Christmas In A Schoolhouse

Jamestown Woman Participates in Many Interests

Delicious dishes come from Bonnie Carlson?s small kitchen in what was once a rural schoolhouse. Braciole and Sausage, Potatoes and Tomatoes taste even better on a cold December night. Photo by Beverly Kehe-Rowland

“I start looking for stocking stuffers the day after Christmas,” says Bonnie Carlson when referring to the candy and trinkets she puts in 3-foot to 4-foot long Christmas stockings for her family each year.

She has a tradition of serving a very large breakfast on Christmas morning, which includes sausage gravy, bacon, eggs made to order, including scrambled, omelets, fried and poached and more.

“After we are finished eating breakfast, we open the stockings, which sometimes takes 45 minutes.”

She often has to put a few items meant to go in the stockings, on the side, when they are too big or when she has purchased too much to fit. The main gifts are passed out after the stockings are opened. For a few years, there was a scavenger hunt set up for one of the family members who enjoyed searching for his gifts.

She remembers there being an abundance of food on her mother’s table when she was a child and says she had “normal Christmases.”

Braciole, a bread crumb, garlic and cheese stuffed-flank steak, is an attractive Christmas Eve entree. Photo by Beverly Kehe-Rowland

The rural Jamestown home she shares with her husband, Keith Carlson, is not filled with dÈcor from Pier One or Home Goods. The house built in 1902 to be used as a one-room schoolhouse, wouldn’t lend itself well to modern dÈcor.

The structure where classes were held until 1956, was begun in approximately 1898. It was used for a men’s club where square dances were held, after the school’s closing in the mid-50s until 1962. At this time a Swedish family named Larson converted the little building into a home. Mr. Carlson points out the steel I-beam in the basement that is stamped “Bethlehem Steel, Bethlehem, Pa.”

“The neatest part of the basement is the square nails,” exclaims his wife.

Most of one wall in the entryway has been taken over by Mrs. Carlson’s antique tool collection. A collection of five trunks are interspersed between the living room and two bedrooms. Two Westinghouse electric roasters from the 1950s sit side by side in the dining room. Each of the white porcelain appliances sits on a storage cabinet that it was sold with in the 50s, one of which is embedded with a clock with the original cloth-wrapped cord attached. The couple uses the cookers when they prepare meals for a crowd.

Across the room from the white enamel appliances, is a hutch with various vintage pieces, including a jar of square nails found in the beams in the basement of the house and some very sturdy locks. Perhaps the item least expected to be displayed is a piece of an old barn beam. Six of Mr. Carlson’s grandfather’s carpenter’s levels have been placed near the hutch.

A display of antique kitchen tools and kitchen gadgets is found in the kitchen. The collector admits she is drawn to “anything old.”

“I’ve always had a fascination with old stuff.”

She confesses to having kept her 30- and 32-year old children’s baby clothes, from which she hopes to make a quilt one day. A hutch in an upstairs bedroom holds memorabilia representing her life. Among the keepsakes is a gold-painted, macaroni-covered box her son made as a little boy, some creative pieces made by a niece and one of the cigars her father passed out the day she was born.

After her son had participated in a Tough Mudder event in Arizona, the strong-willed lady decided she wanted to try as well, even though she couldn’t swim and was 50 years old. According to their website, Tough Mudder is an endurance event series in which participants attempt 10-12 mile long mud obstacle course races that test physical strength, mental grit and teamwork.

Each course contains 20-25 obstacles, with new obstacles added every year. Along with dealing with a muddy course, obstacles may involve fire, ice water, a 12-foot wall, monkey bars, hand over hand and whatever else the organizers come up with. Ten new obstacles have been planned for 2019.

She trained in her barn, among other places.

“I still would be (participating) if my doctor hadn’t told me not too, after a knee replacement.”

Mr. Carlson, an over the road truck driver, meets his wife for lunch on the first day he is off work each week. If he hasn’t already given her flowers that week, he often takes them when he meets her for lunch.

His wife is a Yankees baseball and University of Alabama football fan, loves gardening in their 30-foot by 40-foot garden, canning and freezing the bounty from the harvest and sharing her home with two Airedale Terriers named Gunner and Titus. She has worked for WCA Services since 1993 in medical coding and billing. They are members of the Randolph Post of Veterans of Foreign Wars. Between them they have four children. Randy Gunnell lives in Westchester County, Brian Gunnell and his wife, Andi, live in Falconer, Craig Carlson lives in Texas and Morgan Szarzanowicz lives in Depew. The couple has one granddaughter.

“My kitchen may be small, but I can cook a Thanksgiving dinner for 20 and barely move,” she says while laughing. Speaking of Thanksgiving Day, she has ridden in the Macy’s parade on a float for which her son is responsible.

She believes her mother, Evelyn Piazza, who was a very good cook, learned to cook on a shoe string, because she had little money, five daughters and a large garden. Today she shares some of her mother’s recipes on this page.

