A Whiskey Soaked Night

By Mary Anna Violi |@MaryAnnaVioli

   Last night I had a curious dream. My somnambulistic state was rendered further novel by the fact that I rarely dream. 

   I dreamt about drinking Fireball Cinnamon Whiskey. 

My opaque state of sleep seemed also to grapple with the fact that I’m not much of a drinker. The odd glass of wine with dinner, the social drink of liquor [I do fancy the orange notes of Grand Marnier], and perhaps a mixed drink with family and friends, is about all I indulge in with spirits.

   Yet last night in my dream-state, I shared a flight of whiskey with my friend who actually introduced me to my first taste Fireball Cinnamon Whiskey. We were then asked by the bartender to rate the various whiskeys of the flight. I rated the citrus whiskey the highest on my card. In my waking life, I have never imbibed a citrus whiskey, cucumber vodka [I like a good French 75] and orange vodka, yes, but not citrus whiskey.

   How strange this morning that I woke up not only remembering that dream, but also wondering if a citrus whiskey really existed! The weather saw fit to be teeth-chattering cold again today, which meant I was less than inclined to travel to a local liquor store and determine if I could purchase a small bottle of citrus whiskey. Again, this in itself would have been a rare occurrence for me. Neither a barfly nor a frequenter of liquor stores am I. 

  Maybe I should do a Google search…be right back…Okay. The Internet is full of citrus whiskey and recipes on how to make them, too.

   I hadn’t classified Grand Marnier and Cointreau in the citrus whiskey category because they are refined liquors, or so I thought. I believe I will hang on to my euphoric notion of Grand Marnier and Cointreau. In fact, I’ll have a shot of Grand Marnier this evening after my humble Ash Wednesday dinner.

   Ciao for now.

Oscars 2019, with a Twist

By Mary Anna Violi |@MaryAnnaVioli

No, I did not mean The Twisted Oscars.

Tonight we plant ourselves in front of the television set for The Oscars. In reality I have a sense that a large number of us feast our eyes on glamorous women sashaying up the red carpet in shimmering jewels adorning their mind-blowing gowns. And the men, it warms my heart to see fashionable variants on the tuxedoes of yore. Can we forget Rami Malik’s one button tux? Debonair, dazzling, sophisticated fashion wrapped around the Egyptian-American hunk of talent that truly dazzles the mind. Can we envision anyone else portraying the incomparable Freddie Mercury of Queen? I think not.

   Usually I fall asleep in front of the televised Oscars. The opening number, sung by the host or hosts, have always been a treat. Host Ellen DeGeneres handing out pizzas to hungry Oscar nominees was hilarious. Equally so was her dressed as Glenda the Good Witch. Hugh Jackman kept the beat going with his minimal sets for the Oscar-nominated songs. He embodied talent and style, particularly when he pulled Anne Hathaway up onto the stage, to sing a re-enactment of a scene together from their “Les Miserables” performance. For some years Billy Crystal kept us laughing as he hosted creative Oscar after Oscar show. Now, the 2019 Oscars are host-less. This should be interesting, or not, tonight.

   However, this year’s Oscars minus a host, won’t dim the remaining members of Queen’s band, nor the fact that I firmly believe Rami Malik will be awarded Best Actor Oscar for his reincarnation of Freddy Mercury in the movie “Bohemian Rhapsody”. Malick’s is a mesmerizing and inspired performance, as were his costumes, which were performances in themselves! At least now a new generation will know who composed “We Are The Champions” and “We Will Rock You”, and how these songs go far beyond chants at football and basketball games. 

   Perhaps Rami Malik’s accolades and award wins transcend something else for me: his parents emigrated from Egypt. Rami and his twin brother Sami were born in the U.S.; I am uncertain whether or not his older sister Yasmine was born in Egypt or in California.

