The Diabetic Diaries

By Mary Anna Violi |@MaryAnnaVioli

   It has now been over 2 months or so since my Type 2 diabetes diagnosis. Although I was disheartened to learn of this medical news, I have tried to educate myself more about my malady. Here are a few things I have learned in that time.

   If I can adapt to a Keto Diet, then so can you. No pasta, no rice, no bread, There is no worse order one could give to an Italian than no pasta, no bread, and I forgot to mention, no wine. I thought would be the end of me. However, my nutritionist advised me to purchase sprouted whole grain bread. It’s opened a whole new world to me! My bread of choice is Ezekiel; it is delicious and filling with just one slice. I don’t miss Italian, French, or Cardamom Citrus bread too much anymore.  The only thing I wish for is sugar-free jam, which I can likely order on Amazon.

   Each morning I have a bowl or either strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, or raspberries. Keto permits any of the berries. I find the berries most satisfying. However, I have had to forsake my beloved Honey Crisp apples and melons for the time being. Growing up, my brother and I harvested strawberries and black raspberries from our father’s nearly 1-acre vegetable garden in our backyard. We know our fruit and vegetables!

   Although I may have half-a-cup of cooked pasta, I find the only pastas I sometimes crave is rigatoni with a hearty marinara sauce, and linguine with clams in white wine. Yet a half a cup of pasta is only about 2-3 forkfuls! My fear is if I succumb at this stage to rigatoni, I’ll devour a plateful of it, and I don’t wish to undo what the Keto Diet has helped me to achieve thus far. In regard to rice, I am trying to adapt to cauliflower rice. I don’t care how the ads pitch it: cauliflower isn’t rice at all. It’s cauliflower. It’s not my favorite, but I will try to persuade my taste buds it’s better for me. So far, my palate has been resistant.

   I’ve always liked avocados in guacamole. Yet now I buy my own avocados and have learned how to select them. A shout out to Eder and Zach at Whole Foods for educating me on the art of selecting avocados and how to prepare a simple avocado spread: mash the avocado, salt and pepper to taste, and then add a healthy dose of lime juice. It creates a delicious breakfast on my toasted sprouted whole grain bread.

   Thus far I’ve lost 20 pounds. I feel energized, no longer bloated, and just plain good. Truthfully, I haven’t felt this well in years, while longing for a dish of pasta.

   Ciao for now.

August 1983

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This is what the entrance to the River Oaks area of Houston looked like in mid-March 2017 when we visited my friend Juliet and her family. I hazard to guess some of those pretty palm trees were snapped in tow and that those flowers have been battered due to Hurricane Harvey. – http://www.tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi |@MaryAnnaVioli

Hurricane Alicia. Its name is emblazoned in my memory.

Never have I been more terrified, more at the mercy of Mother Nature than I was when Hurricane Alicia roared across the Gulf of Mexico and slammed into Galveston first, and then onto Houston. A child of the Midwest, I was accustomed to tornado season. I knew to retreat to the basement of my home with flashlights, canned goods, gallons of water, cat food, and the cat. However, tornados are one thing; hurricanes are something altogether different.

Houston is below sea-level, which means homes do not have basements.

My Houston native friend, Juliet, instructed me a week before Hurricane Alicia arrived, what preparations to make. Juliet came over to my apartment in Southwest Houston, in an area called Meyerland, to help me tape the windows. Armed with wide rolls of tape, we placed X’s from corner to corner in each window. We went to the grocery store and loaded up on gallons of water, loaves of bread, jars of peanut butter, bags of nuts and dried fruit. We made sure my hand held can opener operated easily, for I would be eating lots of canned tuna once the city shutdown for the hurricane. New batteries filled several flashlights. In a few days I would shower again, clean out my bathtub, and then fill it to the brim with water. Bruno the cat had ample food and would have access to water from the gallon containers. We would ride out the hurricane together.

When Alicia made landfall on August 18, I thought Bruno and I were goners. The sheer terror of the screaming sound of the hurricane made me dive under my bed covers with Bruno. My cat could not stop pacing around the perimeter of the bed. His paws were moist, always a bad sign with a cat. We had food and water in my bedroom, but I was too frozen with fear to get out of bed. Other sounds howled for hours. Among those sounds I later learned was the metal roofs over the carports in my apartment complex being torn off from the maniacal winds. Trees uprooted like sticks were hurled every which way, including across power lines. Nob Hill, my apartment complex consisted of a series of two-story brick buildings. It had looked sturdy to me the past months I had lived there. Now I prayed to God that my building on a knoll held together.

