Sunday, June 27, 2010

Carmela Soprano's Strawberries in Asti Spumante and Anna Sultana's Fruit in Wine, Maltese Style

Last week we tried Carmela's Gelato Affogato.

This weekend is the anniversary of our immigrating to Canada.  So I thought we'd celebrate with a bottle of bubbly.  I also wanted another easy dessert from Entertaining with The Sopranos.  Hey, it's summer and even though the weather's been a bit off, I'm not in the mood to cook much.  

Carmela had the perfect recipe.  An easy fancy shmancy dessert for 2, Strawberries in Asti Spumante.   

The bottle, 750 milliliters, gave us wine for a toast, with plenty left for dessert.  Good thing I checked the recipe.  Along with the Asti Spumante I also needed to add a teaspoon of creme de cassis to each glass so the wine would look pink, then drop the 2 or 3 strawberries in each glass.
Okay... anniversaries only come once a year.

Ma would've laughed if she saw me placing perfectly good strawberries in a glass of Asti Spumante.  

I had my first ginger ale and red wine spritzer when I was about 4.  I grew up with fruit in wine.  But, there wasn't anything festive about it.  Ma often bought bags of marked down bruised fruit, like apples and peaches.  She would cut out the really nasty bits and slice what was left into cereal bowls.  She would then pour some wine over the fruit.  It was up to us if we wanted to sprinkle some sugar on top of the fruit.  

My Ma didn't think of wine as an alcoholic beverage.  She used it more as a cooking ingredient and flavoring agent.  There was always a 3 litre jug of red wine under the sink.  That was it.  Red wine.  Pop usually had a glass with his Sunday dinner.  

Carmela's Strawberries in Asti Spumante.  I'd make it again.  

Another recipe down.  Fifty-six more to go. 

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Moving from N.Y. to B.C. - Being 60 (week 8 - by Margaret Ullrich)

One thing about getting older - almost every day is the anniversary of something.  Today Paul and I were reminiscing about when we left New York 38 years ago.

We had just gotten married.  Since we'd lived with our parents before the big day, we didn't have much stuff.  Everything we owned fit in our little home on wheels, an 11 foot trailer called Shasta.  It was supposed to sleep 6.  Paul had replaced the couch with a closet.  We were using the slide-down shelf as storage space, so our dinette set was our only bed.   

We were young, so we had a lot of energy.  We needed it to drive from College Point, New York to White Rock, British Columbia in 3 weeks.  Why the rush?  Ma had said she wouldn't be able to sleep until we had stopped driving.  So, we rushed.

People, on first meeting us, ask why we left the Big Apple.  Winnipeggers, especially in the winter, ask why we left British Columbia.  The answer to both questions is the economy.  

In the early 70s New York had gone bankrupt.  City employees, such as policemen, were receiving I.O.U.s instead of pay cheques.  That did not make the policemen happy.  An unhappy policeman is not a good thing.  

After we had lived in B.C. for a couple of years, that tourist trap Canadian Province went into one of its famous busts.  It happens.  You can't eat the pretty scenery or the mild weather.

Paul was in the union, so we moved to Winnipeg.  In February.  That's another story and anniversary.   

My parents had never really settled into New York,  They always said they were going to move back to Malta.  For almost 60 years they complained about how New York wasn't Malta.  Well, duh.  

Learning from their example, Paul and I made an effort to fit into our new home.  We volunteered.  We met the neighbors.  We did the things everyone does when moving to a new neighborhood, let alone a new country.

If we knew then what we know now, would we still have moved to Canada?


But this time we'd take 3 months instead of 3 weeks and tell Ma to take a sleeping pill.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Carmela Soprano's Gelato Affogato (Ice Cream with Rum and Espresso) and Frank Sultana's Bungalow Bars

This has been one wet Spring.
I managed to finish planting our garden just before the rains hit - again - on Thursday.  

To celebrate having finished my planting I picked something nice and easy from Entertaining with The Sopranos.
Hey, I never said I was Superwoman.

Carmela sure knows how to pad a cookbook.
Gelato Affogato, "Drowned Ice Cream" is a mixture of
3 Tablespoons dark rum
1 Cup hot espresso
slowly poured over a scoop of ice cream and served immediately.
That's it.
Can you believe she had that recipe fill a page and a photo of this masterpiece plastered on the opposite page.
What chutzpa!!  

Take a wild guess how often little A. J. knocked back the topping without the ice cream.  And Carmela wondered why he had problems.  

Ma had 3 kids and we had lots of hot, muggy days during summers in New York.
Of course we had ice cream.  We loved ice cream.  Without the boozed up coffee.    

