Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Mind Games...

I'm so sick of my neighbor and his implying that I'm in the mob that I just started playing along. Yesterday for instance, I waited until I saw him peeping through his blinds, then I dragged a big rolled up piece of burlap out to my pickup truck, hurriedly threw it in the bed along with two shovels, and sped off down the road.
I'm sure he thought the worst...

Friday, February 20, 2015

I get a little homesick...

My stunod neighbor aside...I really like it here in Forest. But it isn't Philly. Sometimes I miss my hometown. I love the scenery here, especially the Blue Ridge Mountains. But you know what they don't have here that I really miss? Cathedrals. There are precious few Catholic churches here to begin with, but the ones they do have, are all plain, sort of antebellum buildings. Back home, we have three-story Cathedrals where the only thing that isn't marble are the pews.
Here are a few pictures of one of my favorite old cathedrals...St. Anthony's...

Trust me when I tell you...there's nothing like this around here. And that makes me a little homesick.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Big Announcement

YO! I've been sitting on this for a while now. But about a year ago I met this guy and he's from Philly like me and he's a writer and he thought the whole thing about my nutty neighbor thinking I'm in the mob would be a great book. So I agreed. We've talked over macaroni and gravy, watching Eagles games, and making canolli. So The big news is the book is done and it will be out next month. Here is the cover. That ain't me, by the way.

I think it's pretty funny...having a book written about me and all. I'm just a guy. It feels odd. Anyways I hope you will look for it.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Why do you love mob stories?

So my friend tells me that my life story is very funny. At least the last five years. Why? "Because the things that have happened to you are funny," he said. These "Things" he is talking about are all because of a nosy neighbor across the street who thinks I'm in the mob. To you maybe that's funny. But not to me.
I don't know...maybe if it was happening to someone else and I was watching it, maybe then it would be funny. But I lived this crap. I still don't know how my neighbor came to believe I was in the mob in the first place. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I mean, I'm Italian, I'm rich -because I took an enormous buyout for my family business- and I used to be in the "waste management" business. So what, I have this in common with Tony Soprano and that makes me a Capo?
So I asked myself, "What is it about Mob stories that people love, anyway?" Do they love the crime? Do they love corruption and sociopaths with personality disorders? Hell no!
They love family.
They love respect.
They love tradition.
Maybe they love power. I guess everyone dreams of being powerful sometimes.  But they don't go around wishing they could kill someone and then cut them to pieces in a butcher shop and carry their head around in a bowling bag. Okay, maybe the sociopaths among us do...but they're a tiny minority. The average person loves these stories not because they are mob stories, but because they are Italian stories.
Because we are a very funny people. Funny on purpose and funny by nature. All those great things you watch on "The Godfather" and wish were true about your own life...those are Italian things. Not Mob things. We are loud, funny, wisecracking, loving, fun-loving, gregarious people. We love to eat and sing and drink a little bit. We love our family and we love our friends. We pretty much love everyone until they give us a reason not to love them. We cling to tradition and stay close to home. At least on Sundays, right? We pass down recipes and war stories and love them both.
We're proud of who we were and who we are.

THAT is why people love mob stories. Because of those great family scenes. Dinner tables with 25 people and a mountain of food and loud, funny, occasionally heated conversations. And a lot of love.

Admit it...I hit the nail on the head didn't I?  Yeah we joke about making someone an "offer they can't refuse" but when the chips are down, we don't resort to our personal Luca Brasi. We make an offhanded remark about putting a horse head in someone's bed, but none of us could really do that to a horse. Naaah. What we really love is that dinner scene and the wise "Momma" saying "Santino...don't interfere." and Sonny instantly quieting down. We try making gravy the way Peter Clemenza taught Michael Corleone to do it. We love Don Corleone not because he could brutally dispatch someone, but because he was wise about the whole "Solazzo business."

Nobody wants to be a mafia man...not really. But everybody wants to belong. Everybody wants to have lifelong friends who will always be there. Everyone wants tradition and history to rely on.
That is why we love these stories.

Maybe, in the end, that's why the old man across the street insisted I was in the mob. Maybe he needed me to be. Maybe underneath all his fear and suspicion...he wanted to belong to something big too.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

My Neighbors and Gravy

Couple of important things I'm teaching my neighbors here in Virginia:
*It's Gravy...not sauce. Marinara is sauce. What I make on Sunday is gravy. Why?
Why do you THINK?

*The secret is simple. Lot's of fresh garlic, basil, and olive oil. And pork. The secret to really great gravy is pork. How much pork?
...Just a little more.

*Meatballs are fried, then added to the gravy just before serving. Otherwise you have a 2 inch thick layer of grease on your gravy

*It's M-A-C-A-R-O-N-I  not pasta.

*The longer it simmers, the better

*Make about half again as much as you really need, because people will be dipping bread in it and "Just having a taste" until dinner is served and you'd be surprised how much tasting goes on.

*Wine. It goes in the gravy, and in the cook

*Sugar is for coffee. Time makes your gravy sweet

*Season it when you start and season it again in about 8 hours

*You don't break or cut learn to twirl it in a big spoon.


