Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Holidays Mean Trouble (part 8 - by Margaret Ullrich)

    “A holiday and you won’t be eating here,”  Ma repeated softly while she cleared the table. 

    Ma breathed a sigh of relief as she carried the plates to the kitchen.  Liz had just told her, in front of everybody, that there was going to be a holiday and that she would be eating all she wanted someplace else.  What this had to do with mothers was still a mystery to Ma.  

    But, to be honest, it didn't matter.  Liz would be eating somewhere else.  Someone else would have to feed Liz.  Someone else would have to clean up after Liz. 

    Mother’s Day was not a special day for my Ma.  They really didn’t celebrate it in Malta.  For the first five years she had lived in America she saw it on the calendar.  She regarded it in the same way in which she regarded Hanukkah or Chinese New Year’s.  It was just one of those things that other people celebrated in America.  She hoped the folks who celebrated it enjoyed it.  But she firmly believed that she didn't have to do anything about it just because it was on the calendar. 

    Liz was going to eat holiday food somewhere else.

    Suddenly Ma saw the value, the absolute need, for American holidays.  

    When Ma returned, she decided she wanted to circle the date of this wonderful holiday which she could basically ignore, kitchenwise.  “Hmm...  Liz...  Liz...”  Aunt Liz stopped chewing and smiled at Ma.  “This Mother’s Day Brunch.  When is it?”  

    Liz swallowed.  “Why, on Mother’s Day, of course.”  

    Liz searched through the bowl for another nut, then paused before crushing a Brazil nut.  Suddenly she realized something about her new in-law.  She decided she needed to be absolutely clear for Ma's benefit.  “The second Sunday in May.  You’re joking, right?  I couldn’t believe it when Charlie said Maltese don’t have Mother’s Day.”

    Liz put down her Brazil nut.  “You DO know you’re supposed to do something, don’t you?  You ARE doing something special for Mother’s Day, aren’t you?”

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Carmela Soprano's Pizza Rustica, Anna Sultana's Ricotta Torte (Ricotta Pie, Maltese Style)

Don't get excited.  This isn't your usual When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie pizza.  This is more like a cheese pie.  Sort of a quiche.  With a lattice top crust like a cherry pie.  Like Americans have for Presidents' Day.  It's traditional to make Pizza Rustica for Easter.  Warn the kids.
If you didn't know, "pizza" means pie.  Yeah, it is silly to say "pie pie", but everyone knows what you mean, so don't worry about it.  Keep saying "pizza pie".  Nobody cares.

Carmela's Pizza Rustica is not exactly what the doctor ordered if you have a cholesterol problem.  Frankly, sometime's Carmela's recipes are more deadly than what Tony and the boys do to people they've decided should be sleeping with the fishes.  And if Carmela's always using traditional recipes, it's no wonder the guys look the way they do.  

Her pie crust is a killer: shortening, butter and eggs.  If you're trying to cut the fat, if not the cheese, go to my pie crust recipe.  That'll make for a lighter bottom crust.  It'll be our secret. 

But then there's Carmela's filling.  Okay... ricotta's safe.  But, then she throws in eggs, romano, mozzarella, ham, prosciutto and soppressata (salami).  In an aside, Carmela added:    

You can substitute other meats or cheese as you prefer, like capicola (gobagool), cooked sausage, mild pepperoni, provolone, etc.  Some people add sliced hard-cooked eggs too.

You get the picture.  What's nice to know is that this artery buster can be stored in the refrigerator, covered, up to 3 days.

Ma's Ricotta Torte is lighter and simpler.  No meat.  No hard-cooked eggs.

I'll stick to that.

It's traditional.

But still, remember to warn the kids.

Another recipe down.  Sixty-nine more to go.     

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Holidays Mean Trouble (part 7 - by Margaret Ullrich)

    Liz told Ma, “Annie, the lamb you made today was very good.”  Aunt Demi snorted.  Ma looked nervous.  Demi's snorting meant more than a sinus condition.

    Wanting to score a few more points with her new husband's sister, Aunt Liz smiled and explained the finer points of American haute cuisine.  “My family always had baked ham for Easter.  Without garlic.  Baked ham is traditional in America.  It’s easier, Annie.”  Aunt Demi snorted again.

