For Maureen

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

            I still cannot believe we will never have our two-hour phone conversations, or laugh and enjoy ourselves with her parents, my aunt and uncle, over delicious entrees at Biaggi’s Ristorante Italiano. It had become our custom to get together days after Christmas, to continue our holiday cheer with our families.

            Maureen and I were first cousins. Her father was the youngest in a family of nine; my mother was the third eldest in that same family. My mother loved all of her brothers and sisters; we visited back and forth with eight of her siblings often, even when Maureen’s family moved to Germany with the Army for some years. Her father was a radiologist, and the military had funded his medical schooling at Indiana University. After his military medical service was up, he moved his family to Fort Wayne, about 75 miles from his hometown. The close proximity meant our families interacted frequently, especially when my grandparents were still alive.

            Some of my fondest recollections are of Maureen and me riding her horse up and down the hills of her family’s subdivision. To say the lovely horse left hoof prints up and down the grassy knolls of neighbors’ well-manicured lawns would be an understatement. While there was hell to pay later, Maureen and I whooped it up riding all over the forest-like area as we encouraged the horse to go faster. We screamed and laughed and felt as carefree as could be. Free from the yolk of adults, we were masters of our hours of freedom with the horse! The horse had too good a nature to throw us off, but I am sure he neighed sighs of relief when we returned him to the barn, brushed him down, fed him, and gave him cool water to drink, and left the stable.

            Aside from our questionable equestrian fun, Maureen and I shared a love of classical music. Her mother sang beautifully, so Maureen’s musical gifts were easy to track. In fact, her brothers and sisters were equally gifted in music, languages, humor, and all round good times. I loved the energy in their family home, the laughter, and the food; especially that Italian torte a patient of my uncle’s gifted them each year!

            I shall miss my conversations with Maureen about films, books, food, and art. She urged me to get back in saddle, so to speak, and finish writing my novels, to pursue my online business plan, and to get back to the Catholic Church. She was aware of my on again, off again relationship with Catholicism. Knowing how much she treasured her own renewed relationship with God and with Catholicism, I’m working my way back to it again. I swear she is still nudging me along, like the cheerleader she always has been for me. I take heart in knowing she loved my cheering her on with her eclectic paintings and writing gifts. 

            Perhaps Maureen isn’t that far away after all. Every time I think of her, I smile and feel better about life in general. We both despaired of the tragedy of the Syrian people, and of those detained at the Mexican border. We cried out for humanity to step up and overcome xenophobia and racism. Maureen and I both prayed hard for justice for the oppressed. We wanted to believe our prayers didn’t fall upon deaf ears.

            I will keep on praying and continue to offer up prayers for Maureen’s peace and that of my aunt, uncle, and cousins’. It’s the least I can do to carry on Maureen’s legacy of goodness and kindness and joy. My love for Maureen and those she left behind is boundless.

            Ciao for now.

            Mary Anna

The Diabetic Diaries

By Mary Anna Violi |@MaryAnnaVioli

   It has now been over 2 months or so since my Type 2 diabetes diagnosis. Although I was disheartened to learn of this medical news, I have tried to educate myself more about my malady. Here are a few things I have learned in that time.

   If I can adapt to a Keto Diet, then so can you. No pasta, no rice, no bread, There is no worse order one could give to an Italian than no pasta, no bread, and I forgot to mention, no wine. I thought would be the end of me. However, my nutritionist advised me to purchase sprouted whole grain bread. It’s opened a whole new world to me! My bread of choice is Ezekiel; it is delicious and filling with just one slice. I don’t miss Italian, French, or Cardamom Citrus bread too much anymore.  The only thing I wish for is sugar-free jam, which I can likely order on Amazon.

   Each morning I have a bowl or either strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, or raspberries. Keto permits any of the berries. I find the berries most satisfying. However, I have had to forsake my beloved Honey Crisp apples and melons for the time being. Growing up, my brother and I harvested strawberries and black raspberries from our father’s nearly 1-acre vegetable garden in our backyard. We know our fruit and vegetables!

