Archive for October, 2010

My Funny/Yummy Food 4 Thought Column (Story 6)

October 31, 2010

                “OMG, I Ticked off the World’s Greatest Writer!”

 Once upon a time, I had a nationally syndicated column called, “Fightin’ Mad.” It appeared in two spots that were dots on the map, plus the not so tiny town of Huntsville, Alabama. One of my biggest distinctions as the “Fightin’ Madman” was managing to tick off Isaac Asimov, whom many people consider to be one of the greatest writers who ever lived. He wrote or edited more than 500 books and an estimated 9,000 letters and postcards. Four of those postcards belong to me. I received them as part of a continuing correspondence that led inexorably to one conclusion: Isaac wanted me to go jump in the lake.

The correspondence came as the result of two downside discoveries. First, that building a highly successful column takes years and is largely a function of how much dough that is poured into its promotion. I had a national syndicate promoting me, but they weren’t exactly big time. Whenever I called and asked for the President, the voice on the other end would yell, “Daddy it’s for you!”   

The other downside of the column was the fact that it was always due. I wrote two columns a week and could never get ahead, which meant vacations were kaput. I came up with an inspired answer, however, called the “Great Guest Writer Request.” The idea was simple: I’d send a letter to the best writers on earth telling them that I needed a vacation and asking them to write my column for me while I took two weeks off. They probably didn’t have anything better to do and if they turned me down, I’d turn their refusals into columns. It was win/win situation. So I wrote.

I sent The Great Guest Writer request to Saul Bellow, E.L. Doctorow, Woody Allen, William Goldman and many others, including Isaac Asimov. The letters went out. The rejections came back, including this surprising denial from Isaac:   

Dear Mr. Ardito,
I figure anyone who asks for a favor should take the trouble of spelling the favor-bestower’s name correctly. You’d be surprised how many favors I don’t have to donate, like the one I don’t have to do for you!

— Isaac Asimov

I was puzzled at that response then checked my correspondence and discovered that  I had somehow managed to spell Isaac’s last name incorrectly. Instead of Asimov, I spelled it Assimov, which doesn’t look so great in print. I was mortified, so I sent him back a letter in which I misspelled every word in the letter, except his name. It started with “Deer Mester Asimov: Yew kant beeleeve howe embareassed eye yam. Howe coud I bee sew stoopid!” You get the idea. I thought this was a riot and was convinced Asimov did too, especially when he sent back this reply

Dear Mr. Ardito:

With your sense of humor, I doubt the rest of us freelance writers need fear much in the  way of competition from you!

 — Isaac Asimov

Ha, ha, ha, I laughed. What a card! He was egging me on, right?  Okay, I thought, if that’s the way he wants to play it, I’ll really let it all hang out, which I did in the following questionably sane note:  

Dear Mr. Asimov:

You are a veritable idol to me. Imagine my dismay, therefore, to learn that the world’s most prolific writer is a bit of a dork?!  How can I model myself after you now that I know you’re Mr. Potato Head? (And it went on from there.)

Four days days later, I got this:

Dear Mr. Ardito:

I see your spelling is improved. Perhaps you don’t find that funny anymore. You have apparently decided to exchange humor for filth. Your choice.  May I have the extreme pleasure of hearing nothing further from you?

–Isaac Asimov

 “OMG!  He had misunderstood it all. He wasn’t kidding and I had managed to tick off one of the greatest writers in existence. I was a human blur putting together another letter that apologized from the bottom of my heart. Imagine my relief when he sent back this note:   

“Dear Mr. Ardito:

Next time, skip the pointless humor and tasteless insults, and move right into the  apology. All is forgiven and forgotten. We can start over.

–Isaac

Whew! I breathed a sigh of relief. “We can start over” he said. So I immediately picked up a pen and paper and wrote, “Dear Mr. Assimov”… Nah, no way I did!

                 OMG—The World’s Most Misunderstood Dish!

                 Spaghetti Allege

                 (Spaghetti with Anchovies)

My whole correspondence with Isaac Asimov was based on misunderstanding. This dish can be misunderstood, too. It is simply phenomenal, but you can’t let anyone know that it contains anchovies. Keep a lid on the pan; when they ask about the sauce, just say, “It’s, err chicken pate,” or “tapenade.” Yeah, that’s a good one. Nobody ever knows what tapenade is. Keep the anchovy part a secret until they take a bite and say, “OMG, this is incredible?” Believe me, no one will mistake or misunderstand was an awesome experience eating this is. Enjoy the prolific compliments.

