Grimaldi’s Thanksgiving

Grimaldi knew something interesting was afoot.  There was unusual hustle and bustle in Anna’s kitchen.  She and her husband Salvatore spoke loudly, using strange words that he was just beginning to understand.  When they spoke to him, though, they made the familiar sounds that Jon once used.  Grimaldi early on figured out that when Anna said “latte,” she meant milk and “carne” meant meat.  No matter which language, these words brought Grimaldi running to his bowl.  

Grimaldi missed his old home.  He still grieved for Jon, although he loved Anna.  His thoughts drifted to the beings who had disappeared from his life.  He knew that after Jon had vanished, Jon’s mate Lucy did not want him.  She moved to a place called Naples, leaving Grimaldi with Anna and Salvatore.  Henceforth he was to be Anna’s cat. 

As far back as Grimaldi could remember, Lucy never liked him, and for his part, Grimaldi disliked Lucy.  She had no business being in that house but could stay at Jonathan’s sufferance.  Lucy cooked and cleaned.  That Grimaldi would give her.  She did not encourage him to stay around when she cooked, however; so he made a habit of lying in the doorway, pleased when Lucy barely missed tripping on him.  She never shared tidbits from her plate, as Jonathan used to do. 

One day, shortly before Jon vanished, Grimaldi had stretched out on the kitchen table.  Lucy had gone out.  Had she seen him, she’d have thrown whatever she could grab at him.  Grimaldi heard the key; he jumped down and stood in the middle of the room.  As Lucy entered, he put his tail in the air and sauntered away upstairs.  Lucy snarled at the cat’s departing rear and set out to make dinner.  Then she noticed cat hairs on the table.  She felt the surface.  Warm.  “Damn that cat!” she shouted.  If she had gotten her hands on him, she would have tossed him out the window. 

Grimaldi, though, was quite pleased to have gotten away with something.  Upstairs now, he considered jumping up on the bed, but thought he’d better not push his luck. Lucy had it in for him as it was.   He meandered into Jon’s studio.

He found Jon absorbed in painting.  A cup of lukewarm tea and a cheese sandwich sat on a side table.  Grimaldi lapped up a little spilled milk and nosed the sandwich.  He pushed the top piece of bread off and nibbled the cheese.  Then he yowled his Siamese yowl.  Jon turned around and smiled.  Grimaldi sat and regarded Jon, blinking his blue eyes. 

Jon stopped painting to admire Grimaldi.  His colors were perfect—a tail the hue of dried autumn leaves melded into a sandy tan touched with sienna on his body.  The shade flowed back into deep brown of his graceful legs and upward to the ears.  The cool blue of his eyes made for a startling interruption of the warm browns.  Something in the eyes recalled the Mediterranean.  But viewed from afar.  As if gazing on the sea from the mountains above Amalfi.  A blue approaching a cool bright turquoise (but not quite) sliced by glints of white sunlight.  Jon never entirely managed to capture their luster in paint.  Light defined them, not pigment. 

Grimaldi finished Jon’s lunch.  He warbled, and careful not to disturb Jon’s paints, wove himself around Jon’s legs.  Jon seemed dispirited, as if retreating behind his easel.  Then Grimaldi smelled it — not Jon’s scent, but a smell that meant something coming to an end. 

Grimaldi’s instinct was to run away.   He had not forgotten his littermate, Grazia.  She too had emanated this same odor of death that made her unfamiliar.  From the time he first detected it, Grimaldi kept her at a distance.  Grazia crept into the basement where she hid behind the furnace.  She stayed there for two days until Jon pulled her out, limp and dusty.  He wiped her off and laid her ever so gently in a box.  This he put into the car and drove off.  When he returned, he was alone.  The way Grazia changed and vanished disturbed Grimaldi for a long time. 

Now it was happening again. Only Grimaldi sensed it.  Lucy did not.  She behaved as if everything were normal.  He did not run away this time, but rubbed the easel with his upper lip to mark Jon’s place as his own. 

