All Hail Aunt Agnes!

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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,

Let There Be Cake!

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Costco calls its cake “The All-American Cake”. I think many would approve!-tangledpasta.net

 By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

Yesterday we celebrated a dear friend’s birthday. I made a Barefoot Contessa recipe from her new cookbook, Cooking for Jeffrey. Said Jeffrey is her husband, the Dean of the Yale School of Business, who relishes Ina’s cooking. Who wouldn’t? The “Rigatoni with Sausage and Fennel” recipe intrigued me because a.) I love fennel, and b.) the recipe called for only two teaspoons of tomato paste and no other tomatoes. Also, it included a cup of white wine, which enhanced the flavor of the cream-based sauce. I felt confident about the rigatoni dish since The Barefoot Contessa states on the back of the book jacket that all of the recipes have been “Jeffrey tested”. I’ve watched her cooking show for a long time, and Jeffrey seems to enthusiastically consume her culinary offerings.

I decided to follow further Ina Garten’s advice and serve the main event with a green salad, and ciabatta bread. Generally, I make simple green salads consisting of Romaine lettuce with a dressing of balsamic vinegar, good quality olive oil, Italian parsley, and sea salt and pepper. While I rarely serve bread with a pasta entrée, ciabatta is like the un-bread due to its thinness and lightness of taste. The rigatoni entrée included mild Italian sausage, heavy cream, half and half, garlic, onion, fresh fennel, Italian parsley, Parmesan cheese, and a dash of dried Italian red pepper. I cooked the rigatoni and the sauce stove top in separate large pots, and then mixed the components together. Finally, I baked the mixture in the oven. The tantalizing smell wafting from the oven only whetted our appetites!

Suffice to say, the repast tasted delicious! Thank you Barefoot Contessa, and Jeffrey! After a while, we rolled out the birthday cake: a four-layer confection of chocolate with chocolate icing and shaved chocolate all around. The cake stood tall and impressive. I confess I did not make this cake, having run short on time. Instead, I purchased Costco’s “All American Chocolate Cake”. Our birthday friend was thrilled! She told us it was the biggest birthday cake she had ever had! We took photos; she posted them on Facebook. She opened her presents. We had such fun! The fact that we experienced a carb overload and a sugar high failed to dampen our spirits. We then brewed herbal tea to quiet our digestive tracts. I packaged up half of the cake for our birthday friend to share with her family, and kept a bit of the mountainous cake for us. Later that night, our friend thanked us again for a tremendous birthday celebration. Happy that all went well, the day after the food fest, I still can’t contemplate eating.

Ciao for now.