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.

Autumn

Sun in autumn forest
The autumn blaze of color invigorates the soul. – tangledpasta.net   

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

The days are growing shorter. Darkness descends by 7:00 p.m. A decided chill punctuates the morning air. After 5:00 p.m. I am caught off guard by the coolness in the air. Dusk begins to permeate the skies earlier than I would have it. The maple and oak trees that proliferate my town brighten the landscape with hues of crimson, yellow, and orange. Autumn casts her spell over all, giving us splashes of color evident only at this time of year.

Mugs of warmed cider and plain donuts beckon for a snack. From childhood throughout adulthood, cider and donuts take the edge off autumn’s cool temperatures. Even now the scent of apples doffs the crispness in the air. A sense of melancholy pervades my feelings these days. Autumn has that effect on me. Another year begins to descend into history soon; Thanksgiving is a month away, followed by my birthday at the end of November. Christmas follows close on the heels of my birthday month. I still question why we celebrate Thanksgiving near the end of November. It seems to me October would be a better Thanksgiving month, further removed from the Christmas festivities of December.

Perhaps it is these endings, the close of the current year, the dawn of a New Year in January, with the whole cycle revving up again, the hope of a better year, a more fulfilling one. I yearn for endings this December; I crave the anticipation of a new beginning in January in a fresh land with friendly faces around me. This is what propels me through the closing months of this year. This is what keeps the sense of autumn melancholy at bay these days. Am I only dreaming of a better New Year? If so, may the dream never end.

Type, Inc.

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How I wish I had my mother’s typewriter, like the one in the photograph.-tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

Today would have been my mother’s birthday, if she were still alive. She died suddenly in 2002. It was downright lousy losing my mother in every way. Not only was hers a brilliant mind that sparkled, but her heart was full of love for her children and husband. My mother excelled at Bridge; she was a competitive card player. A voracious reader, she instilled in us a love of books from birth on. The woman was also a culinary goddess. She could make the best food, mostly Italian, but she also appreciated and tried cooking other cuisines.  A woman of eclectic tastes and interests, she dressed classy. She always told me when it came to make up and to jewelry that less was more.

Another area in which my mother excelled was that of typing. A trained bookkeeper, my mother worked for years at Remington Rand. One of her most prized possessions was her typewriter. It was in a large sturdy case all its own. I can still see the dark green typewriter keys in contrast with its gray body. Since my father owned his own business, Mama was the bookkeeper. She helped him compose business letters, send out correspondence of various kinds, and keep the shoe shop’s books. An avid collector of recipes from her sisters, outstanding cooks in their own right, both of them, the three of them mailed typewritten recipes back and forth for years. When I had to give a speech or a presentation in class, which was often because my Catholic parochial school had us stand up often to orate. Mama often typed up my handwritten work, for I had not yet learned how to type. She hovered over me whenever I hauled it out and attempted to type, for fear I might harm her typewriter.

In my first year of Catholic high school, my mother was adamant that I take a typing class.

“No way! I’m in the College Prep track and typing isn’t included. Typing is in the General Education track!” I protested.

“Don’t be such a snob. By learning a practical skill, you will be the one in college typing other students’ papers and charging them for the service. You will be able to type your own papers and never have to rely on anyone to do it for you,” she informed me.

Her order paid off for me, literally. I made money by typing papers for my fellow college students, slogging through their wretched handwriting to make sense of what they attempted to convey.

Whenever I watch the Nora Ephron movie, “You’ve Got Mail”, I think of my mother.  In that movie the character of Frank, played by Greg Kinnear, is a journalist who passionately collects typewriters.  My mother understood that character, although she herself never wanted an electric typewriter.

Over the years, my brother offered to buy Mama a computer. She thanked him kindly, but refused his offer. Her trusty typewriter suited her well enough, she told him. After our father’s death four years later, we had to dismantle our family home. The typewriter stood in the closet where she had left it. I kept staring at it, thinking I should take it. But I was heartbroken over the deaths of my parents. The typewriter stood in mute testament to all I had lost, making me cry all over again.

Now, 14 years down the road, I wish I had that typewriter of hers. I would give it a place of honor in my house, a shrine of sorts to my darling mother, a wise and loving woman who had won a State Typing contest that landed her a job in Washington, D.C. with the Securities and Exchange Commission. That, however, is another story to be told.

Ciao for now.

