Tainted Love

Even the beautiful money plant couldn’t assuage my tainted love. – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

  This is Day Three of my coping with food poisoning.

Thus far in 2016, I have had the flu three times, each one a different variety, and now food poisoning. While I was ill on Valentine’s Day, and even on St. Patrick’s Day–alas, no Reuben sandwich with a Black and Tan, at least I enjoyed good health for New Year’s and Groundhog’s Day. I’m counting on being up to par for Easter.

When I was in my first year as an undergraduate at IU Bloomington, I lived in one of the dormitories. Eating food in a dorm was a new experience for me because I grew up with an Italian father who used nearly an acre of our property for a vegetable garden. We also had a fruit orchard. This meant we dined year round on freshly harvested garden vegetables, which my mother filled the deep freezer with to sustain us throughout the winter months. She also canned the orchard fruit; peaches were my favorite. Black raspberries, red raspberries, blueberries, and strawberries shared freezer space with the myriad of garden vegetables. My father knew farmers who butchered their cattle, thereby providing meat throughout the winter for our immediate family, and those of his two brothers’ as well.

Early on in the dormitory dining experience, my taste buds went into a tailspin at the blandness and downright weirdness of the food. I usually opted for hardboiled eggs and yogurt in lieu of what was purported to be meat. The only thing that was sort of all right was the Friday night fish. It reminded me of Lenten fish sticks if I squeezed fresh lemon juice on them. Desserts tasted good. This meant we could pack on pounds ingesting lots of sugary brownies, cakes, and pies.

Which brings me back to food poisoning. One evening the cafeteria offered up its tantalizing brownies. I ate one with walnuts. Within hours all hell broke loose in my body, like in “The Exorcist”. It seems quite a few of us who ingested the nutted brownies that evening suffered food poisoning. To this day, I view brownies with nuts suspiciously, that’s how memorable that bout of food poisoning was.

When I was stricken with food poisoning Tuesday night, I knew what the food was – improperly chilled meat that a relative had sent back with me from last week’s travels. Throughout the past nearly 72 hours of this ordeal, I have redecorated the bathroom, and not in an interior designer sense. I haven’t been able to keep down sips of water or clear Gatorade. By the time a friend arrived yesterday late afternoon, I was dehydrated, weak, feverish, and had slept most of the day. I learned I was within a hair’s breath of the ER and an IV. I had been in touch daily with my doctor’s office, but I was told I would have to ride it out, unless I became so dehydrated that I was disoriented. “Eat ice chips and try Popsicles,” was Day Two’s advice from the physician. My body ached from all the retching, like when one has bronchitis and coughs nonstop. The cramping continues, but isn’t nearly what it was the first 48 hours.

In looking over this bleak landscape of my wretched food experience, I have resolved to either return to being a vegan, or at least a vegetarian. Right now I cannot tolerate the sight of solid food.  I love food, but not illness from food.

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.

Internet, Where Art Thou?

Without the Internet, I envisioned myself somewhere warm, like Australia - tangledpasta.net
Without the Internet, I envisioned myself somewhere warm, like Australia – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

Last week I experienced a nightmare:  Our Internet disappeared. No, it was not due to an unpaid bill.  Rather, it turned out to be the sad demise of our modem.  The modem’s age at the time of death was approximately five to six years of age.

Before I learned the modem was the root of no Internet, I rebooted continually over a period of a day and a half to no avail.  Finally, I contacted AT&T.  Thank goodness my iPhone 5 still functioned!  After nearly 45 minutes on the phone with AT&T tech support, the young man concluded the modem was the root of the lack of Internet pulse.  The modem’s last gasps caused the lights to flash red-green-red-green-red ad nauseam, and then the modem lit up no more.

While I waited three days for the delivery of the new modem, I began to morph into a sniveling heap of psychic decay.  I was in Internet withdrawal.  Not that I surf the web continually. No, I use the Internet for thesaurus.com, for checking particular subject points in my writing, for the news on  www.nytimes.com, for e-mail correspondence, and, naturally, for Facebook.  Minus the Internet, I felt isolated, like Napoleon experienced while exiled to the Island of Elba.  Thank God for two Netflix DVDs I had ordered before I could not anymore without the Internet.  I watched those films about three times each.  I turned to magazines that had stacked up on the coffee table, unread, now read voraciously.  I tried writing each night, but without my go-to Internet resources I felt bereft of the friendly web sites.  Sadly, I was forced to admit that I was in the throes of Internet addiction withdrawal.

