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.

 

 

September Song

The lake's September Song - tangledpasta.net

The lake’s September Song – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

This evening, after a long workday, after giving in to the unrelenting clamor of Fellini and Coco Chanel for their evening cat treats, I realized the patio flowers needed watering.  The clock showed 7:05 p.m., and already the sun was setting.  Donning long black comfy pants and my favorite blue Life is Good hoodie, I filled the summer iced tea pitcher with water multiple times as I offered liquid refreshment to the large pots of orange, white, and magenta chrysanthemums.  The vibrant pink Mandeville is still blooming its trumpet-shaped flowers.  It too partook of a pitcher of water.  I pulled weeds that had the audacity to infringe upon the elegant Mandeville’s territory.  By the time I had made multiple trips up and down the steps to refill the pitcher and then pull the weeds, the sky had darkened into the gloaming.

After cleansing my hands of the weed dirt, I turned my attention to my gnawing hunger.  Canvassing the freezer, I decided upon collard greens and spinach.  I nixed the Swiss chard until another meal.  Noting there were small potatoes waiting to grace a dish, I fashioned a repast of a mixture of dark leafy greens, potatoes, onion, garlic, and olive oil with Italian bread on the side.  With the promise of a bit of cheese and fresh red raspberries for dessert, and a glass of vino bianco in hand, I nestled into the old green leather wingback easy chair, embracing the close of a lovely September day.

Ciao for now.

 

Labor Day Weekend

 

 

Summer's end, The Grand Hotel, Mackinac Island - tangledpasta.net

Summer’s end, The Grand Hotel, Mackinac Island, one of my favorite places tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

When I was a young sprig, the last hurrah of summer was spent swimming, fishing, and boating at our summer-house on the lake.  Amid whoops and splashes, diving, and floating, we frolicked throughout most of those sun-drenched summer days. We also feasted in between swims.  At least one Labor Day Weekend dinner included hamburgers and hot dogs on the old brick grill my grandfather had built.  There was Mama’s homemade coleslaw [light on the mayonnaise], Aunt Agnes’ potatoes and side dishes, and Aunt Adelaide’s homemade German chocolate cake.  Life was good and mighty tasty too.

We cousins knew that after we bade one another adieu on Labor Day itself, the school year commenced the next day.  Labor Day heralded the end of summer; it placed the cherry on the cake of summer.  Labor Day also paved the way to autumn.  We donned new school attire, and polished saddle shoes and penny loafers, we headed for the classroom, armed with our metal lunch boxes, and new pencil cases in hand. In an uncertain world, we could count on school commencing the day after Labor Day.  There seemed a kind of security in knowing that.

Back then we understood the cyclic nature of the seasons:  Autumn equated with school; Winter meant snowy white nights and Christmas; Spring reminded us Nature awakened; and Summer beckoned with the lure of languid days at the lake. My daughter fell prey to the lunacy of the extended school day, the elongated school year, and the mania of increased standardized testing.  School began for her in the oppressive heat and humidity of the August dog days of summer.  I haven’t observed youth getting any smarter or adept at the traditional 3 R’s of writing, reading, and arithmetic with this prolonged school year. A wave of sadness overtakes me to know that the young cannot partake in the ritual of summer’s end that Labor Day used to offer my cousins and me.

Ciao for now.

 

 

Missing Mama

"Kitty" Violi in the middle, with her sisters Adelaide [left] and Agnes [right] circa 1943- tangledpasta.net

“Kitty” Violi in the middle, with her sisters Adelaide [left] and Agnes [right] circa 1943- tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

Eleven years ago today, June 20, 2002, my mother, Anna Catherine “Kitty” Violi, died.

