Southern Living’s photo of its Honey-Balsamic Blueberry Pie. http://www.tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi |@MaryAnnaVioli

While I extol the virtues of cake anytime, I lust after fruit pie in the summertime. I am an aficionado of blueberry pie, strawberry pie, blackberry pie, rhubarb pie, and peach pie. When these fruits are at their peak during the summer months, I am ready, fork in hand, to slowly relish the taste of each and every one of them, though not all at once [moderation is important]. Cheeseburgers, hot dogs, or bratwursts, along with a French style potato salad, followed by a delicious piece of a berry or of a peach pie, make for a satisfying summer dessert.

I do not eat pie on a daily basis, though I often wish I could [there is that moderation factor again], thus I like actual sugar in my pie, not artificial sweeteners with their metallic aftertaste that alters the essence of the fruit. Until a physician counsels me not to eat a “natural” fruit pie, and may that day never come, I shall savor the sensation of fruit pies sweetened with sugar. This weekend I shall bake a blueberry pie made with balsamic vinegar and honey . It is my all-time favorite blueberry pie recipe. My go-to strawberry pie recipe contains cocktail juice. When it comes to rhubarb pie, I am a purist. No strawberries mixed in with the rhubarb for me. I prefer my rhubarb pies unadulterated without another fruit, with nothing to mask the tartness of the rhubarb.

Next week I am preparing to savor the incomparable fresh peach pie. This pie is a symphony for the palate, where the fragrant peaches meld to intoxicate the senses. Only a philistine of tainted sensibilities could resist such a confection made with sun-ripened peaches. It is apparent that I have adopted a firm stance on the subject of summer fruit pies. This has much to do with the fruit pies my mother used to make. Once I learned at the knee of a master pie baker, my palate was forever elevated to create, taste, and savor nothing but the finest of summer fruit pies.

Ciao for now.

Summer Nights



The light fades over the lake and the tide slowly comes in. – http://www.tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

On these warm summer evenings, nothing is quite as satisfying as dining outside on the patio. Knowing that by November the weather will prohibit such outdoor al fresco dining, the sultry summer air makes these present balmy evenings all the more cherished. Last Saturday evening we had Ball Park Franks on split top buns, my homemade potato salad a’ la the Barefoot Contessa, Romaine lettuce salad laced with celery, yellow bell peppers, and goat cheese, and icy cold drinks. We even made s’mores for dessert. This picnic fare tasted just right that night on the patio.

I like to stay outside as long as possible on summer nights. The darker it gets, the more fireflies I see dot the yard. Fireflies are both nostalgic and lovely on summer nights. They are benign, make little to no noise, and provide a comforting presence in a world gone seemingly awry. Unlike mosquitoes, fireflies inflict no pain upon us, nor do they make us itch. My daughter used to have a “bug box” that I purchased at the Zionsville Street Fair. Made of wood, the box had large wire mesh windows on its sides. The house rule was that she could catch fireflies, or praying mantises, or grasshoppers to observe them for a short time; however, the insects had to be released within a half-an-hour back to Nature. The “bug box” offered the temporary insect captives more spacious accommodations than did the short canning jar with holes poked in its metal lid that I had as a child. The same 30-minute maximum rule applied to me back then, too.

The composer Samuel Barber wrote an exquisite rhapsody with orchestra, based on James Agee’s prose, Knoxville: Summer 1915 that the soprano Eleanor Steber commissioned. One of my favorite vocal pieces, the yearning and wistfulness of the music and of the lyrics brims with my thoughts of summers on the lake with my family, and of summers outside in the backyard over leisurely dinners. The fireflies were a presence of those summers then and of summers now.

Ciao for now.


Come September

School should start after Labor Day. - tangledpasta.net
School should start after Labor Day. – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

Each year around this time I am reminded of those days of yore when school began after Labor Day. It still does in a neighboring state, but that is because commencing school earlier would impact its lucrative tourism industry. Since my home state lacks that kind of tourism, our children slog back to school in August. Indeed, some school districts began the first week of August.

