A Whiskey Soaked Night

By Mary Anna Violi |@MaryAnnaVioli

   Last night I had a curious dream. My somnambulistic state was rendered further novel by the fact that I rarely dream. 

   I dreamt about drinking Fireball Cinnamon Whiskey. 

My opaque state of sleep seemed also to grapple with the fact that I’m not much of a drinker. The odd glass of wine with dinner, the social drink of liquor [I do fancy the orange notes of Grand Marnier], and perhaps a mixed drink with family and friends, is about all I indulge in with spirits.

   Yet last night in my dream-state, I shared a flight of whiskey with my friend who actually introduced me to my first taste Fireball Cinnamon Whiskey. We were then asked by the bartender to rate the various whiskeys of the flight. I rated the citrus whiskey the highest on my card. In my waking life, I have never imbibed a citrus whiskey, cucumber vodka [I like a good French 75] and orange vodka, yes, but not citrus whiskey.

   How strange this morning that I woke up not only remembering that dream, but also wondering if a citrus whiskey really existed! The weather saw fit to be teeth-chattering cold again today, which meant I was less than inclined to travel to a local liquor store and determine if I could purchase a small bottle of citrus whiskey. Again, this in itself would have been a rare occurrence for me. Neither a barfly nor a frequenter of liquor stores am I. 

  Maybe I should do a Google search…be right back…Okay. The Internet is full of citrus whiskey and recipes on how to make them, too.

   I hadn’t classified Grand Marnier and Cointreau in the citrus whiskey category because they are refined liquors, or so I thought. I believe I will hang on to my euphoric notion of Grand Marnier and Cointreau. In fact, I’ll have a shot of Grand Marnier this evening after my humble Ash Wednesday dinner.

   Ciao for now.

Thanksgiving Day

Imagine all the potential pumpkin pies! – tangledpasta.net

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.

 

 

Le George

wine

Inside our booth at Le George. – tangled pasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi |@MaryAnnaVioli

We traveled to north of the Detroit area to visit our 98-year-old aunt and members of her family. We celebrated a belated birthday with her, and reveled in the fact that she remains as vibrant and lovely as always. We toasted my aunt with champagne, always a festive drink, and then sat down to partake of the feast her daughter prepared: an onion tart, very French, an eclectic salad of mixed greens, a wonderful chocolate cake, and satisfying cups of coffee. We laughed and reminisced, told amusing stories, and simply had a fine time in every way. While my cousins and I do not see each other, but a handful of times during the year, conversation never flags with our family of talkers.

cheese cigarettes

The Pastry Cigarettes are a culinary delight. – tangled pasta.net

eggplant

Aubergine Canapes Eggplant Bruschetta are for those of us that love aubergine. – tangled pasta.net

Later that evening, we checked into our hotel in Northville. Realizing that our dinner reservations at our favorite restaurant, Le George were for 7:30 p.m., we freshened up, and beat a hasty retreat to dine on delicious Lebanese food. The weather proved to windy and chilly to eat on the tiny deck overlooking the pretty shops and art gallery on Northville’s main avenue. However, we were well compensated by the cozy, sophisticated interior of Le George. In fact, over our wine, George himself strolled over to our dark wood little booth for a chat. He is from Beirut, Lebanon and he reminds me of the marvelous conversations I used to have with my late uncle, who was also Lebanese. This in turn brought back happy memories of when I taught at the University of Houston. I had quite a few Lebanese students who were trilingual in Arabic, French, and English. Like George and my uncle, my students were witty, urbane, earthy, and possessed a great sense of humor.

grapeleaves

Grape Leaves with lamb, beef, and rice and Wheat A L’Huile D’Olive satisfied a hungry palate. – tangled pasta.net

FullSizeRender 2

The stuffed Cabbage Rolls at Le George tasted like a symphony for the palate. – tangled pasta.net

Once again, we dined well at Le George. We began with hors d’oeuvre of Pastry Cigarettes, three with herbed cheese and three with spiced meat. The two Aubergine Canapes Eggplant Bruschetta were not on a toasted baguette, but were thick slices of eggplant topped with finely cut and diced fresh vegetables. These hors d’oeuvre were a delight for the palate. Next came the Crème de Lentilles Gazpacho Libanaise with its velvet smooth texture and subtle taste. For Entrees, we ordered Grape Leaves and Cabbage Leaves stuffed with lamb, beef, and rice that were simmered in a light lemon sauce. Instead of rice, we opted for the Wheat A L’Huile D’Olive. Superb all and wrapped up in the richness of fine dining ambiance that is Le George. While we cannot eat ambiance, we certainly feasted well within the world of Le George.

Ciao for now.

 

 

Ole’!

Credit Melina Hammer for The New York Times. Paella, pure and simply delicious with couscous or with saffron rice! – http://www.tangledpasta.net

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.