She had complained of chronic weariness for some months.  As the sister to three IU Medical School graduates who had done their Residency at the Mayo Clinic, Mama was careful to follow the proverbial “doctor’s orders.”  She had regular checkup. Each morning she took her high blood pressure medication, thyroid medication, acid reflux medication,  multiple vitamin, and baby aspirin.  She ate healthy, as most Italians do, with little meat, lots of shade and dark leafy green vegetables, fish, fruit, and little processed food.  Mama also walked her neighborhood nearly every day. Granted Mama was 87, but she looked more like a 70-something with lovely, unlined skin, clear blue eyes, and silvery gray hair.

I loved her dearly.  She was my  mother, best friend, confidant, oracle, anchor, source of family lore, the dearest grandmother to my daughter, the lynchpin of our family.  Her laughter, sense of fun, delight in family and friends, merriment in the sheer joy of life infused those around her with added spirit.  An outstanding cook whose interest in new recipes piqued her interest throughout her life, we ate with brio at her table.

Emblazoned upon my memory is the warmth of her smile, the lilt of her voice, our daily kisses of adieu, of telling one another, “I love you.”  After eleven years, one would think the memories would fade, the sound of her voice would dim.  That has not, however, been the case.  She made me a better person, even after her death.  I strive to recall her feisty spirit, how she faced challenges head on.  I try to emulate her compassion, her kindness, her celebration of family.  Several years after my daughter Anjelica was born, I told Mama I had come to the realization that a great part of being a good parent is getting over oneself.  I said that while having a child was a humbling experience, it was also the most rewarding, how this toddler had enriched my live beyond measure.  Mama smiled, nodded her head, and whispered, “Yes.  Exactly,”  and she gave me a hug.  We both understood I had finally  grown up myself, finally, in my mid-30’s.

The 2002 Father’s Day weekend stroke that rendered her silent was deafening when her flame passed 72 hours later.

I miss her hugs, yet she is present everyday in my heart, and that makes me smile.

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.

 

Fowl Views

I feel certain my father is laughing uncontrollably as he rolls over in his grave.  When I peered at the webpage, I howled with laughter. The cause of this jocular reaction was Williams-Sonoma.  For years I have been fan of its emporium.  Happily I leaf through its catalogues of innovative kitchen and house wares. However, in perusing its web page, I was caught up short by what I saw:  chicken coops.

My father always maintained a dozen hens, plus one rooster, that resided in a white ranch-style chicken coop my grandfather built.  Inside the coop, stood a wall of metal chicken cubbies in which “the girls”could roost and lay their eggs in private.  Fresh hay filled each cubby for the comfort of the laying hens.  Family photographs verify that Daddy preferred the snowy white Leghorn, though in later years he often had Rhode Island Reds.  The Leghorn roosters, particularly impressive as they strutted with their lipstick red cowls, cock-a-doodle-doo-d without fail at sunrise    Most Italians living in the countryside  around my hometown kept chickens.  The chickens served a two-fold purpose:  they provided fresh eggs, and later, served up as dinner.  Our chickens had much space in which to scratch and run since the fenced in chicken park was within our one-acre cyclone-fenced orchard.

Today high-priced chicken coops are for sale.  I admit these coops look nice and likely accommodate two to three chickens.  The price tag on these is hilarious because the Italians I knew built their own coops at little cost.  However, in this day of eco-friendly, organic food, yet another Italian staple has been appropriated.  It was bad enough when the upper-middle class “discovered” biscotti, which Italians had been baking for millennia.  Of course, these yuppie-doodles mispronounced the Italian biscotti [they say “bis-cah-ti”, instead of “bis-cote-ti”].  In their self-aggrandizing world, maybe they pronounce, “chicken coop” as “chicken copa”, as if Ricky Ricardo were playing a gig amongst the fowl.

I am clucking with laughter.

Ciao for now.

After New Year’s

Christmas cake for us - tangledpasta.net

Christmas cake for us – tangledpasta.net

The day after New Year’s my daughter packed up her SUV, kissed me, bid me adieu, and drove back to her college campus.   I had texted a friend as a safety net in hopes of warding off the emptiness I inevitably feel after Anjelica’s departure, especially when the joy of Christmas and the champagne of New Year’s begin to ebb away.