Around 7:30 a.m. the next morning, the phone rang; there were no cell phones in 1983! It was my mother telling me that on the Today Show or on Good Morning America, I do not recall which one, the weather announcer said the eye of Hurricane Alicia had settled over Houston. Yes, I said, I know. It’s the first time it’s been quiet in hours. I actually slept for two hours. My parents were scared to death for me. I assured my mother I was fine sleep deprived, but otherwise fine. The air-conditioning hasn’t stopped working, I said. This is important since the heat and humidity have intensified, thanks to the hurricane. Thanks to the knoll upon which my building was located, even my car survived the wrath of Alicia because the queue of carports for my building was also on a knoll. However, many other people lost not only power in their buildings, but also their cars from water damage.

    I had been teaching summer classes. Finals had been scheduled a few days after the hurricane. In the end, I simply calculated final grades, minus the final exam. Damage to homes and business in Houston was so extensive that it would have been inhumane to require students to try to get to the university for an exam. The health and well-being of my students was of tantamount importance in the aftermath of the hurricane. Besides, there was no running water, nor was there electricity in the building where the final exam was to have been.

Hurricane Alicia was a Category 3 hurricane. Hurricane Harvey that struck the Texas Gulf coast is a Category 4, even more powerful. My friend Juliet texted me at 5:38 a.m. this morning that she and her family have retreated to the second floor of their home in Clear Lake, near NASA. The first floor of their home was flooding. She is trying to conserve cell phone energy. Perhaps they have been rescued. All I can do is keep praying that they are.

Ciao for now.

 

Post-Thanksgiving Reflections

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By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

Thanksgiving Day let me escape the flooded kitchen disaster. I awakened knowing I didn’t have to spring out of bed to bake and cook felt liberating. I needed only the Whole Foods apple pie and the bottle of Prosecco to our hosts. Our friendship has been an enduring one for over 25 years. The day was filled with banter, cheer, flowing drinks, a delicious dinner, and food we later grazed on into the night.

Entering the kitchen that night didn’t bother me much, probably because of all the alcohol I had imbibed. The morning after proved another story: the kitchen remained in peril from the water disaster. I contacted a service that works 24/7, except holidays. My kitchen emergency got squeezed in the schedule. It felt like the cavalry was on its way.

Growing up, my father always kept a dozen live chickens. He believed in the healthy power of fresh eggs. In addition to their regular mash, the chickens ate potato peels, their own eggshells, and bits of bread, you name it. There was little need for an in-sink disposal. With this latest crisis on my home front, I’ve thought about how composting might be an improvement on the electric disposal. Dependency on electronic devices makes me chafe more than ever. The Magliozzi Brothers’ “Car Talk” program on NPR, even in podcast form, has widened my knowledge of cars. Ray Magliozzi, and his late brother Tom, talk about how in the 1970’s people could still work on their cars. Now, with the computerized gizmos and programming of cars, consumers are forced to take their vehicles into a mechanic. That rang in my ears as I wept over an enormous car bill this week.

Are we to be at the mercy of technicians for automotive needs, for household plumbing, electric, and media issues? Since I am not a plumber, electrician, mechanic, or computer engineer, the answer is a forlorn, yes. I envision if I marry again, I should marry an individual who can fix things, like a mechanical engineer. Perhaps the alternative is not to have all the kitchen appliances and disposal, or the computer devices we depend upon.

Forego all those shiny electronics? I’ll have to take it under consideration.

Ciao for now.

 

‘A’ is for Autumn and for Apples

Nothing hails the onset of autumn as does warm apple pie.-tangledpasta.net
Nothing hails the onset of autumn as does warm apple pie.-tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

October is now upon us and the air has turned crisp. I now don my corduroy coat, layering it underneath with a sweater and a blouse. Yesterday I even deigned to wear socks, not with my usual black flats, but with my heavier, yet stylish black strap shoes. I complain not about this change of seasons. All those years I lived in Houston, I relished the sunshine with the big, blue Texas sky as its backdrop. Yet I longed for the panorama of a Midwest autumn. Besides my family, I greatly missed autumn. The vibrant yellows, orange, and reds of the trees never failed to make me smile. They still do.

