by Donna Scrafano
My mother was an excellent cook and baker. She used nothing but the best ingredients and poured her heart and soul into what for her was a labor of love. Although my mother was not Italian, she assimilated herself into our family’s Italian-Sicilian culture, as she was raised in an all-Italian neighborhood and married the love of her life, my Sicilian father. I think I was somewhere in my teens when I figured out that my mother was Native American and not Italian. Funny how food affects how you view the world.
Ah food! In our family it was the magic that dominated your feelings, created social time, was used as a problem solver or healing tactic, brought us together at each and every meal—breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It was sometimes the focus of the day, especially when you smelled the spaghetti sauce and meatballs cooking in a pot larger than life on top of the gas stove. Sunday was the spaghetti-and-meatballs day, although sometimes the meat would change to either veal or Italian sausage. After Mass, my father would stop at the local bakery for a fresh loaf of Italian bread that sometimes was still warm. I or one of my brothers would always break off the end of the bread, only to get scolded by my mother when the bread arrived home partially eaten. Her scolding never made any difference, though.
My mother would wait on each and every one of us at the table. She filled our plates with what would now account for about three helpings. I’ll never forget the first time I began a weight-loss regime and was measuring my food. When I measured one cup of pasta and placed it on my plate, I was in shock. It seemed to be such a small amount compared to what my mother served us. You couldn’t see the design on the plates when my mother dished out the pasta.
My parents owned a small delicatessen in downtown Easton, Pennsylvania. I grew up not only observing my mother prepare the food from scratch and with pride but also how gracious she and my father were with the customers, even the most difficult ones. This is a talent I did not inherit. Perhaps that’s the reason why my parents never asked me to help out at their store. Good thinking on their part.
Appreciating the special role food plays with family and friends, in socializing, in problem solving, even in helping someone feel better gives you better insight into what it means to be a human being. But it also creates expectations of the proper way to be treated when you are the customer.
In the past year I have experienced a number of disappointments while eating at a variety of so-called “higher-end” restaurants. At one there was hair in the food, and I had to send my plate back not once but twice! Another restaurant could not get an order correct, even after three tries. Yet another served very dry chicken with tomatoes that were actually rotten. A seafood restaurant served a crab cake that had virtually no taste of crab. And last but not least, at one restaurant the waiter forgot to put in our order and did not let us know until an hour had gone by. And when we wanted to pay, I had to chase him down for the bill. Service at many of these establishments consisted of eye rolling, deep breaths of frustration, no apology for the mishaps (except at one), and always hurry, hurry, hurry. And the cost per the serving? Not worth it. I know that Mama Scrafano’s helpings were far too large, but let’s get real!
Nonetheless, I enjoy going out to eat. So where do I go? To simple places where there is good food and courteous service. My father’s favorite is Williams’ Family Diner. I enjoy their Greek salad, and they have absolutely the best broiled crab cakes—and these taste very much of crab! A favorite of mine is good old Josie’s NY Deli in downtown Easton. Josie remembers my parents and how my mother shared recipes with her. She has the most wonderful chicken salad.
My idea of “high-end” includes good food, courteous service, and fair prices. Those are the types of restaurants where you will find me indulging.
Donna began her journey in Human Services in 1983. During the next 35 years she held various positions and formally retired in 2018. She writes on an array of social issues. Donna’s relaxation time includes walking her Lab, Roxy, having fun with her six grandchildren, writing, spending time with friends, and applying self-care. Her current full-time position is care-taking her 90-year-old father.