“Z” is for Zeppole

Seems like ages ago that I wrote about my father’s LOVE for blueberry pie on “B” day. Remember I said he had a special LOVE during his birthday week? Well, it’s “Z” day; time for zeppole! (FYI, zeppole is plural; zeppola is singular. But I don’t know of anyone who ever refers to just one!)

An historical Italian pastry, zeppole began as deep-fried dough sprinkled with powdered sugar, filled with custard (lemon, ricotta, or cream), and often topped with a maraschino cherry. Zeppole, although fried, are not the greasy fried-dough balls* ubiquitous at carnivals and street fairs. Inside, they are light and airy, while the outside is crisp. My understanding is, for you cooks out there, the pastry dough is similar to a pate a choux; however, in some locations pizza dough is used. Modern bakeries generally bake, rather than fry, zeppole and also offer various flavored fillings such as chocolate mousse, whipped cream, and Bailey’s Irish Cream.

Zeppole are traditionally consumed to celebrate the Feast of St. Joseph on March 19th which usually falls during Lent, the 40-day period prior to Easter.  During Lent, Catholics and other Christians symbolically duplicate Jesus’ suffering by committing to a Lenten sacrifice. One way is to forego “luxuries” such as desserts or to fast for a chosen time period. Additionally, Catholics historically were required to fast on a Saint’s Feast Day. The Vatican relaxed the rules for St. Joseph’s Day, possibly because of his status as Jesus’ earthly father, so pastry-loving believers could honor St. Joseph and enjoy their zeppole.

Rhode Islanders are known for their love of, and quality of, zeppole. For a small state, it has a relatively large number of people self-identifying as having Italian roots (approx. 20% of the population). A famous Italian enclave is based in Providence with fabulous Italian restaurants and bakeries in the Federal Hill neighborhood. My father, although not Italian, was Providence born and bred. He was never a huge fan of Italian food in general, but he LOVED his zeppole! I think as a child he thought they were his special treats, not realizing they were made for St. Joseph.

*Apparently, that’s what New Yorkers consider to be zeppole. They don’t know what they’re missing!


Research sources include various Wikipedia pages (Zeppole, St. Joseph’s Day, Lent, Federal Hill), Quahog.org, Food52.com, TasteAtlas.com, NonnaBox.com, Google image search.




“Y” is for “Yankee”

A “Yankee” is indelibly an American.

To foreigners, a Yankee is an American.
To Americans, a Yankee is a Northerner.
To Northerners, a Yankee is an Easterner.
To Easterners, a Yankee is a New Englander.
To New Englanders, a Yankee is a Vermonter.
And in Vermont, a Yankee is somebody who eats pie for breakfast.

     ~~  E. B. White

E. B. White nailed it, if he did, in fact, say or write this Yankee definition ascribed to him. All references I could find in my research cited back to Wikipedia, which cited a 2012 National Geographic magazine article. Unfortunately, National Geographic didn’t cite any source for the quote.  In any case, it’s humorous and mostly true. Mark Twain, however, apparently considered a Yankee to be a Connecticut resident, as he was (albeit a transplant from the Midwest). As a Nutmegger myself, I must agree with Twain. My evidence is Twain’s satiric fantasy “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.”

Connecticut’s official state song is Yankee Doodle. Most kids here in Yankee country learned the song in kindergarten, if not before. I always thought it had two verses or one verse and a chorus:

Yankee Doodle went to town
A-riding on a pony,
Stuck a feather in his cap
And called it macaroni.

Yankee Doodle keep it up,
Yankee Doodle dandy,
Mind the music and the step,
And with the girls be handy.

Surprise! The song actually has 16 verses. Who knew? Follow the above link to Wikipedia to see the rest of them. The original version, with slightly different lyrics, was written around 1755 by British Army surgeon Richard Shuckburgh. The melody is much older, possibly originating in 15th century Holland. Shuckburgh’s intent was to mock American soldiers as being Yankee simpletons. The Americans added their own verses to mock the British soldiers and got the last laugh: They played Yankee Doodle when the British surrendered at Saratoga in 1777.

The term Yankee Doodle is also associated with George M. Cohan, “an American entertainer, playwright, composer, lyricist, actor, singer, dancer and theatrical producer.” Cohan’s first Broadway musical, “Little Johnny Jones,” featured a patriotic song, “The Yankee Doodle Boy,” also known as “I’m A Yankee Doodle Dandy.” Born in Providence, Rhode Island, Cohan was, himself, a Yankee. His life is chronicled in the 1942 musical film, “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” in which American actor-dancer James (“Jimmy”) Cagney, playing Cohan, sang the title song.

I would be remiss to end this post without mentioning my favorite baseball team, the New York Yankees, a misnomer if ever there was one. The team was born in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1901 as the Baltimore Orioles. (The 1901 Orioles have no relation to the current Baltimore Orioles.) In 1903, new owners moved the team to New York, where it was renamed the New York Highlanders. That name never really stuck, especially with journalists. Some called them the “New York Americans” because they played in the American League and to distinguish them from the New York Giants which played in the National League. Others called them the “Invaders,” probably because they invaded the baseball Giants’ territory. One sports editor called them “Yankees” or “Yanks” because the name fit better on a headline.  Ten years after arriving in New York, in 1913 the team’s name was changed officially to New York Yankees. Except, they’re not technically “Yankees;” New York isn’t in New England.


