A Big Birthday

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Various kinds of pizza are needed to celebrate a birthday! – tangled pasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

Yesterday we honored my paternal uncle in celebrating his 98th birthday. He is the last of my father’s siblings, a family of three sisters and three brothers. My Italian immigrant father passed away just shy of 96, long after he had later brought his two younger brothers to the U.S. For various reasons, his three sisters remained in southern Italy. From 1933 onwards, my father’s family became geographically divided. Yet they always remained in touch throughout those many years.

Last night at the pizza party my cousins held for their father, I thought about how brave my father and his brothers were to come to a foreign country without having learned any English prior to their arrival, and with little money in their pockets. Granted, my father had a cousin who encouraged him to come to his newly adopted town, but to take that ship from Naples and sail to New York’s Ellis Island required a great leap of faith. Yet the three brothers all built new lives here, married, raised families, practiced their faith, and prospered in their own ways.

Last night my uncle looked on cheerfully as we circulated among one another, talking, laughing, and having a fine time. I thought about how much my late aunt, his wife, would have loved having the family together. Her good nature would have embraced the festivities. We all miss her very much, especially my uncle. Sometimes when I visit him, he says, “I don’t know why I’m here! For what?” I answer that he is now the patriarch of our family, that we need him to lead us. He tells me that I’m crazy, that no one needs him anymore. But he is wrong: he is the living link to our past, not that we think of him as a museum specimen, rather to know that we can turn to him for our family history and anecdotes. He reminds us from whence we came, of the struggles, the milestones, the essence of what makes us, for all intents and purposes, us.

Ciao for now.

Radio Daze

Retro styled image of an old car radio
Old cars, old radios, new ideas, and great humor equal Tom and Ray. – tangledpasta.net

 Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

Early this morning when I deemed it far to soon to abandon my bed, I found myself listening to homage on NPR’s Fresh Air. This particular one featured vignettes from a 2001 interview Terry Gross did with Tom and Ray Magliozzi from their NPR radio show, Car Talk. Although I had previously heard this tribute to Tom Magliozzi, I enjoyed hearing it all again. Tom Magliozzi died in November 2014 of “complications from Alzheimer’s”, according to the broadcast, but I can hear him once a week, and I am not talking about via paranormal experience.

On the weekends, I continue to tune in to Car Talk on NPR. Rechristened The Best of Car Talk, my education persists regarding cars and all sorts of non-car related subjects, courtesy of the Magliozzi Brothers. Those two MIT graduates were inspired and inspiring. According to those who knew Tom and know Ray, the Italian brothers really were the “real deal”, which is most refreshing. Ray still broadcasts commercials prior to the weekend shows, which makes me feel close to him, not in a creepy way, but in a friend kind of manner. Even though he resides in the environs of Cambridge, Massachusetts, or maybe still in their “fair city” of Cambridge, he’s close to my ear because of the radio.

Oh, and I absolutely love their accents! Those Cambridge intonations, vernacular, and language rhythms resonate with me. Not that I could emulate their sound, no, that is their unique mode of expression. I merely kick back and drink in their brash sound, made all the more vivid because of Tom’s cackle one-of-a-kind laugher.

In addition to learning about cars, I always feel better just listening to Tom and Ray. They are creative, funny, insightful, caring, and are good brothers to one another. Over the years, they have impressed me with their sense of family and their loyalty to friends. My impression is that their radio broadcast team and their long-time producer, Doug Berman, functioned like the Magliozzi’s surrogate radio family. One memorable broadcast included a hilarious segment on how the Magliozzi brothers planned a winter getaway trip to sunny Florida for their radio entourage. Ray became so ill before the trip, his doctor forbade him to go. He asked his brother Tommy to think of him on the trip, and did “Tommy” ever!

Maybe it is their breadth of knowledge, their means of extracting humor from seemingly impossible situations, and their ability to chase away the blues that draws me to Car Talk and to Ray’s continued presence. The world makes sense again to me every weekend with Car Talk.

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.

The Year the Music Died

 

David Bowie performing his iconic song Heroes, in Berlin, in 2002, courtesy of YouTube. – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

I do not consider myself a morbid person, yet casting a look back on music in 2016, I believe a case could be made for going a step further than The Day the Music Died, to recasting it as The Year the Music Died. Beginning with my beloved Rock God David Bowie’s death on January 10, followed by Glen Fry’s, and then by Prince, Leonard Cohen, George Michael, and others, it seemed the Grim Reaper loomed large.

