The Always Fully Stocked Pantry

My friend Margaret posted this picture on my Facebook page today saying that it “reminds me of visiting grandma’s pantry!”:

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I totally laughed out loud at this picture!  The dude has a shopping cart!!!  I can totally relate to this!  My grandma’s pantry was literally a grocery store! Perhaps this is because she lived through the depression.  I really don’t know, but she was always bargain shopping.  I remember my dad taking her to three different grocery stores on the same day because of the different sales going on!  Coffee is on sale at Farmer Jack …..

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Toilet paper is on sale at A&P ….

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They have a sale on paper towel at Kroger ….

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The pantry

We rarely went into my grandma’s basement.  I don’t really recall why.  Perhaps that’s why I can only recall certain things about it.  I remember there being an extra stove down there, which she used for baking Christmas cookies.  I remember the washer and dryer and laundry area.  There was a huge freezer where she stored Wonder Bread, and meat.  I also remember a small area with peg board where my grandpa had some tools.  The one thing that I can remember vividly, is the pantry!

The pantry was directly under the stairs.  I think there was a sheet or a curtain that was used for a “door”.  In the middle of the pantry was a string that hung down from a light fixture that you pulled to turn on the light.  Once you turned on the light, you could see countless shelves, stocked fully of everything and anything!

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It was insane!  It was SO full, we used to call it “Kroger”! The above picture would be a fairly accurate comparison to my grandma’s pantry, except it was hardly as wide!  Looking at this picture made me chuckle, because as I look at it, I see many similar items that grandma had.  I see the countless boxes of noodles (which my grandma ALWAYS had).  I remember her having Prince noodles.

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There was a Prince facility close to our house (off of Groesbeck Highway, I think) which had a sign, which was a HUGE box of noodles.  On the back of it was their slogan “Wednesday is Prince Spaghetti Day!”

One thing that I see in the pantry pic that would NEVER be in grandma’s pantry is jarred spaghetti sauce!  As I have said in previous blogs, grandma made her sauce from scratch every Sunday!  So instead of the jars, there would be can after can of Contadina Sauce, Paste, and Puree.

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I remember there being hundreds of cans of Contadina!  Cans of all sizes lined the shelves of the pantry!!

I made more frequent visits to the pantry when I had moved to Ludington when I was 21.  I would come home every other weekend and see my folks, my girlfriend at the time, and my grandparents.  I always left with a box of stuff to take home.  She made sure I always had things I wouldn’t necessarily think about.  Things like dish soap.

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Always looking for the bargain, my grandma probably had the cheapest dish soap ever made!  It was this pink generic brand that hardly made a bubble when you washed with it!  The pantry was full of this!  It was so cheap that I think I used an entire bottle every two weeks!  I can’t describe the smell of it, but I’d know it immediately if I caught a whiff of it today!!

Another thing she always sent with me was bath soap – Lux to be exact.4d3cabc87712e9cd28271ecab52e7bd7

I think my entire family razzed her about this soap!  She didn’t care.  She was an advertiser’s dream client!  When I asked her why she bought so much, she told me “Movie stars use that!!”  She obviously had heard commercials and seen print ads featuring Loretta Young, Jean Simmons, and Natalie Wood!!

As far as I know, there were no Lux ads with men promoting it!

Another shelf was loaded up with Ketchup.  I’m sorry, Catsup.  I remember grandma using Del Monte for most of my childhood, but at some point, switched to Hunts or Heinz.

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Just what is the difference between Ketchup and Catsup anyway?!  We must have used a different brand at home, because I remember the ketchup at grandma’s house tasted different.  Maybe because (according to the picture above) Del Monte used PINEAPPLE to make it?!?

Another thing that was always in grandma’s pantry was Velvet peanut butter! It had three faces on the front and they all had names (kind of like Rice Krispies Snap, Crackle and Pop) Fresh, Pure, and Delicious.

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I remember grandma making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with crunchy Velvet and apple or strawberry jelly.  She always saved the glass jars that the peanut butter came in.  They became storage for things like screws and bolts for my grandpa, as he had them lining his workbench under the pegboard.

