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Tuesday, January 10, 2017

I REMEMBER

It was like yesterday, the wonderful aroma of mom's homemade chicken soup. When it snowed like it has the past few hours, Mom would make her chicken soup and as she did, the kitchen took on a new light, warm in so many ways, and along with the Italian bread, block of cheese and appetite made me happy to be alive. She would sing a song as she cooked, sometimes an oldie she learned from her childhood days that I learned from her. Life was magical.

Monday was soup night, after all the eating we did on the weekend, she was conscious enough to know all we needed was soup. Rich broth, chicken breaking apart on the platter as she fished it out, and the pieces of onion, celery and carrots all dressed the table like a bouquet of flowers, only steaming in goodness.

Often as an alternate, she would make beef soup, with the bone and small pasta, a broth rich in flavor in both taste and memory, her warm Italian bread sitting there with no attention needed from us, we were going to dip!

Mom's Pasta e' Fagiola was perhaps a special treat. The beans submerged in the tomato broth, spices and a glass of wine, accompanied the sliced loaf of Curialle's fresh Italian bread, made that morning. There were other dishes, made with pig's feet and knuckles, Tortellini minestra and al minestra, all filling a need that made us crazy with delight.

Mom cooked and we ate, we didn't converse once she served, we put our heads down into the dish and didn't come up until it was time for seconds. Espinache, Broccoli Rabe, Swiss Chard, were all vegetables that accompanied sausage or chicken with some garlic, olive oil and red pepper flakes, the real holy trinity of cooking.

Pop was a mild-mannered man, always cheerful on most days, and his presence was the thing that made life special. He would sit there in his flannel shirt and just enjoy his wife's creations.

Speaking of Pop, his most favorite dinner which became all his offspring's favorite was the traditional Christmas Eve dinner of Lobster spaghetti sauce, sometimes crab, octopus, scungilli in a great separate sauce, eels battered and fried, baccala salad, and stuffed shrimp. It was heaven, and frankly, that feeling I had was never the same after Mom stopped cooking back in 1992 after Dad had passed.

Easter was another kind of culinary holiday with traditional foods such as homemade ravioli, or lasagna, the regular platter of Sunday gravy meats, the pork and beef braciole, meatballs and sausage both hot and cheese and sometimes leftover steak. Then if she was ready to hit stride, a ham which no one liked because we ate already. This was true also of Thanksgiving, where we substituted the ham for turkey, and we held on until she brought out her Italian sausage stuffing. Mom's hands were gold, and I told her so.

Mom made other culinary treats, for lunch peppers and eggs, potato and eggs and her "Make believe cutlets" a dish born of the Greta depression. She would scramble eggs in parmesan cheese and bread crumbs with fresh parsley and fry it in the skillet and you and a cheap simple lunch.

The wine was the essential ingredient to Dad's world, homemade by grandpa, some of it allowed to become vinegar, making for the craziest and delicious salads you could imagine!

None of what I experienced will ever be realized by my children, and that is a shame, but I guess I was special to have experienced the warmth and love of home life, born an Italian-American, in the great borough of Brooklyn.

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