Italianness

I am exactly 50% Italian. My mother’s side bears the Italians while my father’s is a mesh of Europeans, descending from England, France(?), and I believe even Scandinavia (which would explain my fair complexion). Somewhere way back when, Daniel Boone is a relative, though from what I understand, he bore many, many, many children.

Any cultural routines I have I attribute to my Italian side. I did not grow up Catholic, though both of my parents were rooted in Catholicism. I grew up “free to choose your relationship with God.” I mention this only because religion will play no real part later in this post. I admit that most of the time when I see or meet other Italian families, I assume they are Catholic; whether that’s right or not, I just wanted to clear it up for anyone who may also have made that assumption.

I have come to discover that I really value certain traditions deriving from one particular culture or heritage. I have a fondness for homemade Italian food, as my mother is one hell of a cook and baker, as was my grandmother. I love hearing the plethora of funny stories about my Italian relatives. My grandfather came over from Italy when he was six and my grandmother was first-generation American. There is a rich history of Italians in Rochester, NY where my grandparents raised their family. My grandfather had a successful construction company which built many of the still-standing buildings in Rochester today. To me, that’s seriously cool.

For being half Italian, I am extremely fair-skinned and grew up with blonde hair, which has darkened over the years. My mother can get tan walking down the street, whereas I will burn swiftly and assuredly if I am in any kind of sunny, tropical environment and not wearing at least SPF 40. My brother was able to tan a bit better, but neither of us look remarkably Italian. It’s one of those things where if you knew both of our parents, you would catch a feature here and a feature there.

If I ever have children, the gene pool will be further divided and they will be 25% Italian, 25% mutt of whatever else I am, 25% Irish, and 25% German.

I don’t know that I will pass down much of my Italian heritage to my children as I don’t speak the language or cook more than one or two dishes I’ve learned over the years. But as I scrubbed the bathroom today, my mind began to wander as it usually does during the monotony of the routine, and I started chuckling to myself as I thought of a few things I deem distinctly Italian.

And so, in the spirit of sharing, here are a few I thought of:

Something isn’t clean if it’s not done with bleach. I believe all Italian mothers pass this on to their children. To that end, my favorite bleach product to work with is Soft Scrub.

Clean: nostrils burning and skin dried out.

I know this seems like an ad placement but it’s not. (I should put it under Zoe Recommends, though!) It not only blasts through soap scum and germs but it makes a sink shine. I use it for both bathroom and kitchen sinks. See how pretty?

The other cleaning agent is vinegar. I can’t tell you how many windows I cleaned over the years when it was Cleaning Day with my mom and I was using a spray bottle with a mixture of distilled vinegar and water. Though I loathe the smell, it really does do the job of cutting grease and getting things to sparkle. You know, if you’re not using bleach.

Take your bow, vinegar!

There are certain words for which the only acceptable pronunciation is the Italian one. I can’t say “ricotta” in a nasal, Midwestern twang. It’s “rrrri-gotte.” Just imagine that with an Italian intonation. When I go to Subway, I would prefer to ask for “pepperoncini” but I say “banana peppers” because nine times out of ten, it’s easier that way to convey what I want to the Subway worker.

My mother prefers saying mozza-rrelle for “mozzarella.” Same way for “biscotti,” sometimes I heard it as bis-got. I feel silly saying any of these things this way except to my family members, so holidays for me have a few Italian food words thrown around quite often, amongst a few other phrases of the dialect my mom and her siblings grew up with.

When it comes to Italian cookies and pastries, we are absolute snobs. (Same with Italian restaurants, too, but I’ll stick with just the cookies for now.) I absolutely adore Italian cookies but they can not come from just anywhere. I have yet to experience what I consider real Italian cookies outside of Rochester, NY. My favorite place to get them from is Gruttadauria Bakery. It is still a family owned place after multiple generations with age-old recipes for their pastries and cookies. And the smell? Ooooooooohhhhhmyyyyyyygaaaaaaaahhhhhhhdddd. If I can afford to, I will have their delectable cookies grace my wedding reception. When I see my mom at the holidays, I usually try to get a box. Zoe Recommends Gruttadauria Bakery with my whole heart and soul!

And lastly….

I mentioned spray bottles before with the vinegar and water (and sometimes my mom had them filled with watered down bleach, too). Because I now associate spray bottles with the “Italian way to clean,” Febreze is my generation’s Italian cleaning tip. It probably sounds silly but it is what it is. We’re big Febrezers.

Febreze is a genius product.

I would absolutely love to hear from any Italian-American readers if you have anything in particular that you do or say as a direct result of growing up with Italian family members. I will always be proud of my Italian background, no matter how watered down the gene pool becomes.

Until next time, mio amici.

