Saturday, May 24, 2014

Life with Fred & Lucy, Part 29: Attack of the Gnocchi Python

I’ve mentioned enough times on my blog how my mother’s cooking was always an adventure, but did you know her cooking sometimes involved the principles of physics? Yes, indeed  it did and especially her baking. The incident with the pasta occurred several months after the cake that ate South Philadelphia catastrophe that I wrote about in episode 9.

My mother was determined to make her own hand made gnocchi. This is a dish that normally involves potatoes, flour, water, but with Lucy in the kitchen, her four children were also required. Before I go any further, there are tons of great gnocchi recipes on line. Here is one sample and it sounds delicious:
But, I can tell you right now, my mother did not use this recipe. Mom apparently scribbled her recipe on the back of a sales slip that the woman who owned the bra & girdle shop on Broad and Porter streets gave her. The sales slip was all wrinkled up because it was shoved to the bottom of Lucy’s purse. Lucy didn’t want Fred to know about the expensive girdle. I kid you not!

To make a long story short, Lucy could barely read the instructions, but that never stopped my mom. She was determined to make the gnocchi or else. After making the mixture, she began to roll out the dough.  She rolled and rolled and rolled. The dough seemed alive and it kept growing. It was the size and length of a grown African python. All four of us kids were in the kitchen watching this culinary adventure because my mom thought it would be great idea if we learned how to cook. 
“Mommy, the dough is hanging off the table,” my brother exclaimed in shock.
“Quick grab it,” Mom screamed while  Michael and Lucy tried their best to hold the growing tube of dough, but she needed more hands on board and Jane and I were put on the other end of the gnocchi beast that just would not stop growing. It was a good thing that the four of us were there to help because that sucker was heavy. 
“What the%*&*#%$ are you doing in here?” my father asked mom after peeking into the kitchen. He had been ringing the buzzer for one of us to run in and help with the onslaught of lunch time customers, but when we didn’t show up, he came looking for us. 
“I’m making gnocchi for dinner,” My mother replied, giving Fred her ‘Release the Kraken’ stare.

“I can’t move. The wall is in my way," my brother cried out.
Picture this! Our kitchen table was six feet long. Jane and I held at least another four feet stretched out in our hands and Michael and Little Lucy the same on their end. Do the math!
“Why don’t you just cut the dough into smaller slices?” my father asked, ducking the sifting can that my mother tossed at him.
After my dad went back into the store to tell his customers what was going on in the kitchen, my mother decided to take Fred’s advice and cut the gnocchi python into smaller strips. We helped shape the gnocchi by rolling the tip of our thumbs across the 2” strips that mom had cut from the gnocchi python sized rope.
That night, my Uncle Pat and his girlfriend joined us for dinner. The gnocchi tasted delicious, but the meal was very heavy. Uncle Pat had to undo his belt, Mom had to take off her new girdle, and none of us kids could move from the table. The gnocchi was turning into lead weights inside our tummies.

My mother never made gnocchi again, not while she was married to Fred, but years later when I visited her in California where she was living with her new husband, she surprised me with a dish of her homemade gnocchi. They were perfect; light and very tasty.

Later I asked my stepfather if mom required his help when making the gnocchi. He took a big sip of his Napa wine, looked over his shoulder to make sure mom didn’t hear him and replied, “It was a nightmare. It kept growing.” Some things never change.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Pssst Have You Heard?? Roof Oasis is out!!!!

                    Grand Announcement!!!!

My apocalyptic/science fiction tale is out!!! You can buy Roof Oasis on Amazon, and Kindle. Check my calendar for upcoming book signings and you can purchase Roof Oasis on


How do you survive in a world controlled by a mad man? What if this dictator controlled the very food and water you needed to survive? When the use of bio-warfare inadvertently brings about the end of civilization, twins Michael and Lucy try to escape from the zombie horde, but their only salvation may lay with an old Victorian mirror in the attic of their family home…..


I’m sending a big hug to all my supporters for their patience and encouragement.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Fred & Lucy Episode 28: Mother's Day


       Aunt Ann on (L) Uncle Mario (Center) and Mommy on (R) Naples, Italy

I’ve been writing about the adventures of Fred and Lucy as a memorial to my parents and to share some of the crazy stuff that happened while I and my siblings grew up in South Philadelphia. The stories are also a way for me to remember the good times and not just the sad.

                                                        Aunt Ann, Grandmom, Mom
My mother was born way before her time and her independent and self-absorbed ways often shocked friends and family alike, but it was her children who saw all of Lucy's different identities. My mother would have been happy working for a major movie company as she was very talented and had a great voice. Mom loved to be the center of attention.  In fact, my mom and her sister, Ann, both sang at the Italian Opera House located near the Italian Market when they had first moved here from Naples in the late 30's.
I don’t think my mother was prepared for marriage and children, and although she did try her best to make things work out, we kids knew that there was something missing, something wrong, and when my mom decided to take off to California; we weren’t surprised.