The chief reason why school begins so early now is standardized test scores, which still remain in the dumpster [The fact that these scores do not align with the 49 other states is another discussion]. Schools have eliminated “study hall” in high schools; we have also seen a lengthening of the school day. Now governors in other nearby states want to eliminate the ubiquitous “teachers’ lounge”, as if educators were slackers hiding out, instead of utilizing the place in which to clear their heads before heading back into the classroom foray.

Not to romanticize my own elementary and high school history, but it did seem a kinder, gentler way of bidding adieu to the summer by initiating school again after Labor Day. The long Labor Day weekend gave families a chance for one last hurrah together before the start of the school year. That Labor Day weekend was akin to the caboose on a train. It served as the exclamation point at the end of a summer of my family’s time at our lake house, of cookouts, of time spent in leafy local parks playing volleyball and doing arts and crafts, and of short trips hither and yon. Like trains that no longer have a caboose, thereby creating an eerie sense of incompleteness, so too has this state shoved children back into the classroom cage long before Labor Day.

I have not noticed students getting any smarter for all the increase in the school year and longer school days. Nor have I noticed young people stampeding to become education majors in college. Quite the reverse has happened. Who would want to work for low pay, long hours, little respect from parents, and a fractured teachers’ union? Small wonder more are engaging in home schooling. In creating a sense of summer closure by starting school after Labor Day, I am thankful for those halcyon summers with my family before the scourge of the state’s testing mania created a School of the Absurd.

Ciao for now.

The Front Porch

The view from the porch at The Grand Hotel is quite beautiful too, yet I like my small square porch at home=tangledpasta.net
The view from the porch at The Grand Hotel is quite beautiful too, yet I like my small square porch at home=tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

Having retrieved the Sunday New York Times from the front yard, I decided to sit on the porch and thumb through the Magazine section. Perched on the weather-resistant rattan settee, I glanced at the PVC porch railing. After the numerous storms that have blown through lately, the dirt accumulation on the railings was noteworthy. As I wiped off the railings, I could not help but cringe at the filth covering the outside windowsills overlooking the porch. Egregious back problems not withstanding, I believed I could at least manage to swab down the sills and railings. Armed with numerous moist paper towels and determination, I set about the task at hand. My meager efforts were rewarded: the PVC whiteness shone through once more on the porch.

The front porch is dear to my heart. During the warm weather months, it functions as another room. On one side, hanging baskets of ferns over the blooming Rose of Sharon, next to the porch, add privacy on the north side. On the west side, a pot holding a twisted orange-blooming hibiscus tree, and a prolific hanging basket of lavender geraniums, face the white Dogwood tree in the front yard. Several months ago I purchased a large outdoor rug to place under the porch chairs, side tables, and settee. A square pot holds mixed greenery atop the larger side table. A miniature rose that continues to bear pale pink flowers adorns the smaller mosaic side table.

Our small, square front porch is a haven from the cacophony of daily life. It is a sanctuary in which to heal and envision life during the spring, summer, and early autumn. On these long, languid days of summer, I am to be frequently found on the front porch. It is my answer to those days of yore when I lounged, swinging back and forth on the swing on the large, screened in porch of our family’s lake cottage. Overlooking the lake and the pier, I watched the world go by, envisioning my future. I thought those expansive days would go on forever. Though it has been fourteen years since my mother and her sisters sold the family’s lake headquarters, I have managed to capture the spirit of those lake days, albeit minus the water and paddleboat, from my front porch. I cherish my porch window on the world.

Ciao for now.

The Last of The Summer Festivals

I admit to being a popcorn purist - tangledpasta.net
I admit to being a popcorn purist – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

According to the 2014 Old Farmer’s Almanac, on September 22, 2014, at 10:29 p.m. EDT, the Autumnal Equinox begins. In other words, we have until 10:28 p.m., EDT to enjoy the last moments of summer. While there are those who believe summer ends when children return to those hallowed halls of education, how wrong they are, given that a number of school systems nationwide now begin in even early August. No, we cherish summer until that date and time in September the aforementioned Almanac tells us.

