Family Treasures

Joe is working on a unit at school that involves family treasures from home, especially those having to do with families and nationalities. I wracked my brain trying to think of something that he could bring in to school to talk about his Irish, English or German heritage. Do I send him in with a fisherman sweater on and make him talk about Ireland? Snore…he’d be itchy and bored with the subject matter. Clearly sending him in with a few pints of Guinness is illegal. Do I send him in with some of my English china? Not so much. A German cuckoo clock and a keg of Dinkel Acker? Sauerkraut and some bratwurst? Nothing seemed quite right.

I stood gazing at my little toothless Joe while I made dinner last night. I was boiling the last of the homemade pasta that we’d made on Easter Sunday and tossing it with lemon and asparagus when it dawned on me. (DUH!) One of our biggest family treasures was handed down to me by my Uncle Joe. I’ve written about him often here at Narragansett No. 7. He was a one in a million kind of guy whose parents came to America from Italy. He was the first child of theirs to be born in the United States and he became a beautiful mixture of America and Italy. He played baseball, almost professionally, until he was drafted to serve in WW2. He told me stories of hiding in a basement in Holland as German bombs dropped on the city above their heads. He told me about a time when, through a grapevine of messages, he learned that his brother’s company was near enough for them to find bicycles and ride across the European countryside to just to see one another again in the middle of that war. His eyes took on a glazed far-off quality as he recalled to me the day that he saw concentration camp victims being liberated by the army.



Uncle Joe – kneeling, holding the baseball bat

 My Aunt Lorraine passed his pasta board on to me this winter. It’s simply a large butcher block board that he made years ago specifically for making his homemade pasta. I cried when she handed it to me. As stupid as it seems, that pasta board holds his essence. The wood holds his weight, love and our combined memories. I spent hours with him at that pasta board, coated in dusty flour and sticky dough. Over the years, I watched his hands slowly age as they mixed that pile of flour and eggs into an enormous pile of dough for Christmas Eve or a random Sunday dinner. The size of the meal was always gauged by the number of eggs that he had added to the mountain of flour. In the end, the kitchen would be a jungle of pasta noodles handing to dry.

He taught me how to make homemade pasta and now I make it with my own children. They love the whole messy process, but something tells me they’d love it more if it was Uncle Joe who was rolling the noodles out with them.

Homemade Pasta

3 and 1/2 cups of flour
3 eggs
dash of salt
1/3 cup semolina

Mix the flour, salt and semolina into a mound then create a hole in the middle…as Joe says, “so it looks like a volcano mom!” Crack the eggs into the middle and then using a fork, beat the eggs as if you are scrambling them. Bits of the flour mixture will fall into the middle, mixing with the eggs but you will also stop scrambling to pull flour into the eggs. Keep going until a sticky dough forms and at some point, you’ll being kneading the dough. Don’t make it too dry and flaky! It should stay slightly tacky. Knead the dough until smooth and wrap in plastic wrap until you’re ready to create your noodles.

Here’s where I’m lucky. I have the original pasta machine that my aunt and uncle gave to my mother years ago. I use the pasta machine for the final bit of kneading. You can use a rolling pin to make your noodles but get ready for a workout!

I cut my dough into sections and wrap the sections that I’m not using to let them rest and keep them moist. The section that I’m using goes through my pasta machine’s rollers on the highest setting (8) and we keep rolling until we can get to the setting that we prefer, a “2” which gives a fairly thin noodle. Then the long noodle is finally ready to run through the machine to be cut and hung to dry.

Here is a delicious topping for pasta like papparedelle (wide noodles) that celebrates springtime and the fresh asparagus that is in season.

Pasta with asparagus and lemon
1 1/2 pounds asparagus
1 pound pasta (pappardelle is nice, but penne or casarecce is good too!)
1/4 fresh lemon juice
1/4 extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 freshly grated Parmesan
*bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
*Rinse the asparagus, snap off the tough lower stems and discard. Cut of 11/2 inches of the asparagus tips and reserve. Chop the rest of the stems. Cook the asparagus tips in the boiling water for 3-4 minutes, until tender. Using a slotted spoon, remove the tips and set aside. In the same pot of boiling water, blanch the asparagus stems for 6-7 minutes, until tender. Remove with the slotted spoon and rinse in cold water.
*Cook the pasta in the same pot of boiling water until al dente. While the pasta cooks, puree the asparagus stems, lemon juice and olive oil in a blender or food processor until smooth. If necessary, add a bit of hot pasta water to thicken. Add salt and pepper to taste.
*Drain the pasta and transfer to a large bowl. Stir in the asparagus puree, the asparagus tips and grated Parmesan.
YUM!

CHECK IT OUT! I got a new award today. Seriously, it’s like brand-spanking new and created by Bernie at One Mixed Bag and Michele from Living on Less. Such a great idea for an award. Here are the “rules”:

This is a very simple award, you don’t have to do anything if you don’t want to. You can give it to 1 blog, 300 blogs or no blogs. That is up to you. Some ideas of what you could do with the award if you wanted to:

Give it to your favorite blog that has thousands of followers. You know they won’t have this award. I know when I started blogging and I would get awards I want to give them out. Most of the blogs I read already had at least one of them. This award is new today, so you know they won’t have it.

Is there a new blogger you discovered with only a handful of readers? Pass it on to them. They will be thrilled to receive their first award.

Just slap it up on your blog and so say nothing.

Don’t slap it on your blog and do nothing.

Rain

I remember the cool, cool air blowing from the air conditioner as the car wound through Westchester and Connecticut toward the Long Island Sound. I didn’t need to worry about certain death should the passenger side airbag deploy because it was 1979 and we didn’t worry about seatbelts and airbags then. I was eight-years-old and enjoying the view from the front bench seat of Aunt Rain’s AMC Eagle.

Going to the ocean with Aunt Rain was the highlight of my vacation. Each summer I spent two weeks with my favorite two people in the entire world. My days were filled with the swimming, fairs and fishing, but those beach days were reserved for just Aunt Rain and me. We would float for hours in the salty water of the Long Island Sound at Sherwood Island.

She laid her body back in the water and I thought she would go under, as I would have if I attempted to float. Like magic, her body floated on the gentle waves as she turned her face up to absorb the heat of the sun. The tide was out and crabs scurried beneath our feet. I jumped, buoyed by the water and landed on Rain.  My little body was held up by hers and we laughed about my startled scream and the crab hurrying past my toes. I asked her how she floated so well and watched beads of water roll from her skin.

Our skin glistened with Hawaiian Tropic and my nose was filled with its heady coconut scent. I gingerly laid myself on the blanket, trying my best to keep my greasy skin perfectly clean and free of sand. We pulled sandwiches from the cooler and the Fritos from her canvas LL Bean tote were warm and greasy from the heat of the sun. I alternated licking the salt off the Fritos with sips of shockingly sweet Hawaiian Punch. Aunt Rain read her book and I basked in the sun. Our shared silence was always comfortable.

The ride home was bumpy, sunburned, sleepy and sandy. The lush green landscape of Connecticut flew by my window and lulled me into a sleepy, post-sun state. I looked up at my Aunt Rain, marveled at her beauty and the love she gave before closing my eyes for a cat nap.




Aunt Rain and Kate, January 2011

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