Farewell to a Life Well Lived

We buried my father in law yesterday. It was a bittersweet day.  He lived his 90 years focused solely on his family.   He was healthy most of his life up until about four years ago, when dementia slowly kept into his world.
This affliction slowly chipped away at his memory, physical body, dignity and his strength like an ever so patient whittler working on a block of wood only it did not create something beautiful. It was a ruthless robber leaving an empty shell but my father in law’s pride gave it a heroic fight. You could look into his deep dark brown eyes and see just enough defiance, as if to say, “no, that’s enough!”…. By the way, that simple phrase followed him throughout his life, as though it were his call to arms for anything that stood in his way.

His life was not an easy walk in the park.  He is one of the many courageous southern Italian immigrants who made their way, no, fought their way, to this country to make a difference for thie families.  And my father in law did make a difference.  It was because of his bravery and determination to stand up against the many struggles he faced from the moment he set foot on Ellis Island, leaving behind all that was familiar to him and transposing into a new life with a wife and small child that his family grew and flourished and realized the American Dream.  To see and be a part of this life through my husband, Sam, and our children makes it all the more meaningful.

The second love of his life was growing tomatoes in his garden and the family ritual of making and canning sauce for the winter at summer’s end.  I can’t begin to tell you how much joy this gave him.

So as our tribute to this gallant,  stouthearted patriarch of the Russotto Family we put together a planter of tomato plants, basil and parsley rather than the traditional bouquet of flowers.  We know this has a deeper meaning as far as expressing our  sense of loss to a life well lived with love, dignity, gratitude and humility.

Ciao, Supervisor!


Published in: on JuneUTCbThu, 04 Jun 2015 17:59:41 +0000000000Thu, 04 Jun 2015 17:59:41 +0000pmThu, 04 Jun 2015 17:59:41 +000015 9, 2008 at 2:20 p06  Leave a Comment  

In Honor of Aunt Minnie

My dear Aunt Minnie  (Philemena A. DiGorio) passed away this week.  She was my mothers sister and my last living Aunt.  She was one special lady!  Full of life, sophisticated,  beautiful inside and out, and what I will always remember her for was her contagious laugh…a sort of cackle if you will!  She was so much fun to be around!

She was one of the best bakers I knew as she would bake cookies for weddings, holidays, and just about any reason or for no reason at all.  She always had an ample supply in her freezer. She was a wonderful cook as well.

I included her famous baked chicken recipe in my book, “Always on Sunday: Memories of an Italian Childhood”. This particular recipe, entitled Aunt Minnie’s Best Kep Secret Baked Chicken Breasts has been commented on the most to me. Some people have even told me their families request this the most and won’t allow any other chicken to be served in their house!!!! Honestly!

So I want to share her delicious recipe with you and hope that you try this for your family…you won’t regret it… If you happen to have my book, it can be found on page 55.

Rest in peace, Aunt Minnie and thank you for the beautiful memories!

Published in: on MarchUTCbSat, 28 Mar 2015 23:57:54 +0000000000Sat, 28 Mar 2015 23:57:54 +0000pmSat, 28 Mar 2015 23:57:54 +000015 9, 2008 at 2:20 p03  Leave a Comment  

There are No Coincidences in Life

My great nephew, Brayden Xander, was born on January 17, 2015. Prior to that, January 15 was always a sad day for me and my family. My mom had passed away on that day 15 years ago. Sometimes I wonder, can that even be possible? But, as the saying goes, ” Time marches on “.

The fact that Brayden was born on that particular days has us all believing that my mom had a little something to do with it. You see, my neice, Samantha was five days late. She could have delivered on any one of those days surrounding her due date. But little Brayden decided ( with some coaching ) to enter the world on that one day in January. I believe that God new about this child being born on this day many years before he was even conceived. It’s His loving and comforting way, how He works in our lives.

He took his good old time making for a lengthy labor and as described by the delivering physician, needed to be coaxed out with a suction type instrument which left a very noticeable red mark on the very top of his head. But we all know better than that….his great-grandma wanted to give him a kiss on that sweet head, letting us all know she was with him during the whole birth, confirmed by the fact that it only was visible for a short time, then disappeared.

Brayden had to remain in the NICU until today when he will be released to home to begin his very special life with his parents.

We are all grateful for this new life and thank God for his health and all the circumstances surrounding his birth.

Welcome home, Brayden Xander!

