Saturday, June 28, 2014

Who Moved My Mascarpone?





Yesterday, I took old Mrs. Russo shopping at the Italian Market in South Philadelphia. She was buying seafood. I had my goal list all ready:

• Olive oil, prosciutto, capicola and imported pasta from Claudio’s
• Olive salad and cheese from DiBruno’s
• Lamb, pork roasts and ground beef from Esposito’s
• Locatelli and fresh produce from Giordano’s
• Spices and coffee from the Spice Corner
• Some pastry from Isgro’s

I was looking forward to a refreshing walk, while enjoying the sights and smells of the South Philly marketplace and do some shopping.

I was asked to pick Teresa up at her sister’s house.

Teresa Russo has been a friend of our family for years. She went to school with one of my aunts. She was born and raised in South Philadelphia. Her temperament is a bit surly, but expected, as she grew up in a tough neighborhood. She doesn’t get around much by herself anymore, so taking her shopping was my idea and good deed for the day.

I decided to take her to Pat’s Steaks for lunch.

When I picked her up, I noticed that the jacket she was wearing was wrinkled and out of shape.

“What’s up with the jacket?” I asked, as she got into the car.

“Flak jacket underneath.” She answered. “I got it from Louie ‘The Nose.”

“Come on, Teresa, you’re 80 years old. Who’s going to mess with you?”

“Hey, they let that Gambino guy off. You know, John ‘junior’ Gatti. Now, they call him ‘Teflon John.’ He don’t have friends in South Philadelphia. Two guys came down from New York last week and started something near the Sports Complex. I smell trouble, like we got the malocchio or something. Maybe we shouldn’t go today.”

“Teresa, people don’t believe in the ‘evil eye’ anymore. You shouldn’t be so superstitious. Of course we should go shopping. Those guys all hang out in a different neighborhood.”

“Yeah? What are we gonna do if they decide they want to eat something at Mama Mia’s and start a fight?”

“Teresa, they don’t mess with old ladies. Besides, we're going to eat at Pat's.”

“Speak for yourself, I’m not old.” She said.

When we got to the Italian Market and parked the car at the three dollar lot on Washington Avenue, we were approached by some guy, who said he was from HealthCare.gov and was taking a poll. Teresa broke his pencil and told him to get lost.

“OK,” I said. “I take back what I said. They don’t mess with NICE old ladies.”

“Statazete! (Shutup)” she snapped. “We should have stayed home. That guy was a pickpocket. Check your wallet.”

“I have it” I said. “Nothing is missing. Will you just relax and enjoy yourself? Put on your happy face, that should confuse everybody.”

Everything went smoothly until Teresa spotted a black limousine driving up 9th Street. She dove under a vendor table and about 50 live blue crabs and two dozen oranges went scurrying and rolling in all directions. Crustaceans were everywhere. I saw one of them booking down Montrose Street. You could hear the screams for blocks.

“What, are you on somebody’s hit list, or just crazy - are you alright?”

“Yes, I’m sorry.” She said.

“Yes, what? Yes, you’re crazy or yes, you’re OK?”

“Alright already - both!”

The guy, who rented the vendor table, was furious, cussing in Italian, and running around with tongs trying to gather up the runaway crustaceans before they pinched someone.

“Che cazzo...?” he shouted, “C'รจ un casino della Madonna qui.” (Meaning “What the hell…?” and his vocabulary went down-hill after that.)

After we paid him for the crabs that were still missing in action, I swore to myself that I would never do another good deed like this again. What started out as a fun shopping trip had turned into a total nightmare.

We never got to Isgro’s.

On the way home, Teresa apologized for her behavior all day. She told me she is into Ronny ‘The Rat’ for $100 to pay for the exterminator.

Apparently, while she was Spring cleaning two weeks ago, she found mice running around in her basement. Ronny had threatened her. She was supposed to pay him $125 by yesterday, or he would import a hundred mice and set them loose in her house. So, for the rest of the week, until she pays him on Friday, Teresa is spending nights with her sister.

“Ronny is a spostata (jerk).” She said.

“Teresa, the next time you need money, call me. I will lend it to you, no mice and no interest, capiche?”

I went home, poured myself a Chianti, and listened to a little Lou Monte.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Felice Giorno del Padre: An Italian Father's Day Tribute

by Rose A. Valenta

I'd like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to one of the great men in my life, my Italian grandfather, Alfonso. This was the guy, who let me watch him make homemade wine in the basement and put me wise to the double-standard.