Constituents

2 Tbsp olive oil

3 tins anchovies (flat’s where it’s at for me)

Olive oil from all three tins

4 cloves minced garlic

15 fresh basil leaves (gotta be fresh, forget flakes)

1 heaping Tbsp capers

Black pepper

Red pepper flakes to taste

1/2 to 1 cup pasta water

1 lb spaghetti

Elected Method

Start your pasta water boiling because this dish can be ready in a nanosecond. In a small pan, heat up the olive oil and fry out the garlic. Add the anchovies, including the oil from the cans. Heat and stir until they the anchovies form a paste. Add basil, pepper, capers and 1/4 cup pasta water to the anchovy mixture. Just before the spaghetti is done, add another ½ cup pasta water to your pasta bowl. It will soak up water like crazy. Pour the pasta in the bowl, quickly stir in the mixture and serve immediately. By the way, don’t have a Caesar salad with this dish; that was Mark Anchovy’s downfall! Get it? See that’s the sense of humor, Isaac misunderstood! Maybe that’s because he didn’t have one.

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My Funny/Yummy “Food 4 Thought” Column Story 5

October 16, 2010

                The Practically Perfect Gift  

 These days, kids get fantastic presents. Imagine unwrapping a laptop computer, X-Box or iPhone for your birthday or Christmas? Presents were not quite so glorious back in the (ahem) good old days when my brother Dave, my sister Carol and I were growing up. Not only because the toy market was dull in the Jurassic period when the hot seller was “Mud,” but also because we were forever getting “practical” gifts from our parents.

This was especially true on Christmas when we got a few toys, but also received pajamas, belts, gloves, swimming lessons, dental floss, and life insurance policies. Believe me, it was hard  to express appreciation for Term Life Insurance as a present. Nonetheless, we tried to show some enthusiasm…”Gee, Mom and Dad, just what we wanted, Term Life. And the premium’s so cheap.” 

There was one toy we wanted more than anything and we bugged my parents about it for years. We wanted a LIONEL TRAIN SET with lots of cars and miles of track and an electric control panel and a little red caboose pulling up the rear. Was that too much to ask from Santa, from the Gods, and from parents who supposedly loved you?!  Yes, especially since these parents were practical to a fault.

My mom told us that a train set was out of the question, but we still held out hope. Late at night, I would hear Dave in the bed next to me going, “Chugga, chugga, chugga, whoo, whoo! And I would respond, “Engineer, slam on the brakes there’s a girl tied to the tracks ahead!” And Dave would answer, “Then let’s go faster you (bleep!)” And we’d laugh hysterically because we never ever swore.

Dreaming seemed the best we could do until we encountered the “Miracle on 31 Millis Street” when a huge package arrived before Christmas that was about 10 feet long, five feet wide. It took two men to carry it into the house as Dave and I watched in amazement. My mother immediately said, “Now, boys, promise you won’t touch this package before Christmas.” Well, that was the clincher. It could only be one thing—a board with train tracks attached to it, that’s what!  We celebrated in private as we hugged each other and chanted, “Chugga-chugga, whoo, whoo!”

Christmas morning we dashed to that package and shredded the wrapping, when what to our wondrous eyes should appear, but a great, big, wonderful—ping pong table.

A PING-PONG TABLE? Oh, no, Joe, say it isn’t so.  Our hearts were smashed to smithereens, but somehow we managed to utter the expected words, “Thanks mom and dad for the ping-pong table. It’s just what we wanted.”

My mother stiffened her lip and said, “Look boys, I know you had your hearts set on a train set, but I guarantee you’ll love this present if you give it a chance.”

And she was right. That stupid ping-pong table did turn out to be the practically perfect gift. We got enormous enjoyment out of it and Dave and I became so good we eventually became New England Ping Pong Doubles Champions! Nah, that’s a lie. We did get good though and my sister got great use out of it in high school, hitting the ball once every five minutes when she was making out in our basement with Pete Barberi.

