Thursday, January 21, 2010

Shaking my brain with Grandma, clams and an award

I'm researching. And writing. The thing is I'm supposed to be researching and writing The Grimms Brothers Unplugged which is slated for production at Lakeshore Players in July 2010. And I am. Sort of. I've read over 300 tales, made a cast list, did the opening, changed my mind as to how and why I would compile the tales. Changed the theme from growing up to the ways and means of enchantment. And then.... this....

Grandma Gresio. She has been gone since I was 11. She rarely spoke of Italy and I am shaking my brain every which way to figure her out. To figure me out. We found Grandpa Gresio's manifest through the Ellis Island site fifteen years ago. Why could we not find Grandma's? Then a discovery: her name was not Theresa - but Maria Theresa. I typed in her birthdate, her hometown of Stigliano and her name - and I was guided right to it.
Of course there are the dissenters. "It can't be her," said one cousin. "It says she was twenty when she was landed. My mother always said she was nineteen." (Nevermind that my mother told me she was sixteen.)
"Laviano is a very common name. It may not be her. And I don't think her name was Maria."
Well, it's Maria on her marriage license. Do you know how hard those manifests are to read? It has her hometown, height, her destination (Uncle Francesco - her brother) and Francesco's correct address. Yes. I think it's her.
There is the tale of Francesco never showing up. And Grandma (illiterate and speaking only Italian) wandering around downtown with the address (why they let her off Ellis Island, we'll never know) asking people to direct her. Many people made fun of her. That upsets my mother to this day. I can only imagine Grandma telling the story with humiliation which is why something that happened in 1907 strikes such an emotional chord with my mother today. I can also gather from my mother's emotion - that Grandma must have been a proud woman. Not arrogant - but self-respecting. Grandma must have told that story with tremors if it still upsets my mother. A woman from an impoverished town, peasant stock (Francesco's occupation was listed as "peasant."), who cannot read or write can still feel her worth.
Fast forward nine hours later. I've been on the computer all day and calling my mother. The family will be home soon. I scour the fridge for leftovers. I think - I should make something nice for my family. Grandma revered family. It's too late. But it's not too late for an appetizer. I run to the store, pick up a pound of clams and act like I've been thinking of their welfare all day.

It was a nice surprise. No frowns occurred when I warmed Monday's soup. There were suspicions as to why I made something that I usually reserve for special occasions. But actually if you think about it - today was pretty special.

Clams with Garlic-Butter Sauce - serves 3-4 as an appetizer
1 lb clams
6 tbl butter (I used Earth Balance to offset the buttery Julia Child syndrome)
4 tsp minced garlic (I do confess to using the jarred - I was in a hurry)
6 tbl fresh sliced basil

Clams with Garlic-Butter Sauce Preparation
Soak clams for ten minutes in salted water to help get rid of impurities. Scrub them well. Melt your butter and garlic. When all is melted and garlic starts to cook, add the clams. Cover and simmer for 5-10 minutes (until the clams open). Discard any clams that don't open. Put clams on plate, pour butter-garlic sauce over them and scatter basil on top of sauce and clams. Serve with crusty bread to soak up this wonderful creamy, smooth briny sauce.

Cover and simmer.

Uncover and find sea-filled deliciousness.

A little basil never hurts anything.

My easy New Year's Eve appetizer allowed me to reheat soup for dinner.

And after dinner, I went on to my computer to find this from Gera at Sweets Foods.

If you do not know Gera' Sweets Foods Blog - you should. He brings a ton of research weekly - with gatherings of blogs and why they might interest you. And of course there are delectables - sweet and savory to tempt and entice you. Thank-you so much Gera for thinking of me.
In keeping with the "sweet friendship," I am supposed to post the award (happily done), mention ten things that make me happy and pass this on to ten people who brighten my day.
With gratitude, I can attest that there are many more than ten things that make me happy and many more than ten people who brighten my day. How lucky am I.
10 Things:
family, friends, feeding people, writing, the first crocus, mornings (and I'm a night person! go figure), reading, my four-legged loved ones, my personal inner life, the ability to pay-it-forward.
In keeping with paying-it-forward and love of feeding people - I want to give a big shout-out to the 20and 30-somethings out there who - because of social networking and texting, an unprecedented amount of money for Haiti was raised in a short amount of time. The idea of texting a donation through your cell phone to the Red Cross makes it so easy to give. And the main cell phone companies have waived all their fees and have pledged to give 100% of the donations to their intended charity. With the aftershocks, the need remains great and will continue. Food for thought. And love.
Today, I shall pass the award to:
Stirring the Pot - for culinary obsessions and "throwdowns"
My Little Space - in honor of her 200th post and delectables
Five Star Foodie - for taking ingredients and creating art
The Ungourmet - whose name belies her scrumptious creations
Figtree Appetizers - whose recipes I cook again and again
I Love Flavour Me - I don't know what I love more - her adventures or her food! Both, I guess
My Food and Life Encounters - whose spirit of love shines through every post
Lynda's Recipe Box - for her combining of traditional beloved recipes with the new
Chow and Chatter - for delivering nourishment in a most delicious manner
Just Joyce - for doing all with heart and love
I shall return to the ship's manifests. Call my mother yet again and wonder why I have been avidly searching for Grandma for many decades. To learn more about her? To learn more about me? To write? To acknowledge the debt? More food for thought.


