Sunday, May 30, 2010

Carmela Soprano's Mozzarella in Carozza (Grilled Mozzarella Cheese Sandwiches) and Anna Sultana's sandwiches

Sometimes Carmela's just a Mom, you know.  

Picture it.  Carmela's had a busy housewifey morning hiding a dozen wads of big bills she's just lifted from the locked bird feed container.  Meadow and A. J. come in from playing with their little chums and want some sandwiches.  They're just kids from Jersey, for cryin' out loud.  Jersey.  The good old U.S.A.  

What's more American than a cheese sandwich?

Okay.  According to Entertaining with The Sopranos, Carmela uses mozzarella.  Understandable.  It's always in the fridge.  She dips each sandwich on both sides first in milk, then in flour and finally in beaten eggs before frying them.  Yeah, she would.  She cuts the sandwiches into quarters on the diagonal.  Okay, some kids are picky.  Carmela places the quarters, overlapping slightly, on a warm serving platter.  Then she tops the sandwiches with a lemon anchovy sauce and some parsley.  Give me a break. 

And you wonder why Meadow and A. J. turned out like they did?

Right off the bat, no, Ma did not make grilled cheese sandwiches.  We had cheese sandwiches, sure, but the bread was as it was fresh from the bread bag.  If we wanted them hot, we toasted the bread before we made our sandwiches.

But, thanks to the melting pot that College Point was, I had a grilled cheese sandwich.  I'd been playing at a friend's house and we were hungry.  My pal's Mom was from England and they like to fry things over there.  Okay by me.  It smelled great and was delicious.  It was a little greasy. 

So, I asked for a savetta.

One of the problems with being an immigrant is that English is a second language.  And sometimes English gets splashes of the first language on it, like the lemon anchovy sauce on Carmela's sandwiches.

When asking for the savetta got a blank stare, I did some miming and was given a savetta.  I was told it was called a napkin in English.  Okay.

About a decade later, I immigrated to Canada.  I was helping a friend set the table and asked her to give me the napkins for the table.  My friend looked shocked.  In Canada a savetta is called a serviette.  A napkin is a personal feminine item.  Okay.  

English.  Gotta love it. 

I now carry travel wipes.

The Mozzarella in Carozza.  I don't think so.

Another recipe down.  Sixty more to go. 

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Being 60 (week 4 - by Margaret Ullrich)

A death in the family causes a rebalancing and a reappraising of one's life and relationships.  Last year, in addition losing to my parents, my extended family lost a half dozen members.  That's enough death to make anybody take a second look at everything.

A few relatives wanted business as usual.  They had certain rituals, one of which was using my birthday as a time to reminisce about when they had emigrated from Malta.  They had left the day I was born.  Nothing personal.  They had the boat tickets and their papers were in order.  My parents and I followed them 3 months later.

I just didn't want to hear about it anymore.

Pop had died in January.  They did everything possible while he was in the hospital.  But complications from diabetes and heart problems can be unbeatable when you are 84.  Ma died suddenly in October.  She'd just had a checkup and everything was as well as could be expected.  Her 87th birthday came.  We joked about her reaching 100 and being on the Smucker's jar on the Today show.  My brother called Ma from work.  No answer.  Natural causes.  To be expected.   

The last thing I remember Ma talking about was how she hated facing another winter in New York.  She had never gotten used to the cold and the snow.  Neither had Pop.  During our last phone call he asked what the temperature was.  I told him.  "Madonna, I'd die if I got that cold," he said.      

Ma was still angry about having to move to America.  She talked about how she missed her last surviving sibling, her older sister.  She talked about her nephews and their families.  People I had never met.  I told her I didn't want to hear about them.  Since I had never met them, they weren't important to me.  Ma got angry and said, "They are important to me."  

Just average conversations for us.

Just our last conversations.  

This isn't how they show a parent's death in the movies.  Everybody gathers around and hears lovely last words.  Words to treasure over the years.

