Thanksgiving

November 24, 2011 – Thanksgiving Day

Today is an American holiday; Thanksgiving Day. Today we should all reflect on what we have and be thankful for them. In all actuality, we should be thankful every day. Some days are easier to feel thankful than others.

When the Twin Towers were attacked on 9/11, a co-worker of mine said to me that we should feel sad for what we’ve lost, but also grateful for what we still have. No truer words were ever spoken. I’ve been reminded of that sentiment many times since then.

There are many loved-ones who’ve gone; family members who were so important in my life. Papa Joe, Daddy, Uncle Johnny, Uncle Sam, Jeffrey and Nana. I am so fortunate to have had them in my life as long as I did. It doesn’t mean that the pain of losing them has diminished; no, it hasn’t. I miss every one of them more and more with each passing day, and the holidays only intensify my feelings.

I am also grateful for the family members and friends who are alive, and are still a very important part of my life. Each one is so important to me, and I love them so very much.

For most of my life Thanksgiving dinner was at Nana’s house. I remember when we lived on Keap Street in Brooklyn; I used to go with Nana to the slaughter house so she could pick out her fresh turkey. Even today, I can still smell the place! Nana would watch them run around. When she decided on the turkey she wanted, she’d point it out and the guy would take it to the back to prepare it for us to take home. Nowadays, “fresh” turkeys are purchased in the supermarkets.

Nana cooked for hours and hours; preparing everything from the antipasto to the turkey and stuffing, to the coffee and dessert. When I was old enough I’d help her; rolling the cold-cuts on the serving plate, spooning out the Caponata, ladling the sausage and mushrooms into their serving bowls and setting the tables. The whole family was together and the house was noisy with kid’s laughter, the men watching the football game and the women in the kitchen telling each other which tables to put the food on. This senario played out every year; first on Keap Street in Brooklyn, then on Clarke Street on Long Island.

One year I took my sons to Manhattan the night before Thanksgiving. We met Jeffrey, had dinner with him, and then he took us to Central Park to watch them blow up the balloons. It was a chilly night. Recently, I asked Joseph and Andrew what they remembered most about that night. Andrew’s most vivid memory is watching Snoopy come to life as they filled him with helium. Joseph’s vivid memory is having dinner at the restaurant where Jeffrey worked and how good the food was, especially the onion soup with melted mozzarella cheese on top. My most vivid memory of that night was when we went back to Jeffrey’s apartment and had hot chocolate and relaxed. Jeffrey and I sat at the table and talked while the boys played with Petey, Jeffrey’s beloved dog.

Jeffrey was a terrific cook, and he made delicious Caponata. Here is his recipe:

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 medium eggplant with skin, diced into ½-inch cubes
  • 1-2 Roma tomatoes, seeds removed, chopped
  • 2 tbsp, capers, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 cup small pitted black olives
  • 1/4 chopped celery
  • 1 small onion chopped
  • 2 tbsp. tomato paste
  • 4 tbsp. olive oil
  • Salt, Oregano, Basil, to taste

Preheat oven to 350°
In a large bowl, mix together diced eggplant, tomatoes, capers, celery olives, onions, olive oil, tomato paste and salt and spices
Place in a 9×12 oven proof baking dish
Bake for 35-45 minutes until eggplant is tender
Let cool

Enjoy!

Drive My Car

Last week I traded in my huge Ford Fusion for a more sensible, fuel efficient Ford Focus. When I returned home from the dealership with my shiny new car, Randy got in and we went out to dinner. On the way to the restaurant, a memory of Nana popped in my head and I proceeded to tell Randy about it. After hearing the story, he looked at me and said “that is a great memory; you need to add it to your blog”. So, here goes!

When I was 18, I was out of high school and was working to save up money to go to college. I needed a car and began searching for a used, reliable car. The year was 1974. After searching for a couple of months, a friend of mine named Tom told me about this 1964 Ford Thunderbird he’d seen on a used-car lot. He took me there, and since Tom was a mechanic, he checked it out and told me it was worth buying. He helped me to negotiate a price and I bought it for $500. Back then, you could get a 10-year-old car in great condition for a song and a dance. It was light yellow with a vinyl “Landau” roof, vinyl bucket seats, tilt-away steering, a swing-away driver seat, center console and a whole-host of bells and whistles.

That car was “the bee’s knees” and I was so proud of myself for the deal I made on this car. When I showed the car to Nana, she said in her beautiful Italian accent; “Good luck to you, babe”.

After that, every Saturday I would drive Nana to the supermarket to do her food shopping. Sometimes after we’d brought the groceries back home, we’d go back out and stop at Dunkin Donuts to pick up a dozen and visit her brother John and sister-in-law Philomena; who we all called Aunt Fanny. Uncle John was a little Italian guy, about five feet tall with a quick temper. Aunt Fanny on the other hand, was a little taller than him and had the sweetest disposition. She was very mild-mannered and had a great sense of humor. They were always great to me. Uncle John used to sit next to me at the kitchen table and would sometimes pat my hand.

I digress. Sorry, this is about Nana.

Whenever I’d take Nana anywhere in my car, she would always climb into the back seat. No matter how many times I’d tell her to sit up front, her answer would always be; “No, I sit in the back”. As soon as I put the car in drive, Nana would take out her rosary beads and would start saying the rosary.

I know what you’re thinking; but Nana did this no matter whose car she was a passenger in. She would pray that everyone in the car would arrive at their destination safely. If the weather was cold, she would tell whoever was driving to “Put the stove on, it’s cold”; meaning turn on the heat in the car.

There Nana would sit, praying, looking out the window, watching the scenery. She genuinely enjoyed being a passenger. Once the car arrived at its intended destination, Nana would put her rosary beads in her pocket and exclaim; “Thank the good Lord!”

It’s the funniest thing; that memory popped in my head last week when I bought a new car. I’ve bought many cars in the last 37 years, and that memory never surfaced. I guess it’s because now Nana is no longer on this earth for me to see her sitting in the back seat of my car saying her rosary, or hearing her say; “Good luck to you, babe”, or “Put the stove on, it’s cold!”

But I do see her; in my mind’s eye. I see her sitting in the back seat, rosary in hand, praying for my safe arrival.  Every day when I get behind the wheel of my new car, I say a little prayer to Nana to watch over me as I drive. I do hear her, in my head and in my heart. And on cold mornings I hear her say; “Debbie, put the stove on, it’s cold”. And I do; and I shed a tear as I smile at the memory.

And now, a simple cake-style doughnut recipe for your next car ride, along with a little prayer for your safe arrival from Nana.

INGREDIENTS:
2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon (add more for taste if you like)
1/4 tsp. vanilla
2 tbsp. unsalted butter – melted
1/2 cup whole milk
1 egg – beaten
Vegetable oil for frying

DIRECTIONS:
Pour about a quart of vegetable oil in a deep-fryer and heat to about 375 degrees. (If you don’t have a deep-fryer, use a 12 quart pot).

In a large bowl, combine all dry ingredients.
Add melted butter, egg and milk; a little at a time and mix and knead until it’s nice and smooth in texture.
Then turn it out onto a floured kneading board, or counter top.
Roll the dough out until it’s about 1/4 inches in thickness.
Cut the doughnuts with a doughnut or biscuit cutter. (Or two different sized glasses).
Drop the doughnuts into the heated oil; don’t put too many in.
Fry on one side for about 2-3 minutes, then turn over and fry again on other side for 2-3 minutes (until golden brown).

Take the fried doughnuts out and drain on brown paper or paper towels.

Once cooled, you can dust them with powdered sugar, cinnamon sugar or make an icing.