Friends from Womb to Tomb
When do you remember playing with your childhood friends for the last time ? I thought so. Neither do I. At some point in your childhood, there came a day when it was the last time you played with your buddies. I don’t remember that day. Maybe it was when we graduated high school. Maybe it was when we graduated Junior High School. I guess it’s not important, but at some point you played that last game of stick ball or stoop ball or game of catch and never played it with them again. It’s kind of sad to think about it. When you went from childhood to adult hood. Maybe it was when you started college. Or met that wonderful girl that you became totally absorbed in.
This picture was taken at my 13th Birthday. LtoR: Angelo Volaro (Junior), Ralph S., Me, Anthony Merola (Mayor)
Over 52 years later old friends can’t stay apart. Junior, Me, and Mayor got together at my home in NEPA for a day of reminiscing, friendship and good food. I lost touch with Ralph S after Junior High School, he didn’t live on the block. I hope he’s well.
Two of my childhood buddies from 77th Street Brooklyn came up and payed me a visit in North East Pennsylvania. Angelo Volaro, who we called Junior, and Anthony Merola, who was and still is known as Mayor. They came up with their wives and took the long drive to pay a visit to an old friend. Junior was my neighbor on 77 Street. We shared a common driveway. Since we were able to walk, Junior and I played together. That driveway and our backyard was our world. And between the plastic green army men we shared and plastic horses with it’s own cowboy figure, our backyard was the backdrop to every war battle and cattle roundup we could imagine. Our parents were friends and we always got together for birthdays, graduations, and other milestone events. We each had siblings that were common in age so there was always a lot of activity between the two houses.
Anthony Merola lived a few doors down, and when we were old enough to venture away from our backyard and driveway we met Mayor and he became a member of our pack. In Brooklyn you didn’t need your parents to drive you to meet and play with your friends. If they lived on your side of the street, you had a playmate. George Galgano was another member of the group but he lived at the corner of the block. We were a little older when we got to meet him. And then there was Christine Gemarino. She was the girl of the group. She played all the female parts in our games of army and cops and robbers. We loved a show called Riverboat back then and used to make believe we were the characters from that show. With the help of a metal garbage can cover hooked up to a fence, it made a great riverboat steering wheel. And of course, Christine was always the damsel in distress. Me and George always fought over who would save her first. We were only 4 or 5 years old, but we all knew our gender roles back then. Of course Christine was always the nurse in our games of war and we all got wounded very early in the play so she could give us a little TLC. We made use of everything around us. A long stick made a great rifle, if we didn’t get that cap gun for Christmas. And then there were the “dirt bombs”. Some how dirt bombs only appeared at a certain time of year, usually in the spring. We didn’t know why, but as adults it became abundantly clear. Dirt bombs appeared in the neighborhood gardens about the time the Italian men in the neighborhood “turned” the soil getting ready to plant the seasons tomatoes and cucuzzi. And just like that, little balls of dirt about the size of a golf ball appeared like magic. Dirt bombs were the weapons of choice to lob at your opponents. They really stung if you got hit in the head. But, that’s war.
As we got older the games turned more to some kind of sport using a pink ball and the small group that started with Junior, Mayor, George and Christine grew. We used to play a game called “punch”. We played it in the driveway where the steps leading to the side entrance to each of our houses became first and third base. Second base was further down the driveway and we marked it with chalk. Two or three kids played the field while the “batter” would toss the ball up in the air and swing at it with either a side arm swing or over head swing, hitting the ball with your fist and sending it soaring down the driveway. Mayor was the best punch baller and used to drive the ball out past the driveway and into the street. The rest of the game was played like regular baseball. We ran bases and had foul balls if they hit the houses before first and third base. Once the ball passed first and third it was fair play no matter where it went.
It was amazing the games we were able to play with just a pink ball. Punch ball, stoop ball, box baseball, slap ball, hit the stick (usually an old Good Humor ice cream stick). And as summers progressed and we were older, stick ball and two hand touch football were played in the street in front of our houses. The group grew larger, kids from across the street joined in the fun. At any given moment, at the beginning of another summer day, 77 Street was full of friends and playmates that made up the day of fun and games . I could fill volumes with all the games that made up our day. It’s a wonder when we came home from the fun, usually when the street lights came on, and our mothers ran a bath for us, the rings of dirt that lined the tub was epic.
But, enough of the past. When Junior and Mayor showed up Sunday afternoon with their family it was like we had just gotten together the other day. That’s what true friends feel like. You could be apart for years, but the moment you get together it’s like you never were apart. After their 2 and 1/2 hour long ride from Brooklyn I’m sure they felt good getting out of their car to stretch their legs. It was great having “company” again with old friends. And as if it wasn’t enough seeing them all again, Junior and Mayor bought an abundance of Brooklyn treats. Three loaves of Italian bread and a seeded twist, which Junior knew was my favorite (it’s amazing the things he remembers) three balls of homemade mozzarella, two regular and one smoked, a bottle of wine and a large bottle of Manhattan Special Espresso Coffee Soda, and a box of over a dozen miniature Italian pastries, which included Sfogliatella, Lobster Tails, Pasticciotto, regular cannoli and chocolate covered cannoli. All my favorite. The best of Brooklyn, including my friends, arrived at my door!
