Saturday, July 24, 2010

July 2010: Found by a childhood penpal on Face Book

I had a wonderful unexpected surprise come to me this week through Face Book.

It was set in motion before I was born...

My father had no family in Los Angeles. After WWII he lived in a rooming house named Windsor House, run by a couple who later became just like grandparents to me. When they retired, they moved to a house on E. 122st Street in Los Angeles, with perhaps a half acre of land. This area later became known as South Central Los Angeles (Watts).

Madeline Moore and Ernest Martin were both British.

Ms Moore was educated in a convent in France. I believe there was a Turkish prince in her family and her great grandfather was Count Antonie Romuald Wardecki, a Polish patriot, exiled to live Paris.

Captain Ernest Martin was retired Scotland Yard. He told us wonderful stories, but we always asked him to retell the true tale of the Fleet Street Murders (Sweeney Todd).

As children, we visited Ms Moore and Captain often. I especially remember summer times. I was the eldest and was allowed to take the gathering basket out to the hen house to find an egg or two.

I believed their fenced yard was in the country. They grew fruits, figs, vegetables and berries. We were allowed to pick whatever we could eat. I had my first passion fruit there, with its yummy creamy interior. It was an exotic plant the Captain explained to me. He nurtured it along, telling me it was not native to California.

Several large lavender plants grew at the door of Ms Moore's art studio. Every year she would gift me with sachets filled with her dried lavender. I still love lavender and its smell gives me comfort. I find it frequently when I am in Italy, growing in the wild and in Tuscan gardens.

Ms Moore’s pickled shallots were exquisite. I started collecting recipes at a very early age. I still have her handwritten recipe for these little onions.


Miss Madeline Moore’s Pickled Onions*
(Written by her on a piece of brown paper)

Peel onions (and separate into cloves).  Put them in salted water to soak overnight. Make a little cheese cloth bag and fill it with mixed pickle spice and put it into a saucepan of vinegar to boil (vinegar according to the quantity of pickles). Then put the onions into jars and pour over vinegar. Leave enough space to put in spice bag. Let soak for a couple of days and you may have to add some more vinegar to cover to allow for vinegar with has soaked into onions. It won't hurt to allow a little of the mixed spice to get into the jars but not too much. Then cover and put away.

Watch the jars from time to time in case you have to put in some more vinegar to cover.

Type of Mixed Pickling Spice: Cassic, allspice, mustard seed, coriander, ginger, bay leaves, cloves, pepper, cardamon, chillies, mace, mustard seed oil.

*These onions were grown in her garden. They separated into sections as a bulb of garlic might separate into cloves. I've never again seen onions like this since my childhood.


Ms Moore made jams and preserves from their yard’s bounty. Each jar was unique in size and shape, as she recycled all commercial glass jars. Her jams were sealed by paraffin wax. I was fascinated by their way of living.

She also had a string drawer and a paper drawer. She never wasted anything. I would ask permission to peek inside her kitchen cupboards and drawers. Those neatly folded brown papers and wound string balls were fascinating to me. Their entire house was an adventure, just waiting for a young curious child. Its foreignness was a haven and I was enchanted by their European lifestyle.

I remember the toilet paper, bought in bulk during WW II. After 20 years, she still had a full supply of this very thin, very brittle sharp crunchy paper. Her bathroom always had a wonderful smell of Yardley’s lavender soap, which I still use today, even though the original formula was changed a few years ago.

On her dresser, Ms Moore had large rose colored, velvet pin cushion, holding various hat pins, all long and sharp. She had a old wicker sewing basket filled with scissors, thimbles and mysterious tools for mending.

I learned how to make tea and eat Roquefort cheese on French bread. She always had a fresh baguette on the counter. She would talk to me in French, if I asked. I dreamed of speaking French too. My awareness of the possibility of knowing other cultures of the world was born in their home.

Ms Moore always purchased tickets for the Irish Sweepstakes, with promises we would all return to England if she won.  I anxiously awaited that winning ticket.

For Christmas sweets, we were given tiny boxed Italian candies called Torrone. Cremona, my Italian hometown, is the birthplace of Torrone, where it was first made in 1441. I just now realize, my introduction to Cremona started when I was a child.

I loved both Ms Moore and the Captain, but sometimes Ms Moore frightened me a bit when I was very young. She reminded me in looks and mannerisms of the original Mary Poppins (P. L. Travers, 1952 Illustrations by Gertrude Elliott). I have a copy of this book, which I believe she gave me. I imagined myself as the little blonde girl in the story.