But... there is such a thing as too much of a good thing.
One summer day Pop came home quite pleased with himself.  His boss had bought out the stock of Bungalow Bar, a small local cheapy version of Good Humor ice cream.  Pop, without checking with Ma, had bought a dozen boxes of ice cream bars.

Okay... it was a good price.
Okay... we loved ice cream.  

Would it've killed Pop to get an assortment?
Pop just loaded up from the nearest stack.
Twelve boxes of strawberry shortcake ice cream bars.
Each box held 48 bars of strawberry shortcake.
That's 576 bars of strawberry shortcake.
Enough for 3 kids to have one each and every day for 192 days.
About 6 and a half months of strawberry shortcake ice cream bars.

The first few weeks we enjoyed them.
After a month, when Ma handed out the ice cream, we recited a little ditty I had composed:  

Bungalow bars taste like tar
The more you eat 'em, the sicker you are.

We resorted to gallows humor:
"If you're good, you'll get an ice cream.  If you're bad, you'll get 2."

Somehow we got through them.
We didn't buy strawberry ice cream for a long, long time.
But that was a while ago.
I'll eat ice cream, even strawberry, with or without the boozy coffee.

Another recipe down.  Fifty-seven more to go. 

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Remembering a Death - Being 60 (week 7 - by Margaret Ullrich)

For some reason Pop decided that everyone had to honor the memory of Uncle Tony by driving upstate and visiting his gravesite every year.  Of course, we'd also drop by Aunt Kate's for a bite.  I don't know how Aunt Kate felt about hosting a barbecue for in-laws and relatives she hadn't seen for nearly 2 decades, but she agreed to fire up the grill.  

Not everyone shared Pop's enthusiasm.

Relatives, especially in a large family, can develop into quite different individuals.  Over a few decades there isn't much they share outside of the DNA.  Some folks like to gather the family around a large dinner table.  Others like to gather with friends around a few bottles.  Different strokes for different folks.  

In a large family you can avoid a relative or 2 pretty easily.  During the 16 years after the 'Fur Coat Incident' my family had settled into a routine.  Some relatives we saw regularly.  Some monthly.  Others just during Christmas and Easter. 

Pop told everyone he expected a real crowd to show up.  No dice.  Our regulars and monthlies had decided they'd done their bit when they went to the funeral.  No sense seeing a guy more after he was dead than they saw of him while he was alive.  

The only relatives who joined Pop on his pilgrimage were our C & E's, a couple who, like Kate and Tony, enjoyed their booze.  Pop was a 'glass of wine with Sunday dinner' fellow.  My boyfriend agreed to come along just to add to the body count.

The gravesite visit went quickly.  

After the barbecue, the elders - including Aunt Kate's boyfriend - just sat around making small talk.  Pop was still annoyed about not being able to rally the troops.  He'd seen the fuss made over the JFK site during the Robert Kennedy funeral, for Christ's sake.  Even without booze, Pop could get sentimental.  

My crowd - Tony's 4 kids, my sister and brother, my boyfriend and I - wandered off.  I had a copy of Cosmopolitan, the Bible of teenage girls in the 60s, and there was an article on Numerology, about what is revealed by one's name.  It filled the time.  We even did the numbers for my Aunt's dog, Mona.

That was the last time we went upstate.

Rest in peace, Uncle Tony.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Carmela Soprano's Asparagus and Prosciutto Rolls and Anna Sultana's Appetizers

We weren't exactly thrilled with the Asparagus with Lemon I made last week.  

I don't know, maybe the lemon sauce was too mild to kill... uh... enhance the taste of the asparagus.  The leftover lemon-olive oil dressing was fine on a salad and on some fish.  

I still had some asparagus left.  Back to Entertaining with The Sopranos.

Carmela had another asparagus recipe - Asparagus and Prosciutto Rolls.  This time she parboils the asparagus, splits them into groups of 3 and wraps a slice of prosciutto around each bundle.  She then places each bundle in a buttered baking dish and tops each with a slice of Fontina.  After brushing them with some butter and sprinkling them with pepper, they're baked for 15 minutes at 350º so the cheese melts.  They are served hot.

The prosciutto and Fontina were a bit stronger than the lemon dressing and did the job.  If you don't have time to go to the store, ham and swiss might work just as well.

These are served as an appetizer.  Go figure.

Ma usually stuck to the tried and true Antipasto Platter.  Cold cuts, cheese, olives, mixed pickled veggies and tomatoes.  Anchovies on a separate dish because Paul hates them.  You could have what you wanted when you wanted.  None of this 'serve hot' business.

Hey, she put enough work into the main course.

Think I'll just walk past the asparagus.

Another recipe down.  Fifty-eight more to go. 

