Ole’!

Credit Melina Hammer for The New York Times. Paella, pure and simply delicious with couscous or with saffron rice! – http://www.tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

My friends Eric and Eduardo are spending six weeks in Barcelona this summer. To say that I am envious is something I must confess I am. Eric and I have been corresponding and the first thing that charged to the forefront of my brainbox was Paella! If the Spanish had no other delicacy in their vast gourmet repertoire besides Paella, I would not be morose. Paella I could eat every day and be sated. The mélange of saffron rice, shellfish, white wine, vegetables, and wedges of lemon make my culinary heart skip a beat. There are meat versions of Paella with chicken, pork, and rabbit, but my Paella loyalties lie with the seafood version. The following link is to Mark Bittman of the New York Times’ Magazine and Dining section for his Paella Master Recipe.

Variations on Paella abound up and down and across Spain, much like the variations on a theme of France’s Cassoulet. It depends on the region, the available ingredients, and on the cook. Recipes are open to additions and deletions on the primary recipe offer the cook an array of possibilities. Eating Paella on a sultry summer night, drinking a crisp white wine, and listening to the soft strains of guitar music make me happy.

   Don Quijote is an exquisite Spanish restaurant in Valparaiso, Indiana. The chef creates a true Paella I yearn for and for which I am willing to drive the distance to partake of its splendor. Since I am a casserole aficionado, Paella appeals to me greatly. The seafood version takes me back to the warm beaches of Spain on starry nights, as I slowly ate and drank with friends. With each bite, may Paella transport you too, to the seductive rhythms of Spain.

Ciao for now.

Time after Time

crying  angel, figure on  Ixelles Cemetery (French:   Cimetiere d'Ixelles, Dutch : begraafplaats van Elsene ), Brussels, Europe
Even the angels weep for the victims. – http://www.tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi |@MaryAnnaVioli

  While I have been engrossed in writing another novel, I have neglected my blog for several weeks. However, recent events have compelled to focus more fully on composing this piece today.

I cannot ignore the bombing in Manchester, England this week, on Monday, May 22. Just when I think there are no words, I find I have the words.

Another sick twist that was seduced by a perverted interpretation of what being a Muslim is, annihilated 22 innocent concertgoers and injured 62 others. The desecration of life, the horror, the heartache, and the eternal question of Why swirled repeatedly through my mind. A light-hearted evening at an Ariana Grande concert that encouraged young girls to be strong, strive for a better future, and simply like themselves, then tore apart families and friends in a single act of pure evil that targeted primarily female youth.

All this cruelty occurred days before the start of Ramadan, the most sacred month for Muslims.

I think of the concerts my daughter has attended over the years, how happy and carefree she felt as she enjoyed The Spice Girls, The Backstreet Boys, and Lady Antebellum, among others. When I now look back on my daughter’s concert attendance, I shudder to think of how the parents of those young people endured the waiting and then the knowing. Innocent victims all, parents included, it turned out at the Manchester concert. As parents I believe we all wanted to hold our children closer after the tragic events in Manchester, England on May 22. Yet I wept over the senseless killings at Paris’ Bateclan and at Charlie Hebro, of the children in Syria, and of all attacks on the innocent. The Pulse Nightclub slaughter in Orlando, Florida last year, and the running down of families merely enjoying fireworks in Nice, France on Bastille Day bring the senseless deaths to the forefront time and time again.

I have prayed countless “Hail Mary” for the victims and their families. I am impressed with the resiliency of the survivors and their families. Its takes time, years, in fact, but they tend to emerge committed to a better world and improved life for their loved ones, knowing life can change in a heartbeat.

If the degenerates carrying out these attacks think they will gain an immediate place in Paradise, here is news for them: they have only paved for themselves a one-way ticket to Hell.

Ciao for now.

