Tit for Tat

Tit for Tat,” an excerpt from my current yet-to-be-named work in progress, otherwise known as Book 3, From the Savino Sisters Mystery Series. Mike Something from Book 2 has returned—older, wiser, and seeking redemption from Ellen Savino who erased him from her life years ago.

I saw Mike before he saw me, more like before I let him see me, having stationed myself behind a convenient shrub located near the Saint Louis Zoo’s Living World. Dressed in skin-tight faded jeans and a navy blue sweatshirt, he sat warming a park bench, one ankle crossed to the opposite knee. Instead of the man bun he’d worn at The Ritz-Carlton, a grey headband now crossed his forehead, keeping his face unobstructed but allowing the long hair to hang loose around his shoulders. Cherokee style, as if making a cultural statement. Not that I found anything wrong with that. We should all celebrate our heritage, however vague, as was the case with the recent revelations of my Italian heritage. Nor was anything at that zoo moment stopping me from walking away, except Mike’s admission to having known both Val and Horace Corrigan. And my top priority of clearing my mother of any wrongdoing in Val’s death.

My turn to bite the bullet could not be put off any longer. One deep inhale followed by a satisfying exhale propelled me forward into the morning sun. As I approached Mike, I noticed his ankle-length leather boots, similar to a pricey pair displayed in the men’s department at Nordstrom. He looked up, uncrossed his leg, and stood. Ignoring the open arms he’d curled into a potential hug, I offered my hand instead. Two polite shakes and we sat down, Mike at one end of the bench and me at the other, my purse between us, creating a physical as well as a mental barrier.

“I wasn’t sure you’d come,” he said.

“Forget about me. As you already know from eavesdropping on my conversation—”

“It wasn’t intentional, Ellie. I didn’t even recognize you at first. But then you mentioned your mom and the Corrigans.”

“Okay, I’ll buy that. What do you know that I should know?”

He showed me his palm. “Whoa, slow down, will you. Before we get into the Corrigan stuff, can we just talk for a while?”

My heart told me no way and yet I gave him an opening. “You mean play catch-up for the past fifteen years?”

“More like seventeen but who’s counting.” He leaned forward, elbows to knees, head lowered so as not to look at me. “About that day at the St. Louis Fair, I want to apologize.”

I wrinkled my brow, a lame effort to look confused. “Whatever for?”

“The shitty thing I did, dumping you with Yancy, an asshole way of letting you know it was over between us.”

“Oh that. Let’s see … I was almost fifteen. Your stinking cousin … seriously, he had an extreme case of halitosis … was nineteen, already married and a father according to the photo he showed me. You tried passing me off to him, as if … as if …”

“Jesus, Ellie, how could I have been such a jerk.” He tilted his head in my direction, showing me those blue the eyes I’d all but forgotten. “When I called to apologize, your sister read me the riot act. And told me never to call again. Then I went to your house and rang the bell. When your grandma opened the door, she seemed nice enough, even smiled. She told me to hold out one hand and show her my palm. Hell, I thought she was going to tell my fortune, her being a foreigner and all. Instead, she grabbed my hand and …he snapped two fingers … quick as that, she sliced my palm with what looked like an ordinary paring knife. Turned out, the damn thing was so sharp I didn’t feel any pain, leastways not right away. Then, bam! Holy shit. While I was trying to stop the bleeding, she threatened to cut off my dick if I ever came back.”

“Nonnie Clarita? You’ve got to be kidding.”

“Like hell, still got the scar to prove it.” He leaned back, held up his hand, and showed me a thin white line that went from the base of his thumb to above the wrist.

“I guess she figured you had it coming,” I said with a shrug.

“You got that right.”

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End of excerpt

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Star Gazing

 

It was my choice to become a kindergarten dropout (long story) but dropping out didn’t seem to affect my ability to absorb knowledge. In first grade I learned to write cursive and with my dad’s help, I penned my first and only fan letter. How exciting many weeks later, to receive an autographed stock photo from Frank Sinatra, one I thought he’d personally signed just for me. We were connected, Old Blue Eyes and me. But only from a distance.

