Saturday, March 27, 2010



I remember Easter Sunday at my house, particularly when my Grandma Bernardina blew into town with two huge pans of lasagna or home made manicotti on the back seat of my uncle's Cadillac. If it was manicotti,  her homemade sauce would be full of meatballs and sweet and hot Italian sausage.  Accompanied by a big green salad. When the second course came, which was my mother's ham, sweet potatoes, asparagus, corn, apple sauce, black olives, rolls, and heaven knows what else, people would have to strain to make room for it. This would tick off my mother, who would twist up her face in that pained look she'd perfected, and exclaim with precision each year like she was reading from a Hollywood script, "Oh Ma, why do you always ruin my dinner?!"

My grandmother would never reply, but just sit there looking tres smug, maybe stuffing a roll into her mouth (she always did love bread, and while people were yelling at her to stop eating it, would lean in towards me and say with a big bread-eating grin, "Me like-a dis! Mmm!").

Of course, there would be wine and beer, as well as soda, but I never remember anybody being drunk. Except drunk on excess dinner. To add insult to injury, dinner was followed by Italian Easter pies, coffee and cookies, and finally fruit and nuts. And ye olde Easter basket. Sometimes they would have expresso in those little demitasse cups, explaining that it was very good for your digestion. Maybe that is why they lived through washing all those dishes afterwards.

Interesting that I can click off the menu like its remnants are still clinging to the back of my hand, but I do not remember any of my Easter outfits. Usually we were covering up our bright pastel dresses with winter coats anyways, because Easter comes way too early up north for one to make a definitive fashion statement. At least not a positive statement. Since one's Catholic church was usually in one's Catholic neighborhood, most of us walked to Mass in our finery, shivering but joyful just the same. I had the added pleasure (since I've always been insufferably curious about everything and everyone) of living a few houses away from the church, so I would get to check out all the people walking to and from Mass (since we had several each Sunday). I think my best friend, Arlene went to the 7:30. She always was dressed like a perfect doll. And the Bernard's next door (they anglicized their name from Bernardi, I think) went maybe at 9:15, so I would sometimes glance out the window and pass the time watching them and other ladies mince by in their high heels, with their outfits fitting beautifully because they were all wearing girdles back then. Never a vulgar jiggle or outline of cellulite beneath the dress. In fact, the first time I noticed a woman (older and a bit chunky) without the benefit of a foundation garment, we were walking behind her on the way to church, and my mother whispered in horror, (committing a venial sin, I'm sure), "That woman isn't wearing a girdle!"  

"How do you know?" I whispered back. And then she pointed out the reverberating cottage cheese, inadequately obscured by polyester (not a good choice, either). Somewhere in the recesses of my young mind a tiny alarm bell sounded, a bell like fancy people used to ring in movies when they were calling for their maid, but this tinkling little bell announced that someone had taken a beebee gun and shot the tiniest hole, all but unnoticeable, really, but a hole nevertheless, through a window in the fortress of Western Civilization. You know you're in trouble when the middle-aged start throwing off restraint.

I also remember that we always had pretty hats, our Easter bonnets, and pastel or navy blue dress shoes. Never white of course, because back then it was considered gauche to wear white before Memorial Day. Who made up this stuff? Yet following it made everyone more relaxed, because we knew what the rules were. Speaking of rules, the rules were pretty easy for the men and boys: Thou shalt wear a suit, dress shirt and tie, or at least a dress shirt, dress pants, and tie, and thou shalt not EVER go to church with unpolished dress shoes! But men seemed to love to polish shoes.  My father had a little shoe shine kit, with Kiwi brand shoe polish, buffing rags and boar bristle brushes, and he seemed to relish the weekly task. I know I liked the smell of the freshly polished leather, and was fascinated by watching him polish away at that shoe leather until you could almost see your reflection when you looked at it.

Back in the kitchen, all of the women would be wearing aprons, as they did every day anyways. They never wore much, if any makeup, and they all had Easter corsages which would be safely stowed in the refrigerator right after church in hopes of keeping them fresh for another run or two.

The food was always eaten loud. Do you know what I mean? Hot, too, of course, but Loud. With gestures. Laughing, or scolding, and with joking and teasing, perhaps, and lots of opinion giving, in not one, but two languages, all LOUD. It was always fun to me to be outside the house when we had company, standing under the windows and listening to them talk (because crazy Italians who live up north are notorious lovers of fresh air and get overheated by the cooking and the shouting and leave the windows open, even if its just a crack). If the talking was in Italian and you didn't know what they were saying you would bet that they were having a big argument, but no, it was just a discussion. Discussions themselves seem to have gone out the window nowadays, because nobody is home to cook, eat and discuss with each other. And the Internet, the tawdry replacement, seems to be only for endless arguments and name calling, which is really bad for the digestion.

