Saturday, 10 February 2018

100 years of women’s suffrage: celebrating forgotten women

I took part in an incredible event at the university of Reading last Thursday organized by the departments of English literature and History. The Van Emden Lecture Theatre was full of young (and not so young) people eager to celebrate a hundred years of women’s suffrage displaying the colours of the WSPU (purple, white and green) and pictures of significant (but not well known) women.

In 1918 a limited women’s suffrage was granted in the UK for women over thirty and owning property. Women’s vote was already effective in countries like New Zealand, Finland, Norway, Sweden and Australia. After WW I, most of the western countries introduced or expanded the right to women’s vote, though for some nations it happened only after WW II, such as France (1944), Italy (1946), Greece (1952) and Switzerland (1971).
The event at Reading not only celebrated the achievement of women’s suffrage – which today is considered such an inalienable right –, it also pointed out forgotten outstanding women who are missing from historical records. One example is Constance Garnett who taught herself Russian from scratch and translated sixty-nine works of Russian nineteenth century literature into English, among them authors like Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky and Chekhov. Her work had a huge impact on the English authors of the time. But instead of recognizing the importance of her contribution, some critics consider her work flat, second order translations, in brief she was not a professional. But translations are not supposed to last forever and this is the reason why books are translated again and again. The language and the inevitable interpretation of the original text become outdated quickly. So, why such a denigration of Garnett’s work?

Other incredible courageous women were remembered, such as Stella Browne, who campaigned for the right of legal abortion, Jayaben Desai, who organized the Grunwick strike in north west London, Libby Lane, the first woman bishop, the African-American abolitionist Harriet Tubman, Mary Aming, famous for extracting fossils in Dorset and Devon but whose work was never fully credited, Ching Shih, who was a pirate, and Emma Hardy, Thomas Hardy’s first wife, who wrote two books about her marriage and a collection of poems.

I believe that there must be much more women whose records are buried, forgotten or erased to hide their achievements and potentials and give space to men. Diminishing women not only keeps them quiet, but also grants some vital necessities of our society, like child bearing and their raising, cooking, shopping, cleaning, caring for disabled and elderly people. All these works require time, energies and dedication. They can be shared with men, of course, and some men do it, or you can pay someone to do it, which has a cost (in the case of disabled or elderly people it can have a high cost). How much easier it is to give the whole burden to women. And how unfair.
Your life slips away without giving you the time to concentrate on anything substantial and rewarding, anything distinctive that puts you in touch with the outer world and opens your mind. Having a family is rewarding as well, but it may not be enough. The multitask approach can be a solution (having it all: home, family and career) but it is also exhausting, almost impossible sometimes.
Maybe today that life is longer, that women can easily find help in house chores and some men are happy to help with the children, maybe women today can catch up at some point, engage in serious career paths and stop being considered only amateurish.
I am sure that there are millions of talented women that can find their valuable space in our world. As Madeleine Davies said last Thursday, genius is not only in the masculine.

Sunday, 28 January 2018

Our Christmas time

Cooking and shopping were our priorities at Christmas. We stored enough Italian food the week before and carefully planned the menu and how to prepare the dishes. My daughter made her famous lasagna, enough for three days at least, while my mother and I prepared the fish for Christmas Eve and the duck and sides for Christmas day. For pudding, we bought Pandoro, Panettone and torrone. We went to the Italian mass, of course, where we met the Italian community and sang the traditional Italian Christmas carol, Tu scendi dalle stelle (you come down from the stars), but ended with We wish you a Merry Christmas.

My favourite Christmas meditation was Mary’s song:
“He has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.”
(Mary’s song, Luke 1: 51-53)

I consider it typical disruptive feminine language (technically: écriture féminine), which is what I am studying at the moment. A different view of the world that tries to unsettle the male order. I’m a fan of écriture féminine.

My Christmas motto was on my glittering t-shirt I wore on the day: Ski you later, a pun to state in a casual way that what matters in everyday life are the little things, as the big ones are made of them eventually, and are too abstract and unreachable as a whole, often doomed to failure.
In the evening we watched the Great Gatsby with Leonardo Di Caprio and Carey Mulligan, a masterpiece (both the book, the story, the film, and the other film directed by F.F. Coppola), we discussed and compared the different actors and characters, especially Gatsby and Daisy, alluring as ever.

On Boxing day we ventured in some crazy shopping in Guildford and Camberley looking for more stuff to accumulate for winter, in a shopaholic lethargic mood. We found good bargains: earrings, coats and shoes. Not something we really needed but it was fun, and not so expensive.

My husband came back for New Year’s Eve. My mother and I decided to make homemade tortellini for the occasion. We prepared the dough and the filling (two kinds of meat plus mortadella) and set to wrapping and curling the tortellini one by one. The final result was OK on the whole, not perfect, but genuine, and everybody kindly said it was delicious. We prepared lentils as well (according to tradition they mean prosperity for the new year) and luganega, an Italian sausage.