The other things I remember from the pantry were not kept on a shelf.  There was a little area off of the door where grandma kept her storage containers.  These would be the various containers that would eventually hold the numerous cookies that she would send home with us every year.

My favorite was always the Better Made Potato Chip Can.  She would place a layer of different cookies in it starting at the bottom.  One layer would be ice box cookies, next would be sugar cookies, next were sesame seed cookies, followed by oatmeal raisin and chocolate chip.  It seemed like a million cookies in that can, although it probably only held a little over 100.

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It’s truly amazing how something like a picture can bring back something you had totally forgotten about!  Thank you, Margaret, for the laugh and for allowing me to revisit grandma’s pantry, I mean, Kroger!  Until my next visit …. let me just turn off the light ….

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What’s in a name?

The title of this blog is a reference to a great quote by William Shakespeare:

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Based on Mr. Shakespeare’s quote, names really shouldn’t matter that much. I think many of us would disagree with him. I mean, a name is often the first thing we learn about a person, right? It is also one of the most common questions asked of expecting parents regarding their unborn child – “Do you have a name picked out?”, “Have you thought about names?”, “What are you going to name him/her?”

Can you see where this blog is going??

Weekend Recap

On Friday, my dad celebrated his birthday. My oldest son was at a friend’s house, so it was just me, Sam, and my youngest who drove down to visit him. Because of traffic, it took us a bit longer than expected to get there. When we walked in, I hugged him and wished him Happy Birthday. We all joined dad and Rose in the kitchen. I had found a neat book on Amos & Andy at a used book store and bought it for my dad, and gave it to him for his birthday.

Once we were all seated, Rose looked at me and said, “So what’s the baby’s name?” I chuckled and reminded her that we were not telling. She replied, “Well, it’s your dad’s birthday and it would be the perfect gift!” I chuckled again, and tried to change the subject. Sam reminded everyone that it was my idea not to tell anyone the name. Rose, then went on to say that she didn’t “see what the big secret was” or why we’d “want to keep it a secret”. I again, tried to not give in (even though Sam had said we should tell because we’ve been calling her by name and she was afraid to let it slip). Rose, however, didn’t want to let it go (which made me laugh even more, cause I wasn’t about to let the cat out of the bag).

At this point, Rose stated that she knew the name already anyway. So I asked her what she thought it was. So she says, with all the confidence in the world, “(First name)(Middle Name)”! Now I thought she might be able to guess one of them, but the fact that she picked out both of them – in order – caught me off guard! My face filter was non-existent! I was stunned. I looked at her and asked, “How did you know?!” Once she explained, I guess it really wasn’t that hard to figure out.

So, what’s our baby’s name, you ask?? You’ll know in a paragraph or two …

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Picking a name

You may recall that I mentioned in an earlier blog that our baby is a miracle. The chances of me having a baby were like 4%. Sam and I were actually leaving a doctor appointment and we were discussing baby names. We were not even expecting yet! I don’t even remember how the discussion started. If I know Sam, she probably said, “What about _____ if it’s a girl?”

At any rate, what I remember about this conversation was that we had a girl’s name picked out almost immediately. There was little discussion. The name was THE name. We both liked it. We loved the way it sounded. We both liked the reason behind it. That was that. We then began discussing boy names – because a boy was a possibility, too. Hell, there was also the possibility of twins!

Over the course of the next few weeks/months, the topic of a boy’s name kept coming up. We had a few that we liked, but none really stood out. When we found out that we were actually expecting, we went out and bought a baby name book – for boy names. We each had a different color highlighter and when a name we liked was mentioned we highlighted with the appropriate color. The ones with both colors would be considered if the baby was a boy.

(Side note: Sam is about nicknames. So she wanted the name to be one that could be shortened to a nickname.)

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I guess it was at this point that we heard about a place nearby that could tell the sex of the baby at 15 or 16 weeks old with an ultrasound. That’s when we went to find out. I think we both were leaning towards a girl, we both had a feeling it was a girl, and were both thrilled to find out that our baby was a girl! Now, I know that there were plenty of people who were told the baby was a girl and then found out it was a boy, so we waited a bit longer until the OB/GYN ALSO did an ultrasound and confirmed that we were indeed having a girl.

