P.C.Pop with Pablo

Archive for the ‘Summer for Renewal’ Category

My Story of Pasta Fazool

In Family, fatherhood, Food, health, Italian, parenting, Summer for Renewal, Uncategorized on August 25, 2012 at 12:58 pm


Pasta Fazool aka Pasta e Fagioli — This is My Story


Pasta e Fagioli is one of those dishes in my family that popped up every now and then — and everyone loves it. Later in life I was given more insight into this simple Italian meal from my Grandmother, Phyllis. If I hadn’t lived with my grandmother for a while in college, I might never have heard some of these stories about our family, our heritage, our Pasta e Fagioli. When I was accepted into college my family didn’t have a lot of disposable income to support me 100% — so, I made some tough decisions to make college more affordable. First decision was to attend a regional campus of UConn to save some money.  Commuting to the Hartford regional campus would allow me to live at home and pay a fraction of the cost of tuition/fees compared to the main campus. By the time the first day of classes rolled around I unfortunately no longer had a working car. Just getting to the campus every day was a challenge. I did various things to get back and forth and for part of that time I lived with my grandmother. My grandmother lived in the south-end of Hartford and the UConn Hartford campus was on the west-side of Hartford — actually in West Hartford. I soon became a city kid and got comfortable taking the bus everywhere.

My new home was in one of the oldest Italian neighborhoods in Connecticut. Franklin Avenue is a well-known center of the Little Italy of Hartford — and I live right on Franklin Avenue in an apartment with my grandmother. The street level of her building was one of the best Italian grocery stores on Franklin Avenue and directly across the street from one of the best Italian bakeries in the city. It was a very walk-able neighborhood — everything you needed was within walking distance and downtown Hartford was only a 20 minute bus ride away. My grandmother did not drive or own a car either but never struggled getting by on Franklin Avenue. At this point in her life my grandmother was retired but still very busy. I soon realized that during the day through early evening she had a definitive routine.

My grandmother’s routine was driven by “her shows.” Her first soap opera came on at 11 a.m. so everything had to be done by then. She got up and made breakfast. One of my favorites was French toast made with Italian bread. She often ate hers with salt and pepper — not maple syrup. Once breakfast was done, my grandmother planned the menu for the day and then went shopping for fresh bread and everything else she needed for lunch and dinner. She enjoy really fresh food, so she shopped every day at the small grocery store downstairs, the bigger grocery store a block away, and one of the several bakeries on Franklin Avenue. Her options of places to shop increased on Wednesdays because she walked a couple of blocks up Bond Street to attend early morning mass at St. Augustine’s. My grandmother worked very hard all morning planning the meal, shopping, tidying up the apartment, and making lunch. Her ultimate goal was to be settled in her chair in the TV room with her lunch ready to eat at exactly 11 a.m. when her first soap opera started. The dinner she planned would be pretty traditional with an Italian flair but lunch was consistent — a sandwich and a side dish. My grandmother used fresh Italian bread, fresh deli meat, and fresh cheese usually provolone. She then prepared a hot side dish. Although for most this would be just another lunch — but to my grandmother it was an inspired work of art made with love. The sandwich was toasted or grilled and was a masterpiece.  The side dish could be almost anything like a simple soup (chicken noodle, turkey rice, split pea & ham, minestrone), vegetables (ratatouille or grilled vegetables like peppers, onions, squash, zucchini), pasta (risotto, pastina), or creamy polenta with grated cheese and/or tomato sauce. I learned a great deal about cooking and planning meals during these times. My grandmother shared little tricks and techniques and soon I knew how to turn a good sandwich into a great sandwich.

Most of the time, my grandmother was so focused on getting settled for her soap opera TV show, that there wasn’t much time for chatting. But I learned that if I listened carefully, I could learn a lot. She not only taught me about food but also would tell me the story behind the food. One of my favorite stories is how this is the food that the poor people at in Italy. Most of the ingredients of her side dishes were inexpensive, grown in the garden or from left-overs from dinner. As I mentioned in another blog, we rarely went out to eat at an Italian restaurant because they served we could make better, fresher and much less expensively — for pennies. As Italian chain restaurants started to pop up and become popular it amazed my grandmother that they offered and charged a lot for Italian “peasant” dishes like polenta, pastina, risotto, Pasta e Fagioli, and even pizza with homemade pizza dough.

