Let There Be Cake!

Costco calls its cake “The All-American Cake”. I think many would approve!-tangledpasta.net

 By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

Yesterday we celebrated a dear friend’s birthday. I made a Barefoot Contessa recipe from her new cookbook, Cooking for Jeffrey. Said Jeffrey is her husband, the Dean of the Yale School of Business, who relishes Ina’s cooking. Who wouldn’t? The “Rigatoni with Sausage and Fennel” recipe intrigued me because a.) I love fennel, and b.) the recipe called for only two teaspoons of tomato paste and no other tomatoes. Also, it included a cup of white wine, which enhanced the flavor of the cream-based sauce. I felt confident about the rigatoni dish since The Barefoot Contessa states on the back of the book jacket that all of the recipes have been “Jeffrey tested”. I’ve watched her cooking show for a long time, and Jeffrey seems to enthusiastically consume her culinary offerings.

I decided to follow further Ina Garten’s advice and serve the main event with a green salad, and ciabatta bread. Generally, I make simple green salads consisting of Romaine lettuce with a dressing of balsamic vinegar, good quality olive oil, Italian parsley, and sea salt and pepper. While I rarely serve bread with a pasta entrée, ciabatta is like the un-bread due to its thinness and lightness of taste. The rigatoni entrée included mild Italian sausage, heavy cream, half and half, garlic, onion, fresh fennel, Italian parsley, Parmesan cheese, and a dash of dried Italian red pepper. I cooked the rigatoni and the sauce stove top in separate large pots, and then mixed the components together. Finally, I baked the mixture in the oven. The tantalizing smell wafting from the oven only whetted our appetites!

Suffice to say, the repast tasted delicious! Thank you Barefoot Contessa, and Jeffrey! After a while, we rolled out the birthday cake: a four-layer confection of chocolate with chocolate icing and shaved chocolate all around. The cake stood tall and impressive. I confess I did not make this cake, having run short on time. Instead, I purchased Costco’s “All American Chocolate Cake”. Our birthday friend was thrilled! She told us it was the biggest birthday cake she had ever had! We took photos; she posted them on Facebook. She opened her presents. We had such fun! The fact that we experienced a carb overload and a sugar high failed to dampen our spirits. We then brewed herbal tea to quiet our digestive tracts. I packaged up half of the cake for our birthday friend to share with her family, and kept a bit of the mountainous cake for us. Later that night, our friend thanked us again for a tremendous birthday celebration. Happy that all went well, the day after the food fest, I still can’t contemplate eating.

Ciao for now.

Wakes in the Age of Social Media


May the candles burn as brightly as did his presence in his family's lives - tangledpasta.net
May the candles burn as brightly as did his presence in his family’s lives – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

I am at that stage in my life when I now meet with quite a few of my 50 first cousins at funerals.  We seem to be burying our parents, aunts, and uncles at an alarming rate.  Today I found myself at yet another wake, this time for my first cousin Tony’s wife Mary Kay’s father’s funeral.  If one marries into our family, one is then considered a part of all of our families [It’s an Italian thing]. The past years, I would run into Tony’s in-laws at my favorite neighborhood Italian restaurant, Rulli’s. Pasquale Rulli makes a mean baked rigatoni, nearly as good as mine, but that’s me getting tangential].  Mary Kay’s father was best chums with one of my late uncles to boot.  Her family has always been friendly and lovely, and I am saddened to know that her funny, feisty father is no longer with us on Planet Earth.  I have no doubt, though, that her father and my late uncle are playing game after game of Celestial Poker, and deservedly so.