Ironically, years later, my brother and his wife Lois found themselves confronted with the same dilemma when their son, Jude (a.k.a. Ben) desperately wanted a train set for Christmas. They weighed the fleeting, razzle-dazzle of the train set compared to something a lot more practical that Jude would appreciate for years and they made the only decision they could – they picked the “Train set, the train set, the Lionel train set!” “Chugga-chugga, whoo, whoo!”

                    SO WHAT DO YOU THINK?  

Where do you weigh in with practicality versus passion? Are you a sense or sensibility person? Is it possible to classify political parties along the same lines? Are Democrats usually opting for train sets for everyone and Republicans always buying underwear and life insurance? Maybe parties could try switching roles sometimes and Democrats could buy train cars filled with underwear?  Post your comments here and open them up for discussion.

                        Today’s Thoughtful Fabulous Italian Recipe          

                       Spaghetti con Lenticchie

                       (Spaghetti with Lentils)

In Hamlet, Polonious gives the following advice to his son, Laertes—“Neither a borrower nor a lentil be,” which shows you that in literature and life, lentils don’t get the time of day.  Too bad.  Lentils are yummy if you know a few things. For one, don’t eat lentils as a snack. They will crack your teeth. You’ve got to soak lentils overnight, or cook them for at least 1 ½  hours with a lot of water to make them edible. Also, don’t confuse lentils that you eat with lintels that are used for structural support. If you try to eat those lintels you will not only crack your teeth, you would be a complete “stoonod,” as we Italians say.

Spaghetti with Lentils is a perfectly practical dish because it tastes absolutely delicious and is also very good for you. Like a ping pong table, however, you’ve got to give this a chance. I had something else to add, but I lost my train of thought. “Chuggg, chugga, Whoo whoo!

Accoutrements

2 cloves of minced garlic

2 cups chicken broth (or aqua)

3 tbsp EVOO (Extra Virgin Olive Oil as Rachel Ray would say)

Salt, pepper, red pepper flakes

Chunk of salt port, or if that grosses you out, 3 or four pieces of bacon

2 cups dry lentils

1 lb spaghetti

Cooking Method

Sauté the garlic in the olive oil. Pour in 2 cups of chicken broth (you can use water if you want). Add the lentils and salt, pepper, and hot pepper to taste. Add the salt pork or the raw (yes raw) bacon strips. Cover and simmer for at least an hour and a half, until the lentils are cooked and soft. You may have to add more chicken broth or water as you cook. You want this to be  quite soupy when you add it to the pasta. Speaking of that, boil water, break the spaghetti in two and cook it. When it’s al dente (firm to the tooth, but not as firm to the tooth as a lintel), add the lentils and love it up. Everyone, even Laertes, will want to borrow this recipe.

My Funny/Yummy “Food 4 Thought” Column Story 4

October 16, 2010

                        The Fists of “Young Faithful”

They say kid’s like routine, in which case, I should have loved the fact that when I was  growing up, I could count on Howie Larson to beat the heck out of me up every day after grammar school.  He did this with the dependability of “Young Faithful,” blowing his stack at precisely 3:15 p.m., erupting with a flurry of fists that he reined upon me day after day, month after month or for at least three weeks anyway.

I tried to avoid this, not only because it was painful, but because my mother always said, “Fighting is wrong, boys. You should try to talk things out or tell a grownup if someone is bothering you.” Yeah, easy for my mother to say, she wasn’t being pummeled by Howie Larson’s fast flying fists. I tried to talk to him. Whack, he smacked me. I turned the other cheek. Whack, he smacked the other cheek! I told the teacher. She wanted to smack me! I had it rough.  

I tired other routes to get home, but Howie was always there. It was like he could read my mind and had ESP—Extra Special Punches—for trying to avoid him.

I relay this casually, but it was a terrible thing in my life. Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore and told my mom what was going on. She marched me over to Howie’s house where we had your basic kid/kid, mom/mom confrontation. The downside of this encounter was my complete humiliation. On the upside, Howie did promise not beat to me up anymore. Unfortunately, he meant that day
Eventually, Howie’s horrible assaulting ended.  This was not due to him becoming bored with the routine. It had more to do with my father’s surprising advice to, “Quit being a baby and whack him back,” which is precisely what I did.  The next day when Howie stopped me and started his fist barrage, I somehow found the courage to make a fist and let it fly. I slugged him in the upper chest, though I was aiming for his face. That didn’t matter. He was in shock and awe and started running. I ran after him shaking my fists – my newly found weapons of mass destruction— while yelling, “You’d better run, Howie Larson, cause I’m gonna’ hurt you bad!”

