Me, Sher, and Ad

Me, Sher, and Ad
Bro Adam and sis Sher, my rocks!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

American Sniper, American Hero

***Blogger's note: I have changed the names of the individuals and some of the places discussed below for privacy.
Pic courtesy of

The other evening I stopped at my local firehouse social club, the hosey, to meet my friend Sue for a beer. A lot of my neighbors and friends head down there on Wednesday nights for drinks, games, and fun. I figured I'd join them for one beer, maybe two, maybe two and a shot of Fireball. You get the idea.

I had just walked in and who did I see across the bar but my friends Dan Myers and his wife Louise. I hadn't seen them in a couple of years since they had moved west to Missouri. I had gotten to know them fairly well when I was bartending at the hosey a while back. They lived around the corner from me and then moved out west for work after Dan had spent month after month job hunting in our economically depressed county. He finally gave up and went where the work was after no success up in this area.

I went over, gave each of them a hug and we caught up. They still have a son locally in Pinegrove so they were visiting for a couple weeks. The hosey was such a part of their lives, they decided to come down for a couple drinks and revisit their old haunt.

After our conversation, I returned back to the other side of the bar to sit with Sue and said something along the lines that Dan was truly an American hero. She asked why and I began to tell her about my afternoon with him one day a couple years ago.

I was bartending on a quiet Sunday summer afternoon. No one had come in for at least three hours until Dan strolled in. I poured him his usual Captain Morgan and coke and we sat talking about this and that, nothing in particular.

Since Dan was leaving for Missouri in a couple weeks for work, I decided to buy him a drink. He was a loyal regular customer at the hosey and I would miss our long lazy Sunday talks. I bought him a shot, and before you know it, I bought myself one and came around outside the bar to do our shots together.

I don't know how we got on the discussion of his past, but we did. Maybe it was the two or three shots. Dan opened up about his years of service in Vietnam War when he was 'over there'. Now I was never in the military, but my brother, my dad, and my stepdad all were. I have learned not to ask specifically about certain things such as one's time serving in war unless they go into it themselves.

Dan told me that he was a sniper. I said, "Really? Wow, that must have been an experience."

He paused for a long moment, got lost in memories, in thoughts and then began to tell me about it.

"I remember each one of them. I see each of their faces. They're forever burned in my mind."  He stopped and took a long drag from his cigarette before continuing.

"It was horrible but it was my job. And I did it well ... I did it well."

At this point, tears welled up in his eyes, rolling down his tanned leathery cheeks. I remained silent. I knew instinctively that this was his story, not to say anything, and just listen.

"I took out 76 of them. 76 confirmed kills. They were trying to kill us and I had to kill them. That was my job."

Dan sobbed briefly, then regained his composure. I put my hand on his shoulder and gave it a squeeze in reassurance.

"You did your job, Dan," I began. "You did what you had to do and you did it well. I'm proud to have you as my friend and thank you for your service to our country."

I realized how hard it was for him to tell me this. He seemed to grapple with feeling remorse for those he killed but knowing he did the job he was supposed to do for his country.

He looked at me, smiling slightly while wiping the tears from his cheeks.

"Thanks bud. Whew!" he said shaking his head. "Sorry man, I haven't told anybody that in years. I don't know why I unloaded on ya, but I just felt I needed to. Thanks for listenin'."

"It's all good. I appreciate you telling me." I started as I walked back behind the bar, "You are a hero in my eyes."

"Thanks buddy."

Another patron came into the bar. I went back to being the afternoon bartender and got him a beer. Dan and I never spoke about it again but I feel honored he felt comfortable enough to tell me.

Ironically, the movie American Sniper was released this year but for some reason, I didn't think about Dan's story until I ran into him that night. I wanted to tell his story so others would know about those heroes among us who gallantly served their country but now for their own personal reasons, remain silent about their service.


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

My Grandparents' Home

Much of what I write about is for my brother and sister. The blog has become sort of a written record of my family's history. My father has often forwarded family photographs, scrapbooks, heirlooms, and anecdotes my way and it was he who dubbed me the official family historian. I feel a sense of duty to my family since Mom passed away, to remember and record these memories, whether snippets or lengthy stories. My blog has become an easy way to share my family history with not only them, but also extended family and friends.  I find my cousins and close friends having "Aha!" moments when they rediscover past memories.

My memories of Nana (Nanny) and Grandpop (my Mother's parents) extend from approximately 1973 through my Grandpop's passing in 1976 to Nana's subsequent passing two years later.  They lived at 22 Endwell Lane in Willingboro, New Jersey, in a one story rancher built in 1967. It's still there today.

One funny memory was that my Nanny insisted on serving Adam and I cottage cheese for lunch. Now my brother LOVED cottage cheese. It reminded me of chunky white vomit. I was just so disgusted by it. I took a mouthful and started gagging. My brother wolfed it down. He was so odd. He loved cottage cheese at 7 years old. Nanny flatly stated that if I didn't eat it, I wouldn't eat anything at all. I started crying. I won out and instead ate applesauce every time cottage cheese was served. To this day, I've had a lifelong love of applesauce.

