As the old cliché goes, it takes a village to raise a child. While I did not grow up in a village, I was certainly a child who benefited from the guiding presence of many wonderful adults. My father died while my sister and I were young, and although we have missed his warmth, love, gentleness and sense of humor our entire lives, we were so very blessed to have several wonderful men in our lives who each demonstrated those qualities and characteristics. Our Uncle Jimmy, my father’s brother, connected us to our Irish roots, wrote poetry for us, and fostered in us an intellectual curiosity. He kept our father present for us in ways I could not begin to thank him for. Uncle Bobby and Uncle Mike took us on many an adventure, and sometimes Christmas shopping. Uncle Norman helped maintain our house. Anything that needed fixing, he fixed, and I never remember him complaining, which is something that I marvel at now that I have a house of my own, and realize how much work it is. Uncle Ralph demonstrated commitment to family. Uncle Vinnie, my father’s first cousin and one of his best friends growing up, told me a new story about my dad each time I encountered him, and in many ways, helped me to come to know my father as I grew up. Our dear friend George kept us laughing with his wild sense of humor, referring to us always as ‘the rug rats.’ My mother was wise to surround us with such selfless people. Without even knowing it, these men helped us to understand what good husbands, fathers and friends looked like, and I will always be grateful to each of them for what they gave of themselves and the roles they played in my life. I can’t help but think that my dad would be proud and grateful too.
My husband’s father died shortly after the birth of our youngest daughter, Anna. While I am glad that Bill got a chance to know his two granddaughters, it saddens us that our girls have never known what it is like to have that grandfatherly figure in their lives. But, just as I was fortunate, so too are they, to have the loving presence of several grandfatherly figures in their lives. All of my uncles and Michael’s uncle are loving and bighearted, as are many of our family friends. Just this past weekend, in fact, my girls were treated to two outings, dinner and ice cream, by the dad of our friends and neighbors. Papa Terry was in town! His irreverent sense of humor and fun has endeared him to our girls. A retired dentist, he once extracted two very stubborn baby teeth from Anna’s mouth at our kitchen table, then gave her five dollars because she was such a good sport. He is wild and boisterous, and a good and generous man.
His favorite drink is Sambuca, so much so that he and Grandma Rose named their dog Buca. Wanting to thank them for being so generous of their time with my children, I decided to bake one of my grandmother’s cookie recipes, anise toast. It was a hot and muggy day here in Connecticut, but for Terry, turning on the oven was a small price to pay. If he found it strange that I sent Anna and Brynn over with a coffee mug looking for a shot of Sambuca, he never said so. My intent was to make a glaze for these cookies with a little Sambuca and confectioner’s sugar, but that didn’t happen, as Terry was out of the anise flavored liquor. The glaze I made was a little less intense in flavor, but at least the kids could try it. The baking of these cookies will make your house smell just like an Italian bakery, which is another benefit. Bake these cookies for someone you want to thank, or just for yourself!
Vincenzella’s Anise Toast:
½ cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 tsp anise flavoring
2 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
1 ½ cups flour
Beat Crisco and sugar in a mixer until well blended. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the eggs. Beat until incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Add the remaining ingredients and mix well. Shape the dough into a long, slightly flattened roll on a cookie sheet covered with either a silpat sheet or parchment paper (should be about 4 inches wide and the length of the cookie sheet). Bake at 400 degrees for 10-15 minutes until lightly browned. Let cool in place for 5 minutes, then remove, and slice diagonally so that cookies are about ¾ inch wide. Place the cookies on their side (cut side facing up) on the cookie sheet, and put the cookie sheet back into the oven for about 5 minutes. Flip the cookies so the other cut side is facing up and continue to bake for another 5 minutes. Remove cookies and cool on a wire rack. Once cooled, place cookies next to each other and drizzle glaze over them.