We children were always dressed in our best clothes to visit Ms Moor and Captain. Due to our strict upbringing, we never caused any trouble or distress. The Captain was jovial and kind. He taught me table manners, including how to use a table knife properly. I tried to mimic their European eating customs.

At Christmas time, after our afternoon meal, Ms Moore would hand Captain a dish containing the warmed Plum Pudding (canned and from Britain). He would pour Brandy on the cake and then we children would wait in anticipation for the next step. With a match he would spark the brandy and which would flame up. After the flames had burnt out, the cake would be sliced and topped with a dollop of homemade “hard sauce” (homemade with unsalted butter, powdered sugar and milk).

I remember outdoor picnics in their gazebo. Captain told us pirates had roamed this land and he thought buried treasure, perhaps a whole chest of coins, was on the property. Each trip to their home, we would ask permission to look for treasure and each time, we found coins, American coins, in the gravel and area surrounding the gazebo. The thrill of finding that treasure still brings memories of pirates and adventure to me. When we were much older, my mother told me the truth about the treasure, how Captain had seeded the area with coins for us. In our innocence, it was a magical place.

Their home was crowded with antiques, artwork, books, hourglasses filled with grains of sand, cuckoo clocks, chiming mantel clocks and a small exotic oriental brass gong.

My father never allowed us to ring the gong with its tiny wooden mallet. I was allowed to pull on the dangling, pine cone shaped weights, to wind the cuckoo clock. Later, as a teenager, I was granted clock-winding privileges. Using an old key, I carefully wound both the clock and its chime mechanism. Today I have my own Windsor chiming clock, similar to theirs.

Several times, we listened to Enrico Caruso (February 25, 1873 – August 2, 1921) recordings on their old Victrola Player. It was my first taste of classical music and opera.  Listen to Caruso below (2 minutes).

Turkish rugs covered the floors and for tea, we were allowed to use the special sterling silver tongs to take just one sugar cube from the sugar holder.

When adults had brandy, we children were served ginger ale, with one stemmed, maraschino cherry, in special glasses. I purchased a set of those glasses many years later, at various Goodwill and antique stores. I discovered those sweet glasses had been empty Kraft Cheese spread containers.

For Christmas there was always a platter of dried dates, figs and apricots with tiny real ivory forks. Often, the house smelled a little of oil paints, as Miss Moore was an amateur artist. Several of her portraits of Winston Churchill and the Catholic Pope were on the mantel and walls. In the fireplace, a small British heater would glow on cool days.

Every Christmas I would look forward to their gift to me of old books. I’m not certain Ms Moore and Captain knew what an influence they were on me. One year, I received a set of Grimm’s and Anderson Fairy Tales. I read them from cover to cover, several times. These were scary, often sad tales of lands far away. I dreamed of visiting exotic places.

I took French in High School but lasted only a few days. The French teacher decided I was not suited to form the proper sounds in my throat. She insisted that I take German instead. I studied Latin, German, Spanish but I was never a successful speaker.

One day, Ms Moore suggested I find a pen-pal. She gave me her Catholic magazine, which listed students my own age who also had the desire to become acquainted with other cultures. I begin correspondence with four students: Michael of India, Daryl of Trinidad, Wilma of Scotland and a girl in Denmark. I recall I used money earned by baby-sitting to purchase stamps and sheets of sky-blue stationary from the Post Office, which came with prepaid airmail postage.

During the Cold War years, these friends became an important part of my young life. With the threat of nuclear war always on our minds, I worried I might never grow up to see other parts of the world.

Over the years I lost contact with each of them but I never forgot our friendships.

And this week, after 40+ years, I was found by Michael on Face Book. The computer age has truly opened the world as never before.

Last evening on July, 23, 2010, for the first time, Michael and I talked by phone. It was a wonderful, fantastic experience. The voice I heard, seemed familiar to me...just as if we had spoken to each other before. The nervous feeling in my stomach disappeared the moment I heard him say, "Yes, this is Michael."

It's an indescribable feeling...we are still friends! The bond we created has held for all these years.

I am so glad to have him and his family back in my life again. Thank you Michael for searching the world for me.