Up close and not under the spotlight, stars/celebs behave pretty much like the rest of us. On their own, they blend in and ask for help when needed. As did one man, years ago, who came into the office where I was working the front desk. An ordinary looking fellow, with ginger hair and freckled skin, he wanted suggestions for good places to eat in downtown St. Louis. Before I could respond, one of my co-workers hurried over to give the stranger her ideas. That’s when I recognized him as Tom Ewell who’d co-starred with Marilyn Monroe in The Seven-year Itch, one of her most famous roles. You may recall her standing over the sidewalk grate, white skirt billowing above her knees.

Stars and former stars can be found everywhere and when least expected. San Antonio, for example. One year while strolling on the Riverwalk, I passed by a man standing off to one side while chatting with a woman. Very petite with short blonde hair, the woman wore slacks and a knit top. Had it not been for her heavy make-up, I wouldn’t have taken a second look and realized she was June Allyson. The former MGM musical star was doing dinner theater in San Antonio.

Naturally, stars hang out in luxury hotels. I saw Cheryl Ladd (Charlie’s Angels) sitting in the lobby of the George V in Paris and shared an elevator with Rue McClanahan (Golden Girls) at the Ritz-Carlton in St. Louis. Stars even hang out at local eateries, such as a restaurant in Island Park, Idaho, in the middle of the day, where Michael Keaton (Mr. Mom, Batman, etc.) sat at the bar, his big white dog settled on the floor beside him. Everyone in our group of ten needed to use the restroom, anything for an excuse to walk past Michael.

And then there was the time I was visiting New Orleans with Hubby D. I’d convinced him to stroll through the Garden District with me, hoping to see the home of Anne Rice, prolific writer of Gothic horror such as Interview with a Vampire among others. Unsure of the author’s address, we stopped and asked a local woman who was walking her big white dog. She gave us exact directions to Ms. Rice’s house and after thanking her, we continued our unhurried stroll through the neighborhood. Upon reaching our destination, who do we see in the front year of the Rice house but the woman who’d given us directions. She was getting into a stretch limousine and only then did I recognize her as Anne Rice.

So, how about you. Any star sightings you’d like to share?

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Wine vs. Diet Coke: Doing the Math

(Original Blog from December, 2011)

The Euro and the Pound aren’t nearly as strong as they were five years ago when I first posted this blog but when it comes to value, table wine in Europe is still a better bargain than everyday Diet (or Regular) Coke.

In another life I was fortunate to have visited Paris several times, once as a paying guest in the fabulous  George V, hotel to the rich and famous and where I spied a celebrity hanging out in the lobby—actress Cheryl Ladd, a few years after her stint on Charlie’s Angels but still looking terrific in a pair of tight-fitting jeans and, as I recall, a Western-style suede jacket. Seeing all-American Cheryl reminded me of the good ol’ U.S. of A., by then having been away for almost two weeks, most of that time spent on business in The Netherlands and Belgium. Although I’d enjoyed a daily dose or three of fine wines, many I’d not sampled before, my taste buds had been hankering for America’s Numero Uno beverage—Coca Cola. And not just any Coke, it had to be Diet Coke, which had yet to find its ways across the Atlantic drink. Or if it had, not to the George V which did offer regular Coke, the six-ounce classic in a glass bottle that a compassionate person from the kitchen staff produced for me one evening around 9 o’clock. Not quite what I wanted but nevertheless I took the plunge, one costing me the equivalent of six dollars in American cash—the equivalent of ten dollars in today’s inflated market. So, if we’re talking Euros to Dollars that comes to thirteen dollars. Yikes! Ah-h, but worth every … pen … er … dollar.

And speaking of inflation, the George V’s continental breakfast I ate every morning—a small basket of mini muffins, orange juice, and coffee—cost twelve dollars then, which would make it twenty now, more likely twenty-six by today’s Euro equation. The George V’s American breakfast—add bacon and eggs to the continental juice, muffins, and coffee—would’ve cost the Japanese tourists sitting at the table next to me twenty-five dollars then. Forty-two dollars today—don’t ask about the Yen, I’m not that anal. But hey, it was the George V. If you can afford to stay there, you’re not supposed to quibble about a few hundred Francs here, a few hundred Francs there.

