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.

 

Eating in Indy

By Mary Anna Violi |@MaryAnnaVioli

Recently, I spent an exploratory weekend in Indianapolis. By exploratory, I mean the weekend evolved into a food fest of restaurants, which we had not intended, but turned out to be gustatory, delicious fun!

We began Saturday by deciding to have a late lunch at Public Greens on the Monon Trail, in the now trendy Broad Ripple area. As it states on the website: Public Greens functions as an “Urban Kitchen, a farm to market urban cafeteria and microfarm.” I laud Public Greens for its inventive healthy food; its profits, vegetables, and herbs feed children through its Patachou Foundation. Check out Public Greens and the owner’s Patachou restaurants at http://publicgreensurbankitchen.com

We love the ice cream at Brics, located steps away from Public Greens. The Brics Broad Ripple Ice Cream Station building used to be the train station in Indianapolis. It converted nicely into an ice creamery on the Monon Trail. I recommend the Yellow Cake Batter and the Pistachio! http://www.bricsindy.com

Walking back to the car, we opted to enter Books and Brews, across the street from Public Greens. The concept was interesting with used bookstore for sale lining the walls. A portion of their sales goes to the Read Indy program. Lunch and dinner are served, as are small plates, https://www.booksnbrews.com.

That night we felt a bit hungry, but we did not want a large meal. We opted for Panera. I had the Green Goddess Cobb Salad with Chicken; my daughter had a bowl of Chicken Soup. We were both rather weary, so we ate our Panera take out at home so we could watch several episodes of Netflix’s The Ranch.

Sunday dawned sunny and relatively warm. After leisurely drinking mugs of matcha sencha tea and conversing, both of which we do frequently, we ventured out in quest of brunch. Wanting to try something distinctive, we threaded our way to Biscuits, a Mexican restaurant. The name fascinated me so much so that my daughter accused me of wanting to eat at Biscuits because of its name! She was right. My niece had recommended the eatery to my daughter; we figured it must be good. Its location was right off the Monon Trail, in a nondescript strip mall at 1036 Broad Ripple Avenue. Happily, Biscuits has not undergone gentrification like the rest of the area further up the road. Biscuits even lacks a website!

As we poured over the extensive menu, I asked our server why a Mexican restaurant is called Biscuits. She replied that the previous restaurant had been a biscuits and gravy diner. The owner decided to keep the Biscuits part of the name for its recognition factor. He had also expanded Biscuits to accommodate more customers. I felt like I was dining at an El Mercado restaurant in San Antonio, Texas, and that warmed my heart. I ordered Huevos Rancheros with a side of grits and butter. My daughter ordered a Biscuits Bowl with a side of fresh fruit. The food servings were plentiful and delicious. We ate slowly, savoring each bite, while taking in the liveliness of the place.

We then drove some blocks up Broad Ripple Avenue, parked the car, got out, and walked. One restaurant I want to try on my next visit is Taste of Havana. Across the avenue an Indian eatery also beckoned. We strolled along, turned on North College Avenue, where we entered HoiTea ToiTea [“Not Your Granny’s Tea Room”]. My daughter had picked up literature about this new tea room in March at the Home and Garden show in Indianapolis:  http://www.hoiteatoitea.com. Erstwhile tea aficionados are we; we felt compelled to explore HoiTea ToiTea! This tea emporium conducts tea-making classes, and sells all sorts of teas that the adventurous can mix. The café invites one to eat breakfast, lunch, and pastries. The Almond Amaretto tea called to me, as the Almond Amaretto Tea Latte did to my daughter. She ordered a Blackberry Lavender Macaroon, while I found the Nutella-filled croissant irresistible. We sat near the large windows overlooking the avenue. We enjoyed ourselves so much that we missed the free Indianapolis Orchestra Concert at the Library! Fortunately, there’s another concert in June!

Ciao for now.

 

The Italian Fest

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By Mary Anna Violi |@MaryAnnaVioli

On March 19, our St. Monica Catholic Church held an Italian Fest to celebrate the Feast of Saint Joseph. The parish had not run this event in some years; however, we now have a young, charismatic priest who is full of ideas about how to bring parishioners together. The Italian Fest certainly did this.

My late mother ran the Saint Monica Spaghetti Suppers for years. She created committees for the meatballs [everyone made meatballs off of her recipe for uniformity in taste], the sauce [again, the cooks used the same recipe for evenness of taste], the desserts, the kitchen crew, the decorations, the servers [my brother and I figured prominently in this regard], the set up, the take down, the cleaning [both before and after], the carry out protocol, ticket sales, and the bookkeeping [for she herself was a cracker jack bookkeeper]. She met regularly with the chairs of these committees so that each was kept abreast of the development of the supper as it unfolded.

The oversight of the kitchen Mama left to a successful Italian restaurateur and his wife whose eatery my family dined at on special occasions. Mama and Tony and Betty stayed in close contact in the weeks leading up to the Spaghetti Supper. All three of them were expert organizers and taskmasters: they knew what they were doing down to the minutest of details. Their teamwork resulted in highly successful Saint Monica Spaghetti Suppers for years.