Yesterday I traveled to the fair land of early Orville Redenbacher for Valparaiso’s annual Popcorn Festival. In 1951 Redenbacher and his partner purchased a seed plant near Valparaiso; thus, a legendary popcorn star was born. In 2012, the City of Valparaiso even unveiled a statue of Orville Redenbacher at its Annual Popcorn Festival. With that bit of history under our belts, we set off to enjoy the festival. The weather was on our side: August thunderstorms had finally cooled the dog days of summer. It was a sunny, breezy popcorn kind of day. The local police had closed off Valparaiso’s charming downtown streets to accommodate the pedestrian throngs. White tents sprouted up and down both sides of the narrow streets. Live music blasted as popcorn revelers jockeyed for space while noshing on oven baked pizza, Bratwurst, elephant ears, pulled pork sandwiches, and ears of roasted corn, and the ubiquitous popcorn.

I sampled Pickle Popcorn, which tasted like a tangy dill pickle. Popcorn appeared in various guises: Chili Pepper and Lime, Raspberry, Bacon, and Pineapple, to name a few. Finally, I purchased a 50-cent bag of traditional popcorn from the Boy Scouts’ booth. It was the kind of popcorn that I liked best: Salty, buttery, and flavorful. After several hours of blaring music and huge crowds, we began wending our way back to my daughter’s SUV, drinking our bottled waters en route. On a quieter side street, we stopped at the outdoor booth of one of our favorite eateries: Café Meditrina, a small, corner place that serves up delicious Mediterranean food of the Middle Eastern variety. We purchased to-go meals of Lambwiches and Tahini Coleslaw, which were a taste sensation from Café Meditrina’s inventive chef.

Driving away from Valparaiso’s Annual Popcorn Festival, we reviewed how it stacked up against the three Michigan summer festivals we attended in August: Northville’s Made in Michigan; South Haven’s Blueberry [which also offered Blueberry Popcorn]; and New Buffalo’s Ship and Shore. We agreed that Valparaiso’s was a fine festival, but we still preferred blueberries to popcorn. We also lamented that the abysmal popcorn parking, unlike the Michigan festivals we attended. In the end, I remain a no-frills popcorn purist, gourmet popcorn be damned. Relaxing at Valparaiso’s bistros beckons in the months to come, minus the cacophony of a festival. Valparaiso really did put on a good Popcorn Festival.

Pass the salt, please, and the hot butter.

Ciao for now.

Summer Festivals

A blueberry clock, perhaps? - tangledpasta.net
A blueberry clock, perhaps? – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

There is nothing more quintessentially American than ubiquitous summer festivals. Quite of few of these annual festivals center around fruit, although there are those that focus on vegetables, corn is a dominant August vegetable.

Here in the Heartland in early August, we celebrate the blueberry. There is, however, one county not far from ours that has the audacity to hold its blueberry festival over Labor Day weekend, when there is not a fresh blueberry to be had. However, I am pleased to report that in the Michigan [a mere twenty minutes to the State Line from our abode, genuine August Blueberry Festivals abound. My daughter and I hopped into our roadster and headed for the South Haven Blueberry Festival.

This beach community is on the sandy shores of Lake Michigan, one of the Five Great Lakes. South Haven itself clocks in at less than one-and-a-half hour’s drive from our home. Although we have spent summers on Lake Michigan, we had never visited South Haven. Downtown was jumping, with pedestrians everywhere. We wound up in a picturesque park with a large clock overlooking the shady walkways. Since it was a blazingly hot and humid day, we welcomed the shade. We meandering and following our noses, we detected the scent of Italian beef in the air. On the other side of the park was a tent-covered area with a vendor selling Italian Beef Sandwiches slathered with roasted bell peppers and onions. Resisting this temptation, we moved on to booths of blueberries every which way: In quarts, 4-pound and 10-pound lots, pies, muffins, jams, mustard [actually quite good], syrup, salsa, and ketchup, of all things.

We purchased 4 pounds of blueberries, a 16-ounce jar of blueberry jam, and headed back to the “blueberry strip” downtown. Upon entering The Blueberry Shop, I tasted the blueberry coffee [mighty fine, even to this non-coffee drinker, although I am aware of the irony of that remark], while Anjelica taste-tested blueberry-covered pretzels [a winner, she decreed].