I told the relatives about what Ma had said.  I also told them that Pop was always complaining, too.  Even when we took them to Halifax a few years ago.  We had lunched with friends and Pop told absolute strangers about how much he regretted being talked into coming to America.

I don't blame my relatives.  Pop was an adult.  He could have realized that he wasn't trained to do anything other than what he was doing; that he had all he wanted.

I doubt if my relatives knew how my parents felt.  Pop had a certain pride that made him keep up a facade...  Things are fine.  I made a lot of money in New York.  
His pride made him refuse to use a cane when he went to Aunt Betty's funeral.  By the time my brother had parked the car, Pop had fallen flat on his face.  That fall led to his final trip to the hospital.

It's one thing to unburden to people you'll never see again.  But in-laws...  They would remember.  It was best to tell them what you wanted them to remember.

I haven't heard from those relatives since my birthday.  Nothing personal.  It's time for rebalancing and a reappraising.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Can't Buy Me Love (part 7 - by Margaret Ullrich)

    Aunt Liz must have decided to ignore Aunt Demi's question and her furious crocheting, along with Barbara's and my looks of confusion.  Aunt Liz just sat back and smiled.  She was reassured by Ma's announcement that we took part in the great American tradition of Mother's Day.  

    I guess Aunt Liz was hoping that maybe, aside from the overuse of garlic, just maybe Maltese weren’t really that different.  Maybe she hadn't gotten in over her head when she had thrown caution to the winds and married Ma's brother Charlie.  Maybe there was hope that when she had children, her own Mother's Days were going to be celebrated in the good old American way.

    Sure, why not.  There was talk of men going to the moon, too.

    Aunt Liz jumped into helping Barbara and me improve our traditional Mother's Day brunch menu.  “Breakfast in bed is always a nice start.  Bacon and eggs with orange juice and coffee.  Barbara, you're such a big girl.  I'm sure you and your Pop can manage that.  Tina, I have a nice pancake recipe.  It has sliced bananas in it.  Won't that be fun to make?”
    We beamed.  Barbara nudged me.  Some fried eggs and bacon, pancakes, orange juice and coffee.  Sure, we could manage that.  

    Ma wasn't so sure that we could handle pouring the juice, even with Pop's help.  She usually chased everybody, including Pop, out of the kitchen.  But now she was stuck with allowing us to make her a special Mother's Day breakfast.  She couldn’t do a thing to stop us.  She couldn’t even yell at us for making a mess.  

    We were talking about staging an official American Mother’s Day.  Ma was stuck with us being nice to her.  Letting us take over the kitchen on Mother's Day was like a new law.  Well, Ma had picked up a few tricks during her years in America.  Laws didn't worry her.

    Every law had a loophole, right?

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Carmela Soprano's Baked Peppers Au Gratin and Anna Sultana's Stuffed Green Peppers, Maltese Style (Bzar Ahdar Mimli)

Last week I mentioned that my Ma had a favorite recipe for fresh green peppers, globe artichokes, eggplants and late in the season, home grown, baseball bat sized zucchini.  She would usually serve them mimli or stuffed.

I browsed through Entertaining with The Sopranos to see if Carmela also had a stuffed green pepper recipe.  She does.  Well, sort of.  She has a recipe called Baked Peppers Au Gratin.  It's no big whoop.  

She cuts 8 large bell peppers in half and removes the seeds, cores and membranes.  Then she cuts them into 1/2 inch wide strips.  She places the strips in an oiled roasting pan that's large enough to hold the slices in a single layer.  
Then she adds 1/2 cup plain dried bread crumbs, 1/4 cup finely chopped parsley, 1/3 cup olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt and a dash of pepper and tosses.  She bakes the peppers in a preheated 400ºF oven for 40 to 50 minutes, until the peppers are browned.

Basically Shake & Bake Peppers.  Where's the Au Gratin cheese?

I received a few e mails asking for Ma's mimli recipe.  Now we're talking.

