Golden Years

My aunt's proclivity to violets and purple came to mind with this painting in our room at The Grand Hotel, a place she
My aunt’s proclivity to violets and lilacs came to mind with this painting in our room at The Grand Hotel, a place she

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

Over Labor Day weekend we visited my darling Aunt Adelaide. She is now 97 years of age, yet she still sparkles with vivacity. Her blue eyes twinkle with laughter, and her hugs continue to melt my heart. While her health waxes and wanes, my cousins take constant care of her, diligently overseeing her medical care with love.

Aunt Adelaide holds a special place in my heart as my Godmother. As my mother’s middle sister, she shared adventures with Mama. My mother, Catherine “Kitty” loved to travel, and travel she did, inviting her younger sister along. Long after both sisters had married and bore children, they took along their offspring on trips. We traveled annually to Edge Grove, Pennsylvania, near McSherrystown, kind of near, but not terribly close to Gettysburg. My maternal grandfather’s three blissfully eccentric unmarried sisters lived in a two-story house with an outhouse wreathed in perennial flowers in Edge Grove. Those flowers attracted an endless stream of bees. One didn’t dawdle in that privy. While my grandfather offered them indoor plumbing time and again, his sister refused. The sisters, Rose, Anastasia “Anna”, and Mary “Molly” were close to their nieces Kitty, Adelaide, and younger sister Agnes. Driving from our hometown with my mother, younger brother, and grandfather to Detroit to pick up Aunt Adelaide and her two younger children, off we all went in our big blue Chevy on a lively road trip. Once with my great-aunts in Pennsylvania, we cousins roamed relatively freely in the hamlet perched on the mountainside, among extended family and friends. Mama and Aunt Adelaide’s laughter rings in my ears from those carefree visits. Reminiscing over bygone days of my great-aunts and their four brothers over copious bowls of corn chowder on warm summer nights lulled me into believing these idyllic times would last forever. Naturally, they didn’t, for the Grim Reaper ultimately demanded the last word.

One memorable road journey entailed chauffeuring Mama and Aunt Adelaide to Virginia. We had so much fun on that vacation! I had completed my undergraduate degree at Indiana University Bloomington in August. Off we drove in late September amid the early autumn color. I did all the driving, for I love the open road. We toured historic Jamestown and delighted in its pottery and artists. Williamsburg fascinated, but for me, the pièce de résistance of the trip was Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home set in the majesty of the Southwest Mountains adjacent the Blue Ridge Mountains surrounding Charlottesville. Jefferson’s inventions, Palladian design of his home, and the flower, fruit, and vegetable plantings were all the work of a man ahead of his time. We also travelled down the mountain to the plantation next door: Ash Lawn-Highland, the estate of James and Elizabeth Monroe. We also visited Orange, Virginia’s plantation home of James and Dolley Madison, Montpelier. Three U.S. Presidents who lived in Virginia intrigued me, as did the peacocks roaming Ash Lawn-Highland!

Although Aunt Adelaide is spry no longer, in spirit she is. Remembering our annual summer respite together at our family cottage on Eagle Lake with my mother’s sisters and their families, our annual Christmas and Easter gatherings, and the humor, creativity, and love of my mother and her two sisters reverberate with me still. Visiting with Aunt Adelaide last weekend only heightened the joy we shared. Her golden years continue to beam gold over all within her orb.

Ciao for now.


Easter Bread, Eggs, and Lamb

Easter Lamb Cake is a tradition in our family -
Easter Lamb Cake is a tradition in our family –

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

While in a local Italian bakery this afternoon, waiting patiently as the server carefully placed several large loaves of Italian Easter bread into white boxes, we noticed the bakery hummed with activity.

“What is all of this?” one woman asked, as she waved her arm over the various shapes of Easter bread.

“Look at the colored eggs in the bread!” exclaimed another woman.

At this point, an Italian friend entered the bakery; immediately, we began speaking in Italian. The two women stared at us. He and I talked about Easter weekend, Easter food, and family.

In Italian, I asked him, “Are you going to buy that ring of Easter bread?” I gesticulated at the enormous circular bread with multiple pastel-colored hardboiled eggs.

“No, no. My wife baked Easter bread, but we did buy four loaves of Calabrese bread here on Holy Thursday,” he explained. “Did you bake Easter bread?”

