I Remember The Table
I can still visualize the food.
Simple. Complicated. Delicious.
If ever an American family was characterized by a certain, meal...Christmas
Eve Dinner at the Giraldi's, which I've attended most of my life,
and which unfortunately has become history, is that gathering.
For the longest time, every Night Before Christmas was celebrated
by my parents, friends, and relatives around Minnie's large oval
table, the one with just enough room for 20 chairs in a small
living room at 364 Knickerbocker Avenue in Paterson, New Jersey.
And for as long as I can remember, I can see my parents…Minnie
and Armand, acting as executive chef, sous chef, host, hostess,
sommelier, wait staff, and head porters.
I miss my father.
I remember when I was 5 or 6 years old, insisting on spending
most of my time under that table; then, years later, nobody could
remove me from my seat.
And clearly I can recall my grandparents, Nick, Ida, Bob, and
Mamie, lovely Aunt Josie, my parents' best friends: Rae and Lou,
Sylvia and Mike…cousins, aunts, uncles…especially Silver Fox…all
I watched my brother Frank and my sister Armyn grow up at that
table, and then one day they had a husband and a wife, and then
one day Maria, Tia, and Adam appeared.
I remember the table where, for most of my adult life, my former
wife Marian was laughing with our children Theresa, Maria, and
I remember trying to keep from filling up on the opening act,
which was steaming hot escarole/minestrone, sitting on the stove
for hours and filling the house with the smell of greens and pork,
varied sausages, pig's knuckles and prosciutto. Right afterward
we always ate fried smelts, stuffed calamari, stuffed mushrooms,
stuffed artichokes, spaghetti with clams in white sauce, the baccala
salads…the wines, the desserts, especially coconut custard pie…and
the strufela, which are little honey balls, maybe Naples' greatest
gift, and then the fruit and then…we would talk.
The memory is as fresh as the spaghetti and clams. Large, fresh,
al dente clams back then, not the very small delicate European
kind, a product of the New Jersey/Neapolitan neighborhoods that
we were all raised in.
Nobody since has ever made a dish of spaghetti and clams like
my mother…except maybe the chef, Luigi Celentano, who comes close.
I remember never wanting to get up from that table. We ate, we
talked, we cracked walnuts, we drank wine, we complained, but
generally life was happy.
Today, life is still happy, with the addition of Leta and Douglas
and Paul, and the wonderful Alanna, Grant, Tyler, Alexander, and
Jack, and my own new, special Patti and Sienna, all of whom have
heard more than enough about the table. I suspect that secretly
they're all sorry they never got a chance to sit at it.
Now Minnie sits at her sons' and daughters' and grandchildren's
tables. I hope, with all my heart, she enjoys it as much as we
enjoyed sitting at her table.
I remember the love and the passion and the taste of that table.
It still best describes Minnie.
- Bob Giraldi
Matches Means "I love you"
of perfect love is an eternal pastime: the youth (and elderly)
of today are as likely to engage in it as their grandparents were,
as their one-day grandchildren will be. Finding true love is as
Imagine the delight of having found it, the crush of having lost
it. The daily joy of living in the papery package of love found.
When Minnie and Armand were first engaged, he found many ways
to remind her daily and creatively of his love for her. Today,
nearly fifty years later, she recalls fondly just one of those
Her home was on a hill, away from the road. When he would leave
for the evening, after dropping her off from a date, or more likely,
from having dinner at her table, he would walk slowly away from
the house. Minnie would dash upstairs to her window and watch
his retreating figure. As he walked away in the darkness, he began
to light matches one by one, three in all, all the flames growing
fainter as he drew further and yet further away. But Minnie remained
at the window, watching them grow dim until she couldn't see them,
or him, any more. Three flames, he told her, meant, "I love you."
It has been more than fifty years since Minnie watched from her
window for the flames, but it is tenderly apparent that even now,
the last one hasn't faded completely from her view.
approach to cooking combines a charming blend of the sentimental
and the practical. On her trip to Italy, a trip inspired so that
she could explore and solidify her relationship with her heritage,
she found and brought back with her a gorgeous mezzaluna. The
mezzaluna - a traditional Italian cooking tool shaped like a half
moon used for chopping - now occupies a place of honor in her
kitchen. She speaks of it fondly, even reverently. It is apparent
she draws inspiration and comfort from its presence in her kitchen,
even naming the cooking school she created and taught there after
However, when absorbed in the serious business of cooking, the
mezzaluna remains in its place, untouched. Instead Minnie wields
a pair of modern, blue-handled scissors that possess none of the
Old World spirit of the mezzaluna. She approaches the task at
hand functionally, easily. She laughs; the irony is not lost on
her at all. "It's a difficult tool to use," she explains with
a grin. "No sense making it harder than it has to be, is there?
That's not what cooking is about." In a moment her herbs are chopped,
perfectly, beautifully, and quickly. And then she is on another
task in he complicated art of cooking. She betrays no feeling
of having "cheated," as if she realizes that her ancestors would
have used - preferred, even - her easy, if unromantic, approach,
had they had the opportunity.
Minnie's eyes rest for a moment on the mezzaluna, a reminder of
where she comes from. Then she appraises the spread in front of
her, her contribution to the legacy: creations inspired by that
heritage, and flavored, modified, and improved by her presence
in the present.
Art Versus Fine Dining
constantly struggle between the ideal of perfection and the limitation
of reality. Shadowed by this conflict but not plagued by it, Minnie's
approach to living appears to be now rather a hearty balance of
the ideal reality and the limitations of perfection.
Inspired once by a gorgeous photo of a stuffed cabbage in a cooking
magazine. Minnie set out to recreate the dish for her own deserving
family. She traversed the town to gather all the necessary but
obscure seasonings, tied herself to the kitchen for hours preparing
and slicing and getting the thing "just right." When it made its
way to the family table, as the piece de resistance, they were
appropriately thrilled by its presentation and delivery.
Such enthusiasm did not make its way to their consumption of it.
"First, they were all too scared to eat it," she recalls. "'It's
way too pretty,' they told me." Then, when she finally persuaded
them that the thing was meant to be eaten, they were not as thrilled
as she had hoped. "I think they wanted pasta, with one of my sauces,
which they'd had a thousand times. Ah. Why mess with a good thing?
They like my sauces. I like my sauces."