Rosalie always ready for company – itemlive itemlive

An Italian friend recently shared a story about his first wife, who had come with him to live in America many years ago, but didn’t stay long. The reason she couldn’t live here was simple — she missed the Italian lifestyle, filled with lots of evening activities and very social friends and neighbors. “In Italy, if your neighbor brings home a box of cannoli, she makes some calls and soon several friends are together, enjoying them,” he told me, explaining his wife’s decision. About America, she asked, “Where are the people?” So when she returned to Italy for a visit she reconsidered her life and decided that the U.S. was not for her — she would not return. It was easy for me to empathize with them both.

When my Roman relatives visited us for the first time, they were puzzled.

After dinner, in Italy, they were accustomed to taking a stroll, a “passeggiata,” as it is known there. This walk wasn’t to mark the end of the evening but rather to celebrate its beginning and to transition to whatever was next. Perhaps they would grab a bottle of wine and drop by the home of friends, or go out for gelato. Why not head to a cafe or a bar to meet up with friends? But here, visiting us, they were baffled at our early dinners and the fact that nothing happens afterward. Suburban life in this country tends to be isolated, and restaurants are quiet at 8 or 8:30, the evenings over, when in Italy the first tables of the night are just being seated. They were happier on subsequent visits, after I’d moved from the Burlington area up to Marblehead, where there is more drinking and nightlife, but still — it’s nothing like Italy, where evenings weren’t built around dozing in front of the TV after dinner. Italians are busy at night!

I have so many customs left over from growing up in East Boston — or spending so much time with my Noni in Beachmont. For example, my habit of always watching for what I pick up for “when someone drops over.” Noni always had friends dropping over. She would put on a small pot of water and throw in a handful of coffee beans that she would have ground in her little coffee grinder and in a minute or so a cup would be fitted with a strainer and the essence of coffee was poured in. Noni was not a baker, but she always had something to go with the coffee — often it would be fruit, but it might be store-bought cookies. Nothing fancy, but what she communicated was “I’m happy to see you, enjoy our time together, stay awhile.” And believe me, with 10 kids, a very demanding Roman husband, and responsibility for watching my brother and I while my mother worked, she was a busy lady. So nothing gave her more pleasure than seeing a friend and enjoying an hour or so chatting over coffee.

Because my single mother worked a regular job, she, unlike her seven sisters, who were stay-at-home moms, was not as apt to concern herself with what she could have on hand for the unexpected friend or relative. Auntie Lul, my mother’s youngest sister, was always prepared for a card game or just sitting around enjoying the company of friends or family. I wasn’t a serious card player, which annoyed her and her friends, but I was always welcome. It was a good time with plenty of laughs and a good time to learn a lot about men from their point of view.

Hardly a week goes by when I don’t get together with a girlfriend, my favorite pastime. I am so lucky to have a best friend, Susie, who despite moving from the North Shore into the city, still wants to see me once a week. She is my therapy. We discuss everything — our kids, our husbands, our wardrobe, our recipes. My Nono had an Italian expression which I cannot translate but it was basically, “Tell me who you go with and I will tell you who you are.” Nono told me often that you didn’t need a million friends, you just needed a few. Although I envy the Italian lifestyle, everyone dropping in to share a glass of wine and a cannoli, I am grateful for my friends who take the time to be with me. Maybe Nono would be able to tell me that Susie was good for me, that we had similar values. I think so.

In the meantime, I do always have something delicious in the fridge in case someone drops by, such as my friend Marylou who stopped in with her sister a few weeks back. I was happy to take an “Olive Oil Rosemary Cake” out of the freezer, which they enjoyed so much Marylou called later to ask for the recipe. She was planning on using it for a birthday cake. My cake pan that bakes four little cakes at a time is perfect for freezing, enabling me to defrost one at a time, as needed. They warm very quickly and are terrific straight from the freezer, sliced and toasted for breakfast. Try a slice with a dollop of Greek yogurt and a few berries!

There are many delicious foods that are easily made like these small cakes, which store very nicely — wrapped in foil they maintain their freshness beautifully. The recipe can be adjusted to suit your taste. For example, if you haven’t experimented with some of the flours that are available, it is a perfect time to try them. I love the almond, coconut and corn flours. The textures and tastes will vary, of course, with each. Flavorings are wholly up to you. Vanilla, almond or anise are always nice. For glazes, you can make any citrus flavor, they all work. Recently, I made a little of each, an orange, a lemon and a grapefruit all provided the juice for three small cakes and one large, (doubled recipe). The zest from any or all are wonderful. And if you are not real fond of rosemary, many perennials, especially thyme can be substituted. When freezing, just label each one using masking tape so you don’t get confused.

I often fantasize about how much fun it would be to recreate the feeling of Italy and live in a neighborhood like the North End of Boston. Although people living there might not have the time to socialize, as everyone seems so busy. For now, living close to our grandkids means the world to us and so does the beach, the train to Boston, our small patio with tons of pots for plants and flowers. Life is good. It is what you make of it, people say. So make something for company, and don’t forget to invite some people over!

This recipe was inspired by the Colavita Olive Oil company. Double the recipe because you can and it is easy to do. This recipe will make three small cakes or one large. Grease with Crisco and then flour each. In a bowl place the dry ingredients: 1 1/4 cups all purpose flour, 1/4 cup of flour of your choice, almond, etc. 1 tsp. baking powder, 1/2 tsp. salt. Set aside. H eat oven to 325 degrees. In a mixing bowl mix together 2 large eggs, 1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp. of an extra virgin olive oil, 1/2 cup buttermilk, tbsp. lemon or other citrus juice, and mix well to combine. In the bowl of a processor pulse together one cup sugar, the zest of your choice of a citrus and 2 tbsp. rosemary and pulse to combine. This will take several pulses to create smooth texture. Pour mixture into a mixing bowl and alternate in thirds with dry ingredients and egg, buttermilk mixture to combine. Do not overbeat. Spread the batter into prepared pans, tap slightly to remove air bubbles. Bake about 40-45 min. or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Allow to cool before removing and place on a wire rack to cool further. Meanwhile make the glaze: Bring remaining 1/2 cup sugar and 1/4 cup citrus juice to a boil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan, until mixture thickens, about five minutes. Brush warm glaze over warmed cakes and cool completely before serving. Freeze with glaze if you like. Please note: Reduce baking time to 30-35 min. if you bake in small pans.