I told my family that this year we are going out for Easter dinner, because I am singing in the choir, and cleaning after church, and some people have to work early or later, but now, as I think about it, I am changing my mind. Because I want my children to have a continuing tradition of holiday dinners at home. I want them to be able to look back and be built up in their spirits as they reminisce, the way I am when I think back. I may not be wearing a girdle that day, but I will at least go for the control top panty hose AND slip. Though they cannot be here physically, I trust and pray that all of my co-revelers of holidays past will be in the kitchen with me, part of that vast cloud of witnesses, the Church Triumphant, cheering me on. Loudly.

Friday, March 26, 2010


I seem to always lose my bearings when things in the larger world upset me. It is one thing to be gravely concerned about the future of society and one's family, but quite another to be consumed by those concerns.
We are better off getting to work and praying about the larger things as we go about our day, as our hands and hearts continue to make life sweet in our private world.

God alone is in control and He uses the choices man makes in his free will to effect His all-encompassing plan. Better to get going in the morning and to sing a song than rant and rave on the Internet or in front of the television.

My goal is to be so tired at night from hard work and my daily interactions with others that I can fall, happily exhausted into bed, knowing I've done my best, and if not, asking God's forgiveness and the chance to begin anew next morning.

Perhaps we should just get busy today, with productive things, and doing it all with love. Concentrate on our own sphere of influence, and implore God to use His.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


It is Springtime, and the promise of new life begins to unfold. In times when you are discouraged, and things just aren't going your way, or your country is being taken over by a bunch of little girls, you need to press on and do something constructive. Like plan and plant a garden.

There is something so satisfying about digging in the soil, and feeling earth in your bare hands. I find that it makes me literally feel grounded again (of course) and revives my weary soul. It is part of the health care plan that God gave us, and what could be better than growing at least some of our food ourselves, and gaining just a teeny bit of independence is so doing?  Or do these people know better than we do?

You know, there are people who are issuing edicts about what, since they are taking control of us, we should eat and what we should do to remain healthy, so that we can better fit into their plans for us. Some of these people smoke cigarettes or wear polyester pantsuits and get way too much plastic surgery, but they know better than we do about how we should live. As usual, it is "Do as I say, not as I do". Its a shame that they do not worry about the health of the unborn who are slaughtered in their mothers wombs in America, but that is how crazy their thinking is. They compared what they did to the Civil Rights movement. What a farce.

"Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!", says Isaiah 5:20.

God defend us from this monstrous regiment of women!

Well, I propose that we take matters into our own hands, and try to live in healthy ways, so that we can stay out, as much as God wills, of their government system (that and vote them out next time). So if you live up north right now, go out and plant some peas, parsley and start some brassica seeds (things like cabbage, broccoli, brussel sprouts) indoors. Those of us in the mid-zones can be sowing lettuce, herbs and many other things directly into the soil right now, and if you are in the deep south and pacific west, well then good for you, because the planting world is wide open.

And find out what edible things grow naturally in your area, and start foraging. I particularly love to do this, but then I am nothing if not a bit eccentric. I come by it naturally from my father, who loved to forage for greens, berries, mushrooms, nuts and fruits from abandoned orchards. One time, I saw these Polish ladies picking crab apples from landscape trees outside a restaurant in a shopping center. So guess what? I got in there too, and afterwards made delicious jelly from my stash. If you decide to forage, you probably want to pick from plants and trees that are over 20 feet away from the road because of contamination from car exhaust, but you can still find plenty of landscape trees and abandoned or wild growing plants that fit that bill.

The natural thing is to also plant perennial edibles that are indigenous to your area as they will be the healthiest and hardiest. Do a little research and find out what grows well and/or is native to your area, and get going with that.

Not everybody wants to forage, however, and lots of people do not have much or any land to plant on. You can look into square foot gardening, wherein you amend the soil (which we need to do anyway) to make it really rich so you can grow a lot in a little space. People in apartments can put things out in pots on the balconies or in the windows.

I also love to go to the "pick your own" farms and well, pick my own. It is fresh and cheaper than what you can buy in the stores. It is healthy to be out in the sunshine and fresh air, too.

Nancy Pelosi (groan) says that now that this massive takeover has been effected and we are on our way, via financial ruin and moral disintegration, to the trash heap of history, we can (be made to) focus on diet rather than diabetes and other drivel ad nauseam. Yes, well, we don't need Nancy to run that for us, do we? Whatever we can do for ourselves, we should do. I think we will be better fed, healthier, and more fulfilled by doing what we can for ourselves.

