I've had this recipe for Rainbow Cookies on my fridge since last year and decided to make it. Working my first job as a counter girl at an Italian bakery in Queens and accepting collect calls from the grumpy bakery owner's son, who was in jail for idiotic low-level racketeering, gave me have a distaste for Italian pastries, with the exception of a few things: Pignoli Cookies, Rainbow Cookies & Cannolis (but only the cannolis that the nuns from the San Carlo monastery on Erice, a medieval mountain town in Sicily make. God is in them.) The rest of the Italian pastries can burn in hell.
Rainbow Cookies are pretty pricey per pound and if you're going to buy them around Brooklyn I would recommend Fortunata Brother's on Manhattan & Devoe.
Making the rainbow cookies seemed pretty pricey, too. It didn't help that I had to buy 3 half sheet pans at $15 a pop from The Brooklyn Kitchen, plus 4 tubes of Almond Paste at $8 a pop! I definitely came home grumpy.
"I should have just bought them at the bakery," I said as I laid the ingredients on the counter. But the process and the end result were worth it, plus we got between 150-200 cookies out of it.
I cut the recipe out of New York Magazine from the chef of Torrisi Italian Specialties, a great Italian restaurants down on Mulberry, the walls lined with Manhattan Special: my favorite drink, espresso soda.
If you plan on making rainbow cookies, make sure you have an entire day off plus a partner with good hand-eye coordination. I am lacking in that area and Jon, who is mechanically inclined proved, to have amazing cake layering and chocolate spreading skills. Had I tried to take this endeavor solo, I assure you these cookies would not be so pretty.
When it comes down to it, "it's a lot of work, Jane," as Nonna, my Sicilian Grandma would say. There are many steps: beating the egg whites for stiff glossy peaks, splitting one batter into three for coloring, baking three cakes separately until just underdone so they stay moist, cooling the cakes then layering them using orange marmalade as glue, letting them set then spreading warm chocolate on the top and bottom. Start as early in the morning as you can.
While getting closer and closer to chocolatey soft almond cookie goodness, I was giddy. I remember saying, "this sure as hell beats last minute christmas shopping." In fact, making these cookies is what the holidays are all about: slowing down, spending time with someone you love, making something you love, then giving to people you love." These cookies put a truer smile on faces than anything you can unwrap and rip a price tag off of.
Preheat oven to 350. Beat egg whites in electric mixer until they just hold stiff peaks. Add ½ cup sugar, beating until whites hold stiff, slightly glossy peaks, then refrigerate. Beat together almond paste and remaining sugar in mixer. Add butter gradually and beat until mixture is fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add yolks and beat until well combined. Reduce speed to low and add flour and salt and mix until just combined. Fold in egg whites. Divide batter equally among 3 bowls; wearing gloves,(1) whisk red food coloring into one and green into another, leaving the third batch plain. Spread each batter separately and evenly, about ¼-inch thick, onto 3 half-sheet pans, each greased and lined with parchment paper. Bake until just barely set, about 7 minutes. (2) When layers are cool, spread half the preserves onto the green layer. Invert plain layer over it and discard paper. Spread on remaining preserves, and invert red layer over it; discard paper. Wrap with plastic and top with a weighted baking pan. Refrigerate for several hours. Remove plastic and bring to room temperature. Melt chocolate in a double boiler, and (3) spread thinly on top layer. Chill in freezer briefly until firm. Cover with wax paper, place another baking sheet on top, then invert cake onto sheet pan and remove paper. Quickly spread with remaining chocolate and return to freezer until firm. Trim edges, slice, and serve.
One of my biggest hurdles in life is that during embryonic development the organization gene turned up missing. I apply the same theory of sports aptitude to organizational aptitude: you can be born with it like a natural athlete or can practice the shit out of it, which is what I am attempting. There is a much that high school sports can teach us, aside from how to use a jock strap as a cheese strainer.
It feels like the shit hits the fan everyday and everything is scattered everywhere. Where do I start? I run around my apartment in hopeless despair and only make the situation worse.
I start by picking up all the underthings my cat traipsed around the apartment in his jaws but I don't finish because I see that I left that bottle of unmentionable prescription meds out so I run to hide it away in a cabinet (even I can't look at it) but I don't get to close the door before I notice I left my vibrator on the nightstand in the bedroom. I open that drawer and scream at the chaos of batteries and used tissues inside then notice it could use a cleaning so I run it into the bathroom and look under the sink for the gallon of bleach but I see that the cat left me a smelly gift in the litter box. I scoop that up but forget to flush because I notice an even more special gift in the corner where I dropped my toothbrush. On and on. What began as an attempt to straighten up, leaves my home looking like a perverted horror house. Think back to a more innocent time.
I played basketball in high school and when I stood at the foul line, all eyes on me, I took a deep breath and focused just on that one shot. I forgot about all that happened in the game before and everything that was ahead. I dribbled once, bent my knees and took my shot, and didn't forget to follow through with my arms. It kept me right there, not rushing ahead and I made more shots that way.
Applying this to organizing my life helps. Task at hand: burn old photos from vacations with ex-boyfriend. Follow-through: finish them off until the are charred bits that disintegrate into thin air. You don't need scraps of paper soaked in lighter fluid near the candles of the shrine to your new boyfriend, do you? Done. Move on.
You can only do one thing at a time. So when you feel scatterbrained and like there is so much to do, breathe and think to yourself I can only do one thing at a time. Do this one task, finish it, then move on. Getting anxious about everything you have to afterwards is only going to make what you're doing less fun and you won't do the best job. Organize in the moment. One miserable task at a time!
Food anxiety is an affliction resulting from the unrealistic perception you may not have enough food to feed everyone. Making a pound of pasta for two people is a manifestation of this. It also happens when you are worried you might make your guests ill, like when you serve raw oysters or undercooked meat. The sound of vomiting or groans of diarrhea only make this feeling worse.
