Posted in Freedom Friday, Other Things

Fondest Memories

Elvis Presley once sang a song called Memories. Whenever I hear it, I quickly return to when I was a child growing up in Little Italy where I’d be sitting with my nose to the window watching the snow accumulate on the path leading to our home.

Elvis Presley
Elvis Presley

I also remember being no older than five years old, sitting on the floor playing with my toys while my mother cooked the Sunday family meal. I can still smell the delicious aroma of her Italian gravy (sauce).

I remember being ten and coming home from school for lunch. I spent my time in the kitchen wolfing down what she had taken all morning to prepare, so that I could watch The Flintstones before going back to school.

I remember spending summer nights running around my cousins’ street, chasing them in a game of Hide-and-Seek. My father and uncles would be playing cards in the kitchen while my mother and aunts would be cleaning up. I can’t forget having all the freedom in the world, with no responsibilities or worries.

The Universe
The Universe

I remember driving back home from a long trip in the country. My parents were chatting in the front seat of the car while I watched the stars twinkling through the rear window. It was then that my love for astronomy developed.

I remember the first time I felt absolute fear. I was eight and I was exploring my aunt’s garden in Italy. The next thing I remember was staring at a huge web spun across my path with the largest spider I’ve ever seen sitting in the center. It was also the first time I felt a lump in my throat.

I remember riding in the backseat of my uncle’s car. He smoked and the smell of the cheap polyester that covered everything had churned my stomach to the point where I threw my head out the passenger window and decorated the side of his vehicle with my partially digested lunch. I’ll never forget how patient and kind he was toward me, despite what I had done.

I remember the smell of fresh cut grass in the mornings when my dad would do the lawn.

I remember the smell of burning wood while I waited for my aunt to make popcorn the old fashion way. The memory of the sunset hitting the Italian Alps still hasn’t left me, even after all these years.

I remember spending time with my parents Sunday afternoons watching Godzilla movies on a small twenty-four-inch black and white TV.

I remember sitting in the living room watching my Saturday morning cartoons and remembering how my mom would bring me a bowl of carrots to keep me filled until lunch.

I remember the rain, the smell of it and the sound while I sat watching from my veranda.

I miss my childhood. I love the memories.

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What do you remember from your childhood?

Posted in Freedom Friday, Other Things

My Childhood

When I was twelve, I looked forward to Friday nights. I lived in Toronto’s Little Italy where our neighborhood featured markets, shops and cafés specializing in Italian goods and cuisine. Our neighborhood also had a theater featuring movies shipped directly from the old country. It was there my dad would take me every Friday night to enjoy some one on one time away from the family. I believe it is also there my fondness for films emerged.

Movie theater
Movie theater

For today’s Freedom Friday, allow me the liberty to tell you about this part of my life.

Before the age of ten, I grew up in some of the roughest neighborhoods in the city. The school I went to was once voted the worst school in all of Toronto by a group of concerned citizens. My family eventually moved out of there and took up residence in Little Italy. It was a great place to live, school nearby, lots of places to play, and I had plenty of friends.

My dad made it a habit to build traditions in our family as a means to bond us to certain times of the year. Saturday nights were big at our house. It was Hockey Night in Canada night and should there have been a game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens, God forbid, it would have been the most epic night of the week.

The other big night was Friday night. My favorite. My mom would make something quick for us to eat—typically a soup, a plate of sandwich meats and bread, or simply a bowl of pasta—so that we could leave as soon as we finished eating. The theater was down the street from us and it took about fifteen minutes to walk there.

My mom always made sure I brought a sweater; even if it was during the hot summer months. She always said it would get cold in the theater. She was right. I still remember that to this day where I sometimes bring a sweater with me to the theater—yes, even in the sweltering months of summer.

I loved the walk there with my dad. We talked about silly things a nosey kid like me liked talking about. A thing like where we would sit when we got there was a hot topic. I wanted to sit to the side and he wanted to sit in the middle. So imagine where we sat. Nowadays, I love the middle. It’s the best seat in the theater.

The Spaghetti Western
The Spaghetti Western

Once we arrived, we’d check the movie posters. If any of them were a spaghetti western, I’d be jumping on the spot with excitement. It wasn’t hard for him to figure out which one we’d see.

