About Mary Anna Violi's tangledpasta

Writing has been part of my life ever since childhood. For a long time I penned short stories, and still do on occasion. Now I compose narrative non-fiction, memoir, and essays. Through social media I like to share my work with a wider readership. I have been teaching in academia for over thirty years, yet I still enjoy college classroom discourse and the creativity it inspires. My writing continuum is like an unfinished symphony that keeps reinventing itself in my head as it plays out on paper. May the music never end!

Type, Inc.

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How I wish I had my mother’s typewriter, like the one in the photograph.-tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

Today would have been my mother’s birthday, if she were still alive. She died suddenly in 2002. It was downright lousy losing my mother in every way. Not only was hers a brilliant mind that sparkled, but her heart was full of love for her children and husband. My mother excelled at Bridge; she was a competitive card player. A voracious reader, she instilled in us a love of books from birth on. The woman was also a culinary goddess. She could make the best food, mostly Italian, but she also appreciated and tried cooking other cuisines.  A woman of eclectic tastes and interests, she dressed classy. She always told me when it came to make up and to jewelry that less was more.

Another area in which my mother excelled was that of typing. A trained bookkeeper, my mother worked for years at Remington Rand. One of her most prized possessions was her typewriter. It was in a large sturdy case all its own. I can still see the dark green typewriter keys in contrast with its gray body. Since my father owned his own business, Mama was the bookkeeper. She helped him compose business letters, send out correspondence of various kinds, and keep the shoe shop’s books. An avid collector of recipes from her sisters, outstanding cooks in their own right, both of them, the three of them mailed typewritten recipes back and forth for years. When I had to give a speech or a presentation in class, which was often because my Catholic parochial school had us stand up often to orate. Mama often typed up my handwritten work, for I had not yet learned how to type. She hovered over me whenever I hauled it out and attempted to type, for fear I might harm her typewriter.

In my first year of Catholic high school, my mother was adamant that I take a typing class.

“No way! I’m in the College Prep track and typing isn’t included. Typing is in the General Education track!” I protested.

“Don’t be such a snob. By learning a practical skill, you will be the one in college typing other students’ papers and charging them for the service. You will be able to type your own papers and never have to rely on anyone to do it for you,” she informed me.

Her order paid off for me, literally. I made money by typing papers for my fellow college students, slogging through their wretched handwriting to make sense of what they attempted to convey.

Whenever I watch the Nora Ephron movie, “You’ve Got Mail”, I think of my mother.  In that movie the character of Frank, played by Greg Kinnear, is a journalist who passionately collects typewriters.  My mother understood that character, although she herself never wanted an electric typewriter.

Over the years, my brother offered to buy Mama a computer. She thanked him kindly, but refused his offer. Her trusty typewriter suited her well enough, she told him. After our father’s death four years later, we had to dismantle our family home. The typewriter stood in the closet where she had left it. I kept staring at it, thinking I should take it. But I was heartbroken over the deaths of my parents. The typewriter stood in mute testament to all I had lost, making me cry all over again.

Now, 14 years down the road, I wish I had that typewriter of hers. I would give it a place of honor in my house, a shrine of sorts to my darling mother, a wise and loving woman who had won a State Typing contest that landed her a job in Washington, D.C. with the Securities and Exchange Commission. That, however, is another story to be told.

Ciao for now.

 

 

 

David Bowie, You Rocked My World

The man. The innovator. The legend. David Bowie. -Wikipedia photo. tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

It has been quite a week for famous deaths: Alan Rickman, actor; Rene Angelil, manager and producer; Brian Bedford, actor; Dan Haggerty, actor; and Andrew Smith, Butler University’s center basketball player. Yet the light in my world dimmed this week with the death of David Bowie, who also, like the aforementioned, succumbed to the demon cancer.

