Friday, December 12, 2014

Christmas: Italian Style by Loree Lough

My most treasured Christmas memories include my Italian grandmother, the tiny woman who made everything she touched seem big. Take our big Christmas Eve-Chestnut Roasting tradition, for example…

Seated around the chrome and Formica table in her roomy kitchen, we watched her sort the nuts: “For the Oven” (dark, glossy, firm), and “Make-a You Stomach Ache!” (wrinkly, dull, or sporting minuscule worm holes). After selecting 350 on the oven of her many-burnered stove, Nonna dealt cookie sheets like playing cards. We kids covered them with good nuts and passed them to our parents, who carved Xs into the shells to prevent in-oven explosions and make the nuts easier to peel. Then we played musical chairs…making room for Nonna to open the oven and slide the trays inside. We played it again as, every ten minutes, she performed her mind-boggling “how does she do that!” barehanded pinch test. The forty minutes that passed before she announced, “Done!” seemed like hours. And as we sat, sipping made-from-scratch cocoa and devouring the sweet, buttery nuts, Grandpa told stories about Christmas in the old country:

Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. A belt-stretching feast on Christmas Day, followed by another on the 26th, the Feast of St. Stephen’s Day, and yet another on January 6th, when they celebrated the Epiphany.  

Babbo Natale wasn’t the only guy who delivered gifts to children, Grandpa told us. But unlike Santa, who wore a red suit traveled in a toy-filled sleigh, La Befana donned a colorful patchwork coat and rode a broomstick. On Christmas morning, good children found candy in their stockings…naughty ones found coal.

My siblings and cousins had no trouble believing that Nonna saw Babbo Natale leave gifts under the tree, because the only way one tiny woman could prepare a feast like that all by herself was to start cooking and baking on Christmas Eve!

By the time we arrived on Christmas morning, the table was set and every burner on that big white stove held a steaming pot. We kids passed the time drawing pictures on the cooking-fogged windows while our dads read the newspaper and our moms carried baskets of homebaked bread and bowls piled high with homemade ravioli, gnocchi, fettuccini, and meatballs to the table.

My uncle once remarked that if we put a noise dosimeter on the table, the sound of laughter and the clink of utensils on plates would likely break the needle…and he was probably right!

Next, the piece de resistance: Dessert! Il panforte (gingerbread glazed with honey and hazelnuts), torrone (a nougaty delight made of honey, sugar, and egg whites and topped with toasted almonds), farfellette (flaky pastry bows topped with powdered sugar), and biscotti.

Last, but certainly not least, a visit to the Christmas tree, which brightened the parlor corner with big colorful bulbs and twinkling tinsel.

Every car that backed out of Nonna’s long driveway groaned under the weight of its food-filled occupants and bowls and bags of leftovers. “Buon Natale!” Nonna called, waving from her porch. And we rolled down our windows, counted one-two-three, and bellowed “Buon Natale, Nonna!” loud enough to rattle her neighbors’ windows.

Finally, stuffed to the gills, intoxicated by the memory of too-many knock-knock jokes and too much whipped cream, we fell into bed, exhausted but content.

And that’s what I wish for you, dear friends…a very Nonna Christmas.

Buon Natale!



Be sure to check out Loree's January 2015 release, Once a Marine, the first in her Those Marshall Boys series: Summer Lane is no damsel in distress. For the past two years, she's been battling her way back from her worst nightmare all by herself. So she doesn't need the fabulous former Marine Zach Marshall swooping in to save her. But she needn't worry. Zach has hung up his shining armor. His instinct to rescue has only brought him heartache, and he's not about to risk it all again—even though everything about Summer makes him yearn to help. But she just might accept his challenge to step up and conquer her fears on her own. Even her deepest fears, like trust…and love.