Today marks David Bowie’s 70th birthday. I still cannot believe he ceased making music on Planet Earth, but I envision The Starman rocking on, overlooking us all, especially watching over his beloved family. We all now know that three months prior to his January 10, 2016 death, doctors had told him the cancer treatments were over; they were no longer working. It appears the liver cancer won out over medicine and science, as deadly forms of cancer do. I despise cancer in all forms; it has killed people I personally have known and loved. The scourge of cancer and its treatments fast-forwards the ageing process, often emaciates its victims, and plays funky with the brain. It is a curse.

The miracle of David Robert Jones, a.k.a. David Bowie, is that in spite of 18-months of aggressive cancer treatments, he forged ahead, and spun music [his album Blackstar], theater [Lazarus, his off-Broadway collaboration with Enda Walsh], and videos [Lazarus and Blackstar] during his remaining days on Earth. A towering figure in music, theater, film, art, fashion, performance, and in the Internet, David Bowie towered above others, epic and heroic, a visionary who remained true to his Muse to the very end. I respect that he refrained from revealing the extent of his illness, that he protected both his family and himself from invasive press and curiosity seekers. After all, his mother-in-law, his wife Iman’s mother,  was suffering from cancer at the same time; she succumbed in March 2016, after his January death.

Still, I would have liked to have seen David Bowie again in person, the multifaceted, talented meteor that fell to Earth, the man who shifted culture, and whose light burned brightly for us for over 50 years. I am certain that my desire is nothing compared to that of his family’s.

Happy Birthday, David Robert Jones, you are much loved.

Ciao for now.

 

A Clean Start

 

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The shores of Lake Michigan in winter, in Long Beach, IN stretch before me with endless possibilities ahead. – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi |@MaryAnnaVioli

While many made New Year’s resolutions to get their living space in tidy order, I labored to clear out my office. The one I vacated provided ample space and multiple bookshelves to hold my linguistic, literature, composition, and Montessori books. A large window overlooked a limestone building of little architectural interest, and took up most of the scenery. However, to the right, if I stood up, a partial view of trees could be seen. In business, the corner office is usually the coveted one, and that is the office I had up until last Friday. Lest one thinks I’m nostalgic for that space, rest assured, I am not, for at home I have several cozy areas where I write. I have had nice visits with colleagues ever since I gave notice of my leaving, and I enjoyed each and every one of them. Last Friday I sat down with a colleague whom I met 25+ years ago. We share a sense of history of the campus that few others do. Yet there are others I will remain in relatively close contact because of friendship.

I turned over the last of the keys to the office door, left the filing cabinet key and drawer keys in place. My friend and I hugged again, and then I left the building. Bidding adieu to her and others proved melancholy, even as I kept my eyes riveted on the future. The routine of these many years had embedded itself with a sort of comfort level during the best and the worst of times, which is a part of the landscape of a job. I’ve spoken about leaving a long time job for months with those who have either retired or resigned. Most informed me, “When it’s time to go, you’ll know.” Indeed, their sage counsel reverberated in my ears. My decision involved no drama. Instead, retiring simply felt right so that I could embark upon the next phase of my life.

As the New Year beckons me, I now lack excuses for not ridding my closets and drawers of clothing, papers, and miscellaneous pieces of the past. The time de-clutter my living space is now. The moment to reinvent my life invigorates me. My eyes are focused on the present. The possibilities of the future with writing seem boundless.

Ciao for now.

The Morning After

Close-up of a plate of Fettuccine Carbonara
While I like Carbonara made with spaghetti, fettuccine or linguine may be used. The long strands of pasta better absorb the mixture and make for an enhanced taste. – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

One of my favorite go-to recipes is for Spaghetti Carbonara. No only is it easy, it is also delicious! The “Carbonara” in its name comes from the freshly ground black pepper used in the recipe. Growing up, pasta of any shape was doused with a hearty red sauce, a la Southern Italy, Calabrese-style. As I ventured forth into the world, well, at least to Northern and Central Italy, my gustatory senses awakened to the variations on Spaghetti Carbonara. It was cathartic! Spaghetti Carbonara is also cheap eats, depending upon the cook’s preference for pancetta [pricey], or bacon [not so pricey]. Another factor in cost is the type of cream one uses, if indeed, one adds cream at all, which the Romans do not. It depends upon my mood as to whether or not I use cream. If I decide I do, then I prefer half-and-half versus heavy cream. Whether or not one purchases the organic variety [a bit pricier than the non-organic version] may also ramp up the thriftiness of the pasta dish.