To end the night, we watched a Japanese film (Like Father, Like Son by Hirokazu Kore-Eda), Jury Prize at the Festival of Cannes 2013. A remarkable story about two sons switched at birth in hospital and raised for six years by their non-biological families. It puzzled me a bit, especially some traits of the Japanese culture and the female characters, so different from western ones. But I should start becoming familiar with it as my daughter is about to do a two-year Master in Tokyo, beginning this April.

Ski you later, alligator.

Thursday, 11 January 2018

What I did before Christmas

Wrapping presents and decorating the house for Christmas made me finally realize that the deadline was near. I needed to stop fussing with books and writing and think seriously about planning dinners and family gatherings.

I overloaded the Christmas tree as usual and scattered old and new Christmas cards on every possible free shelf and top surface available, prepared saffron buns and pepparkakor (ginger biscuits) for St
Lucia on 13th December (according to the Swedish tradition), baked panpepato and bought Italian Christmas cakes (Pandoro and Panettone) and other Italian products at Italian shops in Woking and Maidenhead for our Italian binge, and we all travelled north to celebrate Christmas with my autistic daughter Valentina.

Before the hectic family festive routine, I managed to meet the deadline for my PhD and send an application for a bursary. Some of my creative work was published in poetry magazines (London Grip and Poetry News) and others were accepted and will be published in spring (Ink, Sweat and Tears and Alternating Current). I have also submitted some more work hoping my lucky streak will keep. And I am on Twitter now (@scaranocarla62), trying to post something smart (but not too smart) almost every day.

My mum spent Christmas and New Year’s Eve with us. We went together to see Robin Hood at the Victoria Theatre in Woking, a cracking pantomime with a scary part in 3D. We also visited a beautiful exhibition, ‘Turner in Surrey’, at the Lightbox. It focused on the period he lived in Isleworth (around 1805) when he used to fish and paint along the Thames and the river Wey. His sketches were quick and direct, reminding of the Impressionists’ practice to work in the open air reproducing the subject as it appeared, depicting in blotches and approximate marks. The contact and engagement with nature was paramount (differently from the French Impressionists who, about seventy years later, mainly represented life in cities). There were maps of Surrey, his fishing rod and elegant engravings of mansions and lakes in Middlesex and Surrey. Some of the sites are now part of Greater London as the growing urban development incorporated places that used to be in Surrey, such as Richmond and Kingston. My favourite pieces were the oil sketches, so fresh and original, evoking the pictures of his last years.

My mum could also meet her friends at the Italian club in Maybury and at the Italian mass at St Dunstan’s. They are lively elderly ladies who always welcome her. One of them, her best friend, invited us for dinner at her house. She was a cook before retiring and prepared a typical English dinner especially for us with two kinds of meat, gravy, vegetables and potatoes. We had a lovely day watching Italian TV and talking about her past. She came to England in the late 50s almost illiterate as her primary school teacher made her look after her own children instead of letting her attend the lessons. She came here because she desperately needed a job to support her family. Starting as a
maid, she soon improved attending courses to become a cook, found better jobs and took her whole family here. She also told me she saved her father’s life. In fact, he suffered from diabetes and had one of his legs amputated after a fall from a tree. In Italy there weren’t proper cures and assistance at the time, so she took him here and he lived with her for ten years till his death. Later on, she married a Ukrainian man who had a story similar to hers, but harsher as he was wounded during the war; unfortunately he died three years ago. Living alone is not always easy for her, but she is such an energetic person; she drives and helps her neighbours and her family, who live nearby. I definitely feel proud of my Italian friends.

Before Christmas, we also went to visit my autistic daughter who lives in a residential school near Doncaster. We spent two days with her and she was overjoyed to have the whole family around her, spoiling her with presents, her favourite food and playing with her all the time. We had dinner at an excellent Italian restaurant, Trattoria Toscana, where we had our official Christmas event all together and exchanged presents. Valentina was lovely in spite of the noise and the excitement of the evening. We took videos and photos, had great fun with her unpredictable original way of dressing herself up and with the way she communicates drawing what she wants on a piece of paper in such a skilful way.

Just after that, my husband went to Italy to spend Christmas with his parents while I stayed at home with my mum and two of my children, who had decided to spend Christmas in England.

Saturday, 9 December 2017

On cakes

The reason why I have posted so many cake recipes in this blog along the seven years since I started publishing it on Lancashire Life’s website and then on Blogspot, is that I usually make a cake every weekend. We like having it as a dessert and it is handy to have a slice of cake for breakfast before dashing to work. Above all, I really enjoy making cakes, it is relaxing and rewarding. Not just because they come out well, all modesty aside, they also taste good, their sugary flavour boosts my energy and makes me feel better on the whole. Here are some of them I have recently experimented, which may come in useful during Christmas time as well.

