Friday, April 7, 2017

A 'Little Chicago' Story

by Rose A. Valenta

When I was growing up, I used to spend most of my summers visiting my Grandmother in Olean, NY. If you have never heard of Olean, it is a great little community just over the New York State line from Bradford, PA. It was also a major bootlegging stop during Prohibition. In the 1920s, the press nicknamed the town "Little Chicago" because of its connection with organized crime, bootleggers and Al Capone; who often visited there.

My Grandparents were born and raised near Olean, before 1900. They married in Olean and raised seven children there. Unfortunately, Grandma was widowed young and had to obtain a position as a baker at The Olean House, an upscale hotel, to support her children; where she managed to get promoted to head baker. She was well-known in the community for her expertise at baking the best cakes and pies. Whether she ever baked an Italian Rum Cake for Capone, she never said. However, she always brought baked goods to family gatherings, her NSDAR ladies (Olean Chapter 1117), and often donated recipes to church cookbooks that were being produced for charity.

One could describe her as the Walter Staib of Olean - traditional recipes using original methods of baking.

I was her youngest granddaughter and she took me under her wing in the kitchen. It was a lost cause, however, because even a simple thing like cupcakes turned out like hockey pucks when I tried to make them. I remember once, she actually stood over my shoulder while she dictated a cake recipe. It was one of her famous orange Bundt cakes with orange glaze. Sure enough, it came out of the oven like a paper weight. It had risen less than an inch. I wrote an essay about it in my book, Sitting on Cold Porcelain, called “Thanksgiving Plans – Remember the Titanic.”

I got married in Philadelphia, Grandma retired from the Olean House, and we visited regularly. She was still sharp as a tack at 90 years old. She managed to take several solo trips to Florida to visit her younger sister before she passed.

Somehow, during that time, a light bulb went on in my head and I learned how to cook. I never did get the hang of baking a good cake, however, but there was Duncan Hines and the box cake only turned out lop-sided once. That’s when she put me wise to turning the tins upside down and icing the flat sides together.

I remember Grandma being very active at her Church. She was a member of the United Brethren Church and the Eastern Star. I think about her often during the holidays. So, it must have been ESP when I logged on to eBay just after Thanksgiving last year, and did a search for my grandmother’s name and “Olean,” because I found a church cookbook up for auction that she had contributed to almost 40 years ago. In it was a brown bread recipe with brown sugar, raisins, and nuts. I was thrilled. I’ll make my girls one of Grandma’s recipes for Christmas, I thought. Then, I groaned, remembering how it could turn out.

Surprisingly, not bad!

My daughters are grown now and have children of their own. Two of them only have a vague recollection of visiting their Great Grandmother in Olean, but they know all about her from my stories. This past Christmas, they had a special gift from Great-Grandma that I would like to share with you. You can make it anytime for sandwiches as a delicious substitute for whole wheat. It is not sweet:

Millie Chappell’s Brown Bread

1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
3 cups buttermilk
2 cups flour
3 cups graham flour (order online, I can’t find it anywhere else)
4 tbsp. shortening (melted)
4 tbsp. molasses
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
Add raisins, nuts, or dates as desired. I used raisins and pecans.

Mix all of the dry ingredients together, except the brown sugar. In a separate bowl, mix all of the liquid ingredients and the sugar. Combine them both making a batter. Grease two bread tins and fill them slightly more than half full with the batter. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for one hour. It makes two loaves… and all that jazz.

Yay! I’m Roxie Hart in the kitchen!

© 2010-17, Valenta, All rights reserved.

To read my column Skinny Dipping click here

To buy my book “Sitting on Cold Porcelain” click here

Video Source: YouTube - Copyright: Miramax

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Who Moved My Mascarpone?


by Rose A. Valenta



Yesterday, I took old Mrs. Russo shopping at the Italian Market in South Philadelphia. She was buying seafood. I had my goal list all ready:

• Olive oil, prosciutto, capicola and imported pasta from Claudio’s
• Olive salad and cheese from DiBruno’s
• Lamb, pork roasts and ground beef from Esposito’s
• Locatelli and fresh produce from Giordano’s
• Spices and coffee from the Spice Corner
• Some pastry from Isgro’s

I was looking forward to a refreshing walk while enjoying the sights and smells of the South Philly marketplace and do some Christmas shopping.

I was asked to pick Teresa up at her sister’s house.

