Tales From A Hungry Life

April 6, 2010

Let’s Eat

Filed under: food, family, fun, laughter — talesfromahungrylife @ 5:25 pm

My dad, uncle, and their friends from "the Hill," Queensborough Hill.

Tales from a Hungry Life

By Maria Lagalante Schulz

I’m hungry.

Those words have informed my existence for as long as I can remember. Lucky for me, I grew up in a house where food was never far out of reach.

One day at one of the many weight loss centers I have visited, a counselor asked me if I could tell her why I liked food so much. I thought about it for a minute, and then the answer hit me: it’s my family’s fault!

In my family, there was nothing more fun and exciting then sitting down to dinner. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, depending on what my mother cooked that night, who was coming over for dinner, and if my grandmother brought flying saucers for dessert.

You can trace my obsession with food back to my father’s side of the family. That’s where I get my crazy hungry genes. My grandmother, Lena, lived to feed her flock. Jesus might’ve been able to feed the multitudes with two fish and a loaf of bread, but Lena could’ve done it with a couple of tomatoes, some homemade wine, fresh roasted chickens and an apple pie. And the multitudes would’ve come back to Lena’s every day of the week and twice on the weekends (sorry, Jesus).

But thinking that everyone is just as hungry as we are has its consequences. The perils of stuffing someone beyond the point where even a dog would say “I don’t want anymore” can be demonstrated by the plight of my father’s childhood friend, Patrick O’Reilly.

The Real Reason I Obsess Over Food,


The Awful Happy Birthday Dinner


When my father’s family moved from the Italian enclave of Corona to Queensborough Hill in Flushing, my grandmother was delighted when “Junior,” as my father was once known, made a friend. That friend’s name was Patrick “Babe” O’Reilly.

Now, my grandparents never held it against Babe that he was Irish. He couldn’t help it. Secretly, they were probably thrilled that my father had a friend, even if he liked to eat boiled potatoes, corned beef and cabbage. Whatever the case may be, they were so delighted to see Junior fitting in with the other kids in their new, dream neighborhood that they invited Babe O’Reilly over for a birthday feast in honor of my father’s brother, Don.

So, on January 10, 1941, Babe O’Reilly sat down at my grandmother’s table and dug in. My grandmother and great-grandmother served that little boy course after course, despite his protests that “I’m really full. Please, Mrs. Lagalante. No thank you, Mrs. Zaccara. I’m full. Really.”

“Just try the antipasto!” my grandmother said, as she piled his plate high.

“You wouldn’t want to miss the lasagna, now would you?” Nonni Zaccara said.

“Patrick, have some more bread,” my grandmother coaxed.

Louie Sr., Louie Junior and Donny Lagalante ate everything, and Babe valiantly pressed on. His glass of milk was never empty; his plate was constantly piled high.

“Time for dessert!” Nonni Zaccara said, as she placed a huge yellow cake with perfect white frosting in the center of the table. It was so perfect. This little boy would surely never forget this meal!

Patrick, who by now was drenched in sweat and panicked beyond hope, stood up shakily from the table. Too polite to say anything, and unsure just what to do, he said, “Excuse me,” as he fumbled for his handkerchief.

While my future grandfather, father and uncle plowed into their cake, Babe mopped his sweaty brow and turned toward my father. He tried to suppress a sneeze. Instead, he threw up all over my father’s head.

“Oh my God!” my great-grandmother yelled, as Junior, dripping and gray with shock, promptly threw up all over the floor.

“Don’t move!” Lena Lagalante yelled, as she ran for the mop. But her high heels slid and she launched herself high into the air—and landed smack dab in the middle of everything.

Philomena Zaccara, my great-grandmother, surveyed the damage and began to shake with laughter. She tried to help her daughter up, but instead dropped her back in the middle of the mess and laughed so hard that she peed all over the floor.

My grandfather was normally a quiet and reserved man. My father can’t remember him saying much beyond, “Junior” and “Pass the macaroni,” but that night, he shrieked with laughter that would have rivaled a banshee festival.

These are my people. They are good peasant folk, who love to eat and love to laugh too. I’m not sure which one they love more—eating or laughing. Let’s call it a tie.

Believe it or not, Patrick “Babe” O’Reilly and Lou “Junior” Lagalante are still friends, almost 70 years later. Many people have mistaken Babe for an Italian, because he loves to make his own sauce and cook for his family and friends.

Babe and Junior still laugh when they share that story. But Patrick has never come to our house for dinner.

I wonder why?

What NOT to do to your young, impressionable Irish friends:

  • Feed him a six course meal that includes an olive-oil drenched antipasto, two cups of thick, black lentil soup, a three-cheese lasagna, a roasted pig with an apple in its mouth and a gleam in its eye, a loaf of crusty fresh-baked bread and two plates of olive oil for dipping, three ricotta-filled cannolis and two pieces of a seven layer cake
  • Tell him he must be thirsty from all that food and insist he drink 3 gallons of milk
  • Stir.