Another magnificent feature of autumn in my Midwest is apple season. This conjures up images of apple pie, apple crisp, applesauce, apple butter, apples baked, apple apple galette, apple kugel, apple salad, apple tart, and even a raw apple itself. Apple orchards abound in nearby Southwestern Michigan. Harvesting apples in apple orchards always reminds me of picking apples with my grandfather in his very own orchard. We lived on the other side of his orchard, which made it easy to race from our backdoor out into the orchard to help him with the apples. My mother made the best apple pie, though I am sure that quite a few people make the same claim about their own mother’s apple pies. However, I have not tasted other mothers’ apple pies, so I can attest only to my own mother’s pie. We have a penchant for apple pie in my family. Throughout the years I have been told that my grandmother was an apple pie genius; sadly, my grandmother suffered a stroke that left her with little speech, but a with beatific smile and her sweet disposition in tact. Alas, her pie-making days were thus over before I had a memory of them. Here is a tasty apple pie recipe from Martha Stewart’s online website:

http://www.marthastewart.com/315372/how-to-make-apple-pie

I must admit that I used to make apple pie; however, I detest peeling apples. Although I have made apple pie with the apple skin intact, I prefer a more classic version of said pie. My sister-in-law makes a lovely apple pie with a crumbly brown sugar and walnut crust, which is on the dessert table at Thanksgiving. Ever since Whole Foods opened here over almost three years ago, I find myself purchasing the occasional apple pie from WF. An excellent apple pie is also to be had at enterprising Amish establishments in nearby towns. There is no shortage of apples every which way in this part of the Midwest. Chastise me if one will, but I cook and bake throughout the week – in fact, yesterday morning I baked two loaves of pumpkin bread, one of which I took to my daughter. Thus is my justification for rarely making an apple pie, though I love making cream pies with mile high merengue! All this talk about apples has now put me in mind of toast with apple butter. Yummy!

Ciao for now.

Italian Food Cravings

No matter which version one makes, Pasta e Fagioli is delizioso! - tangledpasta.net
No matter which version one makes, Pasta e Fagioli is delizioso! – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

Lately, I have had a penchant for the traditional Southern Italian food of my parents’ preference. Talk about cheap eats: pasta, fagioli [beans], greens [endive, mustard greens, chicory], marinara sauce, ricotta, fresh mozzarella, peppers, potatoes, asparagus, eggplant, sardines, anchovies, olive oil, and eggs, all add up to fabulous meals, and none with meat. In fact, it is food I rarely tire of because it is possible to reinvent Italian dishes using these deceptively simple ingredients.

I was sixteen years old before my gustatory senses were awakened to the fact that not all pasta was drenched in a red sauce. This revelation occurred when my parents took my brother and me to Italy for the first time. In Northern Italy I at pesto for the first time, as well as green lasagna with béchamel sauce. In Tuscany I feasted on Linguine with Clams, baked fennel with potatoes and cheese; all my previous notions of Italian food underwent a catharsis. By the time we arrived in Calabria, at my father’s family’s doorstep, I was back to pasta with marinara sauce, but it tasted very good after several weeks of Northern and Tuscan cuisine.

On this Sunday afternoon, I am making a Calabrese Pasta e Fagioli [pasta and beans]. There are numerous variations on this peasant classic. It may be as thick as a stew, my personal preference, or as thin as a zuppa [soup]. Some years ago, my brother was in Manhattan on business. When he saw Pasta e Fagioli on the menu at a swanky New York restaurant, his interest was piqued. He declared the purchased version inferior to our mother’s, and it was expensive to boot. Among its shortcomings: the restaurant version was like a thin soup. In my family, we like to cut our Pasta e Fagioli with a knife, for it is as thick as can be.

Pasta e Fagioli

2 tablespoons olive oil                               2 15-oz. cans Cannellini beans, drained

I medium onion, chopped                         8 oz. ditalini, or small shells, or elbows pasta

3 garlic cloves, chopped                                        Salt and pepper to taste

1 28-oz. can Italian crushed tomatoes                Grated Parmesan cheese

1 teaspoon Italian herbs,                                       Italian bread

or 1 teaspoon dried oregano

2 cups chicken stock, or less for a thicker consistency

Bring a large, heavy pot of water to a boil. Add a teaspoon of salt and a teaspoon of olive oil, and add the ditalini. Cook for 5 minutes. Drain pasta.

In a large, heavy pan, heat olive oil over medium heat, and then add onion and cook until softened, 2-3 minutes. Add garlic and cook an additional minute. Add tomatoes, oregano, and chicken stock. Cover and cook until heated through, 5-8 minutes. Add Cannellini beans and bring mixture to a simmer, approximately 10 minutes. Add ditalini, and then cook for 20 minutes to meld the flavors, and to finish cooking the ditalini. Season with salt and pepper.

Ladle the Pasta e Fagioli into pasta bowls. Serve with grated Parmesan cheese and Italian bread on the side. Buon Appetito!

*Variation:  Add 1 small carrot, chopped; 1 rib celery, chopped; and 1 large dried bay leaf; saute the carrot and celery in olive oil until tender, then add to the pasta e fagioli.

Ciao for now.