Michael, thank you also for helping to bring back memories of Ms Moore and Captain.  This has given me the opportunity to honor them.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Remembering my Italian Nonno

~~~ Nonno Andrea ~~~

Our wonderful Nonno passed on Monday.  Rosa wrote to me last week to give me warning that the time was near.  The doctors said his heart was failing.  Marta emailed me on Monday to tell me the time had arrived. I'm sure angels and his sweetheart Marina were waiting in anticipation for him.  We didn't want to let him go.

I remember the first time I met my Italian Nonno.  He greeted me just as if had been a long lost relative.

He always had a happy smile and a twinkle in his eyes.

 I've had several tasty roasted treats directly from the grill in the wood-burning oven in his restaurant. He would spear a piece of meat and indicate I should eat it right then.  Mangia Mangia!  Ohh it was always tasty but fire-hot!

I went to his garden, where he allowed me to cut lettuce.  With that great smile, he showed me how he grew his own vegetables.

Once, he showed me the house in his village where he was born.

He was our darling Nonno. The girls adored him and so did I.

I was honored to be welcomed into his family.

I last saw Nonno at Rosa's wedding, when I took these pictures. 

He beamed with joy, surrounded by love.

Vai in pace Nonno

Padre nostro che sei nei Cieli, sia santificato il Tuo Nome, venga il tuo Regno, sia fatta la tua volontà, come in cielo così in terra. Dacci oggi il nostro pane quotidiano, rimetti a noi i nostri debiti come noi li rimettiamo ai nostri debitori, non ci indurre in tentazione, ma liberaci dal male. Amen.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Recipe: Crostata (Fruit Tart)

I miss eating this wonderful dessert at home in Italy. This version is light on butter.  I used apricots, but any fruit will do. Primo has a fruit orchard at his business. Marina makes good use of the fruit by making marmalata (jam) and crostata.

Fruit Crostata (makes two)

2 Cups flour
2 T sugar
Cup olive oil
½ Cup milk
1 t vanilla extract
½ t almond extract
1 T butter, melted

4-5 cups of fresh cherries, apricots or peaches
½ Cup preserves

¼ c slivered almonds
Sugar for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 425 degrees (F)

Make the crust: In a bowl, combine flour and sugar. Slowly add the oil, mixing with a fork

In a second bowl, stir together milk, melted butter and both extracts.

Add milk, one tablespoon at a time, mixing with a fork. Form dough into two disks. It will be sticky.

Place one disk between two pieces of parchment paper and roll out until it is about 1/8 inch thick (smaller than the size of a dinner plate)

Discard top paper. Spread jam gently onto the dough.

Place 2 ½ cups of fruit in the center of the crust. Fold the edges of the crust up and over the sides of the fruit, overlapping a little. (You may brush the crust with a egg wash.)

Sprinkle almonds over the fruit. Lightly sprinkle entire surface with sugar.

Lift the parchment paper with the crostata onto a baking sheet or baking dish.

Bake 20-30 minutes until crust is golden.

May in Italy (another Monday with Leo)

Sunday, July 4, 2010

May in Italy (Monday) Back to Firenze

I'm on the train to Pisa, which I've taken once before, but going in the opposite direction. The green countryside is splashed with the colors of wild flowers. I see red poppies, yellows and violets and rolls of harvested hay.

For the first time in 5 days I can breathe and my head is not stuffy. I have hidden my distress from everyone, as best I could. (Later I discovered I have been suffering from a severe asthma attack, getting worse every day for the past 3 weeks, even before I arrived in Italy.)

Red poppies are all along the rail tracks and even blooming right out of the asphalt of the station platform.

Out the window, I see spotted horses grazing in the fields. As always, I love these train rides. I watch the country pass by me and ponder my short bursts of living here.

This morning, Primo and Marina left at 6 for a business trip to Milano. I woke up to the smell of coffee, but since we said our goodbyes last night I decided to not interrupt their schedule.

Mattia brought me to the train station and insisted on waiting until the train arrived. He helped me with my luggage. He is so thoughtful. Rosa has choosen a good man and I just love him. I think if a girl has a good man for a father, then she will choose a husband wisely. 

Primo, father to Rosa and Marta, is a good man.

Marina has been under extra stress with her father's failing health. She already had completed most of the wedding preparations before Enriche and I arrived.

Our sweet Nonno was hospitalized last month and felt too weak to make the 2 hour trip on Saturday, from his village in the north. In addition, the change of routine would have been difficult. What we had not expected was the heartbreaking choice of Marina's brother and nephew, to not attend the wedding as well.

Marta wisely let it go after verbally venting, but she refused to cry. It was shocking for us all, to absorb this last minute, wedding morning decision. These man-made rifts, which erode away family ties, happen thoughout all cultures. I am wondering why, as I sit here on the train, observing the life around me.