Another story was about Pasta e Fagioli. Pasta e Fagioli is the ultimate poor-family meal. Among her friends when she was a kid, Pasta e Fagioli was made at the end of the week with the left overs from the entire week. Pasta e Fagioli literally translates into “pasta and beans.” So technically any soup that includes pasta and beans can be called Pasta e Fagioli. It is a delicious, hearty meal that you could make with everything you had on hand. Pasta e Fagioli can include meat but it can also be a vegetarian meal. Now you have to be careful with old time Italians because even though it was served vegetarian most of the time in my family — the flavor in the broth came from pork. A hunk of salt pork, some bacon fat or a ham bone was often used to add flavor. Salt pork or bacon fat was used when sautéing the onions and celery and if you had a ham bone on hand you would include it with the water or broth when you begin simmering the soup.  You then add the first of the two main ingredients — the beans. It can honestly be any bean you like but in my family it was typically kidney, chick peas, canteloni beans or some combination of the three. After an hour or so of simmering, remove the hunk of pork and ham bone and add beans and pasta. My favorite is a mini tube pasta called ditellini. Others in my family prefer a bow-tie pasta. I think you get the idea — frugal families would take all of their leftovers for the week (including hunks of salt pork and bones), add rough-cut vegetables, onions, celery, garlic, broth/water and the magic ingredients — pasta and beans.

Pablo’s Pasta e Fagioli Recipe – click photo

The best part about Pasta e Fagioli is it is the ultimate Italian food for the soul. There is nothing more comforting that a hot bowl of Pasta e Fagioli with grated parmagiana, crushed red peppers, and a slice of crusty Italian bread. So it is not surprising that most Italian restaurants offer Pasta e Fagioli; and it is one of the best things to bring to a carry-in or potluck. And when you want to show your friends that you care about them during tough times or times of joy, nothing says you care more than sending a big pot of Pasta e Fagioli. You’re not only sharing a meal but you are sharing your heritage and a family tradition.

Another quite humorous part of this meal is the pronunciation itself. When I was growing up we ate something called “Pasta Fazool.” Everyone in our family called it Pasta Fazool; our friends called it Pasta Fazool; you could order Pasta Fazool in a restaurant on Franklin Avenue and get what you wanted without the server giving you a strange look. Basically there was no reason for me to question the proper pronunciation of Pasta e Fagioli. It wasn’t until the coordinator of the potluck lunch at work asked me for the recipe of my Pasta Fazool that I actually saw how it was spelled. And then the first time someone ordered it at the chain Italian restaurant, the well trained server of the fake Italian restaurant gave us a funny look and corrected our pronunciation — which by the way wasn’t correct either. I again denied our family mispronounced Pasta e Fagioli because we also didn’t pronounce other foods phonetically — like lasagna, manicotti, mozzarella, or ricotta. I later discovered that the pronunciation, Pasta Fazool, is unique to the American-Italian community in the Northeast. So I now proudly say Pasta FAZOOL!

Our Pasta e Fagioli is vegetarian (often vegan) and a healthy, high protein, low fat meal. Today, I share this story and meal with my family — the next generation. The most wonderful part of this meal are the memories of my grandmother and our time together. The cook that I have become is in large part to my grandmother. She was a creative and confident chef. She loved making meals special and loved sharing meals with others. As a tribute to her and all of the other great cooks in my family, I am committed to not only sharing these meals with my kids but also keeping the stories alive. My grandmother would be very pleased that I have kept many of her traditions alive and I am still sharing her stories and our memories.


Buon Appetito!


If you want my recipe for Pasta e Fagioli, click here.


This PC Pop Blog post is a part of a series called the Summer for Renewal. Read the other Summer for Renewal posts too.  They are as follows:

 


Read more stories about growing up in my family and our traditions, check out these PC Pop posts:


Pablo’s Pasta e Fagioli Recipe

In Family, fatherhood, Food, Italian, Malavenda, Pablo Malavenda, parenting, Summer for Renewal, Tradition, Uncategorized on August 25, 2012 at 12:05 pm

This is one from my grandmother’s kitchen. It is a recipe from the old country — true Italian comfort food. Pasta e Fagioli can be found on the menu of many of the best Italian restaurants around — but the dish was a peasant dish served by frugal families. My grandmother’s version used salt pork or a ham bone for flavoring. My version is vegetarian (often vegan), high protein, and low fat. Pasta e Fagioli is a special treat for my family — and I hope it becomes that for you. For the whole story of my family’s Pasta e Fagioli tradition, READ the PC Pop Blog post: My Pasta Fazool Story (aka Pasta e Fagioli).


