My Grandma's house sold this week. I've had a hard time wrapping my hairdo around how I feel about that. On the one hand, it needed to sell. Grandma's been gone for coming on three years now and with no one living there, it was just sucking money. On the other hand, it's a part of our family history and it's sad to let it go.
Christmas at Grandma's was something to behold. This little woman, and I only mean that literally, because to me she was larger than life, did tremendous things in that basement kitchen. Like most old world Italians, a second kitchen in the basement was a must. Her house was small but she managed to fit about 30 of us at a long table on the other side of the basement, for Christmas dinner (and also for Easter brunch). And once you were in your seat, don't even think about getting up. You were there for the duration of the meal. And what a meal! Is there anything better than Grandma's food? I honestly don't think there is. And Christmas was the crowning glory. She made everything from scratch... sausage, sauce, cavatelli, meatballs, bread. My mouth waters just thinking about it.
She would start at least a month in advance making the cavatelli by hand and then freezing them. She made over 30 pounds, usually by herself. That's a lot of cavatelli. But she would never ever not have enough. It would be a disgrace to not have enough food for your guests. And believe me, she never ever ran out of food. She also made pounds and pounds of her own pork sausage, meatballs, and loaves of bread. Everything was perfect and delicious. Funny thing, she hated ground beef. Absolutely hated it. She always said it went back to the days of the Depression when ground beef was the only meat they could get. Once things got better she never ate ground beef again. But she had to make sure the meatballs were good so she would try a little piece of the raw meat after she seasoned it to make sure it was good and seasoned properly. She also made veal cutlets when times were good, pork cutlets when times were a little harder.
The table is already set and has been for about a month. So come in and take your seat. Just turn your plate over since it's upside down, she didn't want dust in her food and setting the table that far in advance that was a possibility. Pass your bowl down and she will give you a handful of salad. Yes, literally a handful. Don't worry, she's clean. And the salad is as perfect as everything else, dressed simply with olive oil and red wine vinegar, some salt and pepper and dried basil and oregano.
The main event is coming and everyone is buzzing with anticipation. The room is loud with all the conversations going. But we can't wait to sink our teeth into those succulent pillows of flavor. The sauce had been cooking all day and the aroma in the house is intoxicating. I could drink her sauce by the glass, it's so good. And suddenly my uncle gets up and pulls out a chair and turns it around. Then he goes out into the kitchen and returns with a huge restaurant size pan of piping hot cavatelli with just the perfect amount of sauce on it and sets it on the chair. Grandma appears then, apron still on and small sauce pan in hand. And one by one we send our dishes down to her and she scoops that little pan into the cavatelli and pours it on each plate. They are then sent back around the table until everyone has some.
Grandma disappears back into the kitchen with my mom and uncle and they come out with bowls and bowls of sausage, meatballs, neckbones, pigsfeet and those veal or pork cutlets and set them in different parts of the long table. Back to the kitchen to get bowls of extra sauce in case anyone wants some, baskets of fresh from the oven bread and bowls of grated Parmesan. Everyone passes bowls around, takes what they want and when we are finally all seated and have our food, the youngest family member is asked to say grace. And then, finally we eat! The loud raucous conversations die out completely because everyone is too busy basking in the joy of this meal we have once a year. Wine is pouring freely into the glasses and everyone is full of the joy of being together and eating.
Once everyone has had their fill and then some, it's pretty much a given everyone will over indulge, Grandma, who has barely eaten because she is so consumed with everyone else eating, goes back into the kitchen and comes out with a big platter of raw vegetables. Carrots, radishes, celery and of course, finocchio (or fennel). It's an important part of the meal, having that finocchio, a digestive. Especially back in the days when I was a small child. Back then, after this feast I just described and then after the veggies, Grandma would then come out with a full roasted capon, potatoes, and roasted vegetables. Hardly anyone ever ate the second meal after having the huge pasta feast so eventually she stopped making it.
It's memories like this that make me know I will forever miss that house, like I miss her. She was my heart. Losing her was the most awful thing ever even though I knew she wasn't going to live forever. She was 99 when she left this earth, 3 weeks before her 100th birthday. A beautiful soul that I was so lucky to have in my life as long as I did. Even though it feels like it was not enough.
She's gone and when the house closes it will be gone too. And it will be final, really really final. And all at once it makes me so very sad and yet, it makes me glad too. Because not all the memories in that house are happy ones. But that is another story for another day. Today I want to remember how much I loved her, always, how much I miss her, how much I loved her cooking and any time I could be around her.