The Day After Thanksgiving


Among the delicious Thanksgiving foods we feasted on, were roasted red beets sprinkled with Pomegranate seeds and fresh dill, atop Ricotta

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

I have never understood the concept of Black Friday. From a business point of view, I get it: retail wants to make lots of money. From a consumer angle, however, I find it crass. The day after Thanksgiving should be a mellow day, basking in the after-glow of The Big Feast, possibly still with family and friends. Racing around with a carload of frenetic shoppers intent on being admitted first to big box stores for the available ten electronic items on sale, is absurd in itself. This resonates particularly well now that it appears retail is on sale year round.

While some people have told me, “It’s a bonding thing,” I fail to see how standing in long lines at some heinously early morning hour, clutching hot drinks, shivering in the Midwest cold, “bonds” one with family and friends. Making hot cocoa and a yummy coffee cake would make for more of a relaxing tradition. Engaging in spirited conversation about music such as Adele’s new 25 CD, and watching her on last week’s SNL would be fun. Another thought is to talk over a literary work, like Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, published in 1964, his “sketches” about his years as a struggling writer in Paris in the 1920’s, and how this book became France’s bestseller immediately following the massacre of 130 people in Paris on November 13, 2015.

Our newer family tradition is to put up the Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving. Up until a few years ago, we had always gone Christmas tree shopping for a live one. Finally, I invested in a U.S. made artificial tree, and now we put it up early and decorate it. We pull out the garlands for the bannister and archways, hanging the big, red, poufy bows my sister-in-law helped me make. Next, we loop strings of lights and we commence to decorate the inside of the house. The Christmas china is brought down from the high cabinet shelves, as are the glasses. We play Christmas music and keep a look out that the cats do not gnaw on the garlands. Ironically, they used to attack live poinsettias and tree boughs. Having moved to fake flowers and trees, they indiscriminately manifest periodic interest in the faux décor. Later we make minestrone soup, bake a pecan or pumpkin pie with brandy, have a glass of wine, and watch a Christmas movie. After dining well on Thanksgiving Day and talking and laughing with our friends, the day after takes on an ambiance all its own in the pleasure of sharing hearth and home with one another. Shopping does not factor into the equation, yet to each his own, as my grandmother used to say, as the old lady kissed the cow.

Ciao for now.

Thanksgiving Happiness


Thanksgiving Table Detail

The table is set.  Let the Thanksgiving feasting begin!

By Mary Anna Violi |@MaryAnnaVioli

Yesterday we had the good fortune to have seven inches of snow. I say “good fortune” because I heartily endorse winter weather. The reason for this is that I stay indoors and focus on my writing. I need prolonged periods of quiet in order to work out plot lines, character development, and dialogue. Winter is a liberating season as far as I am concerned. Yes, I would have preferred to do the grocery shopping yesterday afternoon, but I can do it just as easilyl after work tomorrow. The trick is to have certain food items in the pantry, in the freezer, and in the refrigerator in order to survive winter weather. Having Netflix at my fingertips also helps combat cabin fever, as do the antics of our cats, Valentino and Coco Chanel.

Thanksgiving articles and stories fill cyberspace these past weeks leading up to The National Big Feast. One of my favorite recent reads was the New York Times article, “Thanksgiving, the Julia Child Way”, by Julia Moskin, on November 16, 2015. It relates the charming story of how Julia and her husband Paul Child celebrated Thanksgiving. Once they had moved back to the United States, Julia did not stand on rigid protocol in serving up the traditional dinner. Her feast had little to do with the nuances of French cooking she taught us to master. Like Julia herself, from what I have read, the meal was down to earth delicious and welcoming in every way.

