Congratulations, Jimmy!

Making a point at the end of the line is not to be taken lightly.-tangledpasta.net

Making a point at the end of the line is not to be taken lightly.-tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

For some weeks I had been happily anticipating attending my cousin Jimmy’s retirement party. His amazing wife sent one of the most creative invitations I had ever seen: A brown-tone rectangular card with a train engine roaring toward the reader. The back of the card made me smile too, for it was the caboose of said train traveling into the distance, leaving in its wake all sorts of train tracks veering in different directions. Speaking of the caboose, I always wondered why the trains did away with the caboose. It always seemed like the exclamation point at the end of the train, a moment to wave as the train roared on to its destination. The overarching aesthetic behind this most eclectic of invitations was, in fact, Jimmy’s retirement from the Norfolk Suffolk Railroad after 42 years of fantastic work.

Jimmy went to work “on the rails” when he was 18 years old. It seemed wildly romantic to me to think of him as he traveled the country on a train. Of course, I had been reading a lot of Agatha Christie at that time, and Murder on the Orient Express, one of my favorites, beckoned me to travel by rail. Ultimately, I became familiar with European trains during my years of traveling back and forth to Europe. As far as train travel went in this country, I really could count only the South Shore electric train that I would board to go into Chicago. While Jimmy’s climb up the railroad ladder, both on the trains and in the corporate train sector became second nature to him, I harbor the notion that to have worked 42 years with the trains means he must have genuinely loved his work. I do not believe anyone knows the ins and outs of the railroad business like Jimmy does.

Jimmy has three brothers and three sisters, in-laws, and lots of nieces and nephews. He and his family are grand, and I love them all, for I know too that Jimmy is good to us all.  The fact that they are converging tonight to celebrate Jimmy makes me smile. How I wish I could join them! Sadly, I had to have emergency oral surgery on both sides of my mouth last week. The periodontics and implant specialist said by May or June all should be well. I’ve been on large amounts of prescription medication, and can eat only soft foods and liquids. No alcohol, no spicy foods, no crunchy foods, no salty foods, and no hard foods – the list seems endless. The silver lining is that all of my clothes fit better, and I am becoming a smoothie-making expert of sorts. Aside from the food limitations are the speaking constrictions that I had not anticipated. My mouth aches after prolonged conversations. My pronunciation is carefully articulated because I know I have trouble articulating ‘s’, which made for an interesting class I taught on phonetics this past week. Since I am from a family of great talkers, we all have the “gift of gab”, as my dear late mama used to say, it would be arduous at best to not be able to converse at length with my relatives tonight, pain factor aside.

Returning to the man of the moment, Jimmy is a person of varied interests, most of which have to do with motion. He pursues an avid interest in sports cars, particularly those of a vintage variety. Motorcycles continually offer him the promise of the open road [very Jack Kerouac]. Vacationing at his family’s Florida headquarters gives him continuing opportunities for boating. He is a man in motion, though I have seen photos of Jimmy lounging in his picturesque backyard simply enjoying being in the moment. Another of his talents is digitally remastering old Christmas songs, putting them on CD’s, and giving them to us as Christmas presents.  Throughout the years, I have acquired a fine collection of Jimmy’s CD’s, which always ring in Christmas cheer.  He is a wizard at all he does. His many talents continually impress me.

All I can do is raise my strawberry, banana, mango, Greek yogurt, soy protein powder smoothie to my dear cousin Jimmy tonight in my home, and toast him with a hearty, “Well done, Cousin! You leave an impressive legacy and lesson to us all: Find something you love, and go for it! Congratulations, Jimmy! I am with you in spirit tonight with love. You really are the exclamation point at the end of the train!”

Ciao for now.

 

The Perfect Gift

Classic movies count among my favorites. - tangledpasta.net

Classic movies count among my favorites. – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

Prior to Christmas vacation, I endeavored to find a unique family gift for us. A Eureka Moment manifested itself as I rifled through our collection of DVDs. In haste, I ordered the recently released The Complete Thin Man Collection. The collection consists of seven DVDs, six of which are titled “The Thin Man”; “After the Thin Man”; “Another Thin Man”; “Shadow of the Thin Man”; “The Thin Man Goes Home”; and “Song of the Thin Man”. The seventh is “Alias Nick and Nora”, a documentary of “Thin Man” stars William Powell and Myrna Loy. The Complete Thin Man Collection proved a Christmas hit with my daugher!