As for the French wine, I knew enough to step away from the hotel and sample what the everyday Parisian takes for granted. A carafe of dry red in an inexpensive bistro that set me back about four dollars then would cost in the neighborhood of $6.65 now, considering the Euro, more like $8.65. Still a bargain for two glasses that went down oh so smoothly, the perfect accompaniment for an inexpensive mid-day meal.

By the time I returned to Paris a few years later, I’d learned a few more things about the art of tourist frugality and located a whole six-pack of Diet Coke in a small convenience store on a street adjacent to Boulevard Saint-Germain. Six dollars then, you’ve thought I’d struck gold. I also discovered McDonald’s on the Champs Elysees—can’t beat the prices there, although I don’t recall anymore what they were, except they must’ve been affordable or I surely would’ve remembered. Not that I’m a McDonald’s aficionado, you understand, only when I’m traveling aboard and have an uncontrollable urge for Diet Coke. Confession: in addition to the McDonald’s on the Champs Elysees, I’ve indulged my thirst at the one near Rome’s Piazza di Spagna on two separate trips and once at Mont Blanc’s Chamonix. You can’t beat the fast-food giant’s air-conditioned comfort, especially where European hotels and dining establishments don’t cater to us Americans who can’t tolerate more than a single bead of perspiration.

Enough about McDonald’s, or whatever name they go by in Europe, did I mention they even serve wine? Four years ago Husband and I were returning from Italy via British Airlines, our first stopover: Gatwick Airport. We immediately headed for the nearest bar where we each ordered … you got it, Diet Coke, one for him, one for me.

“You folks must be heading back to the States,” our bartender said. “Diet Coke with plenty of ice, it’s what all the Americans order.” Not that Hubby stopped with one Diet, he just had to have another.

Forget the math on those pricey necessities—the British Pound was, and still is, valued at more than twice that of our American Dollar.

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Before the Wine

A repeat of my October 2012 Blog

I grew up during a period of time when jugs of table wine were, and still are, a part of the Italian-American culture, dry red wine that kids were allowed to sample and rarely wanted more. In fact, I was an adult before I sipped my first glass of bottled wine—white, sweet, and served over ice of all things, to which my mother raised her brow in disapproval when I described the abomination to her. As for the wine gracing my grandma’s table, it never occurred to me that the early phases of winemaking started with quality grapes, appropriate equipment, and the eventual harvest.

Of course, Hubby D knew all about the particulars, better yet his Uncle J, because they had experienced it firsthand on the family farm, its vineyards heavy with concord grapes imported from California, its basement equipped with gigantic vats for creating the home brew. And what D and Uncle J described in great detail to me became an integral part of my Italian/American saga, The Family Angel, an excerpt of which I’ve included below.

The year is 1929, the beginning of The Great Depression and the height of Prohibition, its demise still a few years away. Immigrant bootlegger Carlo Baggio and his brother Jake, whose reckless choices got both of them run out of Chicago, are now busting their butts mining coal in Southern Illinois, along with another immigrant, Mario, who with his wife Irene owns the boarding house where they all live under the same roof.

The Roselli Farm, St. Gregory, Illinois

Earlier that year Carlo and Jake had spent long hours with Mario and Irene, working side by side to plant a large vegetable garden of lettuces, spinach, zucchini, squash, eggplant, potatoes, corn, and tomatoes. By summer the resulting harvest proved so plentiful that Irene opened a vegetable stand and sold what they couldn’t eat fresh or put up for the winter. Besides the garden, a healthy vineyard that Irene’s parents had established years before stretched in long rows down one side of their five acres. Mario expected a bumper crop in September, red and white grapes he would press into fine table wines, a nice addition to the ample supply stored in his cellar.

One evening Carlo, Jake, Mario, and Irene sat around the kitchen table, playing pinochle to take their minds off the 90-degree temperature that should have let up when the sun went down.

