Saturday, November 28, 2009


Grandma Lena's schooms were a hit at Rob and Maria’s Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday night, though there were 10 other dishes (we counted) to compete with – not to mention an array of pies for dessert.

Yes, it’s always too much food – but Thanksgiving is about abundance – the panoply of flavors and textures playing off each other like a symphony. I realize in the midst of a recession it may not seem the most savory topic - but abundance can exist without wealth - and even in spite of it.

My memories of Thanksgivings at Grandma Lena's on King's Highway, in a working class Brooklyn neighborhood of Jews and Italians, are of such abundance. It was five long courses, served over 7 hours – with napping and walk-breaks in between – or when we were really little, games of Miss Mary Mack and Chinese jump rope played with my cousins in the apartment hallway - city games with which my sister and I (suburban girls that we were) were simply enamored.

The order of courses at Lena’s Italian-American Thanksgiving was as follows…

First, the antipasto, the cured meats and cheeses and homemade marinated goodies, my personal favorite, including eggplant strings and sweet red peppers, pickles and olives. Then came the pasta, big steaming bowls of ricotta cheese stuffed ravioli drenched in a red gravy that had cooked on the stove for the preceding few days, searing in the flavors of the homemade meatballs and Italian sweet and hot sausages, and the bragioles, another fav, rolled carpets of thin beef and pork stuffed with garlic and herbs.

Next came the main meat course (and by then, if you hadn’t heeded Grandma's advice and paced yourself, you were in real trouble), wherein the baby lamb, the turkey, sometimes a ham, were laid out on the table, along with all the sides, roasted potatoes and yams and stuffed artichokes and mushrooms (this is where the schrooms came into play) – and always an iceburg lettuce salad, a seeming afterthought, even a bit of embarrassment compared to the rest of the colorful dishes on the table, prompting Grandma's now-infamous ‘just put it’ remark.

Then there was always a long pause as the brown coffee was brewed, and the silverware and dishes were gathered and washed, and the plastic table covering mopped down of it's splats of red sauce - thus revealing the pristine while lace underneath. And then the desserts were finally served – the cannolis and pies and, because it was always someone’s birthday, a couple cakes as well.

At this point it was belt-loosening time – and an even longer pause was required to digest, during which most of the uncles would have dozed off in front of the football game and Grandma or Aunt Jenny would rouse them with shouts from the kitchen about the black coffee. The espresso smells wafted through the air; and I suspect that’s what awakened them for the final course – the nuts, cracked open in bloated silence, and the fruits, pears and apples, which Vinnie peeled in one long strand, with the deftness of a barber, passing slices around the table off his paring knife. And dark thick espresso, brought out in a shapely silver pot, was poured into doll-sized china cups and served with little shots of Sambuca to help the digestion - and make the grownups smile.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Just Put It

“My blog. I want to revive my blog. Why not? What’s stopping me? ‘PlanetBrazil’ – it’s not a place, it’s a state of mind. Yes, I’m back in the USA, but the feeling, and the stories and ideas, live-on. It’s about exploration, discovery, transformation. Do this today - post an entry. Then go get a manicure/pedicure.” (December 22, 2008)

I wanted to do it last year, and I didn’t. There’s the evidence, straight from my journal. I can’t believe a whole year has gone by, a hole year, and here I am, contemplating this idea all over again. The difference this year is: I’m doing it.

So why? What’s changed?

I just decided, I committed. Commitment: taking action, moving forward, despite the risks, regardless of outcome.

But what if no one reads it? There’s so much crap out there on the Net – who needs another blog? So what IF no one reads it? It’s about me, really, about seeing it, writing it, and putting it out there, right?

Just like Grandma Lena used to say (god rest her soul)…as we all gathered in her Brooklyn dining room for the Thanksgiving meal, the table laden with Italian delights, first the antipasto, platters of meats and cheeses and marinated things, then the raviolis and meatballs and stuffed mushrooms and artichokes, and then came the lamb and the ham and the rolls of stuffed bragioles…and was there room for one more dish? Would they eat it?

‘Just put it!’ Grandma would bark out from the kitchen, thrusting her wooden spoon into the air, her life philosophy summed up in those three simple words.

Lena died just this past July, a month shy of her 101st birthday. So here’s to you, Grandma, on Thanksgiving Day 2009. I won’t be sharing the meal with you today – but I’m sharing a part of myself, Anneseye. I'm ready - I’m just gonna put it.

And now I'm going to get to making those stuffed mushrooms and braised Brussel sprouts with bacon for Thanksgiving dinner with friends.