I eventually stopped chasing him. The next day in the playground he came up to me, but instead of wanting to beat me up, he wanted to know if I could come over after school and play. Imagine that, fight fans! Imagine my even greater surprise when I said, “Sure.” After that we became terrific friends, which is how it goes, isn’t it? We hung around together all the time, playing football, building forts, picking on other kids—you know, fun stuff.  

                           SO WHAT DO YOU THINK?

What are the lessons learned from this story?  Choose from the possibilities below or come up with your own conclusions and post them here.  

Possible Story Conclusions (pick one or more):

a)  When kids punch you in the face or maim you, it may be because they’re still learning how to channel their emotions correctly. Or, they are possessed by Satan!

b)  The ““slap-each-other-silly” method of eventually becoming friends is a painful way to create long-term friendships. Howie and I learned this. It has also been discovered by Muslims and Christians, the Pakistani army and the Taliban, the ethnic and tribal groups in Darfur, and Sara Palin and the liberal media. Becoming pals by constantly beating each other up leaves too many people dead and without hands to shake when you’re through fighting. Here’s a thought…Maybe everybody’s mother needs to be told about what’s going on in the world. The moms could line up and shout, “Now, you boys play nice. Don’t make us come over there!”  

                         THIS WEEK’S THOUGHTFUL RECIPE

 

                     Pasta con oilo e aglio

                    (Pasta a la Frank Sinatra)

 

Supposedly, Frank Sinatra loved this dish. I didn’t steal it from Frankie—you’d have to be nuts. I stole it from my cousin, Patricia Riess who lives in Lake Forest, is a heck of a cook and a true lover of all things Italian. This recipe is perfect because Frank Sinatra was known to let his fists fly and he sure could belt one out there, which would have endeared him to Howie.

This recipe is really simple and a staple in most Italian households when there’s nothing in the pantry or you only have 10 minutes to cook dinner and still want a winner, though it won’t make you thinner so get the water to simmer and shut up already! “Stat da zit!”  We toss fresh basil into the olive oil (frozen in the winter) to add a little more flavor. Take it or leave it, or follow Sinatra’s and Howie’s advice, “Do it my way, or I’ll punch in your face!”

What Youza Need

½  cup extra virgin olive oil (or very little foolin’ around)

4 cloves garlic, crushed

Salt & pepper

Few shakes red pepper flakes

½  cup Italian parsley, chopped

½ cup parmesan cheese, grated (preferably Parmigiano Reggiano)

1 lb fettuccini, linguini, or spaghetti

What Youza Do

Boil water and start cooking the pasta right away cause this can be whipped up in the blink of a black eye. In a large frying pan, add the olive oil, salt, pepper, red pepper and garlic. Sauté garlic until it’s done, but for heaven’s sake don’t burn it! Jeez, do I have to tell you everything?!  What you need is a good smack. Drain the pasta when it is done (never rinse) and add pasta to the olive oil in pan. Add lotsa parmesan cheese, mix and plate it. Mangia! Peace on earth. Good fill to men.

 

My Funny/Yummy “Food 4 Thought” Column Story 3

October 16, 2010

                          The Man Who Could Eat Bones

Every kid should have an Uncle Sal in their lives—a completely riveting character full of magic, mysteries and joie de vivre. So what if he gambled away thousands on the horses or broke his promises to my brother, father and his wife—these were flaws that made him such a man in full and so hugely memorable.

Uncle Sal was my mother’s sister, Abby’s husband—a dark, handsome, guy who wore a fedora, smoked a pipe and was delightfully old school Italian. He sported an Italian tee on hot summer days, wolfed down huge quantities of pasta and drank his fair share of red wine at family get-togethers. He was also short like the rest of us. Boy, were we ever a bunch of munchkins. The twenty or so members of the immediate family could have had any holiday dinner in a closet with plenty of room for the kids’ table.