I'd like to make this a heart warming and sensitive human interest story. One that would bring a nostalgic tear to anyone's eye, but let's get real here. Hearts and flowers are for incurable romantics; me, Norman Rockwell, and Virginia Hill all have a lot in common - realism.

I only had one grandfather, as the other one died before I was born, so Grandpop Alfonso and me had a private joke: As he was sternly meting out discipline to his kids, he was also enjoying the power of being in a position of authority. I caught on to this, as I was the second oldest grandchild, a girl; and for some reason he never yelled at me, but would wink in my direction when he reamed someone else.

As an Italian, he was more than a little strict with his daughters about such things as cussing and smoking in public. He forbade them to smoke at all, saying that it didn't reflect well on their individual character. One of my aunts, who could have given Al Capone a run for his money, was once evicted from the house for an entire summer for saying "wop" (his English wasn't good enough to translate some of her other words), while smoking a cigarette. I think she was also hooked on old Bette Davis movies at the time, because she tended to pace around in her apartment surrounded by smoke rings.

She is 89 years old now. She quit smoking when she was 78 for health reasons.






It was a normal annual routine for my family to chip-in and rent a house to take my grandparents to Seaside Heights, NJ, for an entire month. Then, aunts and uncles would alternate vacation days, so the house could accommodate everyone else for a few days at a time. I was permitted to stay the entire month.

One night I was up on the boardwalk and there was this game being played for packs of cigarettes. I didn't smoke at the time, but the game looked like fun, so I played and won about 10 packs of my grandfather's brand of tobacco.

Needless to say, I became his best friend for the rest of his life. He even shared an ounce of his homemade wine with me to celebrate this friendship. I was only 12.

Every time I went up on the boards, he'd slip me a few dimes and say "Don'ta tella you mom." I always came back with lots of cigarettes. The game hawker even knew me by my first name.

You have to understand that all the women in the family locked themselves in the bathroom to smoke, so he wouldn't catch them. As a kid, I couldn't quite figure out what the consequences would be if they ever got caught.

So, there I was, all my friends were still playing with Betsy-Wetsy dolls, and I was the delivery girl, you know, just like Virginia Hill, delivering Lucky Strikes to my grandfather in the kitchen and Chesterfields and Camels up in the bathroom (solitary confinement) to my mom and aunts. My grandmother was probably watching The Untouchables in the living room because she didn't smoke. Plus, she had this secret crush on Frank Nitti. If it was an episode of The Jersey Shore, she would have been drooling over Paulie D. Little House on the Prairie it wasn't, ya know?

Sometimes when you walked into the bathroom, it looked and smelled much like the back room of an illegal gambling establishment in the Bronx. The language wasn't much better either. They all thought they were bad and were laughing and entertaining themselves, thinking they were pulling something over on their old man. However, he did have to "go" once in a while and use the room. So, I think he knew.

Once my cousin Vinnie came down for a few days. He had to "go" and was forced to switch to plan B, the old outhouse. So, he located and loaded up all their cigarettes with those little wooden cigarette loads that blow up when burning tobacco touches them. I think four of my aunts were in the bathroom at the time, and all of a sudden it sounded like the 4th of July in there, with screaming and running mixed into the fireworks.

Downstairs, I heard Grandpop mutter under his breath "Dumba asino ragazze."

Grandpop Alfonso, wherever you are, Happy Father's Day!


© Lou Monte via Youtube

©2010-2014, Valenta, All rights reserved.
To buy my book “Sitting on Cold Porcelain” click here

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Sending Mixed Messages

The game developer DICE has released a war game that allows players to take on the role of the Taliban and kill American troops.

Disturbing isn’t it? What will our young people learn from this?

My generation has very little tolerance for allowing kids to play games that dehumanize them any more than they already are from watching violence on TV. I know, I sound like my grandmother already; but why don’t these computer smart-ass wizards create something that contributes to a child’s sense of loyalty, creativity, self-respect and well being?

Just the other day, I walked past my grandson’s bedroom as his mother was confiscating the Xbox. Its fate was a sledge hammer. Apparently, the game got intense and his loud cussing was drowning out her evening ritual of listening to Jack Canfield, Deepak Chopra, and Loretta LaRoche in the living room to lighten up and relax. So, she marched upstairs where the loud unholy echoing vibes were coming from, pulled a Lizzy Borden, and gave it 40 whacks. At the same time, she began Googling an exorcist in the hopes of saving her son because he was having convulsive fits with an Xbox monkey on his back.

This is what happens to our children after they outgrow Barney, Blues Clues, and playing Fish.