Severe stomach pain and the words, "I think I'm having a heart attack," rush Jon and I the hospital where sonogram results revealed an evil bunny had taken residence in his gall bladder.
I began to feel extreme food guilt. Was it the Grilled Cheese with Bacon and Avocado? The Bolognese Sauce?
"Nonna's last lasagna might be my last lasagna!" Jon said.
Gall bladder stones develop over time and I had only been force feeding him high fat foods for little over a month. Isn't that how it works when you fall in love? You feed the person and yourself until you are both overweight and unattractive to each other and then you join a gym?
A few people noted that avocados, notoriously high in fat can trigger gall bladder attacks and we'd had avocado for breakfast as part of a meal for the record that I did not prepare.
None the less, leaning over his gurney I had that big eyed "I'm sorry I did this to you," look on my face.
"It's all your fault you evil guinea," Jon said and we both broke into hysterical laughter that made his pain and my guilt worse.
This, along with, "You're still handsome even though you're in a wheelchair," and, "I don't even know where my organs are," and, "Your teeth can fall out, your organs can't" are among the demented comments we made while nervously waiting his fate.
Well that fat party is over. It's quinoa and bean sprouts from now on (well or him at least.) And he wasn't even allowed to keep the evil bunny. Food can hurt.
Becoming close to organized is a lofty goal; not a complete disaster area is more what I'm going for. It's hard. The propensity to be neat is learned and genetic. If you're OCD, God bless you. If you were taught how to properly scrub a floor and bleach fumes smell like roses to you, then you're probably 100% Sicilian.
I am not and didn't get the clean gene. My Mom says she rather had spent time with us than clean so she had a cleaning lady, Linda who is like family. I can respect that but it doesn't help me now!
I followed suit and have a lovely cleaning person when I can afford it, and it sure helps with the nitty gritty, but organizing my life would mean she would have to climb inside my brain and do some major tweaking. And I'm just not ready for that.
It's basic physics. The Law of Entropy states that the universe naturally moves from a state of order to disorder. This can be demonstrated when I hang up all my clothes. The time it takes to organize my closet compared to the time it takes me to throw everything on the floor again when I get dressed makes cleaning seem like a waste of time. My clothes want to be in a heap on the floor; the universe tells me so.
That said, the brain feels calmer and works more effectively when things are organized. And when you have a million things to do plus a trillion loose ends to tie, lists help. It's just scary when you write: "find old list" on your new list.
By now I would be in a mental institution if it wasn't for google tasks.
Despite this handy tool, I have the tendency to write things on random pieces of paper then throw the papers on my desk. The desk I took so long to organize is once again a disaster. Then when a guest comes over, I just take everything on the desk and throw it into a bin. Looks clean, but it's an illusion. I do this when my laptop looks like a patchwork quilt of icons. I make a "Desktop" folder and dump everything in there. It's bliss, but just a cover up.
The new solution: dry erase markers on my mirror. That way I can makes lists (like in google tasks): Greenpointers, Ugly Art Room, Morta Di Fame, Polo & Life. They are all in one place and right in front of me, easy to read and fun to cross off. When I think of something I don't have to open the laptop. It looks cool, too. Don't pay attention to the evil dragon in the corner.
Brain tells hand to reach into coat pocket. Hand retrieves what feels like pen. Hands lifts pen-like object to lips. Brain tells mouth to suck. Inhale. Brain is happy. Exhale. Brain is happy. Repeat.
I am addicted and love every minute of it! There are obvious reasons why electronic cigarettes rule: matchless, blue neon light, no stinky clothes. Plus, you can smoke in ridiculous places, like nursing homes, playgrounds and AA meetings.
I know my rules of electronic cigarette etiquette, though. While relaxing on a comfortable rocking chair at my lady doctor's office, I reached into my pocket for a fix. Just as I was about to inhale the sweet smokeless vapor, I noticed a huge pregnant woman with painfully swollen ankles standing nearby. There was no place for her to sit, so in consideration of her condition, I put down my electronic cigarette and continued rocking.
I was never a smoker, unless you count the time in junior high school when on a field trip to release tadpoles into a pond I begged my young substitute teacher for a smoke. I was twelve; she caved. Either I was a really persuasive pre-teen or she was completely disturbed. It was Newports in the schoolyard until high school when we had to go across the street to smoke and that was a drag.
If you're wondering, electronic cigarettes are not like real cigarettes. Real cigarettes are obviously more unhealthy and self-destructive and therefore much more satisfying. They are like Diet Coke, once you get accustomed to that putrid artificial cancer causing sweetener you don't want real sugar. Or like using a vibrator; not like the real thing, but they always deliver.
Instead of skull raping your credit card (even more), make a donation to my church's soup kitchen, where I spend one hour per week not cursing and thinking perverted thoughts (well that's a lie!). I just donated $100 to the Greenpoint Church Soup Kitchen because hungry people need to experience food comas, too. Please donate and share. Read a letter from the Pastor Ann at Greenpointers.
I am bringing Jon (new awesome BF) to Thanksgiving in Queens. Boy, is he in for it! Nonna is making her last lasagna - again! And we are going to wear these matching authentic guido track suits just for the occasion.
He knows the rules:
1. When Nonna asks, "you Italian?" he is encouraged to lie to her ninety year old face. And when she asks, "You gotta goo jobba?" he won't need to lie because he is a tree genius (Watch this amazing video.) Going into too much detail might confuse her, so in order to ice the crazy cake I will tell her he is a tree doctor. The word doctor is like a massage for an old Sicilian womens' brains. I grew up with, "Jane, why you no become-uh the doct-uh?" She still asks and I'm thirty and have been working as a professional photographer for a long time. I guess there is still hope.