Pablo’s Pasta e Fagioli Recipe

Serves: 10-12


Ingredients:

  • 2 cups – onions, coarsely chopped
  • 2 cups – celery, coarsely chopped
  • 2 cloves – garlic, finely chopped
  • 4 cups (2 cans) – kidney bean (light and dark red)
  • 2 cans (28 oz.) – crushed tomatoes
  • 1 can (14.5 oz.) – diced or stewed tomatoes
  • 2 tbs. – olive oil
  • 2-4 tbs. – dried or freshly chopped parsley
  • onion powder/garlic powder, to taste
  • 28 oz. – water or broth
  • 1 cup – pasta (ditalini)
  • grated cheese
  • crushed red pepper
  • crusty Italian bread

 

 


In a large sauce pan, heat olive oil and onions. Saute onions stirring often until they begin to look translucent – about 2-3 minutes; then add garlic and celery. Continue to stir occasionally over medium heat for about 5 minutes (be careful not to burn onions or garlic). Optional – add other chopped vegetables.

Add kidney beans, parsley, onion powder and garlic powder – and combine ingredients by tossing well. Add crushed tomatoes and stewed tomatoes. Fill each empty tomato-can half-full with water or broth (approximately 28 oz. total) to get remaining tomatoes — add to the pan. Bring soup to a boil carefully; then reduce heat and simmer for 20-45 minutes, stirring occasionally.

For al dente pasta, 30 minutes before you are ready to serve, carefully bring the soup to boil. Then add the pasta, bring to boil again, cover and turn off heat. Let stand, covered for 20-30 minutes. Stir and serve with grated cheese, crushed red pepper, and crusty Italian bread. Fresh green salad with oil/vinegar or Italian dressing is a perfect accompaniment.


Buon Appetito!



This PC Pop Blog post is a part of a series called the Summer for Renewal. Read the other Summer for Renewal posts too.  They are as follows:


Family TV-Food Road Trip

In Food, Malavenda, Pablo Malavenda, parenting, Pop Culture, Summer for Renewal, TV, TV shows, Uncategorized on August 19, 2012 at 8:51 pm


Food — Travel — Family; the combination defines me. So when we were deciding what to do this summer, our Summer for Renewal, we knew it had to include all three. All of my family is in Connecticut (and a bit of New Jersey) and to fit the budget of a family of four, we drive. Travelling by car from Indiana to Connecticut is a drive into which you must put some thought. I guess you can just get in the car and go; but when you have two kids, you should think a little bit about getting there without killing each other. The more you plan, the easier the Road Trip part of your vacation will be. After all the drive to your destination is not really your vacation; so, if the trip is a disaster it could potentially ruin the “actual” vacation. Regardless the Road Trip is a part of the overall experience — a part of the family vacation memories that will last a lifetime (good or bad). The most recent strategy we tried actually worked — for us, that is. We are big fans of any TV shows about Food, Cooking and Restaurants. We find ourselves watching hours and hours food related TV on the Food Network, Cooking Channel, PBS, TLC, OWN, and Travel Channel.



Some of our favorites TV Food Shows are as follows:


I even watch PBS’s Check, Please! which features review of Chicago restaurants and classic Julia Childs’ cooking and baking shows. And lucky for us there are new shows popping up each day like the latest — All You Can Meat and Invention Hunters.


“If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay at home.”

– James Michener


Actually searching out restaurants all along our 1600 mile round-trip, Road Trip to the east coast from the mid-west is a first for us. In the past we have searched the internet before we go on vacation to a new city to find out where Rachel Ray, Bobby Flay, Adam Richman or Guy Fieri had been in that city, and it wasn’t easy. Today thanks to two guys from New York who love Foodie TV as much as we do, the process of finding restaurants featured on most national TV programs is much easier.  These two guys created a website that is such a great idea and so easy to use — you wish you had thought of it first. TV Food Maps is their website which allows you to search for restaurants featured on TV by location, type of food and/or TV show. And if that weren’t easy enough, they launched a mobile app in its second version. There are other sites and blogs about Food TV but this is my favorite; again, because it works for me.


“The air you smell, the sights you see, the food you taste, the language you hear, and the feeling you get…nothing familiar. That is true freedom.”

~ Anonymous


Whenever we take a car trip that is focused mostly on family, we make a deal with our kids. The deal is we will try to see something interesting on the way there and on the way back. For the past few Road Trips eastward, we have spent a day in New York City because we are so much in love with this city. On the way back to home to Indiana we pick a different city each time and go exploring for a day or two.  The last two trips (this one and the Road Trip this past January), we have stopped in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, respectively. On this particular Road Trip we also managed to spend a good part of a day in Hoboken, New Jersey – birthplace of Frank Sinatra and Buddy Valastro — the Cake Boss.