Yet three days later, the new modem appeared on the doorstep.  Fate intervened once again because the Broadband refused to stabilize.  45 more minutes on the phone with AT&T tech support resulted in a technician riding up like the cavalry to save the day!  After several hours of reconfiguring wiring from the ancient modem to the new, I was back!  It proved a triumphant return to the Internet. Thus, kind readers, is my tale of modem woes turned to happiness once more now that the Internet is back in my life.  The tension is gone, and even the avalanche of snow and frigid temperatures in the Heartland cannot dampen my Internet joy.

Ciao for now.

Compositions in Winter

I love reading books and I love writing them. - tangledpasta.net
I love reading books and I love writing them. – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

A kind friend made reference the other day to my lack of blog postings lately. When I shared the reason with her, she understood, but gently chided me about the need to post on my blog site. Taking her well-meant comment to heart, I will now share the reason for the paucity of blog postings lately:  Since early December I have been at work on writing a second novel.

What happened to the first novel? You may ask and I will tell you:  I’m still re-tooling that one.  In mid-November I was talking with my daughter and with a friend about a true episode in my life.  They were howling with laughter over it, well our friend was; my daughter was rather jarred by the story. Nonetheless, for days after our weekend talk fest, I could not shake the episode from my mind. Around the first of December, I sat down at my Mac and began by penning the outline of what would become a novel.  While I have deviated from aspects of the original outline, the basic story structure has remained essentially the same.

I work full-time.  After work I usually come home, feed Fellini and Coco Chanel, change into comfy clothes, and write.  On the weekends, I wedge myself out of the house to replenish groceries from Whole Foods [a most relaxing, uplifting environment with terrific samples of yummies], return home and write.  I am unable to shake this novel from my head.  It stays with me night and day.  While at work, I am focused on work, on my teaching, on making sure I do right by my students, of course, but in-between times, my book never stops swirling in my mind. It was the same as I wrote and re-wrote the first novel yet to be published.

What I have learned from my hundreds and hundreds of pages of written narrative is that when the writing muse beckons, I answer.  Those four snow days we had in January when the university shut down, I embraced them.  It was nothing short of luxurious to have that uninterrupted time to write and grapple with dialogue, characters, plot, and all the marvelous dimensions of writing that one does primarily for oneself because no book is a sure bet. Another writing opportunity arose in regard to Shakespeare’s 450th anniversary, which I found too good to pass up.  I penned an essay, re-worked it, submitted it, and just finished the edits on it for the editor. That too was a labor of love, for I adore Shakespeare and I am grateful for the opportunity to share my essay.

This has, in short, been the winter not of discontent, although this Midwest winter could certainly qualify as such, rather it has been the winter of inspiration and golden writing opportunities that I am compelled to seize and act upon, and I do so happily.

And so I charge you readers to stay warm, be of good health, and know that I shall post regularly henceforth.

Ciao for now.

How to Keep Occupied During a Snowstorm

Winter's beauty diminishes not, even in a snowstorm -tangledpasta.net
Winter’s beauty diminishes not, even in a snowstorm -tangledpasta.net

 By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

As a hearty Italian American in the Heartland, I have learned how to brave winter.  When winter visits a snowstorm upon us, we Midwesterners prepare and hunker down to ride out the iciness of it all. As we anticipate the worst snowstorm and subzero temperatures in twenty years, I offer engaging activities to occupy one’s self.

1.  Grocery Shopping, Preferably before the Snowstorm – I stocked up on eggs [poached, scrambled, or in a fritatta or quiche], tuna [I love tuna salad when snowbound], soup [in case I am too lazy to make my own], cannellini beans [in case I do rouse myself to make soup], bread [okay, I forgot to buy the bread, even though it was on my grocery list], P.F. Chang’s frozen shrimp dumplings, ricotta [a must for Italians], low-fat vanilla yogurt [my ice cream substitute, sort of], garbanzo beans [because they are so delicious roasted stove top in olive oil], and honey [in a teddy bear bottle, of course].