2. Pace yourself but eat everything. He has been power eating over the last few days so he can finish the "last lasagna" followed by an entire thanksgiving meal, followed by cannolis, which are as unnecessary as lasagna on Thanksgiving. (Aren't we celebrating the pilgrims destroying native american culture and why sharing is very bad?) Unbutton your jeans or better yet wear a spandex waist band. Purge in the bathroom. Whatever it takes, but eat it all! Eating shirtless or in a wife beater is acceptable.
3. Don't try to count the cats. There are many nooks and crannies Marcy has hidden them in. If she does disclose the number, she likes you, but is most likely lying or has lost count. Keep the number confidential. And when Nonna bats them off the table with her leopard print cane, understand that while we are not animal abusers, Nonna is, and if you try to stop her, she may mistake your for a cat.
4. You will be interrupted and confused. Rocco mumbles in Italian and in English with his mouth full of food, but never chicken; he hates chicken. We don't know what he is saying, but if you do understand anything it's usually pretty demented and amazing. He will not listen to anything you are saying, but if it looks like he is listening he is actually waiting for you to stop talking so he can talk. And if you talk for too long he will interrupt you. If you talk about cameras, he will love you. And you will most likely be privy information regarding Charlie, the Catahoula dog's, extensive social life and stellar bowel movements. Nod and smile.
5. Among the five of us, there will be most likely ten conversations going at once. You will feel like you need headphones, the noise reduction type, so bring them. When the feeling of "Why is there a dead bird carcass and all these crazy people here?" sets in, make a run for it. We will all understand. You have a choice. We don't.
I was honored to recently take a tour of every Greenpoint slice place with the one and only Pizza Commander. Results coming soon. In the meantime, check out his review of New Park Pizza, the famous pizza joint in one of the guido-ist neighborhoods in Queens, Howard Beach. I love me some New Park on the way to a beach day out in Rockaway!
I am taking a class tonight at Flux Factory in LIC to learn how to interview like a journalist since I am now working on Greenpointers. We were assigned homework which is to read interviews. I have been thinking about monogamy lately and this is an interesting take on it from one of the interviews:
"Why monogamy? Listen, you have to negotiate those things in a relationship. I wouldn’t choose monogamy. But it’s what she wants and, frankly, I get things in exchange for sacrificing certain things. So that’s why most people choose monogamy: because it’s worth it. She's a phenomenal person because she puts up with everything that I could possibly throw at her and she’s un-phased by any of the costume work [and] the bouncy rides. She was with me throughout all of that taxidermy stuff, you know? She would come over to my house and I would have rotting dog and submersion rubbing alcohol in the closet and she would say, "This is weird, but okay. I’m getting used to the smell." So she has paid her dues when it comes to me. " - Nate Hill
I am really trying hard to be positive. Most days it's easy but stress is vile and pessimism is poison and when people try to bring me down it's difficult to stay on the optimistic track.
The first step for me is to not take things personally. Everyone is in their own emotional bubble and the negative vibes that seen directed at me are really just manifestations of craziness going on inside them.
No one is perfect. Most people are good. I do believe that.
But sometimes I will be having a great day, rays of sunshine all over the place, birds chirping it up and some happiness vampire will blatantly smack me in the face with a jerk stick. Now its personal. My bones tell me to smack back, fast and hard. Usually I can manage to remain calm. Cooking definitely helps. And chocolate. And wine. And pot.
Then there are those times when a full blown vendetta is in order. This goes beyond someone just being an ass, when someone goes out of their way with your worst interest in mind and does something so blatantly dick that it's easy to never be their friend again. It's cut throat, but a good way of keeping nasties out of your path.
Now vendettas are definitely on the negative side of the spectrum but sometimes it just feels right. I think it comes standard when you have even a hint of Sicilian DNA; its called the "crazy chromosome" and I definitely got some of that from the Rocco. When it creeps in, what's a girl to do? Channel away those bad vibes. And the best way to do that: baking!!!
A few people have really hurt my feelings lately. I will not disclose who they are but I will say one thing: GROW UP AND MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS! STOP BEING COWARDS AND HAVE THE DECENCY TO COMMUNICATE! I HAVE BENT OVER BACKWARDS FOR YOU! GET OVER YOURSELF! HIGH HORSES DIE! I BET YOUR DOG STILL LOVES ME!
Now that I got that out of the way, I am going to be baking some Red Vendetta Cupcakes. They will be bloody and viscously sweet and a way to funnel out the icky feelings that go along with carrying out a vendetta. Oh sweet vendetta, why must I suppress you?
Because by feeling vindictive I am actually hurting myself. They will never experience the grossness I have inside. I would rather love them and forgive them, even if they don't know it, than be hurtful back. So I am going to get abusive on my hand mixer and beat on my oven and bake the pain away and say one more thing to them: I LOVE YOU! I REALLY DO AND THATS WHY IT HURTS SO BAD THE WAY YOU HAVE TREATED ME! Talk about wearing emotions on your sleeve! I'm such a sap!
I never posted this back then. Probably because I never made those cupcakes. But today, over two years later, I ran into one of these friends. We were so happy to see each other at first sight, and he apologized. It was purely awesome. I never forgot how much it hurt to have them hate me, and its good to have them back in my life, even if it's just a short run in on the street.
I figured out my Halloween costume. While perusing photos from last year's McGolrick Park Dog Halloween Costume Contest from the McGorlick Park Flickr pool, I found this gem. This is why I love Greenpoint. The caption was just that, two simple concepts. Dog + Jew = Jew Dog. Amazing discoveries are found around every corner in this town. And since October 31st marks my 1-Year Anniversary of living in Greenpoint, this is the perfect costume!