The following recipe is Babe’s. My great-grandmother’s incredible cooking inspired him, and he’s been trying to replicate it ever since with two thoughts in mind: one, he has to give it an Irish twist. And two, he stops eating when he’s full.

Irish Fried Cauliflower Philomena Style

Par boil one head of cauliflower in salt water, Drain well and separate flowerets.

Mix flour, salt, pepper and a packet of Dry Italian Dressing in a plastic bag.

Add cauliflower and shake well.

Dip floured cauliflower into an egg wash.

Coat with seasoned bread crumbs.

Refrigerate for at least one hour or longer.

Deep fry in an olive oil and canola combination.

Remove when crispy and drain on paper towels.

Place in a baking dish and sprinkle with parmesan cheese.

Put into a 350 oven for a few minutes.

Serve with light gravy.

Food, Family & Fun: What I’ll be Talking About in Posts to Come:

  • Why I consider The Wizard of Oz the perfect Easter movie (it has a lot to do with munching on chocolate bunny ears)
  • Chock Full Of Nuts: Living and Eating with six rowdy boys
  • The Connection Between Judy Garland and Sunday Brunch
  • Why Old James Garner movies should be viewed while eating chocolate chip cookies
  • Six degrees of Uncle Don: why Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom reminds me of my uncle, Mother’s Day and Oreos
  • My Catholic School Dilemma: the best way to sneak in an entire chocolate frosted cake without Sister Grace Anne finding out

Plus lots more recipes and recollections from my so-called Hungry Life.



  1. Excellent!! Will pass this along.

    Comment by Kathleen Lagalante — April 6, 2010 @ 8:03 pm | Reply

  2. I love this blog! Can’t wait to read more from this funny and prolific writer!

    Comment by Lisa — April 6, 2010 @ 8:42 pm | Reply

  3. This is real old fashioned Italian hospitality. I am not sure if it is at work today but it should be.

    Comment by Lou — April 6, 2010 @ 9:28 pm | Reply

  4. This is going to leave us all hungry for more!! Bon Appetito!

    Comment by Anne Macaluso — April 7, 2010 @ 12:07 am | Reply


    Comment by ARTIE L — April 7, 2010 @ 3:11 am | Reply

  6. This was so typical of growing up in an Italian home.
    An excellent job of capturing the Italian experience.

    Comment by Dom Gallo — April 7, 2010 @ 3:10 pm | Reply

  7. Funny stuff! I am surprised (and not) that Babe still liked Italian food after that incident.

    Comment by Julie — April 7, 2010 @ 3:23 pm | Reply

  8. Maria, This brought back many memories. Your father will always be “junior” to me. Look forward to reading about our other family events that always make me laugh.

    Comment by Eleanor — April 7, 2010 @ 6:17 pm | Reply

  9. Maria: Both your dad and I were called Junior then, and with me at least, one realitive still does, even though I am 78 years old. I also was born in Corona , then moved to the “Hill” and went to P.S. 120. I am one of your Dad’s once a month luncheon group. I suspect that Babe in your book is Babe C. also one of the lunch pals. Now for your book, I have also written a book based on my memors it is called “Once a Man, Twice a Boy.” Although there is some humor in it particularly in the early years, it later tends to be more serious. I love the sample of what you have written, and urge you to continue trying to get it published. The odds are hard to overcome but it has happened before to first time writers, If it did not eventually the world would run out of writers. My memor is in the hands of others right now and I have started a novel, I am using the real names of many friends in it and Babe is “Head of Security” for a woman Senator who will be accused of murder. Good luck and do not give up.

    Comment by C.Frank D'Amico Jr. — April 7, 2010 @ 2:21 pm | Reply

    • Thanks, Frank. I’m so glad you enjoyed the blog and I will keep plugging away. I hope one day to find my book on the store shelves–and yours too.

      Comment by talesfromahungrylife — April 16, 2010 @ 9:31 am | Reply

  10. Hey Maria, I love this…..I smell your Moms sauce cooking right now!!! Keep it coming.!!!!

    Comment by cindy byrnes mcdonnell — April 7, 2010 @ 8:11 pm | Reply

  11. You brought many many fond memories back to mind. I grew up with Uncle Donny as my best friend. i lived around the corner and my family meals were exactly the same. I loved the blog. Jerry

    Comment by Jerry Macari — April 7, 2010 @ 6:23 pm | Reply

  12. Maria, This brings me back to the “good old days” when food brought your family together, and there were never any excuse’s of you not being there! You never watched what you put in your mouth, never heard the word diet. Good eats, meant good fun, that lead to great memories! Keep it coming!

    Comment by Karen — April 7, 2010 @ 6:37 pm | Reply

  13. Brought back great memories even though it was embarassing at the time and it didn’t stop me from accepting future invites.

    Dinner at the Lagalante’s was a treat and I loved every bite.

    I look forward to reading the whole story.