 

Dreams of Daiquiris

 An elegant, classic daiquiri wafts around the senses, aching to quench one’s thirst. – http://www.tangledpasta.net

 By Mary Anna Violi | MaryAnnaVioli

I have been aware of the late Ernest Hemingway’s capacious fondness for liqueur. He boasted of his tolerance for it, and even wrote about it in his novels and short stories. What I did not know about was his proclivity for the daiquiri, particularly the special one mixed for him at El Floridita in Havana, Cuba. Acknowledged as the best cocktail mixologist in Havana was Constantino Ribalaigua Vert, the revered bartender at El Floridita. Nicknamed Constante, he conceived of a daiquiri for Hemingway that he christened the Papa Doble. Hemingway liked to be called Papa, which I always thought was a bit disturbing.

Merely reading about the Papa Doble Daiquiri made me thirsty! Constante crafted Hemingway’s cocktail this way: “For the Papa Doble, he added grapefruit juice and a few drops of maraschino liqueur to two jiggers of light rum and the juice of a fresh lime.” Perhaps I am dreaming of a daiquiri because the days now wax warm, tinged with humidity. A cold, crafted daiquiri could quench my thirst, much as it did Hemingway in the blistering Havana heat. Daiquiris appeal to me when the sultry summer air envelops me. I imagine Hemingway in 1940’s Havana riding in a blue convertible down the dusty back roads with his third wife, Martha Gellhorn, who was a world-famous journalist, on their way to his villa, Finca Vigia.

I also imagine Desi Arnaz rhythmically pounding away on his bongo drum in a Tropicana nightclub in Havana. Although Arnaz emigrated from Cuba after Batista overthrew the government in 1933, I still imagine him in colorful Cuba swaying to his seductive Latin music beat. El Floridita, master bartender Constantino Ribalaigua Vert, Ernest Hemingway, the pulsating rhythm of Latin music, and Havana all present in the ubiquitous, icy daiquiri of yesterday and of today.

Ciao for now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Brontes: To Walk Invisible

Anne, Emily, Branwell, and Charlotte Bronte in a painting by Branwell around 1834.  He later painted himself out of the portrait. www. tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

On March 26, 2017, PBS broadcast the film To Walk Invisible The Bronte Sisters. I found this title curious since the film devoted a great deal of time to Branwell Bronte, the sisters’ only brother. Branwell cast a shadow over the lives of his family for multiple reasons: he was the only male heir; he was as talented as his sisters; and he was an alcoholic and drug addict. That the Bronte sisters, Charlotte, Emily, and Anne were superbly gifted writers goes without saying. However, Branwell remained the unrealized talent.

For my Senior Seminar as an English major at Indiana University Bloomington in the 1970’s, I was fortunate to have been accepted into the seminar, “The Brontes,” spearheaded by Professor Susan Gubar. We read everything, and I do mean everything, poems, novels, and unfinished manuscripts, written by The Brontes, including Branwell. Jane Eyre’s pluck and compassion; Heathcliff’s virility and vulnerability, Helen Graham’s defiance and liberation thrilled me no end. Yet Branwell’s dissolute living seemed to me to stem from a sense of fear and sense of inferiority. He certainly could have applied to study art in London, but he shrunk from what? The competition? His possible lack of great talent? Whatever his demons, Branwell squandered his money on drink, and then returned to his father’s home at Haworth Parsonage in Yorkshire, England. He painted portraits, worked on translations of the classics such as Homer, and composed poetry.

I found Branwell intriguing. I mused about what his life must have been like with the intellect and writing grandeur of Charlotte, Emily, and Anne under the same roof. His sisters elected not to reveal to him the success of their novels, Charlotte’s Jane Eyre, Emily’s Wuthering Heights, and Anne’s Agnes Grey because they feared upsetting him. Clearly Branwell turned out to be a disappointment, having thwarted his own considerable talents, and having engaged in a liaison with his employer’s wife, Lydia Robinson, which resulted in another loss of a job. Branwell’s behavior worsens as To Walk Invisible progresses, as it did in reality. The continual havoc he inflicted upon himself and upon his family becomes increasingly hard to watch. His death serves as a relief that put him out of his addictive thrashing and raving, opium as the drug of choice and the alcohol. All I could think of was what I pondered in my Senior Seminar class on The Brontes all those years ago: such tormented talent cast aside. I even wrote my lengthy Seminar paper on Branwell. To Walk Invisible rekindled my interest in Branwell, in spite of his demons.