Other relatives I loved mostly because I had to. Uncle Sal, I loved with abandon. How and why? Let me count the ways…

                          Stasher of Cash and Bone-ified Hero

 I loved Uncle Sal for four primary reasons.

He hid thousands in cash in the wall of his basement. Uncle Sal loved to gamble and hid as much as $5,000 behind some bricks in the basement of his house. My mother revealed this to me in a “facts of family life discussion” that was fairly horrifying to sit through. My mother also revealed that my Aunt Abby, who knew of her husband’s vice,  took an interesting strategic approach to curbing his gambling—she spent their money before he could lose it—a new sofa here, a dining room table there. I think they were the first on our block to own a big screen TV—10 inches!  

Uncle Sal could control traffic lights. Whenever we drove to visit my Aunt Ella in Wethersfield, we’d hit The Berlin Turnpike, a 15-mile stretch of road with dozens of traffic lights. One day, when I was riding in Uncle Sal’s car he said to me. “Jim, I can control traffic lights with my mind and I won’t hit one from now until we get to Aunt Ellas.” And he did it. Holy, macaroni! He never told me that the traffic lights were speed controlled and if you drove 45 miles per hour on the bean, you’d never hit one. Of such stuff, are legends made. 

Uncle Sal could eat bones!  One night when we were having “Sunday Sauce” with pasta for dinner, Uncle Sal said to me, “Jimmy, I can eat bones.”  “What?” I questioned. Uncle Sal explained, “I have such powerful teeth, I can crush and eat bones. Watch.”  And he took a sparerib with a bone in it, stuffed it into his mouth and downed it all. No ogre from any fairy tale could have ground bones better. “Wow!” I blurted. “How did you do that??” “Years of  practice and pain,” said Uncle Sal. And I believed this bone-ified hero.  Years  later, after I  became a cook, I learned that spareribs simmered in sauce for hours have all the backbone of  butter. They’re incredibly tender. Prove it for yourself with the yummy, authentically Italian recipe for sauce below, which can also be found online at www.what’shappeningonline.com

 My final reason for loving Uncle Sal? He loved me and I knew it. He was  always glad to see me and encouraged my argumentative skills telling me for years  that I’d make a great lawyer. It was mostly because of Uncle Sal that I did go to  Law School—and promptly dropped out after six months. Uncle Sal had no clue about what it takes to be a lawyer and I was going to tell him that after I bolted, but I changed my mind when I saw him. No sense making bones about it.

                     What Do You Think?

 Was Uncle Sal wrong for lying (ok, exaggerating) like he did to an impressionable kid? How do you think he broke his promise to my father and brother and why were they ticked at him for years? Tell me what you think and find out the additional revealing Uncle Sal truths in my slightly longer column online at www.whatshappeningonline.com  where you can post your comments and achieve publishing fame if they’re cool enough 
                     This Week’s Throughtful Recipe:

                     Ardito’s  Sunday Gravy

                (Super- Authentic Old World Italian Red Sauce)

So folks, this is the recipe noted in the story above. It’s for thick, rich Italian sauce with meatballs and sausage and spare ribs in it that get so tender they fall off the bone and into your heart forever.  Just like “The Man Who Could Eat Bones,” this sauce is full of spice and life and everything after that is just, well, gravy.

Here in Chicago, Italians call sauce “gravy,” which we never did out East. FYI, I used to think you could cook this sauce all day, but now I know three hours is about the max if you still want to be able to actually see or pick up a meatball. The real trick is letting this sauce rest. I cook it on Saturday and stick it in the fridge overnight. By Sunday it is amazingly rich and flavorful.

 

What It Takes:

1/3rd cup olive oil

1 large red onion nicely diced

1 mess minced garlic (1 mess =7 cloves)

10 leaves fresh/frozen basil (if you think Basil’s fresh, you should meet Rosemary, HeerHwrb’s sister).