With nearly 5,000,000 books in circulation, best-selling author Loree Lough's titles have earned numerous 4- and 5-star reviews and industry awards. She splits her time between her home in Baltimore and a cabin in the Alleghenies (where she loves to show off her “Identify the Critter Tracks” skills). The release of Once a Marine (#1 in the “Those Marshall Boys” series for Harlequin's new Heartwarming line) brings Loree’s number of books in print to 104! Loree loves to hear from her readers and answers every letter, personally. Visit her at Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and www.loreelough.com!

23 comments:

  1. I loved reading all these family memories, Loree! Not to mention...the FOOD. :D

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    1. LOL! We have SO many things in common, and food is definitely one of them! Enjoyed our chat today (can you call a 2-hour phone-fest a chat? LOL)! Love you, girlfrien'!

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    2. We'll say it was an EPIC chat. :) It was a blast! Love talking to you!

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  2. Sounds like some wonderful traditions and even better memories. I look forward to reading your book.

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    1. Thank you, Marion! The nicest thing about all those memories and traditions is that they're being passed on to two more generations through my daughters and grandorables!

      ONE of you who comments here will win a copy of ONCE A MARINE...who knows? It could be you!

      Have a wonderful Christmas, Marion!

      All best,
      Loree

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  3. Lovely memories Loree. I've never tasted chestnuts, but always loved the idea of them roasting on an open fire. In the oven works, too.

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    1. Hey, Roz! Yeah, Nonna didn't have a fireplace, but she made it an event, even without flames!

      Hope your Christmas is warm and toasty and memorable!

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  4. I love the memories, and, like Cerella, the FOOD! I really love our turkey-ham-PIES traditions, but I think I'd like a Nonna-type celebration sometimes, too. Merry Christmas!

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    1. Those turkey-ham pies sound fantastic, Liz. What's a gal have to do to get the recipe! LOL (Actually, you can delete that LOL...I'm not kiddin'!)

      Have a happy, healthy, safe Christmas!

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  5. Loree, what beautiful memories! As a child I lived across the street from a boisterous, lively Italian family whose food was the highlight of every holiday. We were lucky to be invited to the celebrations, and to be greeted by their "Nonna". Yum!

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    1. Oh, you're so right, Kristine...Italians know how to throw a party AND make people feel like part of the family, don't they!

      Here's hoping you and yours enjoy a happy and healthy Christmas!

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    1. Here's hoping you and yours enjoy a happy and healthy Christmas, Melinda!

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  7. Loree! You've made me so homesick! Our family was French and Portuguese rather than Italian, but everyone stuffed into the kitchen helping, and laughter that could be heard in Space is so what I remember! My dad fixed chestnuts, too, but I remember them being put in a pan of water - don't know if that was a first step to soften shells, or something, but do remember that chestnuts are yummy! We're all so lucky to have happy memories to live on. Not that we should stop making new ones, but the old ones fill my soul! Thanks, Loree! Made my morning.

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    1. It really IS all about family, isn't it! Whether it's Thanksgiving, Christmas or the Fourth of July, every celebration is more festive when we're part of a happy, mess-making crowd.

      Wishing you and yours a safe and healthy, very merry Christmas, Muriel!

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  8. My best friend is Italian so I know what most of these fun traditions are-especially the food. Yum. What great memories you have and I'm sure they go into your stories. Buon Natale.

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    1. Thank you, Sandra, and a buon Natale to you, too!

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  9. Lovely memories, Loree! Thanks for sharing them and making me hungry ;)

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    1. LOL Amy! "Italian" and "hungry" seem like oxymorons, don't they! LOL Wishing you and yours the very best Christmas, ever!

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  10. LOVE holiday traditions! THANKS for sharing, Loree!

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    1. Traditions are what it's all about, aren't they, Cherie! The most fun of all is passing them on and watching the younger generations put their own touches on them! :-) Hope your Christmas is beautiful, and filled with traditions!

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  11. Sounds like a wonderful Christmas at your Grandmother's house! Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Oh, it was a joy, Patricia! And now, we try to reproduce it at our house. :-) Wishing you and yours a happy and beautiful Christmas!

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