While we did not watch all of our favorite Holiday movies this year, we did view all “Thin Man” movies in order of their release. The movies were made over a period of years, beginning in 1934, with the last in 1947. Filmed during The Great Depression, and then World War II, the strength of these films endure today for, I believe, an overarching reason: They are incredibly good. The sexy, witty repartee between the characters of Nick and Nora Charles is irresistible. Based on Dashielll Hammett’s novel The Thin Man, Nick and Nora are supposedly modeled on Hammett and his long-time lover Lillian Hellman. One can only imagine the conversations between these two great writers, but we are able to savor a bit of the flavor of it through Nick and Nora Charles’ erudite exchanges. My daughter found it hilarious that the married couple slept in separate twin beds in each movie, yet alcohol flowed freely, as did hangovers, throughout the six films. My take on it is that with the Twenty-First Amendment heralded an end to Prohibition in December 1933, and “The Thin Man” movies reflected a cultural reaction of the legal flow of alcohol. Nick Charles, former private investigator, married into wealth with San Francisco socialite Nora. Like Dashiell Hammett’s novel, “The Thin Man” movie was wildly popular. Dapper, cool-headed Nick and intelligent, beautiful, sassy Nora portrayed a new kind of relationship: One in which there was a true partnership, based on mutual respect and love, all of which comes across magnificently on the silver screen. Even Asta the dog, is an integral member of the Charles’ family. Asta accompanies Nick on dangerous sleuthing that keeps drawing him in its snare.

Since Dashiell Hammett died on January 10, 1961, it seems fitting to watch his movies again this month. While he wrote the stories “After the Thin Man” and “Shadow of the Thin Man”, he did not write their screenplays, but the films bear Hammett’s signature detective writing mark. Maybe Hammett’s own work experience with the Pinkerton National Detective Agency echoed in “The Thin Man” films since his fictional protagonist Nick Charles had worked for Pinkerton’s. Nora’s fashions, and elegant and breathtaking they are, seem au currant today, as does Nick’s classy suits and tuxedos. I love these black and white cinematic wonders that exude sophistication and charm. Compared to much of what is churned out in today’s underwhelming movies, it is small wonder that I turn to Nick and Nora Charles to see how movies could be sophisticated, articulate, coherent, and simply entertaining, thanks to the superb pairing of William Powell and Myrna Loy in fourteen films, including the six “Thin Man” films. On this cold winter night, I think I’ll pour myself a glass of wine and watch the first “Thin Man” movie.

Ciao for now.

Buon Capo d’Anno! Happy New Year’s Day!

Brie with fig jam is a delicious way to kick off New Year's Eve festivities at home. - tangledpasta.net

Brie with fig jam is a delicious way to kick off New Year’s Eve festivities at home. – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

Last night I made homemade chicken soup, my daughter Anjelica toasted French boule bread, and we sat down to eat by candlelight, toasting the New Year with Prosecco laced with St. Germain liquor. I would have mixed us a French 75, but I could not immediately locate the cucumber infused vodka [New Year’s Resolution: Organize the chaotic liquor portion of the pantry]. After dinner, we feasted on our homemade biscotti, made with Anisette and whiskey, among other key ingredients. While munching the biscotti and imbibing more Prosecco, we watched the movie “Little Women”, the one with Christian Bale in fine pre-Batman “The Dark Night Rises” form. Later we viewed various contemporary musicians on the Dick Clark’s New Year’s Eve broadcast from Times Square. I thanked God I was not wedged in with those New York crowds. The overriding practical question I ask is, “What does a person do if Nature calls in that mob?”

Coco Chanel wished us a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! - tangledpasta.net

Coco Chanel wished us a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! – tangledpasta.net

Instead of eating Oysters Rockefeller at Midnight, we opted for chocolates. This New Year’s morning, after giving Fellini, Coco Chanel, and Anjelica’s cat Shelton Rae an extra helping of Fancy Feast Primavera White Chicken, I put together a Potato Basil Frittata, a` la the Barefoot Contessa, aka Ina Garten. For Capo d’Anno dinner, I am making Shrimp Scampi with Linguine, Swiss Chard, the ubiquitous “Swiss-a Charge” as my late Italian father called, and Prosecco, for it is, after all, New Year’s Day. Somewhere in between we shall feast on Oysters Rockefeller, just because [New Year’s Resolution: Continue to eat more seafood, particularly of the Omega-3 variety].