Published in: on JanuaryUTCbTue, 27 Jan 2015 18:13:41 +0000000000Tue, 27 Jan 2015 18:13:41 +0000pmTue, 27 Jan 2015 18:13:41 +000015 9, 2008 at 2:20 p01  Leave a Comment  

What The World Needs Now

Well, here I sit in front of my blog site which has been horribly ignored for WAAYY too long!  Did life get in the way or did I get in the way of life?  No matter, it’s time for me to get back to my first love, writing.

i want to become serious about this passion of mine, this forgotten passion, and see where it may lead. Who knows—  the start of another book, a cooking blog, which, by the way, there are an enormous amount of those  in cyberspace, perhaps a daily encouraging message, a quick daily Italian lesson, a probing, controversial question to start a lively online conversation?  Whatever the subject, I will be sure to post on a more regular basis on a variety of interests of mine ( it is MY blog after all!).

Because it is the end of the year and we are on the heels of the emerging new year,  many of us are reflecting, revising, refurbishing our ways and habits, coming up with our lists of resolutions.  I truly dislike that word, resolution.  It sounds so formal and unnatural. Are we resolving or making a promise to ourselves for improving our ways?  I like to think of  it as a promise, more of a personal thing that only we can do.  We then are able to own these promises and possibly keep them.

The  first thing on my list of “promises” besides not neglecting my blog, is to look at others with a deeper understanding tinged with love. Considering the times in which we are now living,  I hope others will also give this a try and maybe we’ll see a positive change in this world.

Maybe we all can start singing or humming the 1965 song by Jackie DeShannon..”What the World Needs Now Is Love, Sweet Love”, making this our mantra.  I think it’s an excellent idea!

Published in: on DecemberUTCbTue, 30 Dec 2014 02:07:06 +0000000000Tue, 30 Dec 2014 02:07:06 +0000amTue, 30 Dec 2014 02:07:06 +000014 9, 2008 at 2:20 p12  Leave a Comment  

Life with Rosie

Rosie sat in silence the entire thirty minute car ride, staring out the window, taking it all in. As we turned onto our street, she turned around and said to her caged parakeet, Sugar, in the back seat, “Oh, Sugar, wait till you see your new home! Your’re gonna love it!”

And so, life with Rosie began.

My sister-in-law, Rosie, came to live with my husband, Sam, who she affectionately calls “Brother”, and I when her parents were placed in a personal care home near us because of the dementia which they both suffer from shattered the only life she knew for fifty-one years.

Over the past six months we saw how Rosie was gradually taking on the role of the care giver to her parents despite of her own limitations and special needs as the disease progressed in her mother and father. You see, Rosie is mentally challenged and has the mental capacity of a ten or eleven year old child. It clearly became evident that the living situation was an unsafe environment for Rosie and her parents. The difficult but necessary decision was made, after agonizing and very frustrating resistence from my in-laws to move them to a secured facility and Rosie to live with us.

Although this arrangement is still new and we all are facing adjustment after adjustment, I can honestly say that it has been smooth and without major difficulties. I attribute this to Rosie’s easy and sweet spirit and her generally happy attitude.

I believe that God has sheilded her from unnecessary pain and sorrow by extending his grace to cover her evey need. I am reminded of a verse of scripture in Isaish 42:3, “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness, he will bring forth justice.”

Published in: on DecemberUTCbSat, 29 Dec 2012 19:07:50 +0000000000Sat, 29 Dec 2012 19:07:50 +0000pmSat, 29 Dec 2012 19:07:50 +000012 9, 2008 at 2:20 p12  Leave a Comment  
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The Necessity of Lists

I would be lost without my lists. Daily to do lists, weekly to do lists, grocery lists, bucket lists, places I’d like to visit lists, recipes I’d like to try lists, people I need to call lists, pro and con lists (most helpful when faced with decision making), books I’d like to read lists, books I’ve already read lists ( most helpful in preventing me from re-reading a book which has strangely happened), lists of lists I need to make….it can go on and on. They somehow make me feel productive, especially when I can finally draw a line through one of the items on my list. When the entire list is completed, well, that’s just a good reason to celebrate!

They keep me going. I wouldn’t go as far to say that I’m a slave to these lists, but I find more and more that I depend upon them. Let’s just blame that on advanced age memory loss. I find them not only helpful but in a strange way almost comforting. Just as they say that children need boundaries for optimal behavior, my lists provide concrete guidelines, a constant reminder, a sense of keeping on task to reach certain goals.