Aside from the changing landscape of we “the kids” now mourning our departed parents and other loved ones, is how we notify, or do not notify one another of death.  It used to be that my darling father was like the Twilight Bark of Death Notice among the Italian community, and my dear mother was not far behind him.  I never had to read the local obituaries to learn of who died, where and when because my parents kept me apprised of who had departed us for an inner planetary better life.  However, no my parents are here no more.  On my mother’s side of the family, the Twilight Bark of Death Notice is pretty much alive and well [no pun intended]. Yet today when I complained to my cousins that no one had called me about this sudden death in the family, several of my cousins looked at me blandly and replied, “It was on FaceBook”.  Please.  I admit that I do not read FB regularly, nor do I read the local rag because I’m working on a novel while still working full-time.  Why could no one pick a cell phone and ring me up?  Blank stares again; they are avid FB users who didn’t realize I am a sporadic FB individual.  I love my cousins, but had I not been alerted yesterday to the serious illness of a cousin on my maternal side of the family to read a private message on FB, I never would have seen the blurb about Mary Kay’s father’s death on my FB news feed.

It seems to me what is lacking in this whirl of social media is the human touch, the human contact. The reason I don’t read FB regularly is because I have to wade through so much drivel that I feel my brain cells evaporating as I read yet another bad joke or view another photo of a mob in which I may recognize one individual, or worse yet, see another post about someone’s child having achieved toilet training [good God].  That said, I do agree that social media is helpful; otherwise, how would you, gentle reader, be viewing my blog posts?  All I am lobbying for is a return to human contact, voice to voice if face-to-face is not possible.  After I learned of my maternal cousin’s dreadful illness, and of Tony and Mary Kay’s loss, I sent out the Twilight Bark Death Notice to my maternal cousins and aunts, whom I asked to spread the word. While they were saddened to hear this news, we all agreed it was good to talk and play catch up.

I admit that I had lively conversation with my cousins today at the wake.  It is too bad we are not Irish, for we could have raised a glass to the departed as we cheered him on to The Big House.  Minus the vino and beer, we still managed to have humorous talks.  I rarely see Tony and Mary Kay since they moved to the Lone Star State years ago.  Even when I lived for years in Houston, we did not see one another, for at that time we were all working like mad dogs.  The difference now is that my cousins are retired or are retiring this June, and I’m still working like a deranged loon [my child is in law school of two more years, which means retirement is not on my immediate horizon for another couple of years]. My cousins and I laughed, related stories, and even ran into familiar faces we hadn’t seen in some years.  I think Mary Kay’s father would have approved.  He was a jovial, good-natured fellow who loved his family and friends.  They came out in droves to bid him a fond adieu today.  I was fortunate to be a part of his send off, and for that I am grateful.

Ciao for now.


Envelope containing a birthday card to me from my darling daughter  - tangledpasta.net
Envelope containing a birthday card to me from my darling daughter – tangledpasta.net

For almost two months I grappled with the fact that I was facing another one of “those” birthdays.  I mean the kind of birthday that kicks off a new decade in one’s life, in this case, in my life.

When I turned eighteen, I was wild to turn twenty.  Nineteen felt like a mere holding pattern until I reached the magical age of twenty, thus jump starting my so-called life.  Or so I thought.  The twenties were filled with advanced degree pursuits and travel abroad, mostly to Italy and to Greece.  Actually, that decade was quite grand in its own way.

My decade spent in my thirties consisted of still living in Houston, marriage, relocating to the Midwest, motherhood, adjustment, and separation [in the marriage].  It was a decade of incredible highs [motherhood] and crashing lows [the demise of a marriage].

The decade of my forties saw me focused on rebuilding my life professionally, while simultaneously creating a secure, joyful life for my child.  There was the renewal of love with a former flame, and happiness loomed large on the horizon.  As the decade drew to a close, I became edgy about commencing a new decade in my life.  I still saw myself as the starry-eyed twenty-four-year-old with unending Italian spirit, alive with endless possibilities and vigor.  Everything came to a screeching halt when my beloved Mama suffered a massive stroke and died five months before my birthday.

I ceased worrying about “What if” and began asking “Why not?” when it came to each birthday.   As my dear Mama was fond of observing, “Consider the alternative.” I choose life.

Ciao for now.