Ciao for now.

 

Farewell, Ringling Brothers Circus

The magic of Ringling Brothers Big Top is now silenced and I am sad.-www.tangledpasta.net

 By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

I love the circus. As a child, I reveled in the acrobats, the horseback riders, the elephants, but most of all I cherished the big cats. No doubt this stemmed from my acute fondness for cats. At the age of three, my parents let me select my first kitten from a litter a late uncle had. I named my sweet Tabby cat Kitty Carbon; I cannot explain why, but it made sense to me in my three-year-old head. From then on, I embraced felines of any size. The first time I saw a live circus show, I fell for the lions and tigers. Those cats exuded a royal, regal air from every hair of their glossy coats of fur. Throughout my life I have had cats in it, and I still do. I am attuned to their nuances, as Alexander Lacey of Ringling Brothers Circus is to the lions and tigers he has raised since birth. Lacey is moving with his lions and tigers to Germany where he will continue breeding them.

This weekend marks the last of the live performances of the storied Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus, founded by P.T. Barnum in 1871. The grand circus must take its final bows in Washington, D.C. this weekend. Dwindling ticket sales over the last years, and the howling of purported animal rights activists have taken a toll, as have the competition from video and media entertainment. I am very pro-animals; however, the placard carrying “animal rights activists” rankles me. They are anti-circus, anti-zoo, yet I haven’t heard them rail against caging dogs while their owners work all day. I would like to point out that zoos do a great deal of good in the research and breeding of endangered species, like Steve Irwin’s Australia Zoo in Australia. Siegfried and Roy, too, have done much throughout the years to raise awareness of white tigers and white lions. Circuses of the ilk of Ringling Brothers of their own animals, but aid those beyond the realm of circus tents, but aid those beyond the realm of circus tents. The elephants of Ringling Brothers performed their last show a year ago; they now live in Ringling Brothers 200 acre Elephant Retirement Sanctuary in Florida. The research going on there is amazing such as why elephants do not get cancer.

The magic of Ringling Brothers Circus held me enthralled for years. All of the performances have been live events, minus stunt doubles. The artists who perform constantly hone their craft. Most of them are generational performers; it’s in their blood. They began training from the time they were tykes, most learning at the foot of their parents. Granted there are smaller circuses in operation in the U.S., but not on the scale of Ringling Brothers. Cirque du Soleil’s “O” show at the Bellagio in Las Vegas had the same effect on me as Ringling Brothers, but with no animals involved. The rarefied grandeur of Ringling Brothers, its performers and its animals are not likely to be seen again. And that is a tragedy.

Ciao for now.

Houston, Part 4

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I purchased this “Don’t Mess With Texas!” pillow at Buc-ee’s. – http://www.tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

   Although we knew we would have to soon leave Houston and our friends, I felt compelled to share a new phenomenon, to me at least, called Buc-ee’s. My friend Juliet rhapsodized about the wonders of Buc-ee’s. With her hearty endorsement of it, we stopped at the one located between Galveston and Houston on the Gulf Freeway, IH 45 South, near Texas City. The Houston Chronicle’s article, “25 amazing things you probably didn’t know about Buc-ee’s”, by Craig Hlavaty, on March 10, 2016, enlightened me further about the wonder that is Buc-ee’s, lengthy queue of gasoline pumps, or fueling stations, of which there must have been about 80 (the Buc-ee’s in New Braunfels, Texas has 120), initially caught my eye. A sign read “No eighteen wheelers allowed” and this made for a unique visit. The mammoth “convenience store” itself spanned somewhere in the vicinity of 55,000 to 80,000 square feet. This is what I love about Texas: everything is bigger and better. Having lived in Houston for 10 years, I can attest to this! I never saw as much jerky as I did at Buc-ee’s: beef, duck, turkey, you name it, they had it in the cleanest deli area I have ever seen. The Texas Round Up sandwich area one could purchase pulled pork, brisket, sausage, and turkey sandwiches. Salads were sold in the deli area too. In fact, the entire enterprise was as sparkling clean as could be.

