Wednesday, August 03, 2005


My good friend and distant cousin, Culinary Fool, “tagged” me to participate in a Meme earlier this week.

What’s a “Meme?” To be honest, I’m still not sure. But it seems to be the blogging-world’s version of a chain letter…but with an important difference. Each blogger who is “tagged” to participate in a Meme is expected to contribute his own creative writings to the designated topic before forwarding it on to others.

In the case of this current Meme, the topic is “Top Five Childhood Food Memories.” In other words, the tagged blogger is requested to describe five food memories from his childhood that he misses terribly in adulthood…or something like that.

So…that’s what I’ve done. Listed below are…

(In no particular order)

1. CHRISTMAS EVE DINNER AT GRANDMA’S AND GRANDPA’S HOUSE: My paternal grandparents in Utica, NY hosted Christmas Eve each year. And although my Grandmother was a competent (if not Bocuse-esque) cook during normal times, on one day each year (December 24) she morphed into a Culinary Savant. Consistent with Italian-American tradition, the Christmas Eve menu was meatless and fish-heavy. It consisted of the following: (a) smelts dipped in flour and egg and fried by my grandfather on the gas stove in their basement; (b) shrimp cocktail; (c) battered and fried shrimp; (d) vinegary fish salad with more components than I could possibly list; (e) thin spaghetti with oil, garlic and anchovy sauce; (f) spaghetti with red calamari sauce [my favorite]; (g) lobster tails for the kids; (h) fruits, nuts, pomegranates (which the kids called “Chinese apples”) and dried figs; and (i) pies and baked goods for desserts…including Utica’s classic “Half Moons.” Their house was a revolving door of visiting family. Aunts, uncles, cousins and in-laws dropped in and out throughout the night. There were usually 15-20 for dinner; with another 15 or so stopping by for coffee and desserts afterward. During dinner, my grandfather would sit at the head of the long table set-up in their living room with a gallon-jug of Carlo Rossi dago red on the floor next to his right foot. When the spaghetti course came ‘round, he’d ask if I wanted grated cheese. I’d say, “No” and he’d usually respond, “What are you? A Polack?!” This Utica-based annual food fest began to slowly unravel after we moved from from the area in 1977, but my parents continue the tradition (with still more courses added) to this day in Chicago.

2. BANANA SPLITS AT EDDIE’S: Eddie’s is a large family diner in Sylvan Beach, NY. Sylvan Beach is a town on Lake Oneida (thirty minutes or so from Utica) where my paternal grandparents have a summer house. We spent entire summers there until we moved in 1977. Eddie’s has been in business since the Jurassic Period. It is a throwback to the 1950’s, with red vinyl booths and formica tabletops. Most booths set beside large windows lining two of the four walls. There was usually a line waiting to be seated behind a barrier of velvet movie theater rope in the front entranceway. Eddie’s is “famous” for its hot ham sandwiches and (from my father’s perspective) its banana-cream pies. But I mention it here not for those items (which, I’ll concede, were fabulous), but rather…for its banana splits. We’d often go to Eddie’s during summer nights for desserts. My grandfather and I always ordered the banana splits. Each came on an oval-shaped stainless steel dish—looking like a shallow silver boat resting on a silver pedestal. The banana split was constructed as follows: (a) one scoop each of chocolate, vanilla and strawberry ice cream; (b) one banana cut lengthwise, with each half resting parallel beside the three scoops of ice cream; (c) hot fudge drizzled over one half of the ice cream, and strawberry sauce drizzled over the other; (d) a mountain of whipped cream forming a peak on top of the ice cream and banana; (e) salty chopped peanuts sprinkled over the whipped cream; and of course…(f) a maraschino cherry on top. My grandfather—who was 5´4” and 200 lbs. of hulking, rock-solid muscle—typically made short-work of the banana split. I’d need a bit more time to finish…but not much more.

3. NEW YEAR’S DAY RAVIOLI AND ORECHIETTE AT NONNIE’S AND POPPIE’S HOUSE: New Year’s Eve and Day were the designated holidays for Nonnie and Poppie; my maternal grandparents. As I mention above, my paternal grandmother was a one-day per year Savant in the kitchen. But Nonnie was/is a 24x7x365 genius behind the stove. How could she be otherwise? Her parents came from Puglia! The centerpiece of Nonnie’s New Year’s meal was ravioli and orechiette in a meat-based tomato sauce. She made the ravioli by hand, and it was stuffed with ricotta cheese. The orechiette—a pasta typical of the Puglia region that translates to “little ears”…although we kids called them “little hats”—were offered as a concession to Poppie, who didn’t like ravioli. My love for Nonnie’s ravioli rivaled my love for Grandma’s spaghetti with calamari.