The conflicts Rami acknowledges as a first-generation Egyptian-American resonate with me because of my Italian background. Malik has stated that he identified with Freddy Mercury, as an immigrant from Zanzibar. His Arabic-speaking background and culture have strengthened Malik’s performances in “Bohemian Rhapsody” and in the television series “Mr. Robot”. Looking through the lens of another language and culture give a broader perspective and empathy on the world and its people. Thus, with or without a host for tonight’s Oscars, the show will indeed go on.

   Ciao for now.

Ice, Ice, Baby

By Mary Anna Violi |@MaryAnnaVioli

  It will be 4 weeks ago this Tuesday, February 19, that I slipped on an ice slick in front of a local CVS Pharmacy. While I thought I could pick myself up, I found that all I could do was spin in circles; the ice was so widespread across the front of the pharmacy. Fortunately, an elementary school teacher and her adolescent daughter came to my rescue. The three of us shuffled carefully across the sidewalk to enter the store.

   There were several positives in the aftermath: I didn’t hit my head on the concrete, nor did I break any bones. My doctor did tell me, after a thorough examination of my injuries, that I would have large contusions. She was right; I did. Major black and blues appeared with 24 hours or so, as did the swelling in my right hand in the fleshy part, and in my right thumb. Basically, from my right shoulder on down past my knee I resemble a yellow and bright purple tie-dye.

   I must give credit to Kate Spade: as I was flying up in the air, thanks to the ice slick, I landed on my sturdy leather Kate Spade bag. My layered clothing and black faux fur lined leather jacket helped out too, as did my Heat gloves. Since my new pale green jeans suffered no tears in the fall, I felt slightly less hostile about the event. However, I was indignant that CVS hadn’t salted its entire front entrance. “We can’t keep up with the salting,” I was informed. “You had damn well better keep up with it,” I fumed. Later that night I learned that Car accidents abounded too. The ER’s at both of the big hospitals were filled with people who had been injured on that Tuesday’s ice. 

   The next morning, my entire right side ached. Aleve helped, but I’m right handed. I couldn’t write, type, or lift anything! To say this was a humbling experience is an understatement. Fastening my jeans pained my right hand to the limit, boohoo, poor me.

Whenever I pick up medicine, I use the CVS drive through. The day of the freezing rain, CVS had placed a large sign on the drive through stating that the drive through was closed, and that patrons must enter the pharmacy. Had I not needed to take the medication that very evening, I would have postponed picking it up.

   In the immortal words of Annie Hall, “La-dee-da, la-dee-da”! I’m on the mend and more mindful of ice, baby.

   Ciao for now.

Ode to the Grilled Cheese Sandwich

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

Mull this over: a grilled cheese sandwich is one of life’s comfort and nourishing foods, especially when accompanied by a mouth-watering Honey Crisp apple. The same grilled cheese sandwich and a bowl of steaming tomato soup also satisfies the soul.  And our souls demand much satisfaction in these turbulent times.

   On Saturday afternoons, my mother often made us grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch, accompanied by a bowl of soup, usually tomato or tomato and rice.  Inevitably a sliced apple or pear appeared on our TV trays. Saturday lunch was the day of the week when we could eat off the TV trays while watching one 30-minute television program. Sometimes we watched “The Flintstones or “The Jetsons” [talk about time travel]; other times we watched “Lassie” as we slowly ate our preferred luncheon repast.

   I derived great comfort from this Saturday luncheon ritual. The world made sense from my child’s perspective. It was safe; it was familiar; it was love; and the food tasted good, too. To this day, I sometimes turn to a grilled cheese sandwich in time of question, confusion, pain, and solace. My preferred cheese in this sandwich is American. Plain, I know, but savory none-the-less, on Sara Lee Whole Wheat bread, or on slices of Italian or French bread. Sometimes I add leaves of fresh spinach to brighten the pale orange landscape on the toasted bread. Even my cat Valentino, foodie that he is, likes bits of grilled cheese; he is fine with melted American cheese. Neither of us needs Gruyere or Cheddar or Fontina; we’re copasetic with the classic American cheese with a bowl of tomato soup and a Honey Crisp apple on the side. 

