May 6, 2020
Dear Book Lovers,
Happy Wednesday and Happy Guest Writer Day! As you may already know, we are in the middle of the Foodie Edition series. I can’t wait for you to meet today’s guest writer…Natalie Slater. First, let me back up a minute. My youngest son had a sleepover at his good friend’s house last fall (also one of my BFFs sons). He came home the next day raving about how my girlfriend Molly, made him these awesome Chocolate Waffles for breakfast. I asked her for the recipe and she sent me the link to Natalie Slater’s website, Bake and Destroy. Not only did I find the waffle recipe there, I found a ton of other delicious and fun things to make including this fabulous Edamame Beans & Toast recipe. I started following Natalie and all her work. I was thrilled to have found a new and inspiring VEGAN foodie to follow. A few things to note about Natalie is that not only is she an animal lover, cookbook author, recipe developer and The Marketing Director for the vegan food brand, Upton’s Natural, she also has appeared on The Food Network and The Cooking Channel😮😮😮. How awesome is that? I hope you enjoy her letter to Mr. H. I am not going to lie…..it had me drooling for Italian food!
Happy Reading & Happy Cooking!
P.S. The percentage of vegetarians, vegan, and other semi-vegetarianism categories was estimated to be around 8% in 2018. According to an article in WTVOX, the number of vegans grew in the United Staled from 4 million in 2014 to 20 million in 2018. CNBC reported that in 2019, London was named the most vegan-friendly city!🖤🖤🖤
Dear Mr. Hemingway,
When you were writing A Farewell to Arms could you ever have imagined that one day people would study your love of Italy, trying to dissect which part of it – the food, the landscapes, the women – inspired so many of your works? In fact, I just read an article by Silvia Ammary, professor of American literature and writing at John Cabot University, focused solely on your “knowledge and respect for Italian cuisine,” citing example after example from your short stories and novels.
As a third-generation Italian-American with roots, like you, in Illinois, I too spend much of my time romanticizing food. When I was a little girl, my grandma Sharon Rigazio, daughter of Italian immigrants Defendente Petitti and Gianna Sampo, was famous for her spaghetti. I should add that at 84 years old, now retired in Florida, she is still famous for her spaghetti. Back then, though, my grandpa would bring men home from work with him just to try it – and they always left begging for the recipe for their wives. She shared it willingly, knowing that the ingredients were nothing special – it was the patience, and love, that went into slow-cooking the sauce all day, and her use of spaghettini, spaghetti’s skinnier cousin, that gave her pasta its magic.
My grandma loves me fiercely, always has, and a bowl of her spaghetti for me is what spinach is for Popeye. And so, I’m drawn to Italian people and Italian food. My first job when I moved to Chicago was in an Italian bakery, where my boss, Letizia, fretted over the fact that I was vegan and sent me home with containers of penne in carrot sauce so I wouldn’t starve.
Every year around Father’s Day my parents would make the hour drive from Joliet to Chicago to meet me in Little Italy for the Festa Pasta Vino. I’d eat Italian ice while everyone else filled up on stuffed artichokes and wine. I honestly can’t remember how it happened – if there was a cooking demo, or if my mom and I just wandered over to the author’s table, but somehow, I went home once a year with a spiral-bound, self-published cookbook called Recipes My Nonna Taught Me. The author is simply “Francena” and she listed her AOL email address somewhere on one of the back pages. It features blurry copies of family photos, illustrations by Chuck Lawson, and just the right amount of “so-and-so can’t get enough of this dish” to make me smile and think of my grandma.
My mother was thrilled to find dishes like Onion Sandwiches listed inside. A simple sandwich made from sliced onion, mayonnaise, tomato, and parsley that she used to eat with my great-grandpa Teno. These are not Italian restaurant recipes, these are, as the title suggests, recipes your grandma would teach you – and aren’t those the best kind? I skipped over things like Breaded Veal and gravitated instead toward the Baked Ziti, which I could make pretty easily with vegan mozzarella shreds and seasoned tofu instead of ricotta.
It quickly became one of my husband’s favorite dishes, so I sent an email to Francena to thank her, and to let her know how I’d been veganizing so many of her Nonna’s recipes. Her reply was very sweet – she seemed tickled at the thought of an Italian vegan and told me her Nonna would be amazed at how many people bought the book, and how they made her recipes their own.
I’d be lying if I said Francena’s nostalgic style didn’t influence me when I wrote my own cookbook, Bake and Destroy: Good Food for Bad Vegans a few years later. I even included my grandma’s spaghetti sauce recipe, which no one will ever make exactly right, but they seem to enjoy it anyway.
And now, when I get emails from people who love my recipes, or who tell me how they’ve tweaked them to suit their own dietary needs or preferences, I think of Francena and hope that I made her feel as good when I emailed her.
I did some internet snooping and discovered that Francena is still selling her cookbook at Italian festivals all over the country. Most recently she ran an ad in the Italian Times, a newsletter for Milwaukee’s Italian community, offering two copies for $16 (or one for $10) along with instructions on how to mail order or email her. If you’re the granddaughter of a great Italian cook, you might want to pick it up. But, if you’re hoping for vegan Italian without thinking up your own substitutes, you might want to try Chloe Coscarelli’s Vegan Italian Kitchen instead.
I wonder what you would think of an Italian vegan, Mr. Hemmingway! I know you were a meat and potatoes kind of a guy… but I bet I could win you over with my famous Vegan Baked Ziti.