One Small Butter

Something To #2

Issue 02: One small butter

Hello, it’s your internet friend Dave. You’re reading the second issue of “Something To,” a weekly newsletter about the fantastic things that you should read, eat, listen to, watch, play and think about. You’ll find a full archive of back issues here.

Something to read

As we stand at the precipice of October, yoga pants and PSLs in place, I’m ready for something scary. That means re-reading “The Historian” by Elizabeth Kostova.

In October, 2005 I spent eight hours driving from my Massachusetts home to my parents’ house in Pennsylvania. I wanted an audio book for company and since I was in that creepy mood, I went for “The Historian,” Elizabeth Kostova’s debut novel, which was described thusly:

“Late one night, exploring her father's library, a young woman finds an ancient book and a cache of yellowing letters. The letters provide links to one of the darkest powers that humanity has ever known — and to a centuries-long quest to find the source of that darkness and wipe it out. It is a quest for the truth about Vlad the Impaler, the medieval ruler whose barbarous reign formed the basis of the legend of Dracula.”

At 26 hours long it would more than cover my round trip so I downloaded it and hit the road. I was in love before I even hit Rhode Island. The audiobook features a full cast of actors, sound effects and creepy music. The story is a fun twist on the Dracula legend, mixing Stoker’s creation with the historical Vlad Tepes who lived in Wallachia, died fighting the Ottoman Turks in 1476, and whose live greatly inspired Stoker.

The book is part thriller, part historical fiction, part travel log and a lot about Carpathian monks. I mean, I hope you like Carpathian monks because this book has a lot of Carpathian monks.

It’s so much fun that I re-listen to it each October, which means I’ve now “read” this book 14 times. Download the audiobook or see if your library has a physical copy.

Something to eat

No one cooks like little old women.

I remember my five-foot-something, Italian-American grandmother who’d shoo my sisters and me out of her kitchen by plying us with half-sized cans of warm, diet ginger ale and fistfuls of Stella D’oro bread sticks, all the while smoking approximately 5,000 cigarettes per hour, yelling at my uncle and cooking up the most incredibly delicious food you’ve ever had. After one warm, salty, fatty bite of sweet sausage with fennel seeds you’d swear to sweet Mary in Heaven that it’s worth the heart disease.

For dessert she’d give us a bowl of “Ricotta and chips” — ricotta cheese with chocolate chips on top. I still make that every now and then and it takes me right back.

The intersection of food and family is profoundly important to me. Today my family and I eat sausages, Ricotta and chips, green bean casserole and countless other dishes to honor the women (and men, but let’s be honest, it was mostly women by a wide margin) who pulled off culinary miracles to feed hungry families on a shoestring budget night after night. As the beneficiaries of their inventiveness, their frugality, their creativity and their dedication to their families, it is our duty, our responsibility to keep those recipes alive, and to tell the stories and to eat that history with our own children.

I’m not lucky enough to have any more grandmas, and I’ll always regret that I didn’t collect their recipes. Fortunately my wife, who is much smarter than me, grabbed one from her grandma.

Hanging in our kitchen is the shadowbox pictured above. It contains my wife’s Polish immigrant grandmother’s recipe for pierogi, written on the back of a Bell Telephone bill from 1979. Every December we make this recipe and enjoy a starch-filled feast. Now you can, too. I’ll copy it here as written, including our favorite bit: “One small butter.” Good luck with that.

Dough

6 cups of sifted flour

3 teaspoons of salt

3 eggs

1/2 cup of milk (whole) + 1/2 cup water

Lightly beat the 3 eggs, milk, and water in a large bowl. Add flour and roll out. You want this to be thin, but not too thin.

Filling

1.25 lb Farmer’s cheese. You may not substitute anything for this.

4 Idaho potatoes.

Savory seasoning. How much? Only grandma knew. We put in “some.”

8 oz. cream cheese

1 small butter. OK, I’m letting you off the hook here. Through experimentation, we found that 1 stick of butter is what you want here. Not sure how that’s small.

Instructions

Cook potatoes (peeled and diced) in boiling water until soft. Mash potatoes and add butter, egg, cream cheese, farmer’s cheese and savory.

Roll dough thin. If you have one, a pasta maker is very helpful for making the individual rounds. It’s also hardcore cheating, so don’t tell anyone. We consider a batch successful if it yields 100 individual pierogi.

Add a spoonful of filing in the center. Fold into a half circle and pinch the edges. Wet the rim of the dough before pinching if it seems dry. Boil *gently* for 15 minutes, then fry in butter.

Something to Listen to

This week I want you to go and listen to “The Less I Know The Better” by Tame Impala. You’ll find it on Spotify here, on Google Play Music here, on Apple Music here, on iHeartRadio here, and on YouTube here. It’s got a cheesy, white guy, sort-of-disco groove that I just love. The slightly distorted, snappy bass and tight snare are infectious.

The lyrics tell a simple tale of unrequited love — not exactly new ground for a pop song — but that’s OK. It’s a catchy song with simply rhymes and a chorus that’s fun to sing. Roll down the windows and enjoy this feel-good tune.

Something to watch

There’s a new, third season of “Travels With My Father” on Neflix and I’m going to tell you to skip it. Watch seasons one and two instead.

Season one isn’t bad, but it wraps up the series and is most enjoyable after seeing seasons one and two. And let me tell you, this show is as hilarious as it is heartwarming.

In the show, comic Jack Whitehall takes his aging, ultra-conservative father on a series of adventures around the world. It’s more than a fish-out-of-water series, and more of a fish leaves water hesitantly at his son’s behest. It’s absolutely, side-splitting hilarious. Just wait until Winston shows up.

It’s also about Jack’s relationship with his father Michael, which is genuine and sweet. It’s among my favorite shows.

Something to play

Gris from Nomada is beautiful in every way. It’s a narrative platformer that deals with loss, healing and rejuvenation is such an artistic, aesthetically pleasing way that playing it can be a moving experience.

Every chapter has something to surprise you. I found myself taking my time with the puzzles just so I could spend time inside each chapter, taking in the sights and sounds.

Something to think about

What did you do before the internet” by Leah McLaren for The Guardian. She writes:

“…quite soon, no person on earth will remember what the world was like before the internet. There will be records, of course (stored in the intangibly limitless archive of the cloud), but the actual lived experience of what it was like to think and feel and be human before the emergence of big data will be gone. When that happens, what will be lost?”

I worry about this all the time when I watch my children carry their devices around as if they were their morphine drips. Is that good or bad? On one hand they literally have the world’s information at their fingertips. On the other, they rarely see what is in front of their faces if it isn’t presented on a glowing screen.

I think each generation believes the younger crop is living in a detrimental way, so perhaps my attitude is a function of that. But I don’t know.

Thanks for reading. Next week I’ll be back with another issue of “Something To.” In the meantime, hit me up on Twitter at @davidcaolo.

You’re my friend. I like you. Have a good day.