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Tastes to Remind Me of My PastCover

I can remember standing on my tiptoes, leaning over the sink, looking out the window of our house on North Monroe Street in Roanoke.  We’d been home from Sunday morning church services at Trinity Lutheran for over a half hour, it was nearly noon.  Where was he?  Did he forget that he was making dinner today?  Should I go see?

But just as I was pondering those questions, I could see him coming around the corner of his house.  I could see his navy blue sweater, his plaid shirt, his dark cap protecting his bald head from the winter chill.  I could see his gnarled, coal mining scarred hands carefully cradling the earthtone clay bowl filled with what our family considered manna from heaven above.

“Here he comes!” I screamed.  And I got the usual, “Settle down.” from Dad.  But I couldn’t settle down.  Seeing Grandpa Martino gingerly walking from his house next door across the weather-worn 2 by 12 that both physically and symbolically bridged our worlds was just too exciting…and besides, I was hungry!

Fast forward 35 years….

Carol and I are living in Peoria, enjoying the variety of cultural benefits that a small city provides…including some pretty nice restaurants.  So at one of those restaurants in January 2000, I taste something that transports me instantly back to Monroe Street…back to my childhood…like only tastes and smells have the power to do.

It was at Carol’s favorite Peoria restaurant at the time, The Grill on Fulton.   It was a roasted head of garlic that was offered as a spread with the dinner rolls at the start of the meal.  The taste reminded me of laia (pronounced “lie-A), a garlic laden concoction that Grandpa used to make and that I’d virtually forgotten about.  It was a wonderful resurrected memory.  I told Carol about it and I was so delighted with the thought of laia, I called my sister Sandra on the way home that evening and asked her if she had Grandpa’s recipe for laia.  She said she didn’t but she was on the case.

Days went by before Sandra called to say that she had gotten the recipe from Mary Monge (Terry’s mom) and it was on that phone conversation with me that Sandra suggested something that has not only led to the creation of a recipe book, but has also allowed us to keep alive a most important part of our lineage…one that we have now passed on to Grandpa’s great-great grandchildren…the wonderful food he shared with us from his house next door.   My sisters and I and our families have come together several times a year for more than a decade now to make Grandpa’s cooking come alive again...recreating all the foods he introduced to us as we were growing up.  These get-togethers have come to be known as Grandpa Martino Memorial Dinners and included in this section are some of our very favorites...taken from the book above that I put together to capture them.  We hope you enjoy reading about these dishes and if you choose to try one or more of them, we would love to hear from you about it.  Good luck!!!

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