Stephen Yasko
Stephen Yasko makes a dang good Burnt Orange Martini

The New Italian Sunday Dinner

I grew up in one of those stereotypical Italian Families in NJ.  Even worse, we had shore house in Seaside Heights.  Yep, Home of Jersey Shore.  In fact, my husband and I have been to the bar where Snookie got punched out.  But I left that all behind me when I ran away to DC for college at 18.

Oh… Did I mention that my Cousin owned a deli in West Caldwell about a mile from the Soprano’s house?

There are a lot of things about growing up Italian in NJ that don’t translate well to today’s lifestyle.  However, I’ve adapted one very proudly!

Anyone whose family comes from Newark knows Sunday Dinner is an event.  It starts with Grandma sneaking a snort from the bottle under the sink at about 10 am while she peels the eggplant and starts the gravy.  Sundays in the Summer in Seaside were a crapshoot.  You never knew how many people were going to show up.  After all, Grandma was one of nine and Grandpa was one of six. At last count, I had about 68 second cousins.  We could have anywhere from five to 25 people for dinner.

Dinner started with eggplant rollatini defrosted from the freezer and put on the table at noon.  At three, the Antipast was put out (no one made better stuffed mushrooms than my Grandma Edna).  The wine, often homemade and in Tropicana quart Orange Juice Jars, was on the table at the same time.  Then came the pasta course.  Sometime Cannelloni, sometimes Lasagna, sometimes Ziti–with Pot Cheese.  And always accompanied by the gravy pot full of sausage, meatballs, pig skin, pork bones.  Heaven!

After all that might come some meat. A steak, a broccoli, or a pork roast. Then the cookies, the espresso and  the sambuca.

An how I miss it.

But times change.  I’m married with no children and live hundreds of miles from my brothers and sisters and mother….more on that in another post.

But a few years ago my husband and I decided to get into classic cocktails as the speakeasy craze started going.  We decided to have Sunday Happy Hour.  Which has now transformed into my version of the the traditional Italian Sunday Dinner.

Around 2 pm I put out a cheese board that full of the small pieces of expensive cheese from Whole Foods.  You know, that basket of the ends they keep on the salad bar.  Some figs if they are in season, some olives.  Expensive Crackers.  You get the idea.

Then around 3:00 I shake the first of the cocktails.  We’re partial to Corpse Revivers #2 and Last Words.  I’ve come up with a few creations like the Burnt Orange Martini.  Oh, and there are specialty ones like the Sharknado when there’s something fun on TV.

We sit and sip the first one and spend quality time talking about our lives, our dreams, our plans and, in true Italian tradition: what ticks us off about each other.  It’s the best couple of hours of the week.

If we decide to invite the neighbors to share in our Sunday, they come after this first drink.  Oh, and by the way, no one leaves the house sober if you come for Sunday Dinner.  If friends are coming, I do get a bit more creative with the apps.

If we’re alone, I shake the second round and we watch a campy movie.  If friends are here, I move to cooking a big bowl of pasta with gravy and less heart attack inducing meats and fish.   The wine these days comes from a bottle with a cork and costs $20 a bottle.  Or less…we’re partial right now to Apothic Red.

Then we settle in for the night for Sunday Night TV like Billions, The Walking Dead, Madam Secretary and we fill in with House Hunters International.  And maybe a glass of Port.

Steve Yasko makes a Shape of VodkaAll in all, I have to say, Sunday Dinner, now and then, has been an important time of my life.  It makes me value my chosen and my biological family and gives me a chance to pretend my Grandma Edna is still with me, watching over my shoulder telling me not to cook the calamari too much or to use a little more garlic.

You can take the boy out of NJ but you can’t take NJ out of the boy.

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