All Hail Aunt Agnes!

IMG_5327

The photo is of a floral arrangement from Aunt Agnes’ birthday party. Her daughter Ann Marie made the tabletop arrangements. She kindly gave me one of them. One of our cats decided to re-arrange the flowers one night. I tried to put them back together, alas , with less baby’s breath, thanks to the feline attack. – tangledpasta.net

Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

This past weekend the maternal side of my family celebrated my beloved Aunt Agnes’ 90th birthday. Her children planned a festive party in Kettering, Ohio, which did not disappoint. The birthday resulted in a fun-filled family reunion!

My mother and her two sisters, Agnes and Adelaide, remained close as close could be throughout their lives, in spite of any geographical distance between them. When my mother worked in Washington, D.C., the three sisters penned letters back and forth. When Aunt Adelaide and her family moved to the Detroit area, numerous trips back and forth ensued among the sisters. Aunt Agnes lived for some years in Philadelphia, and then later in Kettering and in Dayton, Ohio. Never did the letters writing and drive trips cease.

The sisters and their families convened for summer vacations at the family cottage the three sisters jointly owned on Eagle Lake in Michigan. Those riotous summer days remain emblazoned in my memory. The three sisters could have been chefs at uptown restaurants such amazing cooks they were. When Aunt Agnes obtained her degree in Home Economics from the University of Dayton, her two sisters affectionately dubbed her “The Home Economist”. We clamored for her recipes, too, for she knew her way around a kitchen. Aunt Agnes is also beautiful: with killer blue eyes she is stylish, smart, funny, and kind. Her sisters told me she was always the Belle of the Ball. I doubt it not. She has kept me in thrall of her talents, and of her unique take on life.

What I cherish most about my darling Aunt Agnes is her kind, sweet nature. Yet make no mistake: she is a velvet hammer. Passionate about her beliefs, causes, ideals, and family, she puts forth sound arguments and logic. As the eighth of nine children, she learned early on how to hold her own with her brothers, and with my mother, Kitty (Catherine) who had twelve years on her youngest sister. Aunt Adelaide, my Godmother, is seven-and-a-half years older than Aunt Agnes. She too delighted in this family event for her younger sister. Uncle Jim, the youngest of the brothers and sisters, had a grand time and beamed his dazzling smile throughout the party. Older brother, Uncle Barney, was forced to miss his kid sister’s 90th due to his sudden hospitalization (he is now fine). Out of the original nine, live these four fabulous aunts and uncles of mine at ages 97, 95, 90, and 88. Let’s hear it for longevity!

We reveled in honoring Aunt Agnes. Good wishes abounded, drinks flowed, and high spirits combined to make her 90th birthday a memorable one. As we say in Italian, Cent’ anni (a hundred years), yet in this case, I toast her Vent’ anni più [20 years more) because 100 years is not long enough for my dear Aunt Agnes.

Ciao for now,

Vonnegut in Indianapolis

 

This dice mug reminds me of Kurt Vonnegut's artwork. - tangledpasta.net
This dice mug reminds me of Kurt Vonnegut’s artwork. – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

Last week I traveled to the Indianapolis area. It felt liberating to spend time with family Monday through Friday during a non-holiday time. My dear sister-in-law and I zipped around having fine adventures. One place I had longed to visit was the Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library in downtown Indianapolis. The Mayor of Indianapolis declared 2017 the Year of Vonnegut, in Vonnegut’s hometown. Each month events related to the writer and artist take place in various venues across town: http://www.vonnegutlibrary.org/year-of-vonnegut/.

We set out on Tuesday morning with high expectations, all of which were met.It is a wonderful museum, full of light to cheer visitors, and with a knowledgeable tour guide full of Vonnegut lore. We learned several facts about the Vonnegut family, too: Grandfather Bernard Vonnegut was an architect who designed several prominent buildings in Indianapolis: The Athenaeum, The Fletcher Trust, and the Indiana Memorial Union [IMU] on the campus of Indiana University [IU] Bloomington. I spent a lot of years on the IU Bloomington campus, unaware of Kurt Vonnegut’s family connection to the IMU. Kurt was a prisoner of war [POW] during World War II, held captive in Dresden, Germany during the bombing of Dresden. He survived by hiding in a meat locker in the slaughterhouse where he was held prisoner. When Kurt returned to the United States still a soldier, he went to his family home, on leave for Mother’s Day in 1944. He soon learned his mother had committed suicide the night before.

