“Hacking” the Seven Fishes – How I Cheat My Way Through a Holiday Tradition

img_1141Yeah, that’s right. I cheat my way through an Italian American staple of Christmas Eve celebration.

There’s no reason to feel guilty about it, however.

Your traditional Feast of the Seven Fishes – which is reported to have started in southern Italy – feels like just a little too much work, being seven separate fish dishes. And in some families, the fish count can go as high as twelve (in homage to the 12 apostles).

I like to think of myself as an ambitious worker, especially in the kitchen. With some of the dishes my grandmother used to make – meatballs, fresh pasta, rice balls, chicken cutlets being examples – I think the long, slow, hard work route is the most satisfying. I try not to take shortcuts, and actually enjoy the labor involved.

My grandmother always featured a fish dish in the house on Christmas Eve – but I don’t recall her doing seven of them, as she had little time for such endeavors. Aside from cooking for her family, she was always buried in food prep during the day for the family restaurant that she helped establish.

On Christmas Eve, she had already worked plenty hard. I doubt she had any interest in the intense work of creating such a meal after a long day running her business.

Her meal that she liked to make was a simple one: a piece of freshly fried haddock, or one of my favorites, a linguine tossed with a sauce of tuna and tomatoes. A dish like that is a memorable one for me, bringing childhood flooding back all over again.

That’s the idea of trying to recreate tradition, right? To release the memories from their time capsule, to bring forth an even more enhanced holiday experience.

As I’ve said before, I don’t like to live in the past but I do like to make the occasional visit.

To make our tradition here easier and a little less laborious, my wife and I will condense the formidable preparation of seven fishes down into three straightforward dishes:

  • Dish number one is a simple crab dip made with lump crab meat, cream cheese, mayo, dashes of worcestershire sauce and ketchup. It’s my mother in law’s recipe, but my wife sweetens it up by adding chili sauce from a secret family recipe that was created decades ago by my grandmother’s sister, Carmela.
  • Number two? An even simpler shrimp cocktail, made zesty with a horseradish sauce my wife mixes, with a little extra kick of wasabi. We buy raw, frozen shrimp with the shells still on, for two reasons: they’re more cost effective (at half the price) than cooked shrimp, and I actually like peeling the shells off. Years ago, I helped peel shrimp in the restaurant kitchen – and I was trained well.
  • Number three is the big one: cioppino, or seafood stew, is the centerpiece for our Christmas Eve, and has been for several years. The sauce consists of tomatoes, fish stock, thyme, tomato paste, wine, and a touch of hot pepper. Once the sauce simmers for a bit, the fish is thrown right into it: scallops, clams, mussels, calamari, and a firm fish like cod or haddock.img_1142

If you’re counting, the number of fishes once the stew is done, comes together as seven.

My wife and I like to serve this dish simply, as well – with just a crusty bread on the side, to soak up all the goodness from the sauce and fish liquid that shouldn’t be wasted.

We do have company for this meal, and the preference for a couple of family members is to have the fish and broth ladled over pasta. It’s an option that’s delicious, and one I can recommend, as well.

Interested in a recipe? Try this one, from the celebrity chef (and our favorite television personality) Lidia Bastianich. Her version can be found here:

Seafood Soup

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“Make America Great Again?” – You Can’t Be Serious

“Politics is an easy place to go to avoid dealing with your real problems. In fact, many of the people who spend their time worrying about partisan politics do so as a way to avoid addressing what really needs to change in their life. The changes you need to make are not going to be addressed by any politician or government agency. While elections are important, they aren’t nearly as important as what you can do for yourself.” – Anthony Iannarino

As we steamroll into these final months of an election season – with heated debates that promise interest and entertainment – this is not going to be another internet political rant.

I don’t have an agenda against one candidate, or for another. That’s not my deal.

As a small town citizen, who would I be to bash anyone that is running a campaign to acquire the world’s most demanding job?

I do, however, have a small problem with the slogan “Make America Great Again.”

Albeit, the slogan sells. Look at the campaign rallies – the citizens have come droves to bathe in the rhetoric.

With smart phone at the ready, clutching a Starbucks or upgraded handbag in their one hand, waving their rally sign with the other.

I look at our country of today and think to myself, “are we really in that much trouble? Has America lost her greatness?”

This slogan, and perhaps the campaign itself, preys on fears that you have created that have no basis – fears that you should put on the shelf.

A Different Perspective

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My great grandmother, pictured here, could possibly have told you about the greatness of America, if she could speak any English. Arriving here in 1929, she stepped off the boat onto Ellis Island just in time for the greatest stock market crash our economy has faced.