    Comment by Babe Colleary — April 7, 2010 @ 7:29 pm | Reply

  14. Dear Maria, loved your blog. Brought me back to the good old days. Your grandmother Lena, grandfather Lou, and your Uncle Don. including all the Scricca’s and kids for the traditional holidays at Tessie and Tony’s home in Fresh Meadows. Lots of food and lots of laughter. Looking forward to more! Lots of luck and success.
    Love Anne

    Comment by Anne Froehlich — April 8, 2010 @ 3:37 pm | Reply

  15. Maria,
    How refreshing and funny. I knew there was talent in our family and I’m happy to say it has been passed along. Besides your dad, your great uncle Sal was very talented also and I used to love to hear your dad play the trumpet at a Lagalante get together. Although I was just a youngster at the time, family get togethers are the best memories of my childhood. I hope you continue to write as I will look forward to reading more.

    Comment by your second cousin, Jae (Judy) — April 8, 2010 @ 4:27 pm | Reply

  16. I’m almost at a loss for words for I was a bit surprised at how good your vignette is. I am a writer also, and my first love of food writing was fostered by M.F.K. Fisher and her “Consider the Oyster”. It was in between a recipe for preparing oysters and the story of them. She wrote many outstanding books and was considered one of the finest 20th century writers by W.H. Auden.
    Your story was refreshing, and fun, and very evocative of place and time. I loved it.

    Comment by Freddie Brooking — April 9, 2010 @ 10:40 pm | Reply

    • Thanks so much for your comments. They are very encouraging. I hope you follow the blog and enjoy the stories still to come. I will check out M.F.K. Fisher’s Consider the Oyster. Maybe one day my book will be out there too!

      Comment by talesfromahungrylife — April 16, 2010 @ 9:34 am | Reply

  17. Looking forward to reading “Chock Full of Nuts.”

    Comment by Lisa — April 9, 2010 @ 10:52 pm | Reply

  18. Mr. Reines would certainly be chuckling!!!!!!!!!

    Comment by Miriam Reines — April 10, 2010 @ 10:57 am | Reply

  19. Dear Maria,Thanks for the “Walk Down Memory Lane”! Although I am not sure the outside world would believe these crazy stories,you relay them with great love and eloquence. Love-Brother Joe

    Comment by Joey Sr. — April 10, 2010 @ 11:52 am | Reply

  20. Great Stuff !!!! I remember Uncle Don very well.

    Comment by cindy byrnes mcdonnell — April 10, 2010 @ 1:14 pm | Reply

  21. Maria, you were always a wonderful writer. I am partial to non-fiction especially auto-biographical stories. What a good memory you have! I will look foward to reading more and will keep an ear out for a book publisher (I must have some connection!).

    Comment by stacy — April 10, 2010 @ 7:12 pm | Reply

  22. Maria, it’s wonderful that you can share the memories with the world. For those of us who have experienced Christmas with the Lagalantes during her impressionable years…. we are who we are today!! Proud to be your cousin.

    Comment by Susan Kuznik — April 11, 2010 @ 8:26 pm | Reply

  23. Maria, I’ve heard this story dozens of times and it still makes me laugh (and almost pee my pants). All I see is Lena flying up in the air, dad full of vomit, and the poor friend in the middle of all this. Why did you leave out the part when Lena cleaned the kid up and his Irish mother was mortified that he threw up and some other mother had to clean him up? What about putting in uncle Don’s birthday cake recipe? Tony

    Comment by K Lagalante — April 11, 2010 @ 11:16 pm | Reply

  24. Dear Maria, Brava! I look forward to following your wonderful blog and more tales from Queens. I hope you plan to include the story about your uncle’s experiences as a waiter! Write on! Emmi

    Comment by Emmi Herman — April 12, 2010 @ 1:50 pm | Reply

  25. When ever I was in the company of Lou Lagalante I felt at home in a nice happy go lucky Italian family. It was always “that old gang of mine”. It all ended over 70 years ago in the mid 50’s. Your book is well written and very descriptive.

    Comment by Tom Matarrese — April 13, 2010 @ 9:45 am | Reply

  26. Maria, what a clever and witty way to incorporate family recipes with unforgetable memories of the past. There is nothing better then sitting down to a good meal and reminiscing about the memories that always bring a smile to your face and warmth to your heart!

    Comment by Cousin Lisa — April 13, 2010 @ 10:44 am | Reply

  27. absolutely loved it….love the Stalin/Santa Claus…perfect…would like to see specific introductions to your brothers..birth positions which play such a big role in forming our personalities…we know you are the “baby” and the “girl” but the reader doesn’t…I hope you do something on your Mom’s ring…maybe it’s me but I always thought her ring which was so unique, so beautiful, captivating really reflected your Mom//love ya Diane

    Comment by Diane Scricca — April 23, 2010 @ 9:13 pm | Reply

  28. Good for you, Maria! This is great — I’m still smiling 🙂 Keep the stories & recipes coming!!! Kathie

    Comment by Kathie Cook — May 5, 2010 @ 2:57 pm | Reply

  29. Oh I love this !!!!! Young Frankenstein was my first movie with your brother and then Jaws(at the Bayside Movies) . Dinner was always at VI Pizza or White Castle. All for under $ 10.

    Comment by Cindy Byrnes McDonnell — June 4, 2010 @ 8:47 am | Reply

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