April 20, 2011
The first time I went to Paris, I got off the train at Gare de Lyon. I walked out and was welcomed by a spectacular array of oysters. And a spectacular array of palaces. It was love at first sight.
Other visits have followed. Also this time, I was bewitched.
Paris is tiring. Among my memories of it, endless walks, cycles and metro stairways play a considerable role, without counting the miles you can walk inside museums. I’ve always known this, but somehow left it in the back of my mind: I was always fit and well, apart from that night spent with food poisoning after eating the aforementioned oysters. I’ll spare you the details, but I had a really rough time. As you may remember, I spent quite a while without walking lately. I’m not back to my usual shape yet, but in Paris for the first time I tested myself and had the impression I could make it.
I had a lot of fun, actually.
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March 8, 2011
Today it is International Women’s Day. I have always found it very depressing that we need to be remembered and protected and honored on a special occasion. But it is a fact that many women do not have the respect and recognition they deserve as human beings, and we need all the attention we can get, also from ourselves, to start with.
I have not seen my grandmother in a long while, and since then, she has been very ill. The two things are not strictly related, of course, but I cannot help thinking how much my life is different from my mother and grandmother’s life.
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February 6, 2011
My favourite snack is an apple. As a student I used to always bring an apple or two in my bag, and I never stopped to. I think it must have started when I was very young, probably right after primary school. My public primary school was indeed quite a progressive and unusual one. Children had the option to stay at school also in the afternoon (in Italy they spend only mornings at school). There was a canteen providing food for everyone, fresh, locally prepared, healthy food, with a pool of voluntary moms that were allowed to supervise after a careful training on health and safety procedures. My stay-at-home mum was one of them and she was impressed by the quality. I have to admit that as a youngster I was not very inclined to appreciate that, and while I do remember some food with pleasure, my main memory is that of hating the salad because it had so much vinegar in it. At mid mornings and mid afternoons snacks were provided during the long breaks. You were not allowed to bring any food from outside and as far as I remember the rule was enforced. So we all snacked on fruit and milk. Fruit was oranges or apples, usually. And it all started there, I think. If you think about it, this is a great trick to teach children to eat healthily. We were all hungry and so learned to snack on fruit without having to have it cut and cleaned for you by mummy first. We did not need to care that much about advertisement featuring sugary, unhealthy food and drink, since the ‘cool’ factor associated with it could not be boasted at school with your mates, and thus lost most of its appeal.
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December 26, 2010
And finally, trifle time. I was intrigued by Ivonne’s choice for the next theme of Sugar High Friday. In Italy we have a pudding called ‘zuppa inglese’, literally English soup, and I was quite curious to find out what the English name for it was, if there was any. It turned out the closest dessert is trifle.
Zuppa inglese is a dessert prepared in most restaurants and in many homes, in the Northern region called Emilia Romagna, and neighbours. A concoction of lady fingers or sponge cake, soaked in the typical bright red sweet liquor called alchermes; a thick layer of custard, heavy with egg yolks and cream, often in two versions alternating – chocolate and cream. The visual impact is definitely tacky, with its red, yellow and black striped effect; it has its rustic charms but it is as heavy as a stone, particularly after a proper meal from Emilia – from salumi, among the best in Italy (think culatello and prosciutto di parma, but don’t forget mortadella, just to name a few), to meat-filled tortellini or lasagne, to finish off with some meat dish like roasted pork or boiled poultry.
I have eaten my share of zuppe inglesi, and wanted to go the opposite way with this challenge. I decided I wanted to turn to the most English version I could find. And in order to do that, I turned to the most English of my sources – Jane Grigson, ‘English food’. I did think of Nigella first – you know I have a weakness for her fantastic accent – and there are indeed many nice ideas of hers in form of a trifle. Nigella, being the sensible woman that she is, is of course a fan of this good-looking, easy and versatile dessert you can effortlessly assemble with store-bought ingredients. But I was charmed by the original recipe. Ms Grigson laments that trifle is often tacky with its glaced cherries decorations, and rarely ‘a pudding worth eating’. Her recipe would bring the joy back to eating it. Macaroons, soaked in fortified wine and brandy, a layer of totally unflavored custard, a layer of raspberry jam, and on top, the ‘Everlasting Syllabub’ by Elizabeth David. I was bound to try it. The recipe is so old fashioned, so imprecise, and it totally works. Just the kind of recipe I love.
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July 18, 2010
Whenever I travel back to Italy, I gorge on fruit. My favourite season is the beginning of summer. In June you’ll get apricots and the first peaches and figs, but also cherries and the last strawberries. Don’t forget the not very popular abroad nespole. Also melons are present, even though not at their best yet. Autumn brings its share of pleasures: the end of the summer usually means the best figs, pears, prunes and peaches. The season evolves into grapes, apples and mandarins, and also in winter you can find comfort in oranges.
When I moved abroad I was disheartened. Fruit was almost all imported, which means expensive and flavorless. It is true that I could find rhubarb, but there is only that much rhubarb that a girl can enjoy. Spring arrived and went and no cherries made their appearance. I was ready to face a gloomy cherry-less summer. Also for strawberries, possibly my favourite fruit, I was ready for the season to come and go in a blink of eyes.
But how wrong I was. How wrong.
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April 8, 2010
I might claim I’m done with lemon dessert, and I might also be convinced to be honest. But in my heart I know that this is false: as soon as I have lemons at hand, it’s dessert time. This time I made a quite light and bright dessert, a bit old fashioned. I wanted to make a variation on my all time favourite strawberries and cream theme, and I thought: why not add some lemon? (of course. Addiction signal.).
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