Shelton Rae echoed Coco Chanel's sentiments for a prosperous New Year. - tangledpasta.net

Shelton Rae echoed Coco Chanel’s sentiments for a prosperous New Year. – tangledpasta.net

Before dinner, we are going to the cinema. This is rare for me since I am a Netflix aficionado, and I am too thrifty to spring for the price of a theater ticket. For live performances, I’ll shell out, for movies, not so much because there is so little to see of worth. Today, though, I promised Anjelica to enter the movie theater to see “Into the Woods”. Had NPR not given it a reasonably good review, I probably would have waited for its release on Netflix. While Anjelica has been on vacation from law school, we watched all six of “The Thin Man” movies, starring William Powell and Myrna Loy. I purchased the box set of DVDs for our family Christmas present this year. Frankly, I do not think films get any better than Nick and Nora Charles’ comic, sexy sleuthing. In the same category of exceptional cinematic moments would be Peter O’Toole in practically anything, but particularly in “Lawrence of Arabia”; “The Ruling Class; and “My Favorite Year” [New Year’s Resolution: Push full-steam ahead with my novel writing and maybe even give screenplay writing a try].

Shelton Rae donned his Scottish Highland plaid tie for New Year's Day breakfast. - tangledpasta.net

Shelton Rae donned his Scottish Highland plaid tie for New Year’s Day breakfast. – tangledpasta.net

No matter what is eaten, watched, yes, even football, or read today, I heartily wish one and all a protean Happy New Year [New Year’s Resolution: Keep trying out recipes in my two new cookbooks from my daughter and niece]!

Fellini hastened to find sanctuary once the fireworks began on New Year's Eve. - tangledpasta.net

Fellini hastened to find sanctuary once the fireworks began on New Year’s Eve. – tangledpasta.net

Ciao for now.

 

“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”

Mama's homemade ravioli Christmas dinner lives on with our family. - tangledpasta.com

Mama’s homemade ravioli Christmas dinner lives on with our family. – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

Early Christmas morning we drove south, less than three hours, to my brother’s home to celebrate in our usual laid back, cheerful style. We opened our Christmas stockings while we sipped tea. Our custom is to have each person discover what Santa Claus placed in each of our colorfully stitched stockings. Each small gift is wrapped in holiday paper, which never fails to bring a smile to my face. After stockings, comes brunch, which this year consisted of sausage-cheese strata, fresh fruit, Grand Marnier with Prosecco, and assorted homemade Christmas cookies. Anjelica made melting snowman cookies [chocolate with peanut butter]. I made my mother’s stellar, incredibly light fudge. All of this is eaten amid laughter, stories from our aged-twenty-something children, and goodwill. I look at them and remember how it was to be vital, with the grand highway of life lying before them. Frankly, I still feel that way, though I am years ahead of them on that road less travelled.

After the dishes have been cleared, we settle down in front of the fireplace, warmed by the roaring fire, as we eye the stacks of gifts underneath the enormous live Frasier fir with its brightly colored lights. My niece donned the official Santa’s cap, took the chair nearest the tree and fireplace. As Santa, she handed out gifts to us, in the order we were seated on the large, plush sectional sofa and side chairs. My nephew was the first to receive a gift. We all watched as he unwrapped this present. Out ritualistic present opening takes several hours because we love savoring the individual moment of joy of sharing. Intermittently, one of us gets up to refill mugs of hot cocoa, and offer another round of sweets and savories. We gather up the giftwra[, ribbons and bows, artsy gift tags, and momentarily disperse to delve into our books, electronics, and clothes. Our family is one of literary aficionados and cooks, and this year, books abounded under the giftwrap. My daughter presented me with Martha Stewart’s One Pot cookbook, for during the winter, I delight in making stews, soups, and slow-cooker meals. My niece knows of my travels and overall love of Italy. Her gift to me was Rosetta Constantino’s Southern Italian Desserts. My nephew tickled my funny bone with the book holidays on ice, by David Sedaris. All of the gifts I received from my family were great and good, and I am grateful.

