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.

 

 

Spring Among “The Greens”

Swiss chard like my father used to grow in his garden - tangledpasta.net
Swiss chard like my father used to grow in his garden – tangledpasta.net

 By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

The happy hoopla of early May college graduation has abated.  The pomp and circumstance of that halcyon graduation weekend has been replaced with the internalized terrors of “Oh, my god!  I am starting law school in two-and-a-half months!”  The summer job hunt, once discouraging in early May when promised work failed to materialize, has borne fruit with several promising interviews.

The contour of my work changes as the university’s academic year draws nigh.  Summer transfer students from other colleges around the state return home and provide fresh faces among the student population.  These quieter rhythms are no less demanding while helping shake off the winter doldrums, the routine, the mundane.

I prepare more dinners with “minestre”, “the greens” as they are affectionately called in my family.  The “greens” are made up of whatever tickles my Italian fancy:  A mixture of mustard greens, kale, and Swiss chard one night; a concoction of endive, collard greens, and Swiss chard another evening [I confess to having an affinity for colorful Swiss chard].  “The greens” are simmered slowly with generous portions of olive oil, garlic, onion, potatoes, salt, and pepper.  I slice chunks of cheese, Asiago or Parmesan, set out a small ceramic bowl brimming with black Calamata and green Sicilian olives, accompanied by thick slices of crusty Italian bread.  Once the vino rosso is poured, a sultry evening’s dinner `e pronta  [is ready].

May reminds me of when my father would fire up his rotatiller to churn the garden dirt for planting.  Inevitably the Toro rotatiller broke down and had to be serviced before thorough soil preparation could commence.  Once all systems were a go, we did not see much of my father until early September.  After a full day of work in his shoe shop, he dined with us, and then hastily changed into his garden clothes [“Even the St. Vincent de Paul Society would want those rags,” lamented Mama], burning a trail into the garden.  It was most satisfying both for my father and for us when “the greens” sprouted up and were soon ready to be plucked and prepared to eat.

To this day, I concur with my beloved Papa that “Minestre is-a food fit-a for-a king-a!”

Ciao for now.

 

Buona Pasqua!

Italian Easter bread - tangledpasta.net
Italian Easter bread – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi |  @Mary Anna Violi

Today I suddenly realized this is the first Easter Sunday I have not shared with my daughter.  For the past twenty-one years we have attended Easter Sunday Mass together, followed by a sumptuous dinner with family.  The good news is that this Easter, Anjelica is commemorating Easter with her uncle, aunt, and cousins.  My brother lives only 75 miles from the Big 12 college campus, while our own home clocks in four hours north.  75 miles to my brother’s sounded far more appealing, particularly since Easter is early this year, on March 31.

The other reason is that I lacked the wherewithal to go out-of-town a fifth weekend in a row.  Frankly, I am weary.  My darling daughter and my dear nephew will graduate with their undergraduate degrees in May.  In June, my sweet niece will marry.  Before my soon-to-be college graduate graduates, there is Mom’s Weekend at her sorority house in April.  These three milestones all are far south from this Italian American’s residence in the Heartland.  Ergo, I opted to relinquish travel over Easter weekend.

This does not equate with me sadly ingesting a frozen Lean Cuisine Easter dinner.  Far from it.  I will be joining my sprightly local uncle and lively cousins for an Italian Pasqua dinner.  After dining with my family, a close friend who happens to be a nun, and I will be celebrating Easter, too.  I am grateful for my family and friends, yet I yearn for my daughter to join in these Easter festivities.

Today I went to a local Italian bakery, purchased Easter bread, an Italian lamb cake, and wished I could transport these traditional delicacies to my daughter.  How she loves the roasted leg of lamb and potatoes that I make, the asparagus, salad, Easter bread and lamb cake!  To assuage my conscience, I have placed some of the lamb cake in the freezer, along with pink sugar-sprinkled bunny cutout cookies, and Easter bread.  I will take these to her on Mom’s Weekend, for the Italian mama in me cannot bear to have her denied some of her favorite Easter delights.  After all, liturgically speaking, Easter season continues through May 12 this year. J

Ciao for now.

The Ubiquitous Christmas Letter

Deck the halls, or at least our front porch - tangledpasta.net
Deck the halls, or at least our front porch – tangledpasta.net

After my mother’s sudden death, the following Christmas I found myself, for the first time, penning a Christmas letter to insert with Christmas cards to family and friends.  We are a large family with a wide circle of friends and because so many constantly inquired about my father, who was 92 at the time, I felt a Christmas letter might be a most expeditious way of conveying news of him and our family.

Yet writing a letter of this sort was one of the last things I envisioned myself doing.  In the avalanche of Christmas cards my parents annually received, I chortled over badly written letters, those that droned on endlessly about trivia, and those that bragged shamelessly about their so-called brilliant offspring.  Mostly I howled over the wretched writing.  Far be it from me to set myself up for such critiques, I thought, as a young teen.  One can afford to be cavalier when one is still a young student who knows little of how the world really works, let alone what drives people to crank out the annual Christmas letter.