Sunday, November 30, 2014

My Thoughts on Italian Food...Why I cook for my neighbors.

So, I live in Forest, Virginia. It's a nice little town, next door to Lynchburg...another nice little town where I went to college.
Four years ago, I took an outlandish buyout offer and sold the family business; Mezilli Trash Hauling and Cartage to Waste International. (The guys who claim they know how to manage landfill's without ruining the drinking water.) I won't say how much money, but it was a gaudy amount and I'll never have to work again. Neither will anyone in my bloodline. Ever.
After about a year, my wife Angie and I decided that, as much as we love our hometown of Philadelphia, we just wanted the kids to grow up away from the city. So we moved here. We're five hours from home, and I can still watch the Iggles and Phillies on my satellite dish because the installer gave me the Philadelphia sim card instead of the Lynchburg Va. card. ...and don't get me started on the Flyers.
Anyway, life is very good. I'm 45, I have a dump truck load of money, a gorgeous wife and four great kids. I have a 6000 SF house, some nice toys, a 200 acre hunting camp 30 minutes away, and great neighbors. In fact...the only thing I don't have is really great local Italian food.
Now, make no mistake...Anj and I can both cook as good as anyone with a vowel at the end of their last name. We both learned from Nonna, and since both our grandparents were immigrants, we got the recipes straight from the old country. But who doesn't like to go out to eat now and then, right?
So we'd been here about six months when I asked my neighbors where they like to go for really good Italian food. You know what I get? Olive Garden! Yeah...Olive Garden! And they kept insisting it was really good! There is one local Italian place and it's owned by a Mexican. I finally had to have about four families over one Saturday evening and show them what real authentic Italian food tastes like. I had to drive back to Philly just to get half the ingredients, but it was worth it. I make eggplant so good you'd cry. We had Osso, Eggplant Parm, Linguine with white clam sauce, and mussels on the half-shell. Anj and I made canolli and sfinge for dessert. I swear I had to wave a gun around to get a couple of the neighbors to leave when it was all done. But I proved my point. Franchise Italian food isn't really Italian.
Look I have this theory about Italian goes like this:
1: Real Italian food is, of course, made in Italy. Your Nonna learned to cook it over there from her mother, or, if Nonna was born here, she learned it from her mother who was born there. Either way, it has it's genesis in Italy.
Nonna made it the way she learned in Italy so it's as authentic as it gets. For all your life -or until Nonna dies- you eat it exactly the way she made it. If you even ask for salt, she'll start crying and shoot you the horns-of -death, so you know better than mess with her recipe. To be honest, it's darn near perfect as is so you don't tinker with it. Until she is gone or your move out on your own.
2: That brings us to stage two of my little flow chart. "Italian food cooked by Nonna's family"
That's what Angie and I both make. That's what everybody in South Philly makes, or any other Italian neighborhood in the US. We learned from Nonna, who learned from someone in Italy. When we move out on our own and Nonna can't see it, we add a pinch of this or that and we switch around something or other but we essentially stay true to the recipe because the recipe is what makes us Italian. Remember "A Walk in the Clouds?" at the end where there is just that one little grapevine root left after the fire? Yeah...that's Nonna's recipes. I might squeeze the grapes a little differently, but it's still the family grapevine.
3: That brings us to the next stage...the "Oh this is should open a restaurant" stage. This happens in Philly a lot. Somebody gets one too many compliments on their cooking, decides everyone would like to eat their Nonna's tomatoes and tripe and decides to open a restaurant. Usually it succeeds because the quality is great. The quality is great because typically the owner didn't really know anything about the restaurant business, bought all his ingredients at the ACME (or the Kroger down here in Virginia) and lost money every month until he closed shop and went to work at the Navy yard welding old aircraft carriers. It's not cheap running a restaurant unless you buy cheap, and by the time these guys discover wholesale supplies, it's too late. A few of them make it, but that's because they had backing.
What does happen though is...
4: Some business school geek decides that all great Italian food needs is a business model so he graduates from business school, raises funds, and starts an Italian restaurant with a phony Italian name, and interior that looks like a cave, and Perry Como playing on the loudspeakers. He does well financially because everybody loves Italian food, he opens where there isn't a large population of Italian Americans, and he has business knowledge. He makes money, sells franchises, and pretty soon people are lined up outside after church on Sunday, waiting for pre-packaged Alfredo sauce that tastes like grilled cheese, and overcooked macaroni. Oh...and it's macaroni, not pasta. And it's gravy not sauce!
5: Eventually, people really want Italian food but they don't want to drive that long, arduous 13 minutes to "Pasta World" so they open a can of Spaghettio's and tell the kids they're eating Italian. These little cherubs grow up, go off to college, where they take Ramen noodles, add ketchup and some Parmesan in those little packets that they took from Dominos Pizza and call it spaghetti.
Like anything else, it progresses downward from there. If I don't step in, they will raise kids who think Chef Boyardee is a guy on Food Network and they'll go into a restaurant asking for Beefaroni.

That's why I cooked for my neighbors...Maddonn! I'm savin' the world here!