Thursday, May 28, 2009


Awhile ago when I originally created my blogs I thought it would be humorous to list my occupation as "Spaghetti Bender" under my personal profile. Growing up that term was often a benign euphemism for a person of Italian descent. There were other references not quite complimentary, and many other cultural groups had their own as well. I'd like to believe that prejudice has come along way towards increased tolerance and understanding but there are times when I am disappointed by the ignorance that still prevails at times somewhat unexpectedly.

Not everyone whose last name ends in a vowel or has an Italian sounding last name is associated with organized crime. The HBO series the Sopranos, which I enjoyed viewing very much had the unfortunate effect of causing a setback in the way people view Italians .Some of the stereotypes were actually quite damaging. (Not all of us have antisocial tendencies.) One thing the show did highlight is how much Italians love their pasta. Tomato sauce and meatballs made by simmering the tomatoes all day long is truly a labor of love and patience. You cannot hurry the sauce.

There are many variations of the recipe, probably each family does it a bit different. My aunt used to make the meatballs and submerge them in the sauce without browning them first.My mother always slowly browned her meatballs first before adding them to the sauce and used to like to add a few pieces of pork or veal to sweeten the taste of the sauce.

The family story about my mother being taught to cook Italian food was often referred to with humor. When my parents started dating back in the 1930's it was somewhat of a scandal for an Irish girl to "go with" an Italian. Her father disapproved and wasn't too pleased. When my parents married it was necessary for my mother to receive cooking lessons from my Italian grandmother so that she could cook properly for my father. Keep in mind this was a different generation than today. She turned into a fantastic cook and I'd like to think I gained some of that talent from being around her growing up in her kitchen.

One of the important learning experiences growing up in a spaghetti eating family involved teaching the young child to twirl their pasta. Although this was usually approached with casual humor and encouragement make no mistake about it, you were expected to learn to twirl your spaghetti or face disappointment and ostracism. The earlier a child learned to do this allowed the parent's bragging rights in the family similar to how parents brag about their little ones learning to take their first steps. Very serious business and a point of pride especially with my father.

If you are naturally right handed the fork is placed between the crook of the thumb and index finger and a soup size spoon is held up midway with the left hand. Does this sound over specific, yes, but form is important. The spoon should be held off the plate but not too high. The right index finger and thumb are gently rotated over the handle of the fork. It is easier to manage if you take a smaller portion of spaghetti to twirl in the spoon rather than a larger amount which inevitably will most likely not stay wound on the spoon. There's nothing worse than to have stray strands flopping over or spraying sauce about trying to pile it into your mouth. It should look delicate and effortless. All of this takes dexterity, patience and a certain amount of practice.

If you expect to eat with Italian people at their table you better know how to twirl because believe me, secretly you are being evaluated whether you will be a good match for their child. My poor husband had to be warned before he sat down to our table to practice his twirling or my father might be unimpressed if he started to slurp wild strands of spaghetti into his mouth or heaven for bid cut the pasta in half which my father had always pronounced "the lazy way". If all this sounds a slight bit unreasonable try to put it in the context of good manners. I imagine Asian people might feel the same way about chopsticks but I've never asked them.Our daughters had to go through their own initiation when boyfriends were invited for dinner and if spaghetti was likely to be served to be warned they better twirl their spaghetti.

Celeste's Spaghetti Sauce Recipe: 2 0r 3 lg. cans of tomato sauce and 2-3 small cans of tomato paste combined in a large sauce pot. Add spices including; 1 bay leaf, 1 tsp. Italian seasoning. 2-3 small cloves of garlic, a few shakes (1/4 tsp.) Tabasco, 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes, 1/2 pepper, 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, 1/4 tsp.onion salt, pinch of thyme and or Rosemary. Simmer on low heat at a very gentle bubble, stir often, keep cover on while simmering. If thick sauce is preferred add extra sm. can of tomato paste, for thinner sauce add 1/4 cup of water (which can be increased if the sauce loses too much moisture while simmering). 6 hours
While the sauce is simmering it's "tima to maka the meatballs":
2-3lbs of ground beef (not too lean), add spices including 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, 1/2 tsp. black pepper, 1/4 or 1/2 tsp.crushed red pepper flakes (depending on how hot you like meatballs), 2/3 cup (approx.) Italian flavored bread crumbs, 2 eggs, 2 tbsp.water, 1/2 tsp. Italian seasoning. 1/2 tsp. onion salt, 1/4 tsp. garlic seasoning. Mix ingredients gently together, don't be afraid to use your hands.
Wet hands under warm tap water often to keep meatball mixture from sticking to hands. Rotate meatballs in a circular motion in palm of hand until firm, lightly brown in fry pan (spray lightly with cooking oil) on low heat to keep from burning until cooked nearly all the way through. If the meatballs are nearly fully cooked they are more likely to remain firm and not fall apart in the sauce.You may have to experiment a little. Drain cooked meatballs on a layer of paper towels for 5-10 min.before placing them in the sauce. The meatballs need to simmer in the sauce at least 5 hours. Keep cover on sauce pot and gently stir often. You may also add Italian sausage that has been lightly browned either 30 min in oven or in a fry pan on low heat. It's a good idea to drain them a few minutes on a paper towel to get rid of the grease.
Serve with any type of pasta you prefer and remember to twirl your spaghetti!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

DestiNation NoWhere

Lawn mowers are a special breed. They don't seem to care or register that they never go anywhere. Maybe they think they do but they don't. Endlessly steering their machines, lining up their tracks, being ever so careful not to leave a patch unmowed, striving for perfect symmetry.