My friend inquired if we could go to Super Target.  She needed to buy a small coffee pot with a timer for her classroom breaks.  “Fine,” I said.  Anything was welcome to circumvent the first afternoon and evening devoid of my daughter’s lively company.  One would think after four years, I would cope better, would have my own diversions in place.  Well, I do.  My life is full of writing, a full-time job, family and friends.  But here’s the rub:  I love my daughter’s company.  She is a great raconteur, a beautiful, sweet, witty, compassionate young person brimming with life, ambition, hopes and dreams.  Why would I not miss her?

Later that same day, my friend and I dined at a favorite restaurant that offers healthy, fresh fare, particularly welcome after the over-indulgence of Christmas and New Year’s.  We drove to my house, the house still cozy with Christmas decorations and white lights.  I whipped up lattes and poured the coffee from the shiny red French Press Anjelica had given me for Christmas.  As I settled into a chair next to the Christmas tree, I glanced at the book on writing subjects she also gifted to me.  The dark periwinkle-purple scarf she placed around my neck still graced my ensemble.  I sipped the pecan praline latte and smiled at the thought that we would be together again soon enough.  Happiness.

Ciao for now.

Winter Solstice

Coco Chanel the winter solstice cat - tangledpasta.net

Coco Chanel the winter solstice cat – tangledpasta.net

Frosty weather set in at the end of November.  I know this for a fact because if it had not yet snowed prior to my birthday, as sure as there are stars above, it would snow on November 30th.  Always.  Until the oft referred to ‘global warming’ began melting icebergs in Antarctica.

On December 21st, I realized that as the days draw nigh earlier, my awakened state is diminished.  I long to rest in the green leather wing back recliner poised near the Christmas tree.  Through the sheer patterned curtains I observe the blue-black of a night sky scattered with stars.  As I wrap my hands around a hot cup of peach herbal tea, my contentment is complete.  I am at ease in my domicile on these long winter nights.

I refrain from reading news updates these days; the sensational and the aberrant impinge upon my tranquility.  I seek refuge from the restlessness of the world.  I envy the luxurious slumber of beasts that snooze throughout the winter.  Each morning I coax myself into abandoning the warmth of my bed in order to march once again into the breach that is the working world.

There is nothing that makes the winter solstice more comforting than knowing I will converge with friends over the course of the frosty weekends over brunch, dinner, or drinks.  I bask in the witty discourse and laughter of friends and family.  Yet I likewise cherish the solitude of my quiet life, my writing life, my inner creative life.  Yes, the comfort of winter brings serenity to my spirit each time I observe Fellini and Coco Chanel asleep next to the Christmas tree.  We should all be so relaxed and peaceful.

Fellini the winter solstice cat - tangledpasta.net

Fellini the winter solstice cat – tangledpasta.net

Ciao for now.

The Ubiquitous Christmas Letter

Deck the halls, or at least our front porch - tangledpasta.net

Deck the halls, or at least our front porch – tangledpasta.net

After my mother’s sudden death, the following Christmas I found myself, for the first time, penning a Christmas letter to insert with Christmas cards to family and friends.  We are a large family with a wide circle of friends and because so many constantly inquired about my father, who was 92 at the time, I felt a Christmas letter might be a most expeditious way of conveying news of him and our family.

Yet writing a letter of this sort was one of the last things I envisioned myself doing.  In the avalanche of Christmas cards my parents annually received, I chortled over badly written letters, those that droned on endlessly about trivia, and those that bragged shamelessly about their so-called brilliant offspring.  Mostly I howled over the wretched writing.  Far be it from me to set myself up for such critiques, I thought, as a young teen.  One can afford to be cavalier when one is still a young student who knows little of how the world really works, let alone what drives people to crank out the annual Christmas letter.