theUngourmet said...

I loved reading a bit about your family history! I have learned some things about my grandfather over the years. He was in the Navy during the war and was actually at Pearl Harbor. I really enjoy learning about my family history.

Your clams look so buttery and delicious!

Congrats on your award and thank you for passing it on to me! :)

Have a wonderful weekend!

Pat @ Mille Fiori Favoriti said...

Claudia I could eat clams like this at any meal -- so tasty!

I am always in awe of what our immigrant ancestors had to go through when they arrived, how strong and resilient they had to be. They paved the way for our bright future!

justjoycee said...

Thank you Claudia for your nice compliment. I too found my maternal great grandparents and all of their children who came to Ellis Island from Italy. I never met my grandfather. When I found him and all his siblings names and parents names and date of birth I was so happy. I even have a picture of the ship they came over on.

The clams look delicious.....

figtree said...

Claudia, how fortunate I am to have found your blog. I always walk away with a great recipe and a wonderful story. I always appreciate acknowledgement, it means alot. I love the clam post. Whenever I make them people ooooo and ahhhhh, this makes me laugh as they are so simple and fun to prepare. I love the addition of basil! Thanks again :D

Donna-FFW said...

How exciting to find must give you such a sense of satisfaction and joy.

Your clams look fantastic, I love the color and the flavor basil brings!!

Sam Hoffer / My Carolina Kitchen said...

I loved reading about your Grandmother. I hope you find the right one if you haven't already (sounds like you have). The clams are gorgeous and a little basil always helps everything.

Congratulations on the award. Your ten things that make you happy apply to me too.

Wanda..... said...

That was interesting, reading of your grandmother, how you threw together a special meal, your ten things, and reminding us to pay it forward!

joe@italyville said...

thanks for sharing some of your family history with us Claudia... I am not surprised that some of the details are off as some of my own family have discrepancies with birth dates, names, etc. The clams are making me hungry! I think I know what's cooking in my kitchen tonight...

Anonymous said...

What a fantastic story! I can really see how strong she must have been and why you would feel that pull towards wanting to know more. Cant wait for the updates. One day I will need to make these clams, they are calling me lol Thank you so much for the award, so very sweet, I feel honoured!!

janet said...

I so enjoyed reading this, Claudia!
I had some trouble when I was researching our family history too, as my grandparents came from England. My grandmother worked and saved to pay her way over here because she was the oldest, and her younger brothers and sisters were placed in an orphanage and then sent to Canada as servants. Eventually they all reunited here, but records were hard to find and names were often wrong. It is sad how poorly so many immigrants were treated.
I totally understand the strong feeling of connection to those past generations of family and the need to know more. In many ways they shaped who we are today.

And I so agree, a little basil never hurts anything!;)

Reeni said...

I wish all the time I could talk to my grandparents and great grandparents. All the questions I would ask! I'm still afraid to eat clams like this - fried is the only way I can eat them. I'm a wimp, I know.

La Bella Cooks said...

I loved reading your family tales and am glad to know you found your grandmother. Mine are still alive, thankfully, but one is in declining health so I ask her about Italy and her parents often. It is such a fascinating life I wish I could have been a part of so I understand you losing track of time in your own research. Yes, you were looking out for your family's well-being as you were tracking history that relates to them as well. Enjoy!

Whats Cookin Italian Style Cuisine said...

What a great story :)

Vrinda said...

my hubby would lov those clams..looks gr8,congrats on ur awards....

Mary Bergfeld said...

