Food, Lifestyle

A book of gifts

Pictured are cherrystones with cannellini beans over linguine. Find the recipe below. 


“Clean the kitchen,” read one page. “15 kisses over a half-hour period,” read another. And then, “Make the bed.”  

These were part of a coupon book that my daughter Danielle, age 9, had made for Mother’s Day about 35 years ago. I found the little handwritten booklet, written onto the back of my business cards that had been stapled together, when cleaning out my storage unit recently.

The book is a reminder of how adorable, sweet and thoughtful Danielle was — and is. It also got me thinking about what I wouldn’t give to have the opportunity to go somewhere with or do something for my own mother — just one more time. I reminisced about when we went to Italy together for the first time, which was very special.

But I also loved the little excursions like going to Hoffman’s and having lunch after at Anthony Athanas’ Hawthorne in downtown Lynn. We also loved “hitting the junk shops,” as she would call them. She was always ready to bargain for a lower price, even if the starting price was completely reasonable and she knew it. The negotiating game was one she enjoyed playing.

My honeymoon for my first marriage was planned for Europe, where I would spend time with my mother’s father’s relatives. My grandfather came to the states to visit his sister Ida when he was 21. Ida was married to a man who taught fencing, supposedly, at Harvard. The way my relatives exaggerated it could have been at the local Y that he taught fencing.

The most dramatic fact about my Italian grandfather was true though: He only came here for a visit, but he would never return to Italy. There were so many stories about why and how, but I got the real story many years later from my cousin. Apparently, my grandfather and his father did not get along very well. Seems Nono was just waiting for an opportunity to get away from his father’s control, and when his sister suggested a visit as a chance to cool the tensions, he went for it. I have a letter that my mother saved, written by her father to his mother, apologizing for having left. It was written many years after he had come here and stayed, after he had made a home and started a family — there were five children at the time, five more would follow.  

The move he made is hard to imagine. Consider the challenge of leaving home for a new country, with a new culture and language to learn, establishing new relationships and being hired by people who looked down on you because you were an immigrant? I have learned that his father was extremely strict, and that my grandfather felt incredibly constricted by this. Perhaps the desire to please his mother also added an urgency for the liberty of America — but I am only guessing.

My mother had never been to Italy and she was so envious of my going she could hardly stand it. She really wanted to come along on the honeymoon. When she and her sisters eventually did make the trip, it was life-changing. They saw pictures of their father as a young boy with his family. There were tears and laughter. The trip that my mother and I made together was very special, because, by that time we had both been there many times and were so welcomed by our loving Italian family.

I imagine making a coupon book for my mother from the vantage point of today, a dozen years or so after her passing. I see it as being a little different from Danielle’s. My book would be about acknowledging the difficulties she had raising my brother and me alone, working at a job an hour away from home.

The coupon from Danielle about making dinner would be about the same for my mother.  She expected me to “start dinner,” as in “peel the potatoes, make a salad, set the table,” from an early age. There would be a coupon for “showing more patience,” as when she insisted I had to be home before the street lights went on. I thought at the time that 14-year-olds should get to stay out a little later than that.  

Danielle’s coupon book served as a reminder of how life goes in a straight line — how irretrievable the past is. You concentrate hard on your kids when they’re young, knowing how fleeting each moment is, but still, you can never be with them at any particular age again. You can try to reconstruct the details, to remember the particulars, but you can never be with them again, laughing, feeling, smelling the experience of those special days. And looking at the coupons made me want to have one that would take me back to be with my mother, one more time.  Back to when we could argue about whether that pink color was appropriate for the wedding she was going to, or about anything, the grandchildren, whether jumbo shrimp were better for stuffing than the smaller ones. I would give anything for one more day, just one.

My brother Anthony has my family’s “clamming gene.” When we visit him at his house on the Cape, we expect to go clamming, his favorite pastime, just as Anthony and I did with Nono as children. We are treated with every variety of preparations: clams casino, clam chowder, pasta with clams in a Marinara sauce and “in bianco,” a white sauce. I love when he makes baked stuffed quahogs. His wife Carolyn does the grunge work, thankfully. We all love clamming and we especially enjoy sitting down to one of Anthony’s feasts.

Cherrystones with Cannellini Beans over Linguine

Wash and rinse well a few dozen cherrystones.  

Put a large pot of water on for linguine to cook.  

In a saute pan, sweat 1 small chopped onion and 2 tablespoons of chives (they come up every year in my garden!) in 3 tablespoons olive oil.

Add 1 cup each of white wine and chicken broth and bring to a simmer.  

Add the cherrystones and cover the pan for about 5 minutes.  

Add 2 cups of canned, rinsed cannellini beans and cover. After about 5 minutes the clams will open.

Pour it all over a bowl of cooked linguine.  

Serve with freshly grated Parmesan and a nice green salad.


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