I guess the game developers don’t have kids. They should be forced to understand the havoc these games cause outside the lab and test facility. A robot playing the game is one thing, a young adult does not respond the same way. Where the robot might politely say “game-over-my-avatar-lost,” the human child says “What the ^&*!?” and throws a wild temper tantrum. I could also elaborate on a few television programs that add those words to their vocabularies, but that would take me forever.

As most of us know, this offensive behavior does not contribute to the health and well being of other family members, especially seniors, even if you do take the batteries out of their hearing aids. The white noise can literally turn their nervous systems into jello.

Two nights ago, while Junior was playing Manhunt on his Nintendo and sending out demon vibes that bellowed down the staircase, Aunt Ida, who is 86 years old, thought it was the end of the world, said an Act of Contrition, and loudly proclaimed her innocence before she passed out. The fact that Uncle Harry was watching Bill O'Reilly on the TV in the next room at the same time, might have contributed to it as well, I’m not sure.

Poetic justice would be for a game developer to actually give birth to Rosemary’s baby and deal with the little monster while working from home.

Here is a cleaned up demo:

Monday, April 28, 2014

Transporting Sasquatch

by Rose A. Valenta

A bachelor never quite gets over the idea that he is a thing of beauty and a boy forever.”~ Helen Rowland

CNN recently reported on the continued search for Sasquatch, The Abominable Snowman. Uncle Harry was at my house reading the same story in the local newspaper. He was so tickled by the large Sasquatch footprint photograph that he cut it out and hung it on my refrigerator with tape, waiting for a reaction from Uncle Dick, who was expected to arrive for dinner any minute. These two single seniors in my life like to prank each other and have never quite grown up into manhood.

Apparently, way back when Christ was a Corporal and the two of them attended their Senior Prom, Harry’s date Matilda earned the nickname “Sasquatch” when she poured her size 24 self into a size 18 ½ brown chenille A-line gown, complete with large gaudy feathered accessories, for the Prom.

They traveled to the dance in an old Ford Roadster. Matilda weighing in at 240 lbs. had to literally back into the car to get into position for the seat. Dick’s date looked more like Olive Oyl, in her size 5 spinach-green Edwardian-style gown.

After Harry finished waltzing Matilda and before the night was over, she had literally punctured the floorboard in the Ford with her high-heels. Harry swore that there was no necking room inside the car and that he had to stretch like a deer forging for figs, to reach her face in the moonlight.

He noticed that you could actually see the dirt road whizzing by though the holes in the floorboard on the way home. So, he went to the local bakery and talked the head baker into selling him a sheet pan to cover the damaged floor in the car. The next day, he and Dick repaired the floor and hid the pan with a throw-rug for future use.

Dick told him that he should seriously consider dating thinner women, but Harry wouldn’t listen. In later years, Dick would tell Harry that all those “No Hazmat” signs on the highway were there because of his old dates, rotted floorboards, and general taste in women. As I recall, Harry’s ex-wife actually did look like an Abominable Snowman in her wedding dress. Her maid of honor wore a gown that rivaled Tula’s bridesmaids in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.”

Just then, the doorbell rang. Dick came in with a bottle of Chardonnay and a case of Samuel Adams Cherry Wheat that he promptly put in the refrigerator. He immediately saw the photograph of the alleged Sasquatch footprint.

“Harry, you never told me that you took Tildy out for a barefoot walk on the beach on Prom night,” he said.

One story led to another and they had me laughing all night. I figured that "Transporting Sasquatch" would make a great episode for Shipping Wars.

I’ve never been quite sure if Helen Rowland, author of The Rubaiyat of a Bachelor, actually knew my Uncles Harry and Dick.


© 2014, Valenta, All rights reserved.
To read my column Skinny Dipping click here
To buy my book “Sitting on Cold Porcelain” click here

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Throwback Thursday - Give it up For 'The Flim-Flam Man'

by Rose A. Valenta

My Uncle Harry has it in for complainers. I feel that God has to look out for them more because they are misguided; so is Harry, but he is clueless.

Harry smelled my bacon cooking this morning and invited himself over for breakfast, as usual, with a solution to yet another social issue.

“Look at how many complainers there are,” he said. “Some people only complain about a few things, like the high price of food, clothing, and shelter; while others complain about practically everything. Do you realize how many personal attacks there are because Kilroy was here and Paul, the late Psychic Octopus, picked Spain to the win the World cup? Some people have no sense of humor. Whatever happened to honest solutions and self-motivation?” He said.

