This weekend, while many were heading out in shades of green and shamrocks, my grandmother was steaming her artichokes. Happily established in her new apartment (that was built onto the second floor of our home), my grandmother, wrapped cozily in her purple bathrobe, bustled throughout her small kitchen and tended to her teal saucepan, with only a few intrusions of her sleeve.
When I describe my grandmother to others, they often believe I’m describing a character from a novel, performing said descriptions with an exaggerated New York accent. She has certainly coined a few hilarious (yet wise) Nanny-isms. Being the matriarch of a family is no easy task, and my grandmother is surely an Italian force to be reckoned with. There are several qualities in her that I admire (and dare I admit, similarities between us as well):
We’re both independent (and stubborn as hell): One of the reasons my grandmother and I probably bump heads so much is that we’re cut from the same cloth. Despite our differing styles and beliefs, we’re not afraid to be our own person. Something I do admire in my grandmother is that she’s not afraid to go after what she wants. While I tend to step back and accept what has been dealt to me, my grandmother isn’t afraid to stand up for herself and speak her mind.
We’re both daydreamers: As a fan of all things Turner Classic movies, my grandmother will describe several outings and adventures that she wishes we can take part in; however, these outings often sound like a scene from a movie. As far-fetched as some of her ideas may seem, I recognize the same meanderings of the mind within myself. My mind is constantly moving, constantly dreaming, most likely in an unrealistic fashion; still, I love our ability to dream and hope.
She’s generous: The number one thing I admire the most about my grandmother is her willingness to always help her family. Whether it was when we were young children or even now as adults, she never stops worrying and never stops caring (even if that means waiting up until 11pm for me to come home. Yes, at 27 years old, that is late for me!).
Seeing as this past Sunday was Saint Joseph’s Day, and we were celebrating with a lounge around the house, I knew I wanted to prepare something special for my grandma. Another similarity between my grandmother and I is our need to feed people, to make others happy through our cooking/baking and to bring others together through our meals. While she was gifted with the culinary talent, I stuck to my baking roots (because I can’t even cook vegetables in the microwave without burning them) and prepared her favorite dessert: Zeppole di San Guiseppe.
Unable to fry zeppoles in my kitchen, I was unsure of how well these pastries would bake. The recipe itself was simple enough to follow, but every step was met with bated breath. As I removed the pastries from the oven (on my second attempt), I was relieved to see a light and fluffy puff before me. The dough had baked with a slightly eggy consistency, but I felt more confident after hollowing out the pastry.
The next step would be executing the cannoli cream; every Italian understands the importance of a perfect cannoli cream, so the pressure was on! Although I forgot to strain the ricotta cheese, I was pleased with the way the cannoli cream turned out. It was smooth and rich, and the cinnamon gave it a nice (but subtle) kick.
After a quick assembly and a dash of powdered sugar, these pastries were good to go! My grandmother has done so much for me over the years, more than I can ever hope to repay her for; if one small thing I could do was bake her favorite dessert on Saint Joseph’s Day, then I was happy to oblige.