Throughout the week I have been reading eulogies to David Bowie, stories about him, but mostly I have been listening to his music, and watching videos of him throughout the years. Twice I saw him in concert when I was living in Houston, Texas. On August 21,1983 he brought his Serious Moonlight Tour to Houston’s The Summit. Mesmerized, I couldn’t hear or see enough of the man or of his music that night. He transfixed me with his sophisticated physical look with those mile-high cheekbones and chiseled jaw, his stage presence, and his protean talent. Bowie returned to The Summit in Houston on October 8, 1987 with his Glass Spider Tour. It was like bright lights, super stage and spectacular music show. Once more, his inventiveness and music inspired me.

Two of his movies in which he acted remain in my mind: 1976’s The Man Who Fell to Earth, and 1983’s The Hunger. The only reason I saw Cat People was because David Bowie had composed and sung the theme song, Cat People [Putting Out Fire]. His final album, his 27th, Blackstar, has proven to be another original venture. Except now we know that he knew he was dying, even as he was composing music for Blackstar, and as he was creating his Broadway musical, Lazarus.

   David Bowie embodied the epitome of cool. With his velvet voice that survived the raucous days of the 1970’s, Bowie evolved, endured, and enchanted. His stage attire changed too: Gone were the Ziggy Stardust and the Thin White Duke personae. In their place, underneath the layers of makeup and hair dye, emerged this incredibly good-looking man who looked like he was actually eating food, and ingesting far fewer mind-altering substances. He, too, like us all, found himself aging, but we should all look so good as David Bowie did. He performed in either ultra-classy, well-cut suits with the necktie left untied, or in fine looking tuxedos. In the 2000’s, David Bowie looked better than ever, and even sang better than ever. I have always gravitated toward the seductive sound of a tenor or bass saxophone. The fact that he played one early on won me over to Bowie’s sound.

David Bowie showed me how to keep on striving to change, how to believe that dreams may be parlayed into something grander than imagined. He was my hero. Already I miss him.

Several of my favorite moments, and there are many, of Bowie performing are presented below. His duet with Tina Turner of his song “Tonight” with the wailing saxophone solo is inspiring. His duet with Mick Jagger of “Dancing in the Street” is pure fun. His interviews with Rosie O’Donnell and with Conan are hilarious. Watch these moments from YouTube and enjoy.

 

 

 

Ciao for now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Root Beer Par Excellence

This new A&W in Ottawa, Canada, is much nicer than the one in my hometown.-tangledpasta.net

This new A&W in Ottawa, Canada, is much nicer than the one in my hometown.-tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @maryannavioli

Several evenings ago, as I drove around talking on my blue tooth wireless in the car, I came across an A&W Root Beer “All American Food” emporium. Ignoring the fact that it was connected to a Kentucky Fried Chicken fast food drive thru, I pulled in to read the A&W menu. Images of foot long Coney Dogs immediately sprung to mind. Visions of large frosty mugs of root beer wetted my appetite. Car hops in jaunty caps atop their pony tails greeting patrons as the car hops fastened trays of orders to slightly raised driver side car windows danced across my mind. Eagerly I scanned the A&W menu.

The first dramatic change I made note of was the absence of the foot long Coney Dog. The menu displayed a traditional Coney Dog of standard length only. There was also a cheese-topped Coney Dog. Masking my disappointment, I ordered the shortened Coney Dog combo with French fries, and, of course, A&W’s legendary root beer. Fearful of an alteration in taste of both the Coney Dog and the root beer itself, I hastened home to quietly taste test the age-old favorites.

Carefully putting the warm food on a china plate, for one should always dine elegantly, even when it is fast food, I sat down at the table in trepidation. Would this nouveu version of the beloved A&W Drive-Ins be of the same quality of those of yore? Might this smaller version of the iconic Coney Dog taste as good as the foot long ones of memory? Could imbibing A&W root beer in a paper cup with a plastic lid possibly bear a resemblance to the frosty mugs of the cold beverage I cherished?