Soon however, the hubbub in Anna’s kitchen made Grimaldi forget his melancholy and drew him there.  He sprang to the windowsill.  He sniffed the delightful aromas and tried to discover what was going on.  Anna was unusually busy.  Interesting smells floated all around.  Grimaldi, taking advantage of Anna’s good nature, plopped himself in the middle of her table to see what he might eat. 

Anna didn’t mind.  She was glad of the company.  Her adopted country did not relegate cats to outdoors where they were expected to hunt their own food.  Here they treated animals as the sentient beings Anna knew them to be.  So, working around the cat, she prepared her American Thanksgiving. 

Foremost was making pumpkin pie, an American dessert that she found peculiar but scrumptious.  Anna offered Grimaldi crumbs of crust and put a little condensed milk into his bowl.  The cat gobbled it all.  Then Anna opened the can of pumpkin.  He went mad with delight.  He mewed and rubbed her legs, nearly tripping her.

“Pumpkin is for cows, not cats,” she told him.

After the pies were baked, Anna put them on the dining room table to cool.  Grimaldi leapt to a chair, then onto the table.  He was about to lick one when Anna picked him up.  She carried him out and closed the door.

While Anna was relaxing, reading the Corriere della sera, Grimaldi made his way to the dining room.  He couldn’t push the door open, but he had an idea.  He leapt and grabbed hold of the doorknob with his paws.  As he dropped, it turned, and the door opened a crack.  Grimaldi nudged it open and stole in.  Yet again, he jumped on the table. A pumpkin pie was waiting. He devoured the center, leaving a great hole. 

Grimaldi was thankful that Thanksgiving — thankful to be clever enough to get a taste of pie, and that Anna loved life too much to deny any creature a measure of enjoyment.

End of Summer Pesto

Summer is almost over and we are missing Italy and our friends there.  All we could do this year was watch videos of the empty Italian cities and people singing from their balconies.  A friend emailed pictures of the deserted streets of Naples, adding that, “A populace that doesn’t observe laws, now is observing the law.”

This is a street in Naples as we were accustomed to seeing it.

Another friend sent the link to a documentary about doctors and a hospital fighting Covid-19 in northern Italy.  All this has brought us to tears.  Yet, the Italian spirit endures.

It goes without stating that we couldn’t travel this year.  I know it is frivolous to lament a missed vacation.   Sometimes I feel that all that can be said about the direness of this epidemic has already been said.  I have nothing more add.  It is a sad and frightening time for everyone.  Isolated, we all yearn to see our families and friends. This plague touches us all, and we are doing what we can to brave it.

Yet here in Long Island life seems to go on.  Especially in Jim’s garden.  As if to assert, “See, I will continue to nourish you,” his herb patch is thriving.  The basil has never been so lush.  One of the ways I could use all this basil was to make pesto sauce.

I know well that there are many versions of pesto online and they result in a wide variety of sauces.  Some years ago when I bought some fresh basil at the local farmers’ market – more basil than I knew what to do with.  I muddled my way through making pesto and we loved it.  I wrote down what I did and have followed this recipe ever since.

It is simple, comprising only five ingredients – basil, pignoli nuts, olive oil, garlic and pecorino romano.  (I leave out salt, which everyone may add as they prefer.)

Thinking of how the Mediterranean diet is healthful and realizing these ingredients are all implicit to Italian cuisine, I did my best to discover the nutrition benefit for each one.

Source:  http://www.nutrition-and-you.com

Basil:      An anti-inflammatory and an anti-bacterial.  It is rich in vitamin A and likewise contains vitamin K, potassium, manganese, copper, magnesium, and iron.

 

Pignoli Nuts:  Contain monounsaturated fatty acids and might help  reduce bad cholesterol, while increasing the good.   They are high in vitamins E and B complex and an excellent source of minerals as well.

  [Jim says these might break the budget.]

 

Olive Oil:        Also helps prevent inflammation and maintain cholesterol balance.  It too is high in vitamin E.

