Grandma’s day to Bake

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I can recall each and every time I was at my Dolly’s house and she was baking bread.  The kitchen was alive with the smells of all the items needed to make her lovely bread.  Flour, yeast, salt, sugar, olive oil, and eggs were spread out on her kitchen table.  The oven was heated and ready to start the baking process.  Her large board was on the table and she had various bowls and towels to aid her in the bread making process.

First she would proof the yeast in a small bowl. Next she would place the flour on the board, add the salt and sugar mix a little then add the water, yeast and olive oil.  She would then mix all of this by hand until it was ready to rest and then she would place it in one of the bowls with a towel over the top of the dough so it would rise.  She would continue with this process until she made more loafs of dough.  Normally by the time she finished with making the large dough balls it was time to knead the first dough ball.  Taking the first dough ball she would punch it down, then out of the bowl, swish with some flour, and the kneading would begin.  When she finished kneading the dough it would be formed into loafs of bread and covered with a damp towel so it would proof once again.  Once it doubled in size it was time to bake the bread.  Into the oven it went and the baking of bread had begun.

Normally, as soon as my Grandma Jessie started to mix the flour, I would run out the back door to play.  In the back yard, I could win the war.  I could save the princes from the pirates.  I could kill the monster.  I sure could climb the tree.  I could tease the chickens. I also played with Bingo.  I would play until my nose told me that it was time to return to the kitchen.  The smell of fresh-baked bread was the best smell in my world.  Into the house I would run.

“Johnny, shut the door” my Grandmother would say to me.  I would turn around and close the door.  “Can I have some bread and butter” I would ask.  “Wait a few minutes” were the words I heard as I asked again “Please, can I have some bread and butter.”  “In a few minutes, wash your hands and sit down” Grandma Jessie would say.  I would stick my hands under the water and dry them by removing the dirt onto the towel.  Into the dining chair I would sit waiting. I am sure that the wait was never long but to this young boy it was an eternity.  The room was filled with the smell of just baked bread.  I could almost taste the bread in my mouth. When will my Grandma give me some hot bread? Then right before my eyes, lathered in butter, was a fresh warm slice of real bread

Nothing in the world has ever compared to my Grandma Jessie’s homemade bread.  I have traveled most of the world and I have not found anything that tasted as good as a slice of my Grandma’s baked bread.  I will always remember the smell the feel and the wonderful taste of her bread.  Grandma Jessie was not just a wonderful lady, a wonderful cook, and a wonderful mother, she was my Dolly and I will always love her.


Grandma’s BIG Surprise

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On another day, I do not remember if it was before the incident of the figs or after, I was visiting my Grandma Jessie.  As usual, I was in the kitchen sitting at the table talking to my Grandma. She spoke to me in both Italian and a little English.  However even though I did not speak Italian I could understand my Dolly.  I never wondered how she understood me because I only spoke in English.  But somehow we were always able to communicate and we never had a problem.
Grandma Jessie had just placed some coffee (milk with a taste of coffee) and of course her home-made Italian donuts in front of me to enjoy when she told me she had a surprise.  But before I could see the surprise I had to eat my donut and drink my coffee.  I ate quickly and drank my coffee fast and soon I was ready for the surprise.  Even though I was a young man I was excited about the surprise my Grandma had for me.

Into the formal dining room we went and there before my eyes was the statue of the Blessed Mother of Jesus Christ.  Yes, her surprise was a statue of Mary, the mother of God. I just stood there looking at the statue.
However, this was not just another statue of Mary, it was an old statue of Mary and it rested on the floor of the dining room with the top of Mary’s head almost reaching the ceiling.  It was a giant statue of Mary and it stood almost eight feet tall.  I was spellbound.  For once in my life I could not speak.  All I could see was this giant statue of Mary.  Catching my senses I asked “Where did you get the statue?”  All the time I was thinking why would my Grandma want something like that?  Yet at the same time knowing why my Dolly would want the statue.
She told me how she got the statue from the church and that one of the priests gave it to her. She was so proud of her statue. She pointed to it and touched it telling me how beautiful it is and how wonderful.  I could see the sparkle in her eyes as she told me both the story of how it became hers, and then the story of the statue.  The next thing I knew we were saying the rosary in front of the statue. My Grandma’s face was all aglow and I knew that she was both proud and pleased that the statue was hers.
I cannot count the times I prayed with my Dolly in front of the statue of Mary, but I am sure it was more than just a few times. I can tell you how the statue scared me one night when I slept over her house and I got up from bed to get a glass of water.  Walking into the dining room I was scared awake after catching sight of the giant statue of Mary and me thinking that it was something else.  It did not scare me as much as the crocodile my sister Marianne told me about in fairy land.  You remember the crocodile that slept under my bed at night.  Waiting to bite my arm or leg off just as soon as it dangled from the bed.  But the statue of Mary did scare me.