The answer was Yes! The abbreviated version of the Coney Dog burst with flavor of depth and heartiness. The fries were all right, as were those that used to appear in the basket with the original Coney Dog years ago. The A&W root beer tasted as good as I remembered, albeit minus the chilliness of the frosty mug. Suffice to say, the only sad part of the gustatory experience was the lack of the foot long Coney Dog to increase the savory meal.

Then too, I know full well that if I crave a foot long version of A&W’s Coney dog, I am able to order one at Sonic. Or, I suppose, I could always order two short A&W Coney Dogs. This food for thought I shall mull over on my next visit to A&W, while I drink a root beer.

Ciao for now.

Buon Anno! Happy New Year!

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The Dragon Sushi Roll and the White Dragon Sushi Roll both tasted delicious!-tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

   The door has closed on the previous year, and we now welcome 2016. Fireworks sounded throughout the night in our town. Revelers filled restaurants and bars as midnight approached to herald the New Year. Ours was a quieter celebration, but filled with good cheer, nonetheless.

Around noon I began cooking our classic Italian pasta sauce for our New Year’s Day dinner. This year I used Whole Foods pork sausage, beef chuck and sirloin tips for the meat base. Fresh onion, garlic, oregano, basil, parsley, salt and pepper seasoned the sauce. Simmering away for over eight hours, the sauce will enhance our New Year’s linguine.

We dined at Zing’s, one of our favorite Japanese restaurants during the hours between the lunch and New Year’s Eve dinner patrons. Beginning with appetizers of triangle squares of Scallion Pancakes and “purses” of Crystal Shrimp Dumplings, we delighted also in our Chrysanthemum Flower Tea. We relished the Dragon Roll and White Dragon Roll as we continued to imbibe the unique tea. Taking our time to talk together, and with our personable server, we savored each bite of our repast.

Afterwards, we dashed over to Whole Foods to pick up mixed fresh fruit, and seafood for a late New Year’s Eve kind of snack. We purchased some Tiger Shrimp and a small plank filled with bacon-wrapped Sea Scallops. For a festive dessert, we purchased a small Champagne Truffle Cake and a bottle of bubbly. We put on Nora Ephron’s movie, “Sleepless in Seattle”, and prepared to welcome the New Year. Naturally, we also had to watch Taylor Swift’s new video, “Out of the Woods”, which made its debut last night. Later we retired to read. I immersed myself in one of my Christmas gift books – Rita Mae Brown’s Murder, She Meowed, about villainous events at a racetrack.

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Champagne Truffle Cake and a bottle of bubbly helped to ring in the New Year!-tangledpasta.net

This morning we made a scrambled eggs with parsley, dill, onion, and shredded mozzarella. We also indulged in a large cinnamon roll. We washed it all down with David’s Zen Green Tea. This proved a fine prelude to viewing the Tournament of Roses Parade. Now, we will call out of town family members to wish them a Buon Capo d’Anna, and a very Happy New Year!

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Valentino wishes you a very Happy New Year!-tangledpasta.net

Ciao for now.

 

 

 

 

Published!

Recently I had a birthday.  The candles on the cake reminded me of my  Spirited Constellations books.  It’s the way my mind works.-tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

Not a Christmas card has been sent, though I did manage to purchase several boxes of cards this week. At least a festive wreath hangs on the front porch, and a large seasonal arrangement cascades down the front door. No Christmas lights have been threaded around garlands on the front porch railings this year. The patio, however, has decorative wreaths and painted candy canes all protected by the overhangs. Inside, the Christmas tree stands majestically, and the crèche holds a place of honor atop an antique table. Well, one may ask, why I have broken with tradition, and fallen behind with Christmas decorating, cards, and wrapping?

