Plain Talk About Food: An Italian’s Love of Pasta
by Colly Gruczelak
Nov 07, 2013 | 3673 views | 2 2 comments | 38 38 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Courtesy photo
Courtesy photo
Courtesy photo
Courtesy photo

The house sits empty now. Its lace curtains are still in the windows and the grass is being mowed by a man I don’t recognize. The sign on the truck’s door reads “Lopes Hauling and Gar…” the rest is worn off, the numbers no longer legible.

Music is no longer being played there. The little blue and white house has lost its inner light; its owners are no longer in residence.

Hermine has gone to a “better place” so said Fr. Michael at her funeral mass, and Jim, her husband, has moved to a rest home where he waits to join Hermine in that place.

Four seasons have passed since this couple left. The roses in their garden have lost their leaves, sat dormant for a season, then sprouted new leaves and buds, and now pink roses fill each bush, almost as if in anticipation, and still, the house sits empty.

Both barely 5 feet tall, Hermine and Jim Fiore inherited their house from her uncle many years ago which is just around the corner from ours. Hermine was of German ancestry and Jim is an Italian who is filled with music. Jim’s banjo and guitar are, always at the ready. He played his music for 30 years, twice each week, at various rest homes throughout Santa Cruz County.

At 100 years old, Jim plays in the rest home’s band where he is now living. His long-term memory is poor, but his enthusiasm has not waned.

Devout Catholics, Hermine decided years ago that I was not to lose touch with my Catholic faith. Hubby Norm and I were invited to dinners along with Fr. Michael from St. John’s Church in Felton by Hermine. We were given tickets to attend St. John’s benefit functions and a lifetime subscription to a periodical, “My Catholic Faith,” once again, by Hermine, arrives in my mailbox each month.

Over the years the four of us bonded; the Fiore’s became like grandparents to us. I learned of Jims love of pastas of any kind, and each time I made spaghetti, ziti or pasta fagioli, there would be a bowl to share, carried over to them.

There were dinners, small gifts of Jim’s homegrown Italian tomatoes, a German Stollen at Christmastime and waves and smiles for us as they passed our house each Sunday morning on their way to Church.

“Pray for us,” I would teasingly call out; I knew they would.

When Hermine passed, we were left with the feelings of love and faith and memories of a wonderful friendship; who could ask for more. And the roses planted by Jim’s hands, I like to think that Hermine’s soul has a place to visit when they are in bloom.

Who would have known 9 years ago, that we would have received such a tender and loving legacy from the elderly couple who lived just around the corner.

- Colly Gruczelak, a Ben Lomond resident, loves people and loves to cook. Contact her at

Spaghetti and Meatballs (Jim’s favorite pasta)

Meatballs (Makes 20 to 25)

1 pound each of 80 percent ground beef and ground Italian pork sausage.

Mix together well either by hand or electric mixer. Add:

1 large lightly beaten egg

1 cup finely minced onion

3 large finely minced garlic cloves

¾ cup Panko or ¾ cup fresh breadcrumbs soaked in ¼ cup milk

¼ cup grated parmesan cheese

1 teaspoon Italian seasoning

Mix well and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Roll mixture into golf ball (1 ½-inch) sized balls. Place on an oiled rack cookie sheet. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake ½ hour or until meatballs reach 140 degrees.


Spaghetti Sauce

In pan, sauté together until soft but not browned:

¾ cup diced onions

4 cloves minced garlic

1 teaspoon Italian seasoning

1 pinch of crushed red pepper flakes or ½ teaspoon Tabasco sauce.

1/3 cup olive oil


4 cups diced fresh peeled tomatoes or canned. (Muir Glen is best).

1 tablespoon tomato paste

2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley

1/2 cup red wine

Bring to a high simmer (do not boil) and with a potato masher, mash sauce lightly. Continue on low simmer for ½ hour. Add meatballs and cook on low ½ hour.

Pour sauce over spaghetti and top with freshly chopped basil and grated parmesan cheese. Serve with garlic bread sprinkled with paprika.

Makes great meatball sandwiches as well, layering mozzarella cheese on top and popping under a broiler until cheese is well melted.

Comments-icon Post a Comment
Jan Nelson
November 08, 2013
Beautiful story, Colly. I know they appreciated the pasta dishes you shared with them. Anyone who knows you is lucky indeed as you are so very generous with your time, your talent, your good heart. And I'm making your spaghetti and meatballs this weekend for sure.

your friend Jan, The Mountain Gardener
Colly Gruczelak
November 09, 2013
Thank you for your kind words, Jan. Let me know how you like the sauce and meatballs

Buon Appetito! Colly

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