Published in Women Who Eat
“A young Woman and a young man sit side by side on the edge of a rocky cliff. The sun has begun its descent, slipping behind distant mountain peaks, coloring the sky with ribbons of pink, purple and gold. The woman cups the man’s face in her hands, drawing him close. She takes her fingers and places something soft and creamy on his tongue. This eyes widen, but, before he can speak, the young woman presses her fingers against his lips.
“Its’ Montrachet – a goat cheese from France,” she says.
Printed in “Our Roots Are Deep with Passion”
“The ancient roots of the garlic bulb and the ever-unfurling roots of my family tree are so intertwined they’re impossible to separate. Grounded in the past and stretching into the future, these roots are braided together in solidarity, keeping the branches of identity alive and intact.” (Download PDF…)
Italian Americana – Spring 2008
By Stephanie Susnjara
The fall happened on a Sunday night. She remembered climbing the sagging stairs of her weary Long Island Victorian-by-the-sea, clinging to the smooth oak banister for support. At the landing she toppled face forward. The thread-worn carpet scratched her cheeks, drawing blood. Using her elbows, she dragged her ninety-eight-year-old body into the bedroom, where her hands, their skin mottled and slack, though crowned with lustrous fingernails, flailed for the phone on the nightstand. All she could grasp was a half-empty vial of Tic Tacs, her only nourishment for the next thirty three hours until Lisa, her cleaning lady, found her and called an ambulance.
“I wanted Ma to get that Medic Alert, but she wouldn’t listen,” said Roseanne, her sixty-four-year-old baby.
“She should have been using a walker,” said Charles, the eldest and her only son.
“I would have visited more often if she didn’t live in the middle of nowhere,” said my mother, Mary, her middle child.
The procession of male visitors began in the hospital. Everyone but Sonny bought her food. Sonny, her hairdresser, gave the gift of beauty, restoring her dyed chestnut-brown hair to its proper bouffant, high and sticky.
Nanny had lost her teeth and wouldn’t wear dentures, which prompted my uncle Charles, a dentist to bring her Dunkin Donuts smoothies that were neon-pink and as bright and cheery as Hallmark get-well cards.
Joe, a retired firefighter, visited her daily, bearing coffee and pastries. In her eyes, Joe wore a saintly halo. Aunt Roseanne broke up with him eight years ago, an act my grandmother, Nanny, still laments.
Rick, an ex-cop and Roseanne’s current boyfriend brought chicken Francese from Anthony’s, a red-checkered tablecloth joint in nearby Oyster Bay.
When I visited Nanny, she told me what Rick had said, “No matter what happens between your daughter and me, I always want you in my life.”
“Can you imagine?” Nanny asked. What does he want with an old woman?”
She seemed indignant, but then, a grin of satisfaction spread across her face. My grandmother obviously relished her hold over the opposite sex. Nanny swore off men thirty years ago, after her philandering husband, Tony, died of a heart attack. She avoided romance since then, yet continued to stir the hearts of many men.
Maybe it had something to do with the countless Sunday dinners she prepared. Or perhaps, it was her nonjudgmental ear. A man could be depressed, lovesick, out of work, or on drugs. Nanny always understood. “Life is hard. Have another meatball or bracciole,” she’d say.
Her warm embrace did not wrap itself around females in the same way, which could be why uncle Charles’ girlfriend, Alice, did not visit. Nanny always expected women to be strong, like her. It was the men who needed babying.
In the hospital, the doctors ran tests, which showed she was anemic, but otherwise in remarkable health. They wanted to know her secret.
“Italian soul food. And a Centrum vitamin everyday,” she said.
A week after the accident Nanny went home. In the upstairs master bedroom, I found her in a wheelchair positioned next to the window that looked out onto the bay. Tony, the owner of Chianti restaurant, was there, kneeling and kissing Nanny’s hand, as if he was about to propose.
“Mamma what can I bring you?” he asked.
During Nanny’s convalescence, he had sent over filet of sole oreganate, risotto Milanese, and tortellini in brodo, always refusing payment.
“Does he think I can’t afford it? she asked.
This was her armor, a pride worn by a first-generation Italian American whose parents emigrated at the turn-of-the-20th century, fleeing the poverty of Calitri, their small town in southern Italy.
Anthony, the Oyster Bay chef she loved for his chicken Francese, sent over other favorites—linguine with clam sauce, eggplant rollatini, and pasta fagioli.
Both restaurant owners regarded my grandmother as the ultimate nonna, an inimitable judge of Italian-American food.
The men kept coming. Robert, a 55-year-old bachelor and former neighbor, visited on Saturday nights, offering frozen yogurt. Red, whom Roseanne brought home to meet Nanny thirty five years ago, sneaked in when Roseanne was not around (they’re not speaking). Son Charles brought Peruvian rotisserie chicken, stuffed grape leaves, pork dumplings, and other ethnic treats from his Queens neighborhood.
My husband Randy, a Colorado native with WASP roots, made chicken cutlets, pounded thin and double-dipped in breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese, prepared just like Nanny had taught him. Simo, my cousin Marisa’s Finnish-born husband brought roast pork with Madeira sauce and hand-painted chocolate truffles.
Five weeks after the accident, I sat with Nanny by the upstairs window watching the blue sky melt to lavender as the sun set over the bay.
“Now tell me,” she said. Isn’t this view paradise?”
RECIPE: FILLET of SOLE OREGANATE (Serves 4)
Inspired by Chianti Restaurant in Bayville, New York
Four sole fillets (about 6 ounces each)
Juice of one lemon
One cup dry white wine
Two minced garlic cloves
Four tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
½ cup dry breadcrumbs
¼ cup minced parsley
One teaspoon dried oregano
Pepper to taste
Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a small bowl, combine last 7 ingredients. Place fish fillets in a glass baking dish. Pour wine and lemon juice over fish. Bake for 8 minutes. Spread breadcrumb mixture over fish and bake for another five minutes, until the middle of the fish flakes against a fork and the topping is golden brown. Serve the way Nanny likes it, with orzo tossed with cured black olives and a side dish of spinach sautéed in garlic and oil.
Stephanie specializes in several areas including health and wellness and writes regularly for “The Dr. Oz Show,” which debuted in 2009 with the biggest ratings in nine years in daytime television and continues to maintain impressive ratings. “The Dr. Oz Show” is distributed in 112 countries worldwide. Since the show’s launch Ms. Susnjara has served as a frequent web content writer and also has written hundreds of on-air vignettes titled, “One Minute To Better Health With Dr. Oz,” among other projects including Dr. Oz’s House Calls.
One Minute to Better Health: Vital Tips for Hospital Trip
Dr. Oz House Calls
Stephanie has created all of the web content, promotional materials (including press releases), ads and brochures for the Bellava Medaesthetics & Spa website and Promos. Here is an excerpt from the blog she writes on the site:
“Two decades ago, if you wanted to get rid of wrinkles and sagging skin, you’re main options would have been bovine collagen injections (derived from cows), and/or a facelift. Not so today, thanks to cosmetic dermal fillers. Dermal fillers can reduce facial wrinkles such as marionette lines (creases from the lips to the chin), deep nasolabial folds (laugh lines), plump thin lips, lift sagging cheeks, sculpt and create better facials contours and more. The best news? Dermal fillers are nonsurgical, require minimal downtime and offer immediate results…”
Read more at: http//www.bellavaspa