Monday, December 1, 2008

Grandma's China

As the holidays approach I've been thinking about my grandma a lot. She was very cyber-savvy and would have loved reading this blog. Actually, I think she might have had one herself. A blog-slash-dating-slash-let me tell you something site. She had lots to say and a wonderful wry way of expressing herself. She could turn a phrase like nobody's business.

My husband can trace his family back to American Presidents and Early Settlers. I can trace my family to an apartment in the Bronx. I am very proud of my Italian heritage, and can be frequently heard complaining about how "white" my name is. I would love to have a name that rolls off the tongue like a sonata, but I am third generation and my name proves it.

Before my husband I were married, we spent an evening with my grandma being schooled in the art of making bow-ties. Not the kind you wear, but the kind you eat. We happened to stop by as the dough was being rolled out and were quickly recruited to do the "part I hate" (grandma's words, not mine). It is important not to make the dough too thick or too thin. Just right is only something you learn by feel....roll it too many times and it "gets funny", don't roll it enough and it "gets funny". That's about as exact as her Sicilian cooking instructions get. Bow-ties are delicious, there's no two-ways about it. Dusted with powdered sugar they are more addictive than those little fried dealies from you local Chinese take-out.

From the same recipe you use for the bow-ties, you can also make struffoli. Struffoli are small fried balls of dough (smaller than a gumball, larger than a pea...see what I mean about the instructions) that are soaked in honey syrup, piled as high as Vesuvius and adorned with sprinkles. I think they are an Italian staple because they last so darn long. I would swear the same platter fresh at Thanksgiving is rolled out again at Christmas, no one the wiser. It's almost like a fruitcake, but you can't really use it as a doorstop. Struffoli aren't as tasty as bow-ties, but they certainly look more festive...and they are great for a crowd, because no one eats em'.

Because I don't come from a long line of prestige; instead of passing down linens, monogrammed silver, or anniversary diamonds, we pass down generations of funny stories, old fashion Italian pride and great recipes. Unlike many in her generation, my grandmother wrote things down and always shared her recipes with us. She wanted her food to be a memory for all of us.

When my grandmother died, I was given her china. It was a set her children (my dad, aunts and uncles) gave her and my grandfather. It isn't fancy and it is very used. There are pieces that have broken multiple times and have been fashioned together just so they will look good in the cabinet, they can no longer hold food or liquid. Their value, purely sentimental.

I have lots of options for my dining pleasure. I have collected dinnerware for years. But when I serve one of my grandma's recipes, I use the china she gave me. I honor her by setting a nice table, and I remember her by enjoying the love she shared through her cooking.

Grandma's 1978 Bow-ties--with my twist
6 cups flour, finely grated rind of 1 lemon or 1 orange, 8 eggs, 1 tsp baking powder, 1 tsp vanilla, 1 1/2 Tbs butter--melted, 2 Tbs sugar
Place flour, baking powder and sugar in a large bowl and add citrus rind. Make a well in the center and add all other ingredients and mix well. Lest rest for 30 minutes. Using a pasta machine, or rolling pin, roll dough out into thin rectangles...about 3 or 4 sheets of paper thick. Cut each rectangle crosswise to make a smaller 1 1/2"wide x 2 1/2" long strip. Pinch each strip in the middle to form a bow-tie. Fry the bow-ties in batches in hot oil until lightly browned. Drain and cool on paper towel. Once cool, dust with powdered sugar. Keep in an airtight container, if you can keep them that long.


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