Anna Sultana's Stuffed Green Peppers - BŻAR AĦDAR MIMLI

4 green peppers - remove the stalk, top and seeds

2 onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
in olive oil until golden and add:
1 cup plain dried bread crumbs
2 large tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 tablespoon capers
8 - 10 olives
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
100 g anchovies, chopped
salt & pepper to taste

Fill each pepper with as much of the mixture as it will hold.
Fry the peppers in oil until done on all sides.
Lower the flame to simmer and turn occasionally till the peppers are browned.

As with Carmela's recipe, the peppers can be served hot or cold.

Carmela's Baked Peppers Au Gratin?  It's easy.  I'd make it for a little variety.  But I wouldn't have the nerve to call it Au Gratin unless I sprinkled 1 cup of grated Parmesan cheese on top.

Ma's Bzar Ahdar Mimli?  You have to ask?

Another recipe down.  Sixty-one more to go. 

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Being 60 (week 3 - by Margaret Ullrich)

Last week I talked about how Ma wasn't too thrilled about coming to America.

Well, she wasn't the only pissed-off parent I had.

According to Pop, his 3 older brothers had filled his head with tales of streets paved with gold.  His brothers had immigrated years earlier.  Regularly Pop received letters about how the sky was the limit in America.  Brothers wouldn't lie, right?  

Pop had quit school at 12 and gotten a job as a plumber's assistant.  By the time he was 25 he was married, had a child and owned his own home.  As the remaining son, Pop was all set to inherit Grandpa's farm.   

Pop said his brothers made it sound like he'd regret it if he stayed in Malta.  One brother owned a grocery store.  It was doing so much business that two brothers had formed a partnership to run it, while the other brother had his own taxi fleet.  Pop wasn't trained for anything and didn't have a driver's licence, but, in America, who knew what he could do?

So, he packed what was packable and set sail.  After he arrived he found out the grocery store was a deli about the size of a living room.  Both brothers worked it because it had to be open nearly all the time.  And the fleet consisted of 2 taxis.  

Pop worked 2 years in the deli.  He hated dealing with strangers.  During that time we shared a 2 bedroom apartment with Pop's brother, his wife and their 2 children.  A year after we arrived, Ma's brother joined us.  God knows why.  

Then Pop got a job working the night shift as a plumber's assistant in Lily Tulip.  We moved from Corona so he could walk to work.  The house in College Point had a mortgage, so Ma worked the day shift doing quality control.  She had to count the cups in randomly selected boxes to make sure there were the right number of paper cups in the box.   

I always wondered what my parents would have been like as people and as parents if they had stayed in Malta.  There wouldn't have been the stress of both having to work.  They wouldn't have been in a strange country where the only people who talked their language were relatives who had talked them into leaving everything. 

Pop had lost his sense of trust.  He never could believe me when I told him we had farmers and hot summers in Manitoba.  He'd been lied to before.  He packed a heavy coat when they visited in July.  We had to drive them by the farms so they could see the fields and animals.

I think my parents would have been different.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Can't Buy Me Love (part 6 - by Margaret Ullrich)

    Every family has its traditions.  And, unfortunately, we had ours.

    For as far back as Barbara and I could remember, on Mother’s Day, as on every other Sunday when the weather was nice, Pop took us for a walk to Chisolm's Park.  There we would walk around the shore and look at planes arrive and take off from La Guardia Airport, which was across the bay.  After we got bored with that, we went down the slides a few times.  Maybe a few turns on the swings if we felt energetic.  

    We would then walk to the little storefront ice cream stand which was across the street from the park and Pop would buy us ice creams.  Then back to the park to eat our ice creams and watch a few more airplanes.  After that we walked home to a light supper.  

    While Ma did the dishes, Pop would nap on the couch before Ed Sullivan came on the television.  That’s what we did every Sunday when the weather was nice.  To Pop and Ma, that was good enough.  Since we didn't know any better, we thought it was a fine way to spend a Sunday afternoon, too.   

