Cookies

Posted in Uncategorized on September 15, 2013 by kevincal

Cookies have been an important part of my life since childhood.  Each holiday season we would help our mother bake a mouthwatering assortment of cookies…Light, sweet Russian tea cookies dusted with powdered sugar, tender cold dough cookies wrapped around apricot filling, paintbrush cookies decorated with sprinkles, Mrs. D’s date and nut bars, and so many more…My mother and grandmother made the cookies for our first holy communions, confirmations, and high school graduations.

I’m not sure if this is an Italian thing or just a Western Pennsylvania thing, but cookies AND cake are served at weddings…In my family, cookies are a serious fucking business. The success of a wedding balances on the cookies. I shit you not. The dresses can be spectacular, the food can be amazing, the dj can bring the house down, but if the cookies aren’t  good or if they run out early, the wedding is considered an epic failure and you’ll be talked about for years. My grandmother left every wedding with a plate full of cookies…and three slices of cake in her purse. She always claimed they were for Cizzie (my great-aunt Ann), but she ate them.

If there was ever an undisputed Queen of the Cookie, that honor would go to my aunt, Marie Stefan. She loved weddings because she got to critique the cookie table after dinner. She and my mother came back to the table with a plate and the dialogue usually went something like this…

“Pat, how was that one?”

“Terrible…but this one isn’t too bad…is that one any good?”

“Well, I’ve had better…How was the lady lock?”

“Not as good as yours”

“Thanks”

“You’re welcome”

Once the initial tasting was over, they usually left the plate on the table for my dad and uncle to pick over…

My aunt was also the creator of the most delicious and unique breakfast experience in history…The Cookie Buffet

My parents insisted that we attend mass at eight am on Sunday morning…I’m just gonna leave this one alone, and continue with my story….

We often stopped at my aunt’s house for a visit on the way home from mass. My dad would walk in her house and my uncle was usually putting the coffee on…

“Hi Stef! Where’s my beautiful sister?”

My aunt would yell from the next room, “I’m coming Tony!”

Aunt Marie would walk into the kitchen wearing an oversized nightshirt that said “Physically Pffft…” on it and her pink fuzzy slippers. After hugs and kisses, my dad usually said…

“Jesus Christ Marie! Can you put some clothes on?!”

“Tony, when you show up at my house on a Sunday morning at nine thirty, this is what you get”

“What’s for breakfast, sis?”

“Hold on, I went food shopping yesterday”

At this point, she’d walk over to the bread drawer (the third one on the left by the dishwasher) and start pulling out packages of cookies and lining them up on the kitchen table.

“There’s the coffee, here’s the cookies…breakfast is served!” she’d say with a smile.

My dad looked at her and said, “what the hell is this?!”

“I call it a cookie buffet”

UPDATE: Like all good things, the cookie buffets came to an end when my aunt got diabetes. I’m sure she still indulges in a cookie or a piece of cake every now and then 🙂

August

Posted in Uncategorized on August 10, 2013 by kevincal

I have to be honest…I love August…I love it for several reasons…

1. It’s my birth month (yes, I’ll be 40 on August 19th)

2. In Florida, I’m sure it’s absolutely the hottest month of the year…Seriously, I think only hell is hotter

3. The days seem to creep by, it’s as if Mother Nature forces us to enjoy the last days of Summer

4. I don’t have to go back to school 🙂

August was also the month that my Dad’s garden produced the most juicy and delicious tomatoes, eggplant so dark purple, you’d swear they were black, and tender green zucchini…It also meant it was time for corn, sweet silver queen corn, picked from the Vaccari farm in Finleyville…Mr. Vaccari (a business associate of dad’s) planted several fields of silver queen corn and when it was ready, he called dad and let us pick as much as we wanted. His only rules were, don’t damage the plants and don’t waste it. I’d get the call around 4pm, “Kevin, the corn is ready, be ready to go when I get home…and bring grocery bags!” Our neighbor, Red Weightman, also joined us on these forays into the cornfield and he anxiously awaited dad’s arrival. If you’ve never picked corn, let me describe it to you…It’s hot, there’s lots of bugs, the leaves are razor sharp , and it’s tedious work, but so worth it. We’d jump in the big white van from Wall Firma and ramble down the dirt road to the fields…I always rode in the back, because there were only two seats up front and it was fun to be jostled around. “Grab the bags and let’s go” dad would say…We’d go three or four rows in and start picking…Pulling back the husk and seeing those small, silvery, pearlescent kernels was such a thrill…”Jesus Christ, Kevin! Look at that”, dad would say, “that’s sweet as sugar”. We picked row by row, filling each paper bag with thirteen ears of corn, dad checking each name off the list he kept in his pocket…once the list was complete, we picked two dozen for ourselves. Dad would call the house and say, “Patty! Get a pot of water ready, we’re bringing home fresh corn!” We delivered each bag to friends or family and then headed home…Dad and I sat on the deck in the darkness and shucked six ears of corn,  which my mom plunged into the boiling water…Dad grabbed three plates, a fresh stick of butter and the salt and waited outside…Mom brought the steaming corn out on a plate and we rolled the ears on the butter and took the first bite of the sweet, tender corn…”God, that’s good”, dad would say with his mouth full of corn and go in for another bite.