“Well, I’m out,” said Irene as she folded her cards. “Looks like another win for Jake.”

Jake swept his hands over the coins. “Hell, with money so tight even forty cents makes me feel rich.”

“We may not have much money but we sure eat and drink well,” Mario grumbled. “I never thought it would come to this. Too many mines, too many miners: that’s what the newspapers say. There’s plenty of coal waiting to be mined and now the country don’t need it.” He poured more wine for himself and passed the jug. “So, Carlo, whadaya say, any ideas how we can make some extra dough?”

“We’re looking at it.” Carlo poured to the level of his three fingers. He took in the aroma and held up the glass to admire the wine’s color and clarity. “I say, sell your wine to Benny Drummond. What he can’t bootleg in St. Louis, he’ll sell on the Illinois side. This vino rosa beats any that Pete Venuta supplies.”

“No shit.” Jake held up the bottle Carlo had passed to him. “So that’s how Pete bought his new truck.”

Carlo took a sip, smacked his lips “Hell, Pete does more than bootleg cheap wine. He waters down whiskey and makes his own hooch.”

“Hooch?” Irene asked. “What’s hooch?”

“Christo, where you been all these years?” Mario said. “Carlo means bootleg whiskey.”

“Well I don’t like this talk about bootlegging.” She stood, walked behind Mario, and pressed her fingers into his shoulder. “And you know better. Bootlegging is against the law.”

“Well, it’s still a free country and just talking about bootlegging ain’t against the law. Besides, it’s a dumb law that nobody follows.” Mario ignored her massage as he directed his words to Jake and Carlo. “I say it’s worth a try. We already have a head start in the cellar. Jake, about the Drummond fella: how ‘bout asking Pete to put us in touch him.”

“You don’t know about Benny Drummond?” Irene applied more pressure with her fingers. “For god sake, he’s one of the biggest gangsters in all of Southern Illinois, maybe the entire state.

Mario reached over his shoulder and patted Irene’s hand. “A few inquiries can’t hurt. It makes sense; this wine as good as ours should be worth something to those less fortunate.” He opened his palms into a shrug. “So we make a little money.”

Irene threw up her hands. “You won’t make much with that dinky set-up downstairs. Just remember this: if you make wine to sell, the government says it’s illegal. And that makes the three of you bootleggers too.”

“Irene, honey, we’re talking small potatoes.”

She stomped out, banging the screen door in her wake.

Carlo leaned over his elbows. “You know, Mario, Irene’s right about one thing: your setup, it’s way too small. Jake and I could help you build a bigger one, like what our parents had back home, with vats and barrels taking up the whole cellar.”

“Sounds like more than I can handle. If you and Jake help me all the way, I’ll give each of you part of the profits.”

“No shit?” Jake said. “You’d do that for us, even though we don’t share the same blood.”

“Blood ain’t everything and so what if I don’t make a killing the first go-around. I ain’t up to messing with this by myself.”

Just the words Carlo wanted to hear. He could almost smell the ripe grapes, taste the infant wine, and revel in its maturity.

*****

Over the next ten days the three men worked as a team, digging out two more feet of dirt from the cellar floor and then carting it in wheelbarrows to feed the gullies located at the far side of the Roselli acreage. After leveling out the floor to a smooth finish, they bitched and cussed and nearly came to blows but still managed to construct a gigantic wooden vat called the latina. It measured eight feet deep by ten feet across and occupied an entire corner. By that time Mario was calling Jake and Carlo partners; they regarded him as their older brother. Next, they installed a galvanized metal trough from the cellar window directly into the vat, which was accessible by way of a wooden ladder on the floor. In the opposite corner they built a second vat, smaller at one hundred gallons but just right for fermenting white grapes as good as the purple but not as plentiful.