Other spices, including lotsa shakes basil flakes (see below for specific amounts), oregano, garlic powder, fresh thyme (search for it because you can’t always find thyme ), half-cup chopped parsley (I’m partial to parsley), sea salt and freshly ground pepper

2 bay leaves (needn’t be San Francisco Bay leaves)

1 cup decent red wine (something with a year rather than a month)

4 16 oz. cans crushed Italian tomatoes, what the heck, use 5 so you can freeze the leftovers 

1 1/2 lbs mild Italian sausage

1 lb hot Italian sausage

2 1/2  lbs spare ribs

8-10 neata meata balls (I use 3/4 lb ground beef and 3/4 lb ground pork mixed together. To this, add 1 egg, salt, pepper, parsley, thyme, garlic powder, oregano flakes, basil flakes, 1/3rd cup sautéed onions, 3 cloves minced garlic, 1/3rd cup of parmesan cheese and 1 ½ cups crumbled stale bread. Form into 1 ½ inch balls and brown in olive on every side at a pretty high temp)

1 lb spaghetti, ziti, gnocci, mezzani, mostacolli, cavatelli, ditali, fusili, ravioli, etc.

                       

How Youza Make 

Begin with ½ cup of wine. Drink it. Then you can really start cooking! Use a heavy bottom pan and fry onions in 3 tbsp olive oil. When it gets transparent, tell it you can see right through it. Add minced garlic and cook for 20 seconds. Remove onions and garlic and set aside. Season both sides of the meat (sausage and spareribs only) with salt, pepper, garlic powder, basil and oregano then add ¼ cup  more oil to the pan and brown meat on fairly high heat. To save time, use two more pans with oil or browning can take eons. Remove meat, wipe bottom of pans with paper towel to remove some grease but preserve seasonings. Add a little of the wine to deglaze.

Add all cans of crushed tomatoes. Add sautéed onions and garlic plus fresh basil. Now season with spices and the wine. How much of each do you add?  You had to ask, right?  Salt and pepper to taste, but enough, ok? 15 shakes each of basil and oregano flakes (I almost cover the surface). 3 tbsp garlic power. Only a few shakes of red pepper and 3 bay leaves. Simmer for ½ hour, then add meat. Cook for 2 ½ to 3 hours, stirring occasionally. Let this sauce rest in the pot overnight in the fridge. It will be a totally different sauce if you do. Simply re-heat and pour over your favorite pasta. Abondonza.

My Funny/Yummy “Food 4 Thought” Column Story 2

October 16, 2010

                         Oops, Now Where Did I Put My Wife?

           I’ve lost many precious things over the years. My wallet, keys, bets, and, oh, yes, once I lost my wife. It happened while we were traveling through Europe, which is especially bad since translation books are woefully inadequate when it comes to expressions like,  “Where is the closest wife?” or “Is this the train to my wife?”

          The event happened on our second honeymoon (because we didn’t get the first one right),  on our way to Venice where we pictured ourselves enjoying all that romantic Venice has to offer.  Little did we know that our itinerary would also include a trip to the Venetian police department and, for my panicked wife, several hours when she believed I was kidnapped or dead.

          Ah, but I leap forward. Let’s start with us happily headed toward Venice aboard an Italian train that was a wonder of the world—you wondered why it took forever to get nowhere at all. Plus, there was nothing on board to eat or drink. The Italians had wine and three course meals. We had luggage. We stopped in every town that existed along the way and some that were built while we waited in the station. One of these stops was Bologna, where the loss occurred.

          When we reached Bologna we decided to make a dash for some food and drink. We  grabbed our luggage and headed for the depot, which was up a long, long ramp. I spotted a Coca Cola sign across a busy street and told Merry to hang tight while I went for the goodies. It took longer than expected and when I ran back to the exact spot where I had left my beloved, my beloved had gone bye bye.  Part of the problem was the fact that just as I got back, dozens of young men also descended on the station. It was either a riot or an Italian soccer team, which I realize is redundant. I couldn’t see her, looked desperately around and then assumed she had returned to the train.

          Merry refers to this reasoning as, “wacko idiotic!” I nonetheless dashed to the train where I ran alongside every car shouting her name. She didn’t answer because she wasn’t on the train. She was waiting for me back at the depot. Gulp. Now, picture her plight. She waits for her husband to come back for five minutes, then an hour goes by and now she’s thinking, “My husband’s been mugged and murdered.” Then she thinks, “Could he have boarded that train without me? He wouldn’t be that stupid, would he?” Oh yes, he would.