One family's normal looks a bit twisted through the eyes of another.

I saw behavior at the wedding which sends me thinking about how families develop their own unique idiosyncrasies.

I helped Marina make up the wedding bed on Saturday. She corrected what I had done. Of course, her way was certainly right for her. My mother was taught by my grandmother, a nurse, the hospital method of bed-making. My own style has evolved into a more comfortable look with mismatched colored sheets and ruffled pillow cases, which Leo absolutely loves.

I will be curious to see Marta and Mario's bed later this year, as Marta develops her own style.

A herd of cows outside my train window with clear blue skies spotted with white clouds.

We pass Cararra and Massa with marble stacked in yards.
Carrara Wiki 

The train station seems to be made of marble too.

I arrive in Pisa, check my connection and wait for the train to Firenze.

This afternoon I can see Leo again!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

May in Italy (Sunday after)

Sunday morning I took pictures of my favorite of Marta's plants.
I have this one at my house and I want it to thrive.

Rosa, Enriche and I walked up to the central part of Cremona and passed this group.

On Sundays, one can visit an outdoor mercato on the Piazza, enjoy a gelato or pastry or visit museums.  Most stores are closed.

The Piazza is free of car traffic.

The Bapistry was open for tours.

We met Primo and Marina at Marta and Mario's apartment to do a little more organizing.
I hid notes for them, as Leo does for me.

The "kitchen" was purchased as a unit.
Everything is included: stove, dishwasher, fridge, freezer and cupboards.

I made my way to the bakery to buy my favorite rum babba.
I took eight of them home with me.
My luggage smelled like rum, which didn't seem to attract the drug sniffing dogs at the airports.

Construction began on the Torrazzo (Big Tower) in 1230.

 The clock still works. I have climbed to the top with Marta.
It's very very windy up there.

In the winter, one can see violins hanging in the air here.

No matter what season, the children love to ride the lions, which guard each door of the church.

As we headed home, we found Marta's wedding flowers being carried down the street. The young priest was embarrassed, feeling like a caught thief he said.

Sunday night, Mattia, Rosa, Enriche and I went to our favorite pizza place.

Pizza in Italy is much bigger than pizza americana.
Tastes better too!

Friday, July 2, 2010

May in Italy Wedding Day

I set my alarm to wake up early today. I wanted to shower and get ready first before the rush began. The wedding is at 4:30 this afternoon. But when I went over to Marina's kitchen, there was Marta, our bride, in her pajamas, standing in front of the stove, cooking pancakes, which she had made from scratch. Rosa and Enriche were happily eating their pancakes with maple syrup, so I joined them.  Marta asked me to bring more maple syrup next November when I return.  We're such an international family!

Primo and Marina were attending early mass I assumed.

Rosa and I left the house at 9 and arrived at the jeweler's at 9:20.  There wasn't a light on inside. I started to worry, so I decided it was best to walk around and take pictures.

On a side street, I discovered a wonderful large palazzo with a plaque stating Garibaldi had stayed here as a guest. I knew Leo would be interested in this fact. Watching my time, I moved toward the front gates to take a few more photographs. When I saw it was approaching 9:30 I hurried back to Rosa and told her what I had seen. Well, Zia, you have just found the location of today's wedding reception! Brava!

We heard the church bells chiming 9.30. Rosa pressed the entry buzzer at the jeweler's and the doors clicked open to allow us entry. The rings were ready! The counter lady placed them on a mat for Rosa to inspect the engravings. They are simple rings, identical except in size. I immediately realize, Marta will wear this ring on her left hand and switch the diamond engagement ring to her right hand.

The lady placed the rings together in a small box and then wrapped the box in golden paper and ribbon. Rosa and I raced home and placed the package on the dining room table.

I left for a few minutes and when I came back, the box was on the table, but its pretty wrappings were strewn about. And there stood Marta, trying on her wedding ring.  She looked up at me and said: "Don't tell me it's bad luck to try it on! I just wanted to make sure about the size." I know when it's best to say nothing...but I did snap a picture. The look on her face is priceless.

I notice a big bouquet of long stemmed red roses. Marta tells me they arrived this morning and she wondered who had sent them. She opened the card and saw they were from Mario. This squeezed my romantic heart. What a loving, sweet, thoughtful gift for his bride.