Your recipe is lovely but your recounting of your grandmother is better still. Thank you for sharing her story with us.

Anonymous said...

The clams look amazing and I loved the story about your Grandmother! Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful award with me!!!

Barbara said...

Family histories are fascinating. I worked really hard for a number of years on a geneaological chart. It was great fun and hard work.
I love the story of your grandmother. She must have been a strong woman, but I can also understand how the story upsets your mother.

And congrats on the award!

Velva said...

Claudia, this was such a great post. I really enjoyed reading a bit of family history, about writing your play, and then finishing it up with a special food for your family.
Love it. Thanks for sharing.

ann low said...

I love the way you cooked the clams, look so good. Chinese usually cook the clams in boiling soup or fry with chilli sauce.

Gera@SweetsFoodsBlog said...

Love reading about your Grandmother and the memories involved!
The garlic-butter sauce is one of my favorite for everything.
I'm flattered with your description about my blog and my person – thank you!
It was a honor to give you the deserved award and I'm visiting the other great food bloggers too :)

Have a great weekend,


Angie's Recipes said...

What a touching family story that you share with us. Garlic butter clams look seriously yummy.

My Little Space said...

Thank you so much for passing on the award to me. That's very kind of you. I'm honoured.
Claudia, it's fun to read about other bloggers' background or family history. That is something we don't find it anywhere. My husband's grandfather was sent to build The Death Railway, WW2! He died halfway and never came back since then. His uncle escaped and came back to inform their family.

Foodie with Little Thyme! said...

I love this post! I loved reading about your family and your finds. My only complaint is that it was much to short. I want to know more!
Thanks for sharing!

Michelle said...

Any kind of seafood in butter, garlic and fresh basil is the best!

Love fresh clams!

Gloria Baker said...

Love this post and look delicious! gloria

Kim said...

A special day indeed. Genealogy is so much fun to research, fascinating to learn about our families and what they endured. What a great post! Congrats on your award and thank you so much for passing it on:D I'll put it up on my next post. Great job whipping up those oysters in record time!

Sook said...

I Love clams! This recipe looks so delicious. Will have to try it sometime soon!

Caveman Cooking said...

Claudia, you take a classic dish and make it look as good as I've ever seen it done. Bravo! Congrats on the award, too!

OysterCulture said...

What a wonderful story about a strong woman, I can only imagine the challenges she and others went through to settle in a new country, and if I'd be strong enough to do the same.

I plan to make this dish in honor of her all the other people that came to American and made it the wonderful melting pot it is, that a person like me, with no known Italian in her blood can sit down and enjoy a feast like this!

Also, you are so right about Gera, a truly exceptional soul, very generous with his knowledge and time - I've learned so much from his site!

Congratulations on the award, and I know a few of the blogs you credited, I look forward to checking out the others. Stay warm, as I understand its COLD in MN,

Katy ~ said...

Clams in garlic and butter sauce, bring it on!! Ooooooh yessss!!

I have 2nd cousins who argue with me about my grandmother middle's name, LOL, so I hear you about the disagreement over name and age. Go with what you believe!

chow and chatter said...

thanks so much Claudia, what a tale about your Grandma she would be proud of you for sure Rebecca

The Blonde Duck said...

I think it's so cool you're taking an interest in your family's history. What a rich treasure you'll be able to pass down--and a tasty one!

Barbara GF said...

Oh, Claudia, what a lovely tribute to your Grandma Gresio. I share a similar story with my parents, which you've inspired me to perhaps write about someday.

Fresh Local and Best said...

What a neat post! It's must be incredible to be able to reconnect and learn more about your grandmother and about your heritage. She should be so proud!

Juliana said...

Claudia...clam in butter and garlic sauce, my favorite way to have mouth is watering at the pictures...yummie!

Proud Italian Cook said...

I love clams that way, my stomach is growling right now. Loved the story, you're such a good writer!

Katherine Roberts Aucoin said...

Good luck find out what you're looking for in searching the manifests. I know know how you feel. Severals ago I became obsessed with ancestery and it was like putting a puzzle amazing, learning about people and where they lived...plain additcitng, just like your clams!

Congrats on your award Claudia and congrats to your recipients.

Food o' del Mundo said...

Whew that's a long post - thanks for putting forth all that effort - I love your story almost as much as I love you calling your mom all day - just like I do ;-) Mary

unconfidentialcook said...

I just love clams this way, but unfortunately Bruce is allergic to shellfish, which I order out at every opportunity!