Six weeks later the grapes were ready for picking, a crop so prolific Mario enlisted some trustworthy helpers, a dozen miners and for the most part, Italians. His friends readily agreed to work in exchange for all the cheap beer, good wine, and home cooking they could consume during harvest day. At six o’clock on Saturday morning he stood at the end of the driveway and greeted each man with a shot of whiskey and a slap on the back. As soon as the dew lifted in the vineyard, Mario lined up his workers on both sides of long arbors filled with firm, luscious, reddish purple grapes. Using their favorite knives honed to fine, sharp edges, the volunteers severed the fruit clusters from their vines and tossed them into bushel baskets. Mario and Carlo lugged the first of the filled baskets onto a horse-drawn sled and circled around to the outside cellar window where Jake waited with a grin on his face.

“What a sight,” he said, rolling his tongue over his lips. “Already I can taste the vino rosa.”

“And the money,” Carlo added.

Mario unloaded the remaining baskets, Jake dumped grapes into the grinder connected to the trough, and Carlo cranked the handle, rotating the four rollers inside to crush the fruit. Juice and pulp poured from the trough into the vat, its bottom lined with straw that served as a filtering agent. While Jake and Carlo were getting more grapes, Mario went down to the cellar. He wrapped string around a straw bundle, and pushed it into the spigot of the vat.

“Whatcha doing that for?” cracked a youthful voice. Sammy Falio stepped out from the shadows of the cellar.

“When the moon is full and clear, I’m gonna pull this out to check on the fermentation,” Mario said. “Now, here’s a question for you.”

“Yeah?” Sammy asked, the fat cheeks of his round face overtaking his eyes.

“What’re you doing down here when I gave you the best job up there?” Mario pointed to the stairs. “Now get a move on before my thirsty workers start griping.”

Sammy hurried up the cellar steps and into the morning sun. He had a knack for ducking work whenever he could but had begged for the coveted job of keeping the workers supplied with buckets of beer. Using Tony’s little red wagon, he started lugging buckets back and forth. By ten o’clock the beer was lagging and so was Sammy. Mario found him barfing behind a tree so he alternated the beer distributor’s job between two of the thirstier miners, and Margherita sent Sammy to bed.

While the men were busy with the grapes, Margareta helped Irene prepare lunch: fried chicken, beef stew, pork salsiccia, polenta baked with cheese, risotto, garden-fresh spinach and hard cooked eggs laced with vinegar and olive oil, firm, sweet sliced tomatoes, crusty fried eggplant, and a mix of tuna, cannellini beans, celery, and onions with more vinegar and olive oil. Margherita’s specialty was frituro dusa, creamy pudding dumped in a pan to set firm before cutting it into diamond shapes that were rolled in cracker crumbs and fried in equal parts of butter and oil.

Five hours after the harvest began, all the grapes, including the whites, had been picked, transported, heaved, and ground into the vat to begin the fermentation process. The men lined up at the outside pump, using lava soup to scrub purple stain from hands already stained with coal. Those who couldn’t wait for the outhouse hurried behind the barn to piss away their beer. When order seemed restored, Irene nodded to Tony and Frankie. Together they clanged the bell and yelled, “Mangiamo, mangiamo!”

Sitting at sawhorse tables under the shade of Linden trees, the harvest workers devoured the bountiful spread, washing mouthfuls down with jugs of wine and more buckets of beer. When they had their fill of food but not of drinks, the men remained at the table to bend their elbows and chew the fat. After the stories turned stale, Leo Gotti brought out his guitar and strummed the familiar songs of his youth. Thirty minutes of singing and little else brought Moon Sabino to his feet.

“Dammit, Leo. What you trying to do—send us back to the Old Country.”

“Hells bells, Moon. Ain’t it time you went back?” bellowed Rooster Williams. “How many years you been telling us about that little filly waiting in Italy? She’ll be too old to trot by the time you’re ready to mount her.”

“Christo, look who’s talking. I don’t see no ring attached to your nose.”

“No, and you ain’t about to either. As it says in the Old Testament, God meant for certain men to please more than one woman. And I’m one of the chosen.” Rooster paused to raid his mind for a good yarn. “I ever tell you ‘bout my Uncle Jeb?”

“Not that I recall,” Amos Carter said, setting up the story.

