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My Name is Maria, and I Love to Eat Brains (Or, an Ode to Capozella)


Capozella on the grill--I'm sparing you a straight-on shot.


There, I said it. I can’t help it, and I’m through hiding it. I fell in love when I was a kid, long before realizing that this isn’t normal behavior. I thought nothing of it as I was growing up. Having brains for dinner was a special event in our house, something we only got to enjoy around Easter when my dad would buy an entire lamb from the butcher.

My brother Joey and I would fight over the head, begging our dad to split it evenly down the center so nobody got stuck with the smaller half of the brain. You’d think it were a giant slab of chocolate cake, the way we made such a fuss. But no, we wouldn’t have cared as much had it been cake.

Up there with our love for brains was a fervor for liver, hearts, kidneys, and gizzards. Pig’s feet were my personal favorite, but that’s a story for another time. That was just life in our Sicilian-American house. We didn’t understand until we started school and met other kids that we had a few weird habits.

It’s just what we knew. Our parents would never throw away any part of an animal. It stemmed from my mom’s upbringing in Sicily, where her family tended a farm for a middle-class family. Organs were a rare treat for them, something they’d splurge on only occasionally. It was the cheapest and only meat they could afford, and everyone knew it was a special night when liver and hearts was on the table. It’s one of those things that stayed with them after immigrating to Brooklyn. Even after they could afford regular cuts of meat, organs just had that something special about them.

That spark stayed with my family when I was growing up. The smell of liver and onions simmering on the stove always brought me running to the kitchen. It also meant there could be more where that came from. That maybe—if the stars perfectly aligned in my favor—there might be a lamb’s head (capozella in Italian) roasting with potatoes, rosemary, and onions in the oven. That would be a banner night.

This is something I didn’t dare talk about with friends. As I started spending more time in the outside world, something told me that normal little girls didn’t eat brains. I learned the harder way that things like Nutella were apparently also taboo among kindergarten classrooms in the ‘80s. But brains…? I knew enough to keep that to myself. As I got older, it was a detail I only shared with my dearest friends. Like the story of your first period, or letting out a fart in company—there are certain things you reserve for only the most understanding souls.

But today, I’m done hiding it. I love brains, and I don’t care who knows it. I LOVE BRAINS! My excitement was ignited last weekend when my dad brought home a whole lamb for Easter. Not only did he bring home the head—he brought a double super bonus: The guy next to him at the butcher was also buying a whole lamb. My dad overhead him saying he didn’t want the head. So what did my dad—my grumpy, quiet, kindred spirit—do? He asked the guy if he could have it. Yes! My dad brought home TWO lamb heads. And since my brother Joey was with us, it meant no fighting. There were enough brains for all!

Call us weird. Call us gross. Call us insensitive, tasteless, and creepy. That’s totally fine. I don’t expect you to get it. And that’s okay.


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4 Responses to “My Name is Maria, and I Love to Eat Brains (Or, an Ode to Capozella)”

  1. Celia says:

    Cheers to embracing all sorts of quirky preferences!

  2. Vinnie says:

    Myself and 150 other Italian guys in the printing business get together every Holy Thursday for our annual Capozelle lunch in Manhattan.. Awesome event that is looked forward to every year… This year will be the 30th year of our Lunch!!

  3. maria says:

    Vinnie, that’s amazing! It must be a sight to see, with enough Capozelle in a room to feed 150 Italians!

    • Vinnie says:

      It is amazing… Like yourself, I look forward to the thinking part of the capozelle.. Like I always say… “At the end of that lunch Ive eaten so much brains that I’m a genious!!”


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