While at Nana's I also learned to dislike prunes and Fig Newtons. As an adult, I grew out of disliking prunes (after that snappy marketing campaign calling them dried plums) but still can't stand those Newtons. Nanny would also buy these short bread cookies with a raspberry or cherry jelly in the center. Loved them. I also remember eating sugar coated jellied fruit slices for the Passover holiday.

I have memories of Nanny cooking her baked chicken and baked fish, two favorite family recipes. I remember her making matzoh ball soup for the Jewish holidays. Mom would tell me stories of Nanny making gefilte fish from scratch as well as homemade applesauce. When Nanny started getting on in years, she once made it with crab apples from the tree in their backyard. It was so tart it was inedible. She was getting on in her years and it began showing, sometimes in her cooking. Even at such a young age, I knew enough that I felt so sad for my Mom who was faced with the realization that her mother was becoming senile. These days, we use the term 'dementia.' Either way, it was a sad moment.

I remember when Grandpop had a heart attack in 1976. It was in the evening when Dad and Mom got the phone call. Someone came to watch us while they sped off in the night to meet my Nana at Rancocas Valley Hospital where Grandpop passed. I remember that night vividly but not with a lot of emotion as I was so young. I did feel awful for my Mom as she was so devastated by her father's death. It was a sad time and Nanny didn't do well after he passed away.

Grandpop's office was usually off-limits to us kids. The couple of times he allowed us to go in there was like stepping into an episode from the 50's-60's AMC TV Show, "Madmen". The furniture and decor was reminiscent of that era.  I remember he proudly displayed his bowling trophies. There were several sets of encyclopedias, metal file cabinets, Grandpop's black metal desk on the parquet wood floor. Art Deco bookcases, a wedding gift to my grandparents, held the books, the trophies, a chrome "ship's wheel" ashtray, a couple silver bowls he won as awards, and a sleek black plastic desk thermometer. Various other awards and degrees adorned the walls. I am lucky enough to have his 1918 bachelor's diploma for civil engineering from NYU. Adam now has a coveted small wooden bowling pin trophy.

The living room had a Drexel furniture set, the primo furniture maker of that day, made with a beautiful gold fabric.  A real snake plant was in one corner, a fake ficus in another. On the wall was a gold mirror offset by a reproduction of  a "Woman in Yellow Dress Reading" by Jean-Honore Fragonard and another repro of a small oil of fishing boats by Vincent Van Gogh. A green and gold tri-level tea stand sat between the living room and dining room. Gold lamps and bric-a-brac were everywhere. Mom often said that Grandpop had a habit during the 50s and 60s of spray painting everything gold as this was popular back then but she so disliked it. And as many women did that day, Nana had plastic covers on all of her furniture. A crystal bowl of sesame candies or caramel chews lay out on the telephone table as a special treat for us grandkids.

The dining room had beautiful dark wood furniture, always polished to a high gloss. Two heavy round crystal candlestick holders were in the middle of the table. One year, when our parents were out with our grandparents for an evening, Sheryl was left to watch over us. We went through everything wreaking havoc.

We kids played hide and seek all over the house. I hid in the center hall closet, wedged between Nana's mink fur coats. I remember smelling them, my head nestled in their softness, then suddenly I was found! I would dart out one of the two closet doors and down the hallway to the back bed rooms. Thankfully during our play time, nothing was broken, except for one of the tall thick white candles in the crystal holders. We received the third degree when they returned home and discovered the candle.

Our sister had alluded to the possibility that Adam and I had broken the candle during our horseplay. Well the accusation stuck and we got blamed for it. Adam and I were so clueless that we ended up believing that possibly we HAD damaged the candle while playing. We found out years later that my dear sister Sheryl had broken it and threw her poor helpless younger brothers under the bus! SHERYL, I will never forget that! LOL.

In the back of the one storied rancher were the master bedroom and the guest room where we would stay. Nana and Grandpop had adopted the "Lucy and Ricky" twin bed thing. Mom's childhood set was in the guest room. On the table beside the bed always sat a small bronze elephant missing one tusk. It has a little plaque on it's back which states "Boston." It is one of my most treasured mementos from my grandparents. Not sure when it was picked up, but was from one of their travels.

I remember the garage being off limits. Grandpop didn't want his shiny green Buick (or possibly Ford?) scratched. My sister Sheryl remembers the "winged" back lights and that it was a friggin' tank with doors heavier than heck! I thought that car looked like a hearse, it was so big and foreboding. Mom later told us that Grandpop loved American cars and would always buy American if possible. The garage smelled heavily like oil.

Adam and I instead played outside around their home. We didn't play too often in the bushes. They always smelled like cat pee. We climbed a small tree in the front yard and climbed the crab apple tree in the back yard. There were also some kids in a cul-de-sac that we would hang out with from time to time, as well as another young kid next door.

One time I got stuck on the chain link fence separating the yards. I tried to be a trapeze artist and fell off the fence, getting my corduroy pants stuck on the top. There I hung upside down with Adam laughing and laughing. Grrrrr. He seemed to take an abnormally long time to get Dad to help rescue me hanging off of that damn fence.

