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

IMG_5503.jpg

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.

 

 

Thanksgiving Day

Imagine all the potential pumpkin pies! – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

As we near the end of November, we turn our attention to that laudable holiday: Thanksgiving. In the spirit of breaking bread, or Parker House Rolls, we sit down at the table laden with roasted turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, butternut squash, creamed corn, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, pumpkin, or pecan pie, or apple pie, or my homemade coconut cream pie. We toast with wine to get the family and friend meal underway. The eating then commences amid the clatter of plates and the cheerful chatter of goodwill.

Small wonder we reach for an anti-acid after pushing away our chairs from the table.

I have read several articles in the past week or so about how to avoid conflict over the Thanksgiving meal. This has to do with inquisitive relatives hitting upon flashpoints of personal matters such as Why aren’t you pregnant? You’ve been married nearly two years! Don’t you want to take off that extra weight? You’d look so much prettier! What made you retire at 64? You could go until 70 or at least 67! Why did you go back to work? You retired! You must have been bored! Don’t you want to get married again? You could have companionship and even sex [wink, wink]! Have you found a boyfriend yet? Childbearing years have an expiration, you know. Finally, there is the dreaded political and sexual harassment and/or rape discussion. I am not even going to dignify this blog post with the degenerative and outrageous behavior that is bringing this year to a close, God help us.

I have told myself that all those who make whatever inquiries mean well, that they are attempting conversation, and that they are trying to find some sort of common ground in which to engage in dialogue. In the end, I cannot fault them for their efforts.

Instead of Making Turkey, They Make Reservations, Pete Wells of the New York Times explores why families often opt to dine out on Thanksgiving Day. The reasons run the gamut from not having yet made friends in a new town, to avoiding explosive dinner conversation with families, to wanting to simplify Thanksgiving and letting chefs create the dinner and leave the staff to do the cleanup. My family once dined out on Thanksgiving. We had a delicious meal at a cozy corner table in a fine restaurant where my then-toddler daughter could play with her non-noisy toys without getting in the way of the servers or other patrons. While we pronounced it a success, we lamented the lack of leftovers. The following Thanksgiving saw us at home collaboratively preparing the feast, setting the table with one of my Italian linen tablecloths made by my aunts in Italy, using the “good china”, and wine glasses from the cabinet. All felt and tasted right again with the world.

My darling parents have since passed away, and close family member have either relocated to the coast, or share holidays with in-laws. We now dine with dear friends who honor their Italian and French heritages, as we do our Italian lineage. We have a common bond in that we are also rampant foodies, literary aficionados, and we relish conversation encompassing wit, humor, and insight. Thanksgiving is the holiday where we friends can come together. While we wish we could meet more often, our lives are filled with work, visiting our children in other cities, and attending to elderly family members. We are close friends who function like family, and we cherish this bond. My dear family extend heartfelt invitations for us to join them for Thanksgiving, and I am most grateful, while I hold dear sitting down with them in the past.

I take heart in the mirth and joy of Thanksgiving, whether we partake of the meal with family or with friends. Let us advocate to give thanks for family and friends, and let us raise our glasses to honor the blessings derived from delicious food and the company of those we love.

Ciao for now.

 

 

Le George

wine

Inside our booth at Le George. – tangled pasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi |@MaryAnnaVioli

We traveled to north of the Detroit area to visit our 98-year-old aunt and members of her family. We celebrated a belated birthday with her, and reveled in the fact that she remains as vibrant and lovely as always. We toasted my aunt with champagne, always a festive drink, and then sat down to partake of the feast her daughter prepared: an onion tart, very French, an eclectic salad of mixed greens, a wonderful chocolate cake, and satisfying cups of coffee. We laughed and reminisced, told amusing stories, and simply had a fine time in every way. While my cousins and I do not see each other, but a handful of times during the year, conversation never flags with our family of talkers.

cheese cigarettes

The Pastry Cigarettes are a culinary delight. – tangled pasta.net

eggplant

Aubergine Canapes Eggplant Bruschetta are for those of us that love aubergine. – tangled pasta.net

Later that evening, we checked into our hotel in Northville. Realizing that our dinner reservations at our favorite restaurant, Le George were for 7:30 p.m., we freshened up, and beat a hasty retreat to dine on delicious Lebanese food. The weather proved to windy and chilly to eat on the tiny deck overlooking the pretty shops and art gallery on Northville’s main avenue. However, we were well compensated by the cozy, sophisticated interior of Le George. In fact, over our wine, George himself strolled over to our dark wood little booth for a chat. He is from Beirut, Lebanon and he reminds me of the marvelous conversations I used to have with my late uncle, who was also Lebanese. This in turn brought back happy memories of when I taught at the University of Houston. I had quite a few Lebanese students who were trilingual in Arabic, French, and English. Like George and my uncle, my students were witty, urbane, earthy, and possessed a great sense of humor.