“Well, sir, according to Uncle Jeb, Beelzebub stuck him with the meanest, ugliest old lady this side of the Mississippi. That would be Aunt Oma. Uncle Jeb always said he couldn’t stand the sight of the bitch, although some thought he might’ve exaggerated a bit. Well, sir, one day she sent him to the drugstore for her spring tonic. On the way back Uncle Jeb poured out half the tonic. The old fart peed in the bottle to fill it up again. Lemme tell you, Aunt Oma done away with that special potion in three days time, said it were the best she ever drunk. After that, she couldn’t keep her hands off poor Uncle Jeb.”

“Come on, Rooster. That’s pure disgusting.”

“You better believe it was. Poor Uncle Jeb like to never got over that ungodly smell oozing from the pores of Aunt Oma.”

Rooster slapped his knee and spewed out a spray of beer along with his belly laugh. After that each story got raunchier than the one before. And when the beer went dry and the sun went down, the contented miners went home.

End of excerpt

To read The Family Angel in its entirety, please go to

Amazon.com

 

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A Cringe-worthy Moment

We’ve all had them, right? Those moments in time you’d like to forget and often do until something triggers a non-relatable incident deep within the recesses of your brain. Such was the case recently when Hubby D and I were discussing nothing in particular that drifted into cringe-worthy experiences. Mine, since D hasn’t been cursed with that recollection gene. Nevertheless, here’s one of mine.

Some years ago in my life before that as a writer, I worked in the Central West End of St. Louis and frequented a high-end hair salon whenever the need arose. The stylist-owner who worked his magic on my hair was considered among the city’s best and never failed to send me out the door looking much better than when I came in. How well I recall the salon routine, of first going to the private area to select a protective smock before sitting down in C’s chair. On one particular day I’d skimmed through the variety of colorful smocks, my hand landing on a dark brown that appeared to be a notch above the rest. Not only did the smock match my eyes but it felt good and made me feel special as soon as I put it on over my own top.

Only one other client sat in the salon that morning, an attractive older lady who looked familiar although I couldn’t quite place her. The three of us engaged in a round of salon chitchat about family and the upcoming holidays while C applied streaks of pale blond to highlight my darker blond hair. Then the lady casually commented on the smock I was wearing, how similar it was to one of her favorite blouses; in fact, the blouse she’d worn to the salon that day. Hers had a small hole in the sleeve, near the cuff. Holy crap! So did my smock, only it wasn’t a smock but rather the lady’s blouse. My heart skipped a beat or two. I heard C gasp from where he stood behind me.

After a flurry of apologies on my part, which the lovely lady accepted on her part, I hopped out of the chair and felt my cheeks burning as I made the long walk back to the rack of smocks. My hand shook as I replaced the lady’s brown blouse with a salon smock, also brown.

Not sure who was more mortified—C the owner-stylist or me, the didn’t-have-a-clue offender. Either way, the lovely lady couldn’t have been more gracious when C introduced her as the wife of a former St. Louis mayor, both of whom still served prominent roles as movers and shakers in the city.

Did I ever return to the salon? You bet, many times. One change I did notice: the private area now contained two clothing racks—one for the salon smocks, the other for clients who chose to remove their tops before donning a smock.

So, what about you? Any cringe-worthy moments you’d like to share? Don’t be shy. Let me feel your pain.

 

 

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Cookbooks and More Cookbooks

I tend to cook via trial and error—a little of this, a lot of that—oops, oh well. Not quite what I’d originally planned but, nevertheless, still edible for those hungry enough. In cucina di Loretta (my kitchen) the ingredients in any given dish will vary according to what happens to be in my fridge, freezer, and pantry at any given time, an approach that makes perfect sense to me but drives Hubby D to question my every effort, however great or small. In fairness to him, the man does possess an extensive background in the science of baking technology while I practice the art of home cooking in a creative state of reckless abandon. Yes, it’s all about art vs. science, and since D avoids la cucina whenever possible, I take full responsibility for what comes out of the Giacoletto kitchen.

