A Mother’s Day

A Happy Mother's Day! - tangledpasta.net

A Happy Mother’s Day! – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

Salve! Salve! Today is Mother’s Day, the meaning of which still perplexes me.  Should we not honor our mother 365 days of the year, instead of on only one day?  The common custom has become to take dear Mummy out for brunch, or lunch, or dinner on Mother’s Day.  This in itself requires a bit of quick-footed planning in the art of making the reservation itself weeks ahead of the Day of Dear Old Mum.  Flowers abound, children in their Sunday best, delays in seating at said restaurant, and we will not discuss the perils of parking the motorized chariot in which Mother rode with family members.

Whilst me thinks it a lovely gesture to set aside one day in May for we of Club Mother, I would like to give pause to contemplate these grandiose overtures on one Sunday each year.  If we honor our Mothers on this day with a lovely meal at home not prepared by our Mamas, and we lavish glorious flowers upon her, for our forbearers told us never to plant anything prior to Mother’s Day, and we surround our dear Mamas with love and affection, then I would like to ask, What are we doing for her the rest of the year?  If she has taught us well, then we should demonstrate acts of kindness to her throughout the year. Random acts of kindness to she who bore us that remind her of our devotion.  As Mother myself, I can attest that there is nothing more I cherish than spontaneous hugs from my daughter, her sweet kisses when she walks through the door, and her thoughtfulness at even making my bed or doing the laundry [tasks I loathe, yet are necessary evils, at least the laundry is].

My idea of a perfect Mother’s Day on the government designated day in May is simply to have nothing planned, beyond setting out and arranging the porch and patio furniture, and later sitting down that night to watch a movie with my daughter after enjoying a meal that she herself has prepared for us.  If Mother’s Day also includes celebrating the day with my out-of-town brother and his family, then that is always joyful too. I miss my Mother every day these past 12 Mother’s Days.  We should keep our Mothers in our hearts, and if flowers are included for her, all the better. I take solace in the fact that I did for my own Mama, flowers were always included.

Ciao for now.

The Christmas Chronicles, Part 3

The topper of Lauren and Justin's Christmas tree - tangledpasta.net

The topper of Lauren and Justin’s Christmas tree – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

The day after Christmas seems surreal.  After the flurry of choosing gifts, wrapping presents, baking biscotti, making fudge, and savory dinners, the day after The Big Day, is a bit of a letdown.  Yet imbibing a cup of hot tea with the family as we tried to look refreshed at the breakfast table was laid back and cheerful.  Although my thought had been to ramble around the charming brick street village of my brother’s town, taking a peek in the boutiques, and flipping through books at the new little bookstore, it was not to be. While my dear sister-in-law Kelley and I figured we were invited to my niece Lauren’s new in-laws for dinner that evening, it turned out that dinner would be at 2:30 p.m.

“No matter,” I told myself, “It means I will have to return for browsing in the village at a later date.”

We ducked over to Lauren and Justin’s to meet their cat Oliver.  I chuckle over their naming their black cat Oliver, for I had a white cat named Oliver for ten years. Oliver is quite a character, like most cats I know, but he is affectionate, playful and an all round darling furry fellow.

My daughter and my niece with Oliver the Christmas Cat - tangledpasta.net

My daughter and my niece with Oliver the Christmas Cat – tangledpasta.net

My niece’s husband Justin has the nicest family. They are of French Canadian extraction, and up until two years ago, they lived in Vermont. His father is a computer wizard and his mother taught French for years in a Vermont secondary school. Each time we have dined with them, the food Ann cooks is a marvel of French Canadian with a twist of Vermont cuisine. December 26th’s fare proved fine too. We have learned that Vermont folks use a preponderance of their tasty maple syrup in dishes such as simmered beans, baked ham, and, I think it might have also been in one of the savory meat pies. As an Italian American in the Heartland, I grew up thinking maple syrup poured over a stack of pancakes was how one ate maple syrup, mighty good it was. However, Anna, Jim, their son Justin and daughter Sabreena have happily broadened my maple syrup horizons.

Ann and Jim laid a beautiful table for our day after Christmas dinner - tangledpasta.net

Ann and Jim laid a beautiful table for our day after Christmas dinner – tangledpasta.net

We all exchanged gifts, and talked, and laughed as we marveled at the sunshine offsetting the chilly weather.  After coffee and Buche de Noel, we piled into the car and headed back to Frank and Kelley’s.  In looking over the landscape of Christmas Eve with Uncle Sam’s family, Christmas Day with my brother Frank’s family, and the day after Christmas with Justin’s family, I realized once more how grand this Christmas of 2013 was because we spent it with those we love best.