“Harry, what have you been smoking?” I asked. “I just rolled out of bed; put the cat out; started cooking bacon and eggs; still need coffee to wake up, so I can put on Tyler Florence and enjoy myself; and you come over here talking about Kilroy and self-motivation. I was already motivated before you came over.”

“See, you’re complaining already, just what I’m talking about.”

“How do you want your eggs this morning?” I asked.

“Did you check the expiration date on the carton?” he responded.

“Harry, can I get a straight answer, please?” I asked. “Obviously you forget that I’m always in the world of discombobulation before coffee.”

“I’ll take them scrambled, but not watery like they were on Sunday.”

“Oh! Okay, here is the frying pan and two eggs. I guess you can get self-motivated. I’ll be in the next room watching Tyler. The bacon is cooked already. It’s an honest solution.”

“It’s my day off, like Sunday!” He said in disbelief.

“Yes, and I just asked God for inspiration. I said ‘God please help me deal with this man, who questions my cooking; doesn’t pay for the food; watches that idiot Bill O'Reilly, who forgot to ask the President Super Bowl-related questions, on my TV; stores his flip-flops on my screen porch; and thinks he can solve the world’s problems because he is being influenced by chronic complainers.”

“What chronic complainers influence me?” He asked.

“FoxNews!” I answered. “They could be 'Mikey' in a cereal commercial. You're addicted. Just think about how much more pleasant your world would be today, if you put on ‘Funniest Home Videos’ or, since it's Women's History Month, a nice documentary about Eleanor Roosevelt, instead of Fox News on the TV.” I said.

“Very Funny!” He said sarcastically. “Obama’s got the whole world on a sinking ship, and you want me to watch comedy or a woman's life story, who could have beaten Eisenhower hands-down if the Democrats weren't so stupid. They chose to run Adlai Stevenson? Ha!”

“It’s the way you look at things, Harry. Why dwell on politics every day, when you know Obama's term is almost over?”

“Like the Mayan Calendar ran out in 2012 - its too late, and we owe $17 trillion.” He said.

“Oh, so you saw that movie too! No wonder you are grumpy. You would prefer that they skin Obama alive in 2014, so you can watch and buy Gold because the world might come to an end after all? How will you spend your earnings? That makes a lot of sense. You’re going to have to trust me on this, Harry. If you watch every comedy movie ever made via Netflix between now and the primaries, instead of Fox News, your blood pressure will drop 20 or 30 points," I said.

"Nothing will change, Fox has made a soap opera out of our Commander-in-Chief called Rodney Dangerfield Incarnated. You will be pleasantly surprised at the new list of candidates for 2016. Maybe the media will show some respect for the next person we elect. After all, Obama is our president, not the dictator they depict. He consults with the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Labor, State, Transportation, Treasury, and Veterans Affairs, as well as the Attorney General. As far as I know, none of them are communists,” I added; plus, if you have any doubt about his sense of humor, watch the real interview he did with Between Two Ferns."

“Damn! and you didn't have coffee yet? Will you make me some scrambled eggs, if I wean myself gradually?” He asked.

“How about watching the cooking channel with me today?” I answered. “Tyler doesn’t spew hate and makes a helluva good old fashioned American apple pie. Then, we can go out to the movies and see the old comedy for throwback Thursday The Flim-Flam Man.”

“Okay, it’s a deal,” he said.

Yes! Give it up for The Flim-Flam Man!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

A 'Little Chicago' Story

by Rose A. Valenta

When I was growing up, I used to spend most of my summers visiting my Grandmother in Olean, NY. If you have never heard of Olean, it is a great little community just over the New York State line from Bradford, PA. It was also a major bootlegging stop during Prohibition. In the 1920s, the press nicknamed the town "Little Chicago" because of its connection with organized crime, bootleggers and Al Capone; who often visited there.

My Grandparents were born and raised near Olean, before 1900. They married in Olean and raised seven children there. Unfortunately, Grandma was widowed young and had to obtain a position as a baker at The Olean House, an upscale hotel, to support her children; where she managed to get promoted to head baker. She was well-known in the community for her expertise at baking the best cakes and pies. Whether she ever baked an Italian Rum Cake for Capone, she never said. However, she always brought baked goods to family gatherings, her NSDAR ladies (Olean Chapter 1117), and often donated recipes to church cookbooks that were being produced for charity.

One could describe her as the Walter Staib of Olean - traditional recipes using original methods of baking.