One recipe she followed judiciously was her Aunt Helen’s Fluffy Pumpkin Pie, which I have included here:

I understand Julia not tampering with a family classic for her Thanksgiving dinner. Televised cooking shows, magazines, and the Internet are overloaded with variations of pumpkin pie in the forms of pie, tart, and cheesecake. Pecan pie is also flogged with infusions of brandy, or cognac, or rum [all of which I endorse in baking], chocolate, and other curious ingredients. It seems to me that these folks are tripping over one another in vain attempts to serve the Ultimate Thanksgiving Dinner, which sounds alarmingly like one’s final meal. Frankly, I am rather a purist when it comes to the Thanksgiving feast. I prefer the turkey itself roasted with butter, olive oil, white wine and herbs. My dressing of choice, served on the side, is comprised of coarse Italian bread, chicken stock, celery, onion, garlic, and sage. Fluffy mashed potatoes with half-and-half, butter, and salt and pepper please me no end. Our family’s traditional Jello-based [raspberry and lemon] fresh cranberry salad with pineapple, red grapes, and nuts draws a smile. For the past several years I have added Campbell Soup’s iconic green bean casserole to our repast because it really is scrummy tasty. Buttered corn is another favorite on the table. Though I am not an avid sweet potato fan, I will add a dollop of them to my plate of food on Thanksgiving Day. Finally, there is the iconic pumpkin pie topped with whipping cream. I follow the Libby’s brand recipe, but I add either brandy, or cognac, or rum. Mincemeat and pecan pies might also make an appearance. The Thanksgiving food invariably reflects a kaleidoscope of autumn color, which makes it all the more appealing.

In the end, no matter how one serves up Thanksgiving Dinner, it is finally about coming together with family and friends, and celebrating a day of thanks while feasting on delicious food, honoring the traditions that draw us together on the last Thursday of November each year. Buon appetito!

Ciao for now.


The Bell Tolls Once Again

Paris artists and booksellers set up their work each day along the Seine under the watchful eye of Notre Dame. -

Paris artists and booksellers set up their work each day along the Seine under the watchful eye of Notre Dame. –

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

We yearn to make the world to be a better, safer place for our children. We want the world to be alive with possibilities for our future generations. We want the world to have learned from its past, not to repeat its transgressions.

Yet look at what the world has become, or perhaps we should reflect upon what it still is. We think, “bad things happen” to people, to cultures in other parts of the world, not in ours. And then September 11, 2001 shattered our sense of security, of our complaisance.

Lately we have read and seen in the media the migrant crisis sweeping across Europe. Images of poor unfortunates who have lost possessions, indeed, with alarming frequency, their very lives, in attempting to flee oppression, persecution, fear, hate, and economics in hopes of a better condition for their families. We of all people should understand their plight: We are still a relatively young nation built upon the backs of immigrants.

Many of us love the City of Light. Paris is truely A Moveable Feast, as famed author Ernest Hemingway wrote. While the grandeur of the Cathedral of Notre Dame, The Louvre, The Eiffel Tower, and countless other stunning structures and hallowed venues loom large in Paris, for me, it is the Parisians themselves I cherish. I have found them to be kind, helpful, witty, humorous, creative, and astute. The horrors vested upon those at Charlie Hebro broke hearts, or at least the hearts among those that value human life and free speech. Yesterday’s tragic events jarred the French and the caring world to their very core. People at a soccer match, at an alternative rock concert, and those simply enjoying their Friday evening at charming cafes, were catapulted into savage acts wrought by madmen.

Maybe that is the crux of the matter anymore: The value of human life matters not to those who are hell bent on annihilating it. Furthermore, it is incomprehensible to those who have a moral core to understand those who lack one. We offer solace to those who have lost family, friends, and acquaintances. We attempt to make sense of the insanity, of the unfathomable, yet we come up short. In the end, all we can do is press on, holding our loved ones close, maintaining our integrity, praying, and continuing to try to make the world a safer, saner place than the one we now have before us. Sadly, the bell tolls across France once again.

Ciao for now.