From there, the other events are a blur. I remember the popcorn he’d buy me, the seats we sat in and the waiting in anticipation. Sometimes the theater would have a cartoon showing before the movie, which made the evening even more exciting.

After the film, and having found our way outside, the fresh air that hit my face was incredible. I can never forget the sensation of walking back home with gunslingers on my mind. My dad always got a kick from seeing me excited talking about the best parts of the film. How can I forget such a memorable evening?

I suppose I should have given this article a title like, “My Dad,” or “Movie Night,” but in actuality, calling it anything else other than “My Childhood” wouldn’t have made sense to me. Although it’s a snippet in time, I think you get a good idea of what my early life was like reading this.

I was an ordinary kid with my whole life ahead of me. Isn’t that the way childhood should be?

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Do you have fond memories of your childhood you’d like to share?

Posted in Food Favorites, Freedom Friday

Our Meals

The other night my wife surprised me with a barbecue chicken meal. I say surprised because it was the first time she’d made it. It was delicious. No surprise there since she cooks pretty amazing things for me and the family. During the weekend, I return the favor by cooking the Saturday meal. My kids like it as does my wife.

My  garlic chicken and my wife's coleslaw
My garlic chicken and my wife’s coleslaw

Freedom Friday is not the same if I don’t talk about food in some form or another. Today makes no exception.

Some of my favorite meals my wife makes are the simple ones with lots of flavor. For instance, during those cold winter nights when the heat cuts in every two minutes and the snow piles high outside our front door, she’ll dedicate a good portion of her time making all sorts of soup. Squash soup, heavy on the hot pepper, is a regular treat for dinner. It lights up the palate and soothes the chills from the bitter wind blowing from the Arctic. Broccoli soup is another one of her specialties. I don’t know what she puts in it to get it so creamy, but I have to say it’s so good.

Although not a meal, my wife has taken to making batches of Greek Tzatziki sauce. It’s a yogurt-based sauce with bits of cucumber and lots of garlic in the mix. We use it to dip fries, chicken and pita bread in it. I can only describe the flavor as divine. The creamy richness of the sauce provides the meal a missing element of flavor that few sauces can compare. Simply outstanding.

My wife also cooks the traditional Italian dishes for our family. Pasta sauce and meatballs is a staple in our diet. Our typical Tuesday night meal consists of lots of pasta—penne, rigatoni, spaghetti, etc.—drenched with her homemade sauce and lots of spicy meat as part of the plate. She’ll add salad and vegetables as side dishes, but her salads are meals in themselves. Standard ingredients in her salads are sliced cucumbers, chunks of feta cheese and at times, Greek olives. I suppose you might call it a Greek salad with a little something to boot.

My Saturday meals can be anything. I’ve been on a curry kick lately, making everything from curry chicken to any meat with curry in there. I have a handful of ingredients I use on a regular basis to bring out the flavor of the meat in a wild and exciting way (coconut milk, curry, garlic, onion, salt, black and cayenne pepper).

I’ll sometimes make lamb as a special treat on a long weekend. I love my garlic, so I’ll mince garlic in the lamb, add olive oil, salt, pepper and Dijon mustard to give it an extra kick. I don’t want to brag—oh, why not—it’s one of the best dishes I enjoy making and eating with the family.

Lastly, the best part about our meals is sitting together as a family and talking about our day. Nothing quite beats that.

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What foods do you enjoy making or eating? Do you also have recipes you like having for special occasions?

Posted in Food Favorites, Freedom Friday

Food Photography

Taking pictures of food has become a hobby of mine. For a long time, I took the photos not knowing what to do with them until one day it’d dawned on me. I didn’t need to do anything with them. The photos of the food not only represent edibles, but of times gone by. A single image floods my mind of all the good times associated with those meals. Let’s have a look at some of those photos and of what they mean to me for Freedom Friday.

Mamma's Penne Pasta
Mamma’s Penne Pasta

My mom’s pasta is to die for. I don’t know how she makes the sauce, and believe me, my wife’s tried to replicate it, I’ve tried, yet to no avail, we have never been able to duplicate it from scratch. In its place, my wife has her own recipe, which I love with a passion, but it’s not mamma’s sauce. Don’t worry, my wife knows how I feel, it’s no secret. The point being, this photo of my mom’s penne pasta coated with her delicious sauce represents a typical Sunday meal at my parents place. Whenever I look at this picture, memories of all those good time family gatherings come back to me. Every so often, we also have the typical Sunday meal here at my house.

