Thanksgiving Day

Imagine all the potential pumpkin pies! –

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.



A Memorable Thanksgiving

Pumpkin orange candle surrounded by various Autumn items

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

On this cloudy, chilly Thanksgiving, the weather fails to dampen my spirits. Not even a backed-up double kitchen sink that flooded last evening, nor the non-stop deluge of rain yesterday, nor the three-hour wait to retrieve my daughter’s car that malfunctioned in a city an hour away, nor my damp jeans that the umbrella failed to keep dry could deter my Thanksgiving happiness. These unexpected events prevented us from traveling out of town for Thanksgiving, but that did not prove to be an insurmountable obstacle.

Unfortunately, the seals on the garbage disposal were kaput, rendering the running water and the dishwasher, which is filled to the limit, off limits until Monday. My daughter’s #4 cylinder and valve have been replaced, the cylinder head completely cleaned, as was some other under-the-hood stuff. My car even got a new pair of windshield wipers, which gave me a clearer visibility driving in the rain: I could see! Upon arrival home, I changed out of my rain-soaked jeans and into comfy, flannel lounge pants, and then drank herbal tea.

After the erstwhile plumber attempted to detour the kitchen sink’s water, and then realized the under-the-sink flooding situation once the cabinet doors were opened, it was several rolls of paper towels to the rescue. I kept saying, “It’s only water!” as if repeating this would make the water go away. On the upbeat side, we cleaned out everything under the sink. I will now have room to store appliances that clutter the countertop!

Although I could not make neither my family-famous coconut cream pie, nor my Silver Palate crackling cornbread, we struck out again in the rain last night and drove to Whole Foods. Our contribution to Thanksgiving dinner is an apple pie and a bottle of Prosecco, the Italian champagne. We are sharing Thanksgiving with our good friends, my plumber with the M.B.A. and his family.

This morning I received happy news: My dear friend sent me a photo of his newborn niece. She was born last night, in Washington, D.C., shortly before midnight. Now that is a blessed, special Thanksgiving gift.

Ciao for now.


The Day After Thanksgiving

Among the delicious Thanksgiving foods we feasted on, were roasted red beets sprinkled with Pomegranate seeds and fresh dill, atop Ricotta

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

I have never understood the concept of Black Friday. From a business point of view, I get it: retail wants to make lots of money. From a consumer angle, however, I find it crass. The day after Thanksgiving should be a mellow day, basking in the after-glow of The Big Feast, possibly still with family and friends. Racing around with a carload of frenetic shoppers intent on being admitted first to big box stores for the available ten electronic items on sale, is absurd in itself. This resonates particularly well now that it appears retail is on sale year round.

While some people have told me, “It’s a bonding thing,” I fail to see how standing in long lines at some heinously early morning hour, clutching hot drinks, shivering in the Midwest cold, “bonds” one with family and friends. Making hot cocoa and a yummy coffee cake would make for more of a relaxing tradition. Engaging in spirited conversation about music such as Adele’s new 25 CD, and watching her on last week’s SNL would be fun. Another thought is to talk over a literary work, like Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, published in 1964, his “sketches” about his years as a struggling writer in Paris in the 1920’s, and how this book became France’s bestseller immediately following the massacre of 130 people in Paris on November 13, 2015.

Our newer family tradition is to put up the Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving. Up until a few years ago, we had always gone Christmas tree shopping for a live one. Finally, I invested in a U.S. made artificial tree, and now we put it up early and decorate it. We pull out the garlands for the bannister and archways, hanging the big, red, poufy bows my sister-in-law helped me make. Next, we loop strings of lights and we commence to decorate the inside of the house. The Christmas china is brought down from the high cabinet shelves, as are the glasses. We play Christmas music and keep a look out that the cats do not gnaw on the garlands. Ironically, they used to attack live poinsettias and tree boughs. Having moved to fake flowers and trees, they indiscriminately manifest periodic interest in the faux décor. Later we make minestrone soup, bake a pecan or pumpkin pie with brandy, have a glass of wine, and watch a Christmas movie. After dining well on Thanksgiving Day and talking and laughing with our friends, the day after takes on an ambiance all its own in the pleasure of sharing hearth and home with one another. Shopping does not factor into the equation, yet to each his own, as my grandmother used to say, as the old lady kissed the cow.

Ciao for now.

Thanksgiving Happiness


Thanksgiving Table Detail
The table is set.  Let the Thanksgiving feasting begin!

By Mary Anna Violi |@MaryAnnaVioli

Yesterday we had the good fortune to have seven inches of snow. I say “good fortune” because I heartily endorse winter weather. The reason for this is that I stay indoors and focus on my writing. I need prolonged periods of quiet in order to work out plot lines, character development, and dialogue. Winter is a liberating season as far as I am concerned. Yes, I would have preferred to do the grocery shopping yesterday afternoon, but I can do it just as easilyl after work tomorrow. The trick is to have certain food items in the pantry, in the freezer, and in the refrigerator in order to survive winter weather. Having Netflix at my fingertips also helps combat cabin fever, as do the antics of our cats, Valentino and Coco Chanel.

Thanksgiving articles and stories fill cyberspace these past weeks leading up to The National Big Feast. One of my favorite recent reads was the New York Times article, “Thanksgiving, the Julia Child Way”, by Julia Moskin, on November 16, 2015. It relates the charming story of how Julia and her husband Paul Child celebrated Thanksgiving. Once they had moved back to the United States, Julia did not stand on rigid protocol in serving up the traditional dinner. Her feast had little to do with the nuances of French cooking she taught us to master. Like Julia herself, from what I have read, the meal was down to earth delicious and welcoming in every way.

One recipe she followed judiciously was her Aunt Helen’s Fluffy Pumpkin Pie, which I have included here:

I understand Julia not tampering with a family classic for her Thanksgiving dinner. Televised cooking shows, magazines, and the Internet are overloaded with variations of pumpkin pie in the forms of pie, tart, and cheesecake. Pecan pie is also flogged with infusions of brandy, or cognac, or rum [all of which I endorse in baking], chocolate, and other curious ingredients. It seems to me that these folks are tripping over one another in vain attempts to serve the Ultimate Thanksgiving Dinner, which sounds alarmingly like one’s final meal. Frankly, I am rather a purist when it comes to the Thanksgiving feast. I prefer the turkey itself roasted with butter, olive oil, white wine and herbs. My dressing of choice, served on the side, is comprised of coarse Italian bread, chicken stock, celery, onion, garlic, and sage. Fluffy mashed potatoes with half-and-half, butter, and salt and pepper please me no end. Our family’s traditional Jello-based [raspberry and lemon] fresh cranberry salad with pineapple, red grapes, and nuts draws a smile. For the past several years I have added Campbell Soup’s iconic green bean casserole to our repast because it really is scrummy tasty. Buttered corn is another favorite on the table. Though I am not an avid sweet potato fan, I will add a dollop of them to my plate of food on Thanksgiving Day. Finally, there is the iconic pumpkin pie topped with whipping cream. I follow the Libby’s brand recipe, but I add either brandy, or cognac, or rum. Mincemeat and pecan pies might also make an appearance. The Thanksgiving food invariably reflects a kaleidoscope of autumn color, which makes it all the more appealing.

In the end, no matter how one serves up Thanksgiving Dinner, it is finally about coming together with family and friends, and celebrating a day of thanks while feasting on delicious food, honoring the traditions that draw us together on the last Thursday of November each year. Buon appetito!

Ciao for now.