          He would be on that train headed for Venice, freaked out himself. On the upside, she had her ticket. On the downside, Venice was three hours from Bologna. How were we ever going to find each other again? Why haven’t cell phones been invented yet?   

           After a couple of hours, as we pulled into a stop, I suddenly heard an announcement over the P.A. in the station. “Telephono per signore Ardito!” Wait a minute, that was me and I suddenly knew she was trying to reach me. But I didn’t dare get off the train because I had no knowing if I could get from that town to Venice.

            I stayed on the train hearing my name at every station along the way. The second we reached Venice, I jumped off and ran to the police department in the terminal.  As I walked in, I saw a bald Italian policeman talking on the phone who looked up at me with instant recognition. “Signore Ardito?!” he said as he smashed the palm of his hand against his head and uttered one word: “Stunod!”

            He handed me the phone. “Hello?” I said. And this tearful voice replied…”

            “Jimmy?! Thank God, I found you. I thought you were dead. I’m going to kill you! Are you okay?” Then we were both talking at once—relieved, excited, crazed, totally in love. So the plan was she was getting on the next train to Venice, which would arrive at 11:00 P.M and actually got there at 1:00 in the morning—and there she was, my lovely bride, schlepping four pieces of luggage. I ran as fast as I could to greet her and we hugged each wildly. We walked into the embrace of Venice on a summer night thrilled to be able to share it together. What God had joined together let no idiotic husband put asunder. Not then, not now, not ever!

                     Today’s Fabulous Thoughtful Italian Recipe 

              Orecchietti Con Broccoli Rabe e Salsiccia  

             (Orecchietti with broccoli rabe and Italian Sausage)

           

Orrechietti are “little ears” and since ears have canals, I thought of Venice. A lot of con artists hang out in Venice who will rabe you, though they’re likely to do that with a gun rather than fleurettes of broccoli. You can get lost in this dish and just like Venezia, it is sure to pleazia. Salute´!

 

Stuff It Takes:

1 mess of broccoli rabe, a.k.a., brocollini (I just use the fleurettes, or substitute arugula)

1 lb Orecchietti (little ears) hello?

4 Tbsp spoons olive oil

1 medium red onion diced

½ cup white wine

1 can chicken broth

1 can cannellini beans

6 cloves garlic dinced (somewhere between diced and minced)

1 ½ lbs mild or hot Italian sausage, casings shed, sausage fried in EVOO

½ cup parsley

2 Tbsp dried oregano

2 Tbsp dried basil

1 Tbsp dried thyme

Parsley for garnish

½ cup Parmigiana Reggiano

½ cup mascarpone cheese

Salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, garlic powder to taste

How To Get It Shakin’

Uno. First, steam the broccoli rabe in a separate pot until it’s firm, but not mushy. Salt and pepper it when done.

Due: Fry onions and garlic in the olive oil, add broccoli rabe, then remove.

Tre:  Add more oil and saute’ sausage. Add salt, pepper, red pepper, oregano, basil and thyme to season sausage. Cook until done.

Quatro: Add wine and chicken broth

Cinque: Put onions, garlic and broccoli rabe back in, let simmer while you put half of the can of cannellini beans in a blender and puree them, then add the puree and the rest of the beans to mixture

Sei: Adjust tightness (you want this dish fairly loose, so add chicken broth if needed)

Sette: Cook the pasta and pour in the pan

Otto: Add mascarpone cheese, top with parmesan and parsley

Nove: Youza done and in heaven.

My Funny/Yummy “Food 4 Thought” Column Story 1

October 16, 2010

                        “Ain’t Ever Seen It Like This”

                 It’s downright weird when you consider the incredibly bad weather that has shown up in my life whenever I leave town and especially on fishing trips.  
                I used to blame my fishing buddies, Stu Schwartz and Rick Roberts for this, which is absurd. Stu and Rick are not to blame. Howard Mullen is. This is because, as the organizer of these fishing excursions (bless him), Howard always picks the first week of June for our trips.  Why? Because that’s the week the bass are supposed to be spawning and will strike out at anything (see what parenthood does)? We’ve never actually caught them spawning and wouldn’t know if we did since we can’t see more than two feet from the boat because it’s raining, snowing, or a typhoon is slapping us silly.
          Locals are amazed that’s it’s snowing in July in Canada, flooding in New Mexico, or hailing in Arkansas in April. But that’s not the worst of it. Some fishing guide we’ve hired (who doesn’t dare go out in the Perfect Storm) or the guy at the bait shop  will invariably  voice his opinion about the bizarre weather by uttering the six words I hate most in fishing, “Ain’t ever seen it like this.”

