Thanksgiving Day

Imagine all the potential pumpkin pies! –

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

As we near the end of November, we turn our attention to that laudable holiday: Thanksgiving. In the spirit of breaking bread, or Parker House Rolls, we sit down at the table laden with roasted turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, butternut squash, creamed corn, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, pumpkin, or pecan pie, or apple pie, or my homemade coconut cream pie. We toast with wine to get the family and friend meal underway. The eating then commences amid the clatter of plates and the cheerful chatter of goodwill.

Small wonder we reach for an anti-acid after pushing away our chairs from the table.

I have read several articles in the past week or so about how to avoid conflict over the Thanksgiving meal. This has to do with inquisitive relatives hitting upon flashpoints of personal matters such as Why aren’t you pregnant? You’ve been married nearly two years! Don’t you want to take off that extra weight? You’d look so much prettier! What made you retire at 64? You could go until 70 or at least 67! Why did you go back to work? You retired! You must have been bored! Don’t you want to get married again? You could have companionship and even sex [wink, wink]! Have you found a boyfriend yet? Childbearing years have an expiration, you know. Finally, there is the dreaded political and sexual harassment and/or rape discussion. I am not even going to dignify this blog post with the degenerative and outrageous behavior that is bringing this year to a close, God help us.

I have told myself that all those who make whatever inquiries mean well, that they are attempting conversation, and that they are trying to find some sort of common ground in which to engage in dialogue. In the end, I cannot fault them for their efforts.

Instead of Making Turkey, They Make Reservations, Pete Wells of the New York Times explores why families often opt to dine out on Thanksgiving Day. The reasons run the gamut from not having yet made friends in a new town, to avoiding explosive dinner conversation with families, to wanting to simplify Thanksgiving and letting chefs create the dinner and leave the staff to do the cleanup. My family once dined out on Thanksgiving. We had a delicious meal at a cozy corner table in a fine restaurant where my then-toddler daughter could play with her non-noisy toys without getting in the way of the servers or other patrons. While we pronounced it a success, we lamented the lack of leftovers. The following Thanksgiving saw us at home collaboratively preparing the feast, setting the table with one of my Italian linen tablecloths made by my aunts in Italy, using the “good china”, and wine glasses from the cabinet. All felt and tasted right again with the world.

My darling parents have since passed away, and close family member have either relocated to the coast, or share holidays with in-laws. We now dine with dear friends who honor their Italian and French heritages, as we do our Italian lineage. We have a common bond in that we are also rampant foodies, literary aficionados, and we relish conversation encompassing wit, humor, and insight. Thanksgiving is the holiday where we friends can come together. While we wish we could meet more often, our lives are filled with work, visiting our children in other cities, and attending to elderly family members. We are close friends who function like family, and we cherish this bond. My dear family extend heartfelt invitations for us to join them for Thanksgiving, and I am most grateful, while I hold dear sitting down with them in the past.

I take heart in the mirth and joy of Thanksgiving, whether we partake of the meal with family or with friends. Let us advocate to give thanks for family and friends, and let us raise our glasses to honor the blessings derived from delicious food and the company of those we love.

Ciao for now.




Credit Melina Hammer for The New York Times. Paella, pure and simply delicious with couscous or with saffron rice! –

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

My friends Eric and Eduardo are spending six weeks in Barcelona this summer. To say that I am envious is something I must confess I am. Eric and I have been corresponding and the first thing that charged to the forefront of my brainbox was Paella! If the Spanish had no other delicacy in their vast gourmet repertoire besides Paella, I would not be morose. Paella I could eat every day and be sated. The mélange of saffron rice, shellfish, white wine, vegetables, and wedges of lemon make my culinary heart skip a beat. There are meat versions of Paella with chicken, pork, and rabbit, but my Paella loyalties lie with the seafood version. The following link is to Mark Bittman of the New York Times’ Magazine and Dining section for his Paella Master Recipe.

Variations on Paella abound up and down and across Spain, much like the variations on a theme of France’s Cassoulet. It depends on the region, the available ingredients, and on the cook. Recipes are open to additions and deletions on the primary recipe offer the cook an array of possibilities. Eating Paella on a sultry summer night, drinking a crisp white wine, and listening to the soft strains of guitar music make me happy.