Classic.

  Ciao for now.


Dark Shadows

Roses with notes
The flowers may die, but the music lives on. -www.tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

Inexplicable sadness swept over me when I read last week about the deaths of Kate Spade and of Anthony Bourdain. Both high profile and talented, they influenced millions of us: Spade with her handbags and fashion sense; Bourdain with his perspective on food that brings people together. Both left young daughters behind when they need their parents most on the threshold of adolescence. Perhaps Spade and Bourdain’s pain was so immense that they did not see their suicides as abandonment, rather as a means of silencing the torture in their own minds. Their demons must have chased them down a black hole from which their strength to resist had been depleted. And therein lies another tragedy: Those who are dead are dead; it is the living who must find the ways and means of coping, continuing to live long after the deceased have gone.

Suicide is an equal opportunity means of ending life. It cuts across socio-economic groups and ethnicities. Yet it is a peculiar means of leaving that is on the rise in the United States. Benedict Carey wrote in his article, How Suicide Quietly Morphed Into a Public Health Crisis, in The New York Timeson June 8, 2018:

“The rise of suicide turns a dark mirror on modern American society: its racing, fractured culture; its flimsy mental health system; and the desperation of so many individual souls, hidden behind the waves of smiling social media photos and cute emoticons.”

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/08/health/suicide-spade-bordain-cdc.html?&hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=second-column-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news

One of the key phrases in Carey’s article is American society…its flimsy mental health system. I recall when I worked in the 1980’s full time at a Texas university that my healthcare coverage included only so many visits to a therapist, should I need one. I was offended then, and I am even more offended now that mental health care is still grossly underfunded in the U.S. The government and insurance companies seem to believe mental health care coverage should be limited when the opposite is true.

For some years now, my daughter and her cousin have liked Kate Spade designs; they even have several of her handbags and jewelry. Kate Spade designs exude a happy-go-lucky aesthete coupled with practicality. Several years ago, I bought my daughter a Kate Spade pencil case. The design was so clever that I could not resist a pencil case with a lined penmanship motif. Bright colors, cheerful scripts, and overall originality apparently belied the dark musings that lurked behind Kate Spade’s whimsical designs. She brought us so much joy with her designs over the years that I wish it could have empowered her to banish her depression. Alas, neither her fans, nor her family or friends could save her from herself.

Anthony Bourdain’s brash, no-holds-barred approach to food breathed fresh air into previously snobbish attitudes towards food truck street food. His landmark book Kitchen Confidentialblew the lid off food and restaurant respectability. His CNN show Anthony Bourdain:Parts Unknown mesmerized me. I particularly liked the episode “Quebec” where he traveled with two Quebecoise chefs who introduced him to beaver meat topped with shaved black truffles. The exotic Tangiers, Morocco episode made me wish my own town included a Moroccan eatery. Bourdain even took us to Libya where the people cook, eat, and continue to celebrate their freedom after years of an oppressive regime. I always feel like I am there with Anthony Bourdain as he and his crew roam the narrow streets and back alleys of a town with a local or two leading them to a fabulous meal behind a scruffy building façade. His talent for bringing us along for his street food ride has been pure pleasure. We feel like we have gotten to know the people with whom he talks as he eats with them. Sadly, we could not save him either.

Those of us, who did not personally know Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, only saw them through the prism of social media, from the magazine stands, and from television. Moments captured on red carpets are what we saw; we did not share in their private lives. Hopefully, they are now at peace, watching over their loved ones who hold them in their hearts.

If you are having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-

800-273-8255 (TALK) or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for a list of additional resources. Here’s what you can do when a loved one is severely depressed.

Ciao for now.

