

It was gone.

I looked everywhere.  I scoured the basement.  I called my brother-in-law and accused him of taking it.  I tried to find a used copy on the Internet.  No go.  Niente.  Zip.

Then, a few months later, I was visiting my grandfather, sitting in his kitchen.  Suddenly I flashed that I had given the book to my grandmother for the stufoli recipe a few months before she died.  Could it be?  I ran over to the bookshelf where she had kept her cookbooks, and searched.  And searched.  Looked at very single book.  Not there.

I went back to the kitchen.  I sat down again, and that's when I heard The Voice.  Right in my ear.  It was my grandmother's voice.  Like she was standing next to me.  And she said, "Go and look again, you idiot."

My grandmother was one of these legendary Sicilian nonnas that most people only know about from scary Mafia movies.  People like her rule their worlds with an iron hand and must be obeyed, even after they're having dinner with Elvis.  So I got up, went back to the bookshelf, picked up the first cookbook I saw, opened it, and...

...there it was.  My cookbook.  Stuck in between the pages.

I'm telling you, these women are so powerful they can - and will - reach across dimensions to make sure you get the veal marsala right.

Veal Marsala from Beyond
In a big skillet, one that you have a lid for, brown some garlic in about 1/4 cup of olive oil.  In a deep plate, put a cup of flour seasoned with salt and pepper.  Dip some veal cutlets in the flour and fry them in the oil.  In a bowl, mix:  1/4 cup of Marsala wine, 1/4 cup of water, chopped parsley, salt, and pepper.  Pour it over the veal and cover the skillet.  Cook on very low heat until the veal is tender, about 20 minutes.  Add a little more water if it gets too thick.

So there you go, Ms. Skanky Pants, bane of my daughter's professional existence.  Just because nobody's bothering to contact YOU from beyond (to make sure you get the purple Peeps), doesn't mean they're not out there.  It just means they don't want to talk to you.

I'm lucky.  I've got a ghost that not only knows how to cook Italian, but who also knows I'm an idiot.

More like an angel than a ghost.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

St. Anthony's Day

I hope you had a nice St. Anthony's Day. 

St. Anthony is the Staccato household's patron saint.  The main reason is that my husband, Anthony, was born on St. Anthony's day, June 13th.  This is something that would be obvious to many Italians.  It's how my mother got to be named Udenzia, poor lady.  I managed to escape the cycle, because I was breach and my mother's first child, so she was in a state of shock and she was on a lot of drugs which they give you if you really raise hell (recommended).  So, while she was hallucinating, I was named Connie instead of Frances.  Okay with me.

I've noticed that it's not a hard-and-fast rule, though.  There aren't many guys out there named "Blessed Waldo", which is what you get if you're a New Year's baby and your father is really hungover.

The other reason that St. Anthony is our patron saint is that he's done us a few favors.  His superpower is finding things.  You want something found, you say:

St. Anthony, St. Anthony
Please look around.
Something's been lost
And cannot be found.

Then St. Anthony finds you what you were looking for.  I'm convinced that he's the reason my son Nino found a job in Boston, after narrowly escaping a job offer in Memphis, and if you've ever had a cannoli from Mike's in Boston, you know why St. Anthony is worthy of our devotion.

We celebrate June 13th.  A prayer of thanks to the good saint for rescuing me from a future of chicken fried steak.  And some birthday treats for my husband.  He got his usual calzone (recipe here), and I also made him a nice pesto out of my very own basil plants.  Lucky bastard.
Don't eat this if you're planning to kiss anyone but your own children.

Toast about a half a cup of pine nuts in the oven.  Just a few minutes, and watch them, or they'll burn.  In a blender or a food processor put the pine nuts, 2 cups (packed) of fresh basil leaves, 2 cloves of raw garlic, a half a cup of grated Parmesan or Romano cheese, and a half a cup of olive oil.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Blend.

You can toss the pesto with pasta or use it for a pizza, but why?  All you need is some good Italian bread, some cheese, a sliced tomato, and some wine.  Maybe a little vintage Dino crooning on your stereo for ambience.

You've found the perfect summer dinner.  Thank you, St. Anthony.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Grand Gesture

My husband, Anthony, is the master of - among a few other things - something we call in our house, "The Grand Gesture."

Here's an example of how The Grand Gesture works, with the English translation:

"Here, have the last meatball."  (Translation:  "I want to eat the last meatball, but I would feel like a total dick if I just scarfed it down without asking.  Though I thought about it.")


"Go ahead!"  (Translation:  "Shit!")  "Take it."  (Translation:  "Say no.")

"You don't want it?"

"You take it."  (Translation:  "Say no.")

"No, that's okay."

"Are you sure?"  (Translation:  "Your caboose is as wide as a barn, for chrissakes.  You don't need another meatball.")

"I'm sure."

"Go ahead and take it..."  (Translation:  "Please say no.")

And so on.  Until I swear on the madonna that I don't want the last meatball, after which he is free to scarf it down, guilt free.

Or is it?  Obviously, since I've lived with Anthony for over thirty years, I know he wants the last meatball.  He knows I know it.  But he's got to make the Grand Gesture, to keep up appearances.  Usually, I just say no at the get-go and have another glass of wine.

The term "Grand Gesture" was added to our household vocabulary by one of our roommates (back in the day before the kids), also an Italian.  Italians generally have a low tolerance for bullshit, but this one votes Republican, so go figure.

My kids act in opposite ways when faced with the last meatball and a Grand Gesture.  My son, Nino, will cave, but not without an eye-roll.  My daughter, Nikki, will heartlessly eat it.  So refreshing.

Just so you know what the fuss is about, here's a recipe for meatballs.  Everybody's got their own.  This one is from my father-in-law.  Updated by me.  We don't put them in the sauce.  I've got another recipe for doing that.  We just fry them and eat them "on the side".

Take a couple of pounds of ground meat.  I usually get a "meatloaf mix" of veal, beef, and pork.  Sometimes you can only find it beef/pork.  It's all good so don't worry about it.  Put the meat in a big bowl.  Add about a half a cup of grated cheese (Romano's good), 3 eggs, a half a cup of milk, a clove (or two) of crushed garlic, 2 teaspoons of beef bouillon, a teaspoon of salt, a half a teaspoon each of black pepper and dried basil, and some chopped parsley.  Not take six slices of bread, hold them under running water for a few seconds and then squeeze the water out of then (they get all pasty).  Put the bread in the bowl with the rest of the stuff and mix real good with your hands.  Form into balls and fry in olive oil.  My father-in-law liked to flatten them out a little, because he said they cook better.  You can also make meatloaf with this mixture.  Or burgers.  Or stuff a pepper with it.  Or mushrooms.  It's magic.

Just make sure you let your husband have the last one.

That way, you see, he owes you.