Enjoy August…

Three Things

Posted in Uncategorized on July 4, 2013 by kevincal

I get a lot of e-mails asking me why I don’t write more stories about my dad…well, the truth is, it’s painful to write about him. Even after three years, his death still leaves me feeling empty and sad.

Today’s story is from a conversation I had with my dad while he was hospitalized in Orlando…

“Hi dad!” I said as I walked into the chilly hospital room

“Hey bud! How the hell are you?” he said, sitting up in bed, still attached to an IV drip and a plastic bag filled with blood.

“I’m fine” I said

“Have a seat, there’s a few things I want to discuss with you” he said.

I could feel the tears build up in my eyes and a knot twist in my stomach.

“Listen son, before I die, I want you to promise me three things…”

“What” I said

“Promise me that you’ll appreciate the game of football and that you’ll always be a Steelers fan, you’ll learn to play golf, and that you’ll get a subscription to National Geographic” he said

“Ummm..okay dad. What’s this all about?” I said

“Son, football is like life…you’ll get tackled, knocked down, and sometimes you’ll lose…but, always pick yourself up and get back in the goddamn game…I want you to learn to play golf because it gives you an edge in the business world. More business is discussed on the golf course that in the boardroom and NEVER turn down a game of golf with someone because you’re not a good golfer!…Get a subscription to National Geographic because you will learn so much from reading the articles in it.” he said.

I left the hospital room and headed towards the elevator. I pushed the elevator button and the reality of what happened and what the future held, smacked me hard in the face. Tears poured from my eyes and rolled down my cheeks…I leaned against the cold stainless steel of the elevator door and slid to the floor in a crumpled mess. Two nurses came over and helped me up…”I’ll be fine” I said…”It’s okay honey” they said and gave me a hug…

I’m sure you’re all wondering if I ever completed the three things my dad asked of me…I did.

Yes, I like football and I’m a Steelers fan…I took golf lessons with Sean Gorgone in summer of 2011 and he taught me so much more than how to play golf. He taught me to believe in myself and be confident, he taught me to stop apologizing for everything and most importantly, he taught me to “swing the damn club!” I love reading my National Geographic cover to cover every month and learning about different cultures, animals, and places on this amazing planet where we live.

Thanks Dad…

 

Funny

Posted in Uncategorized on November 2, 2012 by kevincal

Shortly after starting at my new branch, my manager Matt said to me, “Kevin, have you always been this funny?” My answer to him was, “No, I’ve just collected this material over the years and I just say what’s on my mind.”  The truth is I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t funny. I’ve always used humor and laughter as a defense mechanism, it was how I survived bullying and painful ridicule from peers and teachers. I thought, “make them laugh and they can’t hurt you.”

During one of my dad’s many stays in the hospital, I showed up with  glow-in-the-dark statues of St Francis of Assisi and the Virgin Mary. As I placed them on his tray and kissed his forehead, he said to me, “Jesus Christ Kevin! Why in the hell did you bring those things?! I’ll wake up and see those things and think I’m dead for Christ’s sake! Get those the hell out here!”

He looked me straight in the eye and said “I swear to god, when they made you, they broke the god damn mold… AND beat the hell out of the mold maker!” I miss making my dad laugh…he was always my biggest fan

The truth is, I became “funny” when I realized that I could no longer get in trouble for making fun of my family, friends, and neighbors.

The jokes poured forth like water from a stream…and I instantly became the “fun” cousin/relative/friend. Nothing was off limits to me, I just said it and let the jokes wash over my “audience”. The problem with being the “fun” one is that, no matter what, you’re always “on”, which is really annoying when you don’t want to be. It’s even more annoying when you mature and people still see you as the “fun” one.

This blog and Facebook are the perfect medium for me…I get to be “on” when I want to and I have a huge audience to entertain with my quotes, quips, and comments 🙂

I love making my friends laugh and I always will….After all, they’ve given me some of my best material.

Summer memories, part two

Posted in Uncategorized on August 25, 2012 by kevincal

In the days following the Fourth of July, my father informed my brother and I that we needed to get ready to go back to school…

“You two better enjoy the last days of Summer,” he would say in his most commanding voice, “you’re going back to school soon and the fun ends then!”

“Jesus Christ, Tony!” my mother would yell from the other room, “it’s the first week of July, why are you starting this now?!”

“Well, they need to get their heads out of the clouds and back in the books…especially that one!” he said as he pointed his finger directly at me.

The truth was, I enjoyed the freedom of Summer, being out of school set me free in so many ways. I spent my days riding my bike, playing in the creek with my friends Bob Butler and Kevin Beckovich, running around in the woods and the field, and just enjoying myself.