Buon Natale!

Giving Thanks

Giving Thanks encourages us to pause with family and friends - tangledpasta.net

Giving Thanks encourages us to pause with family and friends – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

   Tomorrow is Thanksgiving.  For the second day in a row I landed in a grocery store.  One would think we were preparing the entire Thanksgiving feast, but no, we are bringing the crudités, cheese ball [rolled in nuts] and a homemade coconut cream pie. My daughter and I are cooking my November 30th birthday dinner, which is why we had a second day of grocery shopping.

   Today’s grocery experience took place at Whole Foods, fortuitously because we were hungry, and the day before Thanksgiving, samples were out in full force.  We noshed on organic dates, Clementine oranges, Gruyère cheese, roasted lamb, cranberry walnut bread, and vegan pumpkin pie. The only problem with selecting items one actually needs while shopping on an empty stomach is that one winds up with a cart full of extra items not on the original shopping list.  We exited the store with four spanakopita and two pounds of spinach and Gruyère stuffed mushrooms, both of which were not on the list, and a fresh turkey breast, which was also not on the list, but it is snowing fast and furiously here and what if we cannot travel to my brother’s house two-and-three-quarter-hours away on Thanksgiving morning?  I judged it safer to have the turkey breast on hand, although after we loaded up the SUV I realized that we had been invited to share Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow with some dear friends, and had received an invitation from lively local family members.

       “The turkey breast could be frozen until the Christmas holidays,” I mused.        Rationalization intact, I thought about all the frenzied shoppers I observed today.  Maybe we now place too much pressure on ourselves for Thanksgiving.  All the stress used to be reserved from frenetic Christmas shopping. Yet it seems to me that the quest to make Thanksgiving Dinner Perfect has overtaken some of us.  We tend to be a culture of overachievers who sometimes border on anal perfectionists.  Or maybe that is simply who I am and I am in denial.

   At Thanksgiving we need not worry about bearing gifts, for which I am thankful. After all, Thanksgiving’s allure is sharing a delicious meal with one’s family, although this year the first night of Hanukkah falls on Thanksgiving. Since I am not Jewish, I am off the hook for buying Hanukkah presents.  If gifts were involved, it would mean making sure all gifts looked no less than perfect. That is what I look forward to early next month.  All right, I confess:  I started Christmas shopping over a month ago. However, tomorrow we will sit down with our family and relish a delectable Thanksgiving banquet.

Ciao for now.

 

Achoo!

Tea, fruit, and a thermometer help with my malady - tangledpasta.net

Tea, fruit, and a thermometer help with my malady – tangledpasta.net

 

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

The weather turned cold this week and even had the audacity to snow.

Now I have a cold.

I notice the tissue supply is running dangerously low. This means I will be forced to trek to the store, which means I will end up purchasing throat lozenges, Vick’s inhaler, and boxes or cans of chicken noodle soup.  Of course, this translates into trudging to two different stores:  Target for the paper products and lozenges, and Whole Foods for the soup.  As I stare bleakly into the pantry, I realize the bread needs to be replenished.  Peering into the refrigerator [Do I have a fever?  My face feels hot and the chilliness of the ‘fridge feels good.], it is evident eggs and soymilk will need to be bought too.  The mango slices I neglected to finish were the only fresh fruit in the house.  Fruit is added to the list of What Is Needed.  The Brown Cow Maple Yogurt is gone too.

Thanksgiving is next Thursday, November 28, two days before my birthday.  I prefer to be in the pink for my birthday.  My birthday is a special day that is mine, alone, even if no party has been planned.  It would be lovely to be able to taste the Thanksgiving dinner too, minus the stuffy head and clogged nasal passages.  Sneezing and blowing one’s nose into a handkerchief, which is sturdier than a tissue, and has a nicer ring to it, while coughing uncontrollably over the Thanksgiving repast has a tendency to suppress the appetites of the others at the table.

If only this cold would vanish, I would feel like swooping up those ten items at Whole Foods, thereby giving me access to the “10 Items or Less” aisle for a speedy checkout.  Instead of attempting a run to Target, I’ll swing by the pharmacy that is much closer to home.

