Growing up Italian: My American Family Part 1


As I write this, I shed tears mourning the loss of my beloved aunt. Her departure leaves a big hole in my heart. She was the last standing “matriarch” of our family, in the most complete, loving and generous way.

I know my phone won’t be ringing at 7 am  on Sunday morning anymore….

…instead, my phone still rings: I have friends.

Her loss made me realize how blessed I’m to have a great support network here in America.

My home away from home as far as family is concerned. This is when I start smiling and stop counting my troubles.I want to focus on my blessings.

I moved to Oregon on the wings of determination, a prayer, a few dollars, and a one-entry student visa. Little did I know that almost 20 years later, my temporary move would have morphed into a consciously permanent one.

I left my whole family behind. I’m sure it was as hard on them as it was on me when over the years it became more and more evident that there was “no going back home” on my side. America is what I call my forever home, now.

I arrived in Eugene just before Thankgiving 1996. I remember it like it was yesterday.

To quote Maya Angelou: “..People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”.

These words could not be more true, when related to my first experience of a National Holiday in America.

Tina, me, and our BIG hair. 1997.

That Thanksgiving dinner I was the guest of a guest at a stranger’s house. I don’t know any of the people or the hosts, neither do I worry too much. I refer to that period of my life as “the” Alice in Wonderland” period. My dream of traveling abroad to study was a reality- I’m open to new experiences, it’s all an adventure for me, and I am determined to embrace the process  and not to get frustrated or scared by it. Eventually, this mind set will help me a lot in life, whether it was a small thing like placing the first phone call to request a land line connection, or something much bigger like performing in public as a speaker.

Both scary moments, if you think about it, when English is not your first language!

Back to the Thanksgiving night, I remember wearing a long black dress and an Italian designer yellow patent leather boots, too overdressed for Eugene, but again…ok by me.

Tina opens the door, big smile, great attitude. I can barely understand what everyone is saying. I can’t follow the conversation for any length of time without having to ask everyone to repeat themselves or to go slowly on the pronunciation. Nevertheless, I felt warm, welcome…I felt…home.

The food was incredible and the celebration at Tina’s helped me understand the meaning of Thanksgiving.

As my American soul started to shape, so did my friendship with Tina. Year after year, through divorces, re-couplings and new marriage we stuck together. Our hair, once fuller, is now grey-ish. We now both have permanent jobs and do what we love. Long far cry from when she was a part time (very good) hair stylist going to undergrad school, and I was studying for my TOEFL test to be able to go to college.

We have evolved a lot in the last 18 years. So has our friedship.

A two people party, better with drinks and nosh.

Tina is loud like me. Loves to cook, like me. She is enamored by the beauty of Oregon, like me. She adores arts and anything that beautifies the world, like me.

Sisters separated at birth? It could be, if it weren’t for the fact that she is a lean 6 ft tall lady. One thing that sets Tina apart, on a higher level that mine, is the way she faces life. A way I wish I had mastered already.

Tina was born with a congenital heart disease. Her parents were told she would not make it to the age of 5.  With her determination and the help of great doctors. she is soon celebrating a milestone birthday. She often says she might not make it to an older age, but I know she’ll find a way to stick around. She likes good parties too much!

The reason why I adore Tina is her attitude towards life: she doesn’t take it too seriously.

She made a key chain out of one of her spent pace makers, and she got herself some blue shoes before another surgery to “have something to look forward wearing”.

Tina loves to have fun and enjoy the ride on good days, and to have something to look forward to on bad days. She also has a million projects going at any given time: work, home remodel, travel plans or cooking in the kitchen.

With  a gentle soul, tall body and deep voice, Tina is not afraid to give you a reality check when needed, an attitude adjustment or a pat on the shoulder and a hug…whatever the occasion calls for.


Selfie on the Sunday walk on the river

I don’t know of anyone who is more appreciative of anything that life brings more than Tina, who incidentally life has made very aware that everything  can turn sour on a dime.

We walk (She walks, I semi run to keep up with her long legs) and talk. Our topics range from English, to art, to life and, of course…there is food. There is ALWAYS food.

As I mentioned, Tina is a great cook. Her Italian heritage blended with adventurous taste buds and frugal-gourmand skills have created a powerful mix. Her recipes are simple, healthy, and delicious. She is not afraid to try any vegetable from her CSA or some smoked pig skins as well. Her sister is a wine connoisseur, so by osmosis, she is good with that too.

When I think of Tina however, there is a recipes that comes to mind: Banana bread!

I enjoyed one slice of her heavenly simple loaf at her house the night I met her for the first time. She shared her recipe with me and over the years has become a staple for my Thanksgiving as well.

She even lost the recipe during one of her moves through town, and I was glad to give her back a copy of her own treasured possession. So, if you can keep a secret, I can share that with you too!

So, go ahead. It’s ok to bake your day away celebrating family, friends, or both.

If it’s not a special occasion, make it so, and if you have DO dress it with tears…

they might be of happiness  after all…

For Zia Pompilia RIP: you will forever have a place in my heart, in my memories and in my kitchen.

[gn_box title=”TINA’S SIMPLE BANANA BREAD” color=”#253″]


Makes one bread loaf in a standard loaf pan


3 ripe bananas, well mashed

3 eggs well beaten

3 T soft butter

1 1/2 C flour

1 t salt

1 t baking powder

3/4 C sugar

1 t vanilla

1/2 C chopped walnuts


Pre heat oven at 350F

Note: I mix everything by hands because I like to bite into those nice “chunks” of bananas, if you don’t, use a stand up mixer. Just do not overmix the dough.

1- Mix the wet ingredients together: mashed bananas, vanilla, butter and the eggs.

2- Mix the dry ingredients together: flour, baking powder, salt, sugar.

3-Add the dry to the wet ingredients, starting and finishing with the dry, alternating.

4-Fold in the nuts

5-Bake for 1 hour. Cool before removing from the pan.



Mangia, enjoy!








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