Imagine my delight on New Year’s morning when I read the NPR piece on Bacon, Eggs, Cheese – And Spaghetti? The Italian Twist on Hangover Cure! The essay gives some historical perspective on this classic dish at http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2017/01/01/507566978/bacon-eggs-cheese-and-spaghetti-the-italian-twist-on-a-hangover-cure.

No matter how you opt to make Spaghetti Carbonara, it will not only lessen the after effects of a hangover, but will taste delizioso! Below is my riff on the ubiquitous pasta dish.

Spaghetti Carbonara.

1-pound good quality spaghetti [De Cecco pasta is my favorite,]

1-2 tablespoons good quality olive oil

6-8 ounces pancetta, or good quality bacon

4 eggs [I prefer brown eggs, cage-free, grain fed]

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese [Parmigiano-Reggiano is my preference.]

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Cook the spaghetti according to the package directions.

As the spaghetti cooks, in a large frying pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Be careful not to burn the olive oil! Add the pancetta or the bacon. Cook until lightly browned, 3 minutes or so.

Take a large pasta bowl, and then beat and blend the eggs and cream. Next, stir in ½ cup of the Parmesan cheese the ground black pepper. Pour the drained spaghetti into the pasta bowl and mix together with the eggs and cream. Blend in the pancetta or bacon, and the drippings. Be sure to coat the spaghetti well with the wet mixture and the pancetta or bacon.

Serve hot.  Garnish with Italian flat leaf parsley. Pass the grated Parmesan cheese, and even additional ground black pepper on the side to taste. Buon appetito!

Ciao for now.

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New Year’s Eve

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This delicious chicken noodle soup I made could also work for a post-New Year’s Day repaste. – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

Tonight’s menu is planned: The Barefoot Contessa’s Fettuccine with White Truffle Butter and Mushrooms, Romaine salad with Tuscan olive oil-based dressing, vino bianco, and much good cheer. Finding Italian Truffle Butter is no mean feat; in fact, the only grocery that sells it in this area is Whole Foods, whom I would like to commend on yesterday’s samples of Saint Andre’s Triple Cream French Cheese, served with sun-dried tomatoes. This is one of my favorite French cheeses, so I naturally had to purchase a wedge, particularly since it was on sale, as was the Italian Truffle Butter.

For months I have wanted to make again the Barefoot Contessa’s Fettuccine with White Truffle Butter and Mushrooms recipe, but, alas, Whole Foods didn’t restock the 3.5 ounce Italian Truffle Butter. Now that it has magically reappeared, I will likely buy another. The Barefoot Contessa’s recipe calls for only 3.0 ounces, but I figure what the heck: it’s New Year’s Eve; let’s eat it all! I even viewed the video of Ina Garten making her recipe on the Food Network to make sure I am on track with concocting this delicacy. At the price of the truffle butter and Cremini mushrooms, I don’t want to pull a faux pas with the recipe.

In between times today, we will nosh on cold shrimp and a mild cocktail sauce. On New Year’s Day, a friend is coming over to dine with us. I’ll serve herbed pork tenderloin with baked potatoes topped off with a yogurt and low-fat sour cream, brussel sprouts, and fresh-baked ricotta cheese cookies for dessert. We might as well start 2017 off with nutrition in mind!

I’ve never felt the need to go out and get all liquored up on New Year’s Eve. Why usher in the New Year with a nasty hangover? Instead, I plan to watch a movie that takes place on New Year’s Eve: After the Thin Man, with William Powell, Myrna Loy, and  a young James Stewart. Before the movie spins on the DVD, I’ll be listening to Lena Horne crooning, “What are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” a sultry rendition that always draws a smile to my face.

With my New Year’s Eve plans in the works, I happily anticipate toasting my daughter with a glass of bubbly at midnight. May your New Year’s Eve be a safe and satisfying one too.

Ciao for now.