My mother was not able to commit to the struggles of working long hours in a grocery store and raising four very active children. Lucy loved to party and travel and we would have hindered her adventures. Mom had a personality disorder, but this was only diagnosed much later in her life. Did it ease the pain of her leaving us or not being there for the important events in our lives?
No, but at least we had a diagnosis for why we were left behind. She was a product of her genetic history. I’ve always wondered if she got this trait from her father, because Grandmom Chiusolo was a saint and our guardian angel while she lived.
                    Mom and brother Michael                                                
Mother’s Day is coming up and I’ll be spending this holiday with my daughter. My siblings and I often discuss my mother and try to figure out why she could only love us on her conditions and by her rules. My brother has forgiven her, but there are scars that reveal themselves when he speaks about her or Fred. My sisters and I love her, but we are each trying to find ways to forgive her. My Fred and Lucy stories are helping me to forgive and forget, and to love my mom for who she was.
None of us are perfect and we should not force perfection on others. And, if my daughter can forgive all the stupid mistakes I’ve made raising her, then I should do the same for Lucy. My mother and my father’s spirits hang out at my house and I’m hoping that Lucy and Fred are enjoying the weekly episodes about them as much as my followers. The picture below is Mom with second husband, Tom.                             
                                                 Happy Mother’s Day, Mommy
          And a Happy Mother's Day wish for all the mommies out there

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Life with Fred & Lucy, Episode 27: Rat Patrol


My father was adamant about keeping our building roach and rat free, especially because of the stock that we sold in our grocery store. When you live in a big city, you’re bound to encounter a roach or rat at some time in your life and Fred’s store was no different.
My father had an exterminating company do our entire building from top to bottom every month, and then as an extra precaution, Fred would spray his own concoction in between visits from the professionals. I pretty sure Fred’s ingredients would have been listed as dangerous toxic waste material by today’s standards, but in the 50’s and 60’s DDT ruled. It wasn’t until Rachael Carson’s Silent Spring caused a big uproar, that dangerous poisons were taken off the market and palmed off on the third world countries.                                                           
I went my entire childhood never encountering a roach, but one day we did have a visitor from the rodent family. The rat had arrived via delivery of stock from one of our vendors. Fred was unpacking one of the crates when he met the rat face to face. My father dropped some curse words and the large rat showing absolutely no fear, sauntered away to hide somewhere in our stock room.

My father made the mistake of telling my mother and us four kids which elicited two different reactions. The kids wanted to keep the rat as a pet and my mother channeled her “Release the Kraken” personality and let out a scream heard all the way to Naples, Italy. “I’m not staying in the same house with a rat,” she declared and ran out of the store and to Grandmom’s house. She’d forgotten to take us with her, which was a foretelling of future events.                                                                

My father wanted a quick solution to the rat problem. He needed a cat and not just any cat. He needed a Terminator. We didn’t own a cat.  “Go find me a cat,” he ordered.                                                                           
Jane and I had no idea where to find a cat, but we knew there were a lot of strays up the alley. Taking a quart of milk and bowl with us, Jane and I went on a big game safari. We lucked out and on our first expedition up the alley, found a tom cat with a taste for cold milk. He followed us home, just as my mother pulled into the parking spot in front of the store while giving a slight tap to the bumper of the car behind her. She was just as bad at parking as she was at driving.
My father closed the store so we could take care of the rat. He first placed a wooden board that was close to three feet high at the doorway of the stock room to keep the rat trapped in the room. My mother held the cat in her arm, while my father used a broom to coax the rat out from behind the stock boxes. Mom had one job only and that was to release the cat as soon as the rat showed his head.
While my father searched for the rat and my mother stood guard with the cat, their children were begging for the rat’s life. “Can’t we keep it as a pet?” 
Suddenly, the rat scurried out and my father screamed, “Lucy, the cat!” But…Lucy was nowhere to be found. She took off and ran outside with the cat in her arms. “Where the *&#$&%$ did your mother go?”
I took a peek out the side door and replied, “She’s on Shunk.” My mother had made it to the end of the next street in Olympic record time, “And she’s still going,” I added.
“Go get her,” my father ordered, but I wasn’t so sure I would be able to talk my mother into returning.
Later that day, my mother returned covered in scratches and sans cat. It was almost dinner time and we were busy with the dinner crowd. Lucy was in her playpen where we could keep an eye on her. “Where the hell is the cat?” my father asked her when the store had cleared.
“How the hell should I know,” Lucy replied, as she began to prepare dinner. “And…don’t involve me in any more of your crazy schemes,” she added, slamming the frying pan on the stove top.

My father had to enlist the help of Uncle Jack and another cat later that night, while my mother and we four kids visited with Aunt Louise. I guess ‘Operation Rat’ was a success because we didn’t see any trace of it or the cat.
Like I said, DDT isn’t used now, but back in the days it was, and…it was probably in the spray the trucks used as they rode up and down the Philadelphia streets spraying for mosquitoes.

I remember chasing after those trucks with the rest of the neighborhood kids and getting splashed with the mist from the insecticide spray they were using. What did we know? We were told it was safe. Scary, right?