Author (and my lovely friend) Suzanne Palmieri’s debut novel, The Witch of Little Italy, was recently published by St. Martin’s Press.
I loved it for many reasons.
In Suzanne Palmieri’s charming debut, The Witch of Little Italy, you will be bewitched by the Amore women. When young Eleanor Amore finds herself pregnant, she returns home to her estranged family in the Bronx, called by “The Sight” they share now growing strong within her. She has only been back once before when she was ten years old during a wonder-filled summer of sun-drenched beaches, laughter and cartwheels. But everyone remembers that summer except her. Eleanor can’t remember anything from before she left the house on her last day there. With her past now coming back to her in flashes, she becomes obsessed with recapturing those memories. Aided by her childhood sweetheart, she learns the secrets still haunting her magical family, secrets buried so deep they no longer know how they began. And, in the process, unlocks a mystery over fifty years old—The Day the Amores Died—and reveals, once and for all, a truth that will either heal or shatter the Amore clan.
Just one of those reasons is this: I love food. You knew that, yes? The story and characters in this book are wonderful. The food descriptions are amazing. When I told Suzy that thinking about her description of tomato sauce can still make my mouth water, she offered up the recipe (and a story to go with it).
A love letter. A recipe? A love letter recipe: Sunday Sauce
By Suzanne Palmieri
When she was younger, my grandmother’s hands were always an example of her juxtaposition of ideals. She is a fancy lady. She likes fancy things. High heels, lipstick, enormous jewelry, and when she drove, her cars were always luxurious and American. My gram spent a lot of time worrying over her nails. They were tough and strong and she had a manicure every week, choosing coral and peach polish colors and sometimes? A frisky mauve. But by the end of the week the polish would be chipped and the cuticles unruly. The skin on her hands was rough from hard work, and cracked to the point where she used creams, ointments and salves whenever she could. Tubes and tubs of the stuff lived on her bedside table as well as on the lip of every sink in her house, just in case. Her hands told a different story than the one she wanted to tell. Her hands told a story of hard work, not luxury. Her hands told the truth. Our hands always do.
My grandmother cooked all the time. And the wear and tear on her hands came from hours spent at the sink cleaning greens, or meats, or beans. She was thorough. No gritty sand would be in her soup, no random bone, no stony pebble. I can see her there, tired, leaning on an elbow holding a leaf of escarole in her hand (perhaps the hundredth one) and carefully letting the water run over it, caressing the dirt out of the stem and coaxing it from the leaf. Her patience astounded me.
The preparation for Sunday Sauce began on Saturday night. She would fry the meatballs, prepare the meat to be seared in the morning, and lay out the other ingredients on the counter. Sometimes she would even put the pot on the stove. Everything was ready so she could start the sauce at daybreak with the coffee. No thinking necessary, just begin.
The following recipe is for Fay’s Sunday Sauce. Sorry vegetarian friends, there just “ain’t” no way around the bones in this one. Here goes:
1lb Pork neck bones 1lb Pork ribs 1 ½ lbs. Braciole Meat- 6 4oz pieces of pounded flank steak 6 Italian sausage links (sweet or mild) 12 cloves garlic- 6 minced, 6 crushed ½ bunch Italian flat leaf parsley chopped fine ½ bunch fresh basil ½ picked and sliced into ¼” strips, ½ chopped 1 cup Parmesan Reggiano cheese 2 medium onions, small dice 96 fl oz tomato puree 32 fl oz crushed tomatoes 64 fl oz water 12 oz red wine 1 Tsp. dried oregano salt and pepper to taste Extra Virgin Olive Oil as needed Toothpicks 2 pounds pasta of choice
Make meatballs. What? I didn’t give you the recipe or ingredients for the “Disappearing Meatballs?” Oh. That’s right. I am not going to. It is a secret. I don’t think any of you can ever get it out of me. I have three daughters whose marriage’s may depend on it. Anyway you don’t need them for sauce. If you make them properly you wont have any left to put in. They will disappear. If you try different recipes and you feel you may die if you don’t get this one, you can try begging. But if I do give it to you, I will hand write it and send it to a mailing address. It will be a charmed recipe, however, and the envelope as well as the paper it is printed on will turn to dust the second your memory has taken in the details. The charm goes further. If you decide to share the recipe verbally with another, you will begin speaking in tongues. If you try to write it down again, your handwriting will turn to hieroglyphics. I am not kidding. The meatball charm is a powerful one.
Make coffee. Preferably strong, Italian coffee perked on the stove. If not, your fancy presses will do… I suppose… but the perking coffee and eventually simmering sauce is a olfactory sensation that should not be missed.