 

 

 

95 Strong

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

Aunt Adelaide loves roses - tangledpasta.net
Aunt Adelaide loves roses – tangledpasta.net

Several weeks ago my daughter and I drove to one of the heavily tree-lined towns outside of Detroit. Throughout the summer my anthem had been, “Visit Aunt Adelaide!” My mother, Kitty, had two younger sisters, Adelaide and Agnes. Mama had six brothers too, but this focus is on Aunt Adelaide, the middle sister, who turned 95 in August. After coordinating schedules with my cousin Mimi, with Anjelica’s schedule, and with mine, we managed to arrive at an August weekend that worked for all, including Aunt Adelaide.

My aunt is not only my mother’s sister; she is also my Godmother. Although my aunt and her family moved to Detroit early in my childhood because of my Uncle Dick’s work [he designed the 1949 Ford: The Car that Saved an Empire – basically, the car that saved Henry Ford’s derriere as documented in automotive history books], throughout my life Aunt Adelaide has been a major presence. We frequently visited our family in the Motor City, and likewise, my aunt and uncle often brought my three cousins to visit us. How I loved eating the Lebanese food Aunt Adelaide prepared whenever we were in town! Uncle Dick was Lebanese and his mother, Sito, who lived with them, and whose English was virtually nonexistent, spoke in Arabic. Between the food and the Arabic, I was enthralled by the exoticness of it all. Mama and her sisters brought their families for summers on Eagle Lake at our family’s lakefront cottage. It was Aunt Adelaide who even taught me how to swim. She was an R.N. who tended our bee stings, sunburn, and cuts from rocks. In short, Aunt Adelaide has always been like a second mother to me, and Aunt Agnes too.

Aunt Adelaide has a great sense of humor. We have always laughed over rollicking stories about zany family and friends, current events, books, movies, and anything and everything. To this day, I telephone Aunt Adelaide and she regales me with anecdotes of yore. In her heyday, she was also a talented seamstress and clothing designer. Between my uncle’s design engineering and overall artistic talent and my aunt’s creative clothing and home furnishing confections, it is small wonder that my three cousins are artists in their own right.

In short, it seemed fitting to celebrate Aunt Adelaide’s 95th birthday with her. She may move more slowly and deliberately, and sometimes she has to pause to remember a particular word, but not enough to dampen conversation. We brought her a petite, feathery bouquet of pink roses, a book, and a DVD about the history of her hometown high school alma mater. We knew she would enjoy everything, and she did. Although her sons were out-of-town, and my dear uncle had passed away months after my father [I like to think of them swapping Italian and Arabic stories and laughing no end], we merrily celebrated. As we drove away that evening, I was filled with nothing but love for my darling Aunt Adelaide. After she blew out the candles on her cake, I told her what we Italians say: Cent’anni! A Hundred Years! It could happen.

Ciao for now.

Celebration of an Epiphany King, or at Least a Prince

No, it is not Elvis.  Yes, the individual about whom I am writing has always been treated royally within his family.  Sometimes he does think himself the quintessential cat’s pajamas.  He is a physical fitness fanatic who prides himself on his taut, muscular corpus.  He eats food with gusto, and then runs miles in mini-marathons.  The truth is that he has been more of a grazer throughout the day.  This may have been a carry over of his Wild West days as a child cowboy in his derigour:  Cowboy hat, fringed vest with a badge, and fringed chaps.  Cowboys chowed down when the chuck wagon served up the viddles.  In-between times the child cowboy snacked on Pop Tarts and fruit.

Epiphany Prince - tangledpasta.net
Epiphany Prince – tangledpasta.net

He is as smart as a witty whip and is particularly sly with family members.  He has mellowed in his barbs over the years, though he has sacrificed none of the intelligence.  He is of a sensitive nature, which he wears overtly so that the world does not easily perceive how truly sentimental he really is.  He manifests generosity to those in need and to those not.  His business acumen is dazzling, but his spirit and heart are more so.  His is unfailingly kind to my daughter and is the embodiment of the best of a father figure to her.  For that alone he will always be my hero.

Breaking into song - tangledpasta.net
Breaking into song – tangledpasta.net

Growing up, he could be as annoying as a mosquito buzzing around my ear.  He could be indifferent and self-absorbed.  In his youth he could be adolescent in his jock attitudes, and then win me back with a zany song.   He was, in short, human.  His mother was 43 and his father 48 when he was born on January 6, a promising sign for staunch Roman Catholic parents.  He believed his life enriched by having loving, mature parents.  No matter where he is, no matter what he is doing, I know I can text him, e-mail him, telephone him, and he will respond, eventually.  For he is my brother, and I love him dearly.

Happy Birthday, Frankie!

The Epiphany Kid's cowboy boots - tangledpasta.net
The Epiphany Kid’s cowboy boots – tangledpasta.net

Ciao for now.