On the other hand, maybe I will indulge in a quick nap to refresh myself.

Lime green Jello sounds good now too.  I jot Jello down on the list before I drift off into the Land of Nod.

Ciao for now.

 

 

The Classic

Nothing beats "The Classic" pasta dish in our family - tangledpasta.net

Nothing surpasses “The Classic” pasta dish in our family – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi |@Mary Anna Violi

When my daughter arrived home after a round of law school midterms and finals, she was exhausted.  In honor of her academic work, I had a large pot full of pasta sauce and meatballs with a side of Swiss chard to bolster her flagging spirits.  The weather had turned chilly, but sunshine abounded that evening she drove home for a restorative weekend.  Nothing warms the cockles of one’s Italian heart like a hearty dish of pasta and meatballs.

Having taken that particular Friday off of work in order to prepare for her first homecoming post exams, I hastened to Whole Foods to talk with one of my favorite Whole Foods meat counter fellows.  We had an invigorating talk about the kind of pork to be found in the Whole Foods’ case.  He waxed poetic about the caliber of pork and the quality controls required of the porcine population deemed worthy of occupying space in the Whole Foods meat case.  In turn, I explained how my mother’s recipe is the Golden Child of Meatballs, demanding half ground chuck and half ground pork among its nine ingredients.  We chuckled over those who insist on making meatballs with only beef, thereby rendering the meatballs heavy on the tummy.

That night Anjelica and I bit into the meatballs before winding linguine around our forks.  Her eyes lit up as she exclaimed, “Mama!  These are the best meatballs you’ve ever made! They’re so light and tasty!”

I had to agree.

Ciao for now.

A Weekend at Home

Shelton Rae relaxed at home in the windowsill over the weekend - tangledpasta.net

Shelton Rae relaxed at home in the windowsill over the weekend – tangledpasta.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

Last Thursday night Anjelica rang me up.

“Would it be okay if I came home tomorrow night?  I’m stressed, tired, and I need my Mama!”

“You know you can always come home, anytime, Sweetheart,” I assured her.

“Should I bring Shelton Rae for just one night?”  Shelton Rae is her big orange cat.

“Shelton should probably come with you since he’s never been alone overnight.  Fellini and Coco Chanel will be fine with him.”  [It turned out to be a bit touch and go, but that’s another story.]

Since she was leaving after her Friday afternoon class, I calculated she would arrive here around 6:00 p.m.  After work I scampered over to Whole Foods, one of my favorite places for grocery shopping.  I purchased a couple of New York strip steaks, roasted Yukon gold potatoes, and cooked some Swiss chard, or Swiss-a charge, as my father used to say.  Anjelica and Shelton Rae arrived at 6:50 p.m.  We chatted, cooked, sat down to dinner, and then she studied.  It was a most tranquil Friday night.

Early Saturday morning we headed to our hair salon for Anjelica’s appointment.  With a new graduate program, new city, and new domicile, she felt primed to change-up her hair style, which she did.  We arrived home.  I heated up the cheese and spinach Mystic Pizza [now sold at Whole Foods].  Over salad and Mystic Pizza, we reminisced about a memorable summer several years ago when we traveled to the charming seaport town of Mystic, Connecticut.  These fond memories propelled us to agree to watch the movie, Mystic Pizza that very night.  Scheduling a movie night meant Anjelica had to hunker down and hit the books before and after Saturday evening Mass.

I made risotto with mushrooms, herbs, and white wine for dinner, and we watched Mystic Pizza.  Viewing the movie again reminded us of the fabulous seafood we ate that summer:  Quahogs, lobster, clams, crab proved most tantalizing to our Heartland taste buds.  If it sported fins or housed itself in a shell, we ate it that summer.  Crustaceans aside, Mystic Pizza took our minds off of the mundane for a few hours.

Sunday morning dawned.  While she slept in, I put together a potato-basil frittata, and lightly fried thinly sliced pork chops in olive oil and a dab of butter.  After sorting through in-between season clothes to take back to school, it was time to bid one another adieu.  Anjelica had to return to her new life as a law student.  Over the weekend she had rested,  accomplished her homework goals, and unwound from law school stresses for a weekend. We bid one another adieu, and while I am aware that I will see her soon, I prefer to tell her hello.

Ciao for now.

