Because John Steinbeck happens to be my favorite author, I’m convinced he would have enjoyed writing about the old Greenbush neighborhood. Though the old “Bush” was misunderstood for many years, it possessed an ethnic harmony understood and appreciated by those who lived there while enduring the seemingly endless plights of being overlooked when jobs were made available to others. To pave a better path, they established themselves as being the laborious ones responsible for doing much of the heavy work — masonry, concrete, ditching and excavation throughout town — making property in an ever growing community livable.

By 1910, when the population of the low swampy plat off the shores of Lake Monona reached 335, 13 Italian and Sicilian male immigrants discussed the possibility of establishing a mutual benefit society similar to those left behind in the “old country” that helped friends and members in need. The club, Lavoritori Siciliani Mutuo Soccorso e Beneficenza, founded on Jan. 12, 1912, is known today as the Italian Workmen’s Club at 914 Regent St., and it appreciates the honor of being one of the oldest operating Italian clubs of its kind in the country.

With the strength and pride that flourished through the years from blue-collar first- and second-generation members, the IWC continues to celebrate an ever growing membership including those who grew up elsewhere, like IWC President and Kenosha native David Rizzo and many new members like John Fiorello.

Born in Rockford, Ill., Fiorello and his father-in-law owned and operated the well-known Manor Restaurant in Milton where he hired and trained more than 100 employees through the years before moving to Madison to become Famous Footwear’s executive chef in their corporate headquarters on the city’s West Side. When we first met, thanks to my son, Mike, also a corporate employee, a friendship developed immediately due a mutual passion for recipes, food, and being Sicilian. I’ve also learned that John is now an active member of the IWC, enjoying the togetherness it offers which often includes preparing Italian food served during their monthly meetings.

When discussing favorite recipes, here is John’s own … a Fiorello “one and only” that his children and relatives always request, especially during the holidays. Be sure to have grated Parmesan and shredded mozzarella on hand to sprinkle over each piece before serving.

Fiorello’s One and Only Zesty Tasty Bruschetta

One 8-ounce French or 8-ounce baguette bread

¼ cup olive oil

¼ cup butter

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1 tablespoon dried oregano

Cut bread into ½-inch slices. Mix together olive oil, butter, crushed garlic and dried oregano and spread over both sides of sliced bread. Place on a cookie sheet in a 425-degree oven for two minutes on each side. Remove from oven and cool before continuing.

For the topping:

1 cup ripe olives

2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

2 garlic cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon capers

1 teaspoon olive oil

Pour ingredients into a blender to puree. Spread a thin layer on each slice, then sprinkle with grated Parmesan and shredded mozzarella cheese. Return to a 425-degree oven and bake until cheese melts for the “only recipe of this kind in the world,” according to my good friend, John Fiorello.

Like so many others when I was growing up, Mother spent days prior to Christmas baking cookies to fill boxes and tins to share with family, close friends, and neighbors. Although we didn’t have television back then, Christmas music was played and sung in school to share later with others at home before and after supper. Other times to remember included trimming the tree in the front room with ornaments passed on by grandparents, and new ones purchased at favorite stores.

I’ve been looking through some of Mother’s old recipes enjoyed and saved like family heirlooms, and rediscovered one of my own childhood favorites filled with the fondest of memories for everything she did to make the Christmas holidays sweet moments to remember forever.

Mother’s coconut kisses

2 egg whites

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

Dash of salt

2 cups Corn Flakes

1 cup shredded coconut

½ cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Beat egg whites until stiff. Fold in the remaining ingredients. Lightly grease cookie sheet and sprinkle with flour. Drop batter from a spoon to make hay stack-like cookies and bake for about 20 minutes or until the cookies have a touch of tan color, checking often. Use a metal spatula to remove when done.

Mother never made bread pudding, but my husband’s mom did and I fell in love with it immediately. It was simple, delicious, and even better drizzled with a warm sauce before serving.

Mom’s bread pudding

4-5 slices of dry bread

¼ cup sugar

½ cup raisins

Pinch of salt

2 eggs

¼ cup sugar

2 cups milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

Dash of nutmeg

Break or chop bread slices into small pieces and place in a casserole. Add ¼ cup sugar, raisins and salt. In another bowl, beat eggs and ¼ cup sugar, milk and vanilla. Pour over bread mixture and mix together. Sprinkle with nutmeg. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until knife comes out clean.

Bread pudding sauce

½ cup sugar

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1 cup hot water

1 teaspoon vanilla

1-2 tablespoons butter


In a small saucepan, mix together sugar and cornstarch. Gradually stir in hot water and cook and stir for 1 minute. Add vanilla and butter and sprinkle with nutmeg. Serve warm over bread pudding or other similar-textured desserts. It is delicious served with the pumpkin bread pudding recipe that appeared here Nov. 22. Note: Different flavorings can be used, as well as rum, amaretto or other favorite liqueurs.

Another mother’s recipe appeared in the Idun Lodge cookbook compiled by the Sons of Norway, so graciously shared by longtime reader Jerry Paulson and submitted by Edna Moen of Sognefjord Lodge, Muskegon, Michigan.

My Mother’s Norwegian Christmas Cookies

1 cup butter

1 cup sugar

1 egg yolk

2 cups unsifted flour

Salt, lightly

½ teaspoon cinnamon

1 tablespoon water

1 egg white

1 cup finely chopped walnuts

Cream together butter, sugar and egg yolk. Combine flour, salt, and cinnamon and add to mixture. Knead with hands, the more the better. Pat dough on cookie sheet, the thinner the better. Add 1 tablespoon water with egg white and beat until frothy. Brush over dough and sprinkle with chopped nuts. Bake at 300-325 degrees for 15-20 minutes, being careful not to brown. Cut into 1x3-inch strips while still hot.

Jeff Guinn is the author of many Christmas books and his “Santa’s North Pole Cookbook,” published in 2007, happens to be a favorite with Christmas recipes from around the world. Because my days usually begin with a slice of homemade sweet bread to enjoy with coffee, this recipe drew my interest with its mention that banana bread began to appear in American cookbooks during the early 1930s as a way to use leftover bananas. Decades later, other ingredients were used, one being cranberries for a touch of the holidays.

Banana-walnut Christmas bread

1 cup sugar

½ cup (1 stick) butter, softened

2 eggs, lightly beaten

3 very ripe bananas, mashed

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 cups all-purpose flour

½ cup walnuts, chopped

½ cup or dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Generously grease a bread pan, then dust with flour. Gently tap out excess flour. In a medium bowl, blend sugar and butter; cream together until you have a smooth paste. Mix in the eggs. Add the mashed bananas and stir until combined. Next, add the baking soda and then the flour, stirring until all the ingredients are completely blended. Add walnuts and cranberries and stir gently to combine. Pour batter into the prepared pan and bake for 1 hour. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for about 15 minutes before serving; the bread will still be warm when you bring it to the table.

Contact the Cooks’ Exchange in care of the Wisconsin State Journal, P.O. Box 8058, Madison, WI, 53708 or by email at