Why I Still Eat Cannoli

I do, only occasionally.  Here’s why:

Food is one of the largest parts of our life, something we need to be consuming several times every day.  While nutritional value is incredibly important, it is not the whole meal.

I grew up in the blessed world of family meals.  One set of my grandparents lived with us growing up, and there was often a friend or relative visiting who joined us.  If someone was going to be late and regardless of who was around, my mom would keep everything warm on the stove and try to keep the kids from snacking too much.   Whenever the latecomer arrived, we sat and all ate together.

We usually started with only a few simple “buon appetito”’s.   Friends often asked about something they liked that their parents didn’t make, or us kids were asked about school or sports.  I imagine the adults spoke of more serious matters, but I have no recollection of those or nearly any conversations.  Rather, what remains is the memory and the feeling of sharing a meal, day-in day-out, with my family.  The daily coming together.

We certainly weren’t the Brady Bunch with deep conversations, and fine-tuned conflict-resolution skills; rather we had our fair share of dysfunction along side the home-cooked meals my mother and grandmother made.  Somehow, the discussions, arguments, grumpy kids or adults, nagging to eat or “just try” something was something I looked forward to.  During the busy years of after school activities, it was sometimes leftovers or “pizza Friday’s”.   But there was always a homemade salad to accompany the meal, and we always sat down together.

On the extra special days, my grandparents would have made a trip into NYC to Arthur Avenue, where the Italian-Americans go to forget they’ve left the motherland.  From there, amazing things would come back: loaves of bread with a taste only found there, sfogliatelle, millefoglie, cannoli.  The day-of is always the best with Italian desserts, so after dinner we’d all sit down and eat too many.  The next day, I’d toast sfogliatelle for breakfast & eat them with my grandmother, one of our favorite things and almost as good as the night before.

So when friends come to town and we find ourselves in the North End of Boston, we buy fresh, homemade cannoli & milefoglie and head to a park.  Bad jokes quoting The Godfather sneak out of everyone’s mouth as we dine.  The kids are silent as they sit on benches and gobble away.  And everyone nods in the shared goodness of fantastic treats and old friends.  Secretly, I am transported back in time.

I imagine my children’s food memories will be full of rich bone-broth soups, bread thick with cultured butter, raw milk & homemade ice cream.  But I do hope I’m able to teach them that good food comes from family, friends and laughter also, not only farms and gardens.

Into every life, a little cannoli must fall.