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Archive for December, 2011

A Musicial Interlude – Just in Time for Christmas

Call it peer pressure, but everybody knows that I can’t resist being tagged to write a themed post, especially if it’s something sentimental or in any way has to do with the holidays.  That’s why I’m presenting this commercial break of sorts from The Twelve Days of Edible Foodie Weirdness to share with you  my Ultimate Christmas Song.

I’ve been officially tagged by friend and fellow blogger, Magz Parmenter of Tangerine Turtle.  Please do check out her blog as well, where she writes all about her wonderful life in the UK with three crazy daughters, a very charming husband and the great things they do together (like cook, organize and try not to get the flu every three months).

I knew right away what my song was before I knew I was even tagged.  It’s one of those songs that connect so deeply with every memory of Christmas that there need not be one set moment where one thinks back and says, “Oh yes, that was the year or the age or the season.”  It is Christmas, through and through and probably always will be.  It’s my whole childhood with every single song and dish and snack and piece of candy and little wrapped present all in one.

And it’s not just because my dog happened to be named Snoopy.

Guessed yet?

I honestly can’t listen to this these days without crying like a….hound?  Baby?  Overgrown child of the 1980’s?  All of the above.  And why?

I think there is just something about being the most of who you are, of all you ever could be and knowing that in the end, it’s totally and completely okay.  Of all the Cellina Taormino’s I think I’m the Cellina Taorminoest.

So get your popcorn, your cranberries, beads and string, sit in front of the TV or listen to the many versions of this very classic song on the radio and cry your little self back.

Buona Natale,

Cellina – The Hopeful Foodie

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So it’s the latest installment of The Hopeful Foodie’s Twelve Day Countdown to Holiday Food Weirdness and I. Am. Tired.  I’ve spent the last couple of days being kitchen slave to every holiday party dubbed “pot luck” and am thus spending Sunday (Monday and Tuesday) away from the stove and in the comfort of my convection-free keyboard.

I’ve also spent all week bombarding the in-boxes of everyone I know and practically begging the 474 people I’ve friended on Facebook for weird food  feedback (post about a Snuggie and you get 45 comments.  Ask about Aunt Angelina’s penchant  for ball joints in cream sauce  and prepare for the sweet sound of silence).  I did however, receive more than a few good gems along the way that make my compulsive urges to write themed holiday posts worth the effort.

The hilarious thing about asking for ideas is that you get the whole family breakdown in the process.  You get the various histories  surrounding  every crazy dish on the table, plus a hint at the personalities of each colorful family member .  At some point, you start to see a pattern and boom! –  that’s where the story comes in, weaving itself around the table like a rich tapestry of ancestral weirdness.  It’s what makes these holidays so genuine and priceless.

One of the threads in this tapestry I heard about this week even further solidifies for me that it doesn’t matter how far north you go – all Italians are weird.  I’m referring to the study in extremes of my boot-like ancestors.  It’s like those people that start to look and act like their pets, except these people traded their Old Country donkeys for Bagna Cauda long ago.

Bagna Cauda – in other words, Piedmont’s version of a garlic jacuzzi for your mouth……during the Winter.

soak here often?

As many of the most treasured dishes we humans have created, this one was made out of the pure necessity of working people.  Wine harvesters, to be exact.  See, back in the day, wine making was some serious hard work.  It took manual blood, sweat and toil.  And what’s the best supplement after a hard day of grape stomping?  Heart healthy garlic, of course.

Anne of Highlandtown offers her father’s warning: do not eat this on any weekday but a Friday.  You are sure to be fired from your job if you come in the next morning reeking of the vineyards of the lower Alps.

So what makes this holiday dish weird enough to earn a spot on the Twelve Day Countdown?  For one, it’s the poster-child of extreme celebratory cooking.  Upon researching this dip of sorts made of oil, small fish and yes, garlic,  I discovered how strict the actual process of picking ingredients and rationing out portions is.  First, let’s talk anchovies, which apparently “should be good-looking, matured at least a year, fresh and fragrant.”  Mmm, the wafting fragrance of fish.  I’m also told that you must buy them dried and salted, and then rinse and bone them yourself.  There was also something about bathing them in water and wine, which gives me strange visions of Marie Antoinette in a tub of anchovies that I’d rather not dwell on.

Next, there’s the oil.  Some swear by olive, others walnut.  Even more skip the oil completely and go with butter.  The most popular choice seems to be an even portion of  the best extra virgin olive oil combined with high quality melted butter in a portion that’s “no less than half a glass (of wine) per person.”  Speaking of persons, serving this for less than a crowd of 15 seems to be a sacrilege, as well.  Onto commandment number three……..

The garlic.  Ah yes, the garlic. The extremists call for a head per person (which is about 10-15 cloves).  Those who actually want to be kissed and slept next to that night lower the number considerably  but never completely cut the pungent bulb out (again, sacrilege).