                Sometimes they offer variations on this theme such as, “Ain’t seen it like this in 40 years,” or “Ain’t even seen it this bad.” Semantics may vary, but the meaning’s the same: the bass will take a pass, the pike will take a hike and the final analysis will be that the fishing smelt. To make matters worse, guides show us photos of the usual catch at that time of year. I look at these pictures and say, “Wait a minute, are those whales?” No, of course, they’re not. They’re simply bass the size of whales!  
          And that’s just sucky weather having to do with fishing trips. Bad weather has also struck on vacations, family visits, and business trips.  In Boston once, the fog rolled in so bad, we didn’t know if we were visiting my sister’s family or my brother’s. It turned out we were visiting my brother’s next door neighbor.

                We rented a cottage in Cape Hatteras with our friends Jane and Joel. It rained 9 of the 14 days we were there.  Two times that we visited Jamaica, Merry Juell and I hit hurricanes. One was a near miss, the other a direct hit, which wrecked our favorite Island and the trip.

          I know that into each life a little rain must fall, but must it always be on my trips?  I’ve always whined about this, until my wife offered another idea. “Perhaps,” she noted, “You take the tempest with you packed into your suitcase along with your underwear.” “If this is the case,” I argued, “how would I get through security? I can see the TSA agent now. ‘ Sorry, buddy, you’re only allowed three ounces of fluid, this flood in your suitcase has got to go.’”

          Her theory makes sense, however. Wherever you’re headed, it’s hard to leave a stormy soul behind and that defines me to a tee. It wasn’t always the case. In my younger and slicker years, stormy times used to roll off me a lot easier. Now, raindrops leave dents.

          But I don’t have to accept this, right? After all, isn’t it just matter of attitude? I could just accept my tempestuous nature as a welcome part of who I am and the storms as a constant test of how well I can do through the lightning cracks, thunderclaps and twisters of everyday life. Yeah, I could do that and the next time I’m on a fishing trip with my buddies and it’s snowing in July, I could raise both hands up high in defiance of the weather gods and shout, “Go ahead, Gods, lay it on me! It doesn’t matter anymore because, thanks to my wife, I’ve got a new attitude and I ain’t ever seen life like this!” Yeah, I could do that, if I weren’t so worried about dropping my rod and not catching fish!

                     Today’s  Thoughtful Fabulous Italian Recipe

Linguini con Vongole  (Linguini With Some Damn Good Clams)

With a new positive attitude, I’m coming out of my shell to announce this is my favorite fish dish in the world and this recipe is good, only exceeded by the linguini with clams I order at LaScarola Restaurant in Chicago. I’ve studied their dish when it arrives, which may look weird to my waiter. They may add lightly sautéed shallots. The jury is out. The taste is incredible. People may look at what you’ve prepared and say, “I ain’t ever seen it like this,” but these are probably people who never go out.   

What It Takes

2 Tbsp EVOO

5 cloves unclothed garlic (minced)

Salt, black pepper, red pepper flakes to taste, not too much salt

Cup chopped parsley

1 cup white wine

1 dozen whole clams (optional, but recommended)

2 cans whole baby clams

Plus 1 can chopped (not minced) clams (Walgreen’s has ‘em and so do stores)

How You Make

If you’re using fresh clams, steam them in 1 cup of seasoned water (pepper, no salt) until they open. Let them cool. Chop half up and reserve six for presentation. Save the clam juice. Meanwhile, fry the garlic in the oil in a quart-size pan. Wham bam, add all the clams and all the juice, including reserved stuff. Add touch of salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, wine and parsley.  If you like parsley don’t add it partially, add a lot! Cook ‘til bubbling then pour over al dente linguini. That’s it.  This dish could not be easier, simpler, or cheaper. That’s why it amazes me when restaurants charge $15.00 or more. That’s nuts. It’s so delicious it should be served free!