A few years back when Wafa opened her itty bitty shop in Forest Hills, Queens, I was there. She was 4 days into it and I curiously walked into some of the most delicious, satisfying and nutritious food of my life, and met Wafa, one of the warmest loveliest people I've ever met. I wrote a huge story about her new place, obviously raving about all of her delicious home cooked dishes.
It was a matter of time before it became a legendary Mediterranean food temple.
Marcy recently told me Wafa moved, closer, and into a bigger space.
With grapes leaves on my brain I went to a local spot in my new hood, hoping to find a place only a thirty second walk away that would be as good as Wafa's. The interiors were cozy and the owners were friendly. My first sip of rosewater was delightful. I wanted it to be so good.
Wafa is a tough act to follow. Disappointed and saddened that I couldn't write a positive review about the place on my new blog (so I opted to not write a review) I took a trip to Queens and enjoyed dinner at Wafa's new place that had the same perfect flavors as before. I was so proud. I did like how the old location had a glass case to preview all the goodies but she expanded her menu and has fried cauliflower on it! And of course, the baklava was out of this world, eat the whole container amazing!
I told her how the other place was of no comparison to hers.
"Its not Mama Wafa's!" she said and gave me a huge hug in her new huge kitchen.
I had a hard time not ordering everything on the menu and I took a big goody bag back to Brooklyn.
Hello dear friends of Morta Di Fame! I have some exciting news. You know I moved to Greenpoint, Brooklyn, from my old boro of Queens. And the blog waned. I realize why. I didn't have the same material I had when I lived there. By material I mean my crazy Sicilian family, but in particular the stars of the show Nonna and Rocco! My Mom Marcy, the only normal one, is keeping me abreast on the craziness going on there.
A new woman moved into the downstairs apartment below Nonna. The poor woman is very scared and regretful because not only does she have Nonna, the self-titled Commander of the House throwing her weight around but she has Nonna's second in command, Josephine (her caretaker) trying to steer the ship.
Normally the two are at odds about ridiculous Italian court TV shows but this time they are teaming up, and its getting ugly. When the new woman tried to pay her first months rent with a money order, they scoffed. "We don't accept those here," they told her. As if they are running a convenience store.
"I don't like her," Nonna says.
"But why?" Marcy asks.
"She has ripped jeans."
Ripped Jeans? This coming from the old woman who knitted sleeves onto a my dad's 70s maroon puffer vest and who use to make me scrunchies. Style is apparently very important to Nonna.
I promise to keep you posted on these stories but my focus has shifted to a new and bigger endeavor that I am inviting you to be a part of.
While walking around my gorgeous new McGorlick Park in Greenpoint, I wished I had a blog where I talk about all the amazing goings on and rad people in my neighborhood.
Serendipitously, I received an email from Justine, the founder and owner of the beloved Greenpointers blog. She was putting it up for sale because she was moving to Harlem. Its not like I don't have a million other projects going on but I bid and I got it!
What impressed me about Justine, aside from her kick-ass Brooklyn accent, is that she wasn't interested in the highest bidder but someone who would continue to develop the blog, which is my new job! That's top of my photography position at Polo and my art organization Ugly Art Room.
The welcome from my new neighbors and readers has been amazing and I hope you can be a part of it. Please check in: www.thegreenpointers.com
A post you may really enjoy is the Greenpointers Espresso Tour in which three other judges plus myself toured Greenpoint and tasted over 19 espressos to find THE BEST ESPRESSO in Greenpoint.
Even if you are not from Greenpoint, there is a lot on there you will enjoy, including recipes, reviews, art and music, funny stories, great photos, and not just from me but from a slew of other talented writers and photographers from a variety of backgrounds.
Morta Di Fame will now be reserved for my crazy writing plus a sounding board for the new blog, which has been so far a really interesting experience, like the debate among original Greenpointers on who is a "real" Greenpointer. Am I still in Queens? So stay tuned...
It was Rocco's birthday dinner recently and over a deliciously cooked meal my Mom looked at Nonna and said," I am sorry to have to tell you this, but your son is converting to Protestantism." Rocco who walks in the candlelit procession of the Blessed Madonna in Sicily every summer and an atheist who refers to my mother's Methodist church as "lesbian church," was nodding in agreement.
Apparently, St. Rocco's day has been officially taken off the Catholic Saint Day calendar, Marcy explained, and the day has been given to a Hungarian Saint. The disgrace!
"That fucking Hungarian Saint can go die! Take away my saint day? I will never be a Catholic again!"
I thought saints were already dead and martyred, but what do I know. Cursing a Saint to death is pretty demented and once again makes me question what kind of genetics I have floating around inside me.
St. Rocco's story goes like this: while plagued with the plague, St. Rocco hid out in a cave and was close to death until a dog came to his rescue. How happy. During times of severe epidemics the people of Southern Italy prayed to St. Rocco for health. Especially those crazy Sicilian hypochondriacs.
Ever since I was a kid Rocco always said, "I'm a very sick-ah man!" Maybe it was his saint alter ego talking. And when he loses an inch off his belly, he says, "Jen, I'm withering away! I'm dying!"
The kicker: St. Rocco is French! Why is that so satisfying to me? Not every awesome person is Sicilian, Rocco. For the record, my dad think thats George Washington is a Sicilian descendant. Sicily Fries anyone?
Hi. I suck. And I have a really bad haircut. I have been thinking about retiring this blog because of how sucky I have been. But I can't because when I create visual masterpieces like Nonna Wearing a Shark Mask, 2011, I need a place to show it to the world. This photo is part of a series of photos I have been playing around with using this amazing shark mask I bought in Philly.
