Mom could cook anything, and make it taste
delicious. We swore she had some special powder hidden in that old
frayed apron that gave her mystical powers in the kitchen. Maybe
it was some kind of culinary black magic, but it certainly was great
she practiced it for us. The Holidays were her moment to shine,
and did she ever. That's when all the pots and pans came out, and
family came over for an Anna Roman feast.
Where do I begin? So much food and so little time. You come from
an Italian family and everything revolves around the dining room
table. All important things are discussed over food. You don't feel
Mom always had something going on the stove. It is a sad Italian
household with nothing simmering on the stove. I'll ease slowly
into it with one of my Holiday favorites....escarole soup. Start
with a nice chicken consommé’ and a little rice, slice
a few carrots and simmer a bit before you toss in the fresh escarole.
Then simmer some more and serve with a nice sprinkling of Parmesano
Cheese. What you got there my friends is liquid heaven in a bowl.
That's how Easter dinner always started off. We used to call it
"bellywash", so light and tasty, designed to get those
juices flowing. Holiday meals were a grand seduction in our house.
You started at 3:00 and ate until after 9:00. After the seductive
escarole soup, with both Mom and her magic apron warmed up, out
came the salad. Our monstrous salad bowl was overflowing with fresh
iceberg lettuce, olives, cucumbers, peppers, and chunks of tomato.
To keep the salad company.....a very nice platter of salami, provolone,
proscuitto, pepperoni, and chunks of hard cheeses. Oh yes, bread,
plenty of that. Now here is where it got serious. From this point
on, the kitchen was off limits as Mom brought out the heavy artillery-the
main courses-----yes, main courses.....plural.
"Hey Shultz! (one of the many, many names my Dad called me).........Pour
First salvo from the kitchen......a heavy barrage of homemade
manicotti, chicken parm, meatballs, sausage, and perhaps some eggplant.
"Ohhs and ahhs" all around, as the piles of food quickly
disappeared. Everyone secretly wished there would be leftovers.
Following this came the first interlude, a strategic disengagement
from the table to let it hit bottom, while Mom tactically retreated
to re-load her apron. Men moved into the living room for some first-half
football action and maybe a short snooze. Only women were allowed
in the kitchen--no exceptions. After a suitable period of rest---
"Hey Stavros!" (another affectionate name.....have no
idea where he got that one from)........"Wake up Uncle Tony
and Uncle Tootie, Mom's getting ready for the main assault. Better
check on Uncle Joe, he's snoring funny. Might have a manicotti hung
up in there."
We waddle into the dining room just as Mom let's go with the second
salvo ........Yankee Pot Roast, with corn, broccoli, mashed potatoes,
and all sorts of other stuff just in case someone is extra hungry.
"I hope there 's enough for everyone", Mom worries.
At this point, Dad would utter his routine holiday benediction...."Enough?
You could feed a paratrooper battalion with all this food!"
"Yeah, I can hear the planes coming in now, Dad." (my
"Eat and keep quiet Slick (yet another name), your mother
worked hard on
And so it went, another disappearing food act ensued. I can taste
that pot roast now, with the corn kernels all lathered in butter,
salt, and pepper. The broccoli hot and steaming, and potatoes like
creamed heaven with maybe some onion bits or garlic flavoring, topped
off with hot brown gravy. What a feast, leading to the second, much
more serious interlude.
Men and women separate again and this time we are not talking
about a snooze or a nap in front of the TV set.....we are talking
deep sleep, and in some cases near coma-like experiences. The dog
has been eating all this stuff as well, and he is about to collapse
at any moment, his tummy almost touching the rug. We are talking
maybe 90 minutes here. Dishes must be done, the table cleared and
cleaned, the women must swap some recipes and stories and gossip,
while the men pretend to watch football….. and the insides
of their eyelids.
All is quiet in the living room, as the women talk shop. Aunt
Angie and Aunt Millie are telling old stories amid stifled laughter,
and muffled giggles. Time passes and digestion progresses so deliciously
slow….and then Mom orders----
“Wake the men, it’s time for dessert”. This
task usually fell to my kid sisters. The dog does not even stir,
as the men awaken from their dry mouthed snoring to catch the scent
of hot coffee and pastries in the air. In they come, trance-like
to a table filled with cannoli, sfogliotelle, napoleons, rum laced
sponge cakes, Mom’s cherry confetti cake, and sweet cookies.
By now that pasta in our bellies has exhausted all our insulin and
we need something sweet (this really does happen); and the pastries
are leaped upon. We almost don’t even notice the fruits, nuts,
The sugar and the caffeine stir everybody back up, and after about
an hour of this portion of the feast, Dad suggests maybe a big penny
poker game; or out comes the old 8mm movie projector to take a look
at past family events. By about 9:00 or so, Mom asks,
“I could pick a little”, someone says.
And that kicks off the nibbling of the leftovers. Year after year,
holiday after holiday, that was Mom’s dining room. On Thanksgiving,
it was pasta first and then the Turkey. On Christmas it was pasta
and fish. Always two main courses. The action that old apron saw!
Now if you are keeping company with a nice Italian girl or engaged
to be married, well that takes special intestinal fortitude, because
you must eat at both Mom’s and your intended mother-in-law’s
table. You must eat twice on each and every holiday.
“Hey hon, I got this urge for escarole soup!” Thank
God Mom taught my wife the recipe, but she swore her to secrecy,
magic powder and all.
When I was studying at the Newark College of Engineering, three
of us old neighborhood “paisanos” used to meet at each
other’s houses after dinner several nights a week to work
out the tough electrical engineering problems our professors would
assign. Many students worked in teams. Whenever we met at our house,
Mom would always have her apron on, and some snacks simmering for
me, Marty and George. It was only maybe an hour-and-a-half after
we had dinner, but Mom and the stove were ready for a second round.
The guys loved to meet at our old 5th Street house, and so did I
Oh yeah….. in those college days Dad had another new name
What can I say?