(Note: to Daddy’s “Peanut” – I see your memory is fading fast, your comment implied I was not the best driver, but I was!)

My Dolly!

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Thanks for your comments!
I was surprised by the number of comments and the calls I received about my blogs related to my Grandma Jessie (my Dolly).  Your actions jogged my memory enough to help me to remember more and more about my wonderful Grandmother.  So just to let you know it is a good idea to comment on my blog or call me.  So based on my memories that have been jogged here is another little story.
One day, I was driving home from school with a few of my friends in my car when I passed my Grandma Jessie’s house.  I glanced over at the house and much to my surprise I saw my Grandma Jessie in her black dress standing on the roof of the garage!  Of course I had to stop my car and find out what was going on at my Dolly’s house.
Applying the brakes a little too quickly and a little too firmly I skidded to a stop.  Normally I was the best car driver in my family but today my driving skills departed me as I was concerned about the safety of my Grandmother. Placing the car in reverse I quickly backed up to my Grandma’s house.
I was out of my car and running into her backyard as I was yelling up to my Grandma Jessie.

What are you doing? Are you ok? Why are you on the roof? Do you know how dangerous it is to be on the roof? How did you get on the roof? It’s not safe please come down please!

Speaking to me in Italian she said, “Johnny, calm down, relax, stop yelling, all I am doing is picking the figs, there is nothing for you to worry about”.

I responded in English and said, “Grandma, I will pick the figs for you.  You do not need to pick the figs, I can pick the figs”.

Dolly responded in Italian saying, “No, no, Johnny you need to go to school”.

I responded in English, “School is over. I can pick the figs for you. Please get off the roof and let me pick the figs”.

At this point she agreed and left the roof for the backyard.  I climbed up the latter along with one of my school friends and we began picking figs.  With Grandma Jessie on the ground directing us to the figs we picked figs for about one hour.  Another school friend would bring the picked figs down the latter to Grandma Jessie and she sorted the figs.  We picked so many figs that my Grandma wanted to give some away.

She offered some figs to me and my friends but I was the only person to accept.  Then she wanted to take some figs to her neighbors so we helped for a time but soon it was time to be home.  I thanked her for the figs and reminded her that I will pick her figs and that she will not go on the roof anymore.  Of course she said yes but I knew that she would do what she wanted.  I had no choice I had to go home and tell my mother.  I felt terrible my Grandma’s Italian prince had to squeal on his Dolly.

Michael’s Birthday Lunch!

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It was Sunday the day before Michael’s birthday.  We were all planning to meet at Michael’s most favorite restaurant, La Milpa in Milpitas.  Lunch was planned for 1:00 pm and I was looking forward to enjoying some time with my family.  We were all up early on Sunday except for Chris who went to a party on Saturday night all decked out in his new outfit.  He sure did look handsome.  I made my world-famous Papa John’s pancakes and even after everyone had their fill I still had a lot left over.  So into a storage bag the extras went. I will give them to Michael as an extra gift so he can have them on his birthday Monday morning.

Soon Chris was awake and both he and Monica started to pack for their return home.  I do enjoy having Chris and Monica at the house.  Chris can be very helpful to his mom and she always saves a few things just for Chris to get done.  This was a wonderful weekend with Chris. A lot of time was spent discussing things that needed to be talked about and plans that needed to be made about his future.  Chris turned eighteen last year and I am amazed at how he has matured.

Well with everyone ready we packed our stuff and ourselves into the car.  We were on our way to my Grandson, Michael’s eighteenth birthday lunch.  I guess I was just way too excited.  We arrived thirty minutes early to the restaurant, so we took a lot of time exiting the car and strolled into La Milpa’s.  The owner greeted us as soon as a small break occurred between customers.  We were then taken directly to our table.  Once we were seated we begin to eat the chips and salsa present on the table.  We were waiting for the birthday boy (cross that boy comment and insert man) to arrive.  Before completing our order for drinks I see my Grandson entering La Milpa’s front door.