Rosa had planned to take the car and go shopping at the big supermercato after our ring responsibilities were done, but Marina absolutely was adamant that we not go far. Instead we walked to the big COOP supermarket and spent an hour shopping and looking. My second suitcase, which was empty three days ago, is now almost to its weight limit of 50 pounds. I must remember I left a bag of grocery items at my hotel in Firenze! No more much as I want to take everything I see home.

At 10.45, Enriche was soaking her feet on the balcony. Marina asked me to walk to the church and await the flower delivery, scheduled for 11.00. Besides bringing flowers for the ceremony, the florist is also bringing roses for Marta's hair. I told Rosa I was leaving. I'm concerned because she and I have our hair appointments at noon and we need to drive there.

I arrived at the church and walked right in the front doors and headed for the altar. There were no wedding flowers but I did encounter the elderly caretaker, whom I had seen the night before. Unfortunately, she did not remember me nor trust me. She indicated I should wait outside. 

At 11.20 the florist arrived and gave me a tiny light weight package of rosebuds, without a moment of hesitation.

I walked home as fast as I could.
Rosa and I made it to our hair appointment at noon had our hair washed and styled. The moment we left the salon it began to rain. We returned home, passing Marta and Marina, who had taken another car to the same salon. At home, I was happy to see Marta's honeymoon bags packed and near the front door.

Selected guests began arriving at the house around 3:30.  One couple brought Marta her bridal bouquet, just has they had done last year for Rosa.  I placed it in a vase for safekeeping.

Suddenly, Marta, wearing a simple tank top and skirt, came out to great her guests. With a big 'pop,' Primo opened a bottle of champagne. I saw pastries, but I'm not sure how many were eaten.  I began to have camera issues.  Everyone seemed to be in constant motion and my pictures were mostly blurry. 
As I watched the clock tick to 4:10, I began to think I had misunderstood the time of the weddding ceremony.  The guests were still milling about and the bride was loving every minute.  Then, in masse, everyone was gone!  Rosa and Marina helped Marta into her dress.  A few quick adjustments and we were out the door.  I went first, hoping to catch a few pictures.

Zio's car was waiting outside the gate and Primo assisted Marta into the car.  I know we all missed seeing Nonno.  Last year for Rosa's wedding, with his happy smile, he had been seated in the front passenger seat.  This year he is too ill to travel.

Rosa, Marina and I quickly walked to the church.  I took my spot on the left side, sitting in the pew behind MarinaMarina asked me to adjust Marta's dress, if necessary, as it would be unseemly for her to do this.

We sat and waited for the music to announce Marta's entrance. Mario was standing just a little nervously, at the altar, his eyes watching for Marta. Suddenly, he stood a little taller,  a smile lighting his face, as Marta began her walk and approached him, on Primo's arm.  She looked like a fairy princess.  The gown suited her perfectly.  Mario watched her in astonishment. I remember hearing violin music. 


After the ceremony was performed, Marta left her bouquet on the wedding bench and with Mario, the three testimoni, met the priest at a table to the left of the altar. The marriage documents were signed and witnessed. Rosa and Enriche were Marta's testimoni (witnesses).  The bride and groom returned to their places for a few more minutes.  I noticed most of the wedding guests left the church to wait outside.  I followed them out.

I saw a woman with a gigantic commercial size bag of rice dispensing rice by the handfuls to any willing guest.  When the happy husband and wife exited the church they were plummeted with rice.

After a perhaps 10 minutes of congratuatory messages and picture taking, they were wisked away in Zio's Mercedes to the reception. We guests, began to make the 20 minute walk. Suddenly I realized!  It hadn't rained. We had totally forgotten about the threat of rain. I didn't see one umbrella and not even the bride had brought one.


The Reception

As we approached the palazzo I was able to catch a picture of Marta and Mario, walking just ahead of us. I could see rice, still in her hair.

We entered into the courtyard and then directly into the banquet rooms.

The first room contained a large table with a floral display.

In the second and third rooms, many tables awaited the guests.

We ate so many appetizers.  I had to stop, knowing the next course was coming.

The next course:  Risotto with fresh basil and tomatoes

And later, wedding cake

Other desserts

Marta threw her bouquet.

Under this ceiling the bride and groom thanked each guest as each departed the reception, about 10 pm.

Guests took these remembrances home.

We left the bride, groom and their testimoni having a quiet cappucino. I walked home with Rosa and Mattia. Around 11, the Marta and Mario arrived.  Marta headed straight to wash her hair, which was stiff with hair spray and rice.

At 11.30 we said our goodbyes and the newlyweds left for their apartment.

They caught an early train to Milano, where their honeymoon flight to Barcelona departed at 7 am.