My nephew, daughter, and I  had fun taking selfies. - tangledpasta.net

My nephew, daughter, and I had fun taking selfies. – tangledpasta.net

Later that evening, we sat down at the formal dining room table for my sister-in-law’s fabulous homemade lasagna, stuffed with chicken, spinach, and ricotta, and topped with my brother’s homemade, long-simmered pasta sauce and meatballs. This is our family’s traditional Christmas dinner. It is the dinner my mother and father lovingly made for us. The homemade ravioli bubbles warm memories of my parents to the forefront. How they loved us, and reveled in their grandchildren! For dessert, we had my homemade coconut cream pie with a four-egg merengue topping. Of all the pies, this is my brother’s favorite. Our dear Mama used to make homemade chocolate, butterscotch, banana cream, and coconut cream pies. We are coconut crazy, and my contribution for the Christmas, besides the fudge, is the pie. Yet my hat is off to my sister-in-law for making delicious ravioli for our annual Christmas feast.

When all is said and done, I like nothing more than celebrating Christmas with my family, for they are whom I hold nearest and dearest in my heart.

Ciao for now.

Holiday Spontaneity

The formal dining room at Copshaholm at Christmas - tangledpasta.net

The formal dining room at Copshaholm at Christmas – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

After ruminating whether or not to attend the annual symphonic holiday concert, and I must confess we had been talking about it off and on for the past week, my daughter and I finally admitted we longed to do something different for the weekend before Christmas, but what? After surfing the local entertainment web pages, finally that “something different” manifested itself: Christmas at Copshaholm, a special event at the Joseph D. Oliver mansion. The Scottish Oliver family made a fortune with the Oliver Chilled Plow Works. Joseph D. Oliver’s 38-room mansion was built between 1895 and 1896, and remained in the family until 1988 when the family bequeathed it to the local historical society. Today’s Christmas event offered small groups the opportunity to see actors convey some history of the mansion and of the Oliver family during the years of World War I. Nearly all 38 rooms held actors as they enacted scenes of Copshaholm life during the Great War.

One of the 14 fireplaces in Copshaholm, this one located on the first floor entryway. - tangledpasta.net

One of the 14 fireplaces in Copshaholm, this one located on the first floor entryway. – tangledpasta.net

In addition to the period attire worn by the thespians, the mansion itself proved the best of all stages, for its rooms and halls were decked for Christmas. Having toured Copshaholm in the past, neither I, nor my daughter had ever witnessed the beauty of the Romanesque mansion trimmed for the holidays. That alone was worth the price of the admission.   Each of the mansion’s three-stories, replete with the original Oliver family furnishings, reminded us that we have a treasure on the National Register of Historic Places, located just across the river from our hometown.

A tantalizing presentation offered us of Spider and Dragon sushi rolls at Woochie's.-tangledpasta.net

A tantalizing presentation offered us of Spider and Dragon sushi rolls at Woochie’s.-tangledpasta.net

After our two-hour Christmas at Copshaholm visit, we were hungry, for we had not eaten anything after breakfast. Since we were downtown, we decided to try Woochie, a Japanese restaurant that friends had told us served excellent sushi. As lovers of Japanese cuisine, thus began our second spontaneous adventure of the day. The décor was that of a  sleek, urban vibe with a black lacquer bar in one large room, and black tables and chairs in a dining room divided into two by modern, narrow, rectangular fish tanks providing privacy for diners. Discreet neon colors played off the shiny blackness of the furnishings. The food itself, was a testament to why we repeatedly seek out Japanese cuisine. In our hometown alone we have four Japanese restaurants that I know of, three of which we have patronized, and now this addition across the river. We ordered delicious scallion pancakes that were divided into eight large triangles, bowls of miso soup, ginger salad, and sushi rolls named Dragon and Spider. We washed it all down with a pots of Japanese Sencha tea To top off our dinner, we shared Mochi, Japanese ice cream. We selected one of mango and another of green tea. Sated and happy, we drove around awhile to view the holiday lights burning brightly in the city streets.

It was a most satisfying and rewarding day.

Ciao for now.

Ouch!

Even though I was unable to eat and drink these treats for a few days, a gingerbread cookie and a cup of cocoa made me feel better.