It was great seeing them all and catching up on what has happened since our last visit. They were curious about where I had settled to live and asked a lot of questions about living in NEPA. I gave them my best sales job in selling the pros of living outside of Brooklyn. Maybe I could convince one of them to leave Brooklyn and move near me. But I don’t think there is a chance of that happening. If they haven’t left Brooklyn by now I don’t think it will ever happen. I put out a simple spread for them. Not the usual antipasti. They get that all the time in Brooklyn. I put out a tray of Roasted Red Pepper Humus with Pita Chips and a salsa with tortilla chips. The Hummus was new to some of my friends, they never had it before. It was a good choice. I put together some easy cook out items. I picked up a couple of pounds of ground chuck I got at Clark’s Sunrise Market in Honesdale. Some of the best around, and made my own patties with just a little salt and pepper added to the meat. I also got some hot dogs from The Alpine Wurst House, also in Honesdale. The Alpine is a real German sausage house. They make all their own hot dogs and wursts in house. They have a great deli and restaurant as well. My friends loved the hot dogs because of the “snap” from the natural casing and the flavor was awesome. I rounded off the meal with marinated Flap Steak. It’s similar to skirt steak and flank steak but much more tender and flavorful in my opinion. The grains are larger which makes it ideal for soaking up the marinade. I believe this cut is also used for sirloin tips. The marinade works well with beef as well as chicken. Here is the recipe:
MARINADE FOR GRILLING
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar or red wine vinegar
- 1/4 cup of soy sauce
- 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
- 1/8 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
- 3/4 cup brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons of chopped fresh rosemary
- 2 teaspoons of chopped fresh oregano
- 2 tablespoons of Dijon mustard
- 2 teaspoons of salt
- 1 teaspoon of ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon of garlic powder
Mix well in a small bowl
I prefer to lay out the flank steak or chicken breast in a 9″x 13″ Pyrex baking dish. Cover with the marinade and cover the pan in plastic wrap and refrigerate 4-8 hours, turning halfway through. Bone in chicken parts I use a gallon Zip Lock bag to marinate in.
Needless to say, with all those flavors, the Flap steak was also a hit. I made a big salad with a olive oil and balsamic dressing and put out some potato salad and macaroni salad. The simple menu gave me more time to spend with my friends and we all enjoyed the day together. Of course the highlight of the meal was when I made coffee and we broke out the Italian pastries. My friends controlled themselves and made sure I had enough left over for the week. They only lasted till Monday. Oh well, you only live once.
This corn bread recipe was a favorite of Grandma Isabella. She would make dozens of little loaves and dry them out so they kept for months. We would use them in fresh tomato salads broken up like croutons. The bread would absorb the sweet tomato juices and vinegar and olive oil. When the loaves were fresh they were great eaten with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkle of dried oregano. Either way, they tasted great. Please give it a try.
*Please note, I made some changes to the recipe from the original posting. Grandma Isabella never wrote anything down and things got lost in the translation, so this is what the ingredients should be. I also added a first rise to the dough, which was suggested by my son Michael.
Pane di Granturco
To prepare the yeast
- 1/2 ounce dry yeast
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1/2 cup warm water
Put all ingredients in a cup. Yeast is ready to use when bubbling begins.
- 12 oz stone ground corn meal
- 36 oz semolina flour
- 2 oz sugar
- 1 -1/2 tablespoons salt
- 8 cups all purpose flour
Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl
Add to the dry ingredients
- 1/2 cup vegetable or corn oil
- the yeast mixture
- and approximately 5 cups water
Mix until all the flour is wet and well incorporated. Start mixing with your hands until it all comes together, then place on a floured board and knead for at least 10 minutes. Dough should not be sticky if it is add some more flour. Cover with a cloth and let rise for one hour.
Now, cut small fist size pieces and roll into logs, then close them like a bagel. Add them to an oiled baking sheet. Cover with a cloth and let rise for 1 1/2 hours.
Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Bake for 15 minutes. Do not open oven door for the first 7 minutes. The top of the bread should be lightly browned. Make the bread in batches until all the dough is used up.
After the little loaves are baked, remove from the oven and slice in half when cool enough to handle. Position back on the cookie sheet. Lower oven temperature to 200 degrees and place back in the oven until the bread is dried. The finished bread should be as dry as a crouton. Cool and store in airtight containers, like a zip lock back. Will keep for months in a cool dark place.