My new book Villa Fiore is now available on Amazon in a digital [e-book] format, and it is on http://www.createspace.com in a paperback version!
Here is a sneak peek at what Villa Fiore is about:
Rescue. Redemption. Renewal.
Lorenzo “Renzo” Fiore unexpectedly inherited his family’s estate in a hillside town in Tuscany. Renzo got more than he bargained for in the form of debt, inquisitive townspeople, and an attractive newcomer to the village of Bella Fiore. Brainstorming ways to lessen the expenses of Villa Fiore results in a fresh business venture on the estate. Trials and tribulations test Renzo’s knack at balancing the various personalities and rhythms of this new lifestyle, while sexually arousing Renzo’s love as he explores the parameters of his relationship with a woman he met in the hospital.
The digital [e-book] Villa Fiore is free right now in Kindle Unlimited for a limited time. Villa Fiore in paperback is competitively priced at $4.99.
Feel free to write a review of Villa Fiore on Amazon!
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.
On these warm summer evenings, nothing is quite as satisfying as dining outside on the patio. Knowing that by November the weather will prohibit such outdoor al fresco dining, the sultry summer air makes these present balmy evenings all the more cherished. Last Saturday evening we had Ball Park Franks on split top buns, my homemade potato salad a’ la the Barefoot Contessa, Romaine lettuce salad laced with celery, yellow bell peppers, and goat cheese, and icy cold drinks. We even made s’mores for dessert. This picnic fare tasted just right that night on the patio.
I like to stay outside as long as possible on summer nights. The darker it gets, the more fireflies I see dot the yard. Fireflies are both nostalgic and lovely on summer nights. They are benign, make little to no noise, and provide a comforting presence in a world gone seemingly awry. Unlike mosquitoes, fireflies inflict no pain upon us, nor do they make us itch. My daughter used to have a “bug box” that I purchased at the Zionsville Street Fair. Made of wood, the box had large wire mesh windows on its sides. The house rule was that she could catch fireflies, or praying mantises, or grasshoppers to observe them for a short time; however, the insects had to be released within a half-an-hour back to Nature. The “bug box” offered the temporary insect captives more spacious accommodations than did the short canning jar with holes poked in its metal lid that I had as a child. The same 30-minute maximum rule applied to me back then, too.
The composer Samuel Barber wrote an exquisite rhapsody with orchestra, based on James Agee’s prose, Knoxville: Summer 1915 that the soprano Eleanor Steber commissioned. One of my favorite vocal pieces, the yearning and wistfulness of the music and of the lyrics brims with my thoughts of summers on the lake with my family, and of summers outside in the backyard over leisurely dinners. The fireflies were a presence of those summers then and of summers now.
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.
While I have been engrossed in writing another novel, I have neglected my blog for several weeks. However, recent events have compelled to focus more fully on composing this piece today.
I cannot ignore the bombing in Manchester, England this week, on Monday, May 22. Just when I think there are no words, I find I have the words.
Another sick twist that was seduced by a perverted interpretation of what being a Muslim is, annihilated 22 innocent concertgoers and injured 62 others. The desecration of life, the horror, the heartache, and the eternal question of Why swirled repeatedly through my mind. A light-hearted evening at an Ariana Grande concert that encouraged young girls to be strong, strive for a better future, and simply like themselves, then tore apart families and friends in a single act of pure evil that targeted primarily female youth.
All this cruelty occurred days before the start of Ramadan, the most sacred month for Muslims.
I think of the concerts my daughter has attended over the years, how happy and carefree she felt as she enjoyed The Spice Girls, The Backstreet Boys, and Lady Antebellum, among others. When I now look back on my daughter’s concert attendance, I shudder to think of how the parents of those young people endured the waiting and then the knowing. Innocent victims all, parents included, it turned out at the Manchester concert. As parents I believe we all wanted to hold our children closer after the tragic events in Manchester, England on May 22. Yet I wept over the senseless killings at Paris’ Bateclan and at Charlie Hebro, of the children in Syria, and of all attacks on the innocent. The Pulse Nightclub slaughter in Orlando, Florida last year, and the running down of families merely enjoying fireworks in Nice, France on Bastille Day bring the senseless deaths to the forefront time and time again.
I have prayed countless “Hail Mary” for the victims and their families. I am impressed with the resiliency of the survivors and their families. Its takes time, years, in fact, but they tend to emerge committed to a better world and improved life for their loved ones, knowing life can change in a heartbeat.