We decided to tell everyone that we were having a girl. Everyone, of course, has asked about the baby’s name. We had said that we were going to keep that secret until the baby arrived. Now at home, Sam and I refer to the baby by name when we were together. She will send texts to me that say “_______ is really kicking me tonight” or “_____ is doing flips in my belly” or “______ likes those cookies you made.”

As I mentioned before, Sam was worried that because we were both calling her by name (well, her nickname), that one of us would accidentally say the name in conversation. I told her that if that happened, we’d tackle the situation at that time. Neither one of us was expecting Rose to shout out the first and middle name this weekend. I didn’t think that I would lose my face filter and basically say, “Yep! That’s it!” Yet, that is what happened. So my dad, got a good birthday present!

This, of course, meant that we had to call Sam’s parents and tell them, too. Then we had to tell the boys. Then we had to tell her grandma (who’s been wanting to know since she found out Sam was pregnant). Then we told my aunts (my Aunt Linda also guessed the name correctly!), and Sam’s sisters. And now, here we are, spilling the beans here, and on Facebook.

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She’s got a name …

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Looking at it now, I guess it would be easy for people to figure out. Sam’s mom and my mom were both Pamela. (Sam’s mom may have been onto the name, as she texted me last week wanting to know my mom’s middle name!) My grandma’s (Dad’s mom) name was Rose, and Dad’s Rose is going to be her grandma, so Pamela Rose covers all her grandmas! It really is the perfect name and a wonderful tribute to four special ladies!

Remember that Sam likes nicknames. We are going to call her Ella.

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I truly think Dad was moved by the name, I think Rose was too. Dimitri was there and overheard the name, so he found out Friday, too. We let him tell Dante’ the name. Dante’ was overcome with emotion, knowing that his sister was going to be named for his grandma. It was a very special moment to see.

Sam knows how special this is for me, too. We have talked about the role that my mom must have played in this. “She handpicked her, knowing that we wanted a girl”, etc… For the anniversary of my mom’s passing, Sam had this made for Ella, and had me open it:

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Yes, I cried. It is perfect.

With each passing day our excitement grows in anticipation of Ella’s arrival. Each week, I go to the “Week by Week” pregnancy book to see what is going on with her. She’s always compared to a fruit or vegetable (This week your baby is the size of a pea, a plum, a lemon, a cantaloupe!). Sam always tells me when she is kicking and puts my hand on her belly so I can feel it too. Sam’s sister gave us one of those things that we can put on her belly to hear the heartbeat. I never seem to be able to find it, but Sam did this weekend. That sound is such an amazing thing to hear!!!

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Ella is due in February. As we continue to count down the days until she arrives, I cannot help but think about how blessed she will be. She is already loved by her mommy and daddy, her brothers, her grandparents, and aunts and uncles – and will be spoiled by all of us!

I cannot wait until she is here. I cannot wait to hold her. I cannot wait to sing to her. I cannot wait to see her showered in love and affection by her family. Until then, I’ll keep kissing and talking to Sam’s belly, singing to her, and letting her kick my hands.

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Sometimes I feel like I repeat myself in my blogs.  If I do, I apologize.  In all honesty, sometimes I forget if I have mentioned something in a previous blog.  I have been meaning to hook up with my friend and fellow blogger, Max, to learn how to index the content that I have already published.  I guess I should do that sooner than later. So pardon me if I have said this before.

When I started this blog, I did it primarily for me.  It was a place for me to (1) write about the things I was dealing with in my life (2) write down memories for my children to look back on and read in the future (3) occasionally rant about things that bothered me and (4) share memories of things that interest me (movies, music, TV, etc…).  I first began blogging in the days of My Space.  This would have been around 2005-2007.  To my knowledge, my My Space page is still in existence in cyber space, but with the dawn of Facebook, I haven’t done anything on it in years!  I used to blog on there all the time, the blogs used to pop up on your front page.