I wave to Michael and he heads straight to the table.  Hugs and kisses to Marti, Monica and I with a smile and handshake for Chris.  Seconds later the last three people arrive for the party.  Now sitting at the lunch table are: Michael (the birthday –Man), Chris my son, Monica my Granddaughter, Marti my wife, Susan my daughter, Bruce my soon to be son-in-law, Barbara my daughters Godmother and long time friend of the family and of course me.  Missing is my daughter Deborah and her two daughters Abby and Braylin.  Deborah and her family were unable to come to the lunch due to illness and that made lunch just a little sad.

With everyone seated at the table our family started to enjoy the party.  The eight of us began talking and discussing just what we thought was best for lunch.  Michael really enjoys good Mexican food and his favorite is the giant Burrito.  He ordered his lunch and the rest of us ordered our lunch.  The food at La Milpa’s is always excellent and I understand why it is always packed.  The service is excellent and the guests at the restaurant are treated with both thanks and understanding.  Barbara needed to leave after lunch to return home and Marti and I needed to take Chris to the BART station.  So it was agreed that after lunch Susan, Bruce, Monica and the birthday man, Michael would drive to their home and await Marti and my return from the BART station to enjoy cake and open presents.

We dropped Chris off at the BART station and then drove quickly over to Susan’s house.  There at the house everyone was waiting for Marti and I too arrive so the presents could be opened.  First we all sat down and a special made cake (that looked just like a giant camera) with eighteen candles arrived.  We all sang Happy Birthday (someone sure does not know how to sing; in fact I think that person cannot carry a tune even in a box).  Then Michael cut the cake and shared a slice of cake with everyone. Next he opened all of his birthday cards and read them aloud to all of us.  Presents were next and you could see the happiness on Michael’s face as he opened each present.  He thanked everyone individually after opening each gift.  At the end Michael thanked all of us for attending and celebrating his birthday with him.  It was late afternoon and Marti and I returned home to Aptos, California.

A Special Dinner (pasta, sausage, onions and peppers, without tomato sauce)

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We arrived in Aptos ahead of Marti. She had to work at her job with the Monterey County today but she will not have to work this weekend. Chris and Monica put their things away in their respective rooms as I prepared dinner.  I was planning to make my special sausage pasta without tomato sauce.  I start by cooking the sausage in a frying pan.  I place the sausages in the pan with a little water and cook the sausage for about twenty minutes.  By this time the water has evaporated and it is time for a little olive oil to brown the sausage.  With the sausage browned I remove them from the pan and prepare to brown some onions.  Using the same pan the sausage was cooked and browned I add just a little butter and cook the sliced and chopped onions to their caramelized state. I add three crushed and chopped garlic sections and a dash of crushed red pepper.  I normally cut each of the sausages up into four equal pieces and toss them into the onions and garlic.

Just prior to sitting down I toss my pasta into the salted water to start the cooking process.  As the pasta cooks I prep the final few ingredients.  I cut cherry tomatoes into half’s, chop fresh parsley and basil, and grate my hard cheese. I reheat the sausage, onion, oil, and butter mixture to await the pasta.  When the pasta is cooked just right I remove it from the water and toss it into the pan with my sausage mixture.  Tossing this combination quickly to coat I dump it all into a large pasta bowel.  It is at this time that I add my four last items to the dish cherry tomatoes, parsley, basil, and cheese. One final toss to mix the cold ingredients and my dish is ready to be enjoyed.

I like to serve my pastas with a cold crisp green salad with just a light oil and vinegar dressing.  Of course I also serve Crispy French bread with butter or better yet, John’s special olive oil.  Round out the dinner.  Let me add my special note here.  To make “John’s Special Olive Oil” for bread all you need are the following simple ingredients:  Good tasting Extra Virgin Olive Oil, black pepper corns crushed, balsamic vinegar, and grated parmesan cheese.  Mix well and serve on the table in small individual bowels for each person.  I have found that normally people will dunk their bread into the mixture.

I have served this meal many times and too many different people and it has been a hit with all.  If you ask Monica, Chris, Michael, and Marti they will all tell you not only how good it is and they even like it reheated by microwave the next day.  I am always happy to hear just how much they like my pasta.

Shopping with the Guys!

