[Sca-cooks] For my uncle (LONG)

Christiane christianetrue at earthlink.net
Wed Aug 30 11:44:12 PDT 2006

If you could pick your most favorite meal of all time, what would it be?

For me, it would the Christmas Eve dinner cooked by my Uncle John and Aunt Lucille. For more than 30 years, every Christmas Eve, they have hosted the family's Italian Christmas Eve dinner. Scampi, cooked with tons of butter, garlic, and lemon. Stuffed mushrooms; artichoke-heart frittate, served cold with lemon wedges. Linguine with white claim sauce, calamari salad, anchoy filets rolled around capers, my aunt's homemade olive salad, filet of sole, broccoli rabe sauteed with olive oil, garlic, and hot pepper flakes, and regular broccoli cooked the same way. Platters of fresh and smoked mozzarella with tomato and basil. Fresh bread. I don't eat for at least 12 hours beforehand. And then there's Uncle John's pizza; although his touch was golden with everything else he cooked, good pizza really eluded him. He has no feel for making good dough, and in later years relied on the local pizza shop to provide him dough. But everything else on the table made up for it.

Yesterday my uncle was hospitalized. Turns out he has a liver tumor; the Coumadin he is taking allowed the tumor to bleed freely. Although stabilized and off the respirator today, his doctors have found out that the cancer has metastasized throughout his body. There's talk of transferring him to Mount Sinai in NYC, where there is a liver specialist. He's still in the ICU at Englewood Hospital in New Jersey.

Uncle John is my godfather and the one who taught me how to say please and thank you as a toddler. With a pan of bacon. Apparently, when I was staying with my aunt and uncle while my parents were vacationing in Puerto Rico, I smelled the bacon Uncle John was cooking one morning and demanded, "Gimme some of that." He said, "What do you say?" I refused to say please. He ate all of the bacon. Every single last piece, right in front of me. Next morning, again he cooks bacon. Again I demand. But this time when he says, "What do you say, " I actually say "Please." So he gives me a piece of bacon. "Now what do you say?" "Thank you?" "That's right!"

And thus I had to earn every piece of bacon with a "please" and "thank you." When my parents came back from vacation, I was a truly polite child.

Uncle John continued to make the wine and the vinegar after my grandfather died. He did a pretty good job. I remember dandelion salads dressed with olive oil and sharp red vinegar at Sunday dinners. We soaked our bread in the vinegar. The red table wine kept things merry.

He, my aunt, my parents, my husband, and I were all supposed to travel to Sicily in November. I was looking forward to debating pizza-making with him. Heh. 

Thanks for your patience in getting through this. I don't know if Christmas Eve will ever be the same.



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