I laughed. “No. That’s why we are buying two loaves. I used to make the Easter bread; instead, I roast lamb, make a Torta Pasqualina [Little Easter Torte with Swiss chard, spinach, and ricotta cheese]. I let our fine Italian bakery do the Easter bread honors!”

We wished one another a “Buona Pasqua!” Happy Easter! Had the bakery not been so busy, I might have explained to the two women the significance of the Easter bread. My daughter remarked how taken aback she had been over the women’s ignorance of Italian Easter bread. She understood that not every one is of Italian descent, but she forgets that when we are with family and Italian friends, and in Italian bakeries. The similar instance occurred several days before at Whole Foods. In that discussion I a server wondered about the significance of lamb cake among Italians. This cake is in the shape of a lamb.

Coco Chanel inspects our newly dyed Easter eggs -
Coco Chanel inspects our newly dyed Easter eggs –

In regard to Italian Easter bread, other cultures have particular kinds of Easter bread, traditionally eaten on Easter Sunday. The bread can be traced back to the Ancient Greeks and Romans. Bread was, and still is, a staple in these cultures. What sets Easter bread apart is that the bread is sweet. It is usually baked in the shape of a cross to symbolize the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ. The egg embedded in the bread is usually baked with pieces of dough in the shape of a cross. The egg used to be dyed red to symbolize the Blood of Christ, and woman’s fertility. In the Roman and Orthodox Catholic Churches, Easter is about the Resurrection of Jesus, of renewal, and a rebirth of faith. In contemporary society, we now see Italian Easter bread in the shape of an Easter basket with colored hardboiled eggs, or as braided loaves with or without eggs, or in circular loaves with eggs. The cake in the shape of a lamb symbolizes the ultimate Sacrificial Lamb, Our Lord. By the same token, the lamb cake is also synonymous with Spring, a time of re-awakening of the Earth after a long Winter.

We prefer our Italian Easter bread without hard boiled eggs embedded in the bread -
We prefer our Italian Easter bread without hard boiled eggs embedded in the bread –

We embrace our Italian Easter traditions and foods. Tonight I am roasting a leg of lamb with potatoes. The lamb is covered with rosemary and garlic placed in slits. It is then basted with white wine and butter throughout the roasting process. We will eat the lamb and potatoes with fresh asparagus. Many Italians roast lamb for Easter, as do Greeks. It is, after all, tradition!

Buona Pasqua!

Buona Pasqua, Ancora

Cugina Chrissy's limoncello and chocolate raspberry-chocolate chip cakes -
Cugina Chrissy’s limoncello and chocolate raspberry-chocolate chip cakes –

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

Easter Sunday dawned auspiciously today:  The sky was gray and overcast.  As I was leaving for Church, rain began to puddle on the patio.  Since I had scheduled the 9:30 a.m. Mass on Easter Sunday in memory of my parents, Catherine “Kitty” and Frank, I realized I neglected to negotiate with the meteorologist for sunshine.  Yet halfway through Easter Mass, the sun shone, filtering through the Church’s stained glass windows.  It was a glorious omen for Easter.

My cugina [cousin] Marianne [yes, we Italians like to continuously recycle family names, which is why three-fourths of Italian women have the same first names, as do the men], invited me over for an Easter breakfast with her family.  Her father, my uncle and Godfather, is ninety-four years young, and, as our family patriarch, happily presided over my cousin’s light-as-air Belgian waffles [we Italians in the Heartland are multicultural in culinary spirit as well as ecumenical], crispy center-cut bacon, and her daughter’s delicious once-over-easy eggs.   Her husband Steve poured us shots of Amaretto di Saranno, which I poured into my coffee, thereby punching up my cup of Joe.

I was touched by my cugina’s Easter Breakfast invitation because sitting down with family reminded me of Easter Sunday breakfasts after Mass with my family.  When I was away at college, unable to get home for Easter, my mother made a point of sending me an Easter basket filled with malted milk balls, foil-wrapped chocolate eggs, a large chocolate bunny, jelly beans and decorated eggs.  This year, I too filled my daughter’s furry, musical, ear-flapping rabbit Easter basket with treats and mailed it to her.   It is a worthy family tradition; it even received the Easter Bunny Seal of Approval.