Teresa Russo has been a friend of our family for years. She went to school with one of my aunts. She was born and raised in South Philadelphia. Her temperament is a bit surly, but expected, as she grew up in a tough neighborhood. She doesn’t get around much by herself anymore, so taking her shopping was my idea and good deed for the day.

I decided to take her to Pat’s Steaks for lunch.

When I picked her up, I noticed that the jacket she was wearing was wrinkled and out of shape.

“What’s up with the jacket?” I asked, as she got into the car.

“Flak jacket underneath.” She answered. “I got it from Louie ‘The Nose.”

“Come on, Teresa, you’re 80 years old. Who’s going to mess with you?”

“Hey, they let that Gambino guy off. You know, John ‘junior’ Gatti. Now, they call him ‘Teflon John.’ He don’t have friends in South Philadelphia. Two guys came down from New York last week and started something near the Sports Complex. I smell trouble like we got the malocchio or something. Maybe we shouldn’t go today.”

“Teresa, people don’t believe in the ‘evil eye’ anymore. You shouldn’t be so superstitious. Of course, we should go shopping. Those guys all hang out in a different neighborhood.”

“Yeah? What are we gonna do if they decide they want to eat something at Mama Mia’s and start a fight?”

“Teresa, they don’t mess with old ladies. Besides, we're going to eat at Pat's.”

“Speak for yourself, I’m not old.” She said.

When we got to the Italian Market and parked the car at the three dollar lot on Washington Avenue, we were approached by some guy, who looked like Alec Baldwin, saying he was from the Trump campaign and was taking a poll. Teresa broke his pencil and told him to get lost.

“OK,” I said. “I take back what I said. They don’t mess with NICE old ladies.”

“Statazete! (Shutup)” she snapped. “We should have stayed home. That guy was a pickpocket. Check your wallet.”

“I have it” I said. “Nothing is missing. Will you just relax and enjoy yourself? Put on your happy face, that should confuse everybody.”

Everything went smoothly until Teresa spotted a black limousine driving up 9th Street. She dove under a vendor table and about 50 live blue crabs and two dozen oranges went scurrying and rolling in all directions. Crustaceans were everywhere. I saw one of them booking down Montrose Street. You could hear the screams for blocks.

“What, are you on somebody’s hit list, or just crazy - are you alright?”

“Yes, I’m sorry.” She said.

“Yes, what? Yes, you’re crazy or yes, you’re OK?”

“Alright already - both!”

The guy, who rented the vendor table, was furious, cussing in Italian, and running around with tongs trying to gather up the runaway crustaceans before they pinched someone.

“Che cazzo...?” he shouted, “C'รจ un casino della Madonna qui.” (Meaning “What the hell…?” and his vocabulary went down-hill after that.)

After we paid him for the crabs that were still missing in action, I swore to myself that I would never do another good deed like this again. What started out as a fun shopping trip had turned into a total nightmare.

We never got to Isgro’s.

On the way home, Teresa apologized for her behavior all day. She told me she is into Ronny ‘The Rat’ for $100 to pay for the exterminator.

Apparently, while she was Spring cleaning two weeks ago, she found mice running around in her basement. Ronny had threatened her. She was supposed to pay him $125 by yesterday, or he would import a hundred mice and set them loose in her house. So, for the rest of the week, until she pays him on Friday, Teresa is spending nights with her sister.

“Ronny is a spostata (jerk).” She said.

“Teresa, the next time you need money, call me. I will lend it to you, no mice and no interest, capiche?”

I went home, poured myself a Chianti, and listened to a little Lou Monte.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Did the First Turducken Happen in Mid-Air?

by Rose A. Valenta

Bah! Humbug!" ~ Ebenezer Scrooge

How do you actually plan for a fiasco? I asked myself after planning to put a bicycle lock on the can of whipping cream in the refrigerator. The adults misbehave at Christmas worse than the kids. Uncles Harry and Dick have never quite grown up, thanks to the enablers, who keep inviting them over for dinner. I pondered their next move.

Last year, Christmas got off to a good start. Just before dinner, my son-in-law hit his head on an heirloom sconce in the dining room; it crashed, sending about a thousand tiny glass slivers all over the floor. This was even before beer and wine were served.

Plates and glasses were snatched off the set table and rewashed as a just-in-case maneuver. Luckily, the buffet was safely in the next room. Condiments were moved closer to the Infant of Prague statue and prayed over, while salt was thrown over about a dozen shoulders.