All Hallow’s Eve

Halloween! -

Halloween! –

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

Before we could kick back and fully take in the beauty of the October autumn foliage, strong winds stirred, and blew down the red, and gold, and orange leaves from the trees. This year’s Halloween saw rain, cold, and gray all the day. My daughter had home for the weekend. She donned a sparkling cat-ear headband, and she proceeded to hand out large Tootsie Roll Pops to the assorted Trick-or-Treaters who had braved the rain. When the rain momentarily ceased, a steady stream of pint-size firefighters, law enforcement, princesses, skeletons, Flying Marios, Spidermen, clowns, Crayola crayons, and even a cow and even a chicken hastened to our doorstep. Yet two sisters, accompanied by their mother, wore the most inventive and charming of costumes: Jelly Fish. The girls each held a plastic bubble umbrella, one pink, and one blue, trimmed with streamers of fish-related decorations. The blue Jelly Fish wore a bright blue rain slicker, and her sister wore a vivid pink one. Both wore color-coordinated rain boots and gloves. Their mother told us since it had snowed last Halloween, she was having her daughters dress for the elements this year! Underneath the rain slickers, the girls wore warm sweaters. While other miniature goblins and ghosts shivered as they uttered, “Trick or Treat!” the Jelly Fish sisters skipped along happily, oblivious to the elements.

After we had run out of bags of Tootsie Roll Pops, we sat down to dinner. While my daughter was doling out the treats, I had been concocting a thick, hearty, minestrone soup with cannellini beans, carrots, celery, onion, fideo cut spaghetti, porcini mushrooms, baby spinach, and assorted Italian herbs. In between adding ingredients, I hurried back and forth to admire the evening’s costumed throng. The night before, we had howled over the movie “Young Frankenstein”, which plays as well today as it did in the 1970’s. However, on Halloween night, we laughed over the film “Hocus Pocus”. The character of Billy remains hilarious, as do the antics of the three witches. As we viewed the shenanigans of the characters, we sipped our homemade Hot Buttered Rum drinks, and munched on our cider and pumpkin doughnuts. All in all, we agreed it had been a busy, fun-filled Halloween for the both of us, and, we trusted, for the valiant, weather-challenged Trick-or-Treaters and their parents. From  All Hallow’s Eve, we move to November 1, All Saints’ Day, from the pagan to the sacred, and today’s weather is sunny and warm.

Ciao for now.

Hello, Kitty!

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

I have always liked black cats. They are like a big ball of dark yarn.

I have always liked black cats. They are like a big ball of dark yarn.

Several weeks ago, my daughter forwarded me an e-flyer from our local Humane Society. The erstwhile animal shelter was holding a one-day cat adoption from 12:00 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Saturday. Since over 120+ cats were overflowing the facility, with another 300+ awaiting space in the new building, the 120+ strong could be adopted with the usual fees waivered, and taken home the same day if the application passed muster. If a person did not bring a cat carrier to the Humane Society, a cat transport could be purchased on site. If one adopts a cat or dog from the Humane Society, one must sign off that the animal will be taken to a veterinarian within seven days of the adoption. This equates to paying the veterinarian, and paying for any subsequent whatever the “vet” may find, for example, gingivitis, fleas, a heart condition, or nothing.

I admit that I miss my thirteen-year-old Maine Coon cat, Fellini. He was euthanized at a reputable animal clinic in May 2015 due to an aneurysm that had left his hind feet and lower extremities paralyzed. He was my feline writing muse and I loved him dearly. At age three, I selected my first kitten from my Uncle Ed’s. His cat had given birth to a litter of three kittens. My parents thought it would be fine for me to have a pet. My mother was cat fancier, and she had converted my father into a fondness for felines. I have had one to two cats ever since. For people who have never known the joys of a pet, and who constantly say, “I don’t like animals,” I say, those individuals are missing out on some of Nature’s greatest happiness. Studies have now shown that a pet cat or dog comforts college students suffering from anxiety and stress, soothes assisted living and nursing home residents, and provide companionship for the elderly and the not so elderly. At the end of my workday, no matter how good or dismal it has been, my pet cat has been there to greet me, exuding cat happiness by purring.