Saturday, June 12, 2010

A Death in the Family - Being 60 (week 6 - by Margaret Ullrich)

    The anniversary of Robert Kennedy's death always reminds me of Uncle Tony's death, which happened the week after Kennedy's.  

    I was working in a card shop, when my boss came over and said my father had just called.  There'd been a death in my family.  My Uncle Tony.  My father would be picking me up.  I had the weekend off, without pay.  Would I like a glass of water.

    I couldn't have cared less.

    We'd lived with Uncle Tony when we first came to America.  After 2 years there was a problem over the weekly split.  Uncle Tony's wife, Kate, was sporting a fur coat.  We were leaving for College Point.  Uncle Tony was moving to upstate New York.  He may as well have moved to the moon.  We never spoke of him again. 

    Here we were, 16 years later, driving to Uncle Tony's house.  Aunt Betty, who'd known Aunt Kate since they were children, had gotten there ahead of us.

    Uncle Tony wasn't even 50.  Cholesterol runs in the family.  That wasn't it.  Uncle Tony had a taxi service.  He had a partner.  His partner had an affair with Aunt Kate.  Aunt Kate wanted a divorce.  Uncle Tony managed to drive to the hospital, where he collapsed.   

    Okay... if you've watched The Sopranos, you know the kind of funeral that was expected.  

    Aunt Kate agreed to give Uncle Tony a proper sendoff.  Small condition... she wanted some company that night.  She was afraid that Uncle Tony's ghost might drop by, for old time's sake.  Aunt Betty was Sicilian and figured no problem.  Ma had a terror of ghosts, so she said I'd help guard the widow.  I knew I wasn't the target, so I said sure.

    Cousin Barbara, as their eldest, ordered the headstone.  She picked a double header, so her parents could rest in peace together for all eternity.  Everyone smirked.  Aunt Kate shrieked, "I'm not dead, yet."

    We had a quiet night.  

    The viewing went as planned.  After Aunt Kate was helped in, she howled, flew across the room and draped herself over Uncle Tony.  Everyone smirked.  The partner couldn't make it.  The prayer cards were taken.  We went to the Mass.  Tony was buried.    

    Our family's first funeral in America.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Can't Buy Me Love (part 9 - by Margaret Ullrich)

    Ma just ignored Aunt Demi.  This was something new.  Ma had always deferred to her sister-in-law.  Aunt Demi was older.  She was louder.  

    But Aunt Liz had asked Ma's - not Aunt Demi's - permission for me to type for her bowling club.  Aunt Liz was the new Aunt on the block.  If she played her cards right with Aunt Liz, Ma could be the bossy older sister-in-law.  That suited Ma just fine.           

    I don't know if Aunt Liz was impressed by the work we were going to put into our traditional Mother's Day feast or if she was afraid that Charlie would be expecting something similar for Father's Day.  She just smiled and said,  “Why, that’s quite a job.  Wouldn’t it be easier to join us at the Club Safari?”  

    Yeah.  The Club Safari.  Great idea.  Barbara and I turned and nodded like a pair of donkeys at Ma, hoping she’d give us a break.  

    No luck.

    “No.  They’ll make what I said.  Exactly.” 

    Liz looked at Ma with greater respect.  The family honor was saved.  Ma shot us, her stunned daughters, a warning glance. 

    Ma had finished preparing a light snack for the men.  “There.  It’s ready.  Demi, you can take it out to them.  Tina, help me clear the table, now.  Barbara, take Aunt Liz to your room and show her the picture you’re making.” 
    Barbara and I did as we were told, all the while praying that Ma wouldn’t come up with any more traditional ideas before Aunt Liz and Uncle Charlie left. 

    Something really changed in our family that Easter.  Easter had always been a major holiday in our family.  Everyone was cleaned up, dressed up and on best behavior.  Not this year.  This year Easter had turned into just another day compared to the wonder that our first American Mother's Day was going to be.

    Barbara and I were terrified.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Carmela Soprano's Asparagus with Lemon and Anna Sultana's Greens

Sometimes it isn't the recipe so much as the ingredient that makes cooking an adventure.

My Ma never cooked asparagus when we were kids.

Neither had my husband's Mom.

Don't get me wrong.  Our mothers did give us green vegetables.  They knew how to keep us healthy.  But, their choice of greens was more along the lines of peas and spinach.  The peas were canned, the spinach was fresh.  Both were cooked and served with margarine.  We knew they weren't ice cream, so we just ate them as quickly as possible.

Carmela has 2 recipes for asparagus in Entertaining with The Sopranos.  On 10% Tuesday I decided to be adventurous and got a bunch.  I just turned 60.  This is as much excitement as I can handle.