   Don Quijote is an exquisite Spanish restaurant in Valparaiso, Indiana. The chef creates a true Paella I yearn for and for which I am willing to drive the distance to partake of its splendor. Since I am a casserole aficionado, Paella appeals to me greatly. The seafood version takes me back to the warm beaches of Spain on starry nights, as I slowly ate and drank with friends. With each bite, may Paella transport you too, to the seductive rhythms of Spain.

Ciao for now.

“Romeo, Romeo, Wherefore Art Thou, Romeo?”

Romeo is so beautiful, even the angels weep. -
Romeo is so beautiful, even the angels weep. –

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

   The other evening I was reading a review of the much-hyped Broadway production of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.  This latest version stars Orlando Bloom.  While I do not personally know Mr. Bloom, I do know that his was the most gorgeous face in Pirates of the Caribbean.  He was even prettier than Kiera Knightley, and he possesses the more intriguing name, not that it is totally relevant, but I thought I would highlight my fascination with his name.  Mr. Bloom garnered rave reviews from Ben Brantley in The New York Times, which are the reviews one wants for Broadway.  Nora Ephron pointed out the power of a NY Times review in regard to a play of hers that did not receive a power positive review some years ago.  In her last book, I Remember Nothing, she chronicles the gnawing wound of a failure, and the potent trajectory of what a fine review in the venerable newspaper can do for a play or film.

Which brings me to Leonard Whiting. Not that this is the smoothest of segues from Orlando Bloom to Nora Ephron to Leonard Whiting, but it kind of works, so I am going to let it slide.  In Franco Zeffarelli’s 1968 film version of Romeo and Juliet, my eyes were riveted to that Romeo as Shakespeare’s glorious words tumbled easily from his doomed hero’s mouth.  “She doth teach the torches to burn brightly,” Romeo marvels upon first laying eyes upon Olivia Hussey’s Juliet.  Small wonder, for this Juliet was drop dead stunning, as was this particular Romeo.  When I saw the photos of Orlando Bloom as Romeo, I had that same kind of amazement.  Maybe it is the wide-set, soulful eyes, the finely chiseled features, and the ripper bods, I mean the sculpted chests of both of these Romeos, coupled with their sonorous voices, although I admit I have not seen Mr. Bloom’s Broadway Romeo, but knowing he first appears onstage clad in black leather, riding a motorcycle, makes me think his voice is just icing on the visual cake.  Admittedly, I eschew the modern trappings of period pieces, I looked beyond the contemporary setting and saw only Mr. Bloom, much like I did when I viewed Leonardo DiCaprio in Romeo + Juliet [a most silly spectacle of a film].

What does it all mean?  For one thing I count it a blessing that my heart can still quicken its pace over a hunky rendition of man.   For another, it means I am able to at least momentarily gaze beyond the outward beauty of the man and appreciate the rhythms of Shakespeare.  I must put Zefferelli’s Romeo and Juliet into the DVD player tonight and let the sonorous sounds of The Bard wash over me as I am transported to “…Verona where we lay our scene, where ancient grudge lay to new mutiny…”

Ciao for now.


Jerry, They’ve Done You Wrong


New Hampshire, J.D. Salinger's refuge -
New Hampshire, J.D. Salinger’s refuge –









By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

Months ago when I read in The New York Times that a documentary was going to be released on J. D. Salinger and that the force behind this “mock-u-mentary”, had done “extensive research”, albeit without the support of the Salinger family, I felt ill. For some years I have had my college students read the The Catcher in the Rye.  The nuanced character of Holden Caulfield shines forth like a beacon of pathos, humor, and hope.  While not all of my students over the years have fallen in love with the linguistic acrobatics of Salinger’s work, they do admit they learned to appreciate the narrative structure of The Catcher in the Rye.  I understand:  I am not enthusiastic about John Dos Passos’ Nostromo, but I came to respect the work itself.