I’ve just finished reading “Every Day Life in Tuscany” by Frances Mayes and now feel compelled to start a new list, ‘Places to Visit in Italy’. Her beautiful and inviting descriptions of the out-of-the-way towns and villages she and her husband visited sound irresistibly charming. Beach towns, seaside resorts, mountain towns, tiny fishing villages tucked away in quaint coves…. It’s just a matter of time when I will begin my own list. My husband and I would like to take a trip to Italy next year and this list would be a great tool in planning our itinerary. I need to delve into my research mode and read as many travel books on Italy I can get my hands on. This will be a much needed diversion from the stressful situation in which we are experiencing right now. I keep telling myself, this too shall pass….words of wisdom I have so frequently offered to others.

Lists can be looked upon as either a drudgery or a facilitator in getting through everyday life. I prefer to view them as the latter and will continue to make list after list after list…..

Published in: on NovemberUTCbSun, 04 Nov 2012 20:02:16 +0000000000Sun, 04 Nov 2012 20:02:16 +0000pmSun, 04 Nov 2012 20:02:16 +000012 9, 2008 at 2:20 p11  Leave a Comment  
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“Not So Gourmet Egg Sandwich”

Every so often, on a Sunday morning I will make myself an egg sandwich. Now this is not by any stretch of the imagination a gourmet treat. It is simplicity in its purest form. This humble breakfast reminds me of the many Saturday nights I spent sleeping over my best friend, Karen’s, house in the sixties. Hard to imagine that a few eggs, scrambled soft, placed between two slices of soft white sandwich bread covered with Heinz ketchup could taste so good! Well, when it brings back those wonderful childhood memories, there is nothing like it….period!

Now, I have to paint a clearer picture, perhaps to explain why this humble little offering is such a craving of mine.

When I slept overnight on a Saturday, of course, the next day would find us and her five brothers and sisters at nine o’clock mass. And every Catholic knows, that back in the day, you had to fast three hours before receiving Holy Communion. Yes, that meant, my friends, no breakfast or morsel of anything was eaten until we traipsed back to her house after mass which was a good twenty minutes. This put our estimated time of eating anything at around 11 o’clock. By the time we reached her house, her mom was busy in her kitchen assembling these egg sandwiches for us to devour as soon as we entered, kicked off our shoes and gathered around the formica table. Each of us grabbed a half of a sandwich and downed it with a glass of milk. Then another, then another until the plate in the center of the table was holding only a few leftover crumbs. Something about that milk, whole milk that is, fresh from Aupke’s farm was heavenly. We were so hungry, we could have eaten anything placed before us! Oh, and the bowl of blueberries, sweet and tart at the same time was another added attraction to that meal.

You see, I was introduced to so many new foods that never made an appearance at my house.
Eating at the DeFazios’ was always an adventure. I had Imperial Crab, Bavarian Strawberry Cream, Sweet and Sour Meatballs, Shrimp dip, I could go on and on…. Mrs. D was always making something new for her card club ladies and Karen and I would sometimes help but mostly would sample what was being served. I feel this was the precursor for my love of cooking especially adventurous cooking. I did learn all of the basics at home, but was thrown into a more creative mode of cooking by spending time in her kitchen. (She did go on to open a very successful Italian restaurant called Le Cresta for 15 years.)

Back to the egg sandwich, I do find myself craving it and when I do make one, I am sure to eat it slowly, conjuring up all the beautiful memories that are served up as a side.

Published in: on JuneUTCbMon, 11 Jun 2012 00:36:37 +0000000000Mon, 11 Jun 2012 00:36:37 +0000amMon, 11 Jun 2012 00:36:37 +000012 9, 2008 at 2:20 p06  Comments (1)  
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Pasta Carbonara

This is an extremely easy version of a simple yet delicious pasta dish that can be ready before you can say “pass the cheese, please!”. It’s adapted from Martha Stewart’s Every Day Food magazine.

Pasta Carbonara is one of my favorites because of its silky-smooth and salty sauce, flecked with crispy bits of pancetta, bacon or salami, whatever your presence. In my opinion, the ultimate Italian comfort food!

Start by whisking together 3 eggs and 1 cup of Parmesan cheese in a large bowl (you’ll be mixing and serving pasta from it). Cook 4 ounces of pancetta (Italian bacon), salami slices, or regular bacon in a pan with 3 cloves of crushed garlic till crisp and then crumble or slice in small pieces. Set aside. Cook 1 pound of linguine or spaghetti; before draining, reserve 1 cup of pasta water. Add hot pasta to egg mixture, along with pancetta and garlic. Toss, adding enough pasta water to make a creamy sauce, you may not need it all. Season with salt and pepper, serve with extra cheese and a sprinkle of chopped parsley. Serves four. Bon Appetito!

