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Archive for December, 2012

I’m lazy. Here’s another recycled post from last year … with a few revisions.

On New Year’s Day, many people eat certain foods to bring them luck. Some people eat cooked cabbage, or corned beef and cabbage, for good luck. You’d have to promise me a lottery jackpot to get me to eat cooked cabbage. My friend, Carla, makes black-eyed peas for luck on New Year’s Day. Jay said his Mom would make mochi, a type of rice cake, for good luck. It’s traditionally eaten for Japanese New Year and he says it’s delicious with soy sauce, though it’s basically a hunk of gooey rubber. You know what I’ll be eating on New Year’s Day? Aspirin.

My parents didn’t have a New Year’s Day food ritual when I was growing up — at least that I can remember. Maybe they opted for the aspirin, also. I can certainly remember some crazy parties at my house when I was little. My parents and their friends and family would often hang out at our house — plenty of food, music … and booze. My Mom would lay out a big spread of fancy appetizers. Our whole kitchen table would be piled with finger foods, dips and other edibles. They’d set up a “bar” on top of the stereo (oh yes, stereos back in the day could take up an entire living room wall). The bar consisted of fancy decorative glass bottles filled with gin, whiskey, vodka and bourbon. Once the party got started, my parents would indulge us youngins for a little while and let us run around the living room until our bedtime. After our bedtime, Dad would put on the Motown and those adults would get down with their bad selves.

At these parties there would be all kinds of adults sitting around the living room laughing and eating and drinking. One time, my younger sister, Coleen, was toddling around the room, and adoring aunts, uncles and neighbors would give her a little sip of their drink. Oh, she was about two years old. Tiny little drunkard. It was totally acceptable back then. And if it wasn’t, I imagine the statute of limitations has passed by now.

I have one clear memory of one of those parties when I was about four. Looking around the living room I thought, “Hmm. Captive audience. Let me dazzle them with my fancy gymnastic skills.” I went to the middle of the room and started my triple-somersault routine. My imagination was like Ralphie in A Christmas Story. I envisioned that room full of adults cheering and clapping once I finished my amazing performance. Instead when I stood up, dizzy, I was met with blank stares.  Apparently they needed more to drink.

Well, whatever you all decide to do for New Year’s, I hope it’s fun and safe! And don’t attempt any triple somersaults in the middle of your New Year’s Party.

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Well, if you’re reading this, we’re still here. The Mayans were just lazy and didn’t want to finish that calendar.

I had a great idea. I thought I’d bet everyone who thought the world would end a million dollars that it wouldn’t. Or at least a hundred dollars. If they truly believed the world would end, they’d bet, even though they knew they wouldn’t be around to enjoy their winnings. Of course, if I won the bet, which I would, they’d have to pay me. I’d be really rich. But I couldn’t find anyone who firmly believed today was the end of the world.

Mayan

(image from Sugar and Spice. Vodka and Ice. on facebook)

So I was thinking, what would be my last meal if I knew it was my last day on Earth? That’s a tough one. There’s so many wonderful things to choose from. Friday Night Casserole isn’t one of them, if you were wondering. I’d just want a huge table filled with all my favorite things, like these:

Alaskan King Crab Legs

Malfatti

Shrimp Tempura Sushi drenched in Teriyaki Sauce

Cheese Enchiladas topped with Guacamole, Cilantro and Sour Cream with Lime Zest

Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups

Barbeque Potato Chips

Eggs Benedict drenched in Hollandaise Sauce

Big Fat Mocha

Pad Thai

Orange Chicken

Tomato Slices with Basil drenched in Balsamic Vinegar

Yakisoba

Junior Mints

Chicken Marsala with tons of mushrooms and onions

Veggie Pizza with extra cheese

Hash Browns and Fried Eggs drenched in Heinz Ketchup

Big fat Red Hook ESB

Well, that’s a start. And nope, no greens in there. Why would I care, I wouldn’t have to worry about vitamins, calories or heart disease.  So if you’re all here tomorrow, attach a comment with your ideal “Last Supper” items. I can’t wait to hear what they are. Now I’m gonna go eat a few things on this list … just in case.

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Most of you probably aren’t familiar with malfatti. Malfatti is a completely scrumptious pasta dish, and as far as I know, it can only be found in two places: Italy and Napa. Malfatti are like spinach dumplings covered in delectable red gravy (or red sauce for you non-Italians). Malfatti is loosely translated as “mistake,” or “bad product” or “badly made,” but that can’t be further from the truth.

Malfatti apparently was introduced in Napa around 1930 when the owner of The Depot Restaurant, Theresa Tamburelli, had to feed a hungry baseball team. The only thing she had available was ravioli filling, so she made dumplings with it. God bless her. In 1961, Clemente Cittoni began working at The Depot with Teresa as a busboy and dishwasher. By the time I got to high school, Clemente was running the show at The Depot.