I had just returned to my office after class on January 28, 2010.  We had engaged in a spirited discussion of Holden’s relationship with his sister Phoebe and his departed brother Allie.  Decompressing, I opened The New York Times webpage to see that J. D. Salinger had died that very day.  Stunned, I reached for my copy of his Nine Stories, and re-read every one.  It comforted me to read about these finely drawn characters and to hear the rhythm of Salinger’s prose.  Opening my well-worn copy of The Catcher in the Rye, I took heart in reading Holden’s introduction of himself on page one.  The richness of Salinger’s characters, their angst, and for me, always the uniqueness of the language, brought me solace over the death of a beloved author.

In our cultural lust for any morsel of scandal, our insatiable delight in feigned aghast at perceived wretched behavior, we now have the H. Weinstein-S.Salerno purported “documentary” of Salinger, God help us. Today Weinstein announced he is backing a movie about Salinger, for which Salerno is going to pen the screenplay.  All I can ask is, How low can we go?  And the answer is, Pretty darn low. The pimping of Salinger has begun.

The New York Times ran multiple articles of Salinger after his death.  One that particularly caught my eye was from the Cornish Journal entitled “J.D. Salinger a Recluse? Well, Not to His Neighbors” in Cornish, New Hampshire, who very much liked him and zealously protected his privacy from 1953 on. To the Cornish residents he was simply “Jerry”.  They were aware of his literary fame, but they respected his craving for  privacy.  Now that J. D. Salinger is dead, the name of the game seems to be Let’s Make a Buck Dredging Up Whatever.  This shameless lack of decency recently regarding Salinger merits nothing but revulsion because we know that those who spew this bile race after the Almighty Dollar.  It is worth noting that the man who refused to have The Catcher in the Rye turned into a film, is now himself the subject of one.  If we listen closely, we can hear J. D. Salinger turning over in his grave.

Ciao for now.

The Politics of Justice

Ethics and Integrity, both of which we should have -
Ethics and Integrity, both of which we should have –

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

Cherice Moraliz committed suicide just weeks before her 17th birthday in 2010.  Her mother said that her daughter could no longer cope with the ridicule and sheer stress of repeated rape at the hands of a Billings, Montana high school business teacher when the truth came to light.  Stacey Dean Rambold, who was 49 at the time, raped Cherice over a period of three months in 2007.  Indicted for rape in 2008, Rambold was recently given a 15-year prison sentence, all of which but 30 days was suspended.

Paltry as the sentence was, what the judge, G. Todd Baugh said, was equally shocking.  He announced that the 14-year-old victim was “older than her chronological age” and that she was “as much in control of the situation” as the perpetrator [“Montana Legal Officials Step in on Rape Case Sentence”, The New York Times, September 8, 2013].  Yes, a judge in a court of law announced proclaimed these observations at the sentencing.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but what a crock.

One’s heart goes out to the late Cherice Moralez, her confusion, her shame, her isolation, and to her mother, who loved her daughter.  I cannot even capitalize the j in the word Judge because Baugh doesn’t deserve the title.  A judge is supposed to uphold the law, not berate the dead 14-year-old victim and condone the child molester.  Apparently Baugh missed that in his law school courses and judge training.  One can only hope the Montana Supreme Court will see justice better served for the young rape victim as it attempts to right an egregious wrong.

Ciao for now.

The Hostess with the Mostess

Box of Twinkies
Box of Twinkies (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Admit it.  Go on.  You craved them.  One more.  Oozing white cream filling gushing into your mouth, tantalizing taste buds out of all proportion.  The intermingling of chocolate cake with the creamy center, the stiff white circular design atop the cupcakes, with a surge of cream spilling over your fingers as the delight of a SuzyQ filled your mouth.  The chemical vanillaness of a Twinkie enhanced the finale of the lunchbox experience of 1960’s school children as they snarfed down bologna sandwiches with ketchup between two slices of Wonder Bread.  Not that I was ever acquainted with a Wonder Bread sandwich.  My sandwiches were ensconced between slices of Ronzoni’s crusty Italian bread.  The sandwich part of lunch was followed by the crunch-crunch-crunch of carrot and/or celery sticks, which Mama placed in ample supply in my Barbie lunchbox tin.  All of this led to the primo aspect of classroom lunch:  a cellophane wrapped Twinkie.