    Ma winced.  She knew Liz didn’t mean any harm.  ‘Annie’ was a proper American name.  Ma’s name, Annetta, was Maltese for Anne.  She knew Americans often added ‘ie’ to the end of the beginning part of friends’ names.  Her friend Deborah had asked her to call her ‘Debbie’.

    But, in Malta, family and close friends used the last part of names.  Ma was used to being called ‘Netta’.  She didn’t want to cause a problem for her brother Charlie.  She just wished his wife would call her ‘Netta’.   

    Aunt Demi took upon herself the heavy responsibility of explaining the finer points of Maltese haute cuisine.  “Easier is not the point of a holiday.  Hmmph.  For a holiday you kill yourself making something that’s too much trouble.  Like the kannoli I made for today.  Then everybody knows they have to eat a lot of it, whether they want to or not.  Eh...  Then you know you had a holiday.”  

    Liz considered this bit of Maltese culture and cracked another walnut.  Satisfied that she had done her job as the family matriarch, Demi went back to her crocheting.  

    Then Liz made her big announcement.  “Annie, your brother Charlie’s such a sweetheart!  He’s taking my Mom and me out to Club Safari for a Mother’s Day Brunch.  Annie, why don’t you come with us?”

    “What’s a brunch?”  Ma knew that Liz loved to talk about food almost as much as she loved to eat it.

    “Why, a brunch is a magnificent spread of scrambled eggs, chicken livers, Eggs Benedict, sausages, golden French toast, English muffins and an iced fresh fruit tray.”  Liz’s eyes grew moist.  “There’ll be a crumb-topped Smithfield ham to be savored in thin, thin slices with hot buttered biscuits and corn bread.”

    Aunt Demi was not impressed.  “Waste of money to eat out.  What kind of people eat food that a stranger cooked?”

    Liz was deep in Mother's Day Brunchland.  In an ecstatic daze, she continued, “We can help ourselves to everything and eat all we want.”  Then she added what was to her the cherry on her Mother’s Day celebration cake.  

    “We’ll be there all day.”

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Carmela Soprano's Sfingi, Anna Sultana's Zfineg ta San Guzepp, St. Joseph's Day Doughnuts

In North America St. Patrick gets all the Hallmark cards, parades, beer and press.  But, for the rest of Europe, March 17 is just another day.  And, in Italy and Malta, March 19 is the feast of St. Joseph, and that's when everybody celebrates.  Big time.


I looked through the holiday section of Entertaining with The Sopranos.  There it was, in black and white.  St. Joseph's Day.  Sfingi.  And, in tiny print under that, St. Joseph's Day Zeppole.

The Sopranos and the Sultanas are one.

Okay.  If you've never had a Sfingi/Zfineg, it's a tiny ball of puff pastry which is fried like a doughnut ball, split open and stuffed with a ricotta and candied citron filling.  The filling is strictly for St. Joseph's Day.  As it's explained in Entertaining with The Sopranos

If it is not St. Joseph's Day, you can just shake these, without the filling, in a bag with cinnamon sugar and serve them like donuts.

No kidding.  Do not fill a Sfingi/Zfineg if it is not St. Joseph's Day.  Hey.  We're talking religion.  It doesn't have to make sense.  It just has to follow the rules and be done right.  Even for Tony and the boys, some things are sacred.

There's a Maltese doughnut recipe called Zeppoli ta san Guzepp.  Don't get excited.  It's fried choux pastry balls filled with a sweet rikotta filling coated in honey and nuts.  You get the idea.  St. Joseph equals fried dough with a creamy filling.

I always thought, with all the stress on St. Joseph's doughnuts, that he would be the perfect patron saint for Canada.  I mean, we Canadians love our donuts,  eh.  I checked.  St. Anne is the patron of Canada.  It's like the filling.  We're talking religion.  It doesn't have to make sense.  It just has to follow the rules and be done right.

It was really springlike for the first half of the week and we were enjoying long walks.  Walks are great, but they take time.  I didn't have time for recipes from Entertaining with The Sopranos.  

Then, on Thursday, it was back to winter weather.  But Paul and I still had to go out.  His cartoon 'The Bicycle Lesson' had won an award.  (copy and paste to see it) 
A prestigious award.  He had been written up in 'The Times'.  The Community paper and flyers hadn't been delivered in our neighborhood for a while and Paul wanted copies.  So we walked over the the Free Press building. 

When we got home we were freezing.
Carmela to the rescue.  Hot Buttered Rum.
She called it a classic.  Just the thing for a Winnipeg winter day.
It's in the book, so I'm counting it.