First editions of Vonnegut’s work such as Slaughterhouse-Five, based on his POW experiences in Dresden, Breakfast of Champions, and my personal favorite, Cat’s Cradle, are housed in the museum. Other works abound in the museum such as an impressive online resource of all Vonnegut’s work, created several years ago by a group of Ball State University students under the aegis of their professor. So It Goes is the annual Journal of the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library. The typewriter on which Vonnegut wrote his books, plays, and poems is one of the more intriguing holdings; he never did compose his work on a computer. Equally enthralling were his original works of art on the museum’s walls. Two tickets also on display were to a speech he was to have given at Butler University several weeks after his 2007 death. While I had seen some of Vonnegut’s art, as well as letters of rejection at the IU Lilly Library on the Bloomington campus, the museum in Indianapolis proved a further treasure trove of Vonnegut’s work, of his family, and of the wonder that was Kurt Vonnegut. His messages of tolerance, acceptance, and peace ring true today.

Ciao for now.

Soup for All

Ribollita|AFoodCentricLife.com

This photo of Ribollita on china like mine is from Sally Cameron’s blog, A Food Centric Life at http://afoodcentriclife.com. She posted some yummy recipes! – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli 

One of my earliest childhood memories of food is that of soup. My mother concocted the most delicious, soul-warming soups for our family. Her chicken soup remains in my dreams, for she would make it with a hen my father butchered from his dozen chickens. Always he kept twelve chickens in the spacious coop and fenced yard within our orchard. Fresh eggs, roasted chicken, and the ubiquitous soup were all culinary events from those erstwhile hens. Whenever my Ohio relatives were commencing their drive to visit us, my Uncle Joe, whose parents were Sicilian immigrants, would phone my mother and say, “Kitty, toss another cup of water in the soup! We’re on our way!” He knew full well soup would be on the menu, with pasta served for the next day’s dinner.

Not only do I adhere to the healing power of soup, I believe also in its inherent ability to comfort, to console. My mother and father have long since passed away, yet they imbued me with a culinary sensibility that food transcends the foibles of the world. To quote famous chef and food critic Anthony Bourdain,

Soup is elemental, and it always makes sense, even when the world around us fails to.

 Frequently the world makes little sense, but soup atones for that. No matter how bad a day, regardless of disappoint, in spite of strife, and with little money, soup remains a constant presence that sustains us. With meat or without, with few or many vegetables, with a vegetable, or chicken, or beef broth, soup can be made from very little. My mother used to add either cabbage or Italian greens such as mustard greens, escarole, or dandelions to the carrots, onions, celery, tomatoes, beans, and chicken simmering away in her homemade chicken broth.

When I learned of the cookbook, Soup for Syria: Recipes to Celebrate Our Shared Humanity, by Barbara Abdeni Massaad, I knew I needed to purchase it. All of the proceeds are given to non-profit organizations for food relief efforts for Syrian refugees. The author has tapped into her extensive network of famous chefs, like Anthony Bourdain and Yotam Ottolenghi (author of Jerusalem, an amazing cookbook) to name only a few of the many contributing chefs. Massaad was born in Beirut, Lebanon, yet grew up in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where her father owned a Lebanese restaurant, although she now resides in Beirut. Next to Italian food, I count Lebanese food among my favorite cuisines; therefore, I became interested in Massaad’s cookbook, Man’oushé: Inside the Street Corner Lebanese Bakery some years ago. She is active in the Slow Food Movement, founded by Italian Carlo Pettrini. The movement focuses on preservation of traditional and regional cuisine in support of sustainable foods. It sounds like how my father and mother parlayed  his abundant garden into soup, and filled our large freezer with vegetables and chicken years ago!

Here are several links to Soup for Syria: Recipes to Celebrate Our Shared Humanity:

http://soupforsyria.com/book.php

https://www.amazon.com/Soup-Syria-Recipes-Celebrate-Humanity/dp/1566560896/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1486659579&sr=1-1&keywords=soup+for+syria

Tonight I am serving Ribollita, a hearty Florentine soup I made this morning. Prior to ladling up bowls of Ribollita, I will lay toasted Italian bread in the bottom of the bowls. ‘E buona!

Ciao for now.

Italian Cooking Survival Skills

img_5286
I served up rotini with a pasta puttanesca sauce with olives and a side of Swiss chard topped with Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

Recently I pondered the longevity of Italian cooking. While I enjoy cooking Italian food, I tend to eat other kinds of cuisine when dining out. For example, I relish Indian food. However, instead of keeping staple ingredients on hand for Indian food, I prefer not to, and opt to eat Indian out. Yet when it comes to Italian foodstuffs, I am a connoisseur due my lifelong cradle to present love affair with it.

