Been thinking a lot about Italy lately, and how much I miss it, and my dear friend who lives just outside of Milan. Strangely, when I think of our trip to northern Italy, the food that comes to mind isn’t pasta or wine or even risotto — it’s chocolate croissants and cappuccino. Each and every morning began at a coffee bar, usually at Milano Centrale train station, where there were no tables or chairs — something we are acutely unaccustomed to here in the states. The ritual began as we lined out the door to wait to order and pay, then…shuffled to the next line for our pastry…shuffled to the next line for our cappuccino…squeezed our way up to the bar for an uber-quick consumption, then we were on our way as the next coffee monsters pushed their way up to the bar. It’s one of the most efficient processions I’ve ever been in!
Easter, for some, is a sacred and religious day. For me, not so much. Like Thanksgiving, I see Easter as being a day to bring your family together, enjoy a good meal and reconnect.
What I remember from childhood was a house bursting with children and adults, family and friends. “The Red House”, as it was coined many years ago, is a two-storey red farmhouse built by my great-grandfather in the early 1900’s. Generations have come and gone, and when I was a child, my grandmother and her sister lived there together. This was the site of many Easters and Christmas Eves, and as I was making strawberry cupcakes for my own Easter this year, the luscious smell of fresh strawberries took me back to those gatherings gone by.
Every year my grandmother would pile fresh strawberries on a glass cake pedestal, all surrounding a small bowl of powdered sugar. That was it. Strawberries and sugar. So simple, so enough. Small hands and faces would be dusted in powdered sugar all day long, as the pile of strawberries seemed to be magically endless.
I also remember hunting Easter eggs before any food was consumed. There were nine of us grandchildren for most of my childhood, and after hunting all of the eggs, my grandmother would have us line up out the front door in an orderly fashion, and she would come along and take two eggs from each of us for deviled eggs and potato salad. We were never happy about this, after all, we just worked so hard to find them! But it was Grams, and you didn’t argue.
My grandmother was one of thirteen children. Her sister, the eldest of the thirteen, had seventeen of her own. Needless to say, my mother’s side of the family is staggeringly huge. This resulted in Thanksgivings, Christmases, and Easters that were more akin to a theatre production than a family dinner. I can’t say how many ever attended. Of course, it was never all at one time, but my best guess would be close to forty relatives on any given holiday.
Christmas Eve, in particular, conjures the most memories for me. Held in the home built by my great-grandfather in 1909, then shared by my grandmother and her sister—both divorced, they raised their children there together—the cramped two-room ground floor of the house swelled at its fittings, holding umpteen brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, spouses, kids of varying ages, and presents for all, that spewed at least ten feet out from under a large freshly-cut Christmas tree.
My grandmother and great-aunts would work for weeks making candy and cookies for the festivities. Dinner was all homemade, from scalloped potatoes and farm-raised ham, to dinner rolls tinted with red and green food coloring, to my grandmother’s date-filled cookies, a crumbly, beautiful blend of vanilla sugar cookie and creamy, luscious date filling, that I can still taste to this day if I close my eyes and remember hard enough—although it’s probably been twenty years since I had them last. Read more