“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

– Mark Twain


Now, I don’t want you to think that all we do is eat — our Road Trips also include fun, history and culture. For instance  in New York City between lunch at John’s Pizzeria (of Bleeker Street), a sweet treat from Dylan’s Candy Bar  and dessert in Little Italy at Ferrara Bakery, we have visited all of our favorite places in the Big Apple including the Statue of Liberty, Belvedere Castle in Central Park, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Whitney Museum, and South Street Seaport; to name a few. Getting our kids excited about touring a new city or taking a 15 hour Road Trip to see family is a challenge. But when you can tie the trip to pop culture it sure does help — like visiting the Abby Lee Dance Company (home of Lifetime’s Dance Moms) while in Pittsburgh. In New York City finding pop culture references is a bit easier. Walking through the Central Park Zoo and finding some of the animals from the movie Madagascar or exploring the American Museum of Natural History and looking for exhibits featured in the movie Night at the Museum have also been strategies for us. Now we add getting a corned-beef sandwich at Katz’s Delicatessen which was recently featured on the Travel Network and also is famous for a scene from the movie When Harry Met Sally — which we will consider discussing with our kids when they are much older, if you get my drift.


“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.”

– Henry Miller


For our family Road Trips and hectic sight-seeing days in new cities are now a bit more enjoyable. Following the food just adds another dimension giving us something to do together, a new memory to create, and another page in the photo album and scrapbook. We can’t wait to try this out on our next Road Trip south to the in-law’s home and west to my brother-in-law’s. As long as there’s a PBS, Food Network or Travel Channel — there will be funky restaurants to explore and unique foods to eat. If you want to see the lists of restaurants we have explored on our various Road Trips, check out my posts featuring the restaurants’ names and locations as well as reviews of our visits (coming very soon). And next time you head out on a Road Trip with your family — consider making it an official Family TV-Show Road Trip.


Happy Trails — and Buon Appetito!


This PC Pop Blog post is a part of a series called the Summer for Renewal. Read the other Summer for Renewal posts too.  They are as follows:


Flashback to the Eighties – Social Media and a Spontaneous College Reunion

In College Students, Family, Malavenda, Pablo Malavenda, social media, Summer for Renewal, UConn, Uncategorized on August 4, 2012 at 7:27 pm

Long Live Watson Beach at UConn

U Conn Husky, symbol of might to the foe.
Fight, fight Connecticut, it’s victr’y, Let’s go
Connecticut U Conn Husky, victr’y again for the White and Blue
So go, go, go Connecticut, Connecticut U. Fight!
C-O-N-N-E-C-T-I C-U-T. Connecticut,
Connecticut Husky,
Connecticut Husky, Connecticut C-O-N-N-U. Fight! (repeat)

{NOTE: In recent times, the original word “Hi!” has been replaced with “Fight!”}


In preparation for a visit home to Connecticut prior to leaving Indiana I took the first step in what became a viral invitation to a spontaneous UConn Watson Beach alumni reunion thanks to Social Media. The result was a serendipitously perfect day.

Initially I reached out to just three UConn Watson Beach alums with whom I still engage on Facebook. Once we were able to nail down a date for a mini-reunion, the three of us invited other UConn Watson Beach alums to join us through Facebook. Everyone was encouraged to spread the word, and it became viral in a tiny way. After a week or so, we compared lists and identified individuals who had not been contacted yet. We pooled our resources and used ever means necessary to track people down. LinkedIn became another powerful means to locate and connect because of their internal messaging system as well as the availability of email addresses.  More and more, individuals are hiding their email addresses on Facebook and other social media sites but since LinkedIn is about professional networking, we found a few more missing alums through there.

Now we had to plan our day. It became apparent that many wanted to see the Storrs campus — so, our meeting place would be the UConn campus. One fellow alum who lives about 5 miles from campus then offered her home for a pool party following a morning visit to our old stomping grounds.  Since I not only graduated from UConn twice (almost thrice) and worked there for over 10 years, I contacted a friend/alumna/colleague to see if we could actually get in to see our beloved Watson. This friend/alumna/colleague coincidentally was our “staff resident” back when we were students and still works at UConn in residential life. During my time at UConn she became a great colleague and was a next-door neighbor — and continues to be a Facebook friend and conference buddy. She readily agreed to meet us at Watson on that Saturday morning and let us in to see our college home. Things were really coming together.

I attended the UConn Hartford Campus for two years prior to “branchfering” to the main campus and moving into Watson Hall in the Fall of 1981. Watson Hall was my home from Fall 1981 through Spring 1984. Most of my close friends from the UConn Hartford campus as well as other Hartford “branchfers” were also residents of the third floor of Watson. When I arrived within a week of moving in the president of the Watson Hall council resigned. I ran for the mid-term position and won.  I was the president for the next three years and worked with a dedicated and talented team to resurrect the image and programming of our beloved Watson Hall. For a variety of reasons, we called our front lawn “Watson Beach.” So when we became one of the best councils on campus — we officially changed our constitution to reflect our new image and new name — the Watson Beach Council.  This was the beginning of creating one of those special affinity groups within the UConn alumni community; one that has a very strong bond with hundreds of UConn alums.