Cake with yogurt
You need: two eggs, 300 g of plain flour, 170 g of golden caster sugar, 50 g of butter, 100 g of chopped dried apricots, 250 g of natural yogurt, one tsp of baking powder, half a tsp of bicarbonate of soda, 100g of white chocolate and party sprinkles to decorate.
Beat the butter and add the yolks of the eggs and the sugar. Mix the yogurt with the dried apricots and add it to the mixture. Add flour, the baking powder and the bicarbonate of soda. Finally whip the whites till stiff and add them as well. Bake at 180° C for 30-45 minutes. To decorate the cake, melt the white chocolate in a pan adding some milk if it is too thick. Pour it on the cake and sprinkle some sweets on top.

Fruit pie
I prepared this fruit pie to celebrate our ten years in the UK using fruit with the colours of the British and the Italian flag. It was so good it was gone in a flash.
For the dough you need: 250 g of self-raising flour, two eggs, 50 g of sugar, 50 g of butter.
For the custard cream you need: 500 ml of milk, 100 g of sugar, two eggs, 40 g of plain flour, grated zest of a lemon.
For the topping you need: fruit (e.g. strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, kiwi, peaches), gelatine in leaf or sachet (follow the instructions on the packet).
Prepare the dough mixing all the ingredients then chill it for half an hour. Prepare the custard cream mixing all the ingredients and cooking it till it thickens then let it cool. Roll out the dough and line a greased pie tin with the dough sheet. Bake the dough for 20-30 minutes at 180° C or till golden. Spread the custard cream on top and decorate with the fruit. To finish pour some gelatine on top and chill before serving.

Rice pie
You need: 250 g of Arborio or Carnaroli rice, 500 ml of milk, a piece of the rind of a lemon, two tbsp of sugar.
For the dough and the custard cream see the recipes above.

Prepare the dough and the custard cream following the instructions of the fruit pie above. Cook the rice in 500 ml of milk adding two tbsp of sugar and the lemon rind. When the rice is ready, remove the lemon rind and mix it with the custard cream. Roll out the dough and line a greased pie tin, spread the rice and custard cream mixture on top and bake for 30-45 minutes at 180° C.

Apple pie
I made some apple pies and cakes at the end of summer when some neighbours kindly provided apples for free leaving them in baskets along the road leading to Chobham high street. Here is the recipe of my favourite apple pie:
For the dough you need: 300 g of plain flour, a pinch of salt, half a tsp of baking powder, 100 g of sugar, three eggs, 60 g of melted butter.

For the filling you need: 5 apples, 100 g of sugar, the juice of a lemon, 3-4 whole cloves, a tsp of fennel seeds, a tsp of ground cinnamon, the grated zest of a lemon, 100 g of pine nuts, 100 g of sultanas.
Peel, core and cut the apples in cubes, add the sugar, the juice of the lemon and all the other flavours. Prepare the dough mixing all the ingredients and chill it for half an hour. Roll out half of the dough and line a greased tin pie, fill it with the apple mixture and cover the pie with the rest of the dough. Bake for 45 minutes 180° C.

Fig tea loaf
Here is a super-delicious fig cake made with dried figs which I love. Figs always remind me of Christmas as that's the only time I had them when I was a child.
You need: 300 g of flour, two eggs, 10 g of brown sugar, the grated zest of a lemon, two tbsp of sunflower oil, one and a half tsp of baking powder, half a tsp of bicarbonate of soda, 150 g of dried figs coarsely chopped, 50 g of mixed peel and half a glass of milk.
Mix the figs, mixed peel and the zest of the lemon with the sugar and eggs. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir well. Pour the mixture into a greased loaf tin and bake for half an hour to forty five minutes at 150°C, till a skewer comes out clean. Sprinkle generously with icing sugar when cold.
I’ll be back in January. Have a good Christmas!

Sunday, 26 November 2017

Some exhibitions I visited in summer

My deep interest in museums and exhibitions is only comparable to my passion for literature. During summer, my husband and I managed to visit a few events together, sometimes with my mum or my daughter as well.

We attended guided tours at the British Museum in the money gallery and in the Roman section.
After the thorough explanation of our guide, what were for me just coins with weird shapes, became incredibly meaningful objects. Payment and exchange were in common use since the bronze age before real coins were created. They were made in beautiful rare materials like jade in China, gold rings in Britain, or copper and tin ingots. This highlights not only their material value but also the power they represented and exerted. In Turkey and in Persia they had real coinage since 650 BC, they are gold or silver coins with a lion or a ram. Greek coins had mythological characters and in China they had spade and knife shapes. Paper money was created in China in 620 AD but it was difficult to keep the production of banknotes under control, as it caused inflation. The same experience was repeated in other countries (e.g., Sweden) but the inflation caused again the withdrawal of paper money till the 19th century. From the 20th century on the methods of payment changed very quickly and today fifty per cent of payments are made electronically.

