Songs My Mother Taught Me

Here's to my mother, a protean woman of  strength!-www.tangledpasta.net
Here’s to my mother, a protean woman of strength!-www.tangledpasta.net

 

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli 

On this sunny Mother’s Day, I think of how much I miss my mother. She died in June 2002, yet not a day goes by that she is not somehow present in my thoughts. Had she had been one of those scary mothers one reads about in unnerving headlines, my memories would be troubling ones. However, she was a larger than life persona who imbued my character in valiant and courageous ways.

Her baptized name was Anna Catherine, but all who knew her called her by the childhood name her father bestowed upon her: Kitty. My parents had longed for children, but I did not arrive until they had been married for 13 years. Prior to my blessed birth, they delighted in their nieces and nephews, of which there were many since my mother had come from a family of nine children, and my father from a family of six. I remember relatives around me, lively and full of chatter. Dinners, though, were sacrosanct times with my parents, later with brother, and my maternal grandparents [my fraternal grandparents resided still in Italy].

What remains vivid in my mind is love, for my parents loved me dearly. They had waited so long for children, and when I was born, they were overjoyed, so the relatives and my parents told me. More than the homemade snacks that met me on the kitchen table as I came through the back door after school, more than her listening to the stories I penned, more than the travels we took together, more than the delicious home cooked meals, more than the Barbie doll clothes she stitched, more than the exquisite dolls cakes she made and decorated, more than the piano lessons from which she transported me to and fro, more than the pretty clothes she sewed for me, and more than the elegant formal gowns she created for me, my mother taught me the art of invention, the trajectory of reading for its own sake parlayed into writing. With wit and verve and boundless humor, my mother showed me a better way to cope with the travails and joys of life. Until I had my child, I do not think I fully realized the sheer magnitude of her greatness. She used to tell me, “I call them as I see them” and she was nobody’s fool, nor did she suffer them well. An intellectual, a kind and compassionate soul, a magnificent role model, a stylish woman, she was all of those, but most of all she was my Mama, my best friend, my confident, my role model my guide, and my mentor throughout this labyrinth of life.

The songs of life she taught me transcend even death. With love, I say, Happy Mother’s Day, Mama, in the celestial heaven, from your earthling dream-weaving daughter below!

Ciao for now.

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.

 

 

 

‘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.

Achoo!

Tea, fruit, and a thermometer help with my malady - tangledpasta.net
Tea, fruit, and a thermometer help with my malady – tangledpasta.net

 

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

The weather turned cold this week and even had the audacity to snow.

Now I have a cold.

I notice the tissue supply is running dangerously low. This means I will be forced to trek to the store, which means I will end up purchasing throat lozenges, Vick’s inhaler, and boxes or cans of chicken noodle soup.  Of course, this translates into trudging to two different stores:  Target for the paper products and lozenges, and Whole Foods for the soup.  As I stare bleakly into the pantry, I realize the bread needs to be replenished.  Peering into the refrigerator [Do I have a fever?  My face feels hot and the chilliness of the ‘fridge feels good.], it is evident eggs and soymilk will need to be bought too.  The mango slices I neglected to finish were the only fresh fruit in the house.  Fruit is added to the list of What Is Needed.  The Brown Cow Maple Yogurt is gone too.

Thanksgiving is next Thursday, November 28, two days before my birthday.  I prefer to be in the pink for my birthday.  My birthday is a special day that is mine, alone, even if no party has been planned.  It would be lovely to be able to taste the Thanksgiving dinner too, minus the stuffy head and clogged nasal passages.  Sneezing and blowing one’s nose into a handkerchief, which is sturdier than a tissue, and has a nicer ring to it, while coughing uncontrollably over the Thanksgiving repast has a tendency to suppress the appetites of the others at the table.

If only this cold would vanish, I would feel like swooping up those ten items at Whole Foods, thereby giving me access to the “10 Items or Less” aisle for a speedy checkout.  Instead of attempting a run to Target, I’ll swing by the pharmacy that is much closer to home.

On the other hand, maybe I will indulge in a quick nap to refresh myself.

Lime green Jello sounds good now too.  I jot Jello down on the list before I drift off into the Land of Nod.

Ciao for now.

 

 

September Song

The lake's September Song - tangledpasta.net
The lake’s September Song – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

This evening, after a long workday, after giving in to the unrelenting clamor of Fellini and Coco Chanel for their evening cat treats, I realized the patio flowers needed watering.  The clock showed 7:05 p.m., and already the sun was setting.  Donning long black comfy pants and my favorite blue Life is Good hoodie, I filled the summer iced tea pitcher with water multiple times as I offered liquid refreshment to the large pots of orange, white, and magenta chrysanthemums.  The vibrant pink Mandeville is still blooming its trumpet-shaped flowers.  It too partook of a pitcher of water.  I pulled weeds that had the audacity to infringe upon the elegant Mandeville’s territory.  By the time I had made multiple trips up and down the steps to refill the pitcher and then pull the weeds, the sky had darkened into the gloaming.

After cleansing my hands of the weed dirt, I turned my attention to my gnawing hunger.  Canvassing the freezer, I decided upon collard greens and spinach.  I nixed the Swiss chard until another meal.  Noting there were small potatoes waiting to grace a dish, I fashioned a repast of a mixture of dark leafy greens, potatoes, onion, garlic, and olive oil with Italian bread on the side.  With the promise of a bit of cheese and fresh red raspberries for dessert, and a glass of vino bianco in hand, I nestled into the old green leather wingback easy chair, embracing the close of a lovely September day.

Ciao for now.

 

Labor Day Weekend

 

 

Summer's end, The Grand Hotel, Mackinac Island - tangledpasta.net
Summer’s end, The Grand Hotel, Mackinac Island, one of my favorite places tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

When I was a young sprig, the last hurrah of summer was spent swimming, fishing, and boating at our summer-house on the lake.  Amid whoops and splashes, diving, and floating, we frolicked throughout most of those sun-drenched summer days. We also feasted in between swims.  At least one Labor Day Weekend dinner included hamburgers and hot dogs on the old brick grill my grandfather had built.  There was Mama’s homemade coleslaw [light on the mayonnaise], Aunt Agnes’ potatoes and side dishes, and Aunt Adelaide’s homemade German chocolate cake.  Life was good and mighty tasty too.

We cousins knew that after we bade one another adieu on Labor Day itself, the school year commenced the next day.  Labor Day heralded the end of summer; it placed the cherry on the cake of summer.  Labor Day also paved the way to autumn.  We donned new school attire, and polished saddle shoes and penny loafers, we headed for the classroom, armed with our metal lunch boxes, and new pencil cases in hand. In an uncertain world, we could count on school commencing the day after Labor Day.  There seemed a kind of security in knowing that.

Back then we understood the cyclic nature of the seasons:  Autumn equated with school; Winter meant snowy white nights and Christmas; Spring reminded us Nature awakened; and Summer beckoned with the lure of languid days at the lake. My daughter fell prey to the lunacy of the extended school day, the elongated school year, and the mania of increased standardized testing.  School began for her in the oppressive heat and humidity of the August dog days of summer.  I haven’t observed youth getting any smarter or adept at the traditional 3 R’s of writing, reading, and arithmetic with this prolonged school year. A wave of sadness overtakes me to know that the young cannot partake in the ritual of summer’s end that Labor Day used to offer my cousins and me.

Ciao for now.