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We completed our lunch and with full tummies we were ready to shop.  The girls headed in one direction looking for a dress and the three guys headed in another direction looking for pants and shirts.  I was just along for the joy of paying the bill but I must say that it is always fun to shop with guys.  We do not look at items and wonder like the ladies.  We head right to our size and check out what is offered for sell.  We can reject items very quickly and we can select items just as quickly.

As the three guys enter the department store we head straight to the men’s section.  We do not stop at the jewelry department, we pass quickly through the makeup section, and we stop only at the men’s department.  Even here we do not stop and look at everything.  We head directly to the area of the men’s section that holds what we are shopping to buy.  Today we are at the racks of pants and checking only the section that holds our size.  Both Chris and Michael find a pair of jeans but the search continues for another pair of pants for skateboarding.  Chris finds his pair first and Michael is disappointed by the lack of choice in his size.  Chris is now looking at shirts and selecting some.  Michael is looking at some sweat tops and selected one.  I am resting my body by a rack of all types of men’s items.  This rack has pants, shirts, jackets, sweaters, and other items and at this time I notice a sign that states SELL prices as marked.  Savings up to 70%.  I glance around and notice four more racks just like the one I am resting on.

I point this out to the boys and at first they glance but not very impressed.  I pull out a windbreaker that will fit Chris and the price is just $12.00.  He shakes his head but now he has interest.  He starts to quickly look through the racks selecting a pair of pants, a sweater, and a shirt.  He returns a pair of pants and a shirt he selected earlier and continues looking at the discounted items.  Soon both boys have what they need and we are off to the cashier.

I call my daughter Susan to see how the dress shopping is progressing.  It is sad but they have found nothing.  But it is soon becoming time for us to drive over the hill before the Friday traffic rush starts.  We meet up at the cash register just before the sales person starts to ring up the items.  Michael shows his mother the items he selected and she nods her approval.  She sees the great deals us guys received and is amazed.  See guys can shop, get good deals and do it fast.  We left the store and headed to our parked car.

Departing the mall I first dropped Susan off at her house and picked up Monica’s weekend bag.  Next I dropped Michael off at his friend’s house.  Now Chris, Monica and I were heading over the hill home to Aptos, and Marti.  I sure had a very fun day with my family.


A Special Friday!

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The weekend started for me on Friday.  I awoke early and prepared myself for the drive to San Jose.  I was planning to pick up Chris at 10:00 am and then we could do a little shopping before picking up Susan and Michael for a family lunch.  It really sucks when I confuse the time lines I am trying to work with.  I called my son Chris to inform him I was on my way. He was confused and said that he did not arrive in San Jose until 11:30 am.  I did not want to wait for over ninety minutes so I placed a call to my daughter Susan.  I explained what had happened and if possible could I arrive early and pick up her and my Grandson Michael.  She too was confused because it was her understanding that I was going to pick her and Michael up first and then we were going to pick up Chris.  I was wrong again.  The only thing I had right was that I left on the correct day.

I stopped at Susan’s house and she was ready.  Michael was at school but he was due to arrive home very soon.  It is the last day of parent teacher conferences so students are released early so the teachers have more time with parents.  We departed Susan’s home and headed to the mall.  Both Michael and I needed to be fitted for our tuxedos.  We entered the store and were soon measured, tested and finally fitted for our tuxes.  You sure need to answer lots of questions for a fitting.  They measure everything starting with your neck and ending with your foot.  The tailors’ take measuring very serious so kidding and joking was just not appreciated.  With this task completed we drove over to the Santa Clara train station just in time for the arrival of the train Chris had taken.

With Chris in the car we now drove to little Monica’s school.  We were going to pick her up just a little early and the five of us were then going to lunch.  It did not take long before little Monica was in the car and we were driving back to the mall first for lunch and then for some shopping.  The opinion of everyone in the car was that Dave and Busters was the place for lunch.  We parked and entered the restaurant, requesting a table for five.  We were seated and the menus arrived.  I so enjoy the pleasure that is displayed on the faces of young people as they select their choice of lunch.  I always thought it was because they were the ones to choose what they wanted.  I was wrong.  It is because they are not paying for lunch.

I enjoyed watching and hearing the talk around the lunch table.  Michael and Chris were talking about skateboarding, cameras, and school.  Monica was talking to her mother about school and homework. Susan was reminding me of some extra duties that were needed to be done when babysitting Monica for this weekend.  My partial family was happy and enjoying each other.  I was a happy and delighted man.

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