When the temperature hits the mid-nineties and the linoleum on their floors starts to buckle, the nonnas realize that  even they can’t stand the heat in the kitchen. Each carries a folding chair as she leaves her apartment. They set the chairs near the curb, where there’s a chance of a breeze. To cool themselves even further, each has rolled her beige lisle stockings down to her ankles. But their black oxfords remain firmly tied. As if at a given signal,  from the pockets of their front aprons, each removes a crochet hook, a  white linen handkerchief, and a spool of pearly white cotton thread. They nimbly wrap the thread around their left index finger, push the hook  through the fabric to pick up a loop, and begin to stitch a lace edge on the hanky.

The grandchildren languish on the stoop; it’s too hot for a game of catch. Their mothers are still upstairs cleaning up from dinner– a cooling hot-night dish of chicken with salad. The jingling bells of an ice cream truck rouse the children. Mothers pop their heads out of windows and toss coins to the children for ice  ceam.

The nonnas admonish the children as they line up to make a purchase. “Don’t buy the one with the nuts,” one says. “You know what nuts do to your stomach.” One warns, “Careful, don’t dirty your shirt.” The children, ice cream dripping over their knuckles, return to the stoop. Not a word can be heard. 

Approaching footsteps break the silence. Five  towering teenagers, one carrying a large wrench, stop in front of a fire hydrant  a few feet from the nonnas’ chairs. A nonna  has the temerity to speak up. “What are you doing down here?” she asks.  “You don’t belong here” one says, “You go  to the church  up the hill. ”

A sixth teenager dashes down the stoop. He nods to the guys. “The nonnas giving you a hard time?” he asks, smiling.

A nonna  realizes the new arrival is her grandson. She is so flustered the loops of the lace fall from the crochet hook. “You know these boys?” she asks.

“Sure, Nonna, I go to school with them.”

“From the other  parish?” She has to reassure herself. Is it possible the boys from the — um–Irish– oh, other parish are friends with her grandson? She starts looping thread around her finger. “You  go up there, too?”

“Nonna, we go to school together, we play ball together, and tonight we’re doing something for the kids.”

The fellow with the wrench loosens the bolt on the fire hydrant. Water rushes out as the kids rush off the stoop. The sneakers, shirts, and socks they toss form a path straight to the curb where they hop into the ankle-deep water. The teenagers press their hands against the open hydrant and create a gleeful spray for the kids.

By now, the mothers have joined the nonnas. They encourage the kids to “get good and wet.”

Amid the laughter, running, and splashing, one mother notices something. She nudges a woman standing next to her and points to a nonna who is removing her shoes. The nonna nods to the others. Off come the oxfords, off come the lisle stockings. Into the rushing water go the  nonnas’  feet, unfettered. Ah, bliss.

Chicken Milanese  

Serves four

  • 8 chicken cutlets, thinly sliced, well washed and dried
  • 1/4 cup  plus 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup fresh breadcrumbs, toasted
  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
  2. Place  sheet pan in oven.
  3. In a shallow bowl, mix 1/4 cup olive oil with salt.
  4. Turn cutlets in oil and salt mixture until thoroughly coated.
  5. Sprinkle breadcrumbs on flat plate.
  6. Coat chicken with crumbs.
  7. Remove baking sheet from oven; brush with remaining olive oil.
  8. Place cutlets on baking sheet; do not crowd them.
  9. Sprinkle with remaining dipping oil.
  10. Bake 16 to 18 minutes, or until golden brown.
  11. Serve hot, warm, cold, or at room temperature, topped with salad.

Salad

Serves four

  • 1 head romaine, outer leaves removed, well washed and dried
  • 1 small bunch arugula, stems removed, well washed and dried
  • 1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1 scallion, well washed, diced
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup Gorgonzola in chunks, optional
  •  3 tablespoons Parmigiano Reggiano in shards,  optional
  1. Tear romaine into bite size pieces.
  2. In a large salad bowl, combine all ingredients, except cheese.
  3. Toss salad; top with Gorgonzola or Parmigiano if desired.
  4. Spoon salad atop each portion of chicken.

 

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