Archives for December 2015

Saving The Baccala Salad Of Christmas Past

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Lucys’ hands – the masterful creators of homemade Italian food for over 70 years.

Sometimes food is well…more than food

I should be the last person to save the baccala salad. I had never even heard of baccala salad until I met my husband’s family. Though I’m of Italian descent the family traditions my grandparents brought back from Italy which included making fresh fettuccine and laying it out on a bed to dry faded with the next generation. My mother who referenced a dog-eared New York Times cookbook and favored Jacques Pepin endeared herself to a more American palette. Her mother was a good baker but her culinary skills were limited and she subscribed to a minimalist approach to eating. Whether it was the hardscrabble life in the Italian mountains or the immigrant experience they did not revel in excess. My paternal grandmother was a better cook but she too knew her way around stretching dinner, with a family of six to feed. Since our family typically ended up as guests, my sister and I married without the holy grail of foodstuffs that define holidays. Enter my husband’s family, this is a clan that doesn’t fool around and the calendar year represents a tour de force of indispensable holiday dishes.

Christmas Eve is the feast of the seven fishes which means the menu must feature seven kinds of fish. What it doesn’t mean is that you can get away with a simmering bouillabaisse or paella. The feast includes baked clams, shrimp cocktail followed by your choice of linguini with white clam or lobster sauce. The courses continue with fish salad a melange of calamari, shrimp, scallops, mussels, polpo, olives and celery in the correct proportion as well as baccala salad. Baccala salad is a light concoction of escarole leaves, lemony dressing and savory baccala and Greek olives. The dish strikes a perfect balance apropos for any nouveau restaurant menu, so when my sister-in-law told me we were skipping the baccala salad I spoke up.

I’d like to say this is all about the baccala salad as I’m feeling triumphant about reprising its role in our seven fish fete, but it’s about so much more. My mother-in-law Lucy’s traditions are sacred to her and she’s passed the baton to her family. Lucy has sensed the tides of change, we’ve scrapped homemade lasagna on Christmas day, citing its heftiness and vetoed cardoon the stalks of the artichoke on Thanksgiving. We are holding the torch for the next generation but also trying to shed some of the labor and calories of Christmas past. However, this year Lucy is not well. We’ve taken jobs away from her and the changing menu is unearthing fears we all bury and some of it with food. Italians do a wonderful job of washing down fear with a finely fried zeppola. It’s brilliant and though we believe we have struck a delicate balance of preserving tradition and our sanity, we ordered fish salad to save the washing of seven different pots, Lucy will make baccala salad and its presence will serve as a resounding reminder of the importance of tradition, family and love.


Getting Real About My Empty Nest

photo-20For some it’s the concerts, plays, sports or parent teacher conferences they miss most – I miss reading children’s books…

I miss reading children’s books. Recently I found myself pining for Corduroy, Sandra Boynton’s The Going To Bed Book crew and The Velveteen Rabbit. I’ll often ask my children, “Do you remember Mooncake? My son and I still reminisce about Goodnight Moon, a story about nothing and everything that matters in a child’s life – routine, consistency and love.

I read every Madeline book created, including all the spinoffs. At three years old, my daughter could recite the lines to an entire Madeline book. Yet, secretly I knew I loved the story more than she did, I swooned over the rhyming, the symmetry and the charming Parisian scenes. I still remember the night I read The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes. When I finished reading, tears streaming down my face, I turned to see my daughter’s reaction and she was fast asleep. What a beautiful timeless story of tolerance and redemption.

I gladly ditched all the colorful plastic in my home years ago, you won’t find a Lego anywhere in sight. Thomas the trains are packed away in the attic and American Girl doesn’t live here anymore. Yet, the books are still here and hold my most cherished memories. I’ll never forget the excitement in my children’s faces when Edward Tulane fell overboard in The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane or when Corduroy, ripped overalls and all, was finally loved.

For some it’s the concerts, plays, sports or parent teacher conferences – nope won’t miss any of that. My nest will be empty next year and passing by their bookcases gives me the most pause. In Barnes and Noble I want to jump up and down in the children’s section, where I spent so much time, but now I begrudgingly pass by. I didn’t cry a river when I dropped my daughter off at college last year but show me a Madeline book and I can make it happen. My kids have outgrown bears that come alive in department stores and talking rabbits. Reading to my kids will always be the most magical and treasured moments of my life. These characters filled up rainy days, sick days, good days and bad – days of exhaustion when reading was the last thing I wanted to do and days I had limitless energy. So they’ve long outgrown the wonder of childhood books but I hope they’ll always honor the hope, wonder, reflection and joy a great story can bring. I couldn’t say it better myself, so here’s a favorite passage from The Velveteen Rabbit:

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

I’ll always be a parent but the path of parenting children is nearing its end for me and I do feel “Real.”

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