2.  Dining Out Hours Before the Snowstorm – After I did the Readings at 5:30 p.m. Mass last evening, it had not yet begun to snow.  A friend phoned me.  Did I want to dine out before the estimated 8:00 p.m. snowfall?  It was 6:43 pm., I noted, but sure, why not?  A nearby Japanese restaurant was packed with like-minded individuals.  However, we instead nabbed a booth at my favorite neighborhood Italian restaurant.  A salad and baked rigatoni sated me; in fact, I took half of it home, anticipating it would make a fine Sunday lunch, had hunger pangs not attacked at 10:00 p.m., I would have eaten the baked rigatoni for lunch.  As I wound my way up the hilly winding drive to my friend’s abode in what was now heavy snowfall, I looked forward to nestling inside my warm home.

3.  Putting Away Christmas Decorations – While my daughter and I had taken down the Christmas tree, the boughs that decorated the archways and windows, there were still plenty of Christmas decorations left for me to store. This morning a stray CD of Christmas tunes manifested itself under a bough tossed on the desk. A Santa Claus statue and a large musical Santa snow globe still grace an end table. The Christmas stockings, while taken down, are draped over a dining room chair.  In the bathroom a Christmas tree with bright ornaments and a wreath hung on the wall beckon to be put away for winter slumber. A pair of Christmas socks my daughter forgot to retrieve from the clean laundry basket surfaced today too.

    4.  Updating the Nativity – Yesterday before she left a day ahead of schedule for law school due to the severe winter storm warnings, my daughter remarked that we had not brought out the Three Kings [We Three Kings of Orient Are…remember]. Consequently, this morning, I hauled out the Three Kings and their three dromedaries [camels], and I boxed up the shepherds, their sheep, their cats, and their dog.  Tomorrow, January 6, is the Feast of the Epiphany [and my brother’s birthday].  The Three Kings should be present in The Nativity, and besides, they are beautifully attired.

   5.  Cleaning Up the Ranch, so to Speak – After the mayhem of packing to return to school, settling Shelton Rae, her cat, in his plush travel carrier, transferring Poseidon, her red Beta fish, from his tank to his large pitcher travel container, and my packing up the cooler with Italian beef, homemade macaroni and cheese, yogurt, eggs, bread [I remembered to buy her a loaf], I awoke to the reality of gritty floors.  On this frosty Sunday morn as the snow flies nonstop, I vacuumed the house and rugs.  At least I’m not hearing crunch, crunch, crunch, under my feet as I move from room to room.

6.  Re-imagining Wall Décor – In taking down pictures in late November to hang Christmas art on the walls, I realized that I was ready for a change of scenery.  Throwing on a CD of Adele, I sang and danced as I repositioned artwork. I even moved pictures to others rooms where they offer a new perspective for a New Year.

7.  Brewing Tea – Nothing says, “Drink me” like freshly brewed tea. Inveterate coffee drinkers with substitute “Brewing Tea” for “Brewing Coffee”, which is perfectly fine for java aficionados. After cleaning the house, putting away Christmas decorations, and brewing tea or coffee, it is time to settle into an easy chair, and sip the hot beverage.

8.  Watching the Snow Fall – When winter keeps me housebound, I marvel at the beauty of the winter wonderland outside my windows.  The trees and shrubs glisten in winter white garb, the rooftops in the neighborhood glow with their white cover. Throughout my life I have relished the hush a snowstorm provides; its quiet is relaxing. Imbibing my tea, I feel content as I view the bounteous winter landscape stretched out before me as our cats, Fellini and Coco Chanel, nap.

9.  Reading – In my bungalow snow palace, I sit and read, uninterrupted since I cannot venture out.  It is a blessing to have hours to re-read a Jane Austen treasured book, and even begin reading a signed book my brother bought me for my birthday:  The Stonecutter’s Aria by Carol Faenzi.

10.  Writing – Writing offers a fine creative outlet during a snowstorm. Instead of thinking about writing a short story, novel, poem, or a blog, or penning those gift thank-you’s.  A snowstorm offers the gift of time for one to begin these artistic endeavors. Of course, this assumes one has neither power, nor heat.

Ciao for now.