This fellow is worn out after a vigorous game of plush stick toy! -

This fellow is worn out after a vigorous game of plush stick toy! –

Not expecting to find another Fellini, for he was unique unto himself, off I trekked that sunny Saturday afternoon with a friend to look over the feline landscape at the Humane Society. I didn’t even take a cat carrier with me because I felt ambivalent about encountering a cat. After all, Coco Chanel is now our solo house cat in residence. I had decided to go to the cat event because the suspicion that a large number of “leftover” cats might be euthanized to make way for those on the cat waitlist. If a cat happened to connect with me, then I could fulfill my humanitarian role of saving a rescue cat. If not, I would make a nice donation to the shelter. As it happened, I donated a large, unopened bag of Iams Senior Cat Food that day since Fellini never had a chance to eat it.

Suffice to say, the newly christened Valentino chose me. He is a most happy addition to our family. I highly recommend adopting a rescue cat or dog.

Ciao for now.

Calzone, A Different Concept In Pizza Dough

Like pizza, calzone lends itself to all sorts of meats and vegetables. -

Like pizza, calzone lends itself to all sorts of meats and vegetables. –

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

Under the gray skies of winter, when the temperature in the sub-zero range, sometimes I make calzone. I like calzone piping hot, and stuffed full of sausage, cheese, bell peppers, and marinara sauce. It makes me happy to smell the fragrant calzone, and to watch the contents surge forth onto my plate after I have cut into the bread. Oddly enough, I do not crave calzone in the summer, in the warm weather months, only during the frigid winter ones. A glass of vino rosso – red wine, the ubiquitous calzone, even a small salad help sate my cold weather cravings.

Making calzone is relatively easy. Ingredients may be adjusted to one’s taste and liking.  Sometimes I use whatever vegetables I have on hand that I think would meld well with the calzone concept.  My calzone of choice is made with Italian sausage. Here is the recipe:

Take a pound of fresh or frozen bread dough, and roll it into into a circle. Drizzle with olive oil. Next, take around a pound of sausage – no casings, and brown it for about ten minutes or so, drain off the fat. Combine the sausage with one-fourth teaspoon fennel, one to two sautéed bell peppers, onions, and mushrooms tossed with red pepper flakes to taste. Add a cup of marinara sauce.  Place one to two cups of shredded mozzarella or provolone on top of the dough. Be sure to leave at least a half of an inch border of dough visible. Top the dough and cheese with the sausage and sauce mixture. Scatter several tablespoons of cornmeal over a baking sheet. Place the calzone round on the baking sheet. Fold the dough over the filling, and then press the edges with one’s fingers or with a fork to seal completely. Bake the calzone for about twenty minutes or until nicely browned and puffed. Be sure to have extra heated marinara sauce on hand to add to the calzone. Grated Parmesan cheese may be sprinkled on top the warm calzone.

Pour that glass of vino rosso, and start feasting on the calzone!

Ciao for now.

La Pizza Magnifica!

The pizza in Rome is tasty too, like pizza all over Italy and in the U.S. where there are large populations of Italians!

The pizza in Rome is tasty too, like pizza all over Italy and in the U.S. where there are large populations of Italians!

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

I am here today to extol the virtues of that delicious dish that pairs so well with Friday Night Lights: Pizza! While ravenous high school football fans eat pizza on Friday nights, college football spectators relish it on Saturdays, and on Monday nights pro-football viewers eat it up. Yet I am neither a football fan, nor a sports fan in general, but I am an Italian who has feasted on pizza since childhood.

There are those pizza purists who claim a brick oven is necessary for a superb pizza. It is true that the wood-burning brick oven gives the pizza a particular smoky flavor, but I have dined on flavorful pizzas cooked on a grill, my brother is a master of this manner of pizza making, and on pizzas baked in a standard oven, which is my pizza domain. I readily admit I got a kick out of sitting in pizzerias in Florence, Italy at a pizza bar where I could actually see the pizza makers thrusting the pie into the brick oven on long pizza paddles. As thrilling as I found this every time, the heat emanating from the oven caused beads of perspiration to roll down my face. The pizza was mighty fine every time, washed down with local wine, and with lively conversation.