Lastly, no Yuletide bloodsucker-repelling dip would be complete without the equally dipworthy vegetables. The rule is to not use any veggie that wouldn’t normally grow in Piedmont and to pick  ones that won’t compete with the headiness of the dip.  Stalks like celery, fennel and radishes are popular as well as endive, artichokes, sweet marinated peppers, turnips, kale, cabbage, escarole, cooked and sliced potatoes and even tall spring onions soaked in wine (if you’re gonna slave away in the vineyard, you might as well take some home to stick your onions in).

The tradition is when the last of the  Bagna Cauda is skimming the bottom of its earthen vessel a raw egg is scrambled into the mix over a hot open fire. Now, that’s a frittata (or as my mom used to retort, “no, Italian eggs”)!

If you aren’t exhausted by now you are way too Type A for this blog.

For those of you who qualify as “still an Italian nutcase but just stone cold lazy,” let me introduce you to the other side of our Nazi-worthy portioned holiday.  It’s something that Anne from Highlandtown’s (yes, her again) family calls “Torte.”

just add slime

It’s slimy.  It’s scary.  It’s swimming in booze.  No, not Uncle Guido after too much anisette, but Torte.  In Anne’s  family’s terrible broken English it’s more like “Turtle” though bears no resemblance to the docile creature.  After years of wondering just how far back in family history  this traditional layer cake went it was finally discovered that next to the extensively labored-over Bagna Cauda, Torte was nothing more than vanilla wafers soaked in applesauce and drenched in either almond or anise flavoring.  It’s like the Type B of family recipes.  The green Jello pistachio salad of the north, if you will.

Whether you’re sucking down the slime or slurping up the fishies in garlic sauce this season, remember what the vast and culturally diverse citizens of that wonderful country Italy have to teach: when all else fails, grab the anisette, and teach Uncle Guido how it’s done.

Salud!

Cellina – The Hopeful Foodie

Since he came up during my image search for Bagna Cauda, I assume that this holiday post is "Pope Approved."

Special thanks to Anne Fresia for the hilarious glimpse inside her very Italian family, as well as LifeInItaly.com and The Food Timeline for the awesome information on Bagna Cauda.

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Last December The Hopeful Foodie rang in the holiday cheer with The Twelve Days to Christmas Countdown, where the strangest food-related holiday gifts were scoured over the internet and presented to you in semi-psycho blog format.  This year, I want to be a little more multi-cultural about things by bringing forth the strangeness of the products we actually eat for the holidays.  You know what I’m talking about – those dishes that both delight and perplex you, ones passed down through the years, or new ones that stayed in a certain decade never to be seen again (like, for example, the great Let’s Make Everything Out of Tofu phase of the 1990s).

Being that I’m merely one person with only so many strange and unusual family traditions (most of which fall into the “let’s pass out drunk into the Christmas tree” category, thank you, Mother) I opened this one up to just about every person in my email inbox to share.  Let’s face it: we all come from different backgrounds, cultures and distinctions – each one having so many rich, beautiful and strange customs to offer.  They might as well be highlighted during the most emotionally-heightened time of the year (besides, mom never passed out in my Easter basket, now did she?  That would be a no.  A big whopping ho, ho, no).

First on the list, to bring us fully into the season of edible weirdness is the ever-dreaded “why-is-it-wiggling?” creation that fits under the umbrella category of Dessert Salads.  Oh yes, friends – the Lime Jello Pistachio Salad.

issues blood-curdling scream *Aaaaahhhhhhh!*

I will never understand why someone back in 1972 (and originally in the 1920s) thought it necessary to merge two perfectly wonderful meal categories into one deplorable black corner of edible hell.  If that wasn’t enough, they decided that both the birth of the Christ and the lighting of the menorah candles were appropriate occasions to present said unnatural dish year after year after year.

In doing some research of this extremely clora-colored dessert I’ve discovered that there are many ways to merge jello with other objects.  Some people use actual lime-flavored gelatin.  Others opt for pistachio flavored pudding, which always looks so sad and alone all by itself on the grocery store shelf.  From there the possibilities range from mini marshmallows to fruit cocktail to crushed pineapple to cottage cheese.  For some reason it always seems like it’s served on a bed of something, whether it be a store-bought pie crust or, like my friend Ken, who contributed this idea hilariously  stated, lettuce: ” Why the heck does a salad need a bed?  It’s just going to get eaten.  Is the bed to make its last minutes more comfortable before I sink my thangs into it (yes, he said “thangs.”  What thang he’s  referring to is between him and the Jello)?” I even ran across a recipe that called for a can of Coke being added to the mix along with maraschino cherries and a handful of nuts (which you must be if you’ve actually considered bringing this to a party).  At this point you must know that the another name for this bizarre creation is the famous Watergate Salad.  It never ceases to amaze how long the green, wiggly thing has  managed to last through the years.  It’s called Watergate Salad and we all know how that turned out!

Let’s lift up our pudding cups and make a toast to the green stuff and the first day of our twelve day extravaganza!  Stay tuned every few days or so for the next post-worthy entry.  If you have a dish to share, please email me at: justcellina@yahoo.com

Watch me wiggle,

Cellina – The Hopeful Foodie

Special thanks to Ken Poindexter and his Jello-savvy grandmother.

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