At prayer time, our 6-year-old pagan, Missy, was sucking her thumb and screaming expletives that she had learned from her older brother during an Xbox game. We used duct tape and said an Act of Contrition. We also threatened to blow up the NORAD Santa tracker before he got to our house.

We had ham and turkey, and a wide variety of side dishes. Since our family is diverse, the sides ranged from carrot raisin casserole to Arroz Rojo to pot stickers. Everybody avoided cousin Kim's Kung Pao gizzards and "Elf balls." At least that is what it sounded like she said (I always wondered what we did with The Elf on the Shelf, now I know).

After beer was served, Uncles Harry and Dick got into a heated argument over the White House Christmas tree. Harry swore that it was a Kwanzaa tree with seven branches, while Dick said that was unconstitutional, unless they also added a Menorah and Nativity scene. They also fought over whether or not the very first Turducken happened in mid-air. Every year, they pick something ridiculous to fight about.

By dessert time, Harry had already spritzed whipping cream on Dick’s nose, hoping the family dog, Spuds, would attack him. Spuds maintained his cool, drooled over the cheerleaders on the TV, then looked at Dick’s nostrils and groaned. In his youth, Dick used to look like Jimmy Durante; now that he is older, and certain body parts are succumbing to gravity, he closely resembles a Proboscis monkey.



I already had Harry’s sleeping bag out in the barn with the kerosene heater. I was leaving nothing to chance.

The men went into the family room to watch football, teenagers were champing at the bit to go to the mall the next day, little ones sat playing Penguins and Facebook games on several hi-tech iPods and notebook PCs, our Grandson was on his 25th rendition of "I Want a Hippopotamus For Christmas" on the Nintendo guitar, the cat was chasing its eye-floaters, and the rest of us sat around the dining room table gossiping. We finally agreed that the first Turducken actually did happen in mid-air over Uncle Harry's house and dropped down the chimney while he was watching his signature film "Scrooge" for the 100th time.

My eyes were as glazed over as our left-over ham by 11:00 pm, so I excused myself and went upstairs; leaving my husband to entertain our overnight guests. About five minutes later, he snuck upstairs and accused me of abandoning ship.

“Football doesn’t turn me on,” I said. “Besides, look at the bright side, your mundane life would suck without overnight house guests trying to come up with a perfect bracket for the upcoming March Madness.”

I am so not looking forward to another family fiasco!



© 2010-2016, Valenta, All rights reserved.

To read my column Skinny Dipping click here

Saturday, November 26, 2016

When Santa Had to See a Man About a Reindeer

by Rose A. Valenta

For as long as I can remember, Black Friday and Cyber Monday never meant Jack Schitt in my house. Those are the days everyone in my family stay away from the shopping Malls, clogged traffic arteries, and shopping cart demolition derbies. The only exception being our teenagers, who like to hang out at the food courts, eating pizza, and watching all the viral shoppers knock each other over like Yulefest Weebles to save a yuletide dollar.

Occasionally, the kids report back to the house with their iPods that someone took a header out in the parking lot; some sweet little old lady whacked a kid with a candy cane because she thought he was memorizing her PIN number, so he could treat himself to another beef jerky; someone was seen jumping around Starbucks like the police sergeant at 13th and Chestnut Sts. in Philadelphia, who was denied the restroom facilities for not buying a red cup of coffee first; or someone just got pepper-sprayed in the long sale line by a frustrated shopper.

Additionally, nobody ever said that after hundreds of servings of milk and cookies, Kris Kringle wouldn’t have to tinkle. However, according to this Reuters photographer at a shopping mall in Hamburg, Germany, who wanted to preserve the moment for posterity, Santa had to see a man about a reindeer and he didn't appreciate the Tabloid paparazzi!




Santa was pissed!

No one knows if the photographer was shooting for a new line of American Greetings, a Coca-Cola commercial, or was developing a new and improved 'Twas the Beer Before Christmas clip for YouTube, but he made Santa’s naughty list and will not be getting that expensive Canon Super Telephoto Lens that he wants for Christmas.

Santa angrily adjusted his zipper and pointed out that his sleigh broke down during a pre-Black Friday holiday dry run and a Coca-Cola 18 wheeler rescued him and the reindeer over Hamburg, They drank a lot of Coke, and if the photographer was doing his homework he would have spotted Rudolph and Comet doing the same thing over by the old Elm tree just outside the Mall.

"That's not going to win you the Deeper Perspective Photographer of The Year Award, son," Santa said. Then, laying his finger aside of his nose, he added, “You don’t want to mess with Santa!”