Awhile back, I wrote down some rules for myself. When I obey my self-made rules, I am a lot happier and things work out better for me. I will end today's post with them, and wish you a long, healthy and independent life!

Rise Early
Pray without Ceasing
Nourish yourself and others with wholesome food and drink
Practice the Presence
Work like a peasant
Get plenty of fresh air and sunshine
Make time for silence and solitude
Go to Bed Early
Be ever thankful


Friday, March 12, 2010


As most people know, Catholics and some other Christian groups go without meat on Fridays in Lent. Indeed, the Catholic Church has not quite abolished the practice of meatless Fridays throughout the year, but still recommends them to the faithful. This practice can be abrogated on other Fridays of the year, however, if other acts of penance or reparation are done instead.  For you and me, it might be eating lesser meals on Fridays, or giving to charity, sacrificing some other pleasure or privilege, or doing some secret good deed for another person.

In Lent, however, we are to abstain from meat on Fridays, period. Well, not quite period, because of course during Lent we are to fast, give more time to prayer and bible study, give alms and in general, pull back from the world a bit more in order to deepen our faith and our walk with Jesus.

So on these Fridays, we turn to seafood dishes or humble ethnic recipes to fulfill our obligation. Now,  we can go "American Ethnic", which is fish sticks and macaroni and cheese, or grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato soup! Then there are the various other soups, such as Clam Chowder, or Lentil soup. For us Italian-Americans, we usually have a lot of favorites in our arsenal, most of which include some kind of pasta, vegetable, and sauce. Spaghetti with clam, or shrimp or artichoke sauce, for example, and greens and beans for another.

A favorite at our house is the old standby, "Pasta e Fagioli", which means Pasta and Beans. Somehow the pronunciation of the dish has devolved into Pasta Fazool, and I am not here to speculate how it did that.

I came not to explain Pasta Fazool
I came to cook it.
And eat it.

Now, if it is not a Friday, I will add a little bit of pepperoni to this dish, but for tonight, this is how it is done:

You will need a larger pot to cook the pasta in. Fill it 2/3 full of cold, salted water. You will use a smaller sauce pan to start your sauce and beans in. You assemble:

2 cups uncooked elbow or other small macaroni (e.g. ditalini, small shells, etc.)
1 15 oz. can of (I use Hunt's) plain tomato sauce. Or use 2 small cans.
1 15 oz. can of cannellini (white kidney beans), or great northern beans
As many cloves of garlic as you want (I always use at least 3 because hubby loves garlic).
Olive oil
Parsley (fresh is great, dried is fine; ditto for following spices)
Crushed red pepper flakes.

Turn the big pot on to have the water come to a vigorous boil, and proceed with the following:

Cut up the garlic finely and saute in olive oil (maybe a couple of tablespoons of oil). Don't let the garlic burn, but let it just be a bit translucent. I find that it is helpful to have your cans of beans and sauce open and ready to be poured, and have your spices at hand.

Add beans (juice and all), sauce, and some liberal shakes of spices. A little crushed red pepper goes a long way, so be conservative with that. Let this cook together, well stirred, for 5 minutes or so, or until your pasta water is boiling. When water boils, add the elbows and cook for 5 -7 minutes. After this, drain off half of the water, or so that the water is just barely to the top of the pasta. Add in your sauce/bean mixture, and cook till elbows are soft but not squishy - sort of al dente.

Serve with generous amounts of grated parmesan or romano cheese. Enjoy with a tossed salad and maybe some bread. If the dish is not salty enough for you, add some more to taste. Usually when you use the pepperoni (which would be cut up and sauteed with the garlic), it is salty enough, but meatless may require a little addition.

This is really delicious and satisfying as only peasant food truly is. I wish you a happy Friday and a blessed Lent!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

I was going to talk a lot about food as I continue my ideas of how to survive and thrive in diminished circumstances.  I had set out to show how much food plays a part in the fact that so much waste is built into people's expectations of what it really takes to live an abundant life. I would like to show how a wise person will be able to live richly in the important things (including nutrition and and great tasting food) and still be prudent in expenditure. I still hold to the proposition that this can be done by eliminating what the world has told us we must have.