The summer of 2012 has been designated (by me) as My Summer for Renewal. Why? Because last summer I made a mistake — I put work ahead of family and friends. That was wrong and I promised my family, friends…and myself, that my priorities would change in 2012. My priorities are once again focused on making sure that I am physically and psychologically healthy; so that I am able to build and maintain positive relationships with my family and friends. When planning our summer, we made sure that we were able to take at least two weeks off for a trip to Connecticut so we may reconnect with as many friends and family as possible.  {NOTE: We accomplished a lot in two weeks but we still did not connect with everyone and had to make some tough decisions. For instance we met with UConn college friends but could not possible connect with former colleauges at UConn. Next time — for sure!} The UConn Watson Beach Reunion was a priority for the 2012 Summer for Renewal.

The morning of this Saturday reunion arrived and my wife, kids and I started our journey to Storrs, Connecticut, home of the UConn Huskies. Our reminiscing started as soon as we hit the road because the route we traveled was one we did hundreds of times in the past. My wife and I traveled this road for over a decade each Sunday to my family homestead for Sunday dinner. This trip was also special because we were sharing our excitement, pride, and stories with our two children who have grown up loving UConn. The excitement was building and our anticipation grew. We arrived on campus early and good thing because the first change we encountered from the “old days” was the new road sytem on campus — roads eliminated in the center of campus and more one-way streets. We finally found our way around campus to our designated meeting spot — Watson Hall. We parked our car and the magic began. Our posse of Watson Beach alums weren’t the only ones on campus but we found each other quickly — emerging from every parking lot and loading dock in the vacinity. It was as if we never left campus — as if it were once again the fall of 1982. After a flurry of hugs and kisses, we picked up right where we left off. We were so happy, so comfortable, so loud and so much in love — with UConn, with Watson (Hall) Beach, with each other. Some I had seen as recently as January 2011 but others I had not seen for 20-30 years.

Soon our former staff resident arrived with the keys to Watson Hall and our day began officially. It did take a while to get everyone’s attention and to move us all into the building though. When we approached the building as a group, our rowdy group of friends were a bit quieter, more focused and more serious. It has been so long for all of us — but everything came back — immediately. Watson Hall has not changed much since the mid-80’s. This probably frustrates the current residential life staff at UConn but we were thrilled. And like a parent waiting for their kids to get home from a long night out — Elmer Watson (the portrait, that is) was waiting for us in the main lobby with the same warm eyes and loving smile making us feel welcome and safe. I was afraid that the portrait of Elmer Watson, fellow alumnus and namesake of our college home, would be gone; but Elmer was still there covered in protective fiberglass with scratches that I would put money on were there when we were there back in the ’80’s. The old place looked great. New furniture, new carpet but it felt the same — we were home. We all did laps around the lounge reliving all of the many happy and crazy memories of our college days. And yes — alcohol was involved. Back then, the drinking age in Connecticut was 18 years old and kegs were allowed  at residence hall council lounge parties.  Thanks to President Reagan (I say bitterly), the drinking age rose to 21 in 1984 — so, these memories are truly unique and in contrast with today’s residential life experience at UConn. We survived. No, we have thrived.

Our once motley crew now includes nothing short of great success in raising families, developing their careers and impacting a number of different communities. Our cohort includes a wide variety of professionals — engineers, corporate executives, entrepreneurs, doctors, lawyers, college deans, pharmacists, educators, and marketing executives. We traveled from Indiana and others from Manhattan, Boston, and every corner of Connecticut. But on this day nothing matters except that we all bleed Blue and White. We even burst into the UConn Fight Song once or twice throughout the day. We all love UConn; we all love Watson Beach; and we all fondly remember our college experience. UConn gave us opportunities to grow up, to develop strong relationships, to dream, to be leaders and to serve each other and our communities. UConn brought us together, and we remain friends for life.

Our plan was to see the campus and go to the “pool party” around noon. After exploring Watson Beach, sharing stories, and taking a lot of pictures we moved on — reluctantly but excited to see our campus.  We could have spent the entire day at Watson but we had to stay on schedule; so, we set off, on foot, of course.  Just the walk from Watson to the center of campus brought back many memories but so much of the campus has changed that it was difficult to absorb it all. Additionally, there was construction in and around over three major buildings in our short 2-3 block walk. Our “must-see” list included Gampel Pavilion, the Memorial Football Stadium, the Student Union, WHUS Radio Studios, the UConn Coop (bookstore) and the Dairy Bar. The UConn Coop is brand new and sits on what was once a parking lot. The Memorial Football Stadium has recently been demolished because since they became a division one team they have been playing at Rentschler Field in East Hartford. The grassy field known back in our day as the “Grad Field” we crossed many times a day as students is the new location of the Business School.