© 2010-16, Valenta, All rights reserved.
To read my column Skinny Dipping click here




Saturday, November 19, 2016

Thanksgiving Plans - Remember the Titanic!

by Rose A. Valenta

Seize the moment, remember all those women on the ‘Titanic,’ who waved off the dessert cart.” ~ Erma Bombeck.

Thanksgiving is fast approaching and everyone is frantically making plans. Although, it has been my experience that the best made plans often end up like the Titanic, seat a few icebergs at the dinner table and you're sunk.

Those who are hosting are worried about seating arrangements and folks, who get along; as opposed to those you need to take sharp instruments away from when they sit next to each other like my Uncles Harry and Dick.

Others are planning to bring side dishes, which reminds me of the famous Forrest Gump quote “Life is like a box of chocolates...”

“Hey Rose, are you keeping an eye on the weather forecast?” my husband asked. “You can’t make Harry sleep out in the barn in a sleeping bag unless you let him have the kerosene heater. Then, if you do that, you have to get one of the kids to go out there and clear out the debris. I think paintballs, hay, and boardwalk souvenirs are flammable.”

“Why don’t you do that,” I answered. “They will listen to you. If I ask them, they will pile it all in one of the spots that leak when it rains. Empty bucket and pot locations are not clues to them. Besides, I’m busy trying to figure out my Grandma Chappell’s pumpkin pie recipe. She left out an ingredient on the list, gave it to me, and then she died.”

“Okay, men, hit the deck and put on some old clothes, we are going out to the barn for some exercise.” He said to our 14 and 11-year-old grandsons, who were spending the week with us while their parents are in Atlantic City trying to hit the tuition to send them to Harvard.

My husband has been a gung-ho Marine his whole life and has a few choice expressions that he learned in boot camp. He yells some of them to keep the kids in line. He cussed and they all went out to the barn.

I found myself alone in the kitchen looking at an 8x10 photo of Grandma Chappell over the spice rack, in a white apron, holding a large blue 1st prize cake ribbon, appearing to laugh at my predicament.

I remembered those summers that I spent with her in Olean, NY, when I was very young and she was the head baker at the Olean House. Her high-rise cakes were known and enjoyed in practically every county in the State of New York and Pennsylvania. People traveled for miles to get her desserts. I haven’t seen anything like that again since they closed Olga’s diner on Route 73 in NJ. At Olga’s, it was the lemon meringue pies that caused the pilgrimage; at the Olean House, it was her orange bundt cakes with orange glaze icing.

The first time I ever experienced an excruciating blow to my ego, was when she stood me on a chair in her kitchen, with an electric mixer, flour, eggs, vanilla extract, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and some other ingredients and watched me like a hawk while she dictated the recipe and method of creating one of her famous orange cakes. She had the scientific process down to the number of times each ingredient was even touched by human hands, let alone the number of turns in the mixer.

After all that, when the cake came out of the oven, it would have made a great paper weight advertisement for Steve’s Oversized Crullers over on Route 17.

She never forgave me for that one. She was on the telephone all morning bragging to her friends about how I was making the orange cake, under her supervision, for their afternoon tea.

Me and my bruised ego helped her serve store-bought cookies.

I think that’s why she left out an ingredient in the pumpkin pie recipe, just to get even.

So, now with Thanksgiving bearing down on me like a Hurricane, I Googled all the pumpkin pie recipes and compared them to the one she gave me.

I still couldn’t figure it out, so I seized the moment, dialed our local bakery and ordered two pumpkin pies and a mincemeat. I can hide the empty bakery boxes alongside Uncle Harry out in the barn, before guests arrive.

I’m sure everyone will be smiling, except for the turkey!

© 2010-2016, Valenta, All rights reserved.

To read my column Skinny Dipping click here

To buy my book “Sitting on Cold Porcelain” click here

Friday, November 18, 2016

When the Economy Goes in the Crapper



Protesters are asking "What if our President-elect screws up the economy?"

There is always hope. You can start your own franchise.

The Modern Toilet, is a popular restaurant chain in Taiwan that is expanding into all parts of Asia. It features disgustingly named foods, served on mini toilet bowls. Drinks are served in tiny urinals. Patrons are seated on the throne at their glass tables.

Among the most popular food items are Mongolian hot pot, curries, pasta, and fried chicken, as well as desserts called "diarrhea with dried droppings" (chocolate), “bloody poop” (strawberry sundae), and "green dysentery" (kiwi).

