Sunday, August 19

Yo! What's for dinner?

It's Sunday and if I were still living with my parents we'd have our usual big Sunday meal, around 3:00 or 4:00. Why so early? I don't know. Maybe so that my dad could watch the Eagles before or after? We always ordered a pizza around 8:00 while we watched tv. My grandmother would have a small glass of beer with her pizza. It was her big treat.

Our usual Sunday fare would be a roast something- pork, veal, chicken. Hardly ever "macaroni," because my mom would make a very American type of meal and Italianize it- she'd marinate it with Italian seasonings- basil, oregano, parsley; and the potatoes were never like the potatoes in my friends' houses. They'd be marinated, too! We always had a vegetable at every meal and a salad and Italian rolls on Sundays. No rolls during the week. I never asked why but that does seem mean, now that I think about it.

In my house I don't cook strictly Italian. My mom gave me an amazing, big hardcover, Cuban cookbook "Memories From My Cuban Kitchen," in 1992 and I have about 6 favorites from there, a handful of Mexican recipes (no, not tacos and enchiladas!) and then my standard repertoire of Italian favorites. Eating Italian every night bores me and American food... well, I save that for when we have non-Italian friends over for dinner.

Tonight I am planning veal saltimbocca. Saltimbocca means "jump in your mouth," as in, the veal is so good, it jumps in your mouth. It has cheese and proscuitto in it so I haven't eaten all day so I can eat tonight. This is my "big, involved" Sunday meal this week. Last week we had pasta fagioli (fahzool.) I don't do roasts. Ever. I ate enough roasts for 24 years to last me 50. I don't follow culinary rules based on what day of the week it is. During football season we eat wings and sandwiches during the game. My mom will be outraged when she reads this- I always blow off the "what are you making" question on game days. Sorry, Ma.

Saturday, August 18

Hey, Sigi!

I get so much slack about reading and writing about Cuba and "forgetting" that I am Italian, that I thought I should give my own heritage some acknowledgment. Granted, I don't have to prove my roots to anyone, sono che sono, but by scrapbooking and working on my family tree, I sometimes get so immersed in my culture that I want to share stories and words, etc., with other Italian-Americans who grew up like I did. I guess all the quirky little ethnic points don't mean much until you're older. For example, I grew up in a home:

  • that was a row-home (called "townhomes" nowadays but let's not kid ourselves) in an Italian neighborhood in South Philadelphia (until we 'moved on up' to Delaware County)

  • that had with plastic-covered furniture

  • where every Wednesday was "macaroni" night (we never said "pasta" and we always put "gravy," not sauce, on our macaroni.) Usually we would name the macaroni: "We're having mostaccioli tonight." Every kid in my family could name that "pasta."

  • where you'd hear "Madonna!" (pronounced, "Marone") or "Madonna Mia" ("Maroneami!") My parents were big into invoking the Blessed Virgin Mother's name.

  • where someone stupid was called a "dididoof," a showy, ostentatious Italian was a "spacone" and a person who had no upbringing was a "cafone" (cavone)

  • where if we lost something the first thing we'd do was pray to Saint Anthony, the patron saint of lost items.

  • where we couldn't put new shoes on a bed or a new hat on the table.

  • where we had to exit through the same door we entered

  • where Sambuca was served after dinner parties with 3, exactly 3, coffee beans

  • where a "comadre" or "copadre" meant a good friend of the family OR a mistress (comadre) and was pronounced "comar" and "compah" or bastardized into "goombah"

My father's side is from Central Italy (Abruzzi) and Calabria (at the very tip of the boot that is almost touching Sicily). My paternal grandfather was from a little town called Riccia and its patron saint (like many other towns) was San Giuseppe (St. Joseph), which was also my grandfather's name. So, on the Feast of St. Joseph (March 19) it would be a non-stop food fest in his South Philly neighborhood, with people going from house to house to visit, celebrate and eat. He was one of 12 kids so there were a lot of houses to visit. In my house we always celebrated this Feast day because of my grandfather- it was "his" day. My dad always brought a special dessert that we only ever ate on that day, which was, what else? St. Joseph's cakes. In Italian they are actually called zeppole, and although I have seen a few different versions, the ones we always had were similiar to creme puffs- light dough filled with creme, topped with powdered sugar and a maraschino cherry.

My mom's side is Sicilian. That's a dangerous bloodline. Not because of the Mafia, but because Sigis are known for their determination to get revenge when wronged. We also have all kinds of "hexes" or curses, if you will, that I have to admit, I give credence to. In fact, whenever I am ticked off and I tell my sister I want to do such and such to someone, she always says something like "you sigi, you." And sadly, my mom is the same way. When someone asks my mom if she is Italian, she corrects them and says "Sicilian," as if to say "watch out."

While I appreciate my Italian-ness more, it's the "Sigi-ness" that seems to be dominant. My particular favorite "curse" is when someone is bothering you, you place a photo of them face down in the freezer. I am not sure, but I believe the person doing the freezing has to be Sicilian. In other words, an Irishman would only come out with a very cold photo. I have done this several times, and for each person, I never heard from or was bothered by them again. I now keep a separate freezer. ;)

In college, many people mistook me for Latina. People came up to me and spoke to me in Spanish (without knowing I spoke Spanish) and other latinos were always assuming I was from ____ (insert one of 20 countries here). One day I walked into my first Spanish class with a professor who had lived in Spain for many years. He called my name out loud and looked at me and said "That is the most Italian face I have ever seen." I hoped he wasn't referring to my nose! When I started taking Italian classes the professor, from central Italy, said to me after class "Sei siciliana?" (Are you Sicilian?) I said Sí, and asked him how he knew. He said an Italian can spot a Sicilian instantly. For the record, Sicilians are generally darker-skinned and darker-haired. We're called the "black Italians" by Europeans and others. Sicily was occupied by the Moors, so there is an African element to it, and I traced my grandmother's family (her last name was Saiia, [sigh-eeh-ah]) to Mallorca, Spain, of Arabic origins. (Immigration, no surprise, spelled my grandmother's name "Saia" (Say-ya) In fact, the word "mafia" has its origins in Arabic.

Em beh, sono Siciliana e non posso fare niente per cambiare.