grapeleaves

Grape Leaves with lamb, beef, and rice and Wheat A L’Huile D’Olive satisfied a hungry palate. – tangled pasta.net

FullSizeRender 2

The stuffed Cabbage Rolls at Le George tasted like a symphony for the palate. – tangled pasta.net

Once again, we dined well at Le George. We began with hors d’oeuvre of Pastry Cigarettes, three with herbed cheese and three with spiced meat. The two Aubergine Canapes Eggplant Bruschetta were not on a toasted baguette, but were thick slices of eggplant topped with finely cut and diced fresh vegetables. These hors d’oeuvre were a delight for the palate. Next came the Crème de Lentilles Gazpacho Libanaise with its velvet smooth texture and subtle taste. For Entrees, we ordered Grape Leaves and Cabbage Leaves stuffed with lamb, beef, and rice that were simmered in a light lemon sauce. Instead of rice, we opted for the Wheat A L’Huile D’Olive. Superb all and wrapped up in the richness of fine dining ambiance that is Le George. While we cannot eat ambiance, we certainly feasted well within the world of Le George.

Ciao for now.

 

 

Pie

Southern Living’s photo of its Honey-Balsamic Blueberry Pie. http://www.tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi |@MaryAnnaVioli

While I extol the virtues of cake anytime, I lust after fruit pie in the summertime. I am an aficionado of blueberry pie, strawberry pie, blackberry pie, rhubarb pie, and peach pie. When these fruits are at their peak during the summer months, I am ready, fork in hand, to slowly relish the taste of each and every one of them, though not all at once [moderation is important]. Cheeseburgers, hot dogs, or bratwursts, along with a French style potato salad, followed by a delicious piece of a berry or of a peach pie, make for a satisfying summer dessert.

I do not eat pie on a daily basis, though I often wish I could [there is that moderation factor again], thus I like actual sugar in my pie, not artificial sweeteners with their metallic aftertaste that alters the essence of the fruit. Until a physician counsels me not to eat a “natural” fruit pie, and may that day never come, I shall savor the sensation of fruit pies sweetened with sugar. This weekend I shall bake a blueberry pie made with balsamic vinegar and honey . It is my all-time favorite blueberry pie recipe. My go-to strawberry pie recipe contains cocktail juice. When it comes to rhubarb pie, I am a purist. No strawberries mixed in with the rhubarb for me. I prefer my rhubarb pies unadulterated without another fruit, with nothing to mask the tartness of the rhubarb.

Next week I am preparing to savor the incomparable fresh peach pie. This pie is a symphony for the palate, where the fragrant peaches meld to intoxicate the senses. Only a philistine of tainted sensibilities could resist such a confection made with sun-ripened peaches. It is apparent that I have adopted a firm stance on the subject of summer fruit pies. This has much to do with the fruit pies my mother used to make. Once I learned at the knee of a master pie baker, my palate was forever elevated to create, taste, and savor nothing but the finest of summer fruit pies.

Ciao for now.

Cake

FullSizeRender (1)

Underneath the pastel-colored sugars and the fluffy frosting is a delectable lemon cake! – http://www.tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi |@MaryAnnaVioli

I admit it: I love cake. The lightness, the seemingly infinite varieties, the textured frosting, I cannot resist. My affinity for cake began at an early age. My mother used to decorate the most irresistible cakes to commemorate births, christenings, birthdays, anniversaries, and on rare occasions, weddings. I would open the refrigerator and voila’: I could gaze at the pink roses, the white and yellow daffodils, the purple shades of pansies she concocted out of frosting. Each flower sat on its own small square of wax paper on the second shelf of the ‘fridge. I was admonished not to touch the frosting flowers as they chilled. The next day I watched in amazement as Mama decorated cakes with these floral confections. If a flower failed to meet her exacting standards, I could eat it, thereby eliminating any trace of the fallen flower.

Once, when I was around five or six, I recall Mama making a strawberry cake for the Church Bake Sale. She took the two round cake pans filled with pink cake out of the oven and set them to cool on a rack. I pointed out a crack running down the center of one of the layers. “Not to worry,” she said. “I will fill in the narrow crack with pink icing.” She left the room and I found the flaw drew me in. I stuck my finger into the crack and came up with a finger full of warm cake. The strawberry fragrance tantalized my senses. Upon Mama’s return to the kitchen, she caught me pink-handed digging deeper into the cake. There is no fury like that of a cake baker/decorator whose cake has been violated. Suffice to say I never dug into a warm cake with a crack in it again.

In the heat of the summer there is nothing like a lemon cake. The citrus aroma draws me in and, like Pavlov’s dog, makes me salivate, though not in a disgusting manner. Lemon cake with whipped white frosting begs to be laced with pastel colored sugars, which I happen to have on hand. Sometime after a light summer dinner and drinks on the patio, it is time to serve up squares of lemon cake. A scoop of Limonciello gelato makes me smile with delight.

Ciao for now.

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.