I have been making pretty simple and not-so-blog-worthy food now that I have moved to Greenpoint. Cheese. Bread. Greens. Meat. And I have been eating out way too much. My apartment's proximity to Five Leaves leaves me with about five bucks in my wallet at the end of the month. But the homemade ricotta there is so amazing. And the wild boar ragu! And, and, and...
When I miss my Sicilian American heritage I take a walk along Graham Ave in Williamsburg. There are always little old Nonna's going to get their hair did. And I can buy the best fresh homemade ricotta from Graham Meats and Deli. I always head over to Cafe Capri for the best cappuccino in town and some friendly conversation from Joe, who is kind of hot for an old man. You know how I feel about old men. And for a truly demented experience, Jerry Ragusa, the headstone shop owner, sells "the best bread above ground." His cousin from Bayridge drops it off each morning. Guidonics translation: "Iz guzzin from Bayridge drobs it awf erry mawnin."
While trying to recreate the fantastic Five Leaves Ricotta, which is topped with honey, figs and some fresh thyme, you need chestnut honey, but aside from the $10 jar from Whole Foods, its nowhere to be found in Greenpoint and Williamsburg.
I am going to visit Nonna today in the old neighborhood and I know just where to get it. Don't be jealous. I am sure Nonna will give me some ridiculous content for this blog.
So I won't be retiring it just yet. And I think we agree, unless I am making meatballs or riceballs, anything that ends in balls, you read this for the family stories involving Sicilian psychosis. Its resurfacing so stay tuned. Nonna sounded on fire when I called her this morning.
I told Paulie that I would pray to the Madonna that he gets the liquor license.
And sure enough, while I was in Sicily, Paulie Gee's got its liquor license. Cha ching! Some of my friends had not even gone just because they couldn't drink there. Thank you Bedra Madre... that my friends are alcoholics.
Photo: Castellamare Del Golfo, August 2010, Procession of the Madonna on the Water
A long long time ago in the infancy of this blog, one of my very first posts was the Bubble Dinner in Gowanus, part of Ann Apparu's 18th Restaurant. Now, Jeremy and Ann are going to be preparing a not to be missed Sunday Dinner at Veronica People's this Sunday. GO!
A message from Rocco:
"Dear Jen, as you know I am not only a fascionisto, as you put it, but an Epicurian. See Epicurus, the famous Roman philosopher only left us two of his notebooks. The rest were lost. Yet he was able to create a following of bon vivants that has no end. Of course most do not really understand him so out of this misunderstanding the term epicurean was born.
Talking about the first lady, no matter what anyone says she really looks hot. And before you take me to task vis a vis my advanced age, I must tell you that dirty old men have needs too. Which brings me to ponder how you could be so normal with a father such as I."
That is sound advice from the woman who I hope I can be 1% as awesome as one day: my mom, Marcy. This blog tends to focus on insanity and overeating, so Rocco is a main character, as is Nonna, but Marcy is the sane one, and her moments of sheer comical genius sometimes go under the radar or are just unheard over the no volume control Sicilian banter that ensues at most family functions. Marcy is one of those great great ladies. As a kid, she was my role model, working as a social worker to homeless families, dedicating her life to the well being of other people. During the holidays she was Santa Claus to every homeless kid in Queens. She was a second mother to all my friends because you can tell my Mom anything. I remember getting home from high school and hearing the big news everyone was talking about at their lockers from my mom: that my best friend slapped another girl in the face and was suspended for a week. The first person she called was my Mom. I remember the runaway boy who lived in our house for a few days before returning home, ours always a safe haven for anyone in trouble and needing clean sheets and lots of love and of course, food. She is so understanding, non-judgemental and truly caring. A living saint. After all, she did marry Rocco, and you have to be touched by God in order to put up with that crazy (but awesome) man on a daily basis. And while she is blessing the lives of so many people around her she still always has time for me. She is the first person I call when I am crying, snot flying out of my nose, like a lunatic. And aside from being awesome she is totally hilarious.
One night, in front of my old apartment, she said, "Jen, I talked to Uncle George today, he asked when you are coming out of the closet?"
"Well you wrote your "wife" on your blog. That usually means you are gay."
"Well, what did you tell him?"
"I told him, I don't know. Its your life. I mind my business."
God if I was gay I wish it would be that easy to come out to my Mom. To clear things up, any person straight or gay can have a husband or a wife, straight or gay. I am straight, my wife and love of my life Julie, is straight. She has a gay husband. Its just someone you love so much, whom you would dedicate your life to and boink if only the conditions were right. That is, Julie would be the man of my dreams ... if only she had a... fill in the blanks. So I am on a journey to find a man version of my wife. So to answer your question Uncle George, I'm not a lesbian. And if I was I wish I would have a Mom as awesome as I do.
My voicemail is always full so I got this email from Marcy:
Hi Jen, Your voicemail is full, I've been trying to call you for a couple of days ... empty your voicemail, suppose we wanted to let you know we won the lotto or something. Love, Mommy
She didn't write, "suppose someone died!" Always positive, that woman. I told her she won the lottery when I was born. (I'm a brat.)
Marcy is now retired from her social work career, and has committed herself to a life of socializing with her friends, being awesome as usual and discovering Facebook. Sweet. She started taking a class on FB at a nearby high school, but began complaining about how annoying all the "old" people in the class were who didn't know what a web browser was and then finally quit the class. Marcy, a FB school drop-out asked if I could give her a few lessons. After she saw my FB page, she quickly thought twice.
Somewhere along the way, the "I'll wash your mouth out with soap" routine stopped working on my brothers and I. I admit it, I have a fowl mouth, but like Rocco, I can "switch it off" when I have to. I have an especially lewd vocabulary on FB. There is something quite satisfying about using fuck as an adverb. I can't help it.