The answer reveals itself in writing. It is a tremendous sense of peace, of accomplishment to see one’s own books in print and in electronic book [e-book] forms as the Spirited Constellations Trilogy in paperback; The Star (Spirited Constellations); The Charmer (Spirited Constellations); and The Magic (Spirited Constellations) in e-books. Having an ISBN number has proven to be a major thrill, too! Here is a link to my books on Amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=spirited+constellations

Writing Spirited Constellations took enormous amounts of time, which is why I have had virtually no social life, and that was fine with me. Weekends and evenings spent putting together a narrative with a great deal of dialogue was most gratifying, even when I stalled at certain points in writing the story. My strategy was than to work on a series of essays I had begun. After shaping an essay, I would return to Spirited Constellations. In point of fact, I just kept on writing, and I still do, which means I wrote on to several other novels and a memoir. All of this, in addition to penning blog posts regularly. There is something to the old adage, “the more one practices, the more one improves”. At the very least, one hopes one improves! Writing, like an athletic sport, became a necessity some years ago. The more I write, the more I need to write. It’s an adrenaline thing. And it makes me happy.J

Ciao for now.

 

 

 

My Published Books!

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My books, Spirited Constellations, Books One, Two, and Three, are about the magic, the paranormal that can change one’s life. – tangledpasta.net

Friends, Romans, Country People, Family, and All, lend me your ear:  My trilogy books, Spirited Constellations, Book One: The Magic, Book Two: The Charmer, and Book Three: The Magic, are now live on Amazon! Here is a link to them:

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=spirited+constellations

As of today, my books are on Kindle, and IBooks.  This weekend, the hardcover version of them, in a lovely boxed set, will be available on Amazon.

Feel free to write a review of my books!

I will be blogging again this weekend.  Until then, have fine, safe times!

Ciao for now.

 

 

The Art of Home Cooking

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My daughter prepares to stir the homemade pasta sauce in the tradition of our family.  The torch has been passed! -tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

It is no secret among those who know me well that I love to cook. This culinary love affair began when I was a child. My mother created magic in the kitchen, and the food she served up was not only tantalizing, but also made with love. She delighted in the culinary arts, though in later years she complained that it would have been nice if she could have convinced my father to dine out with her once a week. No such luck, however, for over 60 years of marriage and kitchen wizardry had spoiled him so that he refused to believe any restaurant’s food could compare with hers.  He had a point.

Hanging around the kitchen as my mother cut, sliced, sautéed, roasted, for whatever the evening’s menu was, found her giving me tasks to assist. I learned how to measure ingredients, how to slice onions and not weep all over them, and how to gauge enough pasta for our family with enough left in case another family member or friend dropped by during dinner. One of the most vital dishes I learned at her side was how to make our family’s pasta sauce. The olive oil my father’s sisters sent us from Italy was a key ingredient, for he had purchased olive groves for them. I fetched two quarts of Mama’s home canned tomato juice from the cellar shelves for this splendid feast. Usually, Mama had a thick cut of chuck roast, which I learned to sprinkle with onions, garlic and oregano, salt, and pepper browning in the fragrant olive oil. She would then pour the home canned tomato juice over the meat. I like to toss in the big bay leaf. The sauce would then be brought to a boil, stirred, and then allowed to simmer for hours.

The shape of the pasta was usually spaghetti or linguine. My personal favorites were rigatoni and rotini. While my maternal grandfather was still living, he and my late grandmother dined with us every evening and Sunday afternoon. Grandfather preferred spaghetti pasta, so that is what we usually ate on Thursdays and Sundays. Always Daddy’s homemade ultra-dry red wine made from California grapes sat on the table. That is how I learned to drink wine: with dinner, with family, not in a bar. To this day I generally have a glass of dry red wine with my dinner, unless I am eating fish, in which case I imbibe a glass of crisp, dry white wine.

While I relish eating Indian, Japanese, and Vietnamese food, I cook none of those cuisines, for I enjoy eating these entrees at particular restaurants with friends. I cook Italian food, fresh, healthy, and made with my mother’s elusive, key ingredient: Love.

Ciao for now.

The Day After Thanksgiving

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

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!-tangledpasta.net

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:   http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/18/dining/julia-child-thanksgiving.html

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. - tangledpasta.net

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

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.