Thursday, November 26, 2009


Did someone say 'turkey'?

I love Thanksgiving.


When I lived in Boston, every Sunday was a holiday. (Trust me; you'd think so if you walked in on a Sunday Dinner.)
In fact, I would not even consider a marriage proposal from The Big Guy until he passed The Test, which consisted of him joining a Sunday Dinner. I had to see where he fell on the meter, you see.
If he'd walked in on that scene and, let's say, expressed dismay...he would have been out. Toast.
Sayonara, baby.

It's been done before.

You do not diss the food with my family.
(The Big Guy passed with flying colors. He saw The Test for what it was, intuiting that this was no special occasion, just a regular Sunday afternoon; though he had to learn the fine art of 'pacing'. He's a sprinter when it comes to eating, and that doesn't work with our multi-multi-multi-coursed dinner plan.
After that first encounter, he said, "If you can't run with the big dogs, stay on the porch. And I can run with the best of them!" And with that, he was in.)

We do not take lightly those guests who walk in and exclaim. "Oh My God! There's enough food here to feed a third world country! This is ridiculous! Nobody could ever eat all this food!"
True story.
She did not enjoy her evening. And she was not invited back.
You do not diss the food.

The reason there is so much food is, of course, the tradition. There are certain Sunday dinner dishes, and certain Holiday dishes. To leave one out is to risk an imbalance in the universe.
There are 'old' dishes, 'new' dishes, and everything in between.
Take Thanksgiving:
I'm not sure I could even list for you the fantastical dishes that used to make up our Thanksgiving.
But I love a challenge, and this walk down memory lane will be like wrapping up in a snuggly quilt! (Shut up. I smell the food issues, too.)

Thanksgiving was put on by the best Catering Company that ever existed. If you were fortunate enough to be invited to (or ballsy enough to crash) one of our Holidays, consider yourself special, 'cause it doesn't get any better than what you had.

The Catering Company? It was Ma (my Grandmother), Al (my Mother), Auntie Ro, and Aunt Joanne.

There were 15 of us in the 'immediate family', but we were routinely 40 for the Holidays with all the extended family and the strays. I counted. (I also set the tables.)
The booze budget alone was more than I spend now on our whole meal.

There was soup. The Good Chicken Soup, with the little meatballs and tortellini. Oh my. That was my Mother's specialty. Phenomenal.

There was antipasto. Because there always is. Meats and cheeses and hot peppers and mushrooms and olives. And bread, from the bakery.

There was a turkey. A big one. At least 20 pounds, or there wouldn't be enough leftovers.
And stuffing. My Mother was responsible for those two things.
But the gravy was all Ma. All Ma.
Twenty pounds of mashed potatoes. Al still has the bowl. It's bigger than what I used to bathe my kids in when they were babes. ('Course the turkey was bigger than my kids when they were babes...)

There were Aunt Joanne's chicken wings. I die for them, even today. I don't know how many pounds she had to do, but there was pan after pan, and they were marinated and cooked in trays and turned one-by-one and crispy, and savory-with just the right amount of sweet. They were Joe's favorite. Every time I attempt them (and they are NEVER EVER like hers) I think of them both.
drooling now. This is more pain than pleasure.

There was always pasta. Stuffed shells, or manicotti, or lasagne. With gravy. Meat gravy. Sausages, meatballs, spareribs. Oh dear God, the melt-in-your-mouth spareribs.

Eggplant parmigiana. Now, let's be clear, here. I'm not talking a 9x9 pan. I'm not talking a 9x13 pan. No, my dear friends, I'm talking the full-sized steam table pan, full of cheese-drooling fried eggplant, my One True Love, my favorite of favorites, my reason for living. How I love that eggplant.
(I never make it. Ever.)

A ham. A giant baked, spiral-sliced Honey Ham. Holy God, yum.

Stuffed mushrooms. Hundreds of 'em. Tray after tray of 'em. Little perfect globs of heaven.

Stuffed peppers. The stuffing was meat and rice. They melted in your mouth.

