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.

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

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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.

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

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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

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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.

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.

 

 

Houston, Part 2

A Roman Marble Sarcophagus Depicting a Battle between Soldiers and Amazons (Warrior Women), 140–170 AD. http://www.mfah.org/art/detail/74957

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

My daughter tested her metal in navigating Houston traffic as we sped hither and yon on the freeways. Great friend Juliet loaned us her Volkswagen Tiguan for our explorations. After going back and forth over whether to visit The Menil Collection, or The Rothko Chapel, , or The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston,

Henri Matisse, French, 1869–1954, Woman in a Purple Coat, Oil on canvas. https://www.mfah.org/art/detail/1552?returnUrl=%2Fart%2Fsearch%3Fq%3DMatisse%26page%3D2

Given our limited time, we settled upon the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH), where we could get sample art across the millennia. The MFAH has grown by leaps and bounds since I volunteered there in the 1980’s, and I was anxious to visit the expanded galleries. Whereas Anjelica prefers Art of the Antiquities, I relish Impressionism. While I had to eventually pry her away from the Art of the Ancient World, she had to wedge me out of the galleries housing Impression masterpieces. Among my favorites in the MFAH are Gustav Caillebotte’s The Orange Trees; Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s Girl Reading, Claude Monet’s Water Lilies [Nympheas], and Early Modernist Henri Matisse’s Woman in a Purple Coat.

The back of the Egyptian Monumental Statue of the Pharaoh Ramesses II Enthroned,
1279 –1212 BC,
Granodiorite, https://www.mfah.org/art/detail/51813?returnUrl=%2Fart%2Fsearch%3Fdepartment%3DAntiquities%26page%3D5.

Anjelica wanted to see the photography, of which there are extensive holdings; it proved fascinating. With her undergraduate double major in Journalism and in Classical Studies with an emphasis in Art History, Anjelica reveled in the ancient art holdings of the MFAH. She pointed out nuances on reliefs from tombs and on a Roman sarcophagus. When I clamped my eyes on the enormous statue of an Egyptian royal, I drank in the Hieroglyphs on the sides and back of the art. In linguistic classes, I wax poetic on the subject of Writing, particularly that of the Ancient Egyptians. Seeing large hieroglyphics sculpted into a work from B. C. made me want to teach linguistic courses again!

After feasting on Photography, Antiquities, Impressionism, and Contemporary Art, we needed to pull away to replenish our bodies. This need led us to the Museum’s Café. It is airy, full of light, with a bounty of delicious fare. My daughter ordered the Prosciutto and Arugula Pizza, while I munched on a Pesto Panini with Chicken as we imbibed refreshing iced tea. Our attention then turned to the Gift Shop. Museum gift shops are some of my favorite shopping haunts. The jewelry, glassware, books, and scarves are only part of the artistic creations to be found. In the cat book area, I purchased Henri, le Chat Noir: The Existential Musings of an Angst-Filled Cat. Henri is my favorite Internet cat. Anjelica bought a picture of a Georgia O’Keefe painting she plans to frame.

Arugula and Prosciutto pizza at the MFAH Cafe. http://www.tangledpasta.net

Reluctantly, we left the MFAH with our cultural aesthete nourished. We drove the 45-minutes back to Clear Lake pleased with the knowledge that our horizons had been broadened, thanks the Houston’s stellar Museum of Fine Arts.

Ciao for now.