“X” is for “Xanny”

Trying to come up with an idea for this “X” blog, I kept coming back to one question: Why did pirates use “X” to mark the spot? Why not a circle? Think about it. In the olden days before internet and ubiquitous GPS, people used maps to orient themselves and to plot a course. In my experience, most people would draw a circle around their destination. Why didn’t pirates?

Welp, I hopped down the old Wikipedia rabbit hole and learned that “X” is used to indicate a variant or unknown value in mathematics, which led to its use representing the unknown in other contexts; for example, X-rays, Gen X, “The X Files,” or as a designation for an unspecified non-binary gender. “X” is used to represent negation (“this is wrong”) or absence ( in place of an illiterate or unsighted person’s signature).  Conversely, and illogically, “X” used to “mark the spot” on a map signifies a known location.

I learned a lot about “X” but found nothing to explain why pirates used “X” to mark the location of their treasure stash. I did, however, find a surprising connection between pirates and “X.” That link is American singer-songwriter Billie Eilish, who has, in a BBC interview, confirmed  her full legal name is Billie Eilish Pirate Baird O’Connell. “Baird” and “O’Connell” are her mother’s and father’s last names, respectively. “Pirate” was conferred by her older brother, then-four-year-old Finneas.

The home-schooled siblings are singer-songwriters working independently and together. They co-wrote Billie’s song, “Xanny,” the third track on her 2019 debut album (produced by Finneas). “Xanny” is a reference to Xanax, brand name of the generic tranquilizer alprazolam. Eilish, who eschews drug use, has said “Xanny” is a cautionary plea to drug-using friends to “be safe.”




“W” is for “Wildfire”

Wildfire,” a song written by Michael Martin Murphey and Larry Cansler, was all over the radio when Murphey released it in 1975 on his fourth album. His most successful single, it peaked on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart at number 3 and at number 1 on other charts — Billboard’s Easy Listening, Canada Top Singles, and Canada Adult Contemporary Tracks. The Western Writers of America included it at number 15 of the Top 100 Western Songs of all time.

Murphey has attributed the song’s origins to Native American legends re-told by his grandfather “about a horse that could never be captured, and that horse represented freedom and escape.” Enlarging on those themes, Murphey’s take “is very much about escaping hard times.” The lyrics came to Murphey in a dream about a girl and her white horse who both disappeared when a “killing frost” became a blizzard. The song’s narrator, a disillusioned homesteader whose crop may have been ruined by “an early snow,” listens to a hoot owl’s howling nearby for six nights and surmises the girl and ghost horse are coming for him.

While the lyrics are memorable, intro and outro piano music bookend the haunting story. Most people have not heard that mystical framework, unless they listened to the album version; the piano sections were trimmed for radio play.

Enjoy this video of the untrimmed song!







“V” is for “‘Vette”

When I was very young, the only thing I knew about cars was, my father had a Ford and my next-door friend’s father had a Chevrolet. The Chevy was much snazzier than our Ford. Their car was bought for its flash; ours, for safety. The Ford’s back doors could be locked with a latch on the outside, so if a child pulled up the inside lock and pulled the handle, the door couldn’t be opened. (In fact, I’m not even sure the back doors had inside handles.) Apparently, in those days, no one considered how we’d get out in the case of a real emergency.

Cars remained mere transportation for me until I was in my early teens. I had been visiting Rhode Island relatives and, unbeknownst to me, my mother and aunt arranged for a cousin’s fiance to drive me home to Connecticut on his way back to New York. When he pulled up in his white Corvette, I fell in love. With the car, of course. Black leather bucket seats. Barely muffled powerful engine. For the entire two hour drive, I asked him to go faster, and he repeatedly explained the promises he had made to my mother and to his future mother-in-law that he would drive safely. He informed me that, despite the ‘Vette’s well-earned reputation for speed and power, its fiberglass body actually made it quite fragile. He assured me if we were to have an accident, the car would split in two. We’d die instantly; if not, however, my parents would kill him. Ah well.

The romance of a ‘Vette was still with me when I married my first husband. Our only car was an old Buick he inherited from his grandfather, who had cherished it. My husband planned to carry on the tradition, treating it lovingly. When we decided we needed a second car so I could get a job, naturally I assumed the new car would be mine to drive. Wonder of wonders, the car he had his sights on was a brand-new Opel GT. That car looked like a baby ‘Vette, with its low stance, streamlined body, and a relatively big engine for a compact sports car. I was thrilled that he chose my favorite color, blue, and black leather seats just for me. Imagine my disappointment when he handed me the keys to the allegedly cherished ancient Buick, claiming he needed the smaller car with the better mileage.

A year or so later, the Buick finally gave up the ghost. He couldn’t bear to part with it as a trade-in, so it sat on blocks in our yard while we shopped for a used car for me. My only stipulation was that our next car had to be an Opel GT. We found one a little older than his, a little more beat up, a disgusting shade of mustard yellow, with dirty cream(ish) leather seats. But, it was mine, and I loved it. It was the only thing I took when I left him.

In honor of my love for ‘Vettes big and small, here’s Prince with “Little Red Corvette.” Ironically, today is first husband’s birthday. Enjoy!