Here are the Directions:
Making the Sauce:
1. Place a large, heavy bottomed sauce pot over medium/high heat and coat the bottom with extra virgin olive oil.
2. When the oil just begins to smoke add the sausage links and brown nicely on all sides. When nicely browned, remove sausage to a plate. Repeat this process with the neck bones, ribs, and braciole. Make sure when browning the meats not to move them too much, allowing the meats to caramelize.
3. Once all meat is browned and removed from pot, add the diced onions and smashed garlic cloves and sweat until translucent.
4. At this point add the red wine and deglaze the pot. Scrape the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon to help release all the caramelized meat bits.
5. Lower heat so wine simmers until wine reduces by half.
6. Add tomato puree, water and crushed tomatoes to pot. Stir well until fully incorporated. Bring sauce up to a simmer and add sliced basil, oregano and season lightly with salt and pepper. Stir sauce frequently.
7. Add all browned meats to the sauce along with any juice on the plate. Stir gently
8. Simmer sauce uncovered for 1 to 2 hours stirring gently every 10 minutes. Stirring gently helps in not breaking up the meats while cooking.
9. When meats are all tender and the sauce has reduced by approximately ¼, sauce is ready.
10. Carefully remove all the meats from the sauce and place in a serving bowl. Ladle some extra sauce over the meats and cover with plastic wrap to keep moist.
11. Cook our Pasta of choice in salted water, drain, mix with the sauce and place in a serving bowl. Ladle some extra sauce over the pasta and garnish with Parmesan and parsley.
Yell as loud as you can to your whole family that dinner is ready. Dig in!
A few months ago I was late making the sauce and my grandmother was in my kitchen when I was preparing it. I pick her up on most Sundays… but the sauce is already done. This I do on purpose. So she was watching me. I browned the meat, and then I put the tomato product in.
“Suzanne, why don’t you put the garlic in and let it brown with the meat?” said the old woman.
My heart raced. Am I supposed to do that? I never knew that? did she do that? What do I say now? Do I admit the mistake? Crap crap crap crap crap.
So– I did what I always do with my grandmother. I talked my way around her. I talked her right under the freaking table. I don’t know what it is about the woman… but though I am really very good with taking instruction, and not half bad at taking a critique, I can’t take one thing she says to me. Nothing. Everything she says makes me want to poke her in the eye.
So I reply impatiently and with fervor,”The garlic will BURN if you put it in on that high and we don’t want the garlic to BURN because it will be BITTER and it is much, much better this way.” Gram took a disappearing meatball out of the bowl on the counter and walked away.
From that day forward I put the garlic in when I turn the meat and let them brown together, watching them so the garlic does not burn. I have yet to let her know. I…. whatever.
The Love Letter:
Someday, when she is ready to leave this world I will tell her. Someday, when she is quietly ready to meet the God she loves so much, I will be there. I know this. She is not the type to die in her sleep, not this woman.
I will sit next to her, hold her hand and assure her that she looks fantastic. And then… only then I will lean in close and whisper in her ear.
“You were right about the garlic gram. In fact, you were right about almost everything you ever told me.” And because she is who she is, and because I am who I am, that is all I will have to say. The rest will unfold in her mind like a flower. Secret admirer exposed.
*note, this was originally published online on a quiet little blog… but the recipe has been updated by a CHEF for REAL! So it’s pitch perfect. I hope you enjoy.
Suzanne Palmieri is the internationally selling Author of THE WITCH OF LITTLE ITALY (Saint Martin’s Press 2013), co-author of I’LL BE SEEING YOU (Releases next month by Mira, written as Suzanne Hayes), and my own dear, lovely friend. Since our voices sound the same, if you ever call one of us on the phone, you will know what the other sounds like.
Easter eggs: No dye necessary (though they do need to be washed…)
We’ve been eating quite a lot of eggs lately thanks to the happy production of our sweet little hens.
Don’t let that horrifying look fool you. Phyllis loves her bath.
Er, um… moving on.
A favorite breakfast at our house is that one egg-in-toast dish that everyone knows but no one can agree on a name for.
Bird in a Nest or Toad in a Hole or Egg in a Hole or Egg in a Basket or Bird’s Nest or Froggie in a Pond or…
Just to confuse things further, we made up our own name: Hole in One. But whatever you call it, it’s tasty–rich, buttery, and oh so filling.
You probably already know how to make it, but since I took pictures, you’re getting a recipe. Maybe you could use this post as a way to teach a kid or a pet or someone…
Butter (with butter, not margarine please) both sides of your bread. I like whole-wheat or sourdough myself, but if you like something different, I won’t be mad (unless you use margarine).