 

 

 

Tea for Two

By Mary Anna Violi |@MaryAnnaVioli

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Safflower, Rose Hips, Lavender, Bee Pollen, and Green Rooibos await other ingredients to be added. – http://www.tangledpasta.net

Last weekend in Indianapolis, my daughter surprised me with a creative Mother’s Day gift: a Tea Blending Class entitled “The Art & Science of Creating Your Own Tea”! She could not have planned a better gesture, for we are both inveterate tea drinkers.

The class, was conducted at HoiTEA ToiTea, our new favorite tea emporium in Broad Ripple, http://www.hoiteatoitea.com. Alex and her husband own HoiTEA ToiTEA, and it was Alex who conducted the two-hour class. 9 of us gathered in the store’s airy meeting room. The long rectangular table set up with spaces for each of us, had a stainless steel bowl atop an electronic scale. To the right of each scale was a cup with a demitasse cup cradled inside, two empty hemp tea bags, and a teaspoon. On the left sat two large plastic zip lock bags like the ones used to purchase tea in the bulk. These two bags were each labeled Tea Blending Basics. Categories listed underneath the aforementioned label consisted of Flowers; Herbs; Spice; Natural Sweeteners; and Base Teas/Tisanes. Round clear glass containers bore various Flowers such as Rose Petals; Herbs such as Lemongrass; Spices like Cardamom; Peppercorns; Natural Sweeteners such as Bee Pollen; and the Base Tea/Tisanes of Black; Green; and Green Rooibos.

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Our equipment ready, and glass jars filled with potential ingredients tantalize the senses. – http://www.tangledpasta.net

The class began with a history of tea. Next, we learned about the Base Teas and their variations. This included samples of teas in our demitasse cups. Alex told us that Lemongrass pairs well with Ginger, that little round yellow Bee Pollen dissolves in the tea, but makes it a bit cloudy. Tisane is a mixture of tree bark and twigs and other woodsy ingredients. One of my favorites of the sample teas we imbibed was he Campfire in a Cup, blended at HoiTea ToiTea. It really did taste like a campfire: marshmallows, smoke, and graham crackers – brilliant! The Orange Chocolate Truffle tasted exactly like its namesake.

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Here I am, ready to embark upon my foray into tea blending! – http://www.tangledpasta.net

Now that our palates had been sensitized, we began our own tea blending experience. Our blends, one herbal, the other caffeinated, saw us follow particular blending steps to achieve 2.0 ounces of each tea. To build my tea, I began with the Base of Green Rooibos, a caffeine free tea. I then added Rose Petals, Safflower, Lemongrass, Basil, Anise Star, Cloves, Ginger, multi-colored Peppercorns, and Licorice Root to create a harmonious medley of flavors. Getting the proportions right challenged my tea construction. Like an Aromachologist, I blended the ingredients together, sniffing my concoction each step of the way. Certainly some herbs and spices are more pungent than others, like Peppermint and Spearmint. I added more Green Rooibos as I mixed my ingredients.

After further blending ingredients in our stainless steel bowls, and upon reaching 2.0 ounces of tea, we then measured a teaspoon and a half of our tea into one of the hemp tea bags. Alex came around poured herbal hot temperature water into our large cups. We steeped our teas for 4 minutes.  The timer went off, I removed the tea bag, and took the first sips of my very own herbal tea. With its light and bright taste, I christened it Cirque du Te’.

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Earthy ingredients beckon: Cardamon, Carob Chips, Cloves, and Black Tea mingle with Cinnamon. – http://www.tangledpasta.net

For my caffeinated tea, once again I measured like an Alchemist. I chose Green Chun Mei tea as my Base. Hibiscus, Lavender, Lemongrass, Anise Star Cardamom and multicolored Peppercorns mingled with Bee Pollen to create a sensuous tea with a bite like a Goya nude. So pleased was I with this tea that I named it Te’ Toujours. My daughter and I sampled one another’s teas; we were delighted with our results! Had we been unhappy with our tea results, we could discard the tea and try again, which we declined to do. We packaged up our teas, and thanked Alex for a most rewarding experience. Finally, we sat down in the café to enjoy ice tea from the tea bar – Strawberry Orange Peach and Peach Tangerine. Measuring, blending, and experimenting to create unique teas took a lot out of us. We would, however, do it all again in a heartbeat!