I used to make my own pizza crust, and infrequently I still do. The fact is that it is time saving to purchase Whole Foods own pizza crust, white or whole wheat, or Trader Joe’s, or, even in a pinch, the humble Pillsbury’s Classic. What I like on my pizza is a fire-roasted tomato sauce, fresh Mozzarella cheese, a bit of red pepper, drizzled with a good quality olive oil, and topped off with fresh basil leaves for a traditional Neapolitan Pizza Margherita. Underneath the dough, I have spread around olive oil. However, I also devour pizza with the aforementioned sauce, shredded Mozzarella or rounds of Provolone cheese, sausage, green peppers, mushrooms, and olives. I also sprinkle a generous amount of oregano on pizza, just because. As always, I have olive oil under the pizza dough for added flavor. After all, I make pizza to suit my own palate, which explains the anchovies and artichokes that often find their way on top of my pizza. If I have guests, then I customize the pizza to satisfy their pizza preferences. Like pasta, pizza lends itself to invention; it is a creative force of food nature!

Buon appetite!

Ciao for now.

‘A’ is for Autumn and for Apples

Nothing hails the onset of autumn as does warm apple

Nothing hails the onset of autumn as does warm apple

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

October is now upon us and the air has turned crisp. I now don my corduroy coat, layering it underneath with a sweater and a blouse. Yesterday I even deigned to wear socks, not with my usual black flats, but with my heavier, yet stylish black strap shoes. I complain not about this change of seasons. All those years I lived in Houston, I relished the sunshine with the big, blue Texas sky as its backdrop. Yet I longed for the panorama of a Midwest autumn. Besides my family, I greatly missed autumn. The vibrant yellows, orange, and reds of the trees never failed to make me smile. They still do.

Another magnificent feature of autumn in my Midwest is apple season. This conjures up images of apple pie, apple crisp, applesauce, apple butter, apples baked, apple apple galette, apple kugel, apple salad, apple tart, and even a raw apple itself. Apple orchards abound in nearby Southwestern Michigan. Harvesting apples in apple orchards always reminds me of picking apples with my grandfather in his very own orchard. We lived on the other side of his orchard, which made it easy to race from our backdoor out into the orchard to help him with the apples. My mother made the best apple pie, though I am sure that quite a few people make the same claim about their own mother’s apple pies. However, I have not tasted other mothers’ apple pies, so I can attest only to my own mother’s pie. We have a penchant for apple pie in my family. Throughout the years I have been told that my grandmother was an apple pie genius; sadly, my grandmother suffered a stroke that left her with little speech, but a with beatific smile and her sweet disposition in tact. Alas, her pie-making days were thus over before I had a memory of them. Here is a tasty apple pie recipe from Martha Stewart’s online website:

I must admit that I used to make apple pie; however, I detest peeling apples. Although I have made apple pie with the apple skin intact, I prefer a more classic version of said pie. My sister-in-law makes a lovely apple pie with a crumbly brown sugar and walnut crust, which is on the dessert table at Thanksgiving. Ever since Whole Foods opened here over almost three years ago, I find myself purchasing the occasional apple pie from WF. An excellent apple pie is also to be had at enterprising Amish establishments in nearby towns. There is no shortage of apples every which way in this part of the Midwest. Chastise me if one will, but I cook and bake throughout the week – in fact, yesterday morning I baked two loaves of pumpkin bread, one of which I took to my daughter. Thus is my justification for rarely making an apple pie, though I love making cream pies with mile high merengue! All this talk about apples has now put me in mind of toast with apple butter. Yummy!

Ciao for now.

The Daughter of An Immigrant

The Pontifical Swiss Guards at Vatican City have been guarding Catholic Popes since 1506. -

The Pontifical Swiss Guards at Vatican City have been guarding Catholic Popes since 1506. –

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

The past days I have been following the visit of Pope Francis in the United States. Each day I watch the New York Times video footage and I read the articles chronicling this historic event. Hearing the Pope speak at the 9/11 Memorial moved me to tears. Hearing him address the United Nations and seeing Malala Yousafzai intently listen to him also brought a tear to my eye, as did the Pope’s service at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, and the one at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. Throughout it all, I have envisioned my father and my mother with me, knowing how much Pope Francis would have meant to them.