Use a biscuit cutter or a glass to cut a hole in the center of each bread slice.
Place on medium high griddle or pan. (The only trick with this dish is getting the egg whites cooked through without overcooking the yolks, while at the same time perfectly toasting the bread. That’s why I suggest medium-high heat. It may take a little experimenting to get it just right.)
While you are at it, put that buttered round down on the griddle too. That’s the best part.
Drop a little pat of butter in the center of the hole.
Crack an egg in the hole. Just one please. Sarah Jane is a show off and lays double yolked eggs. Don’t mind her.
Salt and pepper egg to taste.
Cook until bread is nicely browned on the bottom and whites have begun to set.
You want the yolks to still be somewhat runny. If you push on the center, it should have some give and be sort of jiggly. (Like my stomach if I eat too many of these. Or um…every other day of my life.)
As much as I grumble about Daylight Savings Time (Give me my hour back!) I do love that there is more light each day. It is simply lovely to have longer evenings. Our hens are quite happy about the waxing daylight as well. Each expresses her joy by laying an egg nearly every morning.
Aren’t they pretty? Earlier this week, when I noticed that we had perhaps a few too many eggs I whipped up a batch of German pancakes for dinner. Yet another reason to be happy!
German pancakes taste wonderful, look impressive, and at only five ingredients, are incredibly easy to make. They are also pretty good for you–an all-around win!
As you know, I usually only have two mouths grinning hungrily at me around my dinner table. Counting myself, there are three of us to feed, but you hay have only one. Or seven. Or somewhere in between. Luckily, this recipe is an easy one to adjust for the amount of servings you’d like to end up with.
For each serving, place 2 tablespoons of butter (I prefer salted) in a glass, ceramic, or metal pie plate. You know me, I’m not fussy. Use what you have.
Put your pie plates in the oven and crank it up to 400°. Allow the plates to heat and the butter to melt while you mix up the batter.
For each serving, crack two large eggs into a large bowl. As I was making three servings, I cracked six eggs into my bowl. Whisk.
Side note: Farm-fresh (or backyard-fresh) eggs are a much deeper golden color–and richer taste–than those you purchase at the supermarket.
For each serving add 1/2 milk. For my three servings, I added 1-1/2 cups milk. Whisk.
Add 1/2 white flour (or 1/4 cup finely-ground whole wheat flour and 1/4 cup white flour) per serving. Once again, for me that was a total of 1-1/2 cups flour.
Add in 1/4 teaspoons salt per serving. If I had bothered to measure, mine would have been roughly 3/4 teaspoons salt. Whisk until well-blended, but don’t bother trying to get all the lumps out. That would be an exercise in futility–and who wants to exercise right before dinner?
By now your pie plates should be good and hot and your butter should be melted. If you are like me and you spent your time photographing each step of the batter making process, your butter may have even begun to brown a bit. Though browned butter is not ideal, it won’t hurt anything, so don’t worry about being perfect and just go with it.
Divide your batter between your hot plates. It should be slightly more than a cup each. Place back in the oven (I don’t care what rack. Do what you need to to get them to fit. One caveat–they will grow as they cook, so if you are cooking on multiple racks make sure you have them spaced out a bit.)
Bake twenty minutes or until puffed and golden brown on the edges. (Note: If your butter was browned, like mine, the edges of your pancakes will be darker than normal.)
In my house there is only one correct way to eat German pancakes, with fresh-squeezed lemon and powdered sugar. Once we were out of lemon so we topped them with sliced bananas and real maple syrup. Though wholly incorrect, wrong never tasted so right. You may choose something completely different to top your pancakes. Go ahead, I won’t judge (even if you are wrong).
We have a little tradition of making one homemade present for each other every Christmas. Several weeks ago, in order to gather a key component of my gift for Newt, I put out a call for help on Facebook:
Anyone have a jointed-arms Barbie needing a home? She can be ugly, naked, scribbled on, and/or ratty haired. I just need her arms to move. Working on a craft project/Christmas present for Newt. (Don’t you wish I was your Secret Santa?)
People are fairly used to me being strange, I think. A few days later, a friend dropped off a sad, ugly, nearly naked* Barbie Doll, just begging to be made into something fabulous dangerous. He did not even bother to ask what I would be doing with it. *She was not totally naked. She was wearing a men’s athletic sock. I don’t even know.