As I grew up, that feeling of freedom started to dwindle, as a Summer job seriously ate into my free time…Although, I began to experience a new sense of freedom in the Summer of 1990 and 1991, when I passed my driving test and graduated from high school, respectively.

In August of 1990, I started working at McDonald’s in Pleasant Hills, which was such a great experience for me. It was the chance to meet new people and earn $3.85 an hour working for Karen Yablonsky. To this day, I still think she was the best manager I’ve ever worked for. It was worth it, I met my longtime friend, Cindy Saxon Abraham while working there.

After my graduation, my sense of freedom was overwhelming. I spent much of that Summer working at Kennywood and causing trouble with Allison Sockman…those stories could get me arrested 🙂

Enjoy the freedom that the last days of Summer bring…jump in the pool, eat a peach and let the golden juice run down your chin, sit on the porch a few extra minutes at night…after all, is’t that what Summer is about?

Summer Memories Series

Posted in Uncategorized on August 25, 2012 by kevincal

Okay…So I’m a little late on my Summer Memories series, shoot me…

Here goes…

Shortly after school ended, my mother would take us to our local Thrift Drug store in town and pick up a few “summer essentials”, which usually meant a new bottle of Hawaiian Tropic tanning oil, new Foster Grant sunglasses, a pair of Dr Scholl’s sandals (the original wooden ones), and a few new novels to read at the pool.  We always loved walking into the Thrift Drug, the icy cold blast of air conditioning and the clean, slightly medicinal smell hit you at the front door and stayed with you during your visit.

While my Mom was shopping, my brother and I would run and down the aisles,  trying on the sunglasses, playing with the plastic pool toys, and smelling the tanning lotions. When we found something we wanted, we yelled “Mom, can we have this?” she always replied, “Why not, it’s summer”…

I share this story with you because I usually have one or two of these Summer moments in Target shortly after Summer begins…I push my cart through the aisles and fill it with my own “Summer essentials”…v-neck fitted tees, a new swim suit, bottles of sunscreen, and whatever limited edition hand soap or shower gel that I find…At the checkout, I look at the bags in my cart and the total on the register and remember what my mom used to say, “Why not, it’s Summer”

 

I’ve been watching you

Posted in Family, Uncategorized on November 29, 2011 by kevincal

Of all the mouthwatering foods that come out of my Grandmother Rose’s kitchen (stuffed pork chops, nut rolls, glazed maple tea rings, pumpkin chiffon pie, and cinnamon rolls), our favorite are her caplets. Cooked in a deliciously salty chicken broth, caplets are small, hat shaped dumplings wrapped around a veal, pork, and parmesan cheese filling, that, quite simply, melts in your mouth and warms your heart and stomach on the coldest of winter nights. Served alongside her sage and thyme roasted chicken, we devoured them and felt the love and care she wrapped into each one.

At 91 years old, my Gram stays more active than most fifty year olds. She doesn’t eat processed foods, makes her own environmentally friendly cleaning products, gardens, goes to church every Sunday, and bakes. She’s a remarkable woman in so many ways.

Gram always stressed three things when cooking or baking: precision, fresh ingredients, and perfection. To this day, if a pie doesn’t turn out right, she pushes it to the side and makes another one.

Anyway, back to the caplets…The process of making caplets is basically an easy one…make the filling, let it rest, make the dough, let it rest, wrap the dough around the filling, cook, and enjoy.

If only it were that easy…and drama free…To be a true caplet, it has to contain tears, usually my mother’s tears, shed during the caplet-making process.

One winter afternoon, my brother and my mom decided to help my Gram make caplets. They gathered around the kitchen table sifting flour, blending the filling, and rolling out the dough. During the folding process, my Gram looks at mt mother and says…

“I’ve been watching you”

“Excuse me” my mother said

“I’ve been watching you and you’re not doing it right..at first I thought it was him, but it’s not, it’s YOU!”   she said

Tears welled up in my mother’s eyes and she slammed the dough down on the table.

“I can’t take this anymore!” she shouted as she ran into the bathroom and locked the door

“What’s all that about?” Gram said as she continued to fill caplets.

“Gee Gram, maybe she’s upset because you told her she wasn’t doing it right and you’re always so critical of her.” my brother said

“You know, I was never good enough because I couldn’t sew, I couldn’t bake a pie, and I was a terrible mother” mom shouted from behind the bathroom door, “I’m just sick of it!”

“Patty, I don’t know why you get so upset about these things” Gram said to the bathroom door

My mom opened the door and blotted her eyes with a tissue.”Okay mom, show me the correct way to fold the dough” my mom said as she sat back down at the table.

Update: Since the caplet disaster, my Gram has had to learn to rely on my mother to complete the dough making process. “Because of Gram’s arthritis, I have to roll out the dough” my mom told me, ” so , she has to be nice to me or she’s not getting any caplets!”  My mother claimed a small victory that day.

This holiday season, when you’re cooking or baking, remember Rose’s rules…1. Precision 2. Perfection and 3. Quality Ingredients…Just remember: I’ll be watching you 🙂