Getting Together

My nephew Daniel with Cousin Marianne at our July family celebration -tangledpasta.net

My nephew Daniel with Cousin Marianne at our July family celebration -tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

   Tonight I had the good fortune of dining with my cousins.  The special occasion was a visit from Cousin Marianne’s sister-in-law, Mary Kay, from the Dallas, Texas environs.  Mary Kay’s husband, Cousin Tony remained behind in humid Texas [our Violi men traditionally dislike travel that takes them far from their homesteads].  Cousin Marianne’s sister Rita, her brother Donnie, his wife Jennifer, Marianne and husband Steve, and their daughter Chrissie were there too.  Having arrived 50 minutes late, due to a previous social engagement, I found I had just missed Zio Saverio and our Cousin Ned.  Our local Cousin Tony had to relinquish our company for football practice with the hometown Catholic team he’s coached for the past 20+ years.  The rest of us managed to make a spirited, noisy band of cousins. 

   Not only was the camaraderie exemplary, the food tasted mighty fine.  When I had the Violi Clan over in July, I served up baked rigatoni.  Cousin Marianne also makes a mean baked rigatoni.  Truth be known, we all love that rigatoni and ate it tonight con brio.  We can always count on heaps of Italian food, beverages, and family when we gather.  In the greater scheme of things, these are good to anticipate.

Cousins Tony, my brother Frank, Cousins Steve, Rita, and Zio Saverio at our Juy celebration-tangledpasta.net

Cousins Tony, my brother Frank, Cousins Steve, Rita, and Zio Saverio at our July celebration-tangledpasta.net

   No matter how much time has elapsed between our coming together en masse, we always pick up where we left off.  That is how comfortable we all are with one another; that is how long we have known one another.  Cousin Rita and I are the same age.  We grew up playing with our Barbie dolls together.  Our fathers were brothers, along with local Cousin Tony’s father. Our families met regularly and lived only a few blocks apart. While Zio Saverio is the lone living member of the original three Violi Brothers, I am grateful to have my cousins in my life.  They enrich my life immeasurably.

   Ciao for now.

 

 

The Disquiet of Quiet

Orecchiette and vino - tangledpasta.net

Orecchiette  with greens and vino – tangledpasta.net

 

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

Today marks the first weekend since April that I it has been just me with Fellini and Coco Chanel, our two indoor cats.  My daughter continues to move household items to her new apartment.  But today she is handling moving solo.

Already she has planned to have lunch at a tavern eatery [a graduate school watering hole downtown] with a sorority sister who is working in this new town.  This evening her cousin arrives to spend part of the weekend with her in her cozy new apartment.  Tonight my daughter and niece will have fun hanging wall décor, arranging furniture, and simply enjoying one another’s company, for they are more like sisters than cousins, having spent much time together over the years.

To help the cause, I arose early this morning and prepared a dinner for Anjelica and Lauren tonight.  My guess is they will dine on the orecchiette pasta made with anchovies, garlic, freshly grated Pecorino-Romano cheese, Swiss chard, salad, crusty bread, break open a bottle of vino, and kick back.  Yesterday Anjelica selected fruit tarts from Whole Foods for their dessert.

Last week was spent juggling schedules with the upholstery cleaners [the sectional sofa, side chair, and ottoman in storage in Bloomington were thick with dust], maintenance personnel [the air-conditioning and hot water were on the blink], and exterminators [a weather strip needed to be installed on the bottom of the patio door to keep the bug population at bay], it pleases me to know that her new abode is shiny clean, that the dishes and glassware have been washed and arranged in the cupboards on the newly laid liners, the floor vacuumed with her new sweeper with the Febreze attachment, and all the bedding freshly laundered.

The quiet unnerves me.  My daughter’s presence rocks my world in the best of ways.  At least she returns to town tomorrow evening, home, before she gets caught up in the whirlwind that is Law School.  At least she knows I’m always here, her anchor, her refuge, her unwavering champion.  At the very least, she deserves to begin this next phase of her academic life knowing I’ll happily provide her with Italian food.

Yet the quiet on my home front is deafening.

Ciao for now.

 

Spring Among “The Greens”

Swiss chard like my father used to grow in his garden - tangledpasta.net

Swiss chard like my father used to grow in his garden – tangledpasta.net

 By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

The happy hoopla of early May college graduation has abated.  The pomp and circumstance of that halcyon graduation weekend has been replaced with the internalized terrors of “Oh, my god!  I am starting law school in two-and-a-half months!”  The summer job hunt, once discouraging in early May when promised work failed to materialize, has borne fruit with several promising interviews.

