Friday, December 28

Christmas Dinner

I spent Christmas Day with my family at my parents' house. My mom has her table all decked out with the Christmas tablecloth, her Christmas china and her silver plus her fancy Christmas coffee mugs. She even has special Christmas plates for the grandchildren.
My dad made his twice-a-year antipasto. He makes it with lettuce, tomato wedges, provolone cheese, Genoa salami, roasted peppers, mainated artichoke hearts, mushrooms, olives and tuna. he liked anchovies but nobody else does so he put some in a dish for himself. We put oil and vinegar on it after we pick out the parts we like- which ticks my dad off every year. He thinks we should eat whatever ends up on the serving spoon but my sister and I never do- mainly because we don't want mushrooms on our plates. YUK.

My mom made manicotti and served them with meatballs, Italian sausage and braciole. For dessert we had the typical tray of homemade Italian cookies, plus pies, nuts, coffee and cordials (Limoncello, Sambuca, Grand Marnier).

It was two hours of eating. We forgot the finocchio this year (that's fennel) and we eat it after the main course to aid in digestion.

Friday, December 21

More Mangled Words

In the course of a day I mangle at least one perfectly good Italian word. By mangle I mean I anglicize it. I don't do this much in Spanish but I think that is because although I know way more Spanish than I do Italian, and I have been speaking Spanish for over 20 years, it is nonetheless my second language. That means that for every word I know in Spanish, I know the English equivalent. Since I grew up with certain Italian words in my famnily vernacular, I never realized as a kid that everyone didn't know them.

Italian I don't speak very well. I try, really I do. But I don't have anyone to practice with anynmore. However, because in my house growing up there were words that existed only in Italian, we end up Anglicizing it- you know, put the "ing" on it or making a past participle out of it.

For example:
Sporco- (sporko) meaning: dirty pig, messy.
Years ago my parents paid me a surprise visit in my apartment while I was working on a grad course paper. I was working on the floor and had books and papers spread everywhere. I looked through the peephole, panicked and ran around the living room shoving papers and books in the closet. Clearly everything was slightly askew. When I let my parents in, my dad looked around and said "Were you "sporking?"
("Were you being a slob?")

Cafone- (cavone)- meaning: a rude person or someone who has no class.
This is used so frequently (and properly) in my family that I use it even with my non-Italian friends because it just sounds so much better than saying "that classless person" or "that rude person." We mangle it and add a "y" to it, for example: "She ruined Christmas when she showed up with her cafoney friends."

chiaccarone-strong> (Kyack-ya-roan) meaning: talkative person.
My oldest daughter was a pretty timid child when she first started pre-school. This was a serious pre-school- a Montessori school- and she really enjoyed it. At the end of her second year I had my spring conference with her teacher, an Italian-American man, who also happened to be the director of the school. He told me about her progress and then said "It seems that your daughter really enjoys, how do I put this, "Chiaccaroning," now. I couldn't stop laughing.

Come si chiama (goomaeeigeeam)meaning: what's it called (lit. what's its/your name) My parents and grandparents used this word a lot, especially for body parts that weren't supposed to be on display. "Look at that girl in the short skirt with her goomaseegeeam showing!" Or, "Can you get the goomaseegeeam and bring it over to me?" I was quite embarrassed in my first Italian class at 19 when the professor's first lesson started with "Come si chiama?" It wasn't clear at first what it was, and I sat there listening, thinking, "that sounds a lot like the whaddyacallit" word. DUH.

This, amici, has been your bundle of butchered and mangled Italian words for the day.

Thursday, December 13

The Dreaded Christmas Eve Tradition

There are fewer rituals that my family performs that I dread more than Christmas Eve dinner. It should be re-named "Torture Claudia Night." No, it's not the Christmas carols that my kids and I sing to far away family and friends in operatic voices over the phone- I like that part. It's not the anticipation of seeing the kids wake up and see what "Santa" brought them the next day. It's not even the exhaustion I feel every December 24th at about 1:00 in the morning, having wrapped all the gifts when the kids finally have fallen asleep. Nope. It's CHRISTMAS EVE DINNER. What could be so dreadful about a Christmas Eve dinner? Well, my medagon friends, a typical Italian dinner on December 24th involves a long-standing and for me, unappealling traditional meal- SEAFOOD. It's the one night a year when I, myself, wear the title of "Medagon," given to me by my parents. I don't eat seafood. Non mi piace. It never has appealed to me, with the exception of fish- tilapia, haddock, tile fish, tuna, and my favorite: flounder. So, the meal to which I was subjected for every year of my life until I was 33 and moved far away enough from my family to not go back on Christmas Eve, just Christmas Day, is an array of "Seven Fish(es)." I used to reef to this as the Parade of Fishes as a kid, for the way they just kept coming out of the kitchen. To qualify for the "Feast," It does not have to be actual fish- any seafood will do. The offending fare can include (but is not limited to) the following: -flounder or another kind of fish (in my family it was breaded flounder, the only kind I would eat as a kid, to make me feel included and loved) -crabmeat -shrimp -mussels -clams -lobster -calamari (I think this appeared on the table once or twice at my grandparents house where we would spend Christmas Eve until 1986 when they moved to Florida) -tuna (in the marinara sauce) and the one dish that my mom opted out of making and left it to my dad and grandmother: bacala (as in dried codfish, not "Bobby."). It gets soaked a long time before preparation to remove the heavy salt taste and is served with a red sauce. You'd have to rip out my tastebuds to get it to taste good to me. The seafood was always served with linguini (I prefer capellini, but I took what I could get) with the tuna or crab sauce and I would get a "medagon special," a dish of linguini with melted butter and Locatelli cheese. Nope, I wouldn't even eat the sauce if it had fish in it. Now some people ask why the number seven? It's debatable- the number of days to create the universe, some say, others say the number is 13- one for each apostle plus Jesus (keep me out of THOSE houses) and my mom's version- any odd number under seven. So when I got was on my own, I made that number become ONE. The next few years I started a new tradition of flying in the face of tradition and, allegedly, Canon Law (this proved untrue- I could find nothing that says you cannot eat meat on Christmas Eve) and going out to an Italian restaurant on Christmas Eve and ordering anything but fish. For me, that means veal. On the way home from dinner the kids and I would sing to anyone who would answer the phone while we drove, and then swear to them that we were not drunk and neither were the children. The kids sang in celebration of Christmas. I sang in celebration of not having to eat fish. So, go ahead, take away my Italian membership card, but before you do that, you should know that this Italian-American did not drink wine, either, until the age of 45 (sweet, please). Good God, a 7 fish dinner with only dry wine to drink- what a terrible thought. blechhhh