Another two recipes down.  Seventy more to go.

Here is a baked Sfingi recipe, if you'd rather not fry doughnuts.

Here's Bobby's recipe for Zeppole in his chapter If I Couldn't Eat, I'd F**king Die in Artie Bucco's The Sopranos Family Cookbook.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Holidays Mean Trouble (part 6 - by Margaret Ullrich)

    It got quiet.  Aunt Demi then decided a few comments on Ma’s cooking were necessary.  Just to liven things up.  

    “Netta, I have to say.  Food here doesn’t taste the same like food at home.  My Mama had a recipe for fenek bit-tewm.  Oh, the taste.  Ask my brother.  Maybe he still remembers how it’s supposed to taste.” 
    Cut to the quick, Ma ran to fetch her cookbook muttering,  “What’re you talking about?  I made her fenek bit-tewm last month.  You and Liz were here.”   

    Ma flipped through the battered and stained notebook.  Finally she found the recipe and showed it to Aunt Demi.  

    Aunt Demi scanned the page.  “This is her recipe?” 
    “Sure.  Exact.”  Aunt Demi examined the ingredients. “You didn’t scrimp?  Twelve cloves?”
    “I can count.”

    Aunt Demi shut the book and set it down.  “You made fenek.  Fine.  But you didn’t put enough garlic in it.”  

    Liz picked up the cookbook, flipped through it and asked, “Was that the rabbit stew with a lot of garlic?”  
    Aunt Demi sighed.  “Liz, for you, that was a lot of garlic.  The recipe is called fenek bit-tewmBIT-TEWM.  With garlic.  Hmmph...  I couldn’t taste the garlic.”

    Ma smiled and said, “Isn’t it funny.  I didn’t have any leftovers.  Demi, correct me if I’m wrong, but you had three helpings.”
    Aunt Demi muttered, “I didn’t want to hurt your feelings,” and went back to her crocheting.

    Softly Ma said, “Maybe there’s something wrong with your mouth.”  
    Aunt Demi heard her.  “Hmmph.  I taste fine.  The fenek didn’t.” 

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Carmela Soprano's Octopus Salad, Anna Sultana's Qarnit Stew (Octopus stew, Maltese Style)

There are signs and then there are signs.

Last week we saw that Turner Classics was showing It Came from Beneath the Sea, a dandy 1955 Sci-Fi film about a giant octopus that attacked San Francisco.  Imagine how it would've looked in 3D.

Anyhow, I remembered that Ma sometimes made Qarnit Stew.  Qarnit is Maltese for octopus.  I flipped through Entertaining with The Sopranos to see if Carmela fed Tony and the gang any octopus.  Carmela goes the salad route with octopus.

Well, it is Lent and we should eat some seafood.

Okay... here I ran into trouble.  Carmela lives in New Jersey.  Near the ocean.  No problem for her to get octopus.  Fulton Fish Market is on the way home from work for Tony.   

Try telling the fellow behind the fish counter at either Safeway or Sobey's in Winnipeg, Manitoba, that you want an octopus.  I mean, we are in the prairies.  Wheat we got.  Polar bears we got.  Beluga whales we got.

Octopus gets you funny looks.  Especially if you have gray hair.

I browsed through the frozen food's fish section and found something called Seafood Combination.  I saw the picture.  It had octopus tentacles.  Okay... good enough.

Carmela Soprano's Octopus Salad is a pretty easy recipe.  A green salad topped with bite-sized pieces of cooked octopus.  Either salad or stew, the octopus gets cooked a good long time.  I cooked the Seafood Combination.  I made the salad with the Seafood Combination.  I served the salad.

Then I played 20 questions.

Paul poked at his salad.  "What's in this?"
"What kind of fish?"
"Fish.  You know... fish."
Paul got a little testy.  "Okay. I recognize the shrimp and the clams.  What's the rest of this stuff?"
"Oh, for the love of Mike."  I went to the garbage, fished out the bag and read, "Mussels.  Happy now, Sherlock?"
"What else?"
"Cuttlefish," I read.
Paul started to smell a rat.  "What else?"
The jig was up.  I gulped and muttered, "Squid and octopus."

I don't know if it was the squid or the octopus that got to him that night.  Either way, there was a fair amount of leftovers. 

