Limoncello and Skyping with Rose and Dave


On Mother’s Day I Skyped with my parents.

Mom: I knew I was bad with the language when you were two, and you were in the bathroom and you couldn’t get a towel to wrap the way you wanted or something. And I heard you say, “Oh, dammit!”
Jenny: I did??
Mom: I’m not kidding. At two!

Dad: We’ve been watching a lot of British shows on Netflix. We watched all of Outlander. Then we watched all of Wallender. And Luther. It’s the one with Idris Elba.
Mom: He’s handsome and incredibly sexy (collapses in giggles. Dad, sitting behind her, smiles serenely).

Mom (on reading my blog and thinking to herself): “Oh, Jenny, I really want you to be happy and have kids but in the meantime this is so funny.” Then I thought, “So, Jenny, have you tried church?”
Me: Church?
Mom: Have you tried organizations? Have you tried volunteering?
Me: You must be desperate for me to say church.
Mom: I just thought about the online dating, “Oh, my god, this is a lot of work.” What about the old-fashioned way? You go play bingo.

(I bring up my conflicting feelings about sharing my blog.)
Mom: One, it’s too late. You put it on Facebook. The cat’s out of the bag. And I sent it to my friends in an email.
Me: You did? How?
Mom: I said, “Here my daughter’s ural.” Oh, it sounds like “my daughter’s urine” (starts laughing).
Me: Mom. What are you saying?
Mom: Ural. Ural. My daughter’s ural. (She sighs and breaks it down for me.) URL.

(I tell them I have more ideas for blog posts than pictures of food.)
Dad (serious face): When you travel abroad you take pictures of sandwiches. You took a picture of a Chinese bun with red bean sauce in it (this is true, although this is a reference to a picture I took in 2009). It all represents a subtext of this thing that you’ve started as a combination of the blog and the food. And you might be able to short the idea that you’re out of recipes. You talked about how great it was to meet these Sicilian men (a reference to my 2012 blog, in which I “met” two Sicilian men in three hours, a record that stands today). It was all tentatively cooking (no, it wasn’t, Dad! No! It! Wasn’t!).
Mom (laughing): I think he’s pitching a new blog.
Dad: Rose. (Turns back to me) It could be competitively cooking. “Let me cook for you.” It also takes you in a different direction in your blog.

(SIDE NOTE NO. 1: For the past month my father has been trying to make it into my blog. Last week, inspired by the format, he sent one of his former students, unsolicited, a recipe and a picture of a pot of soup he’d made, and then he forwarded it to me.)

Me: You said it was pea soup. Did it come out green? Because it’s brown in the picture.
Dad (smoothly): You could say, “My dad’s trying to get into the blog. Look at this picture.”

Look at this picture:


(Mom and Dad start laughing because the picture is so terrible. Then, undaunted, Dad starts telling me the story of the student he sent the recipe to. My dad has a lifelong habit of over-explaining other people’s business.)

Dad: He’s in a wheelchair. I don’t know why.
Mom: Because he can’t walk. (Falls apart laughing. For the next few minutes there is nothing but laughter.)
Dad (smiling serenely, waiting for the interruption to end): Your mother is now wetting her pants in my chair.
Me (laughing, to Mom): Look at Dad.
Mom (crying laughing, but pauses long enough to look at Dad over her shoulder. Then she bursts into laughter again): He doesn’t think it’s funny. (This makes her laugh even harder.)

(SIDE NOTE NO. 2: I have always thought the following anecdote encapsulates my parents’ marriage: About five years ago, they went to the SPCA in downtown Chicago to pick out a cat. Mom kept picking out all these gentle old cats. But they didn’t get a cat because they couldn’t agree on one. As Mom complained, “Your dad wanted this one that kept trying to scratch him through the cage.” Guess which parent is which cat.)

(SIDE NOTE NO. 3: Last year my father caught the backs of both his flip-flops in the screen door and fell, vaudeville-style, onto his side. I have never seen my mother laugh so hard. Dad had a purple bruise that ran the length of his thigh. He’s 73. He has glaucoma. He’s had shingles. I was relieved he wasn’t hurt. Mom was, too. But since he wasn’t, to her it was the funniest thing that had happened in 44 years of marriage. And it’s the gift that keeps on giving: She collapses into laughter every time she thinks about it. It looks like she’s crying and choking at the same time. The last time I brought it up, she was laughing so hard she had to take off her glasses. “It’s the way he fell,” she kept saying.)

Mom (checks her watch; gets serious. Mother’s Day is the last episode of The Good Wife): It’s getting close, Jenny.

I’ve made limoncello twice. It’s relatively easy, and you can vary the ratios of sugar and lemon and experiment with different kinds of lemons. You do need patience and a large jar. Fortunately, I have a large jar. This recipe is cribbed from this great narrative recipe by Charles Perry in the LA Times (2004). Just remember: Your limoncello will never taste as good as the homemade limoncello at Ristorante Miky in Monterosso in Cinque Terre. Also, if you’re interested in this easy liqueur-making process, it’s used in Italy to make other liqueurs, such as nocino (made from walnuts) as well as pretty much anything else you can think up.

You need:

  • A large jar
  • 12 lemons
  • 2 (750-ml) bottles 100-proof vodka (or Everclear), divided
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cups sugar

You need to:

  • Remove the yellow part of the lemon peel with a sharp peeler or fine grater, carefully avoiding the bitter white pith. If any pith remains on the back of a strip of peel, scrape it off.
  • Put the yellow peels in a jar or bottle, add 1 bottle vodka, and seal tightly. Leave the bottle to steep until the peels lose their color, at least 2 weeks.
  • Put the water and sugar in a saucepan and boil until it turns clear. Let the syrup cool.
  • Strain the vodka from the peels and mix it with the remaining bottle of vodka and the syrup. Put the liqueur in bottles, seal tightly and let the components marry for at least 1 week before using. For drinking straight, store the limoncello in the freezer.

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