My grandma was a Sicilian. That's Italian for, 'you just ate? You must be hungry, let me make you some food.' I'm not even joking here. One day I made the mistake of eating a sub sandwich before showing up at my grandma's at two P.M. She asked me if I had eaten, I said yes, and then she promptly prepared 'a little something' for me which included: lunch meat sandwiches on home made bread, home made soup with fresh parmesan cheese, and fresh homemade bread sticks for dunking. Oh, yeah, and a little side salad complete with bacon bits, tomato, and sweet peppers. This was followed up with four types of cheesecake and Nilla wafers. An hour later she popped out a roast, brown gravy, baked potatoes, and a fresh peach pie for dessert. Yes, there was ice cream. I don't think I have ever been closer to barfing in my whole life than on that day.
Needless to say, meals at her house were huge on a regular day.
I remember one weekend when my uncle had flown into town unexpectedly. In less than an hour my grandma had whipped up a three course meal of lasagna, elbow macaroni, bread sticks, and salad. My uncle and I were floored at the prospect of there being more dessert choices than there were people living on the entire block. We were faced with a choice between jello salad, chocolate pudding, butter cookies, or coffee cake. Pepto anyone?
Holiday meals at her house were simply Epic and flawless presentations. Our typical Christmas dinner started at eleven A.M. with shrimp cocktail, homemade Garduni, olives, cheese, crackers, fresh bread with dipping oil, and fresh Italian wedding cookies and Pizzels.
Once you were done gorging and couldn't possibly eat another bite it was time for dinner. Ham, turkey, pasta with gravy (that's Italian for sauce), salad with peperuncini, baked potatoes, and biscuits were in your future. Too full? Tough, you better make room and mangi, mangi, mangi! Because if you didn't eat what grandma felt was enough she would accuse you of being sick or, even worse, she would get huffy and offended and then she'd serve up a hearty portion of guilt to chew on instead.
Oh, and don't forget dessert! There were more home made cookies, coffee, cheesecake, and the Coup de Gras-Steamed Pudding!
What, you may ask, is a Steamed Pudding? Only the most amazing of traditional European dessert traditions ever! It takes about a day to make in a double boiler with copious amounts of butter to keep it from sticking to the pan and destroying hours of work. This rich bread like dessert is then finished off by lightly toasting it in a ring of boozed soaked flaming sugar cubes while we all drunkenly sing 'We wish you a Merry Christmas and a hippo new year!' When the flames are finally extinguished we drown the thick slices in a sweeter than sweet sauce made from butter and powdered sugar.
If you survived all that then it was time for games. We usually played a version of Trivial Pursuit that was older than my grandparents so they were really the only ones that could answer the questions. So, to pass the time there were snacks. A buffet of pretzels, chips, and nuts (every possible type of nut you could ever have imagined) - complete with a tiny silver nutcracker. There was freshly popped popcorn and if you were still aching for more (and believe me, by this time you were aching!) there were even popsicles!
So, like I said, most of these meals were flawless presentations of culinary Italian American prowess. Until one year- the glass chicken year. My poor grandma had been struggling against rheumatoid arthritis in her hips, a the onset of Crohn's disease, and my grandfather's recent diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer's. So to say she was stressed and frazzled would have been an understatement. Still, she soldiered on, preparing an absolutely amazing looking roast chicken with baked potatoes and salad. Don't forget- there were three different varieties of pasta too! We all 'oooo-d' and 'aaahh-d' as she took it out of the oven and placed it triumphantly on the range top to rest before carving it.
No sooner had we finished congratulating her on another delicious and amazing meal than we heard a gut-wrenching crack from the oven. We ran over and stopped just short of a pile of Glass strewn upon the floor. Glass shimmered menacingly from the range top and the counters. And, yes, our beautiful chicken was completely covered in glass as well. My grandma had forgotten to turn off the range top when the gravy was done and we all know what Corningware does when exposed to a burner- it explodes!
My grandma, near tears, was bathed in a plethora of hugs and 'that's okays'. And when we were sure she would make a full emotional recovery, my dad treated her to a full comedy skit of 'I'll take my chicken with a side of glass' cracks.
After my genius uncle finished ordering a pizza, we sat down to eat what was left of the bounty. Despite the ruined feast and my grandfather's memory problems we still managed to get through saying the prayer Grace. We ate on in silence, relishing every remaining bite that was unsoiled with glass. My wise cracking dad dared to break the silenceto ask my grandma to 'throw him a potato' after finishing our thankful blessing. He really should have stopped to more carefully consider his word choice here because my grandma, true to her Sicilian roots, hurled a potato at my dad so hard he missed it and it exploded against the refrigerator! As we helped mop up the remains of the totalled tater laughter erupted in greater quantities than the ruined piles of food. I firmly believe that any other family would have let broken glass in their main course, potato chunks spewed everywhere, crappy pizza substitutions, and some pretty major health diagnosis bombshells ruin their favorite holiday. But in our whole family history I don't think we've ever had a better 'worse' Christmas ever!