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A Late Decree [Feb. 11th, 2008|03:38 pm]
WHEREAS, the Feast of St. Valentine has repeatedly proven offensive or inconvenient to the majority of the American People;

WHEREAS, the Feast of St. Valentine has been demonstrably debased by unseemly commercialism and rapacious greed;

WHEREAS, all attempts to celebrate the Feast of St. Valentine in the common way debase the true arts of love;

WHEREAS, the above factors in combination have continued to cause strife, discomfort and misery in the Greater Portion of the American People;

WHEREAS, the activities surrounding the Feast of St. Valentine debase and shame the American People;

AND WHEREAS, a more appropriate and honorable claim to that day exists;

NOW, THEREFORE, we decree that the celebration of the Feast of St. Valentine be hereby ABOLISHED;

AND WE FURTHER ORDER that the Fourteenth Day of February each year be rededicated to the celebration of the birth of Joshua, Norton I, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico, who, by the grace of God, ruled his people wisely and well for more than twenty years.
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Italian family tradition [Sep. 27th, 2006|11:29 pm]
[Current Music |Gone With the Wind - Frank Sinatra]

One of the most aggravating moments of my life came when I asked my grandfather for the recipe for his tomato sauce. I can't remember most of the answer, but it started with "first you buy some seeds." The answer then meandered through a half hour's worth of required soil conditions, planting dates, picking dates, what kind of rain you needed, the proper twist of the wrist used when picking the perfect tomatoes... It took him a whole afternoon to finish talking.

I only asked that question once, but I wanted to murder him whenever I thought about the answer. You would have wanted to murder him too; that's why he gave that answer to anyone who asked. My grandfather could be a real prick.

Given this unhealthy obsession with all things tomato-sauce related, you would be right to guess that the annual sauce preparation week was a Big Deal. You would be wrong to think that my grandfather was some sort of religious purist about it, though. Sauce preparation involved one ceremony that I still miss.

It was the one part of the process that I remember very well. Part of making the sauce involved running the properly ripened tomatoes through a press. I suspect most of you have never seen one. You might find some sleek, friendly examples in one of those twee shops that caters to bourgeoisie who fancy themselves chefs. Those things are toys.

The press my grandfather owned was a baroque contraption of brass, steel and iron that looked more suited to eliminating human remains than preparing food. This thing appeared to be a mortar designed by some nameless, Italian version of Jules Verne. It was about three feet tall, heavy enough that it needed to be wrestled into position, and meant to be bolted to a sturdy surface before use.

My grandfather always told me that it was one of the things his family brought over from Italy. His old war buddies claimed that he would spend hours -- as far back as the 1940s -- complaining that "modern" versions weren't any good. He only brought that press out once every year, and believe me when I say that it was a special day.

My grandfather would start drinking brandy around eight o'clock in the morning, which is when he would go down to the basement to find the press. He'd carefully unwrap it, clean it and lubricate it before mounting it to a work table. Once mounted, he'd spin the handle (mounted to an eighteen inch diameter wheel made of intricately decorated and woven iron) until he was confident that the machine worked. Then he'd unmount the device and lay it on his workbench, where he would proceed to remove all the parts with which a human hand might operate it. He then carried the stripped device up to the garage, where he bolted it directly to the concrete floor.

The next step got a bit weird. He'd strip the engine out of his riding lawnmower (John Deere), connect it to a homemade gearbox, and mount that assembly near the press. Then he'd connect the two with a strong belt. I hate to use a cliche like "shit eating grin," but that was exactly what he had on his face when he fired that engine up. It was a shit eating grin. No sane man should ever look that pleased.

The whole garden's worth of tomatoes was usually pressed within twenty minutes. There would be four or five washtubs full of processed tomato lying around for the rest of the week's preparations. The press and the tractor would be cleaned, reassembled and stored before sundown. We wouldn't see the press again until the following year.

You can imagine that this would make an impression on a little kid. You didn't need someone to tell you that the whole process was just a bit nuts. It was a bit nuts. It was also fascinating.

Still, I wanted to murder the old man whenever I thought about his recipe for tomato sauce. He took four hours to explain it. He covered the most minute detail of seed storage and flame height. He drilled down through the benefits and drawbacks every combination of alloy that you could use for the pot. He spent tens of minutes describing the proper mental state for making preserves. He force fed any questioner a ridiculous stream of tedious, boring, suicide-inducing detail.

But that bastard never once mentioned that he always got drunk and hooked his tractor engine up to an antique tomato press.

You'd think that would have been an important detail.
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