Thursday, January 6, 2011

Alla Fine

Last week, when I looked at what recipes I wanted to tackle here at Mangia, Figlie, I crossed the last one off the list. That’s right, my friends, my cook-blog is complete. As I’ve pondered this day out loud with close friends, they’ve been kind enough to suggest I find a different angle to write about, to take this blog down a whole new path. That’s flattering to hear, but I never intended to write ad infinitum.  Mangia, Figlie had a definite beginning, middle, and end from the start … and we’ve arrived alla fine.

But before I go, I would like to thank all those who made this blog so much fun for me. First, of course, are the members of my family, who were good sports as I relayed old stories and posted pictures on the internet for all the world to see. My mom, my aunts, my uncles, my brothers, my husband – all played a vital role in the creation of Mangia, Figlie.

Also thanks to my children, who showed great patience when I spent extra hours at the computer trying to perfect each post, and who played along when I was taking pictures before dinner at least once a week. They ate lukewarm food on more than one occasion for the sake of authenticity.

I have my guest bloggers – Dave, Nick, Ralph, Craig, Cynthia, and Elaine – to thank for sharing a different perspective now and then, and helping to fill in when I had nothing to say. And to my blogging friends and those who took the time to comment again and again, I appreciate your enthusiasm and continued support. Your kind words and encouragement kept me going when I felt I had many more recipes to share, but nothing to say about them.

Finally, I end where I started, with my friend Beth from Dirty Laundry. If I had to write a dedication for this almost-year-long effort, I would of course salute my ancestors for the stories and recipes that allowed me to create this cook-blog. But equally, I would credit Beth for the spark that lit this journey. Thank you, dear friend, for coming to Italian Bunko Night at my house a year ago and encouraging me to do this. I am truly a more complete person for putting this on virtual paper. It’s been a dream for a very long time … and now it’s a dream come true!

Early this past fall, I was reading Rachael Ray’s magazine. The issue was full of information about Italian food – chefs’ favorite restaurants, where to find good ingredients, good Italian wine. The special section ended with a piece entitled, “How to Live Like an Italian.” It was a list of DOs and DON’Ts for an Italian lifestyle, including:

“DON’T drink a latte after dinner. In Italy, that’s considered a breakfast drink. Try a shot of espresso instead…

DO stop for gelato in the midafternoon. Because Italians eat dinner late, they snack around 3 p.m….

DON’T hurry away from the table after dessert. Serve limoncello and encourage your guests to linger.”

But the one that truly caught my eye and stuck with me for all these months was this:

“DO remember that the secret to Italian cooking is sapori e saperi,
or flavors and knowledge. Find excellent ingredients
and do very little to them.”

That, to me, sounds like the perfect recipe-for-success for any great meal.

Grazie, all my friends, and mangiare bene. It’s been a pleasure to serve you.

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Saturday, January 1, 2011


Most of  my New Year’s Eves growing up were spent in Westchester County, New York, visiting our extended family. I always thought it exciting to watch the ball drop on TV, knowing we were just 45 minutes from where Dick Clark was standing in the middle of Times Square. It was the same feeling I got when I would watch “Saturday Night Live” while laying in the fold-out sofa-bed in Aunt Ann’s living room in White Plains. We were so close to Manhattan, I could feel the city’s electricity floating to the northeast through the air.

These days, New Year’s always brings a different adventure. Some years are quiet at home, just the four of us and my mom. Other years we’ve been invited to parties at friends’ houses, where there is always a great spread of fabulous food to help ring in the new year.

Last year was spent with friends – just the two couples and our four kids – the adults enjoying rum drinks, and the kids playing for hours without issue. I almost felt carefree again. And every, oh I don’t know, ten years or so, Dave and I throw a party for all our friends, always inviting more people than can possibly fit into our house, but offering good food and beverage that (I hope) leaves everyone feeling glad they made the decision to venture out and maneuver our crowd.

Last night was quiet at home with my mom and the same friends from last year (though they number one more, since the birth of their third child in September – what a cutie). On the menu – among many goodies – was an old New Year’s favorite from my childhood:

wingsMrs.  M’s Chicken Wings
(Click here to view and print recipe)

We call them “Mrs. M’s Chicken Wings” because a childhood neighbor (and lifelong friend) was a big fan of the wings and dubbed them that in honor of my mom – “Mrs. M.” He requested the recipe years ago, and until last night, I hadn’t had them since a gathering at his house almost a decade ago.

And so we find ourselves at 1/1/11. My grandfather, Ralph, was a New Year’s baby … born in 1904. Buon compleanno, Poppy!

Food wise, today we are skipping the usual slow cooker pork and sauerkraut (a New Year’s favorite here in Central Pennsylvania), as my husband, the kids, and I aren’t huge fans. Instead, I’ve found a lovely recipe for Sausage and Lentils with Fennel (cotechino con lenticchie), which not only gives us the good-luck pork, but follows an Italian tradition of eating legumes on New Year’s Day for prosperity. I’m anxious to get cooking. But before I do, just a little reflection, if I may.

This past year, thanks to this blog effort, I’ve been caught in a whirlwind of memories. Though I’ve always thought I should have parented in the 1950s – I can be pretty strict and old fashioned when it comes to raising children – I’ve never regretted being a child in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. We had “The Brady Bunch” and early “SNL,” as I mentioned above, and when high school came around, we had Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” and all those great British Invasion bands. We had bell bottoms and halter tops, mood rings and “big” hair, and generally life was good all around … well, at least until 1983. That was the year my father died.

As I was writing this post, I realized I’d managed to get through almost an entire year without relaying many memories of my dad or even posting a picture of him. I suppose that’s because 27-and-a-half years later, it’s still a difficult subject for me. Sure, I cry less than every day, like I used to, and I have managed over the years to make some peace with God for having taken my daddy away from me so early in my life. But I still miss him, and when my mother last week was talking about him to my son, at the end of the conversation, my son said: “You’re making me just want to meet him more now than ever.”

Someday, my son, someday (I hope). But let’s not hurry that along.

The stories? Well, those are mine, and I will selfishly keep them for myself. But I surely can share one photo.

dad and me

I like this one from my high school graduation – June 10, 1982. It was taken exactly one year and one day before his death. Certainly it’s how I remember him most, but also it’s how I remember me with him … happy.

But as I often say, “That was three lifetimes ago” … and alas, 2011 is here. Time has moved forward and continues to do so. I started on my New Year’s resolution to eat healthier and exercise more before Christmas even came, and I’ll continue my effort to be healthier at age 50 than I was at age 40. I still have almost four years to meet that goal, but there’s no harm in getting there early, now is there?

Happy New Year, my friendsFelice Anno Nuovo. May you have a healthy and prosperous year – eating good (and good-for-you) food, making great memories … living your life to its fullest.

Cheddar & Parm Chicken Wings on Foodista