As for messing with the ingredients, it’s not like I don’t have enough cookbooks from which to find the perfect recipe. In fact my current selection totals sixty-one in number, cookbooks I’ve acquired from bookstores, websites, book fairs, church bazaars, charitable fundraisers, estate sales, and as gifts. Others I inherited from family members. Most precious is The Settlement Cookbook: The Way to a Man’s Heart, 17th edition compiled by Mrs. Simon Kander. It’s the only cookbook I recall my mother ever using. Published in 1928 in Milwaukee, the spine has gone missing and most of its pages are barely attached to the binding. Nevertheless, it’s my go-to book for the candy recipes Mother made every year at Christmas and I attempt about every five years. Those recipes I follow to the letter—old-fashioned fudge and what Mother called divinity but Mrs. Kander listed as seafoam.

The majority of my cookbooks carry Italian themes. The rest are French and American. When the mood hits me, I like to peruse the books, especially those with glossy photographs of finished dishes that mine will never come close to resembling. As for the recipes I rely on most, those I get from an obscene binder stuffed with helter-skelter newspaper clippings, single pages printed from the Internet, and scraps of paper hand-written by generous friends or myself.

And when I’m especially lazy and can’t be bothered with the distraction of too many books to choose from, I Google the Internet for new recipes or old-favorites I will probably change to reflect my style of cooking.

So, what about you? Do you collect cookbooks? Do you follow recipes or change them?

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Bittersweet Memories

“An Italian Wedding” was originally published in 2011 and is one of my favorite blogs about the G family, our cousins who live in the Piemonte Region of Northern Italian. The following year the bride and groom and his parents visited us in America. In 2014 when Hubby D and I returned to Italy, we spent part of our trip with the parents E and L. Our wonderful hosts wined and dined us and introduced us to more family. L, who never stopped smiling, took us shopping. E taught us how to make cheese and helped me research my novel, Regrets To Die For. Before we left, E gave D a copper polenta pot, one he’d crafted by hand. What sweet memories!

And now for the bitter side. Several days ago we received word that E had passed away. Our hearts go out to the G family. Rest in peace, dear E.

“An Italian Wedding”

2011. Last winter a charming cousin D and I met seven years before called from the Piemonte Region of Northern Italy, inviting us to his wedding scheduled for June of this year.

“Impossibile,” we told AG, citing the lousy economy and horrific rate of exchange between the Euro and our U.S. dollar. Still, the conversation ended with a promise that we’d think about attending.

Months later when Daughter was planning her own vacation to Italy, a first for Husband B and two daughters, she made a similar request to D and me. “I know you’ve already seen Rome and Florence a number of times, but how about meeting us in Piemonte for the last leg of our trip? I’d like B and the girls to meet the relatives. Plus there are those you’ve met that I haven’t. This may be our only chance …yada …yada … yada.”

Who could refuse such a request? Certainly not us, her pushover parents, that’s for sure.

After all, Only Daughter had traveled to Italy before either D or me, and later on the Adult Kids trip when she introduced us to relatives she already knew.

So in June while Daughter and family prepared to do their thing in Rome and the Tuscany Region, D and I flew into Milan, taking with us daughter-in-law A and D’s sister. With D behind the wheel of a stick-shift rented Peugeot, we four drove northwest to the Piemonte Region, eventually into the foothills of the Alps, circling seventeen hairpin curves of the Valle Sacre before reaching Santa Elisabetta where our pensione was located—Minichin, our home away from home for the next two weeks (more on this in an upcoming blog). But since I’ve already titled this one, “An Italian Wedding,” let’s fast-forward to the Saturday of AG’s marriage to his lovely bride, M.

“Come to our house at 2 o’clock,” E, the groom’s father, told us. He and D definitely share the same gene pool, however diluted it may have become through the generations. Think boisterous and competitive mixed with a certain bawdiness. Although the wedding wasn’t scheduled to start for another two and a half hours, relatives and special guests gathered under the family’s covered patio for a little something to tide us over: sausages, fruit, cheese, finger-size tidbits, trays of miniature dolce (sweets), wine—rosé, bianco, and sparkling. AG, the groom, wore black and white shoes to compliment his black suit, white shirt, and black vest. Since we last met, he’d added a trim mustache and beard to his movie-star face and couldn’t stop smiling. Neither could his mother, the delightful, fun-loving L who welcomed me with open arms and a series of three kisses to both cheeks, just as she does each time we meet.