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

Well, it has been quite a week thus far, and this is only Thursday.

Monday evening we did errands after I finished work.  A tooth felt a bit sensitive over the weekend, but I had a dental cleaning appointment scheduled for Tuesday at 2:00 p.m. so I wasn’t worried.  However, as we shopped Monday evening, my jaw and ear began aching and the right side of my face felt unusually warm.  When we got home and I looked in the mirror, I about passed out:  the lower right side of my face was swollen and raging red, and  painful.  I took two Alieve, went to bed, and attempted to sleep to no avail. Finally, around 5:00 a.m., I placed a bag of frozen pearl onions in a ziplock back and fell asleep with them between my swollen face and pillow.  I dreamt of boeuf bourguignon.

On Tuesday morning I called my dentist, but she was booked, so I had to wait until 2:00 p.m. for my appointment.  I went to work, but I was a mess.  Anjelica came to the campus and drove me to the dentist, for she was scared about the grotesque swelling [at this point, I resembled a gargoyle]. An x-ray showed that the tooth under a crown had fractured and become abscessed.  At least this explained the mind-boggling pain. Immediately, the dentist put me on an antibiotic for the swelling and infection, and a prescription painkiller to lessen the throbbing.

Leaving my dentist, who is in a nearby town, we went to CVS in our hometown to pick up my prescriptions.  The medications would not be ready for another 10 minutes, we were told.  At this point I was ready to pass out from pain. Upon returning to the pharmacy, I was informed that the painkiller could not be filled because my dentist has phoned in the prescription.  A new law, at least in this wayward state, had recently gone into effect that demanded a handwritten prescription be submitted.  Back to the dentist, who apologized profusely for having forgotten this recently implemented law. Upon our return to the pharmacy, where I produced the handwritten prescription from my dentist, I was told that the pharmacy was out of that particular narcotic until Friday.  The woman sharing this information apologized as I glared at her.  Nearing the end of my tether, my dentist urged me to try another CVS pharmacy. We drove to a nearby affluent town where I felt certain that pharmacy would have the medication.  It did. I slept better that night, but again Julia Child’s classic boeuf bourguignon permeated my nocturnal castles in the air.

While some swelling still remains, it should be calmed enough so that I do not look distorted in next week’s family Christmas photos.  While I must return to the dentist after Christmas, where I am sure more tooth and crown fun and games await me, at least I am no longer delirious from searing pain. One crowned tooth and so much agony is beyond me, yet soon will be behind me as I continue to brush and floss regularly, albeit carefully around the afflicated area.

Ciao for now.

November-December Transitions

IMG_0859

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

Another Thanksgiving has passed, and so has another November 30th birthday. From Thanksgiving on, it seems like I am riding a psychotic horse [which I actually have unknowingly done], through New Year’s.

In mid-November, I pull out the Spode Christmas china. This includes the following set of eight each: dinner, salad, bread and butter, followed by soup bowl, smaller bowls, mugs, cups, saucers, and assorted serving pieces. Looking at the Spode Christmas tree puts me in a festive mood. In addition, various other seasonal mugs join the china fray. Naturally, this means all the other dinner plates, et. al., must be stored where the Spode resides ten-months out of the year…Alright, I admit that sometimes, nay often, the Christmas china remains in use until February.

Ever since I took a stand and invested in a non-live Christmas tree, the tree is now assembled and trimmed by Thanksgiving. Pine-scented Glade plug-in provides the illusion of our Frasier fir trees of yore. Neither sweeping up pine needles twelve months out of the year, nor having Fellini and Coco Chanel lap up tree water, and later purging it, are events I miss. Decking our story-and-a-half 1926 bungalow halls merits much work with a comfort food dinner with hot chocolate and handcrafted marshmallows, not by my hand, but by Whole Foods’. The next day usually entails tackling the outdoor lighting for the front porch. We lean toward white lights and big bows on the railings. Snowflake lights dance from above the railing offering cheer to those passing by.

After a rollicking Thanksgiving with friends whose children also came home from college, like mine did, we continued the food fest with my out of town brother’s family. Spirits were buoyant as we dined and then feasted on a delicious and beautifully decorated birthday cake. I blew out candles, opened gifts, and we just had a fun-filled time of it on my birthday weekend. Anjelica had to turn her attention to studying for law finals. With this in mind, on Sunday morning I made us a frittata, served up sliced mango, tea, and yes, we had a bite of birthday cake.