As I began to do some research, however, I learned a few interesting facts. Did you know, for instance, that 50 years ago a full one third of the family's income went to food and that now on average, a family spends only 12 to 13 percent their take home pay on food, including that which is procured in restaurants and take-out? How can this be, I wondered?  One factor, I believe, is that 50 years ago the food we bought was whole food, either coming to us as God created it (whole chickens, whole fruits and vegetables, hunks of beef) or at least it was made from ingredients that God had created, like wheat, milk, eggs, with white sugar being a quasi-exception because it is refined from a whole food, sugar cane or beets). The foods on our tables were not part whole food mixed with inexpensive fillers and cheap substitutes (think butter rather than trans fats, sugar rather than high-fructose corn syrup, animal protein rather than hydrolyzed vegetable protein).

So perhaps this was a factor that made food a bit more expensive, but perhaps the expenditures in other areas cost less than they do today, percentage wise.

For example, when I was a child, a loaf of bread cost about 30 cents. Bread, back then, was sold almost exclusively in one pound loaves. My father, who made less than the average wage, was bringing in about four grand or so as a construction laborer who found himself unemployed each winter. We did have his unemployment check then and my mother would supplement that with the previous spring's tax return money. She would make sure to squirrel this away against that inevitable day just before Christmas each year when he would be laid off.

We were a family of four. We were also a one-income family, as were most, and we lived in a small cottage which they had purchased in 1955 for $8,700, which amounted to about two years' wages. So they would buy the bread for 30 cents a loaf, and we never went hungry, but were quite well fed and comfortable. In fact, like most children, we thought that Mom and Dad were the King and Queen of Happy Land, as most children are wont to think, and it takes quite a bit to disabuse them of that notion. (Which right away should put to rest the antithetical idea that Mommy has to go to work full time in order to give the little ones what they need to be happy; as an older  mother of 13 said to me once: "If they don't know they need it, they probably don't need it").

But back to the bread. Last week as I was checking prices of a multitudes of foods and staples at Walmart, I saw where I could purchase, some 50 years after the good old days, a 24 oz. loaf of Great Value (the store) brand bread for $1.34. That bread costs about 6 cents an ounce, which means that at that price a one pound (16 ounce) loaf would cost 96 cents. So in 50 years, it seems the price of a cheap loaf of bread has a little more than tripled. So if you tripled the paycheck of my"strong-of-shoulders-but-slight-paycheck" father, you would end up with the princely sum of $12,000. I think that is less than one can make on minimum wage at present.  Uhh????

To be fair, the average head of household at that time was making about $5,300 a year, so let's just triple his salary, which means that he makes $16,500. Just above minimum wages for a year. Now, don't we all know families who are making $16,500 a year, with only a single breadwinner, who also own their own home, the loan for which requires 20% down on just to get the mortgage, with two kids who are well-fed, warm and cozy while they benefit from their mother's full time care of them, eating the Walmart bread while paying all their bills on time?

Well, no we don't know anybody like that, I suspect.

At this point, I looked over at the website to see what the current poverty line is for a family of four as of last year (2009). It seems that if your family of four has a yearly income less than $22,050, then you are poor. And you probably are, but not because of food.

Remember our comfy little cottage? And that it cost about two years' wages? Our imaginary worker, whose bread has tripled to 96 cents and yearly pay has tripled to $16,500 would have be able to afford a house that was two years' worth of his salary. 16,500 X 2 = 33,000. His house would have to cost about $33,000.

Now let's look at the real world today, where nobody has so much from making so little. According to the folks at the Dept. of Labor, who doubtlessly enjoy crunching numbers and compiling these statistics more than I do, the current yearly income on average for the American family is $63,091. So if that family purchased a house that was worth a little more than two years' wages, they would have to pay a little over $126,000 for it. (And, by the way, pay next to nothing in property taxes). And that's not happening, is it? I bet you a year's worth of Walmart wheat bread that we will not get back onto solid financial ground as a nation or individual families until A) that housing bubble finally bursts for good, allowing housing prices to get back in line with what is sustainable, and B) taxes are cut to much lower levels .

Another area in which we spend tons more is that of transportation. Too many high car payments, too many cars per family and too much suburban sprawl (thus making for more miles driven per year), have us in a choke hold. To say nothing of choking on dirty air from car exhaust. Do you know why America has been the number one polluter all these years? Not from factories, because goodness knows we don't make anything here anymore, but from transportation. Look it up.

So again, I am attempting to ding on people's heads about making voluntary choices like downsizing on housing and transportation. And not feeling badly about it, but feeling a bit smug about getting off the wide road that leads to destruction.

While we are at it, we might want to learn how to do some of our own car maintenance, look at living a little closer together in centrally located areas known as cities. And downsizing our homes and our debt,  laying off the credit cards, raising the deductibles on all our insurances, raising vegetables and raising chickens if need be. And bunches more, including the delightful subject of grocery shopping and be continued.