Thus, with a full heart at the prospect of the first Christmas without Mama to brighten the landscape of our sorrow, I managed to concoct a one-page letter full of news of my father and of my daughter.  Of myself, I felt I would only bring down the house with tears were I to reveal the extent of my sadness.  Therefore, in lieu of news of me, I inserted updates on our cats, Sparkle [now deceased] and Fellini [then a kitten].  At least I could mask my true feelings while doting on those about whom I happily had full care.

The twist was that after I had edited, re-edited, and edited my letter again, I began to fill better.  My daughter and I plunged into making Mama’s soft, moist fudge.  We experimented with pizzelles, using the pizzelle griddle Mama had bequeathed me.  We tried to emulate her classic Christmas cut out sugar cookie recipe, but she had written over it and crossed-out ingredients, tweaking it as she made the cookies year after year.  Finally, we turned to Aunt Adelaide’s Pillsbury sugar cookie recipe instead.  They were tasty, but missing Mama’s lightness of half-butter, half-shortening.

Within me, Christmas joy was gradually unleashed.  I took delight in baking with my daughter, in making pasta e fagiole for my father, and listening to Christmas carols. Now, for the past ten years, I too craft a Christmas letter.  Perhaps those reading it smirk and guffaw, but I suspect they press on to the end of the page as I used to do as a young sprig.  No matter the reason why, concocting the Christmas letter brings a smile to my face and keeps Christmas in my heart.

Ciao for now.

Viva Las Vegas, Part IV: Dining in Style

Original Picasso painting at Picasso – tangledpasta.net

 

Captivating aspects of travel include partaking of the local cuisine.  Prior to our journey to the land of Las Vegas, I enlisted the help of a Bellagio Concierge.  Reservations were then made well in advance at Bellagio’s Picasso, Circo, and Todd English’s Olives. While the meals were all memorable, two out of the three proved to be our favorites.

Dinner at Picasso was not only superb, but a true gustatory experience.  Seated overlooking The Fountains, we savored delectable creations of Chef Julian Serrano such as Sauteed Ruby Red Shrimp [shrimp stacked and surrounded with zucchini, artichoke, tomato confit and piquillo pepper vinaigrette]; Roasted Tornado Loin of Colorado Lamb [with pisto, mint aioli, and tempura zucchini flower]; Sauteed Medallions of Fallow Deer [with spring truffles, white asparagus, and Zinfandel sauce; and scallops with mashed potatoes in a divine sauce.  Dessert too was pure poetry: Butterscotch Cream Cheese and Lime Tart [topped with toffee read pudding and rum ice cream].  The café au lait topped off a memorable dining experience.  Pleasing to the eye too was the eclectic floral arrangements on the dark wood sideboards enhanced the beauty of the surroundings.

In addition to the cuisine, the non-edible coup de grace of Picasso is the authentic Pablo Picasso artwork that covers the walls.  Large canvases watch diners feast on the French and Spanish-influenced cuisine of Picasso.  The china is fraught with Picasso drawings; each piece is different and makes for an artistic experience overall.  The Picasso ceramics displayed on a wall add to the aesthetic dining and art experience of the unique restaurant that bears the master’s name.

Another tremendous epicurean experience was at Circo, a Sirio Maccioni restaurant.   My parents cooked Southern Italian food, specifically Calabrese style, yet the regional Italian cooking of Tuscany is one I love.  My veneration of Tuscan cuisine was more than sated at Circo.  The imported fresh mozzarella from Italy’s Campagna province with yellow and red tomatoes topped with chopped fresh basil, made for an ambrosial Insalata Caprese. Spring truffles were in season, and the homemade Pappardelle with braised chicken was graced with liberal amounts of the delicate truffles.  The Fried Polenta Parmigiano and the piquant Insalata Misata [marinated Campari tomatoes, organic field greens, pecorino cheese, and balsamic vinaigrette] also enchanted our taste buds.

The Circo servers, Chris and Patrick, made much of Anjelia’s 21st birthday:  Since we were running short on time prior to a show, they asked that we return post-show for her special dessert.  We sprinted back into the restaurant after ten p.m., and our new friends served her up Panacotta [vanilla panna cotta with seasonal fruits of strawberries and blueberries] on a lovely Circo plate with “Happy Birthday” written in chocolate across it.  Tiramisu Tradizionale and a cup of caffe latte rounded out our desserts as we watched the enchanting Lago di Bellagio Fountains from our same table.

Circo’s charming décor brings a smile to one’s face:  It is designed as a high-end European circus motif with a breath-taking big top on the ceiling.  Along with the fine wine and food, Circo, like Picasso, proved to be a Bellagio haunt to which we will return.

Caprese salad with imported fresh mozzarella at Circo -tangledpasta.net