The Classic

Nothing beats "The Classic" pasta dish in our family -
Nothing surpasses “The Classic” pasta dish in our family –

By Mary Anna Violi |@Mary Anna Violi

When my daughter arrived home after a round of law school midterms and finals, she was exhausted.  In honor of her academic work, I had a large pot full of pasta sauce and meatballs with a side of Swiss chard to bolster her flagging spirits.  The weather had turned chilly, but sunshine abounded that evening she drove home for a restorative weekend.  Nothing warms the cockles of one’s Italian heart like a hearty dish of pasta and meatballs.

Having taken that particular Friday off of work in order to prepare for her first homecoming post exams, I hastened to Whole Foods to talk with one of my favorite Whole Foods meat counter fellows.  We had an invigorating talk about the kind of pork to be found in the Whole Foods’ case.  He waxed poetic about the caliber of pork and the quality controls required of the porcine population deemed worthy of occupying space in the Whole Foods meat case.  In turn, I explained how my mother’s recipe is the Golden Child of Meatballs, demanding half ground chuck and half ground pork among its nine ingredients.  We chuckled over those who insist on making meatballs with only beef, thereby rendering the meatballs heavy on the tummy.

That night Anjelica and I bit into the meatballs before winding linguine around our forks.  Her eyes lit up as she exclaimed, “Mama!  These are the best meatballs you’ve ever made! They’re so light and tasty!”

I had to agree.

Ciao for now.

The Fish of Lent

By Mary Anna Violi |@Mary Anna Violi

fish & chips
fish & chips (Photo credit: David Ascher)


Friday night dinners in our household consisted primarily of fish.  Good practicing Roman Catholics my parents were, Fridays throughout Lent were peppered with hearty portions of dried cod, a’la` Calabria, with a generous portion of olive oil, onions, fresh lemons, a handful of fresh parsley, a hearty portion of potatoes, all covered with water.  Mama used to explain that to cook baccala, the aforementioned cod dish, “First, you soak the cod for a week, and then you cook the cod for a week, and then you throw it out!”

She had a point.  Dried cod smelled like a dead fish that had been floating on its side for an undetermined length of time.  I incurred Daddy’s icy stare whenever I held my nose to take a bite of this Southern Italian “delicacy”.  Baccala was, however, a most economical Lenten repast, for in those years, cod was cheap [before upper-middle-class folks decided fish was “hot” and meat was “not”]. Years later, I concocted a way of making baccala with fresh cod that tasted delicious and lacked the appalling bouquet of dried cod.  My parents were proud of my culinary baccala achievement.

We also feasted upon filleted blue gills, courtesy of relatives who liked ice fishing; tuna fish and noodles; tuna casserole; shrimp cocktail; and my brother’s favorite:  Mrs. Paul’s Fish Sticks.  If we were lucky enough to be served fish sticks on a Lenten Friday, that also meant made homemade French fries and another relative’s coleslaw recipe, which I could have dispensed with.  I enjoyed simply noshing on lemon-saturated fish sticks while chasing ketchup around my plate with chunky French fries.

I thought about those Lenten dinners of yore last Friday night as I prepared linguine with shrimp scampi for dinner.  Admittedly, I abstain from meat on most Fridays beyond Lent.  Fish and Fridays just go hand in hand in my Italian world.

Ciao for now.



After New Year’s

Christmas cake for us -
Christmas cake for us –

The day after New Year’s my daughter packed up her SUV, kissed me, bid me adieu, and drove back to her college campus.   I had texted a friend as a safety net in hopes of warding off the emptiness I inevitably feel after Anjelica’s departure, especially when the joy of Christmas and the champagne of New Year’s begin to ebb away.

My friend inquired if we could go to Super Target.  She needed to buy a small coffee pot with a timer for her classroom breaks.  “Fine,” I said.  Anything was welcome to circumvent the first afternoon and evening devoid of my daughter’s lively company.  One would think after four years, I would cope better, would have my own diversions in place.  Well, I do.  My life is full of writing, a full-time job, family and friends.  But here’s the rub:  I love my daughter’s company.  She is a great raconteur, a beautiful, sweet, witty, compassionate young person brimming with life, ambition, hopes and dreams.  Why would I not miss her?

Later that same day, my friend and I dined at a favorite restaurant that offers healthy, fresh fare, particularly welcome after the over-indulgence of Christmas and New Year’s.  We drove to my house, the house still cozy with Christmas decorations and white lights.  I whipped up lattes and poured the coffee from the shiny red French Press Anjelica had given me for Christmas.  As I settled into a chair next to the Christmas tree, I glanced at the book on writing subjects she also gifted to me.  The dark periwinkle-purple scarf she placed around my neck still graced my ensemble.  I sipped the pecan praline latte and smiled at the thought that we would be together again soon enough.  Happiness.

Ciao for now.

Toujours bon appétit, Julia!

Cover of "Appetite for Life: The Biograph...
Cover via Amazon

One of my great passions is cooking.  Whether it is for family, friends, or myself, the art of cooking never fails to intrigue me.  At a young age I attempted to emulate my mother, who herself was a wondrously wonderful cook.  How well I recall the sheer joy of opening a present from Mama.  Inside the colorful wrappings lay my first cookbookBetty Crocker’s Boy’s and Girl’s Cookbook.  Since that first cookbook, rarely have I stopped cooking for any length of time.