    Every Sunday until now.

    Aunt Demi was big on hanging onto tradition and took upon herself the job of keeping us from getting any ideas from Ma’s new sister-in-law.  “Liz, you should know, Peter is not like Charlie.  My brother Peter is a busy man.  He doesn’t have time for this American garbage.”  Satisfied that she had restored order to our lives, Aunt Demi went back to her crocheting.

    Ma and Pop always tried to behave like good American citizens.  But, they still thought like Maltese.  In Malta, a family’s honor was sacred.  Ma sensed that as good Americans, we had to celebrate Mother's Day.  So, to save our family’s honor, Ma said the only thing she believed was proper to say.  “They’re going to make me a Mother’s Day Brunch.  That’s our tradition.”

    Stunned, Aunt Demi dropped her crocheting.  “Since when?”

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Carmela Soprano's Arugula and Mushroom Salad and Anna Sultana's Mimli Vegetables (Stuffed Vegetables, Maltese Style)

It's funny how something that's just daily fare to one person is exotic to another person.

Carmela includes quite a few salad recipes in Entertaining with The Sopranos.  I have a little problem with her use of arugula, escarole and watercress.  They're just not carried by my local Safeway and Sobey's.  But Carmela throws in some basic iceberg lettuce every once in a while, just to show she's still a Jersey girl underneath all that hair and those nails.  

Her Arugula and Mushroom Salad is easy to make.  Arugula torn into bite-sized pieces and white mushrooms very thinly sliced, served in a dressing of 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice and 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, with a dash of salt and pepper.  

Nice and easy and the salad keeps Tony and the kids regular.

Okay, I make do with iceberg.  We are talking salad for a retired couple, not for a formal state occasion.

Ma was not big on salads.  I don't know why and it's too late to ask.  

Ma usually served canned vegetables.  The smell and taste of tinned peas and vacuum-packed corn make me feel like I'm sitting at Ma's table.  

When it came to fresh green peppers, globe artichokes, eggplants and late in the season, home grown, baseball bat sized zucchini, Ma had a favorite recipe.  Mimli or stuffed.  Ma dipped into her never ending supply of bread crumbs.  She then mixed the crumbs with eggs and bits of other vegetables.  Then she'd stuff, sprinkle some parmesan cheese on top and bake.

As I explained when I wrote about Ma's Timpana, Maltese go beyond simple into downright retarded when it comes to starches.  If you're trying to lose weight - problem.  If you're stretching a dollar - perfect.      

The Arugula and Mushroom Salad is easy and I'll make it again, with regular lettuce.

But, I'll make the Mimli vegetables, too.  They make me feel like I'm sitting at Ma's table, too.      

Another recipe down.  Sixty-two more to go. 

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Being 60 (week 2 - by Margaret Ullrich)

It's kind of nice being a senior citizen.  

This week I got a letter from my bank saying I qualified for their over 60 account.  Okay... it wasn't a bouquet of roses and I didn't need any of the things they were offering, but I'd never gotten a birthday greeting from them before.  It was a nice change.

Don't get me wrong.  I do like traditions.  Most of them anyway.

Like I said last week, a couple of my relatives take my birthday as an excuse to reminisce about when they emigrated from Malta to Corona, New York.  I guess they think reminding me is a bonding experience since I'd done the same thing 3 months after they'd done the deed.

Immigrating is not all it's cracked up to be.  

Most people envision folks like they saw in The Godfather.  People at the rail staring in wonder at the Statue of Liberty, their hopes and dreams showing in their beaming faces.

Yeah, right.

My Ma came to America kicking and screaming.  She was almost 28 years old, had been married 2 years and had a 3 month old daughter.  She was quite happy living in her own mortgage-free home on an island where she had her own family, friends and all she wanted.

But... she had been married 2 years and had a 3 month old daughter.  Her husband wanted to live near his 3 brothers and 2 sisters.  Being a single Mom wasn't acceptable in 1950, especially in a strict Roman Catholic country like Malta.