Curry chicken, corn, green beans and marinated eggplant
Curry chicken, corn, green beans and marinated eggplant

Every Saturday afternoon I cook something special for the family. It’s my time when I treat everyone to a culinary creation of my choosing. One of my favorite dishes I enjoy making is chicken. I think I’ve cooked chicken in every way possible, yet, I’m sure someone will say to me, “Have you tried it this way?” I’m sure of it. This photo has all the fall colors wrapped in a delicious assortment of vegetables and chicken. For anyone curious, those are marinate eggplants. I enjoy this photo because it reminds me of our Saturday family time together.

Sushi
Sushi

Sushi reminds me of special occasions, long weekends and my absolute love for Japanese food. For those who don’t know, I make my own sushi. It took a long time to understand how all the ingredients worked together, their names and their distinct flavors. Nowadays, it’s second nature making this stuff. This photo is of one of the long weekends here at Casa Flacco, and of how I spent my afternoon. Salmon, avocado, sticky rice, all wrapped with nori. The other dish I made with cucumber, sticky rice and nori. I love long weekends because of our sushi binges.

Salad
Salad

Nothing quite tops a good ol’ fashioned salad in my family. Salads remind me of summer and fall. We make our salads from the choicest, freshest ingredients. All of it organic and most of it comes from our backyard. This photo captures the essence of what our meals are like in the summer. Every day is salad day with olive oil, feta cheese, Greek olives and onions as extra ingredients. What this photo does not capture is the hard work involved with tilling the soil, watering, babying it every single day to allow it to bring forth an incredible bounty for all of us to enjoy.

Now do you see why I take photos of food?

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Are you one of those folks who also take photos of food? What is your favorite food to shoot?

Posted in Freedom Friday

My Room

Growing up I spent a lot of time in my room. Not because my parents punished me or anything. I just liked the time alone to do stuff I enjoyed doing without interference from the outside world. In some ways, I still do that whenever I withdraw from everyone to write my zombie tales of madness and survival. Let me give you a quick peek into my formative years for Freedom Friday, this way you’ll know where I’m coming from whenever I insert a reference of some obscure book, movie or music into my insane writings.

Chess by Thomas Saur
Chess by Thomas Saur

I value my time alone. How’s that for an attention-getting statement? Life moves fast. If I don’t slow down, I’ll end up wishing I had spent more time smelling the roses. I know it’s a cliché, but it works in this case—the smelling of the roses bit, that is.

As a boy, growing up in an active Italian family, I didn’t have time to think about the future. I was having too much fun enjoying the present running around with all my cousins. Not a weekend went by that we weren’t doing something with my relatives, whether it was cooking a BBQ, eating a gigantic meal or stuffing ourselves with oversized sandwiches.

Given my parents had four siblings apiece, it’s debatable since I don’t have my mom’s full history, our get-togethers were massive feasts of food and fun. My dad had recorded some of those events on one of those Super 8 cameras he had purchased. Back then, video did not come from a phone you concealed in your pocket, but from a clunky, old brick you held in your hand. Every so often I’d watch them wondering whatever happened to everybody.

When I reached the age of self-awareness, a teenager (a.k.a. the age of reason), I’d spent a good chunk of my time in my room. I don’t know why. I mean, I had friends and all, and my parents had friends, but I felt as though I needed time to understand who I was.

I learned I enjoyed playing chess. I remember having bought a portable electronic chess game that would play me on different levels, including grandmaster. I can’t say how many hours I’d dedicated to the game, by now most of that is lost in my memory. Yet, because of the time I’d poured into it, my team in grade school went on to win second place in the Ontario Regional Chess Tournament for that year.

About a year later, my interests had changed and my mind had focused more on music than anything else. I learned how to play the guitar. I guess I was pretty good ‘cause I played gigs with a few bands and had my own band by the end of high school.