So when I commented on one of Marcy's photo as "fucking gay" she called me right up and said, "Jen, stop cursing on my Facebook page. I don't think your aunt would like to know you are calling her gay. If you don't stop, I will unfriend you. Your own mother! The ultimate offense!" For the record, I wasn't calling my aunt "fucking gay." I was calling the photo my Mom took of her next to an angel in Rockefeller Center, fucking gay. Sorry if I've offended anyone. I am not a homophobe I swear. I will stop using gay as a derogatory term. Gay people are awesome. Fucking is here to stay though.
If you need advise about men, especially younger men, call Marcy. She is hot stuff and is always getting hit on on by younger men. She likes to tell the story of when she was walking the dog in the park and a dude walked up to her and said, "Oh, hi, I always see your dad walking that dog." Rocco, her husband is the one who usually walks the dog. One day she was in the post-office talking to a neighbor about a recent vicious dog attack the man had survived and my mother said, "Its a shame that you were attacked by that dog because I know how much you love dogs. They are your favorite animal." Abruptly from behind them on line, a young man interrupted the conversation, looked right at my mother and said, "Do you know what my favorite animal is?" "What?" she said. "A Cougar!" And winked. (Don't tell Rocco but I think they went out on a date that night.)
As I approach thirty I realize I have a lot more to learn in life than I ever thought and thank God I have my mom to help me figure out how to steer this complicated ship in which I often find myself stuck in very awkward waters. And its all usually my own dumb fault. I think it has to do with the fact that I really can push the limits of what awkward means. Most people would have buried their heads in the sand a long time ago. But I have a lot of practice. To have a dad like Rocco means you either deal with embarrassment by laughing it off or die.
So here is the pickle I found myself in. I was dating a new guy and was and am still great friends with the old guy. Great situation. Ideal. Best of both worlds. How can I mess this up?
Thanks to the miracle of craigslist, I found the best, sweetest, most trustworthy cleaning girl, a gem with an accent you want to bottle, and cleaning skills that Nonna would find very acceptable. For Nonna, you can commit heinous crimes, but if you are clean you are okay in her book. The new guy needed a cleaning person and I like to pass around the love. I like to give people work and share and make everyone happy. I can write a list of how this can get awkward. The leaving behind of unmentionables alone for the cleaning girl to find is enough to make anyone cringe. And there could be some snooping going on. I'm not saying there is. As trusting as she seems, you never know, right? A good Sicilian never trusts anyone!
It doesn't end there. She is cleaning my house and cleaning the new guys house. How can I complicate things even more? I can. Wait for it.
"Come wonderful adorable cleaning girl to my party! Meet my equally adorable ex-boyfriend. Oh, how cute you both look together. You gave him your phone number? Totally cool! He is awesome. You two should totally date! Fine with me." I was a little drunk and feeling merry and again my intentions were only good. Everyone should be happy, right? Wrong!
It was only a matter of time before the good old crazy Sicilian genetic tendencies inside kicked in. Confusion. Doubt. Jealousy. Frustration. The VENDETTA! Okay, I didn't go there. There was a lot of kicking myself and saying, "What were you thinking you moron? You want the girl that is cleaning your house to clean your new dudes house and date you ex-boyfriend?"
I had to call my wife, who I always turn to when I need love and understanding, but she gave me the ultimate slap in the face, "I hate to say this Jen, but she is coming to clean my house tomorrow." NOT MY WIFE! New dude, old dude and now my wife! I better hide my passport, this girl is going to steal my identity and keep my house very tidy in the process.
"Mom! Why do I do such stupid things?" She broke it down.
"Jen, let me tell you something, if you have a choice between a man and a cleaning lady, chose the cleaning lady!"
Best advice I could ever get! And everyone is happy...and clean! Men may come and go, but my bubbly intelligent and trustworthy cleaning girl is here to stay!
When great friend Jeremy Parker asked me to "co-chef" for his weekly Sunday Supper series at Veronica People's Club in Greenpoint, a vision appeared before my very eyes: RICE BALL PYRAMID!
Menu planning ensued at Fat Radish where we ran into some friends, old and new, and invited ourselves to join in their dinner. Duck terrine. Cheese Burger. Celery Root Pot Pie. Some wine. Good wine. Bank account hurting. A little menu talk, but nothing was finalized.
Up to Jeremy's new digs on Orchard, new roommates, terrace, pot.
Sat on a piece of foam/soon to be mattress in Jeremy's just moved into room, then the menu appeared. Nothing was anything I had ever made before and it was going to be beautiful, improvised, tweaky, new, old, and full of surprises.
I pitted the meal as a traditional Sicilian Sunday Supper with a twist, because I knew it would evolve until the moment we packed it all into a taxi and drove it to the bar.
Rice balls! Of course. The filling for the rice balls that I grew up on are stuffed with a meat sauce and some cheese.
But I dream. When the meat ball shop opened, I thought of how cool a rice ball shop would be. So I started dreaming up fillings.
Mushrooms and cheese! And sage and mushrooms are like bread and butter. Porcini Fontina Rice Balls with Sage Bechamel.
I never made porcini mushrooms before and in fact did not eve know what they tasted like. When we sent out the menu all my veggie friends were like, "isn't porcini pig?" It turns out porcini are the raddest if not the most gosh darn expensive mushrooms out there.
Jeremy's idea was to pair the rice ball with a raw kale salad. Easy, brother kale is NOT Sicilian. Rocco shuns the kale. We compromised with some chard in the mix and a perfect bacon anchovy dressing Jeremy would whirl together in my food processor.
Stew time. We went with the ultimate comfort food. A Rocco stew. Cauliflower and Lentils with Fennel Seeds. Veggie friendly. But it craved to be topped with peppery bacon and brussels sprout chips.
