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.

 

 

Houston, Part 1

 

 

Bouquet of fresh flowers for the wedding ceremony.

The bride’s colors were purple and light pink. Her dress had long lace sleeves, a v-neck, and layers of sheer white, and a cathedral length veil that flowed like a poem. The bridesmaids wore long gowns with purple sequins on the top, and layers of sheer lavender organza on the bottom. The groom looked dashing in a charcoal gray tux and vest with a pink bow tie. His groomsmen were decked out in purple ties with matching vests under their gray tuxes.

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

We spent a memorable week in Houston with dear friends Juliet and Mark. We celebrated their daughter Ann’s wedding with their family. I rejoiced in returning to a city and friends who are like family to me. The rehearsal dinner proved lively and tasty with chicken and shrimp as the main events. The next day, the bride was stunning and the groom handsome, the service sweet, and the reception rollicking, in the best of Texas traditions! The weather smiled upon the bridal party and the rest of us, with blue skies, sunshine, and 80-degree weather. We had shaken off the cold, dreary, grey northern Indiana skies the minute we landed in Houston. We readily embraced all that Texas sunshine!

We spent an afternoon several days prior to the wedding, placing white linens on the reception’s 28 tables in the Clear Lake Methodist Church’s Hall. We then arranged the silky purple and pink runners over each round table. The soon-to-be bride and groom spend copious amounts of their free time playing games with their friends. Board games, card games, bingo, word games, you name it, the couple and their friends play it. Therefore, in lieu of traditional floral arrangements, games were the name of the centerpieces! We arranged large and small die that Juliet had hand-painted and decorated, and assorted games on the center of each table. Sheets of Wedding Bingo and word games were handed out after the Wedding Luncheon.

Saturday morning arrived and wedding verve permeated the air. At 11:30 a.m., classically trained musicians began a 30-minute concert of sumptuous music. Thereafter, Miss Patsy, the grandmother of the bride, Juliet, the mother of the bride, and the mother of the groom were escorted and seated. The groom and his groomsmen assumed their positions, the bridesmaids, and matron of honor Janelle processed into the church. The flower girl and ring bearer played their parts without a wrinkle. The music then swelled, as Mark proudly walked his daughter Ann down the aisle. The minister has known Ann for years; he gave a fine sermon about marriage and commitment. When he pronounced them man and wife, and said to Karl, “You may kiss the bride,” Karl gave Ann a Hollywood kiss! I was proud of them, for I had suggested such a kiss several nights before the wedding as they were practicing the kiss at Ann’s family home. Whether he remembered my suggestion, or they Googled “wedding kisses”, the kiss sealed the deal.

The pork loin tasted moist and delicious, as did the side dishes at the luncheon. In high spirits we participated in the games, noshed at the Sweet and Salty snacks table, and danced to contemporary tunes the DJ spun. I conversed with old friends and met knew people at this joyous wedding reception. Later, we lined up outside and blew little bubbles with pink wands and cheered as Karl carried Ann to his big, shiny, white truck. Their faces wreathed in smiles, the newlyweds set off on a two-week honeymoon amid heartfelt wishes for a long, happy life together.

Ciao for now.

All Hail Aunt Agnes!

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The photo is of a floral arrangement from Aunt Agnes’ birthday party. Her daughter Ann Marie made the tabletop arrangements. She kindly gave me one of them. One of our cats decided to re-arrange the flowers one night. I tried to put them back together, alas , with less baby’s breath, thanks to the feline attack. – tangledpasta.net

Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

This past weekend the maternal side of my family celebrated my beloved Aunt Agnes’ 90th birthday. Her children planned a festive party in Kettering, Ohio, which did not disappoint. The birthday resulted in a fun-filled family reunion!

My mother and her two sisters, Agnes and Adelaide, remained close as close could be throughout their lives, in spite of any geographical distance between them. When my mother worked in Washington, D.C., the three sisters penned letters back and forth. When Aunt Adelaide and her family moved to the Detroit area, numerous trips back and forth ensued among the sisters. Aunt Agnes lived for some years in Philadelphia, and then later in Kettering and in Dayton, Ohio. Never did the letters writing and drive trips cease.