Stuffed artichokes. Oh, these were All Ma. So. Freakin'. Good. Only time all year I ever ate an artichoke, and the only time (I think) she made them. They were/are expensive; she hated to pay the price even that one time. She hated for anyone to pay the price. I don't make these for our dinner, because of that reason only- Ma would have a FIT if she knew I paid $1.79 for ONE artichoke. And really, Shaw's in Ellsworth?? 1.79 each???
Ma is no longer with us (but you can bet yer ass she's standing over our shoulders watching us make the gravy and the artichokes), so these jobs have fallen to Al. She's her Mother's daughter; nobody does those artichokes like her.

There were roasted sweet potatoes, and squash. I can't even guess at the quantities they cooked. But there was always plenty the next day, and they were in big pans.

And, hehe, the green bean casserole. This was a big joke. My Mother made the green bean casserole one year. You know the one, with the Campbell's soup and the stupid fried onions from a can. Now here was this feast fit for a king, every last bit of it made from scratch, and that (hehe) green bean casserole in the middle of it!
And you know damn well we kids ate the crap out of it. It was GONE.
The following year, there it was again! I remember Auntie Ro threatening to throw it out- "Are you kidding me? What the hell are you making that for??All this nice antipasto!!
I'LL fix the green beans!"
One year I forced all the kids to clean that bowl, just so my Mother could say "See that! Look! It's all gone- and you wanted to throw it out!"

I can't even talk about the desserts. Can't. Won't.
The cheesecakes, the pastries, the cannoli, the pies. Things I would give a kidney to eat right now, that I can't spell or translate into English.

Ah, the memories.

Things are so different now. Nobody can 'eat like that anymore'. Uncle Carmen was diagnosed with diabetes, and recipes were tweaked to be (a bit) healthier. (And we just recently lost him to the effects of diabetes. Things really won't be the same this year. Trying not to think about that.)
Everybody was getting older, and the cooking, which was a bit Too Much, became TOO MUCH.
The menu got pared down, even as our numbers grew. We 'kids' married, and had kids.
We omitted the soup. The antipasto got smaller. The peppers and the eggplant (gasp) were not a sure thing; their appearance depended on the number of people.

And then I moved to Maine.
You want to talk about culture shock? Ask me about my first Thanksgiving without my family.
I still haven't fully recovered.

Our own 'Thing" has evolved and devolved over the years.
I tried, for a very long time, to Do It All. Can you imagine the futility, me trying to recreate the dishes that four incredible cooks made all by myself?? And for two people??
Lots o' wine, that's all I'm sayin'.

It's still too much. But there are some traditions that must, must, must remain.
I'm now training my own kids (NOT just my daughter) what our special dishes are, why we make them, who used to make them, and what they mean to us.
Everything is still from scratch (even the pie crusts, this year. Sorry, Mr. Pillsbury.).

My daughter broke the bread cubes and mixed the stuffing by herself. My son seasoned the roasted carrots. They helped with the squash, the sweet potatoes, the apple and pumpkin pies. In years to come, I will alternate dishes, so they will learn how to make the chicken wings (though I feel a trip to Aunt Joanne's for dinner will be included, for the RealThing), the stuffed peppers, the artichokes, the eggplant.
I've given up (16 years later! I'm very determined. And stupid.) on trying to have it all. It costs too much; we are only four people; it's a LOT OF WORK.
So I've learned, the trick is to rotate the menu. It's the only way.

Because this is not 'just another meal'. I pity those who consider it so, because they don't get it (or maybe never had it to 'get'); that this is a continuation of a time-steeped tradition, a gathering of family (that maybe doesn't happen every week, like it used to for us) and friends, a celebration of food, of fullness, of richness of friends and family.
The traditions of my loud, raucous Italian family will be passed on to my kids. There will be too much food, and too many people at their own tables in years to come. (We incorporate Polish traditions, too. They are most evident at Easter.)
As it should be.

Today we will gather with friends to eat a huge meal that we will all be thankful for. We will enjoy each other's company. We will eat to excess, drink (not to excess!), laugh, joke, play pokeno, and then a few hours some more.

It's tradition!



Wednesday, November 25, 2009

It's not's me

or, The Breakup.

Dr. Mr. Pillsbury pie crust,
In the 30-some years we've been together, I have been a faithful and constant devotee. I simply adore you; your convenience, your low price, your predictable success...

But I've changed. I have grown up. It's time for me to move on.
It was bound to happen, you know. I make nearly everything we eat from scratch, and it was inevitable that I would one day expand into pie crust; fated that given an attempt or two, I could produce a tender flaky crust all by myself, without begging the neighbors to pick one up at the store for me.

