Tuesday, February 26, 2013

A Lesson in Lasagna

I wrote this for the Week 66 Trifecta Writing Challenge where we are to write 33-333 words using the word “doctor”, e.g., adding a material to food or scraping a surface. 

While this entry is self-contained, it follows a story I posted a while back, where I wrote about my first introduction to the central character in today’s post. If you have the time, please check it out: Brooklyn: A Big Family Dinner

___________

My ex-wife Vicky is from a big Italian family in Brooklyn and her Uncle Sal was very old school. Uncle Sal (short for Salvatore) was a tough guy who worked on the docks and was a boss in the Longshoremen’s Union.

Vicky and I were invited to Uncle Sal and Aunt Mary’s for Christmas dinner and, strangely, Sal was busy cooking when we arrived. In Vicky’s family, the women do all the work in the kitchen and the men just sit down when dinner is ready.  But Sal insisted on making the lasagna. He explained, “They [the women] don’t know nuttin’ about making lasagna. Their sauce is too watery and they never put enough garlic and sausage!”

Even though I got off to a rocky start with Sal, with my long hair and bell bottoms, he seemed to like me:  “Com’ere, I’m gonna’ show you how to make lasagna.”  He grabbed a handful of peeled tomatoes and started crushing them for the sauce. The pot was only about one quarter full when he yelled, “Shit, I don’t have enough to make a whole pot of sauce.”  Remembering that Mary always froze some extra sauce, he looked in the freezer and found enough to fill up the pot. He put the frozen block in the pot, set the stove to simmer and watched it melt. 

Sal was fuming. In my lame attempt at humor, I said: “Uncle Sal, didn’t you just tell me the women’s sauce is no good?”  After giving me a look, like I was a longshoreman who just dropped a pallet of T.V.s on the pier, he said:  “What the fuck, don’ you think I know that? I’m just going to have to doctor it up. And don’ say a fuckin’ word, or I’ll bust your balls.”

As expected, everyone loved the lasagna. As we were finishing, I couldn’t hide a little smirk. Sal gave me that look again and whispered, “Don’ even think about it.”

© Lumdog 2013

P.S. The events described in this story took place in 1972.  Uncle Sal passed away in 1975.  Every year, during the Christmas holidays, I make sauce and lasagna the way he taught me.  

Your comments are appreciated.

  

46 comments:

  1. This is a great exchange and a funny bonding moment (: His poor, bruised pride lol

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Draug. Yeah, it was funny and his pride was sweet, in a gruff sort of way.

      Delete
  2. I loved this...
    LOVED it.
    mostly because I am only Italian /Croation by Marriage and I always wanted a big LOUD ITALIAN family, someone who would say "I'll bust your balls!"

    the exchange here was so vivid, I could smell the sauce. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks so much Kir. With the word limit, I could barely provide the full flavor of the sauce or Sal's character. If you haven't read it, my older post gives a more complete picture of Sal and the rest of the family when I first met them.

      Delete
  3. The old Italian women that I knew growing up wouldn't allow any man in their kitchens so this scenario surprises me. And thanks because now I want lasagna. :)

    I like your use of the prompt. That usage is a norm in my household. I rarely ever use something the way it's intended and continually "doctor it up".

    Good job!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. All I can say is that Uncle Sal was the "boss": On the docks, in the neighborhood and in his home. If he wanted to cook, no one was going to say no. But, I think no one would argue because his lasagna was the best! Thanks Janna.

      Delete
  4. Don't ever mess with the lasagna. In some families, tomato sauce recipes are sacred.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Very true. For uncles Sal and me too! Thanks Tara.

      Delete
  5. Our "gravy" recipe is well over 100 years old. Don't mess with it! But I wouldn't cross Uncle Sal either. He definitely means business (the men never cooked in our family) and his lasagna must be all that to have access to the kitchen! Fun story that made me smile the whole way through.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Glad to see you used the word, "gravy". This was the term used by my ex's family, but I opted for the more common one. But, all 11 aunts and uncles had slightly different recipes, which is why Uncle Sal felt that he was in a competition. And, from my point of view, his was the best! Thanks for your "insider" comments Gina.