“The Sausage, Tomatoes and Potatoes was my favorite meal growing up. My mom made it since I was a little kid,” the daughter remembers. It was never written until I wrote it for you. I usually don’t use recipes and actually had to go to the store to look at how many ounces were in cans of tomato sauce and tomatoes.”

She had the same situation with Mom’s Potato Soup.

Her father, Frank Piazza, has made the Potato Soup since the death of his


“He’s actually not a bad cook,” says his daughter. “We have the Brandy

Slush every single Christmas Eve at my dad’s. It’s not a question. We just have it. We made a non-alcoholic version when the kids were little.”

Mr. Carlson submitted the Fast Delicious Chili recipe, one he developed after tasting chili at a local deli and wishing to be able to have it at home. He says he “went to the store, bought the ingredients and put it together.”

His wife points out that she uses London broil in the Minestrone.

Mom’s Potato Soup

1/2 lb bacon, choosing the most lean part, chopped

1 small onion, chopped

6 c water

5 medium potatoes, peeled and diced

Salt and pepper

Fry bacon and onion till bacon is crispy. Add water and potatoes. Simmer till potatoes are soft. Squash potatoes slightly with a potato masher. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with Italian bread for dipping.

Mom’s Minestrone

2-28 oz cans whole tomatoes

5-6 carrots, peeled and sliced

2 garlic cloves

Fresh green beans washed and ends trimmed

1 1/2 lbs beef chunks, cut into chunks

Water to cover ingredients by an inch or two

Salt and pepper to taste

Brown the beef in a stock pot. Add other ingredients and simmer until carrots and beans are tender. Serve over ditalini pasta and top with grated Romano cheese.


4 tsp olive oil, divided

1 lb ground beef

Salt and pepper

1 box manicotti noodles (14)

15 oz ricotta cheese

3 c shredded mozzarella, divided

1 c grated parmesan cheese, divided

2 T parsley

2 cloves garlic, minced

3 c spaghetti sauce

Brown ground beef and 1 tsp olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat and cool. Cook manicotti in large pot until softened, but firm, about 5 minutes. Drain and set in baking dish brushed with olive oil. Combine the ricotta, 11/2 cups mozzarella, 1/2 cup parmesan and parsley. Add the garlic and salt and pepper. Stir the cooled meat mixture into the cheese mixture. Fill the manicotti with the meat/cheese mixture. Arrange in baking dish. Cover with sauce, remaining 1 1/2 cups mozzarella and the remaining 1/2 cups parmesan. Bake at 350 degrees for about 35 minutes.

Sausage, Potatoes and Tomatoes

8-10 Italian sausages

2-28 oz cans whole tomatoes

5 medium-sized potatoes, peeled and sliced into thick wedges


Salt and pepper to taste

Place sausage in frying pan with approximately 1-inch water. Boil to remove grease. Drain and then brown sausage. Pour tomatoes over sausage and simmer for approximately 45 minutes to one hour. In a separate pan, place the potatoes and add water to cover. Boil until potatoes are just tender, but not soft enough to mash. Drain. Add a small amount of butter and brown potatoes on each side. Lay the browned potatoes on top of the sausage and tomatoes. Spoon some of the juice over the potatoes.

Brandy Slush

12 oz frozen orange juice

12 oz frozen lemonade

1/2 c sugar

2 c brandy (I use apricot)

9 c water

Mix all ingredients and freeze at least 24 hours. Fill glass with slush. Pour 7up over slush.


1/2 c Italian bread crumbs

4 garlic cloves, pressed

2/3 c grated Romano cheese

1/3 c grated Provolone cheese

Handful fresh parsley, chopped

1 1/2 lb flank steak, that has been pounded

Salt and pepper

2 T olive oil

1 c dry wine

1 qt spaghetti sauce

Combine bread crumbs, garlic, cheeses and parsley. Cover meat with cheese mixture. Roll and tie. Cover with salt and pepper. Heat olive oil in skillet. Brown meat roll on all sides. Add wine to pan and bring to boil. Stir in spaghetti sauce. Move meat and sauce to baking dish and cover partially with foil. Bake 1 hour at 350 degrees, basting every 20 minutes. Uncover and bake another 30 minutes. Slice.

Calico Beans

1 lb ground beef

1 lg onion, chopped

1/2 lb bacon

15 oz dark kidney beans

15 oz butter beans, drained

16 oz pork and beans

1 c ketchup

1 c brown sugar

2 T mustard

1 T vinegar

Brown ground beef with onion. Fry bacon till crispy. Crumble. Combine with remaining ingredients and uncovered at 350 degrees for approximately 1 hour.

Fast Delicious Chili

2 lbs ground beef, browned and drained

4-15.5 oz cans chili beans

3-28 oz cans whole Roma tomatoes, chopped slightly

1-28 oz can tomato sauce

1 T chili powder

1/4 cup Louisiana Hot Sauce

Salt and pepper to taste

Combine in large pot. Heat thoroughly. No need to cook down.