That day has come.

Yeah, Baybee.

I had a little help making half a pie disappear.


I'd like us to remain friends. There will likely be a time or two when I will need a shoulder to lean on, given the overwhelming number of projects I work on at any given moment.
I will feel content knowing you are there for me when the world becomes Too Much To Bear, and a finished pie is just minutes away.

Know that I still love you, but as a friend.


Monday, November 23, 2009

Frenchboro Fun Fair 2009

If you weren't missed all the fun.

The games:

The baked sale: (and Cadin, going nuts at a handful of tickets being thrown into HIS jar. I'll explain in a minute...)

The auctions:

(Dude did NOT get the spelling gene. We're workin' on that. Also, his version of clean and mine are not even close.)

marginally better. Good job, kid!


Please note: my children were NOT under the influence of...anything.
I have no idea why they both have this look. The pictures weren't even taken at the same time.
My creation
maybe it was the paint fumes?

And then there were the contests. The Big Mouth Contests.
There were three groups, segregated by age.
First up, the little kids.
They had to stuff their mouths with grapes for 30 seconds. Then they spit them out, and Mr. F counted them.

(I stood by to do the heimlich if necessary. My kids are only recently allowed to eat grapes-choking hazard- and they are 6 and 8. My 'grape retrieving from trachea with no tools' skills do NOT need to be tested on a rock 8 miles out to sea, thankyouverymuch.)

stuffing contest

Look at the last picture. Can you tell who won?
Ten grapes.

The Big Kid Contest:


And the winner is:
Winna, winna, chicken dinna! (name that movie...)

And then.. the BIG kid Contest:

Kids line up in anticipation.

...and they're off!

Who took home the trophy??


Big Mouth on The Big Guy. Nice tonsils.
23 grapes.

And I embarrassed the heck out of this guy with an innocent comment I made.


look, he's blushing!

And lastly, there was the Pie in the Face Contest. Each kid, and Mr. and Mrs. Finn, had a mason jar set out with their picture taped to it. We were told to place tickets in the jar of the person we most wanted to see take a pie to the face!

The kids spent a lot of their own money on this contest, trying to out-vote each other.
"You put one in my jar??!! Well, take that! I just put TWO in yours!"

Through the evening, we all added tickets to the jars. Finally, Mr/Mrs F counted out the votes.

We had an unexpected winner!

Ahhhhh! He's seriously re-thinking this whole thing....

But he's committed to the project. He 'Mans Up'.
Steeling himself for the pie (really just whipped cream)...

And like Emeril says,


The pie-thrower was picked by lottery system. It could have been anybody who put a ticket in Cadin's jar.
I did NOT put a ticket in Cadin's jar. Not me.
I wouldn't do that to ya, kid!


Takin' one for the team!


What a good sport!

Now, I didn't notice this the night of the event. As I was going through the 400 pictures I took, I saw this sub-plot being played out before me...

Thing One, looking rather...distressed. This was taken around the time the name was being drawn for the pie contest. Last minute regret, maybe?

She's questioning Mrs. Finn about the pie throwing details. Where will it land? How will he breathe? Is this a good idea?
Another kid shows some concern.

Mrs. Finn knows the score. She knows me. (ocd)
She knows my kids. (kids of ocd mom)
She assures her all will be well.
"But Mrs. Finn, what if it gets all over the place?? What about his clothes and his hair??"
It's not easy being the daughter of an obsessive clean freak.

Mrs. Finn has the patience of a Saint.

But check out the last picture:

Cadin's in one piece, lungs intact, just ever so slightly sticky...but look at the other two!

Can I translate the look on Thing One's face for you?


"Oh My God I can't believe my Mother let that happen."

Seriously, her whole world was turned on its head that evening.
Now lest you think my kids are doomed to a lifetime of therapy...remember that The Big Guy is the antithesis of my clean-freak gene. We are the yin and the yang of dirt.
I don't know what that makes our offspring, but they sure are cute!

And I am so happy to announce that the kids not only met, but exceeded their fundraising goal.
They cleared seven hundred dollars that night!

They ordered the bike rack this morning, and when the details of their fundraising efforts were explained, they received a hundred dollar discount!
(My faith in humanity is bolstered a bit. Every little bit counts.)