Some time ago, My Space removed the blogs from everyone’s page.  I contacted them because many of those blogs had personal things I wanted to remember.  I blogged often in the months and weeks proceeding my mother’s death.  I blogged about the birth of my second son.  All of those were gone.  They provided me a link to go in and download all of my blogs.  All of the comments were gone, but the original content was there.  For that, I am glad.  Re-reading some of them is emotional – they capture a moment in my past and give me a sense of what I was feeling at that time.  Some of those old blogs have been updated and additional thoughts have been added here.

At any rate, during the time I was blogging, I was told by someone I was once close to that “nobody cares about the things you write about”.  For whatever reason, I was constantly being told by this person to stop writing.  Occasionally, I would write a “note” on Facebook, which was similar to the My Space blogs.  These were also met with negative responses and the request was again made to stop, which I eventually did.

Fast forward to almost two years ago, when I started to blog.  I had been in therapy trying to sort out things in my life and it was suggested that I keep a journal.  I mentioned that I used to blog and my therapist asked why I had stopped.  She encouraged me to begin blogging or keeping a journal – and this is it. Blogs have ranged from fun stuff to serious stuff. I began to share links to my blog on Facebook, and many of my friends began following it, and sometimes, even sharing it on their page.  Through Word Press, I began to follow other blogs written by people who share my love for music, old movies, and classic TV.  Often times, my blogs will inspire someone to write one and vice versa.

All of this brings me to why I am writing this blog.  Today, I was informed that this blog now has 100 followers!  I am humbled that 100 people would find the topics that I write about worth reading, let alone wanting to be informed every time I write something new!  I thank you for reading and I thank you for interacting.  If there is every anything you’d like to see this blog explore, I would love to hear it.  Writing is often met with what some call “writer’s block” and I often face the “What should I write about today?” dilemma.  Feel free to offer suggestions.

There are those who say that bloggers/writers/authors should write everyday, no matter what – even if you are just scribbling a sentence or two.  For me, time is an issue.  Finding the time is always the challenge.  I try to write as often as I can. Sometimes, the stuff I write never makes it here and ends up as a Facebook status.  For example, this week marked the anniversary of my grandma’s passing, today is the 117th birthday of the great Larry Fine of the Three Stooges, Sam is starting to feel our baby move, and it’s Homecoming week – all things that I could probably blog about (and probably should).  I just have to find the time!

Thanks for following!  Thanks for reading!

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Voices of the Past

This weekend, I DJ’d homecoming dance.  For high schools, all my new music is on a hard drive and I play it from the computer.  When I do weddings or parties, I still bring some CDs.  Recently, I have been going through boxes of CDs in hopes of putting what I don’t have on my hard drive, on the drive.

While most of my CDs are professional ones containing albums and music, I have some homemade CDs of things that I have burned to CD from various places I have worked.  I found 2 CDs marked “B95 Stuff” and “More B95 Stuff” in a box and took them with me to listen to in the car.  I was unsure if these CDs were data or audio CDs.  When I popped them in the CD player, I was happy to find they contained audio clips.

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Most of the audio was phone calls from listeners.  I used to do an “impossible question” every day for prizes and there were many phoners of listeners guessing the answer.  One of my favorite calls was on the first disc.  A woman caller simply asked, “Yes, is the answer poop?  Going poop!?”  Like the word poop wasn’t enough … she had to explain “going poop”!  There were also many requests, as I did a request lunch show.

I also found some interviews with Mary Chapin Carpenter, Tim Rushlow from Little Texas, and Terri Clark.  Some of the phoners were just silly things, I used to have listeners say things like “Keith Allen?  They let him out on parole?” or “I love every thing about this station, but Keith Allen!” or “Keith Allen?  Turn that radio off!”  There were a couple calls that took me by surprise.

Call #1

The first one was hearing a call with my friend, Marie.  If you read my previous blog, Marie was my friend who just passed away last week.

That blog is here: https://nostalgicitalian.com/2019/09/21/time-life-death-ripples/

There were actually 2 calls from her on that disc.  One of them she wins a contest I was doing, and another she called to talk about watching Trace Adkins rear end when he was in concert.  (There were other females who called to talk about his butt, as well.)