Thus, with a full heart at the prospect of the first Christmas without Mama to brighten the landscape of our sorrow, I managed to concoct a one-page letter full of news of my father and of my daughter.  Of myself, I felt I would only bring down the house with tears were I to reveal the extent of my sadness.  Therefore, in lieu of news of me, I inserted updates on our cats, Sparkle [now deceased] and Fellini [then a kitten].  At least I could mask my true feelings while doting on those about whom I happily had full care.

The twist was that after I had edited, re-edited, and edited my letter again, I began to fill better.  My daughter and I plunged into making Mama’s soft, moist fudge.  We experimented with pizzelles, using the pizzelle griddle Mama had bequeathed me.  We tried to emulate her classic Christmas cut out sugar cookie recipe, but she had written over it and crossed-out ingredients, tweaking it as she made the cookies year after year.  Finally, we turned to Aunt Adelaide’s Pillsbury sugar cookie recipe instead.  They were tasty, but missing Mama’s lightness of half-butter, half-shortening.

Within me, Christmas joy was gradually unleashed.  I took delight in baking with my daughter, in making pasta e fagiole for my father, and listening to Christmas carols. Now, for the past ten years, I too craft a Christmas letter.  Perhaps those reading it smirk and guffaw, but I suspect they press on to the end of the page as I used to do as a young sprig.  No matter the reason why, concocting the Christmas letter brings a smile to my face and keeps Christmas in my heart.

Ciao for now.

Weekend Getaway, Part III: Fine Wine, Dine Fine

Formal dinner table setting at The Grand Hotel – tangledpasta.net

Venetian glass chandelier, the Cupola Bar atop The Grand Hotel – tangledpasta.net

The stellar breakfasts and five-course dinners at The Grand Hotel satisfy the most finicky of tastes.  The wine lists and cocktail offerings make for leisurely dining and even quietly rocking on the 660-foot porch satisfying.    A restaurant that serves up divine grits is my kind of place, and The Grand Hotel’s Salon Manger fulfilled my Southern breakfast longing.  We heartily partook of a fresh vegetable omelets, grits, mango juice, tea, and croissants to hold us throughout the day until the magical stroke of six o’clock in the evening.

Veal osso bucco, The Grand Hotel – tangledpasta.net

Each evening at six, The Grand Hotel staff circulate on the mammoth porch and throughout the hotel to remind guests it is time to dress for dinner.  Part of the charm of this hotel is that formal dress is required:  suits for the gents and dresses or skirts, or pantsuits for the ladies.  Even the children dress to the nines for the evening at The Grand Hotel.  It seems to me that everyone stands a bit taller and walks with a more confident air because of the formal attire each evening.  The five-star dining experience is very much worth the effort of “getting done up”.

White chocolate bread pudding, The Grand Hotel – tangledpasta.net

The Grand Hotel’s signature dessert: The Grand Pecan Ball in fudge sauce- tangledpasta.net

Each dinner table holds formal place settings for each patron.  For dinner one evening I chose the Chilled Jumbo Shrimp with Farro Verde and Sweet Chili Sauce as an appetizer; the Wild Mushroom and Onion South with Artichoke Tapenade for the soup selection; the Tuscan Bread Salad with Frisee, Sweet Peppers, Red Onion, Mozzarella and Basil Dressing.  For an entrée I selected the Braised Veal Osso Bucco Milanese with Crispy Grits Cakes and Lemon Parsley Gremolata.  Usually I am a vegan/vegetarian, but I cast it aside when dining at The Grand Hotel.  My carnivorous nature ran free and wild over the tender veal osso bucco.  Just because dessert is the crème of the dinner crème in the Salon Manger, I relished every bite of the Warm White Chocolate Bread Pudding with Crystallized Ginger Sauce.  Naturally, we repaired to the main Salon for a nightcap sherry and to listen to the dulcet tones of the harpist as we contemplated how to go forth into that good night.

The harp musician, The Grand Hotel – tangledpasta.net

Ciao for now.