In the Bible, Ruth said, "Whither thou goest, I shall go.  Thy people shall be my people."

Well, Ma wasn't Ruth.  She never forgot all she had lost when she came to America.

And she never let me forget it.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Can't Buy Me Love (part 5 - by Margaret Ullrich)

    Aunt Liz was having an awfully good time giving my kid sister the third degree.  She should've been a cop.

    Noticing Ma giving her 'The Look' and confused by getting an adult's attention, Barbara whimpered, “I’m making something at school, Aunt Liz.  It’s a secret.”  Barbara wasn't going to say anything else.  She knew she was in trouble already.  
    Like I said, Aunt Liz should've been a cop.  She gave Barbara another squeeze and kept hammering away at her.  “Yes, Princess, I’m sure it's very nice.  But, of course, you’re going to do something extra, extra special.”

    Thinking she had an answer that couldn't get her into any further trouble, Barbara relaxed and added, “I’m gonna wrap it, too.  I’m drawing big roses all over a piece of looseleaf.   Red ones and pink ones and-”   

    Aunt Liz didn’t want to hear about roses on looseleaf.  She wanted to make sure we were doing Mother's Day right.  I had to admire her technique.  Aunt Liz gave Barbara a quick peck and squeeze before she went back to her cross examination.
    “I could eat you up.  But you kids and your Pop are going to do something together to show your Ma how much you love her.”  
    “Something with Pop?”  
    “Yes, Sweetie, something with your Pop.”  Barbara knew Pop wasn’t going to do any such thing.  He never had and he never would.  Barbara just smiled and backed away, slowly.

    Thinking Barbara was just being shy, Liz turned to me and said, “And Tina, Sweetie, you’ll have more money to get something extra nice for your Ma this Mother’s Day.” 
    Knowing the kind of reaction I was going to get, I didn't plan to waste any money.  “I’m making something, Aunt Liz.  It’s a surprise,” I muttered.
    Ignoring our lack of enthusiasm, Liz continued, “That’s lovely.  Sweetheart, of course, you’re also doing something extra with your Pop?” 

    Yeah, right.  That would be the day.  

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Carmela Soprano and Anna Sultana's Antipasto (Appetizer, Maltese Style)

Sometimes the recipes in Entertaining with The Sopranos are on a level with a recipe for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  

They involve food and certain things are expected.  

The sandwich: bread, peanut butter and something fruity.

The Antipasto: cold cuts, cheese, olives, mixed pickled veggies and tomatoes.  Anchovies on a separate dish because Paul hates them.

But, I mean really, does anyone measure out how much peanut butter or jelly they shmear.  No one throws a hissy fit if someone uses marmalade or jam.  It's just a sandwich.

What's with Carmela's Antipasto?  She's got it measured out - 4 ounces of one kind of cheese, 8 ounces of another.  Same with the cold cuts and veggies.

Give me a break. 

Antipasto is the original pot luck dish.  What you got is what you get.  It's a simple thing to throw together for casual get togethers and holiday meals.  

Paul and I threw together a platter before our friends dropped in for my birthday.  We didn't measure anything.

Of course I'll make it again.

Another recipe down.  Sixty-three more to go. 

Happy Mother's Day.   

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Being 60 (week 1 - by Margaret Ullrich)

I like it.  I really, really like it.

Okay... I don't want to sound totally like Sally Field, but being 60 is starting off rather well.  I'm in good health for my age, my marriage is okay, we have good friends and I enjoy what I do.  

I started Face Book a few months ago, so there were a few surprise birthday greetings from people I hadn't heard from in years.  We're talking decades here.

I wanted low key, no friends jumping out from behind the couch, and that's what I got.  Just nice calm greetings and chats with friends.

A cake and candles, of course, and some gifts.

The only minor twinges came from a couple of birthday greetings from relatives.  They love to turn my birthday into a stroll down memory lane.  Way down memory lane.  

This was my first birthday after both my parents had passed away.  