Ciao for now.

 

Vegetables

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 Fennel, fresh dill, fresh rosemary, and fresh Italian parsley enhance the flavor of the vegetables. – http://www.tangledpasta.net

 By Mary Anna Violi |@MaryAnnaVioli

I must confess to my life long love affair with vegetables. My secret is now out in the open, and I may now breathe more easily. This affinity of mine for vegetables has its origins within my family.

It began long ago when I was a child running through the garden paths of my Italian father’s large vegetable garden. Fragrant red and green bell peppers, yellow banana peppers, small fierce red hot peppers, Big Boy tomatoes drooping like red weights on the vines, deep purple eggplants sprawled on the garden floor, green beans climbing up poles next to my favorite beans: the yellow Kentucky Wonders, orange and yellow zucchini flowers that my mother would stuff and fold and bake. Fennel with its elegant fronds, Brussel sprouts dotted their own green poles, carrots, and turnips all converged in a riotous medley. In August, tall stalks bearing corn with their soft corn silk beckoned. Near the garage, a large cold frame brimmed with fresh herbs to lace our salads, pasta sauces, and vegetables. Here is one of my favorite, go-to roasted vegetable recipes from Paula Wolfert: https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/10568-paula-wolferts-roasted-vegetables-with-garlic-and-herbs

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I generally omit the celery, but I add eggplant, bell peppers, and Italian parsley to Paula Wolfert’s original recipe. The combination of vegetables may be adjusted to one’s own palate. – http://www.tangledpasta.net

Another portion of the garden yielded strawberries, black raspberries, red raspberries, and rhubarb. Much space is needed to grow rhubarb, for its leaves are huge. I liked harvesting rhubarb for my favorite summer dessert. My mother used to make a delicious rhubarb dish called Rhubarb Crisp. She shared her recipes with her sisters, and with friends. Her Rhubarb Crisp recipe was legend within our family. One summer in the 1960’s or early 1970’s, a friend of her sister’s came to town with my aunt. My mother served her eponymous dessert with coffee after dinner. The woman asked for the recipe, which my mother wrote down, and gave to the woman. Within a year, the recipe appeared in Better Homes and Gardens with the woman’s name attached to it! The woman gave no acknowledgement to my mother for appropriating her recipe. In fact, Better Homes and Gardens paid the woman for the recipe. Crass and rude the woman’s behavior certainly was, but my mother attempted to laugh off the insult. Ironically, now recipes for variations of my mother’s Rhubarb Crisp abound. Whenever I make it, I use her original recipe. I shun strawberries, or any other berry with the rhubarb. Rhubarb Crisp, unadulterated with add-on ingredients is not for me.

This spring, now that asparagus is plentiful, I prepare asparagus every which way: folded into omelets, gently steamed, cooked with pasta in the same pot, parboiled for salads, or simply roasted. Asparagus is a perennial vegetable that used to line the side of my father’s garden against the fence. Each spring day, my mother cut fresh asparagus from the garden to serve with our dinner. Like most of the vegetables we grew, she froze enough asparagus to see us through the winter. Most of the summer saw her freezing vegetables, like corn and beans, or canning peaches and apricots from our orchard trees.

I am not much of a carnivore, so a plethora of vegetables suits me fine in the spring, summer, and early fall. Whether a vegetable stands alone, or whether it is prepared in concert with others vegetables, I roast, steam, fry, or parboil them, then serve the vegetables over pasta, or rice, or lettuce, or by themselves. I welcome the color and the pageantry of fresh vegetables!

Vegetables toujours!

Ciao for now.