English: Ding Dong
English: Ding Dong (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Alas, yesterday the music died. The last Ho-Ho’s were placed in boxes, machines were switched off, the lights killed, and, according to The New York Times on Saturday, November 17, 2012, and most of the 18,500 employees were out of a job.  For Hostess Brands shuttered its factories, and the ensuing silence was deafening.


Half of a Hostess Sno Ball.
Half of a Hostess Sno Ball. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)



Deconstructing a Sno Ball brightened up the gray landscape of long Midwest winters spent in parochial school.  Swapping a package of Sno Balls to gain one of Suzie Q’s was practically an art form at lunchtime.  Of course, this snack time brokering was among those fortunate enough to have mothers who placed a Twinkie in the well-appointed lunchbox.  Rare was the day that Mama placed a Hostess Brand delight in mine.  Daddy was forever turning over boxes and packages to read contents.


“Oh, my achin’-a back!  Look-a all-a this chemical-a junks in-a this!” he exclaimed to Mama.  “Why you-a waste—a money on-a these-a junks?  They no-a good-a for-a the kids.”


“A little Twinkie treat every now and then isn’t going to harm them.”


“Humph,” snorted Daddy.


English: A Hostess CupCake, shown whole.
English: A Hostess CupCake, shown whole. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Often one of Hostess cherished treats appeared in my lunchbox on a Friday.  By the time my brother Frankie was old enough to appreciate a good cupcake, Hostess had added Ding Dongs and Ring Dings wrapped in foil.


The economic tragedy is in those thousands of Hostess Brand employees turned loose from their jobs, many of which, I’m guessing, were generational. Yet the closing of Hostess


Brands is another vestige of my childhood now gone with the wind.  Today I may have to raid a grocery shelf to purchase a package of SuzyQ’s before they vanish for good.  Well in advance of New Year’s Eve, I feel compelled to sing a chorus of For Auld Ang Syne to salute the now bygone Hostess with the Mostess.

Ciao for now.

A Professor Most Honorable

Jane Austen
Jane Austen (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I was but a sprig of an undergraduate student at Indiana University Bloomington, I had the incredible good fortune to take a literature course with a professor named Susan Gubar.  As one from a small town in northern Indiana, and one who had attended Catholic parochial elementary and high school to boot, I was still somewhat overwhelmed by the sheer size and scope of IU Bloomington.  These were the Vietnam War years, and the campus was bursting at the seams with students, protests, the women’s movement, and the sexual revolution.  I dyed my long hair black, ceased wearing a bra, wore big wire-rimmed glasses [very John Lennon], donned tie-dyed clothing, and shlepped around the campus in bell-bottom jeans.  My Italian father thought I had gone to hell; my mother prayed that I would return to more flattering attire and my natural hair color.

Susan Gubar and her co-author Susan Gilbert had just finished what was to be a landmark book:  Madwomen in the Attic.  The minute I stepped into Professor Gubar’s classroom, my world tilted.  She encouraged us to voice our ideas about the literature – George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss, Charlotte Bronte’s Villette,

Portrait of Charlotte Brontë
Portrait of Charlotte Brontë (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 Jane Austin’s Emma and Persuasion to name a few.  Coming from straight lecture courses on literature where I found myself falling asleep while another professor waxed poetic on Keat’s Ode on a Grecian Urn for a week, I had little hope of Susan’s course being any different.  How wrong I was.

Often as the years pass, the memories of which professor one had for what course dim.  Not so my memories Susan Gubar and of intellectual engagement in the three literature courses I took with her.  Her insatiable pursuit of the exploration of literature, particularly Victorian literature at that time, made an indelible impression upon me.  If ever I were to teach, I told myself, I want to create a dynamic environment that fosters literary discussion.  Susan Gubar remains for me, even after my thirty-two years of teaching in higher education, the yardstick against which I measure myself.  Prizes and accolades Susan has received in spades.  However, I think one of her greatest achievements is inspiring those of us fortunate enough to have studied literature with her.

Now, in Susan Gubar’s Well Blog in The New York Times, she teaches us about coping with cancer, in Susan’s case, ovarian cancer.  Through her powerful voice, I find myself inspired all over again.

Ciao for now.