   Although I may have half-a-cup of cooked pasta, I find the only pastas I sometimes crave is rigatoni with a hearty marinara sauce, and linguine with clams in white wine. Yet a half a cup of pasta is only about 2-3 forkfuls! My fear is if I succumb at this stage to rigatoni, I’ll devour a plateful of it, and I don’t wish to undo what the Keto Diet has helped me to achieve thus far. In regard to rice, I am trying to adapt to cauliflower rice. I don’t care how the ads pitch it: cauliflower isn’t rice at all. It’s cauliflower. It’s not my favorite, but I will try to persuade my taste buds it’s better for me. So far, my palate has been resistant.

   I’ve always liked avocados in guacamole. Yet now I buy my own avocados and have learned how to select them. A shout out to Eder and Zach at Whole Foods for educating me on the art of selecting avocados and how to prepare a simple avocado spread: mash the avocado, salt and pepper to taste, and then add a healthy dose of lime juice. It creates a delicious breakfast on my toasted sprouted whole grain bread.

   Thus far I’ve lost 20 pounds. I feel energized, no longer bloated, and just plain good. Truthfully, I haven’t felt this well in years, while longing for a dish of pasta.

   Ciao for now.

Diabetic Blues

   Not long ago, I was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes.

   When my doctor showed me the results of my blood panel, I glazed over. I had been losing weight; 34 pounds of it slowly since March 2018, so how could diabetes have reared its insulin head [although I’m not on insulin]? Having gained back four pounds I attributed to the Holidays; my recent craving for Whole Foods’ Cardamom Citrus bread proved more difficult to explain.

   I was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes.

   Perhaps if I chant it often enough, I’ll finally believe it. 

   The doctor immediately put me on a version of the Keto Diet from Duke University School of Medicine and medication. She also had me make an appointment with a diabetic nutritionist. No pasta, no rice, no bread, no wine. Immediately my Italian self went into a tailspin! 

   The next morning, I began taking the medication: 1,000 mg twice a day with meals. For the next 5 days I felt my body had been taken over by alien forces. It was like having a 5-day intestinal virus. It was brutal, absolutely brutal. When I met with the nutritionist, she informed me I should have contacted my doctor to have the medication changed, for it was the medication, not the Keto plan that turned my insides topsy-turvy. So much for listening to friends say it’s normal, it happens. Not it’s not, not 5 days worth.

   When I surfaced again, minus a few pounds I dragged myself to Whole Foods, I purchased foods compatible with the Keto diet. I engaged in a hardcore cleanout of my refrigerator and of the pantry. Now I keep avocados [to make my own avocado spread], Ezekiel sprouted whole grain bread [1 slice feels like 2], Whole Foods egg salad [It tastes even better than mine], firm tofu, chicken broth [I like making soup], Italian dried meats [prosciutto has always been my favorite], Kerry’s Gold butter [This is the real deal], Marcona Almonds [Thank you, Costco], La Croix Sparkling Water, assorted green vegetables [Roasted Brussel sprouts are the best], berries [Blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries are major delicious]. 

   Within this litany of foods, there is no refined sugar or liquid sugar, low-low-low carbohydrates, and guess what?

After 4 + weeks, I feel like a new woman!

I no longer crave pasta, bread, chocolate, or rice! The arthritis in my hands troubles me nearly no more! The osteoarthritis pain in my lower back has diminished greatly! As my bone doctor reminded me several weeks ago, I still can’t lift more than 10 pounds due to disc issues in my back [and the scoliosis, and the bone spurs, sigh].

   In fact, I had several guests over for dinner on a Saturday night. I served and cooked an entire Keto-dinner: homemade cheese crisps, an Italian charcuterie and cheese board, a roast chicken, roasted Brussel sprouts, homemade pesto over zucchini zoodles, red grapes, and fresh strawberries with whipped cream. We imbibed lime sparkling water that made us feel we were downing Virgin Prosecco. I should add that this was done with the guidance of my Keto cookbook, Simply Ketoby Suzanne Ryan. The other day at Costco I purchased Southern Keto, by Natasha Newton. It even has a recipe for hush puppies! I am so happy!

   Yesterday I had my diabetic checkup with my doctor.

   I’ve lost 12 pounds in 4 weeks.

   Viva Keto and a low-carb lifestyle!

   Ciao for now!

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.