I was born on the island of Malta.  My parents were supposed to have left Malta with my father's single sister and their married sister, her husband and their 6 year old daughter that day.  But, Ma was pregnant, so my parents decided to leave 3 months later.  Pop's sisters couldn't wait to conquer New York.  So in August my parents had to make the crossing alone with me.  I wasn't at my best.  I had colic.

Anyway, a couple of my relatives like to take my birthday and talk about coming to America in 1950.

I don't usually have much to add. 

This year I did.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Can't Buy Me Love (part 4 - by Margaret Ullrich)

    Ma gave me one of her 'Don't Lie to Me' looks.  I gave her one of my super innocent 'What, Who Me?' looks.  Satisfied that she was still in charge, Ma went back to being the good Maltese hostess.  She just wanted to clear the table in peace and bring another damn holiday to an end.  Without a major blowup.  

    This was turning into a really nice Easter.  I was going to be able to earn money to go to the Beatles concert and marry George Harrison.  Ma was happy with the idea that Mother’s Day was a holiday with no extra cooking.  That was enough for her.  But Aunt Liz wouldn’t let her get off so easily. 

    “Annie, you do know about Mother’s Day, don’t you?  In May?”
    “Sure, sure.  Mother’s Day.  Special.  In May,”  Ma said as she carried the loaded tray to the kitchen.
    Not missing a stitch, Aunt Demi muttered, “Hmmph...  We came to this country.  We have to pay taxes.  Alright.  We don’t have to have more holidays.”

    Ignoring Aunt Demi, Aunt Liz decided to make sure we were celebrating holidays like real Americans.  She thought she'd get the truth from my kid sister.  
    “Barbara, Sweetie, you’re too little to treat your Mom to a fabulous Mother’s Day Brunch at the Club Safari.  But, of course, you’ll do something extra special to show your Mom how much you love her.”
    “I’m making something at school, Aunt Liz.  It’s a secret,”  Barbara announced proudly.

    Yeah, Barbara was still a kid.  She didn’t realize that Ma would react to her gift the same way as she did the year before.  With total indifference.
    “Oh, you can tell me,” Liz said and gave Barbara a hug.   

    When Ma returned and saw Liz questioning Barbara, she was terrified. 

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Carmela Soprano and Anna Sultana's Pasta E Ceci (Pasta and Chickpeas, Maltese Style)

Sorry I'm a bit late with today's posting.  Yesterday was my sixtieth birthday and, as Bob Crachet said, I was making rather merry.
What're you gonna do?  Fire me?

Back to Entertaining with The Sopranos...  

It's amazing the way a good photo can make something simple look fantastic.  When I'm flipping through Entertaining with The Sopranos, I can understand how folks who never had to make these things can be impressed with the title of a recipe.  If it has a foreign name, even hot dogs and beans can seem exotic. 

Pasta E Ceci is a Mediterranean version of hot dogs and beans.  We're talking noodles and beans here.

This is one of those times when Carmela and my Ma are on the same wave length.  Well, okay, Carmela gets a little fancy.  She adds a couple of ounces of pancetta.  Since the recipe is supposed to serve 6, she's using the meat as a garnish.  

Ma served a more honest Pasta E Ceci.  Hers was meatless.  It made sense.  If you were having pork and beans you wouldn't expect to see a pork chop instead of that lump of lard that passes for pork.     

With or without pancetta Pasta E Ceci is a watery tomato sauce with garlic, crushed red pepper, 2 cans of chickpeas (you can find them right next to the pork and beans) and pasta.  

Carmela's recipe calls for 8 ounces spaghetti, broken into bite-sized pieces.  Don't go to any trouble.  Elbow macaroni will do just fine.  Since the sauce is a bit thin, it's eaten with a spoon, as a soup.  The extra liquid is supposed to fill you up.

Hey, if it wasn't the end of the month, you wouldn't be eating Pasta E Ceci.

Another recipe down.  Sixty-four more to go.