Dessert would not happen without ricotta. Every Sicilian dessert uses ricotta. Ricotta Pie with Fig Compote and Chestnut Honey. We didn't even know what that was and it would just come together on its own, while the taxi impatiently honked its horn.
Lastly, the Bloody Sicilian Cocktail. Simple: campari, soda and blood orange juice.
Menu done in our brains. Now shopping.
Whole Foods is the least cost effective place to stretch your money when planning a big menu for up to forty people. But they do have some of the specialty items we needed. The kale and chard was beautiful, and the dried porcini mushrooms was just the right price or so we thought.
After walking around in circles, wanting to just get all the shopping done in one place, but knowing we could definitely find the same items for so much less in Greenpoint, we finally made it to check out.
Our cashier was not the Lower East Side hipster one would expect, but your favorite most huggable plumpish aunt with the warmest smile and the best New York Jew accent one can find in those parts.
"Oh, honey, this sounds amazing, what you are making! Its going to be delicious." I secretly needed her encouragement.
I was a little rice ball of excitement, which can feel like anxiety, which can feel like a wound up lunatic is running in a mouse wheel in your stomach and poking you in the brain with a "how the fuck is this going to all get done?" -- stick! Just look at the nice smiley checkout lady and vibe off her calmness. Listen to the items scan one by one by one. Get into the rhythm. Beep. Beep. Beeeeeeeeeeeeeep.
We looked at the total, in one scan, it jumped $80. What the fuck! She was smiling, had no idea what was going on.
"Wait wait wait, we did not get 2 lbs of porcini mushrooms at $38 per pound. We got shiitake mushrooms!"
Close one. Pay attention.
When you come up with a fancy menu that you have to serve on a budget to a lot of people, you start sounding like a drug dealer.
"So we will get this $6 bucket of dried porcini's then cut it with shiitake."
"Just get one Chestnut Honey for $10 then we cut it with a Clover Honey for $3."
But nothing summed up the inventiveness of the meal planning more than when we were buying fig for the compote.
"Should we just get this jam?"
"Jam? Its compote. We said we were making a compote!"
"What's a compote?"
"I have no idea! I thought you knew what a compote is."
"Should I look up compote on my iphone?"
Home. Soaked the lentils and fell asleep dead on the couch.
Sunday morning included hoofing it to the guido deli on Graham Ave. for fresh ricotta. No Polly-O would taint our ricotta pies. Or cake. Or whatever they would end up being.
Cooking was on!
And I was a complete crazy Sicilian old lady mess the entire day worrying if there would be enough food. I promise, I am a very chill person ordinarily, but the idea of running out of food is a fear deeply ingrained in this crazy DNA. Thank God Jeremy is one of the only people who can say to me, "Chill dude" and I actually chill.
Everything was going very smoothly.
There was A LOT to do, in NOT a lot of time.
There were a few mishaps.
As Jeremy was pouring the fennel seeds into the hot oil for the stew, I took a whiff of the spice jar.
"Uh, wait, uh, those aren't fennel seeds! FUCK! Those are anise seeds!"
"Sicilian Indian mash-up?"
"Don't tell people that."
"Fuck! What are we going to do?"
By 3pm, Jeremy decided to go on a pot run. Considering the amount of chopping, roasting, rolling, baking, frying, and freaking out we had to do, I was at first not in support. But when I looked at myself in the mirror, a messy hag covered in grease, and listened to myself speak, franticly hyperactively over the top repeating myself, I took pity on Jeremy's soul. If someone needed to be calm and cool, it would be him. He needed a break from my crazy and in fact deserved it. If he could inject me with a sedative, he would and should have. I was wound up!
All I could do while he was gone was bury my head in rice ball rolling and frying and hope he would make it back in time. Fifty rice balls. The blessed mother touched my little hands that afternoon and divinely intervened in my rolling technique. They were perfect little balls, all the same size, and they all looked like their what their name arancini translates, baby oranges.
My kitchen was becoming a crazy mess of piled plates. For the record a personal kitchen is no place to cater a meal. I most definitely dripped hot oil onto my cat's head while transferring a rice ball to a paper towel lined plate.
"Oh my God! Calogero, are you okay?"
"Meow." Which translates into, "Food please!"
I looked toward Jeremy in terror, then back to the little bright eyed tuxedo cat begging for a rice ball.
"Chill dude, he's fine."
4pm, dessert yet to be seen. The clock was ticking and we had to deliver the food by latest 5:30pm to get set-up for dinner by 6pm.
"Here you go, ricotta, eggs, butter, sugar, vanilla. Get it done!"
It started as a pie, but soon became a cake. A cupcake. A cupcake pudding. Something you wanted to repeatedly scoop into your mouth over and over and lick off your fingers and whatever other surface it dripped onto. Creamy, gooey, sweet, ricotta goodness. With honey.
Let's just say we were scooping gooey ricotta cakes out of muffin trays right up until the car arrived.
It was on!
We spent some time on our presentation, which was so elegant and simple and people started strolling in hungry and excited.
The Bloody Sicilian Cocktail was a hit. The rice ball so beautifully drizzled with the sage bechamel was superb. The sage perfectly balanced the porcini flavor.
The kale chard salad was fresh and crunchy but meaty with the bacon and subtle anchovy dressing.
Since we stewed the lentils and cauliflower all day, the flavors really got married, but there were nice chunks of roasted cauliflower and carrots and the anise was that, "what is that?" flavor. Topped with bacon and brussels sprouts, it was perfect.
Dessert was a favorite. We agreed that the compote was on the sweet side, but over the creamy, not to sweet ricotta it was divine.
By 7pm we were halfway to sold-out. We kicked ass.
I was doing my favorite job: hostessing, shmoozing, even waitressing and bussing tables and Jeremy was extremely focused on his favorite job: plating. The dishes looked gorgeous.