The sisters and their families convened for summer vacations at the family cottage the three sisters jointly owned on Eagle Lake in Michigan. Those riotous summer days remain emblazoned in my memory. The three sisters could have been chefs at uptown restaurants such amazing cooks they were. When Aunt Agnes obtained her degree in Home Economics from the University of Dayton, her two sisters affectionately dubbed her “The Home Economist”. We clamored for her recipes, too, for she knew her way around a kitchen. Aunt Agnes is also beautiful: with killer blue eyes she is stylish, smart, funny, and kind. Her sisters told me she was always the Belle of the Ball. I doubt it not. She has kept me in thrall of her talents, and of her unique take on life.

What I cherish most about my darling Aunt Agnes is her kind, sweet nature. Yet make no mistake: she is a velvet hammer. Passionate about her beliefs, causes, ideals, and family, she puts forth sound arguments and logic. As the eighth of nine children, she learned early on how to hold her own with her brothers, and with my mother, Kitty (Catherine) who had twelve years on her youngest sister. Aunt Adelaide, my Godmother, is seven-and-a-half years older than Aunt Agnes. She too delighted in this family event for her younger sister. Uncle Jim, the youngest of the brothers and sisters, had a grand time and beamed his dazzling smile throughout the party. Older brother, Uncle Barney, was forced to miss his kid sister’s 90th due to his sudden hospitalization (he is now fine). Out of the original nine, live these four fabulous aunts and uncles of mine at ages 97, 95, 90, and 88. Let’s hear it for longevity!

We reveled in honoring Aunt Agnes. Good wishes abounded, drinks flowed, and high spirits combined to make her 90th birthday a memorable one. As we say in Italian, Cent’ anni (a hundred years), yet in this case, I toast her Vent’ anni più [20 years more) because 100 years is not long enough for my dear Aunt Agnes.

Ciao for now,

Vonnegut in Indianapolis

 

This dice mug reminds me of Kurt Vonnegut's artwork. - tangledpasta.net
This dice mug reminds me of Kurt Vonnegut’s artwork. – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

Last week I traveled to the Indianapolis area. It felt liberating to spend time with family Monday through Friday during a non-holiday time. My dear sister-in-law and I zipped around having fine adventures. One place I had longed to visit was the Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library in downtown Indianapolis. The Mayor of Indianapolis declared 2017 the Year of Vonnegut, in Vonnegut’s hometown. Each month events related to the writer and artist take place in various venues across town: http://www.vonnegutlibrary.org/year-of-vonnegut/.

We set out on Tuesday morning with high expectations, all of which were met.It is a wonderful museum, full of light to cheer visitors, and with a knowledgeable tour guide full of Vonnegut lore. We learned several facts about the Vonnegut family, too: Grandfather Bernard Vonnegut was an architect who designed several prominent buildings in Indianapolis: The Athenaeum, The Fletcher Trust, and the Indiana Memorial Union [IMU] on the campus of Indiana University [IU] Bloomington. I spent a lot of years on the IU Bloomington campus, unaware of Kurt Vonnegut’s family connection to the IMU. Kurt was a prisoner of war [POW] during World War II, held captive in Dresden, Germany during the bombing of Dresden. He survived by hiding in a meat locker in the slaughterhouse where he was held prisoner. When Kurt returned to the United States still a soldier, he went to his family home, on leave for Mother’s Day in 1944. He soon learned his mother had committed suicide the night before.

First editions of Vonnegut’s work such as Slaughterhouse-Five, based on his POW experiences in Dresden, Breakfast of Champions, and my personal favorite, Cat’s Cradle, are housed in the museum. Other works abound in the museum such as an impressive online resource of all Vonnegut’s work, created several years ago by a group of Ball State University students under the aegis of their professor. So It Goes is the annual Journal of the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library. The typewriter on which Vonnegut wrote his books, plays, and poems is one of the more intriguing holdings; he never did compose his work on a computer. Equally enthralling were his original works of art on the museum’s walls. Two tickets also on display were to a speech he was to have given at Butler University several weeks after his 2007 death. While I had seen some of Vonnegut’s art, as well as letters of rejection at the IU Lilly Library on the Bloomington campus, the museum in Indianapolis proved a further treasure trove of Vonnegut’s work, of his family, and of the wonder that was Kurt Vonnegut. His messages of tolerance, acceptance, and peace ring true today.

Ciao for now.

Soup for All

Ribollita|AFoodCentricLife.com

This photo of Ribollita on china like mine is from Sally Cameron’s blog, A Food Centric Life at http://afoodcentriclife.com. She posted some yummy recipes! – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli 

One of my earliest childhood memories of food is that of soup. My mother concocted the most delicious, soul-warming soups for our family. Her chicken soup remains in my dreams, for she would make it with a hen my father butchered from his dozen chickens. Always he kept twelve chickens in the spacious coop and fenced yard within our orchard. Fresh eggs, roasted chicken, and the ubiquitous soup were all culinary events from those erstwhile hens. Whenever my Ohio relatives were commencing their drive to visit us, my Uncle Joe, whose parents were Sicilian immigrants, would phone my mother and say, “Kitty, toss another cup of water in the soup! We’re on our way!” He knew full well soup would be on the menu, with pasta served for the next day’s dinner.

Not only do I adhere to the healing power of soup, I believe also in its inherent ability to comfort, to console. My mother and father have long since passed away, yet they imbued me with a culinary sensibility that food transcends the foibles of the world. To quote famous chef and food critic Anthony Bourdain,

Soup is elemental, and it always makes sense, even when the world around us fails to.

 Frequently the world makes little sense, but soup atones for that. No matter how bad a day, regardless of disappoint, in spite of strife, and with little money, soup remains a constant presence that sustains us. With meat or without, with few or many vegetables, with a vegetable, or chicken, or beef broth, soup can be made from very little. My mother used to add either cabbage or Italian greens such as mustard greens, escarole, or dandelions to the carrots, onions, celery, tomatoes, beans, and chicken simmering away in her homemade chicken broth.

When I learned of the cookbook, Soup for Syria: Recipes to Celebrate Our Shared Humanity, by Barbara Abdeni Massaad, I knew I needed to purchase it. All of the proceeds are given to non-profit organizations for food relief efforts for Syrian refugees. The author has tapped into her extensive network of famous chefs, like Anthony Bourdain and Yotam Ottolenghi (author of Jerusalem, an amazing cookbook) to name only a few of the many contributing chefs. Massaad was born in Beirut, Lebanon, yet grew up in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where her father owned a Lebanese restaurant, although she now resides in Beirut. Next to Italian food, I count Lebanese food among my favorite cuisines; therefore, I became interested in Massaad’s cookbook, Man’oushé: Inside the Street Corner Lebanese Bakery some years ago. She is active in the Slow Food Movement, founded by Italian Carlo Pettrini. The movement focuses on preservation of traditional and regional cuisine in support of sustainable foods. It sounds like how my father and mother parlayed  his abundant garden into soup, and filled our large freezer with vegetables and chicken years ago!

Here are several links to Soup for Syria: Recipes to Celebrate Our Shared Humanity:

http://soupforsyria.com/book.php

https://www.amazon.com/Soup-Syria-Recipes-Celebrate-Humanity/dp/1566560896/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1486659579&sr=1-1&keywords=soup+for+syria

Tonight I am serving Ribollita, a hearty Florentine soup I made this morning. Prior to ladling up bowls of Ribollita, I will lay toasted Italian bread in the bottom of the bowls. ‘E buona!

Ciao for now.

Italian Cooking Survival Skills

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I served up rotini with a pasta puttanesca sauce with olives and a side of Swiss chard topped with Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

Recently I pondered the longevity of Italian cooking. While I enjoy cooking Italian food, I tend to eat other kinds of cuisine when dining out. For example, I relish Indian food. However, instead of keeping staple ingredients on hand for Indian food, I prefer not to, and opt to eat Indian out. Yet when it comes to Italian foodstuffs, I am a connoisseur due my lifelong cradle to present love affair with it.

On the subject of Italian dishes, I wax poetic: as long as a cook has a bottle of high quality olive oil, fine Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, good quality pasta (I keep rigatoni, linguine, fettucine, cappellini, and rotini on hand), excellent butter such as Kerry’s Gold, and fresh parsley on hand, delicious pasta can be concocted. Additional items to have ready are Sicilian green olives (my personal favorite), Calamata olives, anchovies, sardines (both in olive oil), and panko and/or Italian bread crumbs, capers, eggs, a large tin of tomatoes, a bottle of strained tomatoes, a bottle of robust red wine such as Chianti or Pinot Noir, a bottle of dry white wine such as Pinot Grigio, white truffle butter (when in season), pesto (during the winter months I purchase Costco’s Kirkland’s Basil Pesto), pancetta or bacon, and heavy cream.

With said ingredients on hand, I can whip up the following in a flash: spaghetti carbonara, pasta puttanesca, linguine with pesto, Greek pasta with olive oil, butter, and parsley, fettucine with white truffle butter and crimini mushrooms a’ la The Barefoot Contessa, spaghetti with anchovies, garlic and breadcrumbs courtesy of Melissa Clark of The New York Times Cooking, and spaghetti with sardines, capers and breadcrumbs thanks to Mark Bittman of the The New York Times Cooking. All of these delectable entrees may be made effortlessly with my pantry and refrigerator items that I generally keep on hand. All this, without my even delving into Italian soups!

Here is a link to Melissa Clark’s recipe for Spaghetti with Garlicky Breadcrumbs and Anchovies recipe. I make it frequently.

https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1016264-spaghetti-with-garlicky-bread-crumbs-and-anchovies?action=click&module=Recipebox&region=dinner&pgType=recipebox&rank=30

Buon appetito!

Ciao for now.

Loving the Alien

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It feels like I am riding on a psychotic carousel in these political times.-tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

Never in my wildest dreams did I envision living in a dystopian society, but here I am, stuck in the current political swamp. Now, there is an “executive order” from the man whose own mother emigrated to the U.S. from Scotland as a young woman, and whose paternal grandparents emigrated from Germany. Apparently in his mind, Western European immigrants are acceptable, while those from predominantly Muslim countries are not. My own father and my paternal great-grandfather were Italian immigrants, so I guess they would still have been deemed worthy. l hazard to guess that Malala Yousefzai would have been suspect because she is a practicing Muslim. Maybe because she won the Nobel Peace Prize, she would still be considered “fit” ideologically to enter the U.S., but perhaps not under the current regime.

There is this major issue called Human Rights. Hello? Can you hear me? I reiterate: HUMAN RIGHTS. David J. Bier, an immigration policy analyst at the Cato Institute’s Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity, wrote yesterday in The New York Times’ The Opinion Page an essay entitled, Trump’s Immigration Ban Is Illegal. Bier explains that The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 banned all discrimination against immigrants on the basis of national origin, replacing the old prejudicial system and giving each country an equal shot at the quotasSeeking to deny entry to the U.S. to only Muslims, yet granting entry to Christians and others of minority religions, screams of discrimination and ignorance.

Over the years, I have taught English as a Second Language and English as a New Language to hundreds of Muslim students from around the world. Indeed, my graduate degree is in Linguistics from Indiana University Bloomington. Focused on academic studies, these students were neither proselytizer, nor terrorist. They were family oriented, good people who only wanted to further their education. This “executive order” is barring these highly intelligent foreign students from studying in the U.S. because of what: Fear, racism, and hatred? As one of my international students said after the November 2016 elections, “Who does he think is going to develop technology in the U.S.?” The student had a point since technology in the U.S. is populated primarily with Asian, Indian, and Middle Eastern people. Building a wall to prevent Mexicans from illegally entering the U.S. is one of the more moronic ideas spouted from the incumbent. Did he learn nothing from the history of the Great Wall of China, or from the history of the Berlin Wall? Apparently not.

When a population is persecuted and banned, think Native Americans, Jews, Armenians, Bedouins, no matter the insidious forms of deprivation, humiliation, exile, and torture, these races and cultures have managed to survive. They persevere in spite of demagogues and twisted ideologies through sheer guts, dignity, faith, and help from sympathetic, more humane governments, like Canada.

I used to be proud to be a U.S. citizen. Now, David Bowie’s song, I’m Afraid of Americans reverberates in my head, as does his song, Loving the Alien. Come to think of it, his wife, Iman, who is a native of Somalia, would now not be able to enter the U.S. because she is from one of those seven countries Big Brother fears. Here is a reminder: Every one of us came from aliens, with the exception of Native Americans. It is disconcerting how mostly old, white, wealthy men harbor the paternal illusion that they are “protecting” their interests, under the guise of “protecting” the common people’s interests. They are driving policies in the U.S. that create more divisiveness, anger, and horror of U.S. Americans. I don’t know how the Electoral College can sleep at night after what it has done to place That at the head of our government when over two-and-a-half million more of us voted to give the other candidate the majority of the popular vote. Each night I pray for sanity to prevail.

Ciao for now.