Happy with our blueberry tea, blueberry cocoa, and blueberry salt-and-pepper shakers, we headed off in search of lunch. Although we had hoped to garner a table at The Stray Dog, its two-and-a-half hour wait propelled us to another eatery a few blocks up the street: The Black River Tavern, overlooking the harbor. While the tavern was packed to the gills, a table for two had just opened. On the advice of our hurried, yet chipper waitress, we ordered a specialty of the tavern: Perch sandwiches. The perch had been freshly caught in Lake Michigan that morning, and may I say “Bravo!” to this cold-water fish! Fast food fish sandwiches pale dramatically after chomping down the enormous fresh perch ones at The Black River Tavern.

Sated, we moved on to the Black River Bookstore. This charming bookshop offers used books, along with new ones by Michigan authors. In the children’s section I came across the Camp Fire Girl Guide. As I thumbed through this well-worn copy, I was reminded of my book when I was first a Bluebird, and then moved up to Camp Fire Girl for twelve years, first through twelfth grades with my mother as the Leader of our troop. Carefully I placed in back upon the shelf for a girl to discover. After making a book purchase, we took a drive along the shore, parked the car, got out and watched the sailboats glide by the lighthouse. We may return to South Haven for a week or two stay on the beach next summer, and, of course, for the blueberries.

Ciao for now.

Root for the Home Team!

Little League Summers - tangledpasta.net
Little League Summers – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

“There are places I remember

All my life, though some have changed…”

– John Lennon and Paul McCartney

Late yesterday afternoon a knock on the front door proved to be my brother.  Frankie had come to town unexpectedly, and he swung by to visit. Since I had been holed up the entire day trying to work out a plot line in a novel I’m writing, and let me just say that inspiration appeared to be moving at a glacial pace, I was more than delighted to sit down and converse with him.

In the course of our conversation he expressed bewilderment over the absence of the Northside Little League park.  I quickly shuffled through my memory and explained that the NLL park had been leveled several years ago.  But what had happened to the NLL?, he wondered. Rewinding my brain box, I informed him that I thought it had merged with another of our hometown’s Little League teams.

Which one?, was his next question.  Southside? Eastside? I honestly could not remember what I read about it. Frank was visibly shaken by the revelation that the Northside Little League baseball diamond, its bleachers, and its eponymous concession stand were now gone with the wind.

We both recalled how many a summer was spent at that ballpark, with Frank as the erstwhile Northside Little Leaguer and me with our mother cheering him on from the stands.  In fact, after Frank left for his long drive home yesterday, I thought about in the heat of all those summers, he sweated it out for baseball practice with some fine coaches and with some who should have been banned from reproducing at all.  In spite of lousy coaches, and in step with inspirational coaches, my brother toughed it out because he loved the game.  Baseball cards inside big sticks of bubblegum he kept neatly organized in his room.  Pennants from baseball teams like the Detroit Tigers and the Chicago Cubs were dear to him too.  Signed bats and baseballs were reverentially displayed in Frank’s room. It was like a mini-baseball Hall of Fame.  Like the character of Crash Davis in the film “Bull Durham”, my brother loved and cherished the game, played at the Cathedral of Baseball in Tiger Stadium and at the old Wrigley Field.

I looked at Frank the man yesterday, and when he waxed fondly of the Northside Little League, what I saw was Frank the boy, my little brother, who lived for baseball.  Suddenly neither of us seemed to have changed as he lamented the passing of his old Little League stomping ground.  I remarked that it is sometimes difficult to come home again and try to absorb the changes that have occurred. I sensed that the demise of the Northside Little League was not a change that would sit well easily with him.

In the greater scheme of city landscapes, we both know that even our hometown must be acclimated itself to the needs and demands of the times.  This sort of concept is easier, however, to acquiesce to when it does not involve the dissolution of our childhood places, those locales we simply assume will always be there where we want them to remain.  At least baseball season starts up soon, happily for my brother. But not at the Northside Little League park.

Ciao for now.