She was one of those friends who would do anything for you.  When my oldest son was born, she had this beautiful blanket made with his name on it and also had a small photo album made with an engraved nameplate.  When my youngest was born, she bought him one of my favorite outfits.  I spoke with her just a few days before she passed and she was asking what we needed for the baby.  She was always doing things for her friends.  While it was nice to hear us joking around about Trace’s butt on the CD, it was sad to remember that she has just passed away.  Her funeral is Wednesday.

Call #2

The second call was one from my friend Pat.  I always called her Pat, but I think most people called her Trish.  I also met Pat while at B95.  She was forever trying to win prizes.  She always came up to our remote broadcasts and talked with us.  She was a HUGE fan of the band Alabama.  She used to call up and say that she was lead singer, Randy Owen’s wife.  I used to kid her and ask is his wife knew about that!  She and I had a lot in common, and became good friends.  She was a huge Elvis fan and we often talked about him and his music.  I remember how excited she was when she told me she was going to Graceland.  I had been there while in Memphis for a St. Jude visit, and I told her how much she was going to love it.

The first time Pat won a prize from me she was SO excited.  “I won?!  OH MY GOD!!  WE DID IT!  WE WON!!!  THIS IS AMAZING!!!  (Laughter) I CAN’T BELIEVE IT!!”  It was such a great response that I used to use that call as my “stunt winner”.  If we ever had someone win a prize who was not excited about it, I’d say “Bring in the stunt winner” and play Pat’s call!  The call on the CD was when she won some hockey tickets and she kept saying how much her boys were going to love it.  She passed away suddenly in 2014, leaving behind her four boys and a granddaughter who she spoke of so often.    She was such a wonderful person and we shared many laughs together.

Call #3

The third call that got me was a call I made to my grandma.  Phone calls from my grandma were a staple on the show.  I used to call her every Christmas Eve (if I worked on the holiday) or the day before.  Christmas Eve was ALWAYS at her house – I wrote a blog about it here:

https://nostalgicitalian.com/2018/12/24/the-ghost-of-christmas-eve-past-and-yet-to-come/

The phone call would consist of me asking grandma what was for dinner.  She would go on to talk about homemade ravioli, breaded steak and ammoglio (pronounced moy-gyoo) sauce, the many varieties of cookies, cakes, and cannoli, and the other items featured in the Christmas Eve Feast.  This call, however, was NOT about Christmas Eve, which is what made it even more special.

This call actually helps me date the CDs.  This call was made July 24, 2001.  How do I know this?  I was calling grandma to wish her Happy Birthday.  During the call she offers up without hesitation that she is 77.  She goes on to talk about how my dad was razzing her about something and then asks when I am coming over.  She then went on to tell me how I needed to come see her “while my eyes are still open” because “I’m not going to be around much longer” as she often said.

It was emotional to hear her voice.  She was sharp as a tack for so long.  She was your stereotypical strong willed Italian woman.  Knowing that shortly after that call, she would develop dementia was sad.  She passed away in 2007, at age 83.  Hearing her say “I love you” one more time on the phone – was priceless.

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A Recovered Memory

I must have been doing a phone topic about teddy bears.  There was probably a story about people sleeping with Teddy Bears or something, which led me to ask “Who still sleeps with a Teddy Bear?” or “Who still has their Teddy Bear from their childhood?”.  The calls were about bears and toys that they had growing up.  I don’t remember what the caller is talking about, but I respond about something I had growing up that I had totally forgotten about.  This has a tie-in to my grandma, who I just mentioned.

It is funny how you can forget about things.  I will forever remember a Teddy Bear that I had when I was little.  I had it with me in the hospital when I had my tonsils out at 3 years old.  The thing I had forgotten about is something I probably had around 5-7 years old.  It was a hand puppet of Ernie from Sesame Street.  Today, PBS has tons of kid shows.  As I remember, Sesame Street, The Electric Company and Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood were pretty much it on PBS.  On CBC there was Mr. Dress-up and The Friendly Giant, but that was it. Sesame Street was my “go to” show.  I think somewhere there is a picture of me with Ernie and Bert slippers!