I was her youngest granddaughter and she took me under her wing in the kitchen. It was a lost cause, however, because even a simple thing like cupcakes turned out like hockey pucks when I tried to make them. I remember once, she actually stood over my shoulder while she dictated a cake recipe. It was one of her famous orange Bundt cakes with orange glaze. Sure enough, it came out of the oven like a paper weight. It had risen less than an inch. I wrote an essay about it in my book, Sitting on Cold Porcelain, called “Thanksgiving Plans – Remember the Titanic.”

I got married in Philadelphia, Grandma retired from the Olean House, and we visited regularly. She was still sharp as a tack at 90 years old. She managed to take several solo trips to Florida to visit her younger sister before she passed.

Somehow, during that time, a light bulb went on in my head and I learned how to cook. I never did get the hang of baking a good cake, however, but there was Duncan Hines and the box cake only turned out lop-sided once. That’s when she put me wise to turning the tins upside down and icing the flat sides together.

I remember Grandma being very active at her Church. She was a member of the United Brethren Church and the Eastern Star. I think about her often during the holidays. So, it must have been ESP when I logged on to eBay just after Thanksgiving last year, and did a search for my grandmother’s name and “Olean,” because I found a church cookbook up for auction that she had contributed to almost 40 years ago. In it was a brown bread recipe with brown sugar, raisins, and nuts. I was thrilled. I’ll make my girls one of Grandma’s recipes for Christmas, I thought. Then, I groaned, remembering how it could turn out.

Surprisingly, not bad!

My daughters are grown now and have children of their own. Two of them only have a vague recollection of visiting their Great Grandmother in Olean, but they know all about her from my stories. This past Christmas, they had a special gift from Great-Grandma that I would like to share with you. You can make it anytime for sandwiches as a delicious substitute for whole wheat. It is not sweet:

Millie Chappell’s Brown Bread

1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
3 cups buttermilk
2 cups flour
3 cups graham flour (order online, I can’t find it anywhere else)
4 tbsp. shortening (melted)
4 tbsp. molasses
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
Add raisins, nuts, or dates as desired. I used raisins and pecans.

Mix all of the dry ingredients together, except the brown sugar. In a separate bowl, mix all of the liquid ingredients and the sugar. Combine them both making a batter. Grease two bread tins and fill them slightly more than half full with the batter. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for one hour. It makes two loaves… and all that jazz.

Yay! I’m Roxie Hart in the kitchen!

© 2010-13, Valenta, All rights reserved.

To read my column Skinny Dipping click here

To buy my book “Sitting on Cold Porcelain” click here

Video Source: YouTube - Copyright: Miramax

Monday, February 10, 2014

A Stimulus for President’s Day

By Rose A. Valenta

President’s Day is an annual Federal holiday celebrated on the third Monday of February. It was originally celebrated on February 22nd, President George Washington’s actual birthday. However, in order to include President Abraham Lincoln, who was born on February 12th, the celebration was consolidated to fall in between those two dates and generically called "President's Day."

Although, George Washington was our first POTUS under the Constitution, we completely forget that the 13 colonies were operating as a government before that under the "Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union" with John Hanson of Maryland as the first POTUS. John was born on April 14th, so I am including him today, because he participated in drafting the U.S. Constitution.

I'm not sure I like a generic President's Day. The achievements of our American Presidents are legendary, so there is no need to elaborate, but since our current President, Barack Obama, is so fond of signing “stimulus” packages to help off-set our national debt, it would make more sense for us to celebrate all our significant President's birthdays separately.

He should repeal the consolidated holiday. It would stimulate our economy to have three President’s Day sales in February and April, and if all applicable Federal agencies, schools, and financial institutions were closed on February 12th, 22nd, and April 14th; employees and students would be cutting coupons and out spending more money on millions of consumer products. This would be a win-win situation for both shoppers and retailers.

Not only that, but how can we justify an almost hit and miss celebration to pay tribute to the impressive sacrifices and achievements of such honorable men?

With an in-between birthday - Lincoln’s belated?

If they did that to somebody like Ann E. Dunwoody, she’d be pissed and she’s only a retired four-star general! She wants her NordicTrack ViewPoint™ 3600 right on her special day.

We need American retailers of all bottom lines like Best Buy, BJ’s Wholesale Club, Bloomingdale's, Costco, Brookstones, Fingerhut, Hallmark, JCPenny, Pier 1 Imports, Pep Boys, Saks Fifth Avenue, Sam's Club, and Victoria’s Secret to come together to work, struggle, and convince the powers that be to pull off three President’s Day Sales for the betterment of our economy and to pay tribute to three of our greatest heroes.

In the words of President Barack Obama, “What do you think a stimulus is? It's spending - that's the whole point, seriously!”

I want to go to Macy's, I ain't loafin':