Most of the fish Ma grew up with aren't available in Queens, New York.  Things like lampuki, vopi, cerna, dott, accola, sargu and dentici.  We ate a lot of bluefish, some of it fresh from Sheep's Head Bay.  Ma fried, poached, grilled and baked fish.  No problem getting us to eat fish.  We liked bluefish.  But then, sometimes, she made Qarnit Stew.

Then we'd play 20 questions with her.   

Another recipe down.  Seventy-two more to go.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Holidays Mean Trouble (part 5 - by Margaret Ullrich)

    Ma had had enough of Mrs. Kekelia getting chummy with members of her family.  She started hustling Mrs. Kekelia to the door.  “I’m sure your family is wondering what’s keeping you.  Thank you for Tina’s...  treat.  You should start cooking for your company now.”  

    Shaking Ma off, Mrs. Kekelia turned to me.  “Tina, you come mit us.  Haf such plans.  Take family und see everyting.  Tina, you like see show?”
    Would I!  But, before I could say anything, Ma said, “Tina will be busy” and went back to hustling Mrs. Kekelia away from the table.

    When they got to the door, Mrs. Kekelia had an inspiration.  “You not know ven...”
    “And you don’t know what we’ll be doing in May.  We’re busy.”  And with that, Ma slammed the door on Mrs. Kekelia.  I went to the living room to enjoy the rest of my strudel.

    Aunt Demi looked up from her crocheting and said, “Netta, it was a good idea for you to make the Easter dinner this year.  I have to save my strength.  I’m going to have my time in hell with my sister-in-law.” 
    Liz grabbed a cashew and asked, “Which sister-in-law is that?”
    Aunt Demi dismissed Liz.  “What does it matter to you?  You never met her.”

    Ma grabbed an opportunity to sit.  “Demi, refresh my memory.  Which one is coming?”
    Aunt Demi sighed.  “Eh.  Who else would give me this trouble?  You know,”  Aunt Demi cupped her hand around her nose.  Ma had a good memory.

    Aunt Demi gave a huge sigh.  “With her husband and three boys.  Hmmph.  I have to scrub the house top to bottom.”
    Liz loved company, even when it wasn't hers.  “There’s so much to see...  They’ll have a great time!” 

    Aunt Demi gave Liz a withering, ‘you simple-minded child’ look, sighed and explained, “They’re coming to see family, not to have a great time.”

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Carmela Soprano's Neapolitan Crostini with melon and prosciutto, Anna Sultana's Maltese Style Pickled Onions

Sometimes you just have to go with the flow, you know?

Our local Safeway marks down day-old bread every morning.  Pretty good deal.  Last week they had a large loaf of Italian bread marked down.  Tomatoes and cantaloupes were also on sale.

It was a sign.

I'd made melon and prosciutto before.  No big whoop.  Don't bother buying an Italian cookbook for this one.  Cut the melon into 12 slices, toss the seeds and cut off the skin.  Place 2 slices on a serving plate.  Drape 2 or 3 slices of prosciutto over each pair of melon slices, sprinkle with pepper and garnish with a lemon or lime wedge.

Hey, not everything is as big a bother as Carmela Soprano's Baci Cake.

Back to the Italian bread and tomatoes...  Carmela had a recipe for Neapolitan Crostini.  Another Italian quickie.  It's March and I'm sick of winter so this is as much effort as I'm putting into this project this week.  So sue me.

Okay.  Basically we're talking a broiled tomato and cheese sandwich here.  An easy pizza substitute.  I told you, it's March.  I left the anchovies out of Paul's sandwich.  He doesn't like them.  I wasn't worried about some guys from Tony's gang pounding on the door because I'd left out a lousy anchovie.

If you need measurements, here are the recipes for Carmela Soprano's Neapolitan Crostini and for Carmela's Melon and Prosciutto.

Ma had something even easier than Crostini.  She would cut the Italian bread into large chunks, slice each chunk horizontally, then smear tomato paste on each slice.  Then she'd drizzle some olive oil on the tomato paste, sprinkle some salt and pepper and top with Maltese style pickled onions.  

When I was little I helped Ma make pickled onions.