There is nothing more disgusting than seeing curry dripping down the side of a commode.




In stead of belching after a meal, patrons simply compliment the chef by saying "it tastes like good shit.”

The important point is when everything the commander in chief touches turns to shit, give him a chance, it can be a good thing.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

How to Create a Turducken

by Rose A. Valenta

   Since hunting season is fast approaching and the holidays are not far off, old timers and senior sports enthusiasts have been writing to me asking about the newfangled holiday bird dubbed “Turducken.”  One gentleman wanted to know if it involved a mid-air collision and what weapon was required to hunt the thing down. Five written letters and some emails later, I realized that not many people are familiar with the beast at all; so, I decided to document a process far less complicated than tracking down Sasquatch. 


   My beta test went well; I suffered only minor burns and splinters. During the next two attempts, there were no injuries and the turducken was delicious.
   I sent each person, who wrote to me, the following information and share it with you here:
   The word “turducken” itself is a recent addition to the American vocabulary and culture. It can mean one of two things:
1. A popular, but ghastly holiday feast where a duck is stuffed into a turkey and a chicken is stuffed into the duck; or
2. As a simile, a plan that is rather futile or unnecessary.
   I have experienced both scenarios and will address them simultaneously.
  
Required Tools and Ingredients:
1 slightly greased, fully equipped QF 25-pounder Howitzer cannon.
1 roll of duct tape.
1 steel tripod, set up at 100 yards in front of the Howitzer.
1 cleaned and plucked 25 lb. turkey, firmly mounted on the tripod in “tee-off” position (i.e., backside facing the Howitzer with knees slightly bent).
1 9 lb. lame duck seized and bound into the shape of a cannon ball - tail up.
2 live 3 lb. chickens (you really only need one, the backup is necessary in case the first little bugger misses its target).
1 blowtorch, used to sear any unlikely remaining feathers.
1 half cup of homemade gunpowder (15% Charcoal, 10% Sulphur and 75% Potassium Nitrate combined in that order, and milled for 24 hours).
1 first-aid kit.
1 greased 48” x 72” wooden ramp.
1 bottle of Cognac (to drink while following the process).

Process
   You will need the assistance of an unemployed Sumo Wrestler to load and unload the cannon.  Pay him minimum wage – no benefits. This is very expensive if you happen to live in the District of Columbia, where minimum wage is at an all-time high of $11.50, as opposed to the other U.S. States that are still allowing slave labor at $7.92. Whatever you do, don't seek him in the $15 picket lines.

   Using the wooden ramp, pile all of the tools and ingredients into a rented U-Haul truck, drive about 100 miles away from civilization, and park. 

   Throwback a shot of Cognac.

   After about three hours of tugging and pushing, the cannon will eventually slide down the wooden ramp and be removed from the truck. Set the cannon up at a 25-degree angle.

     Throwback a shot of Cognac.

   Get the tripod and turkey, walk 100 paces in front of the Howitzer, and secure the tripod to the nearest tree. Next, mount the turkey to the tripod in “tee-off” position. Secure the turkey with duct tape. Walk back and sight the Howitzer, aiming directly at the part of the turkey that goes over the fence last, or as it is known in some circles “the Pope’s nose.”

   Put three tablespoons of gunpowder into the cannon and insert the duck - tail first.

   Fire when ready.

   Throwback a shot of Cognac.

   Assuming that the duck is on target, reload by putting two tablespoons of gunpowder into the cannon and toss in one of the panic-stricken chickens.

   Fire when ready.

  Throwback a shot of Cognac.

   If the first little bugger has missed, put two more tablespoons of gunpowder into the cannon and toss in the other chicken, if it hasn’t already scared itself to death.

   Fire when ready.

   Throwback a shot of Cognac.

   At this point, if there are any ruffled feathers sticking out of the turducken, you may sear them with the blow torch. However, the entire process usually eliminates bones and feathers.

   Gather up all the remaining tools and ingredients; put them back into the truck and drive back home.

   If there are any gaps or holes in the bird, you may fill them with the Swedish Chef’s recipe for smashed potato and onion stuffing.

   Roast the anomaly for eight hours in a 350-degree oven.

   Finish the remaining Cognac in front of a nice warm fire.

   The good news about this exercise in futility is that if it was not quite successful and there is a bloody mess on your hands, you are now drunk and do not care; plus, you still end up with a turducken of sorts (see definition 2 above).