Even the Student Union is different.  The front facade hasn’t changed since 1952 but the back has been expanded and is unrecognizable. I just had to see the radio station and the Doug Bernstein Game Room. Doug lived in Watson, on my floor, and is a Watson Beach alumnus. Unfortunately Doug was not able to join us on this day but some of us couldn’t resist going to see the Student Union game room named in his honor.  Doug has done well enough that he has been able to give back and one of his gifts was this game room. To our surprise the plaque included a letter in which he is found guilty of taking a Space Invaders Machine from the Watson Hall Rec Room. The letter was signed by Lorraine Gervais our head resident.  Doug “borrowed” the full size video game machine because he needed it to host a tournament in his room on the 3rd floor of Watson. Needless to say, we remember that tournament as if it were yesterday (and not 31 years ago) and remember how much Doug enjoyed torturing Lorraine. Lorraine was a “by the book” residence hall staff member, and of course, she charged him, held a formal hearing, found him guilty and sanctioned him. Ah, the memories. Also on our visit to the Student Union is the WHUS Radio studio. WHUS is where I had a weekly radio morning show for close to eight years but it is now in a brand new location in the newly renovated part of the Student Union. I am happy that my alma mater is growing but I miss the old Student Union, I miss my old WHUS studio, and I miss all of the green space between the Union and Watson Hall.

Lucky for us, Gampel Pavilion was open that morning with kids and families registering for UConn annual summer soccer camp. Although Gampel was not around when we were students most of us have been to games and events there since. It brought back lots of great memories of some high energy basketball games, Homecoming events, concerts, and March Madness pep-rallies. While working at UConn in the 90’s, I rarely missed a home game and often sat (or should I say stood) in the student section — and was one of the behind the scenes coordinators of most of the concerts and special events including the Indigo Girls, Spin Doctors, Leaders of the New School (featuring Busta Rhymes), Bob Dylan, Public Enemy, and Anthrax (to name a few). The difference is that UConn has been able to hang quite a few more championship banners since then. This of course make us even prouder alums.

Like many alums, one of the highlights of our visit was the campus bookstore — the UConn Coop. The energy level of our group increased tremendously as we rushed through an entire store with endless items celebrating and honoring our beloved alma mater — and some textbooks. We all stocked up on our UConn gear as if it was an end of the world moving sale. For us out of state UConn alums, it is exciting not only to browse the UConn Coop but also to see UConn stuff everywhere in the entire state including all over every shopping mall, in grocery stores, drug stores, gas stations, and even in discount stores like Old Navy. We all had UConn fever and were loving it. We finished our tour of campus in our own time. We took a few last pictures with the Husky Dog statue and we wound down our visit to campus and moseyed over to our cars.

Next on the agenda was the Watson Beach Alumni Pool Party. The party was such a welcome retreat from campus because the focus was now on us and our conversations. We were once again loud — laughing and sharing. There was no tension, no drama, no need to pretend — we were transformed back in time and we had a lot of catching up to do. The food was simple but fabulous; the pool was inviting and refreshing; and there were plenty of spaces to visit and talk.  They even had a cabana with a TV to get updates on the Yankee game. At one point we looked over and noticed that our kids had found each other and we were hitting it off even though they had only met that morning. One friend brought her Watson Beach T-shirt to show off and share; and yet another brought a stack of photo albums which were a big hit especially with the kids — as you can imagine. No one wanted the day to end, but all wonderful celebrations must. One of our friends brought a tradition from her home to our reunion. She walked everyone to their cars as they needed to leave and waved farewell to them and didn’t stop until they were completely out of sight. A few of us joined her for this touching ritual.

We finally departed around 3:45 p.m. to meet with some family in this part of the state. For the record we did double back to campus after our family visit to get UConn’s own ice cream at the UConn Dairy Bar. And yes, even the Dairy Bar has been renovated; and yes, I miss the old Dairy Bar with its old fashion, horseshoe shaped counter. But the ice cream has not changed — and it is to die for — Huskies Supreme for me! And like a perfect ice cream sundae — this was the cherry on top.

And to think, without Facebook, Email, LinkedIn, Google it wouldn’t have happened. It was spontaneous and a bit viral. It was in many ways serendipitous. It certainly was a perfect “Summer for Renewal” event. We were reassured by the friends with whom we don’t keep in touch that we’re still important to each other; and we were blessed to see in person those with whom we do connect with through Facebook and bi-annual visits.  You learn a lot from exchanging Christmas/Hannukah cards each winter but nothing can compare to the richness and deep connections that were made at this simple reunion.  The UConn Watson Beach Reunion was filled with hugs and laughter — and we created a whole bunch of NEW memories — and shared promises to “do this again” soon. And forever the words of our Alma Mater ring true — Old Connecticut – When times, shall have severed us far, and the years their changes bring, the thought of the college we love in our memories will cling. For friendships that ever remain.