She left the comfort and familiarity of her small town in Sicily, and if my facts serve me correctly, the first home in that town with indoor plumbing and running water. Truly the lap of luxury.

I would not blame her if she thought she left her homeland to travel great distances to a country with big problems.

Luckily, she had a rock steady family unit around her. Up against the odds and mighty struggles, that family turned out successful business owners, physicians, teachers, cooks, artists, and all around American success stories.

The secret to that success?  Embracing simplicity, values, and a never say die work ethic.

New York Times columnist Frank Bruni wrote a wonderful article about our 2016 Olympic athletes – but as I was reading his words, I felt he was talking about my immigrant family more than anything:

They had a drive more powerful… They swapped resentment for goals. And they worked. By God, did they work. We tend to marvel at their freakish gifts, but we should marvel even more at their freakish devotion. That’s what made the difference.

They invested hour upon hour, day after day. They sacrificed idle time and other pursuits. They honed a confidence that eludes most of us and summoned a poise that we can only imagine. They took risks, big ones.

And they pressed on, because there was this thing that they wanted so very, very badly and the only way to know if they could get it was to put everything on the line.

And herein lies the issue with modern America – everything is expected, and little is earned.

Should we be shocked most people don’t think America is great? How could you, when the perception is – the wolf is at the door, at all times?

We all need to leave our warm, comfy cocoons and come to one realization – the resident of the Oval Office doesn’t matter. In the end, you are responsible for your life.

Statistics bear out that we live in one of the safest, and most prosperous, times in our history. We have running water. Indoor plumbing. Plenty of food. Perhaps, too much food. Modern conveniences that have no purpose other than to make our unfit bodies more comfortable, within houses and property so opulent that the rest of the world may not be able to fathom.

And we need to “Make America Great Again?” Give me a break.

My Italians came here with little hope other than to live as poor immigrants. They made themselves great. We can all do the same.

Embrace your inner peasant, your inner Spartan. Start earning what you think you deserve. Make yourself a little uncomfortable in the process, on purpose, instead of searching for the convenient answer.

As Mr. Bruni wrote – sacrifice your idle time. Instead of resentment, embrace the work. Cultivate a freakish devotion. Put it all on the line.

That’s what your ancestors did, and what we can do. That’s America, and her greatness.

A Father and Son, A Perfect Swing

As father – son baseball moments go, we have one that may stand the test of time, ranking right up there with Kevin Costner as the fictional Ray Kinsella, playing catch with his ghostly father with a backdrop of an Iowa cornfield  in the final scene of Field of Dreams.

For me, a Dad who has played ball with both of my kids, son and daughter, it was one of those “goose pimple” events.  Yankee star second baseman Robinson Cano, winning the All Star Home Run Derby, with his father and mentor Jose as his pitcher.

It was compelling television. Jose was stoic and unsmiling as he threw the batting practice tosses to his son, and didn’t even crack a smile until he knew that Cano would grab the title of “home run king” for the night.

The outcome never seemed to be in doubt. In the final round, Cano hit a home run with most of the pitches his Dad threw to him. In retrospect, it looked like they had been doing it forever. And they probably have.

Once victory was secure, the only thing left was a bear hug between a father and his boy.

In a night full of baseballs launched out of the park, majestic moonshots landing in second and third decks, Robinson had the most majestic of all, a couple of balls measured beyond 470 feet.

In an interview after the competition, the younger Cano did not reference his upper body strength, sense of balance, or his perfectly Ruthian swing as the factors for his stratospheric display. Instead, he gave credit where he thought it was due.

It was my dad.”

Cano said he wished the trophy could be cut in half — half for him, half for his dad.

“These are the things you share with your family, when you retire you can look back and say, ‘Wow, I was good in the day’,” Cano said. “This is something I’m always going to have in my mind and my heart.”

A committed father rarely understands the importance of his role. The statistics bear out that having a father at home shuts down that greater risk of having major challenges in life while growing up.

On the flip side, I think having a Dad like Jose Cano can not only keep a kid out of trouble,  but also accelerate any success that child might experience. And once you get momentum…

Jose was a professional athlete himself, who took the time to teach his son the finer points of the game, and obviously, the skills required to live a life of success within the sport he loves.

An old school guy, who puts family first and his needs and wants on the back burner if necessary.

Thanks to Jose and Robinson for showing us real must see TV for families. In a time where most television is reality garbage, this baseball event was one for the ages.