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December 21, 2012     Post-Gazette
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December 21, 2012

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Page 4 POST-GAZETTE, DECEMBER 21,2012 The Holiday Bounty of an Italian Kitchen by Ally Di Censo -- Though I have only been companying dimness should tionally eschews meat prod- writing this column for three not be ignored. The utter still- ucts due to Christmas Eve C)__--z months, observant readers ness of the solstice reminds being a fast day in olden by Sal Gzarratam will notice a favorite theme to which I return over and over again. I've written about apple-picking, pumpkin bread for Halloween, gnocchi on St. Martin's Day, the joy of preparing a Thanksgiving dinner, eggnog cake for St. Nicholas's Day, Hanukkah latkes and baking sweet potato biscuits to honor St. Lucy's Day. Yes, my friends, I love to talk about food. I can't help it. Partly, my Italian blood deserves blame. I grew up in a family where food served the purpose of uniting all, especially during the most sacred days of the year, and where the cucina transformed itself from an ev- eryday kitchen to a place full of mysterious enchantment. I always found it hard to be- lieve that my mother's deli- cious potato croquettes and tiramisus started their lives as lumps of starchy veg- etables or drops of cream. However, my mind has also been wandering back to food this time of year, when the kitchen beckons me most strongly. In order to under- stand the outpouring of holi- day treats from an Italian kitchen, it is important to understand the allure of the winter solstice. People may greet the win- ter solstice with annoyance and depression, even fear. There is something quite in- timidating about the shortest day of the year, where even the daylight appears thin and gray and night quickly wraps its dark coat around the world. As I have mentioned before, many holidays that occur around the winter solstice, including Christmas, coun- teract this darkness by em- phasizing light. Indeed, the beautiful candles and lan- terns that decorate the streets during Christmas time offer a comforting sense of hope and a joy as radiant as the brightest bulb on a tree. However, I believe that the winter solstice and its ac- us to act tranquilly and patiently. The dark night of the solstice, rather than frightening us, can actually push us into spending time in peaceful solitude, taking pleasure in the company of our own souls. It can also provide the opportunity to seek refuge with family and friends as their laughter and embraces illuminate the night. Precisely because ram- pant commercialism and an overwhelming sense of haste characterize the holiday season, these moments of respite enhance our overall experience of Christmas. Therefore, as the solstice de- scends, the kitchen calls me. With only the hush of a shad- owy sky above me and the glimmer of stars decorating the velvet night, I flock to the honeyed glow of my kitchen and to the old ritual of mixing flour and water. The darkness allows me to con- centrate on the food and my mother's company as we fill the home with delectable odors that announce the Christmas festivities. Of course, what makes these cooking moments all the more spectacular is the fact that Italian tradition brims with amazing treats that sprout up around Christ- mas. My grandmother's struffoli take top honors. Struffoli are little deep-fried dough balls soaked in honey. Nonna, my grandmother, shapes them into a wreath and dusts them with a plethora of colorful sprinkles, so that the dish resembles a beehive designed by Santa's elves. I love the way the struffoli dough contains both a crunchy crispness offset by the sweet and velvety silk of the honey -- in other words, this dessert tastes just as playful and festive as it looks. I also enjoy helping my mother prepare the pasta course for our Christmas Eve meal, known as the Vigilia in Italian -- a meal that tradi- "Your Oasis in the City" 30 Tremont Street, Boston (Located in between Beacon and Cambridge Street) 617.367.2446 Coterino Ferullo, owner of Foscino Salon and Spa is proud to welcome Krisffn Wheeler and Shoido Korimi formally of Solon 26, to our staff/ Holiday appointments are still availableJ Call and get yours today! NEED A GIFT?! ... WE'VE GOT YOU COVERED[ GRAB YOUR HOLIDAY SET OR GIFT CARD TODAY! times. We always experiment with a different pasta dish, as there are so many varia- tions, that I always anticipate the surprise of deciding what to cook up next. In addition, Christmas wouldn't be the same without the delicacies