During one of our last visits to see Nana, Adam and I were shoveling the driveway for her. Grandpop had passed on. I thought I'd be funny and dump a shovel full of snow on Adam's head. Unfortunately, with me being a klutz, I accidentally hit him hard on the bridge of his nose with the shovel. He screamed, and blood flowed down his face. Off we went to the hospital with me feeling like the biggest jerk. Sorry Adam! It was truly an accident. But one thing I want to get straight, Adam's Roman nose always looked like that. I had nothing to do with it. LOL  :)  Just kidding!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Guanciale, DiBruno Bros, and 1732 Meats

OK, OK I have to say it and it's a bit sacrilegious, but this Jewish guy likes bacon. and furthermore, I like most pork products! I'd say my Jewish mother Abby may be rolling over in her grave but I know she isn't. She once told me she could eat bacon and not feel guilty because it was sooo good AND it didn't look like a pig. What??? LOL. OK Mom. And I am my Mother's child because I now use that same justification! :)

For John's birthday back in November, I decided to get him a huge cheese box from DiBruno Brothers on Chestnut Street in Philly filled with his favorite Italian foods and some new ones too. Since I call him the Big Ragu and he is the most Italian person I know, I knew it'd be sure fire hit. Inside was the prerequisite sharp provolone, a rustic hot soppressata dry sausage, balsamic glazed figs, lupini beans, Italian long hot peppers, guanciale, and a bunch of other awesome foods! For those who do not know what guanciale is, it's an Italian cured meat similar to pancetta. It comes from the pork jowls, or cheeks. Whatever you use pancetta for, you can substitute guanciale but guanciale has a richer, more rustic flavor. More info on guanciale can be found here:

Trivelli pasta
When I arrived at Dibruno's, I knew that I was searching for something different for the birthday basket. One can get overwhelmed by all of the cheeses there but I knew I couldn't go wrong with a sharp provolone. That's like this nice Jewish boy (ME) not buying gefilte' fish for Passover! I also knew that I wanted something in addition to the normal dry sausage which I usually pick up. After spying it in the refrigerator, I asked the counter guy what guanciale was. He explained it's similarities to pancetta and was extremely helpful and informative.

I have to say that DiBruno Brothers is always among the most hospitable places I have been too. Always willing to help, always giving a sample, always giving suggestions. So I picked up the guanciale, the sharp provolone, and the Dibruno's cheese box full of the other goodies. The gift was a definite hit!

I later made an incredible dinner using the guanciale. I found a recipe online from the Brooklyn Chef Carlos Mirarchi from the well known restaurant, Roberta's, in Brooklyn. I made "Pasta with Guanciale and Tomatoes", a flavorful yet simple recipe which appears below. I used trivelli pasta by Lucio Garofalo instead of the rigatoni pasta which was called for below. The guanciale was chewy, salty and smokey. It had an earthy meaty flavor, definitely richer than pancetta. I paired the meal with a 2009 Cosi Chianti Classico Riserva. Although give me a good chianti and I'm happy!

After some subsequent research, I found that the guanciale I bought at Dibruno's comes from 1732 Meats, an artisanal charcuterie in Landsdowne, PA. I actually had the pleasure of meeting one of the proprietors, Ari Miller, over this past winter when I stopped into DiBruno Brothers at their original location in South Philly. Ari was sauteing up some of his gourmet bacon out front street side! DiBruno Bros carries products from 1721 Meats. I enjoyed meeting Ari. You can really tell when someone is so passionate about their business and product. Before I went in, I sampled jalapeno bacon, black peppercorn bacon, garlic bacon, and Spanish smoked paprika bacon. Each was unique with it's flavors which completely enhanced the bacon taste without overwhelming it. My favorites were the jalapeno and the black peppercorn. Ari's website has his number and email to contact for any questions.

You always need a good wine. :)


(alla Chef Carlo Mararchi of Roberta's in Booklyn)

1 package pasta (about 1 pound); the original recipe called for Rustichella D'Abruzzo rigatoni pasta
1 jar (1 pound) canned pomodorini (cherry tomatoes), crushed
1/2 tspn salt
1/2 tspn red pepper flakes
Thinkly sliced (lardon cut) red onion
***Lardon cut refers to the shape, specifically matchstick or cube shaped.
6 oz guanciale cut in lardons (The original recipe used another brand of guanciale. I used guanciale from 1732 Meats bought at DiBruno Brothers with great success.)
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup freshly and finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese (or Parmigiano Reggiano as a substitute)

The finished recipe! 

  • sautΓ© the guanciale and onion in the olive oil in a large sauce pan until just crisped and golden. Stir salt into tomatoes and add to guanciale in pan with red pepper flakes. Cook and stir over medium heat until beginning to thicken.
  • In the meantime, boil the pasta in abundant salted water until on the hard side of al dente. Scoop out of the water with a perforated ladle and add to sauce. Stir in couple of tablespoons of grated cheese. Continue to simmer the sauce and pasta until the pasta is al dente. Taste and correct seasoning. Serve in warm bowls with more cheese.