It seems to be irrelevant the size of the real estate. Having a ride on is the prize of perfection. Why should a modest patch be hand mowed when a ride on can do it . Did John Deere fantasize as a young boy about inventing the most powerful mower with the most elaborate accessories? How many men though have fantasized owning a John Deere? Not, Hugh Hefner, I bet.

There appears to be artistry involved in how one mows. Whether to mow in vertical lines perpendicular to the driveway or horizontal to the walkway. Evaluating how close to mow to the shrubs which might then require an additional pass with the weed wacker. Must like noise, looks like a motorized serpent's tongue.

Hiring a landscaping company takes the joy out of getting out there on a hot sunny day, shirt off if your're a guy(?), not bothering with sun screen because that's for wimps. Stopping every once in awhile for a cold one and sitting on the porch surveying the artistry of the patterns made with the blades with a sense of pleasure, accomplishment and satisfaction.

Some may complain about how fast the turf grows but secretly they can't wait to mount the lawn mower and repeat the same activity. If it rains on the day there were plans to mow the lawn and having to remain inside gazing out at the unshorn green knowing it will grow even longer from the rain. Can't wait to get out there. Kill some time messing around in the garage hoping the rain will inevitably pass.

Maybe buying some cows or sheep would eliminate the need for a lawn mower. Or here is a radical idea; maybe just let the grass grow wild. Are you crazy or something! Letting the grass get too tall allows the snakes to hide in there. Never mind that was a bad idea.

A few miles away closer to town there were several neighbors who grew rather irate about this radical thinking guy who wanted to have his front yard resemble a wild field . The town actually became involved and issued a summons to court for creating an unsafe visual obstacle blocking clear line of sight for vehicles trying to see oncoming traffic at the corner of his lot. It took several months for the town board to rule that they couldn't make the guy mow his grass. Several weeks later when no one seemed to be around one of the town contractors went and mowed the guy's lawn. The saga has continued and now we will have new debate as lawn growing and mowing season is upon us.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Hold on to your hat

Wearing a hat or cap can reveal alot about a person. Hats can be a fashion statement or an accessory besides the obvious practicality of covering your pate.Some people are adverse to covering their noggin even in the most adverse weather because they do not want to have hat head. The hair flattens down on the head appearing somewhat unattractive.News flash, that's what combs and brushes are for.

When my friends and I were in our early teens we would often go into department stores and make a detour to the hat section. Adolescent females do not need much prompting to giggle, and that we did. Sometimes we would get rather raucous and attract attention from disapproving adults but tended to be oblivious enjoying our frivolity. We actually had a name for this activity, "let's play hat". I have always had a thing for hats and this activity was probably the launching point of my love for chapeaus
I began to wear a baseball cap way ahead of the trend. It started out as a way to shield my face from the sun at the beach as I began to notice accumulating sun damage. If this was a way I could slow down the wrinkles and spots why not. Baseball caps are now commonplace and lots of people enjoy displaying their loyalties to whatever sports teams they follow. I have too many baseball caps to count but would admit that the Red Sox are a reoccurring theme as well as various places I have visited in my travels. Now there is a device to wash your baseball caps in the washing machine so they don't become misshapen. It's a plastic shaped cap with snaps to mold it and keep it in place.

Wearing a hat in the winter is just good common sense. It's nice to have a pretty beret or wool hat to keep your head warm and dry from the snow. I have two baskets of hats all of which are various colors to match my winter coats, scarves and gloves. I keep adding to my collection and have a difficult time getting rid of any of them. I'd say my favorite used to be this nice little black beret until my husband began to tease me I looked like Monica Lewinsky. I don't think he liked the beret but I continue to wear it anyway.I had never heard a wool cap referred to as a touk until I moved to Northern N.Y. but that's what they call them up here.Again, the Red Sox are well represented in my winter hat collection.

Wide brim hats have a dramatic flair. There are not alot of places to wear them unless women chose to dress up going to church. Every year during the summer season we try to go to Saratoga Race Track in N.Y. State a few hours south of where we live. The women adorn themselves in the most magnificent hats and I forget sometimes to watch the horse races because I'm too busy gazing at the millinery finery displayed. I have a few wide brimmed hats of my own which I have sewn ribbons and flowers on to. I also wear wide brimmed hats on the beach in Costa Rica mostly resembling gardening or cowboy straw hats. It seems to prevent me from feeling overheated in the hot sun.

I would guess that there are times when people may have more that one motive to don a cap or hat. If you had not washed or styled your hair on a certain day it would definitely hide the unattractiveness with out feeling overly self conscious.Unless you work at a very casual job though this would unlikely be tolerated. However, now people in the food service industry often wear hats to maintain sanitary standards. There is nothing worse than finding a hair in your food.( As an aside, I recently saw a bearded gentleman with a net over his beard while working in a deli, good idea.)

What if you were trying not to be noticed and wearing a cap or hat might alter your appearance enough that people out in public might not recognize you? Since I am not a famous Hollywood celebrity I guess there is nothing to worry about regarding that although I do confess to wearing my sunglasses and hat sometimes to not run into people I don't want to stop and talk to. Am I bad? I wonder what those people ( Stacey and Clinton) from the show "What not to Wear" would think of my hat adornments? I guess I don't really care. I hope they don't show up knocking at my door because I won't answer.