Old Connecticut
Once more, as we gather today,
To sing our Alma Mater’s praise,
And join in the fellowship strong,
Which inspires our college days.
We’re backing our teams in the strife
Cheering them to victory!
And Pledge anew to old Connecticut,
Our steadfast spirit of loyalty.
(Chorus) Connecticut, Connecticut,
Thy sons and daughters true
Unite to honor thy name,
Our fairest White and Blue.
When times, shall have severed us far,
and the years their changes bring,
the thought of the college we love
in our memories will cling.
For friendships that ever remain,
and association’s dear,
We’ll raise a song, to
old Connecticut, and join our voices in our long cheer


This PC Pop Blog post is a part of a series called the Summer for Renewal. Read the other Summer for Renewal posts too.  They are as follows:

 


Read more stories about growing up in my family and our traditions, check out these PC Pop posts:


Mia Famiglia

In Family, Food, Italian, Malavenda, Pablo Malavenda, parenting, Summer for Renewal, Tradition, Uncategorized on July 26, 2012 at 3:44 pm

What I did on My Summer Vacation: Rediscovered My Family through Food, Kids and Tattoos


The family was an art…and the dinner table was the place it found expression. 

Don DeLillo, Underworld


Coco

Coco

This summer we drove 850 miles to be with our family in the homestead. My childhood home was the center of our family gatherings and holidays for many years. Now it is just my mom and her dog, Coco. Although I have kids of my own now and everyone is 30 years older; we were able to recapture the magic of our weekly Sunday family get-togethers again.

From the turn of the century through 1935, many Italians migrated to the United States of America — including my family. On my father’s side, my grandfather and grandmother’s parents were born in Italy. On my mother’s side, all of my great-grandparents were born in Italy. Although my father only had one brother,  my mother’s family was quite large. I grew up attending weekly Sunday family gatherings and became very close with my aunts (not pronounced “ant”), uncles and cousins. We met every Sunday at my maternal grandparents with the rest of the clan numbering 15-20 relatives. When my grandfather passed away, my mother, the eldest of her siblings, was asked by my grandmother to host the weekly get-together. It made sense because we had a home with a large backyard, in-ground pool, and enough room to seat everyone (albeit tight) for dinner. So, in the early-1970’s, my family began hosting. Like many family traditions, we were going strong until the kids started growing up and eventually having their own kids, families, in-laws, other cousins, etc.

On a recent visit to the family homestead (we now live 850 miles away), we were able to re-create the magic of those American-Italian family gatherings — and it sort of happened spontaneously. We let everyone know we were coming in advance, and many family members generously shared their days-0ff and vacation days with us. Family was coming together like old times. It was a welcome and wonderful treat. We caught up on everything going on with everyone, but honestly we spent most of our time reminiscing about old times. One surprise was how many of my family had tattoos. My sister, her son/my nephew and two of my first cousins had tattoos. Perhaps I noticed them this visit is because it was summer, and we were swimming and at the beach. It struck me that all of the tattoos had something to do with family. My sister has a tattoo of my nephew as an infant and another memorializing my father. My female first cousin had, in script, on her foot, perfectly aligned with the curve of her left flip-flop, simply, “la famaglia.” I thought nothing of it at the time — I was just surprise that they all had tattoos.

Part of the fun was also telling our family stories to the newest generation, aged 4 to 14. It was wonderful how curious the kids were, and amazing how vivid and similar all of our stories were. We also were fortunate enough to hear stories from a few of our great aunts two of whom are 90 and 92 year old sisters. What a hoot. Our shared experiences brought us closer and closer as a family in just a few short hours. As a family we have been lucky. Yes, we have had our losses, our tragedies, but all in all, we had a closeness that others have envied. over the years, we have also created  many traditions that focus on family and also honor our heritage. The constant with any gathering, holiday or family tradition was the FOOD. Preparing a meal together and eating as one big family as always been central to all of our get-togethers. And if your birthday fell the week of the Sunday family gathering, there was a home-baked cake in your honor. Birthdays were about family. Today we plan our kids’ birthdays  at the movie theater, nail salon, country-club pool — with lots of their friends. My birthdays through the years were with family — and I loved it. On this visit we even had an old fashioned birthday celebration for my son (see photo above).