This Christmas time, we are celebrating with dear friends for a Saturday night gathering at our house. It takes me several weeks to finalize the menu, which I did today, thereby breathing easier. Now, the grocery shopping commences! I love preparing appetizers, food, desserts, and drinks for friends. My darling daughter is a fine baker and cook in her own right. After her law finals this week, she will be home to spin her Yuletide baking, musical mixing, and final decorating talents for our celebration. In between, I am finishing final reading and grading for my students, and shopping for family gifts. All I can say is, thank goodness for online shopping!

Ciao for now.

Back Story

When I am feeling better, I think I'll return to yoga - Showalter Fountain, IU Bloomington - tangledpasta.net

When I am feeling better, I’ll return to yoga. Showalter Fountain, IU Bloomington – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

Finally, I am getting back in the saddle. Those readers who have suffered from ignoble back disc maladies know of what I write. On the maternal side of my family, the disc troubles are genetic. My mother was from a family of nine and I have 42 first cousins alone on that side of the family. Wretched disc ailments abound among us. Fortunately, one of those 42 cousins is an orthopedic physician of prodigious talents. I think if Mike wanted, he could center his entire orthopedic practice on our family alone.

The ironic thing is that my disc had not flared up for some years. Likely because of that, I compromised my vigilance. By this I mean that I hauled too many bags of heavy groceries, especially canned goods like garbanzo beans and bottled ones such as wine, instead of carrying these items in smaller bags of lighter weight. I also tote books and because I teach, I’m always carting books into most of my classes. Even paperback books feel weighty if one carries enough of them at one time. Luggage is a whole other realm in itself. While I abhor flying, I adore driving; thus, drive vacations are my preference. Packing light has never been my forte, except when I travel overseas. However, air travel is not nearly as nice as it was in years past, thus I tend to avoid it altogether these days. Driving brings out the worst in packing in me. Far too many clothes, books, shoes, and toiletries crowd my bags and weigh them down. Even with wheeled luggage, it still has to be hoisted into the boot of the car and removed from said trunk at the destination.

Now, as Christmas looms large, so do the decorations. I love to deck our halls, inside and out. Our 1926 abode lends itself to coziness and cheer this time of year, and it is fun to decorate. However, as my back heals, I still feel my wings have been clipped. I must acquiesce to the limitations of “not overdoing it” as my friends remind me. At the height of my back pain, I felt like spun glass; now, not so much. As I pour over recipes, both family favorites and new, I think in terms of how much to purchase at the store in one trip. Ever since Costco opened a few weeks ago in our town, I’ve had to rein myself in since those large quantities can be heavy. I shall pace myself accordingly so that I may celebrate Thanksgiving and then Christmas with those I cherish.

While my father’s side of the family is riddled with arthritis, and my mother’s with back ailments, I am not complaining too much. After all, if I do not start bench-pressing, and carry 30-pound objects, I believe I will be fine. Yet, I thank God for my Cousin, Dr. Mike, who has thus far helped me to avoid the S-word [surgery]!

Ciao for now.

Early Autumn Yearnings

Coco Chanel welcomes autumn weather by lying on the piano=-tangledpasta.net

Coco Chanel welcomes autumn weather by lying on the piano=-tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

Today has been my kind of Midwest October day: sunny, cool, and breezy. If I had to choose among the four seasons we enjoy in the Midwest, my favorites would be spring and autumn. After awakening from a winter sleep, spring days greet me with leaves unfurling, blossoms on the pink crabapple tree, and with crocus and grape hyacinths rousing their purple heads. It is the Earth’s renewal as the days grow longer, and cheery sunshine abounds. Yet as the dog days of summer exact their toll, I begin to notice the maple trees that line my street take on colors other than that of green. In this early October, now the trees are brimming with leaves of fiery red, yellow, and orange hues. The Burning Bush has taken on a decidedly deep red tone. Even the Red Twig Dogwood is showing a sign that its thin branches will turn bright red and remain so throughout the winter months, brightening the snowy white landscape. Sunset now is earlier than it was even a month ago. It is akin to suddenly a nightshade being pulled down to darken a room for sleep.