The contour of my work changes as the university’s academic year draws nigh.  Summer transfer students from other colleges around the state return home and provide fresh faces among the student population.  These quieter rhythms are no less demanding while helping shake off the winter doldrums, the routine, the mundane.

I prepare more dinners with “minestre”, “the greens” as they are affectionately called in my family.  The “greens” are made up of whatever tickles my Italian fancy:  A mixture of mustard greens, kale, and Swiss chard one night; a concoction of endive, collard greens, and Swiss chard another evening [I confess to having an affinity for colorful Swiss chard].  “The greens” are simmered slowly with generous portions of olive oil, garlic, onion, potatoes, salt, and pepper.  I slice chunks of cheese, Asiago or Parmesan, set out a small ceramic bowl brimming with black Calamata and green Sicilian olives, accompanied by thick slices of crusty Italian bread.  Once the vino rosso is poured, a sultry evening’s dinner `e pronta  [is ready].

May reminds me of when my father would fire up his rotatiller to churn the garden dirt for planting.  Inevitably the Toro rotatiller broke down and had to be serviced before thorough soil preparation could commence.  Once all systems were a go, we did not see much of my father until early September.  After a full day of work in his shoe shop, he dined with us, and then hastily changed into his garden clothes [“Even the St. Vincent de Paul Society would want those rags,” lamented Mama], burning a trail into the garden.  It was most satisfying both for my father and for us when “the greens” sprouted up and were soon ready to be plucked and prepared to eat.

To this day, I concur with my beloved Papa that “Minestre is-a food fit-a for-a king-a!”

Ciao for now.

 

Buona Pasqua, Ancora

Cugina Chrissy's limoncello and chocolate raspberry-chocolate chip cakes - tangledpasta.net

Cugina Chrissy’s limoncello and chocolate raspberry-chocolate chip cakes – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

Easter Sunday dawned auspiciously today:  The sky was gray and overcast.  As I was leaving for Church, rain began to puddle on the patio.  Since I had scheduled the 9:30 a.m. Mass on Easter Sunday in memory of my parents, Catherine “Kitty” and Frank, I realized I neglected to negotiate with the meteorologist for sunshine.  Yet halfway through Easter Mass, the sun shone, filtering through the Church’s stained glass windows.  It was a glorious omen for Easter.

My cugina [cousin] Marianne [yes, we Italians like to continuously recycle family names, which is why three-fourths of Italian women have the same first names, as do the men], invited me over for an Easter breakfast with her family.  Her father, my uncle and Godfather, is ninety-four years young, and, as our family patriarch, happily presided over my cousin’s light-as-air Belgian waffles [we Italians in the Heartland are multicultural in culinary spirit as well as ecumenical], crispy center-cut bacon, and her daughter’s delicious once-over-easy eggs.   Her husband Steve poured us shots of Amaretto di Saranno, which I poured into my coffee, thereby punching up my cup of Joe.

I was touched by my cugina’s Easter Breakfast invitation because sitting down with family reminded me of Easter Sunday breakfasts after Mass with my family.  When I was away at college, unable to get home for Easter, my mother made a point of sending me an Easter basket filled with malted milk balls, foil-wrapped chocolate eggs, a large chocolate bunny, jelly beans and decorated eggs.  This year, I too filled my daughter’s furry, musical, ear-flapping rabbit Easter basket with treats and mailed it to her.   It is a worthy family tradition; it even received the Easter Bunny Seal of Approval.

My uncle’s family convened again late this afternoon for Easter dinner at his granddaughter Chrissy’s home.  My cousin follows in the family tradition of fine cooks.  She whipped up enough food to feed the Italian army:  Baked ham, potatoes, corn, green beans, and her mother prepared Italian sausage in a tomato-onion sauce for sandwiches replete with crusty Italian bread.  To top it off, dessert was limoncello cake and a chocolate-raspberry-chocolate chip cake confection.  Naturally, we imbibed vino bianco and vino rosso.  My contribution was an Italian Easter bread in the shape of a crucifix, and a bottle of hearty Chianti.

Tomorrow I am fasting. Alleluia!

Ciao for now.