What do I remember most about this Ernie puppet?  First, the head was not felt like the real Muppet.  It was a hard rubber/plastic.  This helped when you went to make him talk.  I guess I took him everywhere.  I remember I’d bring him over to my grandma’s house and she would tease me.  She’d put a lit cigarette in Ernie’s mouth and make him smoke.  I hated that!  “Ernie doesn’t smoke, grandma!  That’s bad for you!”  Grandma never said his name right.  She always called him “Arnie”.  I remember her telling me when I was older that when my brother and I stayed overnight there I used to make her kiss Ernie goodnight!  “I had to kiss that dirty old Arnie!”  I literally just chuckled out loud as I wrote that because I can hear her saying it!

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In Conclusion

I have CDs of my Honey Radio shows with my partner, Rob (https://nostalgicitalian.com/2018/04/26/get-a-load-of-this-guy/), which I listen to often.  I still laugh along with them.  He always made me laugh.  While I am sad that he has passed away, I think he’d be happy to know that I still listen to those shows and they are still funny 25 years later!

I’m glad that I decided to pop those CDs in and give them a listen.  Much like the CDs of Rob and me, these also made me chuckle, but also made me sad.  At the same time, they are a reminder of good friends and family, who continue to make ripples (see previous blog) long after they have gone.

 

 

 

Getting Saucy … sort of

Frank Sinatra sang, “Regrets.  I’ve had a few….” One regret I have is waiting too long to ask my grandmother for recipes.  By the time I thought to do this, the beginnings of Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia had begun to overcome her and it was too late.

It is not like we never tried to ask, because we did.  Our questions were often responded to with vague or generic answers.  The only thing I can duplicate pretty accurately, is my grandma’s breaded steak.  I can do this, because I watched her do it once.  It’s not hard.  You take the steak, dip it in olive oil, dip it in Italian bread crumbs and broil it.  Simple, right!?  She once walked me through how she made her chicken and gravy, but I have long forgotten how.

The one thing I have been trying to duplicate for years is her spaghetti sauce.  I have come close – very close – but it’s just not right, yet.  I have asked friends, and some family, and have tried to incorporate things in hopes that it would be “THE” missing ingredient….without any luck.  Granted, some of the suggestions have brought me closer, and each time I try something new, I am afraid I may mess it up more.

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One thing I DO know, is that grandma used sugar in her sauce.  I am told it is a Sicilian thing.  Whether or not to use sugar in your sauce is a heated topic among Italians.  Some people find it utterly disgusting.  Personally, I love a sauce that is a bit sweet.  I also know she used a lot of garlic.  She always used basil (“You have to use good, fresh basil!”) and a bay leaf.  Never oregano – she (and many Italian grandmas) used to say that you only used oregano for pizza sauce.

I also know that she always used Contadina products!

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I remember she had a pantry down in her basement that had literally HUNDREDS of cans of Contadina tomato sauce and tomato paste!  (We used to call her pantry Kroger because she also had rows of dish soap, canned vegetables, and other things down there.) When I first attempted to make the sauce, I knew I had to start with this.

I used my friend Christina’s grandma’s recipe as a basic guide.  I have expanded on it since my first attempt.  A cousin said that her grandma used to put a stick of butter in her pot of sauce.  Another cousin (and my aunt) both suggested a Bechamel sauce be added to thicken the sauce, which it did.  I thought my grandma used a little wine, so I tried that, too.

I have used ground beef, ground sausage, ground pork, and stewing beef in the sauce to see if that makes a difference.  To a degree it does, but I know grandma used to cook all of those in her sauce at times.  I have tried more seasoning and less seasoning, bullion cubes instead of salt, and white wine and red wine, but still come up short.

My radio buddy, Jim Bosh, is Italian and he has hosted dinner parties for holidays and such in the past.  His sauce (and meatballs) are about as close as I have tasted to my grandmas.  I can’t remember if I ever sat down with him and discussed making the sauce at length, but I know he has offered a suggestion or two.  I also remember him telling me that no matter how many times I try to make grandma’s sauce, there will always be one important thing missing – Grandma.

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