Their village of Chiesanuova (new church) has about 200 inhabitants and what we Americans would consider an old church around the corner from the family home. However, the bride and groom raised the bar to a new level: they wanted their marriage performed in a distant church located high above Chiesanuova.

“Follow my brother R,” E told D. So we piled into the Peugeot and embarked on a new series of hairpin curves, climbing higher and higher, the air getting thinner and thinner with each circle until we reached an ancient chapel surrounded by more wedding guests than could ever fit inside the tiny structure. Nor did they expect to, I soon found out. We four Americans, however, were special guests, and took up one pew with little room to spare, while those in the know reveled outside, amidst the cool breezes of late afternoon. The bride could’ve stepped from the pages of Vogue; her attendants too. And most of the guests, when it comes to style, the Italians spare no expense. The wedding started twenty minutes late, without her mother and grandmother, who eventually arrived ten minutes later.

After the ceremony and Mass ended, we followed the party outside. That’s when E hurried over to the wedding car, a forty-year-old restored yellow Fiat now wrapped in toilet paper which he immediately ripped off and then popped the multiple balloons stuffed inside the car. Another hour consisted of photographs, videos, socializing, and taking in the breathtaking view below: a zigzag of medieval villages leading to the main village of Cuorgnè and Locana Valle, its Orco River flowing from the distant Gran Paradiso National Park

“Follow R,” E told us again, this time we thought to the reception in Cuorgnè. But when we’d gone as far as Chiesanuova, the caravan of cars slowed down to a road jam road of cheering people holding up glasses of wine or entire bottles of overflowing bubbly.

“There must be another wedding,” I told D. Nope, these were the guests of A and M, some I recognized from the church, others hadn’t bothered to make the upward journey. D parked the car, and we joined the celebration—more wine, canapés, prosciutto wrapped around a stick, fresh fruit, cheese, pizza—not one repeat from the earlier spread E and L had hosted.

“Don’t eat too much,” E told D an hour later. “We still have the dinner in Cuorgnè.” Er, right … more food, more wine.

Another hour passed before we traveled down the hill to La Primavera, a sit-down affair as elaborate as any I’d attended at the Ritz-Carlton in St. Louis. First stop, the bar—wine, sparkling wine, beer, and more canapés—don’t even think about refusing. No lists of table designations before entering the dining room, instead an array of wine bottles, magnums with the guest names listed on them. We found our names on the Barolo, matched it the Barolo sitting on a table we would share with the bride and groom’s parents. Yes, we felt special. And yes, the menu exceeded our expectations. I won’t bother with the Italian names but here they are in English, each dish served as a separate course although the first three are considered the antipasti.

  1. Veal crude (tartar) with balsamic vinegar. Delicious—ate half, passed the rest to D.
  2. Cured meat with shredded lettuce.
  3. Thin slices of veal, arugula, and arugula pesto—yum!
  4. Risotto—rich and creamy but only took a bite or two.
  5. Lobster ravioli—ate two, could’ve eaten more but was pacing myself.
  6. Lamb with potatoes, zucchini, eggplant—help, can barely manage a bite or two.
  7. Raspberry sorbet to clean the palate. Not mine, I don’t eat raspberries. Pass to D.
  8. Dolce vino, cookies. Skipped the sweet wine, ate one cookie I didn’t need.
  9. Fancy torte. Again, one bite—passed the rest.
  10. Coffee or espresso—laced with grappa. Limoncello? genepe? For me, espresso and Limoncello.

Phew! Even with a bite of this and a bite of that, I was too pooped to pop. But that didn’t stop D from dancing to the DJ music—mostly American. Hello … YMCA with all the right moves. He finally wore down around 12:45 in the morning but still had enough energy to tackle those seventeen hairpin curves back to Minichin, arriving a mere eleven hours after we’d left to attend our first wedding in Italy, an unforgettable affair, if ever there was.

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