My stepdad introduced us to The Depot. When we walked into the lobby, it reminded me of an old Italian place in the city (San Francisco) where old dudes would go to relive their mobster days over a Chianti and a cigar. But once you walked into the dining area, it felt like someone’s home. This is where I first tasted malfatti. I was in love with Italian food then, especially ravioli, so I ordered a plate of ravioli and malfatti. I wasn’t too sure about the malfatti when my dinner arrived; they were shaped like little sausage links. But that didn’t stop me. I went ahead and tasted the malfatti. The seas parted. The heavens opened. Doves flew overhead. I think I even heard a symphony in the background. Malfatti was essentially Christ in a bowl. The taste, texture, flavor, smell … there’s nothing that compares. This is what it looks like:

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And this is what it looks like two minutes after you start eating it:

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Ever since that first day at The Depot, malfatti has held a special place in my heart. Every Thanksgiving and Christmas, we’d go to The Depot to get malfatti to add to our holiday dinner. We’d take a big stockpot and go to the back door of the kitchen. There’d often be a line. When you made your way to the front of the line, you’d tell whichever staff member was near the back door what you wanted – how much malfatti and/or how much ravioli. Clemente and his family were always hard at work fulfilling lunch or dinner orders for the front house, and fulfilling malfatti and ravioli orders at the back door. I went to high school with Clemente’s son Steve, but didn’t realize back then it was his Dad who was in charge of creating those incredible malfatti. Clemente worked like a magician. As he plated dishes for the front of the house and yelled at the waitresses in his adorable Italian accent to “Pick Up!” he’d be slicing meats, boiling pasta and talking to a back door customer at the same time: “You want cheese with that sweetheart?” Every time Clemente, his wife and children were there working hard and greeting customers with kindness. Robert Irvine would be proud.

Some time ago, the Depot closed, and though I was already in Oregon, I was terribly sad … until I found out Clemente and his family opened a small kitchen at Val’s Liquors in downtown Napa. Every time I visit Napa, Val’s is a stop I always make. And if friends or family from Napa come to visit me in Oregon, they know they better not show up without some of Clemente’s malfatti.

The last time I was in Napa, I went to Val’s … of course. I usually order at least four dozen malfatti and when I get to my destination, I’ll eat about a dozen and then freeze the rest to take home to Oregon. This last time I was there, Jay and I picked up malfatti on our way to his brother Rich’s place in Santa Rosa. That’s about an hour drive from Napa. The malfatti was sitting on the floor board behind the driver’s seat. Jay was driving, so I was able to look adoringly at my precious malfatti every five minutes. It was difficult. I could smell that heavenly aroma. It was like crack. I had to have it. I couldn’t wait until we got to Santa Rosa. I asked Jay if there was a spoon in the car. He looked at me like I was a little crazy. I actually started rummaging through the glove compartment looking for a plastic spoon, a fork, a spork – I didn’t care. All I could find was a straw. That was good enough. I grabbed that container of malfatti, opened the lid and stabbed one of those malfatti with that straw. I shoved it in my mouth and then slurped the red gravy through the straw. I’m not kidding. If you’ve had malfatti before, you know I’m not kidding. Jay laughed out loud, he couldn’t believe it. That’s how good malfatti is kids.

Every time I visit Val’s, Clemente, his daughter Joanne and grandson Joseph are manning that kitchen. It’s still a family affair. And every customer they serve is like family … they call me “honey,”, “sweetheart”, “sweetie” and every other endearment you can think of. I took this picture of them the last time I was there:

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That’s Clemente, Joseph and Joanne. I told Clemente I was the ex-Napan from Oregon who always visits him and told him one day I would blog about his famous malfatti. But I’m just one of a thousand customers who tells him how much I love him, his family and their malfatti. Still, each time I get that old thrill when he says, “You want cheese with that sweetheart?”

So do me a favor. Put this on your Bucket List: If you’re ever in Napa, go see Clemente and his family at Val’s Liquors on Third Street in downtown Napa. And order yourself a big helping of malfatti … with cheese sweetheart.

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I haven’t seen a Jello Mold since around 1975. Thank God. There’s a reason they called it a mold. It tastes about as good as mold; well, at least the Jello Molds I remember from my childhood. Sure, they looked fancy and all, but if my Mom added stuff in the Jello, I didn’t want anything to do with it. I could deal with mandarin oranges or marshmallows in them, but not any of the other tasty nuggets that could be found swimming in one of Mary Ann’s Jello Molds – things like carrots, raisins or walnuts – sometimes all of them together.

Back in the ‘70s, I think we only had a few varieties of Jello: red, green, orange and yellow. I guess they had flavors, like cherry or lime, but our Jello choices were quite limited then. In all honesty, I kinda liked Cherry Jello with colored marshmallows prepared in one of those fancy plastic jello molds. And Mary Ann also made really cool Jello 1-2-3 dishes. (See the photo in the blog banner above.) She would make the Jello 1-2-3 in separate fancy wine glasses and tip them in the fridge, so when they set they’d have an intriguing diagonal design. Impressive and inexpensive – right up Mom’s alley.

But when it comes to most of the Jello Molds I remember as a kid, they were certainly a dessert I’d pass up. I guess I didn’t have it as bad as kids in the late ‘50s though. See, I found this 1956 issue of Sunset magazine at an estate sale:

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I was flipping through it because I just knew I’d find something ridiculous to make fun of. And here it is:

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If you’re wondering what that is, well, it’s a Jello Mold. A quite fancy version. A quite disgusting version actually, with probably the most repulsive ingredients to ever be included in a Jello Mold. Just look at the recipe:

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Yes, you read that correctly: shrimp, pimento, cucumber, vinegar, onions and horseradish … in JELLO. And if that isn’t bad enough, look what else the recipe suggests:

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Excuse me? Top it with mayonnaise? Those people have lost their minds. And sure, just serve it with potato chips and asparagus for a fancy meal. I’m fine with the asparagus, but what are the potato chips for? To dip in to the creepy Jello Mold like it’s a savory onion dip? No thanks. Suddenly, soggy carrots, raisins and walnuts don’t sound too bad.

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