Julia Child entered the world on August 15, 1912.  My father was already two years old when she arrived; my mother didn’t appear on the birth horizon until 1915.  Today Julia Child would have celebrated her 100th birthday.    What a fascinating person she was, to say the least.  With brio I read her book My Life in France, which my daughter bought me in 2006, the year of its publication.  I have read and re-read the book multiple times over the years in which she eloquently expresses her ardor of FranceAppetite for Life:  The Biography of Julia Child, by Noël Riley Fitchstands dog-eared on my bookshelf from numerous readings too.  Other books, both by Julia Child and those written by others about her, have enlightened me too.

Cover of "Mastering the Art of French Coo...
Cover via Amazon

Yet the coup de grâce, the crème de la crème of them all is Julia’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  Heavenly is the only word to describe her Boeuf de Bourguignon.  Every time I make it, and I never stray from her recipe, it turns out perfectly:  so moist, succulent, and savory that one could bask in the euphoria of it throughout the night, along with a glass of fine vino rosso.  This recipe alone would have put her on the culinary map in my humble opinion were not other recipes from the book superb, like her Reine de Saba cake.


Tonight over dinner I plan to raise my glass of Pinot Noir and toast Julia Child, who so aptly counseled us:  Toujours bon appétit!  Bon anniversaire, Julia!


Ciao for now.





Weekend Getaway, Part III: Fine Wine, Dine Fine

Formal dinner table setting at The Grand Hotel –
Venetian glass chandelier, the Cupola Bar atop The Grand Hotel –

The stellar breakfasts and five-course dinners at The Grand Hotel satisfy the most finicky of tastes.  The wine lists and cocktail offerings make for leisurely dining and even quietly rocking on the 660-foot porch satisfying.    A restaurant that serves up divine grits is my kind of place, and The Grand Hotel’s Salon Manger fulfilled my Southern breakfast longing.  We heartily partook of a fresh vegetable omelets, grits, mango juice, tea, and croissants to hold us throughout the day until the magical stroke of six o’clock in the evening.

Veal osso bucco, The Grand Hotel –

Each evening at six, The Grand Hotel staff circulate on the mammoth porch and throughout the hotel to remind guests it is time to dress for dinner.  Part of the charm of this hotel is that formal dress is required:  suits for the gents and dresses or skirts, or pantsuits for the ladies.  Even the children dress to the nines for the evening at The Grand Hotel.  It seems to me that everyone stands a bit taller and walks with a more confident air because of the formal attire each evening.  The five-star dining experience is very much worth the effort of “getting done up”.

White chocolate bread pudding, The Grand Hotel –
The Grand Hotel’s signature dessert: The Grand Pecan Ball in fudge sauce-

Each dinner table holds formal place settings for each patron.  For dinner one evening I chose the Chilled Jumbo Shrimp with Farro Verde and Sweet Chili Sauce as an appetizer; the Wild Mushroom and Onion South with Artichoke Tapenade for the soup selection; the Tuscan Bread Salad with Frisee, Sweet Peppers, Red Onion, Mozzarella and Basil Dressing.  For an entrée I selected the Braised Veal Osso Bucco Milanese with Crispy Grits Cakes and Lemon Parsley Gremolata.  Usually I am a vegan/vegetarian, but I cast it aside when dining at The Grand Hotel.  My carnivorous nature ran free and wild over the tender veal osso bucco.  Just because dessert is the crème of the dinner crème in the Salon Manger, I relished every bite of the Warm White Chocolate Bread Pudding with Crystallized Ginger Sauce.  Naturally, we repaired to the main Salon for a nightcap sherry and to listen to the dulcet tones of the harpist as we contemplated how to go forth into that good night.

The harp musician, The Grand Hotel –

Ciao for now.

Salad Days

With the heat soaring to 100 degrees again in the Heartland, salad has been figuring prominently on our table. This afternoon represented our new typical:  We dined on salad at an Italian bakery and restaurant. We felt like wilted Romaine lettuce from the heat walking from the car to the entrance door.  Usually we dine on a Panini in the deli café after purchasing Italian meats, cheese, and pastries.  Today we opted for its restaurant decorated with faux grape arbors, but lovely scenery overlooking voluptuous potted plants on the patio.

Cobb salad, Cafe Bellagio, Las Vegas – tangledpasta

Salad is not the food about which I dream.  Aside from an artfully crafted Caprese Salad with tomatoes that actually taste like tomatoes, not those tasteless hothouse ones, fresh mozzarella this side of paradise topped with fresh basil, salads do not figure prominently on my horizon.  Truth be known, I indulge periodically in a refreshing Cobb Salad too.  Fruit, on the other hand, quenches my thirst, and is colorful and delicious when newly plucked.  Upon fruit, I may wax poetic; on salad, not even a limerick emerges.

Kelley, my multi-talented sister-in-law, makes world-class salads that are rhapsodies in themselves. Even though she willingly shares her recipes with me, I seem to lack the salad knack she possesses.  Even my daughter makes salads an event, like her aunt.  My talent, I like to point out, lies elsewhere in the culinary landscape.

Even though I may be left in the salad stems, I plan to continue to partake of salads my family members make, relishing with gusto each bite.

Ciao for now.