An Egregious Sin

So….it’s come to my attention that if you live in New York City and you order AND enjoy Domino’s Pizza, that there’s something wrong with you. Perhaps I have some gene that needs to be removed because I actually enjoy…nay, PREFER Domino’s Pizza over some of NYC’s finest. Don’t get me wrong. I love New York style pizza. I like the big floppiness of the pieces, the consistency, the vast array of toppings that they come up with – some of the combinations are out of this world and crazy delicious. You can buy just one or two slices and be on your way.

But sometimes I don’t want just one or two slices. Sometimes I want to custom the order and do it in my pajamas. And God bless it, my tastebuds enjoy how this place throws together a pizza pie. I grew up in St. Louis, everyone. Missouri. Very Midwestern place. We didn’t have the local pizza joints on the corner where Giuseppe makes you a homemade pie from Sicily. Domino’s WAS the local pizza joint. The only thing that was really ours was Imo’s, which is St. Louis style pizza. It’s extra large, thin crust pizza with a distinct blend of cheeses…Man, I miss Imo’s. Okay I’m getting off track now. But you get my point.

So the other night on just such an occasion, I ordered a delicious, medium pizza with pepperoni and green peppers. It had a regular crust and it came with two 20oz bottles of Coke Zero. The deal was like $10 for this whole thing. It doesn’t get any better than that when you live in NYC. Oh wait, it does – I ordered it online. And they have their handy dandy pizza tracker thing. I didn’t have to leave the house, I didn’t have to worry about some inept person over the phone misunderstanding my order. It was beautiful. It showed up. It was piping hot, fantastically tasty and I had plenty to eat for the evening plus some leftover for lunch the next day. I’m not a leftovers fan but Domino’s Pizza (and their ranch dressing!) makes the cut. And Pizza Hut. Don’t even get me started on the fact that NYC is bereft of Pizza Hut.

At one point, my very nice new roommate came in and sat down to watch some TV. He finally looked over at me and the pizza and goes, “What’s with the Domino’s? Is this some holdover from the Midwest or Rochester or something?” I burst out laughing and conceded that he was not the first person to ask me about my love for this total commercialized chain pizza. Back when I worked in television production, there was a producer who mocked me pretty enthusiastically for lowering myself to order it, enjoy it and tell people about it. I guess I need to hide my preference like a politician who frequents the dirty brothel on the other side of the tracks. But seriously, if I wanted pizza (and I really did), what am I supposed to do? The nearest pizzeria to me in Astoria is Boston Pizza. I think it’s a safe bet to say that as a New Yorker, I’m not supposed to order pizza from a place called Boston Pizza. But also my roommate confirmed it tasted like ass. So there you have it.

How does anybody not think this looks yummy?

How does anybody not think this looks yummy?

At least while the conundrum of where to order pizza in our ‘hood hadn’t been solved, I had an out for why I had it in the house. Now when I see my pizza box in the recycling bin I feel like I’m supposed to be ashamed. But I’m not! I fucking like it! I did a little background search on the chain and I thought this part of the Wikipedia entry was pretty funny. Remember the character the Noid from the 80s? Avoid the Noid? Well here’s the scoop behind that:

In the 1980s, Domino’s Pizza was well known for its advertisements featuring The Noid. That concept was created by Group 243 Inc. who then hired Will Vinton Studios to produce the television commercials that they created. Customers were implored to order from Domino’s in order to “avoid the Noid.”

In 1989, a man, Kenneth Lamar Noid, who thought the ads were a personal attack on him, held two employees of an Atlanta, Georgia, Domino’s restaurant hostage for over five hours. After forcing them to make him a pizza, Noid surrendered to police. Noid was charged with kidnapping, aggravated assault, extortion, and possession of a firearm during a crime, but he was found not guilty by reason of insanity. [11] Contrary to popular belief, this incident did not cause Domino’s to pull the “Noid” campaign off the air; in reality, Noid creator and owner Will Vinton Studios asked for a larger amount of money for continued use of the Noid character, and Domino’s chose not to renew its contract.

I don’t remember that incident since I was 9 years-old, but I think that’s kinda funny. Poor guy. You have to wonder if he enjoyed the taste and if he boycotted the place after the Noid was created or what. But back to the point. Yes, I live in New York where we have 5,000 pizza joints that probably make better pizza than Domino’s. Is it cliche? Certainly. Am I supporting one of the most recognized worldwide brands on the planet, thereby making me somehow inferior because I’m denying Vinny the chance of heating me up a slice? Yes. But it’s not just that it’s delicious and cost-effective. It’s convenient, dammit. But to me, it’s worth it to pay the price of getting heckled so that I can answer the door in my “Everyone loves an Italian girl” t-shirt and snowman pajama pants and stuff my face with pizza that no one but me in all of New York City openly likes.

Domino’s popular slogan is, “Get the door. It’s Domino’s.” I will get the door, thank you – running and tripping and slipping with my money clutched tightly in my hand. Because my cheapass, “fake,” sweatshop pizza is here.