If the degenerates carrying out these attacks think they will gain an immediate place in Paradise, here is news for them: they have only paved for themselves a one-way ticket to Hell.
I have been aware of the late Ernest Hemingway’s capacious fondness for liqueur. He boasted of his tolerance for it, and even wrote about it in his novels and short stories. What I did not know about was his proclivity for the daiquiri, particularly the special one mixed for him at El Floridita in Havana, Cuba. Acknowledged as the best cocktail mixologist in Havana was Constantino Ribalaigua Vert, the revered bartender at El Floridita. Nicknamed Constante, he conceived of a daiquiri for Hemingway that he christened the Papa Doble. Hemingway liked to be called Papa, which I always thought was a bit disturbing.
Merely reading about the Papa Doble Daiquiri made me thirsty! Constante crafted Hemingway’s cocktail this way: “For the Papa Doble, headded grapefruit juice and a few drops of maraschino liqueur to two jiggers of light rum and the juice of a fresh lime.” Perhaps I am dreaming of a daiquiri because the days now wax warm, tinged with humidity. A cold, crafted daiquiri could quench my thirst, much as it did Hemingway in the blistering Havana heat. Daiquiris appeal to me when the sultry summer air envelops me. I imagine Hemingway in 1940’s Havana riding in a blue convertible down the dusty back roads with his third wife, Martha Gellhorn, who was a world-famous journalist, on their way to his villa, Finca Vigia.
I also imagine Desi Arnaz rhythmically pounding away on his bongo drum in a Tropicana nightclub in Havana. Although Arnaz emigrated from Cuba after Batista overthrew the government in 1933, I still imagine him in colorful Cuba swaying to his seductive Latin music beat. El Floridita, master bartender Constantino Ribalaigua Vert, Ernest Hemingway, the pulsating rhythm of Latin music, and Havana all present in the ubiquitous, icy daiquiri of yesterday and of today.
Anne, Emily, Branwell, and Charlotte Bronte in a painting by Branwell around 1834. He later painted himself out of the portrait. www. tangledpasta.net
By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli
On March 26, 2017, PBS broadcast the film To Walk InvisibleThe Bronte Sisters. I found this title curious since the film devoted a great deal of time to Branwell Bronte, the sisters’ only brother. Branwell cast a shadow over the lives of his family for multiple reasons: he was the only male heir; he was as talented as his sisters; and he was an alcoholic and drug addict. That the Bronte sisters, Charlotte, Emily, and Anne were superbly gifted writers goes without saying. However, Branwell remained the unrealized talent.
For my Senior Seminar as an English major at Indiana University Bloomington in the 1970’s, I was fortunate to have been accepted into the seminar, “The Brontes,” spearheaded by Professor Susan Gubar. We read everything, and I do mean everything, poems, novels, and unfinished manuscripts, written by The Brontes, including Branwell. Jane Eyre’s pluck and compassion; Heathcliff’s virility and vulnerability, Helen Graham’s defiance and liberation thrilled me no end. Yet Branwell’s dissolute living seemed to me to stem from a sense of fear and sense of inferiority. He certainly could have applied to study art in London, but he shrunk from what? The competition? His possible lack of great talent? Whatever his demons, Branwell squandered his money on drink, and then returned to his father’s home at Haworth Parsonage in Yorkshire, England. He painted portraits, worked on translations of the classics such as Homer, and composed poetry.
I found Branwell intriguing. I mused about what his life must have been like with the intellect and writing grandeur of Charlotte, Emily, and Anne under the same roof. His sisters elected not to reveal to him the success of their novels, Charlotte’s Jane Eyre, Emily’s Wuthering Heights, and Anne’s Agnes Grey because they feared upsetting him. Clearly Branwell turned out to be a disappointment, having thwarted his own considerable talents, and having engaged in a liaison with his employer’s wife, Lydia Robinson, which resulted in another loss of a job. Branwell’s behavior worsens as To Walk Invisible progresses, as it did in reality. The continual havoc he inflicted upon himself and upon his family becomes increasingly hard to watch. His death serves as a relief that put him out of his addictive thrashing and raving, opium as the drug of choice and the alcohol. All I could think of was what I pondered in my Senior Seminar class on The Brontes all those years ago: such tormented talent cast aside. I even wrote my lengthy Seminar paper on Branwell. To Walk Invisible rekindled my interest in Branwell, in spite of his demons.