How can I ever forget those summer nights when I knew my neighbors had gone to some party, and I’d be in my room, cranking out the tunes on my Gibson imitation. My poor parents. They put up so much with me, it’s a wonder they hadn’t disowned me by the time I had completed puberty.

William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare

In all this, I discovered Shakespeare. My first exposure to the behemoth playwright was in the ninth grade English class where we began studying The Merchant of Venice. At the time, I couldn’t get my head around a man possessed with the thought of collecting a pound of flesh for a debt owed. It became an obsession with me to want to find out what it all meant.

A pound of flesh? From where? The arm? The thigh? The buttocks? And when Shylock gets his pound of flesh, what will he do with it? Will he use it to heat his home? Will it be a mantelpiece for use in conversations? Or…will he reduce himself to zombie status and eat it?

From there I went on to devour Macbeth, Hamlet, Othello, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the intense, once-a-year-read Romeo and Juliet.

Romeo and Juliet. Oh, how I fell in love with the notion of lovers wanting to sacrifice their lives for each other. It haunted my nights. It made my days nightmares. I had obsessed over the book. I read, reread, and reread the text, going to the library searching for commentaries to hear what the experts had to say. I wondered how a story so simple could make me feel so insignificant. I contemplated on those last moments when Juliet held the dagger in her hand, waiting to thrust it deep within her bowels so she could be with her lover once again, Romeo.

“O happy dagger. This is thy sheath.”

During my formative years, my room became my sanctuary.

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Do you have memories of wanting to spend time in your room? What did you do? Did you learn anything?

Posted in Women Who Wow Wednesday

Carmela Soprano

On the evening of June 19, 2013, I came to learn actor James Gandolfini, star of the dramatic series The Sopranos, died of an apparent heart attack. He was 51.

Carmela Soprano
Carmela Soprano

The first time I’d watched The Sopranos, a scene from one episode on a free pay TV weekend here in Canada, I didn’t know what it was. I thought of it as some goofy comedy I’d surfed to on my way to watching Everybody Loves Raymond. It wasn’t until the fall of 2000, when CTV, one of our national networks, decided to broadcast the entire series uncut, that I took interest.

Being Italian-Canadian, I felt the show typified, with realism, how I grew up in the rough part of the city. Back then, you either held your own or became the punching bag for those who needed to prove their worth to society. I didn’t need to prove anything. I knew who I was.

Some critics had panned The Sopranos for its often-brutal display of violence, nudity and coarse language. When reading their reviews, it became obvious those critics did not grow up on the streets, and had privileged lives in some Ivy League institution.

What I like most about The Sopranos is its portrayal of life being Italian-American. The food, the characters’ mannerisms, the dialect language, the food, the gorgeous vistas of Italy, the large families, the weddings, the food, all make up our culture in an extraordinary way.

Portrait
Portrait

At the center of every Italian family, keeping it together, ensuring we remain in contact with one another, that we don’t forget about each other in the good times, is mamma. In The Sopranos, mamma is Carmela Soprano, Tony’s wife. Since the events of the past few weeks are still fresh in everyone’s mind, I thought I’d include Carmela in my Women Who Wow Wednesday series.

Tony and Carmela married young. They were high school sweethearts who went to Montclair State University until dropping out. She’s a devout Roman Catholic who has issues with Tony’s dealings in the underworld. She feels he trusts her enough to confide in her with very limited “family” information. But her main focus is her own family, even if Tony’s behavior, running off at all hours of the night, threatens their marriage.

Although Carmela’s nature is that of a materialistic hoarder, in her loneliest times, when Tony’s not there to pay attention to her, she attempts to remain close to her faith. Despite her behavior, getting too close to other men in a play of sensual tension, she remains loyal to Tony. It isn’t until Tony admits to multiple affairs that she kicks him out of the house. Imagine that, Carmela Soprano kicks out her mob boss husband who in an instant could have her disappear into nothingness.

Regardless of what anyone might think of Carmela, she tries her best to live a life befitting the morals given to her by her loving parents and faith. She loves her children very much and keeps them safe, even brandishing an AK-47 if she hears an intruder at the window.

Whatever anyone says about The Sopranos, Carmela proves life in isolation can have a positive impact, in particular, the children.

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Have you ever seen The Sopranos? How has James Gandolfini’s death affected you?