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Holiday Traditions: Nick Stellino


PBS is celebrating the holidays by sharing some of the favorite traditions, memories and recipes that make all of our holidays so very important and special. Each day we will highlight a new story from some of your favorite personalities.

Cooking show host Nick Stellino recalls a fun visit by his nephews.

Making meatballs is a family affair!

My two nephews, Josh and Andrew, are two grown young men now, both with promising careers full of great dreams and with a world of adventures before them. However there was a time when both of these rascals were more then a handful, often they tested their parents’ placid nature, to the limit.

Nick Stellino's nephews Andrew (left) and Josh (right)

It was on one of these occasions that Nanci and I volunteered to babysit the boys.
It had become clear that for the sake of sanity maybe a few hours away, would have given the exhausted parents a much needed repose.

I am not what you call an army sergeant; however, my wife has accused me of being a stern task master. Maybe it was my own training at work, and often in the kitchen one must rule with a certain degree of autocracy, just to make sure there are no unanswered questions as to who is really in charge. Though, I must say with great pride, I do not scream and yell and I do not throw stuff around.
My wife nonetheless points out to the assured steeliness’ in my resolve and a “certain look”, her words not mine ,that tends to intimidate.
It soon became apparent that ,when it came to these two rascals, which I now have come to love as children of my own, my most severe look was at best: “laughable”.

When other men would have turned to bribes and mindless TV shows as babysitting aids, I instead, became fixated on the undertaking of the mission at hand.
If I could lead a kitchen of people, running amuck, while yelling in a myriad of native languages, the taming of these two pests with boundless energy, became for me, the task of a lifetime.

There were no bribes involved, nor there was any negotiation, rather, like my grandma had done with me, I painted for them world of boundless possibilities. It was a long shot, but it worked out. “How about making meatballs together for dinner, from scratch!” I said.

Andrew, Nick Stellino's nephew, helps to make meatballs from scratch.

Nick Stellino enjoying the company of his family.

My wife who was more skillful then me on matters of these sort, convinced the boys to dawn a fake beard ,which she carefully painted on their face, with her makeup pencil; in turn, I trained them on the secretive art of “perpetual hands motion”, the natural technique by which all Italians seem to talk with the gesturing of their hands.
What followed was an enchanting day we shopped together at the food store , we made the meatballs and the gravy and we cook together as if a crew in a restaurant.

I watched them diving into their bowl of spaghetti and meatballs with ruthless abandonment, slurping and splashing all over the place. We told stories of my family in Sicily and of their cool friends in school. The hour hand moved slowly around the clock but I did not seem to mind. It was a rare beautiful moment. I wish it had lasted longer.

Recently, I found these old photos which brought such fond memories, back to the forefront of my mind. Both boys now are the size of two middle linebackers and it is tenderly funny to think that once they were so little, it is a most tender feeling to revisit these pebbles of joy I kept locked into my memories.

Things change, they always do, but, I still think of them, as my two favorite little rascals.

Nick Stellino is the host of “Nick Stellino Cooking with Friends” as well as “Nick Stellino Family Kitchen” on PBS and CreateTV.