Garlic:             Also a source of minerals potassium, iron, calcium, magnesium, manganese, zinc, and selenium and in vitamins B6 and C.  When cut, the bulbs generate allicin, which aids in reducing risk of heart disease and may be an anti-bacterial and anti-viral.

[Jim says that Italians have always known that garlic is good for everything.]

Pecorino romano:        I checked out http://www.bio-medicine.org/ for information on this sheep’s milk cheese.  They say it enhances the immune system and even those who are lactose intolerant can eat it.

[When I originally made pesto, I couldn’t have dairy products, so I served the pecorino on the side.   Everyone added as much as they wanted. ]

So it is with hopeful thoughts of delicious food and friendship that I offer my recipe for pesto.

First, if you are fortunate, you just go to your herb garden and pick basil.   Be sure not to take the whole plant. Cut it with clippers right above the small leaves at the bottom of the stalk.  That way, the plant keeps growing rather than going to seed.   If you don’t have room outdoors, buy a pot of basil and nurture it.  It will flourish in an apartment too.

 

Second, have your significant other grate the cheese.

 

Now, to create the sauce:

2 cups basil leaves                                                      1/2 cup pignoli nuts

1/4 cup olive oil                                                          3 cloves of garlic, minced

1/2 cup pecorino romano, grated                                Salt to taste

Place basil, pignoli nuts, garlic and salt (if you wish to use it) in a blender or food processor.  Slowly puree while adding olive oil in a steady stream.

Put pureed mixture into a bowl and add the grated cheese.

Yield:  1 cup.

Enjoy with pasta or on gnocchi.  Or with anything you like.

 

 

 

Buon appetito

West Virginia Italian

August was a busy month.  It is usually a month to stay home, go to the beach and tend the garden, but this year we traveled.  No, we did not go to Italy – we got as far as England where there are Roman ruins, but before that we went to Morgantown, West Virginia.  It is a place of some architectural gems.

 

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Early 20th Century building whos façade has become modernized with neon.

 

I am from Morgantown and lived there the first nineteen years of my life.  There was an Italian community there, although except for the older Italians who had emigrated from various parts of Italy in the early 20th century (My father came from the Cilento region.), it seems to me that we were assimilated; we considered ourselves West Virginians.

 

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The old Metropolitan Theater, formerly a movie house, now a performance space

 

First of all, I would like to dispel any misconceptions of West Virginia.  It is not a southern state.  In fact – and I asked my old friends and the volunteer in the Morgantown History Museum who agree – we think that people who consider West Virginia to be a part of the south don’t know their American history.  West Virginia seceded from Virginia in 1863 because it chose to remain a part of the Union, and considers itself a northern state.  Nor is the culture particularly southern.  West Virginia never really had a plantation economy; its industries were forestry and coal mining.  These attracted protestants from Ireland in the 18th century, and later people from Wales, Eastern Europe, and Italy.  This seemed to be the ethnic make-up of Morgantown when I lived there – all were proud of their heritage, but still West Virginian.

 

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Detail of early 20th century building on High Street

 

Morgantown is home of West Virginia University and once was a rather wealthy town. It boasted several glass factories — Jacqueline Kennedy chose glassware for the White House from one.  There was Morgan Shirt Factory which produced Ralph Lauren, Ellen Tracy and Van Heusen apparel.  There was also Sterling Faucet, which, as the name indicates, made faucets.  I was saddened to learn that these industries are gone now, just memories documented in the History of Morgantown Museum.

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Old stone building, formerly a bank, lather a clothing store, now housing souvenir shops and a radio station

 

I love this building.

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It stands on the corner of High Street and Pleasant Street and, when I was little, housed a pharmacy called Moore and Parriot.  The pharmacy was owned and run by two Italian-American women, Mary Angotti and Anne DiNardo.  They were friends of my mother.  Mary Angotti was the pharmacist.  This was in the 1940’s and ‘50’s.  There have always been enterprising Italian-American women!

And, yes, Italian men worked in the coal mines. I don’t remember much coal mining in and around Morgantown when we were growing up – and I asked my friends who agreed and said that more mining was done in the southern part of the state. Nevertheless, there was some.   Frank Liberatore, a friend of my father, was killed sometime in the 1940’s in a mine collapse.  His widow Maria supplemented her Workmen’s Compensation by taking care of children – me included.