Calzone, A Different Concept In Pizza Dough

Like pizza, calzone lends itself to all sorts of meats and vegetables. - tangledpasta.net
Like pizza, calzone lends itself to all sorts of meats and vegetables. – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

Under the gray skies of winter, when the temperature in the sub-zero range, sometimes I make calzone. I like calzone piping hot, and stuffed full of sausage, cheese, bell peppers, and marinara sauce. It makes me happy to smell the fragrant calzone, and to watch the contents surge forth onto my plate after I have cut into the bread. Oddly enough, I do not crave calzone in the summer, in the warm weather months, only during the frigid winter ones. A glass of vino rosso – red wine, the ubiquitous calzone, even a small salad help sate my cold weather cravings.

Making calzone is relatively easy. Ingredients may be adjusted to one’s taste and liking.  Sometimes I use whatever vegetables I have on hand that I think would meld well with the calzone concept.  My calzone of choice is made with Italian sausage. Here is the recipe:

Take a pound of fresh or frozen bread dough, and roll it into into a circle. Drizzle with olive oil. Next, take around a pound of sausage – no casings, and brown it for about ten minutes or so, drain off the fat. Combine the sausage with one-fourth teaspoon fennel, one to two sautéed bell peppers, onions, and mushrooms tossed with red pepper flakes to taste. Add a cup of marinara sauce.  Place one to two cups of shredded mozzarella or provolone on top of the dough. Be sure to leave at least a half of an inch border of dough visible. Top the dough and cheese with the sausage and sauce mixture. Scatter several tablespoons of cornmeal over a baking sheet. Place the calzone round on the baking sheet. Fold the dough over the filling, and then press the edges with one’s fingers or with a fork to seal completely. Bake the calzone for about twenty minutes or until nicely browned and puffed. Be sure to have extra heated marinara sauce on hand to add to the calzone. Grated Parmesan cheese may be sprinkled on top the warm calzone.

Pour that glass of vino rosso, and start feasting on the calzone!

Ciao for now.

My Alma Mater, Part IV

The Oliver Winery, 1970's photo displayed in the Wine Tasting Room - tangledpasta.net
The Oliver Winery, 1970’s photo displayed in the Wine Tasting Room – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

As an IU college student in the 1970’s, I managed to attend classes and learned to cherish life in colorful Bloomington.  As I trekked to Ballantine Hall for my English literature classes, I was forced to tread lightly in my 3-inch wedge sandals worn with a maxi-dress.  My long hair was a halo of frizz since I braided my wet hair immediately after towel-drying it.  It was the ‘70’s; most of us had long hair parted down the middle, a’la British pop groups.

In 1972 buzz circulated about a new winery located 20 minutes outside of Bloomington.  A Professor of Law, Bill Oliver was the force behind a Heartland vineyard.  As the daughter of an Italian wine-maker, my curiosity led me to the Oliver Winery.  A  nondescript building, scrubby vegetation, a trio of stoned students banging on tambourine, small drum, and finger cymbals greeted visitors.  On the other side, I noted a petite vineyard, the first I had ever seen in The Heartland.  Friendly voices called us over to an enormous wooden vat.  Hippies ladled some kind of “wine” that I had never seen nor smelled before called Camelot Mead into plastic cups.  I took a swig and nearly choked.  After drinking the full-bodied, dry Italian red vino my father made, this brew was enough to choke an Italian horse.

“First time drinking Mead?” the hippie with a ladle asked me.

“[Cough, cough, cough, choke] Yes,” I spluttered, “and possibly the last.”

She laughed and ladled up some more of the brew into the cups of unsuspecting others.

I didn’t drink a drop of Oliver Wine until the late 1990’s when I was at IU Bloomington on business.  A wine-tasting evening at the Oliver Winery had been organized.  I begged off from the sunset field trip.

“C’mon,” the event planner argued.  “The Oliver Winery has undergone a metamorphosis since the ‘70’s.  Check it out.”

In front of the Oliver Winery - tangledpasta.net
Anjelica in front of the Oliver Winery – tangledpasta.net

I succumbed.  To say that the winery had changed was an understatement:  I didn’t even recognize it.  The evolved Oliver Winery now not only housed a classy wine bar inside a beautiful structure, it also offered an extensive selection of wines, along with its Camelot Mead.   I tried envisioning Beowulf and his entourage feasting, wenching, and pouring mead into their gullet, but even this literary allusion failed to overcome my dislike of honey mead.   When I asked the sommelier for the driest of the red wines, I purchased a bottle for my parents.  The following Sunday, my parents concurred that this wine smacked of an after dinner one.

On Mom’s Weekend in April 20, 2013, my daughter signed us up for her sorority’s wine tasting event at the Oliver Winery.  Anjelica prefers the mildness of the Oliver Wines. The Creekbend Vineyard Chambourcin 2012 tasted so good that I purchased several bottles at the winery, along with a bottle of Sangria for fun. But not the honey mead.  I’ll take my wine and my honey separately.  Salute!

Ciao for now.