Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Dad's an Octogenarian!! Happy Birthday Daddy - Auntie Nora's Asparagus Vinaigrette

To look at my father you would never believe he is 80 years old.  He does not look 80, and he sure does not act it!!  People are often shocked when I tell them his age, as they usually gage him to be somewhere in his 60s.

The last 8 years have been hard on our family, with the slow and agonizing loss of Mom to Alzheimer's Disease.  We have had to rebuild our lives and, in some respects, start anew.  No-one has had to do this more than Dad.  He has lost his life partner and best friend.  

Not a day goes by that we don't talk about Mom, reminisce and remember life as it was when she was well and "making our home".  Mom always said that the woman makes the home, setting the standard for the family.  Looking back now, I see that was true - she set the tone of the house, as did her mother and grandmother before her.  I can feel that tie that binds me to them, as I have assumed the role of matriarch of this family, carrying their standards forward into the next generation.  I would compare it to osmosis, it just seems to filter down through the generations, from mother to daughter.  

There are no words to express the overwhelming happiness that I feel when I see our daughters, young as they may be, already demonstrating those same standards and values.  Their recognition of the importance of family, and the binding force of food almost seems innate.  And then on Sunday, as I was preparing the final dishes for Dad's dinner, Sara came in and took over, making the vinaigrette for our asparagus (thank you!!!).  She took her 4-year-old cousin Abby by the hand, and patiently guided her through each step.  Oh, how Mom would have kvelled (burst with pride and happiness), I know I did.

So, that brings me to today's post...Dad's 80th.

At first, Davie and I were thinking of a party - Mom had wanted to throw one for Dad's 75th, but life was so challenging back then that I could not think about preparing and catering for a large group.  Looking back I wish I had found the energy to do it, as it would have been the last party for her.  But regret is useless, so I try to move forward and forgive my own shortcomings in the same way I know she would have forgiven them.  But Dad did not want a party - he said that all he wanted was to be surrounded by the people he loves most in this world - us!

What to do?  We thought about taking him out to a fancy restaurant for a decadent meal - not such an easy task, remember - he observes Kashruth, so that limited our choices...

And then it hit me, as he was raving (which he NEVER does) over my Zharkoye (beef stew - Russian style).  These days a luxury for my father is a home-cooked meal that takes him back to a time when it was commonplace, when Mom made dinners all the time and we took for granted the idea that she always would.

No one cooks like Mom did, but they say that I rank a close second, and I am the only one carrying the recipes and traditions forward.  So I suggested it to Davie, and he agreed - a home cooked meal, surrounded by his immediate family was the way to go.

Now that we had settled the what and where, it was time to figure out a menu - always a sad moment for me because I don't have Mom to bounce dishes and ideas off of anymore.  For those of you who have been following this blog for a while, you will remember that I am not a fan of meat, but all the men, Becca and Abby are, and one of their all-time favourites is a rib roast.  So, naturally, dinner was built around the rib roast.  And a Baba Dora salad (Baba Dora being his mom!).  But what else?  Lena is vegetarian, Sara is allergic to fish, I prefer chicken and so does Sara...hmmm...the rest are pretty easygoing...

I rounded out dinner with a cherry tomato pasta (sans the cheese), Baba Ethel Roasted Potatoes, roasted chickpeas, Sara's garlic bread and  Auntie Nora's Asparagus Vinaigrette (another family favourite from Mom's best friend and our adopted aunt - Nora).

Dinner was a success, the roast was devoured, and, most importantly, we were together and Dad was happy.

Oh, and for dessert - homemade birthday cake, of course!

I hope you enjoy Auntie Nora's Asparagus Vinaigrette as much as we all do, but you're on your own as far as preparation goes, Sara's all mine!  Until next time, I wish you a wonderful day filled with family, fun, friends and fantastic food!  B'Tayavon & Buon Appetito!

Auntie Nora's Asparagus Vinaigrette

  • ½C olive oil
  • 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 4 tbsp red wine vinegar (I am allergic to red wine and use white vinegar)
  • 1 tsp granulated sugar
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ freshly ground pepper
  • minced parsley and/or snipped chives (to taste)
  • 2 hard boiled eggs (chopped)
  • asparagus (ends snipped off)

Method - Asparagus:
Parboil the asparagus until they are barely tender.  Drain and immediately place into ice water to stop the cooking process.  Drain asparagus and set out on plate/platter (with a lip) to serve.  Shortly before serving, drizzle asparagus with vinaigrette and garnish with chopped egg.

Method - Vinaigrette:
Measure mustard into bowl.  Whisk in vinegar, sugar, salt, pepper and herbs.  Continue to whisk, while slowly dribbling in olive oil.  ** This should be made just before using, but it can be stored (via leftovers) in refrigerator for a few days.  

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Happy Birthday Nonno - 85 Years Young!

Some 24 years ago I started dating this gorgeous Italian guy.  I met Carlo when I was working as a manager of a frozen yogurt shop and I thought he'd be perfect for my best friend, Diane.  He was handsome, funny and charming - what's not to like?  Every day he would pass by my shop and tell me a joke to brighten my otherwise boring daily routine, and we'd chat over a Swiss Mocha coffee.  When Diane finally came down to meet him she look at me quizzically and asked why I was introducing her to a man I was obviously in love with...

In her speech at our wedding, Mom said she knew Carlo was more than a friend when she walked by my bedroom door and heard a man's voice on the answering machine (yes, I am dating myself) saying "Ciao Bella"...Mom loved Carlo from day one...she called him her son-in-love.   They had much in common back then - a love of red meat, Genoa salami and gin and tonics but to name a few.  

When I met Carlo's parents I was taken aback by their instant welcoming warm embrace - literally!  Mama Bruni came to the door wearing a smile from ear to ear, arms open and ready to hug me, which she did.  All the nervousness melted away and I knew this family was one in which I could fit.  My father-in-law was friendly and welcoming, with a loud laugh and a big smile.  The same reaction I have seen him share with everyone who comes to their home.  Which leads me to the subject of today's post - Papa Bruni.

Today marks the 85th birthday of the Bruni partiarch.  Ortenzio was born in Calabria, one of 9 children to Pasquale and Maria Rosa Bruni.  They were a hard-working family who struggled to survive, their focus being to feed their large family and keep them safe through the Depression and World War II. (Sounds like an Italian version of my own father's Russian Jewish family, no?).

Nonno, Nonna and our girls on their
61st Wedding Anniversary (September 2012)
My father-in-law will often regale us with stories of his childhood, how he met my mother-in-law when they were children - it's at that point he gets a far-off look in his eyes, looks at Rebecca, and says how much she reminds him of "Toni" as a girl.  Some stories are funny, some are sad, but all are heartwarming.  Stories about how he wooed my mother-in-law, and changed the course of his life in order to win her hand in marriage (he had saved all his money and bought a ticket for Argentina, and Mama Bruni's father said he would only allow them to marry if he moved to Canada - thanks Nonno Cesare - otherwise Carlo and I would never have met!).  So many stories, so little time.

And tonight we will gather to celebrate his reaching this milestone the way he prefers it - in an understated, quiet evening spent with his family at home.  

Nonno and 3 of his grandkids on his 85th birthday

I wanted to do something to let him know how special he is to all of us, and to me...so I baked a vanilla cake garnished with chocolate "85"s.  He is not much of a sweet tooth, but I know he'll have a small piece and smile to himself as he looks around and sees the legacy he built, his family.  

Nonno - Buon Compleanno e Cento Anni!  Auguri!