Published in: on MarchUTCbFri, 09 Mar 2012 17:27:52 +0000000000Fri, 09 Mar 2012 17:27:52 +0000pmFri, 09 Mar 2012 17:27:52 +000012 9, 2008 at 2:20 p03  Leave a Comment  
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Missing Borders

Every time I drive past Borders book store which has closed a few months ago, my heart sinks! Seeing the now empty parking lot which used to be filled with cars is a very depressing sight.  Borders was one of the major anchor stores to the Northway Mall for many, many years.  I could go in there during the holiday season and do half of my Christmas shopping buying books for just about everyone on my list and gift cards for my ‘hard to buy for’ people.  It was my home away from home for a little over three years while I wrote my book. I just knew when I entered the cafe,  that familiar aroma of freshly brewed coffee and seeing the faces of the ‘regulars’ put me at ease.  My creative juices would start to flow and I could not wait to find an empty table,set up my work space and begin to tap out word by word on my computer the  memories and stories I longed for the whole world to read.  I looked forward to those days as much as one looks forward to donning a soft, comfortable sweater on a cold winter’s day.  It was a gathering  place for business meetings, school projects, serious discussions, and lighthearted coffee breaks with old friends.  I could just cry!

Now, I am forced to locate another spot to collect my thoughts and allow my creative writing to flow, to find new projects and assignments such as this greatly neglected blog, and possibly a new book.   Lately, I’ve felt a gentle nudging toward a newly found motivation and am anxious to begin with a brand new project.  I simply miss my writing on  a regular basis and feel ready for a fresh start.  I just don’t where to go!  Oh, I could do this at home, but there’s something about being surrounded by others who are sipping on caffeinated beverages  ferociously pounding on a keyboard trying to hold back a satisfying smile while doing so.

Panera’s is a possible location, but I really need to be surrounded by books,whether for reference or to take a break and read something to transport me some where else if just for a little while.

I’ll find a place; Barnes and Noble  is only a few miles further away, the extra distance will be worth it.

Published in: on OctoberUTCbSat, 29 Oct 2011 21:48:05 +0000000000Sat, 29 Oct 2011 21:48:05 +0000pmSat, 29 Oct 2011 21:48:05 +000011 9, 2008 at 2:20 p10  Leave a Comment  

Pug’s Minest’ (Minestrone)

I’ve been thinking about my Dad lately, Frank Pugliese, aka “Pug”.  I was remembering how his group of friends from the Sharpsburg Senior Citizen Highrise played poker every Friday night.  He was the organizer which also entailed providing the food for the night.  And boy, was that right up his alley!  He would go to Shop N’ Save and purchase every day old pastry he could get his hands on at half price.  The guys  loved this, you know how ‘seniors’ are about spending unnecessary money!

The group was made up of the most eclectic characters.  One of the fellows, Pierre, was blind.  How he was able to play cards, I’ll never know!  When I questioned my dad about this once, he said, “Oh, whoever is sitting next to him helps him out, no problem.”  Yeah, I bet!  I’m sure Pierre never went home a winner.

My Dad liked to cook, was pretty good at it, too.  He occasionally made hot sausage sandwiches or homemade pizza or pepperoni bread for these poker nights.  One of his specialties was his Minest’ (Italian dialect for Minestrone soup).  He once was featured in the local newspaper for preparing this soup for the poker gang.  He was quite proud of that, so was I.   Here is his recipe.   All of these recipes can be found in my cookbook, Always on Sunday: Recipes from an Italian Childhood”.  http://www.alwaysonsunday.com

Pug’s Minest’

1 large bunch          fresh spinach leaves or escarole

2 quarts                     chicken stock

1 pound                    sweet or hot Italian sausage, sliced

1 large                       onion, chopped

1 green pepper      chopped

2                                 whole garlic cloves

1 large can              crushed tomatoes

1 can (15 oz)          red kidney beans

1/2 tsp                     dried oregano

1/2 tsp                     red pepper flakes

Salt and pepper to taste.

Rinse and trim and cut off stems of spinach or escarole, cut in strips.  Place in large stock pot with chicken broth and cook till wilted.  Meanwhile in skillet, brown sausage, onion, pepper and garlic till cooked through and vegetables are soft.  Add to the stockpot containing the spinach, along with the tomatoes, the beans and seasonings.  Simmer for 20 to 25 minutes.  Add water to thin, if needed.  Serve with grated parmesan cheese.


Published in: on AprilUTCbMon, 04 Apr 2011 23:08:01 +0000000000Mon, 04 Apr 2011 23:08:01 +0000pmMon, 04 Apr 2011 23:08:01 +000011 9, 2008 at 2:20 p04  Comments (1)  
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