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First Person

My favorite Italian things

  “Cream-colored ponies and crisp apple strudels, doorbells and sleigh bells and schnitzel with noodles,” those are a few of Maria’s favorite things in “The Sound of Music.” As you can imagine, mine are far more Italian than that. As promised last month, here’s my short list. My family’s red sauce — Or do you say gravy? There are as many pasta sauces as there are bloodlines in Italy, and everyone’s sugo is the best. The gravy that my wife now lovingly prepares descends from la famiglia Basile of Sora, a mountain town southeast of Roma. Like most Roman sauces, ...

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Living La Vita Italiana

  I envy the first Italian Americans: those brave souls who catapulted themselves into the unknown and stared down countless hardships to create a better life for their families in a strange, new land. They brought with them little more than the shirts on their backs and the culture that shaped them, but that was more than enough. Settling with their paesani in ethnic enclaves, they reconstructed that culture from the ground up, celebrating La Vita Italiana in their homes, businesses, places of worship and wherever else they gathered. Family recipes were prepared by heart in their kitchens, canzoni popolari ...

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My father’s Italian legacy

  I’ve had more than a few good cries since my father passed away in early May. He lived a long life and he was busy and robust until the end, and I’m grateful for that. But in some ways, it makes the loss even harder to bear. Tears still flow over the smallest of things, like driving to Joseph’s Finest Meats for the first time without my dad’s sausage order in hand; or giving his last bay leaf plant a new home in my backyard; or sorting through old photos of him with his parents, or of his parents ...

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Where we should be pointing the lens

Just when you thought Italian Americans were free to move about the country without being dogged by stereotypes of criminality and buffoonery, the creators of “The Sopranos” and “Jersey Shore” have us running for cover again. According to Deadline.com, New Line has purchased the screenplay to a “Sopranos” prequel penned by the series creators. Set against the backdrop of the Newark riots in the 1960s, the film is expected to pit younger versions of the HBO show’s older generation of mobsters against their African-American counterparts in a gangland bloodfest. Meanwhile, MTV is doubling down on its commitment to casting Italian ...

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Decoding our community coverage

The Chicago area is blessed with nearly 100 Italian American groups and institutions that meet regularly and host more than 300 special events each year. Fra Noi is committed to shining a spotlight on these activities in our magazine, but that commitment comes with a challenge: how to cover a community that vast within the fiscal and physical confines of the publication. Through trial and error over the past quarter century, we’ve devised a system for accomplishing that, and I’d like to shed light on it now. Since Fra Noi doesn’t have the funds to send photographers and reporters out ...

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Let’s all resolve to mangia italiano!

Because we go to press so far in advance, I’m penning this column in late December, even though it’s destined for the February issue. That places me squarely in the Resolution Zone, that fanciful timeframe during which we bind ourselves to a host of worthy and sometimes unattainable goals for the coming year. Those resolutions can expand, contract and morph as the months progress. As of this moment, I’ve resolved to: 1) Exercise more, consume fewer calories and in general take better care of my aging body. 2) Seek input from current and former Fra Noi readers and the community-at-large ...

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Behind-the-scenes hero Dominic Gambino

Some benefactors are drawn to the limelight that their generosity attracts and others prefer to work their charitable magic behind the scenes. Domenico Gambino is cut of the latter cloth. A co-owner of the Tony’s Finer Food grocery empire, Gambino has been a quiet force for good in the Italian-American community for decades, deploying resources and leveraging connections with little fanfare and great effect. “What I do I do from the heart and because it makes me feel good,” Gambino explains. “That’s all the thanks I need.” Born in Ciminna, Sicily, in 1945, Domenico is one of eight children of ...

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