      Delete
  6. Uncle Sal reminds me of my first father-in-law. He was an engineer for Southern Pacific, and had a look that would start a fire. Robert De Niro would play him or Uncle Sal. This is a good story... what was his doctor for the sauce? I'm glad I read the Brooklyn story first.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for reading the Brooklyn story. I probably need to combine these at some point. Ok, glad you asked about the "doctor". He fried some sausage, threw it in the sauce (remember the scene in the Godfather?), and added garlic. The crushed tomatoes, which he started with, added plenty of thickness. Thanks Ted.

      Delete
  7. Beautifully written and funny with it!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much, Viv. My earlier piece is much funnier (at least, I think so) because it is much longer and I was able to develop the characters better and provide several anecdotes.

      Delete
  8. My grandmother taught me how to make the tomato sauce that would later go into the lasagna, eggplant parmesan or just over pasta. I'm too lazy to do it now, but if I had any Italian guests, her memory would force me into it. And, no, I won't share it.
    Great ambience and voice, lumdog!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's a bit of a project, though making the sauce itself, doesn't take too long. But it needs to simmer for at least, three hours. Lasagna is another thing. It took me about five hours the last time I made it. Thanks Kymm.

      Delete
  9. This was a great story. I can't believe you mentioned about 'the women's sauce' not being any good. Wonderful memory. Thanks for sharing this.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm glad you noticed how weird it was for me to bring up the comment about the women's sauce. The truth is, in tense situations, I have this suicidal urge to make bad jokes! Despite the tough guy persona, Uncle Sal was really a kind man and I knew he wouldn't bust my balls or anything else. And yes, I have many wonderful memories of my ex's family. Thanks Donetta.

      Delete
  10. I love this piece! If you ever have a chance, you should read Brooklyn by Colm Toibin.

    ReplyDelete
  11. lovely memories you have - and shared. My family was Irish, but we had lovely Italian friends. This brings me warm thoughts of the Melfi family. Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I love writing these stories because of the memories. Thanks Barbara.

      Delete
  12. I remember well your first installment of this story. It was funny and endearing. And this is a nice slice of lasagna for another look at the family. I like it a lot.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Steph. I could write a whole book about them.

      Delete
  13. Well done again Lumdog :) Warm and from the heart.

    ReplyDelete
  14. You put so much flavor into Sal's character given the word limit. This is not weak sauce at all. :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Kitty. My ex's favorite aunt was named Kitty and for some reason, she is called Mary is this post and my earlier one. I appreciate your comments.

      Delete
  15. I love this piece. Your description Sal brought him to life tor me. That was a moment to cherish, which you have. Right here..

    ReplyDelete
  16. Delicious in more ways than one. (RogRites)

    ReplyDelete
  17. This is funny! You described the scene so well, I felt like I was right there in the kitchen with you guys (but I wasn't going to say a word about the women's sauce...no way!)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ha! We'll keep it our little secret! Thanks Janna.

      Delete
  18. I want to taste the sauce...now! Sal's awesome. well done.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yep, I worked up an appetite when I wrote this. And yeah, Sal was a genuine bigger than life character. Thanks Lance.

      Delete
  19. Really fun and descriptive writing. I loved the 'longshoreman who just dropped a pallet...' line.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm glad you noticed the line about dropping the pallet of T.v.s. I think it's a little awkawrd to read, even after I struggled with it. But I really felt it was a good way to capture his "look". Thank you Sarah.

      Delete
  20. don' even think about it! i could hear it. doesn't hurt that i'm half, fresh off the boat, Italian. ;D

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, that's a common Brooklyn expression. I can hear him saying that as I type. Thanks Christina.

      Delete
  21. Aww,such a cute story-loved the personal touch Lumdog:-)I bet your lasagna & sauce is as famous as this story and that everyone urges you to narrate it every Christmas:-)

    ReplyDelete
  22. Some people, in the retelling of old family tales, wield incidents like clubs. In contrast, this was humorous & touching too. My dad was born in Bologna, so Italian family stories usually snare me in. ~Mary

    ps hit upon you from the Trifecta blog.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Mary, I didn't see your comment until now. Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting. I could only tell this story in a heart felt way because I love my ex's family so much.

      Delete