The money leftover from their fundraising efforts will be put towards hockey equipment and materials to build their own snowshoes this winter.

Way to go, kids!!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Not going to make it...

I have been dying for pumpkin pie for about a month.

I've tried to hold off, to wait for Thanksgiving, for the full enjoyment of the tradition of that day...
but it ain't gonna happen.

All my noble thoughts of sacrificing this craving until next Thursday have flown out the window.
Like Lent, I thought. I can wait- and the reward will be that much sweeter.

I am a failed Catholic.
I will be eating my pumpkin pie tonight. As penance, I will make the pie crust myself.
It will suck, so I will be redeemed.

It has been decreed.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Family Traditions, or else!

I now feel completely free to be me.

Read this post, then go cook your holiday dinner any way you want.
But put it in a regulation size casserole dish.


Our Island School; Frenchboro Students Give Back

We have a great school.

An awesome school.

We have a small one-room schoolhouse, two full- time teachers, and 14 students spread through grades K-8.

But our island population is very small, and our tax base is ...bleak.
Our budget is small. There is no room for extras.
And this may not be a horrible thing.

Here is why:
This community has always been small, always had a meager budget. Historically, the budget covers what Has To Be Covered, and we try to come up with the extras. We have been fortunate in this endeavor, in finding grants to have music instructors visit the island for a week of intense music study, for art teachers to spend an overnight trip once a month to provide art instruction, to the many, many volunteers who understand that not only is the cost of these services prohibitive for us, transportation and lodging are obstacles for half of the school year.

Most of our People Who Provide Extras do so out of the goodness of their hearts. They understand our plight, they've been to our island, they've met our children. They are not well compensated for their services; in fact, they are barely compensated. Their travel expenses alone tally more than their salaries.
We appreciate Our People more than words can say.

And I am proud to say that our school kids Get This. They understand that Our People take time away from their regular jobs, leave their families and travel to Frenchboro for them,
to add this one thing to their lives, to share their special talent, out of the goodness of their hearts.
Our kids get this.

Our kids know that they, in turn, are expected to do the same.
This is a huge point!
Anybody can be appreciative of things they are given, but the other half of the equation is to become a giver yourself.
We can only hope it stays with them. I see far too many adults who do not follow through the Pay It Forward practice.

To that end, our kids have come up with a List Of Things They'd Like To Have.
These are not things that are mandatory for their survival. They are extras. Things that perhaps they or their parents , or the school's budget, or the Town's budget are not in a position to provide. These are things the kids would like to have, but don't expect somebody else to hand to them.
These are Things They'd Like To Give Each Other.

Two of these things are:
1. a bike rack at school (every kid rides a bike to school, weather permitting)
2. hockey equipment (they play all winter, on street and ice, weather-be-damned. Even the girls.)

Today our kids are hosting the First Ever Frenchboro Fun Fair.

There will be arcade type games. There will be a bake sale. There will be auctions.
And this will be run solely by the kids.
They have baked the items for sale. They have thought up and organized the games. They have come up with the auction items. (One of the items, I heard, is a winter's worth of driveway-shoveling! I can't wait to see what else they've come up with!)
All of the proceeds will be put towards the purchase of a bike rack.

The Fun starts at 4pm. I'll let you know how it goes.

But right now, I am on Cloud 9, content in the knowledge that our kids Get It.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Overheard Thing Two getting ready for school this morning, singing:

"Don'cha wish your girlfriend was hot like me....."

(It's nothing he's ever heard in THIS house, I assure you.)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Christmas Spirit

It's a THUNDERDOME of fighting here!

These kids have been at each other for over a week:

Mom, he hit me! Did not! Did too! Did not! argggggh.

Mom, she called me a baby! Did not! Did too! Did not!

Mom, he peed on the seat and cleaned it with the hand towel!

Grossly, he didn't deny that one. I washed ALL the hand towels.

My point:
It is November 12th, and I have used the Santa Threat twice already.


And then this morning, after all this fighting...
"My bike helmet is broken!" Find another one. We have 6 of them.
"I don't like those kinds. Hey, little bro, can I wear yours and you wear one of the other ones, please?"

Picture me in the corner, bracing myself for the whining, thinking ahead to what she can wear for a helmet...

"Sure! I want your head to be safe."

"Thank You!"

Go figure. Manners and everything.