My favorite people came plus a few other's who heard about the event from Joann's post on Greenpointers and on The Skint. Rocco complained that he only got one rice ball, an offense I could be lynched for in Sicily. Joann took Rocco's side, so I snuck them some more.
The place was glowing and cozy and vibing off of what I had always dreamed of doing: having a Sicilian Sunday Supper. We did it! We sold out! Everyone enjoyed the food and had a great time. Collapse.
It relieving, joyful and surreal to announce that friend Pablo Airaldi, who was on yesterday's cover of The Village Voice came home to Brooklyn last night after three months awaiting deportation at the Hudson County Correctional facility. Read about his experience in his own words at Dearly Deported.
While on tumblr, a member shamelessly proclaimed herself a "reblogger." She admitted that none of the images on her blog are hers, which is fair enough, afterall that is what tumblr is, a place to collect and spread eye candy. Who doesn't love eye candy? At least credit is given where credit it due.
Its reminds me of replating a meal, a term I first heard when I worked for Mr. Marc Ecko, who is also the first person I heard use the term "foodie," and since the term foodie leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
The office of Marc Ecko on 23rd St in the flat iron over the giant Home Depot was a bazillion square foot maze of some of the most expensive and under utilized Manhattan Real Estate. I remember walking around the office, sometimes getting completely lost, and saying to myself, this is what is going to put this company out of business. Ahem. We had a full bar with a pool table that we would use once a year for our holiday party. That was a funny feeling, stumbling down after too many cocktails and being totally drunk in my photo studio, at work! My photo studio had at least 25 feet high ceiling with floor to ceiling windows looking onto an atrium where I could see down to shoppers zipping up and down the escalators in Home Depot. To my right I could look into Marc's office that had the same atrium view. The lavish duplex was designed like a gentlemen's club, dark wood, spiral staircase, walls of books, a basketball court, and the sickest kitchen. We were all convinced his goal was to get onto MTV Cribs.
Since I worked in such close proximity to his office, I naturally became friendly with his assistant, who naturally used to tell us all the goings on in his office. No hanky panky, Marc was a decent married man, plus there was no way to hide anything from inside that giant fishbowl.
One of her responsibilities when Marc was having a client over for lunch was to go out to the fanciest pants of restaurants and order a whole bunch of take-out. Then before the client arrive, Marc would replate it (or rather she would) and he served it as if he prepared it for them right there in that fancy kitchen!
At least rebloggers don't take credit for work that isn't theirs. And this is why I hate the term, "foodie."
That being said I am going to shamelessly reblog a list of restaurants to try in 2011 from Laptop Chronicles. This list was so clutch last year. You know that feeling? You are with a group of people, everyone is hungry and no one has any suggestions. "I don't know where to eat. You pick." Well I would whip out this handy list from laptop chronicles, organized by neighborhood and borough, and I was the hero!
My Morta Di Fame people! Join me this Sunday 1/9 for a twist on a traditional Sicilian Sunday Supper as part of the weekly dinner series curated by Jeremy Parker at Veronica People's Club, with guest "chef" ... wait for it ... me!? We need to come up with a better term than chef. You know I am NOT a chef, but I can fry the shit out of things and I do know my Sicilian food goodness. How about guest food loving lunatic? With Jeremy's expert kitchen chops, you won't want to miss this one. We are menu planning up a storm this week and I promise to fill your bellies and give you a food orgasm or multiples for only $20, and that includes dessert and a fancy cocktail to boot! Plus, there will be some post-grub partying and dancing to enjoy for those of you who show up after all the food is demolished. And it will be demolished!
Jeremy has kicked ass for the last two dinners he curated.
The first menu featured a Grafton Cheddar Meatloaf sandwich served on a Toasted Brioche Balthazar Bun with Roasted Parsnip Fries, Cranberry Relish, Horseradish Mustard and Fresh Pea Shoots. Gagagagaga!!! (Thats the sound I make when I drool). Pink Tibetan Salted Caramel Petite Pears for dessert and Maura McThrill shook everything up with a HOT HOT TODDY! That night, I was coming from the Greenpoint Girls Group Thanksgiving Potluck, so I was mightily full but was able to still scarf the delicious sammy and still have room for dessert! Jeremy really knows how to take the most simple hearty dishes and seriously hook them up with new takes on classics flavors. And there are always vegan veggie options, so don't let the meat scare you!
His next dinner was superbly divinely extraordinarily delicious. Inspired by his recent travels to South East Asia, Jeremy prepared a Lemongrass Soup with Sticky Rice Dumplings paired with a Homemade Brussels Sprouts Kim Chee, Fresh Herbs and yummy Shrimp and Rice crackers. It was the perfect meal for the rainy cold weather. The soup was gloriously seasoned and the Kim Chee was so kick ass fresh with a nice punch of garlic that any cold or flu would never have stood a chance. The rice balls were so mind blowing. They were fried first, so when they hit the broth they were a little crunchy and ooey gooey soft on the inside, the perfect vehicle for sopping up beefy deliciousness. He appropriately paired it with a Tiger Beer. For dessert (this is where food transcendence occurred) he made a Banana Green Tea Pudding. Matcha baby! I ate all of mine and all of Scott's, too. Easily.
So stay tuned for the menu for this Sunday to be posted later in the week! I am so so excited to collaborate with Jeremy on this. Aside from being an amazing person, an awesome friend, a hot ass, a talented artist, and a great chef, he has a super duper crazy creative brain and can take the most familiar of things and spin them into something truly out of this world amazing. You are always left with, how did his noggin come up with that? Let's see how he can take old school Sicilian peasant food and work it into something crazy! (Well crazier.) As you know anything Sicilian is automatically crazy.