Cooking, Italian Style

By Liz, hoping the first winter storm warning of this season is a joke.

Happy last Tuesday of the year, Wicked Cozy friends! There’s a lot to celebrate today too –Murdermostfinicky it’s launch day for Murder Most Finicky! What a fun way to ring in the new year, right?

I had a ton of fun writing this book, which takes Stan out of her new Frog Ledge comfort zone and plops her in the middle of a bunch of crazy celebrity chefs–one of whom is, naturally, murdered. I had a blast with Sheldon Allyn, the head of this nutty pack, and the chefs he’s tapped along the way to help build his empire. These guys range from the quintessential Italian who loves her cannoli (and I can say that, as an Italian) to the brooding, troubled hunk, to the up and coming vegan chef. They’re all a little absurd, but a lot of fun. I hope you like hanging out with them for a few hundred pages.

But back to cooking. Most of you who read the blog or have heard me talk know that I’m a little bit of a fraud when it comes to the cooking thing. As in, I barely cook. Don’t get me wrong – I do sometimes, and I’m perfectly capable of following a good recipe. But I usually don’t have much time or patience for it. As a kid growing up in the aforementioned Italian home, cooking was EVERYTHING. My mother was not a gourmet chef, but she made all her food, including sausage from scratch. That was a sight to behold, when she and my grandmother set up the ancient sausage making machine at my grandmother’s big table in her basement and cranked out pounds of the stuff. I remember watching in (slightly disgusted) fascination as my mother fastened the casings onto the end of the machine and fed the meat inside while my grandmother cranked the handle. No wonder I don’t eat meat today.

On a happier note, my family made tons of Italian cookies. Pizelles, anginetti (Italian lemon drop cookies), Italian Christmas cookies, the wandies with all that yummy powdered sugar. Wandie making was a huge deal too. My mother, grandmother and a couple of great-aunts would gather around that same huge table in my grandmother’s basement (on a different day than sausage day) and make wandies. I don’t really remember what went into it, but I remember it was a huge project. Lots of time, dough and confectioner’s sugar. They weren’t my favorite, but the tradition of them always seemed special. Me, I preferred the fudge.

The one thing I did manage to take from my Italian upbringing was a talent for tomato sauce. This is one where I don’t even need a recipe – and it’s different every time. The past two summers, we’ve had a farm share at a lovely local farm. The tomatoes were perfect for sauce making, and there were so many of them that I’ve got frozen containers of it for the long winter days. Even though nowadays I eat gluten-free pasta, that sauce still brings back a lot of memories. My mother would bottle all her tomatoes and have sauce at the ready all the time. Back then, we followed the Italian meal plan: Pasta on Wednesdays and pasta for Sunday dinner. My father and I used to argue over the type of pasta we ate, especially on Sundays. He preferred ziti, while I was a rotini girl. I still have a fondness for those spiral-shaped pastas today.

So even though I’m not the best cook you’ll ever find, I have enough happy food-related memories to get me to the stove every now and then.965875_10208272743599266_1700600666516015924_o I even got new cookbooks for Christmas.IMG_0757 Not exactly Italian food, but yummy just the same. And a chance to make new foodie-related memories.

Readers, what are you favorite memories of food?

34 Thoughts

  1. Congrats, Liz! Love these food memories. My mom made dinners but I don’t think she liked savory cooking much. She was much more into baking. Fabulous cookies, pies, and cakes – which she decorated like a pro. She could even make icing roses.

  2. Happy book birthday! I’m on a bus to the airport for work as we speak, but I’m hoping to pick up a copy of the book on my trip. If I don’t get the chance, I’ll do it as soon as I get home.

  3. Congrats on the new book! My mom was a good cook–nothing fancy, just old-fashioned dishes. One of my favorites was tuna noodle casserole with crushed potato chips on top. I used to request that for my birthday, along with a spice cake with butter icing. Yum.

      1. My mother always made it with breadcrumbs. I was so jealous of my best friend Stephen whose mother made all her casseroles with crispy potato chip topping! I never had tuna casserole until I was in high school and had lunch at a friends house. Her mother set a table for us in a room I think had once been the children’s play room, but was converted to a room suitable for teens to dance and have parties. We sat at a lovely little table which was, again I’m sure, repurposed for teens. There we sat with tuna sandwiches, bottles of Coke, and fresh fried potato chips made by a man with a little store nearby. People my age from Marblehead still talk about those chips! My first lunch served in a home for just me and a friend. My first tuna sandwich. Fresh chips. And we each had our own bottle of real coke. Such a good friend, too.

  4. HI, Liz: What good memories to share. A cheerful beginning for a rainy day. And the new books sounds like great fun. Like lots of 50”s moms, mine combined the new convenience foods and cooking from scratch as it suited her. Home made chicken soup and pudding from My-T-Fine. For a person of her generation – 1st gen American,Jewish, married young, living in a small town – she was pretty adventurous. Pasta sauce from canned tomatoes, home made chili, exotic vegetables (hated zucchini, loved artichoke). She taught me to make home made blintzes, and I still do it for special occasions. Lots of work, lots of memories.

  5. Congratulations on your launch day! Very exciting. My favorite food memory comes from a Christmas when I was the kid. I baked a cake, decorated with all things Christmas and took it to my aunt’s house for Xmas dinner. Since I was the youngest, everyone made a big fuss over the cake but I remember my uncle’s praise and I think that set me up to be a lifelong baker. Everyone seemed so happy, especially my uncle. I love Italian cookies and I have that I bake every Christmas and everybody enjoys so much.

  6. Happy launch day, Liz! I am a pretty good cook, and I was thrilled to get a Pioneer Woman cookbook for Christmas. But I cannot make a decent spaghetti sauce to save my life. And I’m half Italian!
    My holiday food memory is gumbo. My grandmothers made it, my mother made it, my sister makes it, I make it. My seafood gumbo is awesome, if I do say so myself.

    1. I LOVE gumbo. I used to have a friend who lived in New Orleans, and I converted to southern eating for a while. Gumbo and monkey bread were my faves!

      1. Next September, girls, we’ll be in the home of the gumbo. Maybe Ramona can recommend somewhere to buy it – other than everybody descending on her mom, that is.

  7. Congrats on the new book, Liz! Yes, food is a big part of the Italian-American household. Annette and I still refer to our trips to Italy by what and where we ate. She is an excellent cook, especially of Italian food. It’s a challenge though because I don’t like garlic or pasta.

  8. First of all, happy book birthday! So excited for you!
    I’m half Italian, so I know where you are coming from. Just coming off Christmas with all the cookies (sadly, gone already) How does that happen? There are always TONS of them.

  9. Neither my mother or grandmother could cook. Their idea of any type of meat left me chewing shoe leather. My aunt on the other hand was a great cook. I loved going there for meals and holidays. Other then that we’d eat out at the local Chinese restaurant (this was in the 50’s). The waiters taught me to use chop stix when I was 5 years old. LOL

  10. Yay! Another book birthday! Can you believe it?!!!! I’m fascinated my Italian families and their cooking traditions. I grew up in meat and potatoes country. My mom is a great cook and baker — even at age 88. I got to her house on Christmas evening and found my favorite pastry waiting for me!

  11. Comgrats, Liz! Em me about guesting on Auntie M Writes for free promo boost. I’m half Italian and my grandmkther would make these cookies with anise taste, can never find a recipe for those. Happy New Year!

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