We called her “Barina”. She was a sweet, jolly woman about my grandmother’s age. When she came over to visit my grandparents on a Sunday afternoon we knew she entered the house when my grandmother buzzed her in and she came in through the front door. The echo of her loud voice would radiate throughout the house from the hallway as she greeted my grandmother who was at the top of the stairs. Each time she visited the greetings sounded like they hadn’t seen each other in years.
Barina’s name was actually Lili, like my grandmother. The name for godmother in Italian is Madrina. But in the Sicilian dialect, godmother is Barina. This is the name we knew her by, Barina.
Barina was the godmother of my Uncle Sal. She was about the same height as my grandmother, all of 5 feet or so. Her hair was short and curly and dyed that strawberry blond that so many older Italian woman fancied. She always wore a fancy dress when she came to visit and always sported gold bracelets and rings and necklaces. She even had a few gold teeth in her mouth, which for the old timers was a status symbol. A sign of wealth and prosperity.
My grandmother would open the door at the top of the steps of the hallway that led to our apartment and yell out that Barina was here, to come up and say hello. When I heard that, I knew what I was in for. At first I would hesitate but I knew that Barina would always bring a box of my favorite cookies, savoiardi biscuits, that I just could not resist. I’m sure it was her way of getting me up there. Every time Barina visited she would bring a box of these cookies. I only knew them as “Barina cookies”. Not until the writing of this blog did I discover their real name, Savoiardi biscuits.
I was around 5 or 6 years old and even at that age I knew I was going in for the slaughter. I went up the long flight of stairs that led to my grandparent’s apartment and as I got closer to the top, Barina’s jovial voice grew louder and louder. As I walked into the dining room I could see her sitting at the dinning room table. As soon as she saw me her arms stretched out and she stood up and shouted with a big smile exposing her gold teeth, “Dio, dio, che beju gista figiu. Benedica”. (Oh my God, how beautiful is this child. God Bless him.) As I got closer to Barina her out stretched hands wrapped around my face as she held up my head for all to see, and began to pinch my chubby cheeks moving my head from side to side. And then came the kisses. Not just a kiss, but a rapid repeat of kisses, on my sore cheeks that she just squeezed the blood out of. I would count at least 6 or 7 kisses within a 3 second time span. And they were wet. All this for some cookies, I thought. And of course, then, Barina had to relish me with love on the other cheek. So she tilted my head to the other side and gave me the rapid repeat of kisses on the other cheek. At that point I pulled away and with the shirt sleeve of my arm, wiped off all the slobbering she bestowed on me. She cupped her hands in front of her face and couldn’t resist one more squeeze of my cheeks as she proclaimed, “benedica, benedica”. By then my cheeks were numb from all the pinching and kissing.
I remember one time she squeezed my cheeks so hard it brought me to tears. Which of course after that Barina felt bad and kissed me some more. I don’t know which was worse!
My grandmother had put out a bowl of fruit and candies and a pot of espresso coffee and I went into the kitchen to pour myself a glass of milk so I could enjoy the wonderful cookies Barina had bought. I sat down at the far end of the table from where Barina was sitting with my glass of milk and my grandmother gave me a couple of cookies from the dish.
As I sat there dunking my cookies in the ice cold milk, the whole process repeated itself, as my mother came up the stairs to greet Barina. For some reason though, adults didn’t get their cheeks pinched or machine gun kisses. That was only reserved for the cute little kids, like me.
Peaches and wine, a great little desert my grandfather made after Sunday dinner when peaches were in season. He would take a nice large ripe peach and slice it right at the table into his glass. He then would pour his red wine over the peaches and let it sit for about 20 minutes or so or as long as he could stand it. The peaches would soak up the wine and get a red tinge to them. Now they are ready to eat. It’s a simple desert but really hits the spot after a good meal. I’m not sure if it’s the peaches that make the wine taste so good or the wine that make the peaches taste good. Either way, it taste great!
When I was a little kid I remember my grandfather offering me a slice of the peach that was soaked in the wine. I remember back then it really tasted good. That might have been my first experience tasting wine.
The wine you use really doesn’t matter, as long as it’s a full bodied red wine. The brand I buy, Fortisimo, works really well with this. As long as you can drink the wine, it’s the right one.
Take a ripe fresh peach, with or without the skin. I prefer the skin on. Slice the peach into a large glass and pour enough red wine into the glass to cover the peaches. Allow to sit for at least 20 minutes. Enjoy!