My thoughts turn on these crisp air-laced days to cooking thick soups, casseroles, and even to coffee, which I rarely drink, inveterate green tea drinker that I am. In fact, one of my beloved dense Italian soups with white beans, pearl barley, and assorted vegetables is simmering away in the slow-cooker as I write. Yesterday morning I arose with a spring in my step and a hankering for baked oatmeal. Putting on the kettle for tea, I turned to my favorite recipe – a modification of one my dear sister-in-law Kelley gave me some years ago. Sadly, as I pawed through the pantry and then through the refrigerator shelves, I realized there was no applesauce to be had, nor could I locate the drum of Quaker Oats. The morning suddenly seemed skewed. Outside the skies were overcast, and by the time I left the house to meet a friend for an overpriced drink at Starbucks, it was raining. An hour or so later, after bidding my chum goodbye, I made the supreme effort to go do a bit of grocery shopping, a task I rank only slightly above laundry, dusting, and vacuuming. In other words, I detest it. Even with an umbrella in hand, by the time I loaded the groceries into the car, and then unloaded them from the trunk upon arrival home, I was drenched. The pouring rain, the heavy winds, and looming darkness combined for good reasons to hunker settle in at home, don comfy clothes, and spend the weekend writing and cooking.

Yes, life in the Midwest is good in early autumn.

Ciao for now.

 

The Last of The Summer Festivals

I admit to being a popcorn purist - tangledpasta.net

I admit to being a popcorn purist – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

According to the 2014 Old Farmer’s Almanac, on September 22, 2014, at 10:29 p.m. EDT, the Autumnal Equinox begins. In other words, we have until 10:28 p.m., EDT to enjoy the last moments of summer. While there are those who believe summer ends when children return to those hallowed halls of education, how wrong they are, given that a number of school systems nationwide now begin in even early August. No, we cherish summer until that date and time in September the aforementioned Almanac tells us.

Yesterday I traveled to the fair land of early Orville Redenbacher for Valparaiso’s annual Popcorn Festival. In 1951 Redenbacher and his partner purchased a seed plant near Valparaiso; thus, a legendary popcorn star was born. In 2012, the City of Valparaiso even unveiled a statue of Orville Redenbacher at its Annual Popcorn Festival. With that bit of history under our belts, we set off to enjoy the festival. The weather was on our side: August thunderstorms had finally cooled the dog days of summer. It was a sunny, breezy popcorn kind of day. The local police had closed off Valparaiso’s charming downtown streets to accommodate the pedestrian throngs. White tents sprouted up and down both sides of the narrow streets. Live music blasted as popcorn revelers jockeyed for space while noshing on oven baked pizza, Bratwurst, elephant ears, pulled pork sandwiches, and ears of roasted corn, and the ubiquitous popcorn.

I sampled Pickle Popcorn, which tasted like a tangy dill pickle. Popcorn appeared in various guises: Chili Pepper and Lime, Raspberry, Bacon, and Pineapple, to name a few. Finally, I purchased a 50-cent bag of traditional popcorn from the Boy Scouts’ booth. It was the kind of popcorn that I liked best: Salty, buttery, and flavorful. After several hours of blaring music and huge crowds, we began wending our way back to my daughter’s SUV, drinking our bottled waters en route. On a quieter side street, we stopped at the outdoor booth of one of our favorite eateries: Café Meditrina, a small, corner place that serves up delicious Mediterranean food of the Middle Eastern variety. We purchased to-go meals of Lambwiches and Tahini Coleslaw, which were a taste sensation from Café Meditrina’s inventive chef.

Driving away from Valparaiso’s Annual Popcorn Festival, we reviewed how it stacked up against the three Michigan summer festivals we attended in August: Northville’s Made in Michigan; South Haven’s Blueberry [which also offered Blueberry Popcorn]; and New Buffalo’s Ship and Shore. We agreed that Valparaiso’s was a fine festival, but we still preferred blueberries to popcorn. We also lamented that the abysmal popcorn parking, unlike the Michigan festivals we attended. In the end, I remain a no-frills popcorn purist, gourmet popcorn be damned. Relaxing at Valparaiso’s bistros beckons in the months to come, minus the cacophony of a festival. Valparaiso really did put on a good Popcorn Festival.

Pass the salt, please, and the hot butter.

Ciao for now.