She taught me how to make pizza when I went to visit her one day.

“Come in,” she said.  “I made pizza.”   Her pizza was different from what we knew of in pizza parlors.

“But there’s no tomato sauce or cheese.”  I was confused.

“Oh, this is the pizza.”  She offered me a disc about six inches in diameter, with browned onion and salt.  “You put whatever you want on it.”

It was delicious!  When I make pizza, I always think of her.  Indeed, I used this recipe when we got back to New York – to make pepperoni rolls.

Pepperoni rolls are a West Virginia-Italian invention.  I had had them when I was growing up, usually from Aunt Jenny’s bakery on Walnut Street, and sometimes from Pike’s on Pleasant Street.  I was a little surprised when I moved to New York that no one here had ever heard of them; then I forgot about them.

Then I found Morgantown Magazine in our hotel room.  “The Pepperoni Roll, from A to Z,” an article written by Mary Wade Burnside explains that this dainty was developed in West Virginia as a lunch that coal miners could take with them down in the pits.  Ms. Burnside also tells us that there is a book written about the pepperoni roll – The West Virginia Pepperoni Roll by Candace Nelson.  And since the book mentions that they could be made from pizza dough, I decided to make some for my family.

I tried to make them as I remembered them with thin slices of meat rolled up in plain bread.  However, the article indicates that the making of pepperoni rolls has become an art with variations and permutations according to one’s preference. You can access Morgantown Magazine and more information about pepperoni rolls at morgantownmag.com.  In the meantime, here is my recipe:

Pepperoni Rolls  

6 oz. thin sliced pepperoni                                                         ½ cup water

1 pack dried yeast                                                                         1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon salt                                                                               1 additional cup water

2 Tablespoons olive oil                                                                 2 cups + flour

Extra flour for kneading dough

 

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The beginnings of pepperoni rolls

 

Put ½ cup warm water into a large mixing bowl.  The water should be about 100ᵒ F.  If it is too hot, it will kill the yeast.

Sprinkle the yeast and sugar on the water.  Cover bowl and let stand for about a half hour, or until yeast begins to bubble.

Add the olive oil and salt to the yeast mixture.  Then begin to add the flour, about 1 cup at a time until you have a smooth dough that forms a ball and does not stick to the surface of the bowl.

Flour your counter or table top and remove the dough from the bowl and begin to knead.  You will have to knead for about 15 minutes, adding flour as necessary.  When little blisters begin to form in the dough, it is ready.

Lightly grease the bottom of the bowl with a little olive oil and put the ball of dough in.  Turn once to make sure both sides of the dough are oiled.  Cover and let stand for about an hour.

When the dough has doubled in bulk, punch it down and let it sit for about 10 minutes.

Flour your work surface and roll the dough into a rectangle.  (You can do this in batches.)  Cut rolled dough into squares of about 6 inches. (or larger if you prefer)

Spread the pepperoni slices on each square and roll like a jelly roll.  Tuck in the ends.  Place the rolls on a greased baking sheet and let them sit for 15-30 minutes – until they have risen but are not too big and airy.

Bake at 350ᵒ F. for about 30 minutes.  They are done when nicely browned and sound hollow when you tap them.

This should make about a dozen larger rolls, or two dozen smaller ones.

 

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Pepperoni rolls ready to eat

 

Not only did I re-discover pepperoni rolls while staying at the Hotel Morgan, we also were served a new version of the classical Manhattan – the Black Manhattan.

What does this have to do with being Italian?  Well, it’s made like a traditional Manhattan, but instead of sweet vermouth, this drink calls for an amaro di Averna, the bitter liqueur from Sicily.

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You can use either rye or bourbon (We used Bulleit rye), amaro di Averna and a dash or two of bitters.

 

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Jim mixing Black Manhattans

 

 

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Black Manhattans ready for a toast

 

 

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Cheers!  Squisito!