Living Large in Northeast Ohio
March 5, 2016
By: Mark G. Mangie
The one thing that sets the Mahoning Valley apart from other parts of the country is our propensity to hold onto our ethnic roots. Not in an identity sense, but in a tradition sense. Those traditions manifest themselves in the food we eat; our view of family; our view of entertaining; our relationships with our friends; and what we do for fun. My wife and I experienced this first hand a few weeks ago.
Steve and Judge Mary DeGenaro are a Mahoning Valley power couple. Steve's medical supply business takes him all over the country. Mary is a Judge in the 7th District Court of Appeals being eyed for greater things in Ohio. They are both warm and gracious, and agreed to talk to us about a DeGenaro Christmas as well as their passion for family and good food.
The intent of the interview was to do a verbatim transcript of a question and answer exchange. What we got was something entirely different. Steve and Mary decided to turn it into a party of sorts. They invited my wife and myself to their beautiful Poland home for supper. Then they invited our mutual good friend and my business associate radio talk show host Tracey Winbush for some added fun. When we arrived at their house I discovered Tracey had brought along Ron “Muzzy” Massullo as her “date.” Muzzy has been a family friend of the DeGenaro’s for many years and is vice-chair of the Mahoning County Democratic Party. For lack of a better term, Muzzy is a Youngstown original. He is “colorful.” One of my favorite people.
COOKING WITH GARLIC
From the get-go I knew this was going to be an interesting night. The verbatim interview?? Out the window!! I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I knew I would not be disappointed. You see…Steve and Ron like to cook. More than like to cook, they like to make much of what they cook with and enjoy while they are cooking. Wine, Amaretto, Limoncello, homemade mozz, sausage…the list goes on and on. They bake bread. They make pasta. For those of Italian heritage, it is the tie that binds. It is the common experience that makes memories and good times.
Steve: The sausage is pretty easy.
Muzzy: It takes about a day.
Steve: You know the first time I make it...and I'm like this with everything I make...the bread the wine the sausage. My wife said you go out and buy the pork butts for like $2.99 a pound…and you bring it back here and you cut it. Somebody always gets cut and has to get stitches. You make a mess in the driveway and the garage looks like the St. Valentine’s Day massacre. We work all day. We ruin clothes. We are frying food. My father comes over and screams at us! Muzz is screaming! We are drinking! At the end of the day we have taken this $2.99 pork and turned it into a $1.99 sausage! She (Mary) says why don't you just go buy the stuff? But it's our sausage!!!
Muzzy: And it's excellent! It's extremely lean and mildly spicy because we have it down to a science after several years of doing this.
Mary: And who's right on the garlic?
Muzzy: Ummmm me! Mr. Massullo had the garlic in his trunk!
Steve: The first time we made it, he wasn't happy with how much garlic I had here, and he said we have to put more garlic in it. He asked how much I had in the cupboard, so I go up in the cupboard and I have a little thing of dry garlic. And I have a bigger thing of dry garlic that my parents gave me. And he says, are you kidding me that's all the garlic you have in the house? Let me go look in my trunk I might have something. He goes out to his trunk and he comes back with a big jar of minced garlic!
Mary: Now I've got to say something about the garlic though because my cousin married an Italian guy and Steve and Tony make sausage together up in Cleveland and he makes it a little spicier and we were getting a little heavy handed with the garlic and that’s more like making fresh kielbasa. Italian sausage has more like, fennel then garlic in it so you and Tony made more like kielbasa. You guys had that recipe for kielbasa and we had it this past Easter. So you guys make sausage and kielbasa.
Kielbasa? Wait a minute….
OF CROATS, POLES, IRISH,
AND HOMEMADE RED
Mark: Let me get this down so I can remember it. Mary...you’re primarily Polish?
Mary: A little bit of Polish a little bit of Irish.
Mark: And Steve..you are Italian plus some...
Steve: ...all that other stuff. My Mom is Irish English. She loves middle eastern food. When I was a kid my mom was making middle eastern food because she had friends that were Lebanese. She was making stuffed grape leaves, tabouli and hummus long before it was popular.
Mark: How did your dad go with that?
Mary: His parents met in high school. Yes they met in high school.
Mark: Well I want you to know we are drinking Homemade Red here tonight which I normally don't like. But this stuff is wonderful! Steve...you made this?
Steve: Yes I did, so did Muzz. We made it with two Croatian guys.
Mark: So you've got Croatian/Italian Homemade red here tonight! Only in Youngstown!!
MEAD - POSOLE - BEES - GOOD TIMES - AND SOME KIND OF MEAT
Now my mind was beginning to wonder. It was time for dinner. We were sitting around the kitchen island drinking various versions of this outstanding homemade wine and eating wonderful chocolates. Steve offered to bring out some of his home brewed liqueur. My wife would have to drive me home!!
Mark: I'm here drinking this wonderful homemade red wine - you make limoncello. How much time does it take to do all this?
Steve: Every waking moment... and we are going to make mead. We never have but we are going to. It's made with honey!
Mark: Ok wow- so do you schedule it?
Muzzy: Yes we set this all up. Try some.
Mark: This is the mead?
Steve: It's honey and you can put peaches and yeast. Put in containers.
Mark: It's like Brandy
Steve: Good in tea and over ice cream-- this one is local!
Mark: Wow! You are kidding
Steve: It’s a natural fit because I have honey!!
Mary: We got a quart or two last year.
Steve: Raw honey is unpasteurized.
Muzzy: Your honey is a gift from God it is so good!
Steve: My brother in-law in Detroit raises bees!
I really wasn’t sure where all of this was going but it seemed strangely familiar. Then it hit me…this reminded me of my childhood Christmas’s. Steve and the Judge weren’t telling me how they spend their Christmas. They were showing me. Good friends. Good drink. Good food. Good times. They were sharing all the good and goofy and wonderful things we do to enrich our lives. And it all comes together around the dinner table.
And speaking of dinner, it was an adventure. I thought I had told them I wanted to discuss an Italian Christmas Eve. One could reasonably think one would be eating Italian food. Then why was I eating Posole and...wait a minute...are you ready?....here it comes... goat!!!!!
STEVE AND JUDGE MARY DeGENARO