It was my mother who taught me how to organize events and how to delegate committee interaction and effective leadership. Her guidance served me well in the 36+ years of planning professional and personal events on large and small scales. Mama held office in every organization to which she belonged, yet her greatest joy came in working as a volunteer at our family’s parish of Saint Monica’s. She remained cheerful, helpful, and calm no matter what situation arose. Never did she lash out or make snarky remarks to anyone; hence her popularity!

For the newly revived Italian Fest, with my brother’s help, we provided over 200 meatballs, which translates to roughly 20 pounds of meat. Our meatballs were made from our mother’s meatball recipe that we use to this day. This family classic incorporates ground beef and ground pork into the meatballs, along with seven other key ingredients. In later years, instead of meatballs, the meatball committee moved to cook a meat sauce d [far less labor intensive].

I baked Italian Lemon-Lime-Basil Shortbread Cookies, a savory after dinner dessert for the Italian Fest. Some of my cousins made  deserts and served food at the dinner. Yet parishioners had come together; indeed members of my party included those from other parishes. We ate, we talked, we laughed, we ran into people we had not seen in a long time, we drank vino rosso and Peroni beer, and we shared desserts. It mattered little that the meatballs I ate [clearly not my mother’s meatball recipe] were so alarmingly salty that I drank two large glasses  of water and imbibed a bottle of beer to negate the salt. I refrained from complaining too much, for I feel certain that every Italian cook feels his or her meatballs are the best. What took precedence over the shortcomings were the camaraderie and the collegiality that prevailed as we toasted the Feast of Saint Joseph.

Ciao for now.

 

 

The New Year Hath Begun

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Light breaks through the winter landscape for January 2018.-www.tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi |@MaryAnnaVioli

Knock on wood: five days into the New Year and so far, I have avoided tripping, increased illness, and damage to myself in general. Not only does the temperature remain well below freezing, several mishaps befell me as the previous year drew to a close. Yet I remain confident the weather will warm up to at least above freezing in another week or so, and that I will rebound.

After having spent a wonderful day in Fort Wayne with my aunt, uncle, and cousin visiting from L.A., I drove home in a snow sleet storm. The conversation lively, the food excellent, and the tea and coffee at their home warmed my heart. Their company offered a sweet post-Christmas get together. Later, driving at 40 miles an hour, I didn’t make great time, but I managed to drive us home safely while enduring white out conditions.

As the morning broke, I found myself as sick as could be with a vile virus. Between the terrible cold weather and my overall malaise, I dosed myself with over-the-counter medications in the cabinet. In the wee hours of the morning, I stepped into the bathroom, and promptly tripped over something. I catapulted into the side of the porcelain bathtub on my right shoulder, and then crashed onto the tile floor on my right hip. Failure to turn on the bathroom light, my negligence in not stepping into sturdy slippers, my lack of vision wear, plus items left on the bathroom floor, combined to form a perfect storm of catastrophe. I had taken sinus and congestion medication before retiring for the night, which resulted in fuzzy thought processes, or lack thereof. Or I simply chose not to put away items.

At the risk of sounding like Lazarus, I was in tremendous pain, unable to get off the bathroom floor. EMS guys managed to hoist me up and into a straight back chair. After checking me over and evaluating my walk, they determined nothing had been broken. They suggested taking me for further evaluation at the hospital, but the winter wind whipping around outside held little appeal in my mind to venture out. The EMS personnel and the three firemen offered kind words and compliments about our Christmas decorations and outdoor lights. After they left, I spend the remainder of the night attempting to sleep in a recliner.

Thus, I remained inside during the blustery New Year’s weekend, making use of a heating pad and drinking copious amounts of green tea. It turned out that Coco Chanel, our little black and white cat, had developed a proclivity for the heating pad. Whenever she now sees me plug it in, she races to pounce upon it. We now share it. Last night I had a glass of wine with a slice of Whole Foods pizza. I have imbibed enough tea and water. I am still smarting over not having been able to toast the New Year with a glass of bubbly. Perhaps it is not too late to toast the New Year. Tonight I will fill my glass with the gentle fizz of Prosecco and ring in the New Year. It’s never too late!

Ciao for now.

 

December 2017

Hot chocolate, cutout cookies, marshmallows, and a candy cane make for a cozy December 25. – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

December. I cannot fathom what in the name that is good and holy went awry.

The first week of December, a beloved uncle dropped dead, literally. True, he had been in heart failure, and had suffered various ailments, and yes, he had turned 96 on Halloween, but still, his death was unexpected, at least it was to me.

On Saturday, the day after I had the honor of singing at said uncle’s funeral Mass, I awakened to an unwanted bout of a gastro-intestinal virus. Fortunately, it lasted only 24 hours, but still, it seized me for a most unpleasant duration.

Sunday began nicely enough: I attended Mass, later focusing on my last two days of classes for the forthcoming week. The usual flurry of activity surrounding end of the semester college classes hastened to a close. On Monday morning a most wretched pain affected my neck. I could not fathom what had happened during my night of repose; however, I knew I had to make haste to pull myself together for these second to the last classes. I popped a couple of Ibuprofen and figured those would do the trick. Sadly, they did not. I managed to grit my teeth, and not turn my head too much, and somehow crawled through the day. During the night I was either howling or crying from the dreadful pain in my neck. I rifled through the medicine cabinet in hope of finding something to alleviate the pain. While the medicine dulled the pain in my neck, I entered the Twilight Zone. Unable to focus, I stumbled throughout the day at home, nearly falling on several occasions. That night I managed to get about three hours worth of sleep; the remainder of the night passed in my screaming in pain or in tears.

Morning dawned: the last day of classes. Every fiber of my body ached from pain: I was a wreck. I fumbled around my computer in attempts to make arrangements for my students. Since pain and medication had rendered me unfit for the classroom, or for anything else, in anguish I reached out to colleagues for help in collecting my students’ final work.

After multiple nights of virtually no sleep, I lay propped up in a comfortable chair, still in pain, yet not immobilizing pain. My physician also changed the type of muscle relaxant so that my out of body experience lessened. I managed to read my students’ final work, and the next day I completed the final grading. For the first time in over 30 years of teaching, however, I missed my last classes, and could only bid my students adieu over the classroom management system.

The following week I felt better. I then turned my attention to Christmas preparations. Later I decided to make Tuscan Farro Soup. One of my favorite kitchen gadgets is a mandolin that makes slicing vegetables a breeze. On the box, I noticed a picture of sliced carrots. I surmised I didn’t need to use the safety device that holds the vegetable in place. As I merrily sliced away, the carrot buckled, broke, and the mandolin sliced off the top of my middle finger [not the tip, but the flat part below the nail]. Once again I screamed in pain as blood spurted down the drain, for I had turned on the cold faucet water. It took awhile to then stanch the flow of blood. My daughter wanted to take me to the ER, but I said there was nothing to stitch. Washing the wound, then applying triple antibiotic ointment on it, and wrapping it in the large bandage seemed the best course of action.

For the next week I could not stir anything, or cut Christmas wrapping paper, or tie ribbon around gifts. Days before Christmas I managed to make my mother’s classic “Connie’s Fudge” recipe, bake and decorate Italian Ricotta Lemon Cookies, and make a homemade coconut cream pie to take to m brother and his family. The only way I could do this was with my daughter, who formed the balls of cookie dough to bake, and to stir the stovetop portion of the fudge recipe, and to stir the cream part of the coconut cream pie.

Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas!

Ciao for now.

 

 

Type, Type, Type

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I can only imagine at Literati Bookstore in Anna Arbor, Michigan, the number of the books by authors such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Virginia Woolf who typed their work on manual typewriters. -tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

This morning I read about the death of Mary Adelman. She and her husband Stanley Adelman owned and operated Osner Business Machines in New York, in Manhatten’s Upper West Side. While I never knew the good Adelmans, the photo in the New York Times of Mary Adelman sitting next to an old upright Underwood typewriter stirred memories.

Stanley maintained typewriters for the famous and for the unknown. Philip Roth, David Mamet, and Nora Ephron were among their famous clientele. Even when computers became the machine of choice for writers, quite a few clung to their manual typewriters, even eschewing the electric models, flying in the face of the evolving technology of typewriters.

My mother, Catherine “Kitty”, was one of those who refused our repeated offers to buy her a computer to ease her typing. While we toiled away on our Apple computers, my mother would have us pull out her gray hard case with the worn velvet lining that held her Remington typewriter, the gray one with the dark green keys. Periodically she had me drive her over to Bob’s, her former co-worker at Remington Rand. He was one of the last of the manual typewriter repairmen in the area. Bob cleaned, polished, replaced parts such as ribbons, all the while reminiscing with Mama about their halcyon workdays at Remington Rand.

In reading about Mary Adelman, and then reading about her husband Stanley, I understood their passionate affinity for manual typewriters. I even comprehended the famous writers, like Isaac Bashevis Singer who faithfully labored in their Osner Business Machines shop. There is an air of sadness for the bygone era of the manual typewriter. I use to derive comfort from the clackety-clack sound of my mother deftly typing correspondence for my father’s shoe business, and typing letters to her fellow board members for the now defunct little Saint Joseph Hospital’s Auxiliary, and for the Saint Monica Rosary Society, and for the Quester’s Antique Club, and for other organizations on which she served. I recall her copious typewritten lists and correspondence as she and Tony and Betty organized Saint Monica’s annual Spaghetti Suppers. Papers neatly organized with me as a child following her directives for placing the stamps on the envelopes. Later Mama drove us to the Post Office to mail the stacks of letters to the recipients.

While I would not relinquish my Mac computer, I honor those who write on with their machine of choice. Type on, fellow writers, I say, type on.

Ciao for now.