5. AND FINALLY…FRIDAY NIGHTS WITH JAI: This is, perhaps, pushing the bounds of what might be considered “childhood,” because I was in my early ‘20’s at the time. But hey…I’m almost 40 now, so that was half a lifetime ago. Anyway…Jai is a close friend from Chicago whose mother has kept my belly well-stuffed with Indian food for two decades. During the years 1989-1991 (when we’d just graduated from university), Jai and I had a Friday night ritual. We’d drive into Chicago at 7pm and head straight to a joint called The Patio on Taylor Street for an Italian sausage with hot peppers. I don’t know what spice The Patio added to those babies, but they were life-altering. After The Patio, we’d bound around the city doing who-knows-what until midnight. At midnight, we’d drive to El Taco Loco; which was a trailer-like Mexican diner in the middle of a parking lot on South Wabash Street…just behind the Blackstone Hotel. The waitress at El Taco Loco was a young Salvadoran named “Zoyla” who—despite seeing us every week for two years—never showed the least bit of recognition when taking our orders. Jai and I always ordered the Burrito Suizo…which was a rugby ball-sized burrito bulging with meat, sour cream, guacamole, tomatoes, onions and topped with melted cheese and ranchero sauce. Mine was stuffed with shredded chicken; Jai’s was usually stuffed with chorizo and eggs. For drinks, we’d always order horchata…which was supposed to be good for hangover-prevention. After El Taco Loco, we’d kill another couple hours before our last pit stop. Between the hours of 2am and 3am, we’d venture into the scary Maxwell Street area for Polish sausage. A Maxwell Street Polish is a Chicago institution. It’s a grilled Polish sausage on a bun, topped with thinly-sliced grilled onions and yellow mustard…and is usually accompanied by a small cardboard box of French fries. Maxwell Street was a rough area during those years, but the Polish sausage joints were a safe-haven. No matter what the hour, they were always packed with hungry University of Illinois-Chicago (UIC) students huddled together for safety like a pack of antelopes in lion country. The Maxwell Street sausage-fest marked the end of our Friday night. With onion-tainted breath, we’d trek back to the suburbs and arrive home while the sun was rising…at which point, I’d pick up the Chicago Tribune that was already laying on my parents’ driveway and head-off to bed for a few hours.

There you have it! My five childhood food memories.

Now…according to generally-accepted Meme procedures (GAMP), I am supposed to pick four other blogs to carry this Meme forward. I therefore designate the following (which, I hope, won’t piss them off too much…this is, after all, strictly optional):

1. HarshKarma
2. Kick Shoe Kooy
3. On The Road
4. Mausi

Next, GAMP requires that I list those blogs that came before me on this Meme. Why? So you can see how and from where it traveled. If you are one of the four blog that I “tagged” above and you choose to carry this Meme forward, here's what you do: (a) Remove the blog at #1 from the list below and bump every one up one place; (b) add your blog’s name in the #5 spot; and (c) link to each of the other blogs for the desired cross-pollination effect.

1. BeautyJoyFood
Farmgirl Fare
Becks & Posh
Culinary Fool
Sal DeTraglia’s Virtual Tapas Bar

Wow! That was exhausting…but kinda fun. I hope that you found it somewhat entertaining, even if it didn’t pertain to Spain.

Now, go out and get yourselves some banana splits! Culinary Fool is buying!


At 5:25 PM, Blogger Angie said...

I feel so honored to be tapped, lol. Given my Midwestern background (of German-British ancestry), I'm afraid my childhood memories of Italian food revolve around Mom's spaghetti with Ragu sauce and Pizza Hut. No Carlo Rossi in my grandparents' home, although my grandpa, raised on a Tennessee farm, does make some mean (and I mean, MEAN) homemade wine.

However, if I think on it long enough, I'm sure I can come up with five MEME-worthy anecdotes to post on my blog in the near future. In the meantime, I will sit here at my desk pretending to work for the rest of the day, when really I'll be thinking about those banana splits you described in #2. Mmmmmm.

At 5:47 PM, Blogger Sal DeTraglia said...

Sorry Angie. I was going to warn the four of you about this later tonight.

It's all strictly optional. I listed you because (a) you're a great writer, and (b) you complained yesterday that your soon-to-be-reconstituted blog has no readers.'s a bit a free publicity for "On the Road."

Besides...I'm now intrigued by your grandfather's wine. It wasn't corn-based, was it? The great wines of Tennessee usually are. ;-)

Anyway...let me again emphasize that this MEME thing is strictly for fun...and strictly optional. Feel free to ignore it if it seems more trouble than its worth.


At 7:40 PM, Blogger Culinary Fool said...

Great post, Sal! Love all the big dinners with family swirling around...

Thanks for taking the time!!

~ B

At 9:09 PM, Blogger Angie said...

Sal, don't worry, I'm looking forward to it. I subscribe to Writer's Digest's free e-newsletter, and it always includes "writer's prompts" to get the creative juices flowing. Your MEME (and your excellent example) is much more interesting than those "professional" writing prompts.

Incidentally, it's about 2 p.m. in Indiana, and some co-workers and I just took a break to go to the cafe down the street. They got coffee... I got a big scoop of chocolate-chip-cookie-dough ice cream. I'm not saying it's your fault, but I'd been craving ice cream all morning!

At 9:51 PM, Blogger christina said...

Excellent! This one sounds like fun. I'll have to think about it a bit first.

At 10:09 PM, Blogger Sal DeTraglia said...

Angie: Guilty as charged! Just call me the Willy Wonka of Spain.

Christina: I read through your blog and thought, "Christina! This has Christina written all over it." It will be interesting to hear the Canadian perspective on this. "I'll never forget my first can of Molson Brador at age 7..." ;-)

¡Gracias chicas! Hasta pronto.


At 3:51 PM, Blogger harsh said...

Love the idea, and a post is soon to follow, but it might be just a little travel delayed :) I'm taking vacation with limited connectivity.

At 10:50 AM, Blogger Sal DeTraglia said...

Rockin' good news, Harsh-man. Have a good vacation. Funny...I've always wondered where people whose jobs require 100% travel go for vacation.

Anyway, we look forward to your childhood food meme-ries from the Indian perspective. And if you drop the ball on this, you'll have to answer to Uma ;-) [Hi Uma!].

Ciao, bro...and don't worry. You'll be tag-free from here on. I never double-tag. That's how you lose friends.


At 11:48 PM, Anonymous Amber B said...

Just surfing the net - love the blog stories...
So glad you took the time for that trip down memory lane!
I've never heard of the meme, but I think I'll have to start one myself!!! :)
Ciao bello,
Amber B


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