My uncle’s family convened again late this afternoon for Easter dinner at his granddaughter Chrissy’s home.  My cousin follows in the family tradition of fine cooks.  She whipped up enough food to feed the Italian army:  Baked ham, potatoes, corn, green beans, and her mother prepared Italian sausage in a tomato-onion sauce for sandwiches replete with crusty Italian bread.  To top it off, dessert was limoncello cake and a chocolate-raspberry-chocolate chip cake confection.  Naturally, we imbibed vino bianco and vino rosso.  My contribution was an Italian Easter bread in the shape of a crucifix, and a bottle of hearty Chianti.

Tomorrow I am fasting. Alleluia!

Ciao for now.


Buona Pasqua!

Italian Easter bread -
Italian Easter bread –

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.

Dreaming of Dayton, Part III


Fellini and Coco Chanel are dreaming of their two Persian cat cousins in Dayton -
Fellini and Coco Chanel are dreaming of their two Persian cat cousins in Dayton –


By Mary Anna Violi | @ Mary Anna Violi

I have two cousins in Dayton, Ohio whom I have known since they were babes in arms:  Ann Marie and Jimmy, though in their professional lives they now go by Ann and Jim.  They are both younger than I, but I adore them.  Ann is an accomplished, experienced social worker; Jim is a savvy, personable businessman.  No matter if several months or a year passes, the three of us always are able to pick up where we left off.  Our cousinship is seamless and strong.

Much of this strength I attribute to my mother, Catherine “Kitty”, to their mother, my Aunt Agnes, and to our Aunt Adelaide, the three sisters.  Those sisters were a close-knit trio, in spite of the geographical distances that separated them in their married lives.  Our three families visited over spring breaks, Easter, summer vacations, Christmas, and family milestone events such as baptisms, First Communions, anniversaries, and any other reason to gather and celebrate together.  Cousin bonds were forged during   childhood, nurtured throughout adolescence, and now into adulthood.   What is additionally gratifying is that we engage in the same family practices with our own children.  Our children know their second cousins and I must admit, it is most gratifying to observe this delightful next generation.

Dayton is a beautiful, tree-laden city with fine architecture, hilly residential areas, a winding river, universities and colleges, delectable eateries, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, and excellent shopping venues. As a child, I loved Dayton and Kettering, where Aunt Agnes and my late Uncle Joe first lived.  With the wind in my sails from this most recent visit to Dayton, I am once again reminded of how dear my aunt’s family is to me.  How exquisite it is that my daughter feels likewise about her aunt and cousins.

Ciao for now.


Ash Wednesday Denial

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

Stained glass angel church window -
Stained glass angel church window –










Ash Wednesday is the kick-off to the Lenten season in the Roman Catholic Church.  This year Ash Wednesday fell on February 13.  On Mardi Gras, the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, I tried to muster up enthusiasm for a New York strip steak, or at least a cheeseburger, preferably from Five Guys.  However, on Mardi Gras, meat did little to entice my taste buds.  Ergo, I feasted instead on roasted garbanzo beans, couscous, and broccoli.

At the 12:05 p.m. Mass on Ash Wednesday, I was the Reader for the two Epistles [one from the Prophet Joel; the other from Book 2 of the Corinthians, for those reading this blog with an inquiring mind].  As I finished reading from the Corinthians, suddenly, a Five Guys juicy cheeseburger with sautéed onions and mushrooms blazed across my mind.  I tried to focus on Monsignor’s sermon about Lent not being necessarily about forsaking candy for 40 days, but about doing good deeds, a’ la` random acts of kindness.

While the advice was sound, I envisioned that charbroiled cheeseburger burning brightly before me on the marble altar railing.  “Sacriligious!”  I silently chastised myself to no avail.  “Focus! Focus!” I mutely yelled to myself.

Fasting in-between meals on Ash Wednesday and on the Fridays during Lent has not been historically troublesome for me.  In fact, fasting, instead of indulging in my daily grazing in-between meals, should decrease my waistline [which it usually does not].

My Lenten albatross remains abstinence from meat throughout the remaining Fridays of Lent.  It is ironic because I rarely think about or crave meat; salmon and bay scallops, yes, pasta with seafood, yes, but meat in and of itself, no.  I fear each Lenten Friday I will fixate on either a cheeseburger or a strip steak, which I do not crave on any other day during Lent, except for Ash Wednesday.

Sigh.  It is going to be a long 40 day-road to Easter Sunday.

Ciao for now.