Buona Pasqua!

There is a lovely poem that was written by my friend, Dan Verner regarding the treatment of Christmas vs. Easter. You can see it on his WP blog and FB page. He is right in that Christmas is treated, especially in the United States, with so much fanfare that we often forget that Easter, as a holy-day, is just as miraculous.

When I was a child, Easter was treated on the same level as Christmas. Being brought up as an Italian-American, the Easter season, beginning with Ash Wednesday was even more revered. There was sacrifice, albeit it might have been just candy, that was expected of you.  There was absolutely no meat eaten on Fridays and other Holy Days of Obligation, confession and communion was not even up for discussion and at 3:00 PM on Good Friday, you went to the Stations of the Cross.  A prayer vigil that was held for each stop that Christ made on His way to Calvary. When you got home, there was a dinner with fish, fish, fish! Easter Saturday was spent cooking–all day–for the celebration of the Risen Christ, Easter.

Food, the likes of which you can’t believe! Ahhh, Easter! Pizza Rustica! Pastiera! Easter Breads! Cannoli! Sicilian Cassata (for those of Sicilian heritage), Anginetti and other incredible Italian pastries and cookies. And that was just the beginning! Dinner was unbelievable. Antipasta, lasagna, meat course (could be roasted lamb or chicken), the gravy meat (meatballs, braciola, sausage), salad, vegetables. While everyone was cleaning up the dinner dishes, there was fruit and nuts, then the coffee came out–“black or brown?”–espresso or regular(no decaf was mentioned, ever). Then, the desserts!!!!! OMG!!! Except for the first thing listed, the Pizza Rustica, which you munched on after church on Easter Sunday, especially because you got hungry hunting for eggs, the others were dessert! 

I can remember the Three Sisters; my mother Linda, my aunt Anne, and my Godmother Kate, cooking in the kitchen. Each had their assigned duties. I can still see Katie standing in front of the pastry board with at least 20 pounds of flour, making the pastry and pie crusts for the Pizza Rustica and Pastiere.  Ten inch pie plates were used. The pastry was soft and delicate and perfect. My mother made the cookies. You name it, she made it. She collected pounds of butter from when it was on sale and used nothing but Land O’Lakes…the other was too “watery.” Her cookies were coveted. And my Aunt Annie made the gravy. While my mom made the braciola, (beef and pork), the sausages, (that had to come from the Pork Store or somewhere on Arthur Avenue, the Bronx), were carefully rendered in the big dutch oven. Patiently, patiently, my Aunt Anne would braise the sausage until it was golden brown. Then, out it came and the braciola went in. It was a process, but nothing, nothing was better then my Aunt Annie’s gravy (my mother used to get pissed when I said that). Un poco cooking rivalry between them. The meatballs, that were beautiful, round and browned by my Aunt Katie at 0-Dark-30, that morning, were the last things added. If you want to see an Italian making a lasagna, check out cookingwithnonna.com. It has recipes for all that I mentioned…real recipes!

And then, we ate!! Ten, fifteen, twenty at the table with guests arriving, all of the time. And we laughed. And we told stories. And we loved!  Buona Pasqua a tutti!

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Happy Easter! May your memories always be wonderful!

You have to kiss a lot of frogs…

After 16 years of being together, I can honestly tell you he never ceases to amaze me.  My husband Gary, is not a romantic.  Not much of a gift buyer. I dare say that if you asked him my favorite ice cream flavor, he wouldn’t know.  Anniversaries, not.  Birthdays, maybe.  Valentine’s Day. sometimes.  Support and love. Always.

We’ve had a rough 16 years.  Deaths, illnesses…for better or worse. Who knew that we’d be together 24/7 since the year after we were married. I didn’t sign up for that.  Difficult. You betcha! Worthwhile.  Every minute. And, every day there’s a new surprise.

Saturday, my sweet man made special arrangements to get my beautiful piano tuned.  It’s a beauty.  A handmade Charles Walter concert console piano.  It’s signed and numbered and could put a Steinway grand to shame.  I have not touched it for 12 years.  Like my skis, which were extremely difficult to part with, it’s a constant reminder of something I loved to do and cannot.  So, my beloved piano beautifully and regally sits in the living room reduced to a holder of knick-knacks and at Christmas, a collection of Hallmark animated music boxes. Soon, it will go to our grandson, Sammy. But, this Saturday, it got some love and attention.  The piano technician, “oohed” and “ahhhed” over her while she was lovingly and carefully tuned.  Each string touched and adjusted by expert hands that I watched, like a mama hawk, making sure that those babies were not over stressed.  A bittersweet two hours knowing that she was receiving much deserved care but knowing I couldn’t play her.

My hands have atrophied to the point that my fingers can no longer depress the keys of my beautiful girl.  Nor, are they receiving the message from my muscles to be coordinated enough to play.  Even as I type, I use only my left hand and one finger on my right hand.  My hands get incredibly cold and cramp up. Something I can live with while typing but not playing the piano. It was never an effortless task, practiced for hours and hours on end, but the result was worth it.  And now, I have those memories.

My husband never really knew the quality of the piano…he had never heard me play. Also, he is not musically inclined.  When he saw Dan, our newly acquired “piano man” and friend ogle the piano, he suddenly realized that there might be something to my love for her. When he heard Dan play her, his mouth fell open.  Not so much because of Dan’s skill as a pianist but because my girl makes anyone sound good!

So, the next morning, my prince says to me, “Might want to change clothes, we’re having some guests today.”

“Huh? It’s Sunday.”

My favorite catch up day. Read emails, FB, WordPress, Twitter, jewelry and write…uninterrupted! Not this Sunday.  So, I changed from “more casual,” to just “casual.” About two o’clock, I closed down my computer after writing another 2000 for the “…the Elusive Sea” and the doorbell rings.  In comes my neighbor’s teenager (whom I love) and her two friends.  They introduce themselves and tell me that they’ve come to give me a private piano concert! Gary is grinning ear to ear.

P.S. A violin was thrown in the mix.  It was amazing!