So here’s the story we told our kids recently. The meal for Sundays was always the same. Homemade marinara sauce (not gravy), homemade meatballs, Italian sausage, and pasta (which we called macaroni). Typically the pasta was rigatoni but occasionally we would get crazy and have penne or ziti — but never spaghetti. My mother (my grandfather pre-early-1970’s) would get up at 5 a.m. to begin making the sauce and meatballs because the sauce needed to simmer for 4-6 hours. A big tossed salad was also a part of the meal prepared with olive oil and red wine vinegar and various Italian herbs. Whoever was closest to the Italian bakery was responsible for bringing the Italian bread. It is a meal to die for. An old fashion Italian feast.

The family would begin arriving at 11 a.m. and munch on whatever antipasto that was prepared or carried-in. Swimming began right away and the ball game of the day was put on the TV downstairs (usually either New York Giants or Yankees, depending on the season). Vegetables for the salad were prepared by 1 p.m.; at 1 p.m. meatballs were put in the sauce to simmer for an hour; at 1:15 p.m. the water was put on the stove to boil; and once this enourmous pot of water was at a raging boil, 4-5 pounds of pasta were dumped in to cook. Then the kitchen was cleaned, the Italian bread was cut and buttered, the salad was dressed and tossed, and the sinked was scoured in preparation for draining the (al dente) pasta. Around 2 p.m., my mother would be making plates for everyone and we would eat. She knew exactly what everyone wanted whether it was both meatball and sausage, no meat, extra sauce, light on sauce, etc. For a few minutes it was chaotic until everyone was seated and eating.  Once everyone finished grabbing bread, adding parmesan cheese and/or hot crushed red pepper, it was silent, for a moment, for the first time all day. Once everyone finished their pasta, the salad was served typically in your pasta plate. One or two ate their salad with their pasta but most ate their salad after their meal. (Italians believe it helps settle your stomach after a big meal.)

After Sunday dinner, there was more swimming and potentially a softball game in the front yard. When the sun started to go down, we would go indoors and play Setback (cards) or backgammon. My maternal grandmother was very serious about her card game. Usually by this time everyone would begin getting hungry again, and we would started making sandwiches.  If there was a birthday or anniversary to celebrate this was also the time to bring out the cake and coffee.  Speaking of coffee, there was hot coffee available all day and all night long.


During our recent Summer visit, once the meal was served, all of our wonderful memories of our family through the years came flooding back. The special Italian feast is the one thing that we share as a family.  My maternal grandfather would tell you that at the turn of the century, Italian immigrants had to be frugal.  The food we ate was the food of the peasant in Italy. It was absurd to even think of going out to eat for Italian food. First, we made the food better, more authentic with fresh ingredients; second, our grandparents and parents refused to pay for a meal that they could make for pennies.  We also never used “jarred” sauce. To this day, I feel funny about going out for Italian food or buying sauce in a jar. Not only do I have family memories about food but also specific foods for specific holidays, events, and seasons. Some of these food memories are as follows: chili dogs and homemade ice cream on July 4th; stuffed breads, baked ziti, and lasagna for special occasions like showers, bachelor parties, Christenings; fried dough with powdered sugar for holiday breakfasts; for events that need really special desserts – cannoli, rum cream cake,  pasticiotti, New York cheesecake; for family events like birthday parties – homemade pizza; for special Sunday gatherings – gnocchi or cavatelli; linguine with clam sauce on Christmas Eve; lentil soup on New Year’s Eve; and pasta e fagioli, for some reason, I remember it as the perfect food for the reception after funerals.


If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance.

Bernard Shaw, preface, Immaturity


We are all getting older and wiser, and during this visit we all realized that nothing is more important than family. No matter what drama we have dealt with in the past and regardless of what issues we are dealing with today, family members love you and accept you and make it right. As a family we are not perfect, but this recent visit was filled with so many wonderful memories. More importantly we have shared our stories, history and traditions with a new generation. We laughed loudly, we hugged, we danced, we swam, we took lots of pictures, we chill-axed, we ate. Our Family connections are stronger than ever. We were able to be ourselves, we were comfortable and content, and it was easy and natural. This is the beginning of a new era. And we are committed to keeping this family together and continuing to create new memories while honoring our Italian and American heritage and our established traditions.

And I can’t help but thing of those TATTOOS — especially “la famiglia.” How profound, yet simple – and perhaps this one word, in Italian, was inscribed permanently on my cousin’s foot not by accident but rather with focused intention. I am convinced in our own silent ways, we all wanted this; and we made it happen. Thank God.


Benedici la Mia Famiglia!


This PC Pop Blog post is a part of a series called the Summer for Renewal. Read the other Summer for Renewal posts too.  They are as follows:


 

Read more stories about growing up in my family and our traditions, check out these PC Pop posts: