Gray Days

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Valentino suggests having an espresso or a cappuccino to give one a lift in the winter.-tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

It’s been days and days since sunlight and blessed UV rays beamed down upon us. Small wonder people in this part of the country suffer depression during these dreary winter months. At least snow whitens and brightens up the landscape. We have had only rain, rain, and more rain lately. The result is the landscape appears to be even bleaker than usual. The question becomes, how to surmount the gloomy elements without feeling as if one inhabits a Bronte novel overlooking the moors? Here are a few strategies I use to combat the dismal days.

  1. We leave up the Christmas tree. It’s artificial, so no worries on that front! The hundreds of white lights give a lift to the spirits. Another plus: Valentino the cat adores the plush skirt around the tree. He naps underneath it frequently, thereby changing up the game for our fluffy feline.
  2. Rediscover a favorite drink. I recommend a carbonated one during daylight hours. It’s sad to think of someone being totally sloshed to ward off the cheerless weather. Recently, I spied a box of La Croix Grapefruit Flavored Sparkling Water at the local Target. Now I pour my La Croix into a fun glass such as Snoopy wearing a striped stocking cap while sitting on to of his doghouse. To cheer me further, I even place a brightly colored straw in my glass.
  3. On the subject of new drinks, I admit to indulging in Samuel Adams’ Winter Lager. The cinnamon and other spices in this special lager lift my spirits as I imbibe it while I noshing on a Costco Pepperoni Pizza.
  4. Read a new book. I’m currently reading Jamie Attenburg’s Saint Maizie. While I ready myself for my annual read of Jane Austin’s Persuasion, I am also re-reading Nora Ephron’s I Remember Nothing. Last week I indulged in reading again her I Feel Bad About My Neck. Hilarious! I often like to read two or three books at once for fun on the literary front.
  5. Watch something on these long winter nights. On Sunday I will be viewing the new BBC series, Victoria, on PBS about the young queen taking the reigns of power. Even Queen Elizabeth II has a very cool series about her: The Crown. Old favorites, like Psyche, The Gilmore Girls, and The Thin Man movies make me happy.
  6. Make casseroles. I love Alton Brown’s Macaroni and Cheese. Who knew a bay leaf, paprika, and egg could reinvent the classic comfort food? http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/baked-macaroni-and-cheese-recipe.html
  7. Eat in another part of the house, like in the family room, or in the living room. Move away from the dining room table or the seats around the kitchen island. Have a picnic on the floor with big cushions to sit on. Make festive appetizers. Eat a different kind of pizza, perhaps one with arugula, goat cheese, and a cornbread crust.
  8. Take heart that Spring will return in March. Eventually trees will have leaves once more, and crocus will push up from the ground to greet us.

Ciao for now.

Melancholy, Baby, Over You

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

One year ago today, on January 10, 2016, David Bowie slipped away from the world. Like his song Slip Away from his 2002 album, Heathen, the world awakened on the morning of January 11, 2016, to learn that he had died after enduring cancer for 18 months. Liver cancer, to be exact, a cancer with a less than rosy prognosis for the Rock Icon.

Oddly enough, David Bowie’s friend, Lou Reed, of Velvet Underground fame, succumbed to liver cancer after surgery in 2013. Bowie produced Reed’s landmark album, Transformer, in 1972. Mick Ronson, Bowie’s lead guitarist on the landmark The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, 1972, also died of liver cancer in 1993. There is something unsettling about the idea that Bowie, Reed, and Ronson all died of liver cancer. Maybe it had to do with the copious amounts of alcohol and drugs they supposedly ingested in the 1970’s. Or perhaps the cancer was caused by a something else; I am neither physician, nor scientist, so I had best not hazard to guess.

All I know is that I am still heartbroken over David Bowie’s death. Having seen him in concert twice, once in 1983, in Houston, with his Serious Moonlight Tour, and again in Houston, in 1987, on his Glass Spider tour, I can only say that listening to Bowie’s music throughout a lot of his 50-year career proved transformative. Always inventive, always musically intriguing with his chord progressions, melodies, and lyrics, and always physically easy on the eyes, he fascinated me. Courageous and unendingly talented, he gave hope to those of us enthralled by his music to be brave, too, and follow our dreams.

His wife, Iman, posted a photo of New York City taken on the day her husband died last year. A double rainbow appeared in the sky that day. I like to think those rainbows walked David Bowie our Starman across the sky to his galaxy home.

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.

The Upside of 2016

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2016 held some stellar moments for this writer. – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

As the winter sun sets on 2016, I would like to acknowledge that not everything went awry; stellar experiences surfaced, too. Casting an eye over the landscape brings noteworthy events to the forefront with the dawning of a New Year.

The publication of my second book in the Spirited Constellations trilogy: Spirited Constellations: Travels highlighted the year for me. The second edition of my first book, Spirited Constellations, was also published. The third book in the trilogy is also well underway, and could possibly be published near the end of 2017, if not sooner.

2016 also saw me completing the first book in a new series I’m writing. This book will be published in early 2017. Vastly different from the Spirited Constellations book, the series ignited my imagination further, for I like these characters as much as I do those in the Spirited Constellations trio.

At the Indiana University Bloomington 2016 Writers’ Conference in June, I embarked on a-here-to-with unknown kind of writing: the prose poem. Had anyone told me I would one day be writing poetry, I would have laughed uproariously! Yet I did it! Under the amazing prose poet Amelia Martens, I plucked up my courage and began work on my first ever prose poem! I even went out on a limb and did a public reading of the poem in Bloomington for the conference participants. Stretching my writing wings into the province of prose poetry proved an exhilarating experience.

Not wanting to stay too long at the fair, I finally decided to retire after 25+ years from my place of employment. I did this in order to enter the next phase of my professional life, one that includes much more writing. In talking with others who have retired or resigned from their positions, the common thread was, “I knew when it was time.” Time isn’t something readily available on anyone’s side, no matter what the Rolling Stones sang. My 2016 November birthday awakened in me a turning point. With little fanfare, without drama, with my two-week’s notice, with a heart full of anticipation ready to turn the page, and with a smile on my face, I walked away.

It was time. It was my time. It still is.

Ciao for now.