My earliest memory is of helping Ma at a chipped white enamel table in our back yard.  The yellow jackets buzzed lazily while I peeled onions.  The dry paper skin crackled and fell around my feet.  Ma would gather her skirt between her legs and slowly climb the swaying ladder to the top shelves in the garage.  Then she'd carefully bring down jars she'd saved.  They weren't a pretty matched set.  A pint-sized mayonnaise jar squatted next to a gallon-sized olives jar.
After I'd put the onions in her jars, Ma poured the wine vinegar syrup.  The onions bounced in the bright red liquid.  Then she'd tighten the lids and arrange the jars on the table so that the sun could cook the onions.  There they stood, a monument to the passing summer.   We knew winter was coming when Ma told us to carry the onions to the basement.

During the winter we'd taste summer in those onions when Ma placed them on fresh bread covered with tomato paste and olive oil.  Ma and Pop would remember when they were young, before the war. They would laugh, drink glasses of sweet tea and talk about living on a tiny Mediterranean island where it was always warm.

Sometimes simple is better than fancy.

Another two recipes down.  Yes, I'm counting the melon and prosciutto.  It was in the book.  Seventy-three more to go.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

God speed, Jessie Chudzik

Last Tuesday we attended a Mass of the Resurrection and memorial service for Jessie Chudzik (nee Olbert).

Jessie and her husband Walter, who was an ordained deacon, were very active in our parish.  As Father Mike Koryluk said at Mass, "You looked at Walter, you saw Jessie.  You looked at Jessie, you saw Walter."

We first met Jessie 22 years ago.  She went out of her way to make newcomers to St. Peter's Parish feel welcome.  Paul had volunteered to help at the parish's Bingo game.  Jessie came over and said, "You must be Paul" and gave him a very firm handshake.  We were grateful to her for welcoming us and impressed by her taking the time to notice newcomers.

Jessie's approach to life was expressed in her obituary
Jessie's lifelong fidelity to God and to her Church prompted her to share her time and gifts in so many ways.

That she did through her devotion to her daughters Josephine and Elizabeth and her extended family, and also her work with the Catholic Women's League.  She and Jean Keating were founding members of St. Peter's C.W.L. 

Jessie and Walter also volunteered at nursing homes, and were active in several capacities in Polish "Sokol" C.P.A.C. club.  They also were host and hostess for the Folklorama pavilion for many years.

Jessie loved music and sang in the parish's choir.  She also loved nurturing house plants and continued crocheting, knitting, sewing, reading and attending the opera until her vision failed. 

Last week I mentioned that we've learned a lot over the past year.  Some things we had thought were important, aren't.  Some things we took for granted we now realize are very important.  Things like God, family, our parish community, friends.

Jessie's life was very well lived.  She always stayed focused on what was important.

Thank you, Jessie.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Holidays Mean Trouble (part 4 - by Margaret Ullrich)

Liz was stunned. “You’re joking, right? The costumes, the dancing, the music. You should’ve seen it. Charlie wanted to buy tickets for Peter, you and the kids to come to the show with us. You really should see a live Broadway show once in a while.” Turning to Mrs. Kekelia, Liz continued, “We tried to talk them into coming.”

Mrs. Kekelia nodded, “Tsk. I know. Ich bin ein New Yorker. I see all shows. Dey see notting, go no vere.”
Liz said, “Ain’t that the truth.”
Ma went back to her eternal excuse. “We were working.”
Mrs. Schultz wasn't impressed with Ma's priorities. “Tsk. Alvays mit vorking.”

Aunt Demi didn’t want this talk of Broadway shows to lead her brother Peter and his family into going into Manhattan. Who knew where that could lead? Demi announced, “They saw enough.”

Ma got worried when she saw that Demi had put down her crocheting. She didn't want a real old fashioned fight this Easter. Demi was getting on in years, but she did have her crocheting hook. She could still draw blood. Ma didn't know how she could explain that to Liz. Watching Demi, Ma said, “Grazie but I told my brother to save his money. We saw the best parts. That was enough.”

Liz was really warming up to Mrs. Kekelia. Crushing another nut, Liz told her, “Your family will have a great time. There’s so much to see.”
Nodding, Mrs. Kekelia agreed. “Yah. You und Charlie come mit us. I get tickets. More people, more fun.”
Liz beamed. “We’d love to.”

Aunt Demi huffed and went back to her crocheting.

Glancing at Ma, Mrs. Kekelia smiled and continued, “Und I cook all best recipes. No garlic. You come. I make plenty.” Mrs. Kekelia smiled broadly and patted her stomach. “Ven haf company, I alvays haf extra.”