I well remember when my parents took my brother and me to Italy and we stood in Saint Peter’s Square in Vatican City on a Sunday morning. We were waiting for Pope Paul VI appear on is balcony and give us a blessing. The Square was packed with people. I recall getting pinched on my derriere by a handsome Italian man after the Pope had retreated from the balcony. As I turned to see who had had the impudence to violate my person, the Italian shot me a sartorial smile and disappeared in to the throng. Emblazoned too in my memory are the tears that streamed down the face of my father. He had immigrated to the United States when Mussolini was in power in Italy. This trip was his first back to Italy since he had left impoverished Calabria behind him. My mother too felt overwhelmed at the blessing of Pope Paul VI. Her paternal grandfather had immigrated from a village outside of Genoa, Italy. She too was conscious of her immigrant ancestors.

The media blathers about how Pope Francis refers often to being the son of an immigrant. Aretha Franklin, who will perform for the Pope in Philadelphia this weekend, said in an interview that she likes how he remembers his own immigrant roots. Well, as the daughter of an immigrant, I can say for certain that the immigrant and his family took little for granted. Aside from his wedding day, my father’s proudest day was when became a U.S. citizen. This was the country that gave him a new lease on life, one where he could realize his dreams of business, family, and college-educated children. Yet the pillar of these dreams was his Catholic faith. In spite of myriad obstacles thrown in his path, he never waivered from his belief that God would help guide him through these trials. That is why I shed tears over what Pope Francis means to me, and how my parents would have embraced him, how he too is part of a continuum of the immigrant experience.

Ciao for now.

Continuing Education

Even the serenity of a Lake Michigan beach inspires my continuing education -

Even the serenity of a Lake Michigan beach inspires my continuing education –

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

My favorite professor when I was an undergraduate student at Indiana University Bloomington was Susan Gubar. As an English major, I took as many literature courses as I could with her. My favorite of them was my Senior Seminar on The Brontes. I read everything, or nearly everything, Charlotte, Emily, Branwell, and Amy Bronte wrote. My only regret about the class was that I would be graduating; I wanted the course to go on and on, so intellectually provocative and rewarding was it. Throughout the years I have read most of Professor Gubar’s books, each unique, challenging, and fresh. Her literary criticism has taught me to think more spherically about literary works.

She continues to teach me now about matters of health. Her New York Times blog on its Well page takes readers through her enduring the highs and lows of ovarian cancer and experimental treatments. This morning I read her latest post dated September 17, 2015,

“Living with Cancer: Teal Ribbons” informed me that September is Ovarian Cancer Month. I had no idea of this, for I have read nothing about it in the media, nor have I seen billboards commanding attention about such a vital awareness month. We are inundated with all sorts of Awareness Months, but not about Cancer-related ones. This begs the question, Why not? Perhaps because we do not wish to face the possibility of our own mortality, which cancer forces us to do.

Another of her blog posts that resonated with me was entitled “Living with Cancer: Alone and Ghosted” from August 6, 2015,

In this post, she reveals the loneliness when her husband has to spend several weeks in a rehab facility recovering from knee surgery. Her husband was the one who takes her to myriad appointments, primarily medical ones. With his absence, she realizes too how friends have vanished as her cancer of some years still has increased her dependency on others. In reading this blog post, I was reminded of how, when I was married, it was like being in a club, The Married Club; however, when I was separated and later divorced, those who had welcomed us as a couple, then deserted me as a single woman. Did other married women find me a threat, even though I was not covetous of their spouses? Professor Gubar’s sense of isolation and dependency reminded me of my own vulnerability at one of the lowest points of my life. Of course, her ovarian cancer trials and tribulations are much different from my married and unmarried state, but the sense of isolation is a reality I understand.

Ovarian cancer has not dampened the voice of my dear Professor Gubar, though it challenges her no end. She remains an indomitable force through her Well blog writing. I am grateful to have her continue to educate me throughout these many years.

Ciao for now.