that my father buys from the quaint little Italian specialty shops in the North End. Panettone, the Milanese sweetbread studded with dried fruits, forms an indispensible part of Christmas celebra- tions for many Italian fami- lies. I actually don't like the taste of panettone- it's too dry and fruitcake-y for me -- but I appreciate the time-hon- ored tradition that goes be- hind its making. The other treat my father breaks open around the Christmas holi- days is torrone, or a nougat confection chockfull of nuts. Collectively, these foods weave their way into the intricate tapestry of Italian folklore and holidays, giving families a reason to unite and celebrate. This winter, it is important to appreciate the darkness rather than let it overwhelm us. One way in which to do this is by using the winter solstice as time of contempla- tion and renewal, of serenity and reprieve from the chaos which characterizes the holiday season. I have found this peaceful center in the kitchen, baking a variety of Italian Christmas goods with my mother. When I am filled with the mystical glow that comes from diligently shap- ing ingredients, the darkness of winter adopts a cozy qual- ity. The great thing about the holidays is that they remind us that the winter solstice is only a transitory period -- after that day, the sun will slowly grow in the sky. The days will grow longer and the foods of Christmas will make way to the fried delicacies of Carnival, the pies of Easter, the barbecues of Indepen- dence Day, the spice cookies of All Souls' Day ... until we reach Christmas all over again. So here is my advice: make or buy your favorite holiday treat on the winter solstice and think of the day not as one of darkness, but rather a necessary part of the great Earth cycle we call the year. Merry Christmas to all! Buon Natale! Driving through the Darkness Searching for Some Light On a recent commute coming up 1-95 north toward 93 and the Southeast Ex- pressway, I traveled some 35 miles in darkness with my headlights on to see the road ahead. Bad enough it is so dark at this time of the year, add some dropping rain and your commute gets slowed down real quickly. I always await my father's birthday, December 22 be- cause it is the shortest day of the year. From that point on the tide turns and the hours of light start multiply- ing. It will take a bit to see any significant change but the worst of the darkness has ended. Now, I under- stand quite well why the old Romans had a pagan cel- ebration in December and why the Christian church placed Christmas in this same period of darkness. We all need hope that things can and will improve. Why not celebrate life with holidays like the Romans did. The Vatican saw the same need to welcome light by celebrat- ing the birth of Christ, the light of the world, in Decem- ber too. I have worked in the men- tal health field for 40 years and know for a fact that de- pression is a common malady in the darkness of the win- ter months. The term for it is seasonal dysfunction syn- drome. You can see if you look hard, people racing all around going from store to store with a sadness on their faces. Or you can see in the faces of those who live in the shadows of life, the home- less, the elderly forgotten by their families and the sad- ness of time passing too quickly to contemplate. Little children still believe in Santa Claus and getting presents. For them it is about getting not giving but they are children and that's how children think. Adults adrift in life with few family ties other than old faded memo- ries don't expect anything and in return give nothing back except a regret or two. Sometimes we need to lis- ten to some good Christmas music to cheer us up or bring back memories from long- ago days of youth when we strived for the light more and cursed the darkness. Now too many of us without hope only curse the dark- (Continued on Page 14) 00ataYe Dr. Dean J. Saluti President Renaissance Lodge, OSlA Majorie Cahn P.O. Box 692027 Ouincy, MA 02269 INC. ArnYA ' $COUrKE ALUE T  LEARN ITALIAN " (L),,S.iil, Inc. {Centre Atvi ,':Iasricbe h:dmne}, ttc edu(:am cmmitce trader 1he ausplo:. of dlc hali;m Consulate of Ismn md k,tixt in Wzkcfidd Comer, is pk"ascd to invite tho: who wish m k'arn Ally Di Censo is a Graduate Student in History at the Uni- versity of Massachusetts Bos- ton. She appreciates any com- ments and suggestions about Italian holidays and folklore at adicenso89@gmail, com. J-Iapp!J J-lolidays Broadway Brake Corp. HEAVY DUTY TRUCK & BUS PARTS & SERVICE Philip D'Angelo, President 46 Broadway 1093 N. 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