On the subject of Italian dishes, I wax poetic: as long as a cook has a bottle of high quality olive oil, fine Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, good quality pasta (I keep rigatoni, linguine, fettucine, cappellini, and rotini on hand), excellent butter such as Kerry’s Gold, and fresh parsley on hand, delicious pasta can be concocted. Additional items to have ready are Sicilian green olives (my personal favorite), Calamata olives, anchovies, sardines (both in olive oil), and panko and/or Italian bread crumbs, capers, eggs, a large tin of tomatoes, a bottle of strained tomatoes, a bottle of robust red wine such as Chianti or Pinot Noir, a bottle of dry white wine such as Pinot Grigio, white truffle butter (when in season), pesto (during the winter months I purchase Costco’s Kirkland’s Basil Pesto), pancetta or bacon, and heavy cream.

With said ingredients on hand, I can whip up the following in a flash: spaghetti carbonara, pasta puttanesca, linguine with pesto, Greek pasta with olive oil, butter, and parsley, fettucine with white truffle butter and crimini mushrooms a’ la The Barefoot Contessa, spaghetti with anchovies, garlic and breadcrumbs courtesy of Melissa Clark of The New York Times Cooking, and spaghetti with sardines, capers and breadcrumbs thanks to Mark Bittman of the The New York Times Cooking. All of these delectable entrees may be made effortlessly with my pantry and refrigerator items that I generally keep on hand. All this, without my even delving into Italian soups!

Here is a link to Melissa Clark’s recipe for Spaghetti with Garlicky Breadcrumbs and Anchovies recipe. I make it frequently.

https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1016264-spaghetti-with-garlicky-bread-crumbs-and-anchovies?action=click&module=Recipebox&region=dinner&pgType=recipebox&rank=30

Buon appetito!

Ciao for now.

Loving the Alien

img_1419
It feels like I am riding on a psychotic carousel in these political times.-tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

Never in my wildest dreams did I envision living in a dystopian society, but here I am, stuck in the current political swamp. Now, there is an “executive order” from the man whose own mother emigrated to the U.S. from Scotland as a young woman, and whose paternal grandparents emigrated from Germany. Apparently in his mind, Western European immigrants are acceptable, while those from predominantly Muslim countries are not. My own father and my paternal great-grandfather were Italian immigrants, so I guess they would still have been deemed worthy. l hazard to guess that Malala Yousefzai would have been suspect because she is a practicing Muslim. Maybe because she won the Nobel Peace Prize, she would still be considered “fit” ideologically to enter the U.S., but perhaps not under the current regime.

There is this major issue called Human Rights. Hello? Can you hear me? I reiterate: HUMAN RIGHTS. David J. Bier, an immigration policy analyst at the Cato Institute’s Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity, wrote yesterday in The New York Times’ The Opinion Page an essay entitled, Trump’s Immigration Ban Is Illegal. Bier explains that The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 banned all discrimination against immigrants on the basis of national origin, replacing the old prejudicial system and giving each country an equal shot at the quotas: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/27/opinion/trumps-immigration-ban-is-illegal.html?action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=opinion-c-col-left-region&region=opinion-c-col-left-region&WT.nav=opinion-c-col-left-region

Seeking to deny entry to the U.S. to only Muslims, yet granting entry to Christians and others of minority religions, screams of discrimination and ignorance.

Over the years, I have taught English as a Second Language and English as a New Language to hundreds of Muslim students from around the world. Indeed, my graduate degree is in Linguistics from Indiana University Bloomington. Focused on academic studies, these students were neither proselytizer, nor terrorist. They were family oriented, good people who only wanted to further their education. This “executive order” is barring these highly intelligent foreign students from studying in the U.S. because of what: Fear, racism, and hatred? As one of my international students said after the November 2016 elections, “Who does he think is going to develop technology in the U.S.?” The student had a point since technology in the U.S. is populated primarily with Asian, Indian, and Middle Eastern people. Building a wall to prevent Mexicans from illegally entering the U.S. is one of the more moronic ideas spouted from the incumbent. Did he learn nothing from the history of the Great Wall of China, or from the history of the Berlin Wall? Apparently not.

When a population is persecuted and banned, think Native Americans, Jews, Armenians, Bedouins, no matter the insidious forms of deprivation, humiliation, exile, and torture, these races and cultures have managed to survive. They persevere in spite of demagogues and twisted ideologies through sheer guts, dignity, faith, and help from sympathetic, more humane governments, like Canada.