Carmela's Asparagus with Lemon recipe makes enough for 12.  The dressing is 2 to 3 tablespoons of lemon juice and 2/3 cup of extra virgin olive oil whisked together, with a dash of salt and pepper.  Okay.  I made a batch.  I'll use the leftovers on other things.  

I set aside half of the asparagus for recipe #2 (Asparagus and Prosciutto Rolls) and cooked the rest according to Carmela's instructions. 

I drizzled the dressing over the asparagus and served them immediately, as per instructions.

What can I say?  
We knew they weren't ice cream, so we just ate them as quickly as possible.

Hope the other recipe is better.

Another recipe down.  Fifty-nine more to go. 

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Ancestry - not .com - Being 60 (week 5 - by Margaret Ullrich)

A little while ago was running a mini-series about celebrities researching their family trees.  Okay, to be honest, it was a commercial.  They were really hoping everybody would want to climb their family trees with's help.  
For a fee.

It really was heartwarming.  Big celebrities tracking down their family's history, then traveling halfway across the world and weeping as they trod on their ancestral stomping grounds.  All the while the cameras were rolling.  Everything - library research, traveling and hugging - done within an hour, including commercials.

American movies and television shows are seen all around the world.  The relatives in the ancestral towns hadn't just fallen off a truck.  They grabbed at their long lost fifth cousins and their 15 minutes of fame. 

Without that incentive, long-lost relatives aren't always that hot to hug.

Paul and I had left New York in 1972.  My parents had come for a few visits while we lived in British Columbia.  That was easy.  British Columbia is Canada's tourist trap.  Then we moved to Winnipeg.  To be honest, there are times - like when it's -40º - when even the local citizens don't want to be in Winnipeg.  But my parents wanted to see where we were living.  Pop said Tyndall Park was like College Point.  

We went down to New York a few times, too.  As the years went by, it got more awkward.  Our last visit was the most memorable, reunion-wise.  

The day before we were due to return home, Paul and I were going to take a small walk with Ma.  Then we got a phone call from Pop's sister and her husband.  They wanted to see us.  It was a last minute surprise.  No one had mentioned wanting to see us.  We had been away for 28 years and life had gone on.  No hard feelings.  Just the way things were.

Okay.  We said it would be nice to see them.  We sat down for a cup of coffee and to catch up... or so we thought.  My Aunt turned to me and asked, "So, when are you moving back to New York?"

I said we weren't.  My Aunt seemed annoyed.  Paul and I sat while they chatted about people and events in their lives.  Basically we had nothing to add to the conversation.  We couldn't leave for a walk.  That would've been rude.  So, we sat and listened. 

Maybe, if there had been a camera rolling, it would've been more pleasant. 

Friday, June 4, 2010

Can't Buy Me Love (part 8 - by Margaret Ullrich)

    Oh, yeah.  The wheels were turning.  Ma had that look.  That look that said, "You have your ways.  Fine.  But, we are going to do this my way.  As always."      

    Ma sat next to Aunt Liz and explained, “No.  We will have our traditional Mother's Day Brunch.  We have our own holiday food, of course.  But, we will add some of the new things, too, like you said we should have."  She gave a quick look at Aunt Demi.  "Like Americans have.” 
    Aunt Demi snorted and muttered, “Sure.  And I’ll dance naked on the table.” 

    Ma glared at Aunt Demi.  Unimpressed, Aunt Demi glared right back at her.  Aunt Liz looked like she was getting really curious about her new in-laws and their customs.  Ma turned her attention back to Aunt Liz and smiled.  “Yes.  They will make our traditional food and a few of the things you said we should have.  We will have...  What you said..."  

    I could see that Ma was pausing, not for dramatic effect, but because she was trying to remember what Aunt Liz had said that she and her mother were going to eat at Club Safari.  Finally, she remembered.  "We will also have French muffins, English toast, chicken, eggs and liver.  And they’ll roast a baby lamb over the charcoals.  That's our tradition.”  

    Aunt Liz looked slightly confused.  There was something just a bit off about the American part of the menu.  Barbara and I were stunned.  What happened to the bacon and eggs?

    Aunt Demi smiled.  She saw the mistake in Ma's plan.  Aunt Demi nodded and said,  “I’d like to see you get this baby lamb in May.”
    Too late Ma remembered that Aunt Liz had said that Mother's Day was more than a month away.  Dimitri wouldn't be selling lambs in May.  Ma wasn't about to admit she'd made a mistake in front of Charlie's new wife.  She knew in-laws never forget.  Ma just turned to Aunt Demi and said, “Demi, We have to eat, right?  It’s Spring in May.  The weather will be nice for a barbecue.  We’ll have a lamb.  And the other stuff.”

    Aunt Demi stared at Ma.  Finally, she spoke.  “Are you crazy?”