Both tutrorials pointed out that even jointed Barbie’s arms need to be cut off and reattached in order to properly cover her eyes. Both tutorials also suggested using a hot glue gun to reattach, but somehow I failed to notice. I wish I had–it would have saved me many swears. I should have glued them on nice and tight, then covered the joint with air dry clay. Instead, I just used air dry clay to attach them. Do not do this.
If you’ll notice, I also have Barbie in a bottle, which I have glued to a base. I had planned to use the bottle method as outlined by Creative Crossing but later changed my mind. You’ll see why.
Anyway, after giving Barbie some Popeye arms “reattaching” Barbie’s arms, I moved on to her hair. First up, a haircut. I trimmed it as closely as I could, then used tweezers to pull the rest out. Once she was nicely bald, I sculpted new hair with air-dry clay. I used a stylus to create ridges and add texture.
I free-handed a paper pattern to create her wings, then formed them from foam core board and glued them to her back. (Step not pictured.) Then I got ready to dress the little angel. I used plaster fabric–it is the same material casts are made from. Small rolls are readily available at craft stores. I happened to have a bunch lying around leftover from another project.
Once I got the Barbie all dressed, I realized that the bottle made her look pregnant. This is where the swearyness began. I ripped off the plaster, broke the bottle off the base, and discarded it.
Plan B: A lump of clay and a large skewer stick for support. (Sorry about the terrible photo, but I think it’s clear enough for you to get the idea.) Once the clay cured (a couple of days) I ran a bead of Gorilla Glue around its edge to ensure that it did not pop off the base.
While I was reworking things, I decided to add clay to the wings in order to give them a more sculpted look. This was a great idea for aesthetics, but a terrible idea for my temper. The clay cracked as it dried which looked awesome except when whole pieces started falling off the foam core. I carefully glued them back in place, fitting them together like a puzzle. Anger making aspect number two: The wings were now too heavy to easily attach. My glue needed time to cure and I could not hold them easily in place. I ended up having to use a lot of electrical tape in order to hold them steady while the glue dried. If I were to make one again I would craft the wings entirely from sculpty (oven dried clay), forming them to the contours of the doll’s back.
This was also around the time Barbie’s arms started falling off. Repeatedly. None of my glues were sticking well. It was lucky no one was home. I got more than a little cranky. Eventually, Gorilla Glue did the trick, but the arms were looking pretty rough. I decided to make my angel look like one of the more corroded ones from the episode with Angel Bob (The Time of Angels) (I did not know that off hand. I looked it up.) (Newt would have known.) Once I finally got the wings to stay on the @%!# Barbie, I moved on to crafting her dress. This was one of my favorite parts of the process, second only to painting. The plaster fabric is quite easy to work with. Just cut to your desired size, dip in warm water, and apply. It is very mailable and therefore, easy to form folds and ripples in order to emulate real fabric. Make sure you do at least three coats for durability. I also smeared a little of the plaster on Barbie’s arms and face to rough them up a little.
Be sure to give ample time for all the clay and plaster to dry before painting–at least 48 hours. I used gray tinted latex primer as a base coat. We just happened to have a can in the garage. (Side note: The only things I actually purchased for this project were the clay, wooden base, and foam-core. All in all I spent about $5. Yay me!)
Once the primer was fully dry, I pulled out my acrylic craft paints. I thinned some black with water until it was about the consistency of ink. Then, working in sections to avoid drying, I painted it on, making sure to push it into all the crack and crevices, then quickly toweled it off with an old rag. (A paper towel would likely work as well, just be careful of paper lint/fibers.) As a final touch, I used a mossy green color, to look like, well, moss. I stippled it on, sparingly, with a stiff brush, considering where moss would actually grow on a statue. Here is a full shot of the completed angel. Warning: DON’T BLINK.
P.S. The Weeping Angel is a copyrighted character. Please feel free to create these dolls for your own terror and enjoyment, but do not sell them. Additionally, I accept no responsibility for angel dolls or images coming to life and sending you back in time. I hope you enjoy 1941.
If you love books like I do you may be wondering about the title of this post. I mean, why shouldn’t you just give books? The answer: You should. Give lots of them. Especially to me. But, if you want to give something handmade*, you might like to try one of the following ideas. That is, if you can get past the wanton destruction of innocent books.
Book Notebooks I made these doodle pads for Newt for Christmas a few years ago. First I picked up a couple of used Harry Potter paperbacks and cut off the covers. Then I trimmed blank white paper to fit and had them bound at Kinkos. Easiest craft ever and she loved them. Win. Win. But what to do with all the pages?
Call my hometown bookstore, The Book Bin at 503-361-1235, and place an order!
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