I used to be proud to be a U.S. citizen. Now, David Bowie’s song, I’m Afraid of Americans reverberates in my head, as does his song, Loving the Alien. Come to think of it, his wife, Iman, who is a native of Somalia, would now not be able to enter the U.S. because she is from one of those seven countries Big Brother fears. Here is a reminder: Every one of us came from aliens, with the exception of Native Americans. It is disconcerting how mostly old, white, wealthy men harbor the paternal illusion that they are “protecting” their interests, under the guise of “protecting” the common people’s interests. They are driving policies in the U.S. that create more divisiveness, anger, and horror of U.S. Americans. I don’t know how the Electoral College can sleep at night after what it has done to place That at the head of our government when over two-and-a-half million more of us voted to give the other candidate the majority of the popular vote. Each night I pray for sanity to prevail.

Ciao for now.

 

 

 

 

Facts are, in Fact, Facts

NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR, commonly known as 1984

http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/01/25/511671118/classic-novel-1984-sales-are-up-in-the-era-of-alternative-facts

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

I have been lately contemplating what changes mean. Certainly we have witnessed the emergence of populism in our government; furthermore, we have experienced 2016 as the warmest year on our planet. One change that I find troubling is the recent rhetoric regarding “alternative facts”.NPR’s broadcast on The Two-Way, on January 25, 2017, discussed how Karen Tumulty of the Washington Post cited the phrase from George Orwell’s book, 1984. She talked about 1984  On CNN’s Reliable Sources, in which Tumulty said “alternative facts” was a “George Orwell phrase.” Expanding on that idea in an interview today Tumulty said it reminded her of the double speak found in 1984 where “war is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength.”

Within Orwell’s 1984 dystopian society, “alternative facts” are actually prevarications, falsehoods. For example: Fact: The earth is spherical in shape. What would an “alternative fact” be, that the earth is flat, an idea prevalent during the Middle Ages? If I remember my earth science class correctly, Isaac Newton proved the earth is spherical in shape in the 17th century, although he was aware that Greek astronomers in the 3rd century B.C. believed as Newton did. Another example: Fact: The earth rotates around the sun, a fact Copernicus presented in the 16th century, although those savvy Greek astronomers wrote about a heliocentric universe in the 3rd century, B.C. Is an “alternative fact” one that adheres to the ancient belief that the sun rotated around the earth? Thanks to my former earth science teacher, I retained these facts. Facts are, in essence, facts, and as such are not open to “alternative facts”.

In my many years of teaching in higher education I have stressed the importance of doing one’s own work, and not resorting to plagiarism. I informed my students that anyone who cheats, likely would cheat in larger things later in life. The example I use is Bernard Madoff. There is a sense of pride in doing  one’s own work; there is little dignity in scamming from the work of another. Another salient point I present is that of the student who attempts to steer the class conversation in a different direction in order to deflect from the reality that the student did not do the homework. Or the student simply has nothing to say on the class subject because the student is so ill-informed that he tries to redirect the conversation in order not to highlight his own ignorance.

Purporting fabrications and distortions of facts and truth are behaviors we attempt to correct in children. To hear and read about adults engaging in such nefarious behavior is both an affront to our dignity and an insult to our intelligence. George Orwell understood this.

Ciao for now.

A Big Birthday

img_3113
Various kinds of pizza are needed to celebrate a birthday! – tangled pasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

Yesterday we honored my paternal uncle in celebrating his 98th birthday. He is the last of my father’s siblings, a family of three sisters and three brothers. My Italian immigrant father passed away just shy of 96, long after he had later brought his two younger brothers to the U.S. For various reasons, his three sisters remained in southern Italy. From 1933 onwards, my father’s family became geographically divided. Yet they always remained in touch throughout those many years.

Last night at the pizza party my cousins held for their father, I thought about how brave my father and his brothers were to come to a foreign country without having learned any English prior to their arrival, and with little money in their pockets. Granted, my father had a cousin who encouraged him to come to his newly adopted town, but to take that ship from Naples and sail to New York’s Ellis Island required a great leap of faith. Yet the three brothers all built new lives here, married, raised families, practiced their faith, and prospered in their own ways.

Last night my uncle looked on cheerfully as we circulated among one another, talking, laughing, and having a fine time. I thought about how much my late aunt, his wife, would have loved having the family together. Her good nature would have embraced the festivities. We all miss her very much, especially my uncle. Sometimes when I visit him, he says, “I don’t know why I’m here! For what?” I answer that he is now the patriarch of our family, that we need him to lead us. He tells me that I’m crazy, that no one needs him anymore. But he is wrong: he is the living link to our past, not that we think of him as a museum specimen, rather to know that we can turn to him for our family history and anecdotes. He reminds us from whence we came, of the struggles, the milestones, the essence of what makes us, for all intents and purposes, us.

Ciao for now.