Which brings me to the subject of restrooms. Buc-ee’s has even won the “Best Restroom in America” award from Cintas. I made use of the facilities and was impressed! Not only was the tile work impressive, but also each stall had a hand sanitizer dispenser! The restrooms are cleaned every hour. They were spic and span! Wandering through the wide aisles of food, clothing, candy, deli offerings, coffee café, and gift items provided delight and amazement. Buc-ee’s is an oasis on the highways and byways of Texas, and one not to be missed.

Tuesday morning dawned all too soon. With heavy hearts we said our goodbye to our dear Houston friends. As we left the sun, warmth, and friends, and boarded our Southwest Airlines flight to Chicago, we knew we would relive our wonderful week in Houston many times over in the days to come.

Ciao for now.

 

 

 

Houston, Part 3

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River Oaks is a beautiful, storied area of Houston. Flowers and trees abounded for our Spring hungry eyes! – http://www.tangledpasta.net

IMG_5391 Galveston, Texas, where we stood and watched people, seagulls, and tankers. http://www.tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi |@MaryAnnaVioli

On Sunday, the day after The Wedding, Juliet, Anjelica and I headed to Galveston. Again blue skies and Texas sunshine smiled upon us. We parked the car and walked around an area overlooking a quiet beach, further away from the Spring Break mob near the bustling thoroughfare. At this quieter locale with its rocky seawall opening onto a sandy beach, we listened to the lapping water, inhaled the salty air, and watched slow-moving tankers further offshore in the bay. We then commenced on a driving tour to get our bearings. Galveston had enjoyed a great construction spurt; colorful condos and clever named eateries had proliferated since my years of living in Houston. My friends and I used to hop in my car and head for a day in Galveston to escape the noise and rabble of Houston. One Christmas time, we descended upon The Bishop’s Palace . Its decorations were legendary and so they were.

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Vibrant colored condos line several blocks along Seawall Boulevard, overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. http://www.tangledpasta.net

We trolled a picturesque part of the city in search of an appealing, open restaurant. Several we honed in on turned out to be closed on Sundays. Observing people on the sidewalks, we opted to park the car and conduct a food search on foot on a tree-laced side street. A charming corner café offering authentic Mexican fare beckoned. By this time our hunger pangs had increased, even as we enjoyed the pretty street with plenty of palm trees waving in the gentle breeze. The warm, homemade chips and tangy red salsa and a green salsa proved hard to resist as we examined the menu. Finally, we placed our order: grouper tacos for Anjelica, a chicken quesadilla for Juliet, and a shrimp taco salad for me. Delicious and well worth the wait!

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The grouper tacos Anjelica ordered at the Mexican restaurant in Galveston, Texas. http://www.tangledpasta.net

IMG_5353   In front of the corner Mexican restaurant where we dined in Galveston, markers indicating how high the water rose during the hurricanes of 1915, 1900, and 1961. http://www.tanledpasta.net

After our late lunch, we wandered into several antique shops, one of which consisted of nautical antiques. The scent of the shop can best be described as briny. All sorts of ship-related wares from mermaid mastheads and large bells to plates and service ware abounded. If a person wanted to decorate a beach house, this would be the place to come! A few doors down, another antique shop sold large armoires and china cabinets, in addition to exquisite glassware and porcelain. Furniture and side tables and knickknacks, too, had been carefully preserved, polished and shined at this fine emporium. This had been Anjelica’s first time to Galveston, and she gave it her stamp of approval.

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The Galveston Opera House, conveniently located next to a pub! http://www.tangledpasta.net

On our final full day in Houston, we had lunch with Anjelica’s good friend Emily and her darling baby at Backstreet Café in River Oaks. I thoroughly enjoyed dining with friends as I ate my Poached Seafood Salad laden with shrimp, scallops, and calamari. We said farewell to Emily and her baby. We then engaged in sightseeing through leafy River Oaks. It’s filled with mansions, well-appointed lawns, and is a treasure trove of story folklore.

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The lovely River Oaks photo is worth repeating! http://www.tangledpasta.net

Ciao for now.