About the uncontrolled production of paper money, I remember that once my father told me the story of the Am-Lire, a currency put in circulation by the American Army after the landing in Sicily in July 1943. They contributed to the high inflation that spread around Italy after WW II as there was no real value behind it. It is worth mentioning that the four freedoms (the freedom of speech, the freedom of religion, the freedom from want, and the freedom from fear) were printed on the back.

I asked our guide who invented coins and money in the first place and who decided and controlled their value. He replied that traders and merchants improved the old methods of exchange and decided that, for example, a kilo of potatoes was worth one coin. This could change at any time according to the market request. Afterwards banks, rulers, and today the government, decided the value of money. It sounds abstract but it dominates our daily life.

Where the Thunderbird Lives was the other engrossing exhibition we visited at the British
Museum. It was about the bravery and resilience of the Indian tribes living in the north west coast of north America. They adapted and transformed their customs to keep their identity and culture in spite of the diseases brought by the Europeans, which killed about ninety per cent of the population, the forced removal of children from communities and the repression of their traditions. Their response was an original and creative art in silver jewellery, stone figures,
basketry and sculptures with mythological beings, visual punning and social commentary. The Thunderbird is their hero who has a human face and a bird mask on the head. According to their rituals and legends, he uses lightening serpents to stun whales and teaches humans how to whale.

We couldn’t miss Hokusai, Beyond the Great Wave, considering my daughter’s great interest in Japanese culture and art, which she is successfully transmitting around the family. Hokusai painted since he was a child and earned his living through printing and painting throughout his life but he thought that only in late life, when he was about seventy, he really produced something worthy of notice. He was ninety when he died, and he used to say that if he had lived till a hundred years old, or even longer, he would have been without equal. His apprenticeship was at the school of art of Edo (present Tokyo) where he learned to paint according to the traditional iconography of the time using beautiful vibrant colours and fine details. His work could be reproduced several times using wood block printing. The Great Wave is one of a series of paintings called Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji. According to Japanese tradition, Mount Fuji is a source of long life, of immortality. In previous works, similarly to medieval European paintings, distant objects were placed in the upper part of the composition. Later the perspective rules were applied, as it is clear in the thirty-six views.

The Mount Fuji has  a striking regular shape but at the same time it varies from view to view. In Hokusai’s pictures, it is a constant presence in the background while interesting scenes happen in the foreground. There are fishermen in boats fishing, birds bathing, people walking in the wind, or it shows a particular time of the day or a particular weather. The Mount Fuji is a pretext, or a guardian, while the real focus of the pictures is on showing and commenting on Japanese life and people.

The thirty-six views don’t clash with tradition, though they look simple and elegant both in shapes and in colours compared to Hokusai’s previous work. The dimension of each picture isn’t big, about 25 cm x 37 cm, and the Great Wave (Under the Wave of Kanagawa, painted in 1831) isn’t an exception. It could be  disappointing if you expect something bigger, considering the title. As it is well known, it represents three boats heading bravely into a great storm wave, beautifully curving upwards in glorious hues of blues and white curling foam. It is striking and impressive in its apparent simplicity, and its greatness is not only in the impetus and power of the wave but also in the courage of the men facing it. According to the captions, in Buddhism all the phenomena have a spirit that transforms commonplaces into extraordinary things. And this is exactly what happens viewing the Great Wave.

Hokusai had a daughter, Oi, who assisted him until his death and probably also helped him in his work. She was a good painter but lived in the shadow of her father and when he died, she started to travel around Japan.

Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion at the V&A was impressive. I didn’t know that the great fashion
designer had left Spain during the civil war and was part of the artistic and cultural innovative period happening in Paris in the first half of last century. His last collection was in 1968 but his dresses look so modern and avant-garde even today. Some of them look like a sculpture, not ‘natural’ at all, that is his style doesn’t follow the woman’s curves but shapes the silhouette in a different way, according to an artistic ideal, an abstract concept that goes against the rules and creates a new body, a new fashion, a new idea. But this is not ‘new’, of course, it has always happened, and not only in fashion. As with avant-garde movements, he pushed the boundaries both in design and in materials.

Not unexpectedly, his dresses were extremely expensive, only the wealthiest women in the world could afford them. He also founded a sister label (Eise) in Spain, where his extended family worked; Eise garments cost half the price of what they cost in Paris, but, I expect, they were still out of reach for ordinary people. He is considered a master, the father of modern fashion. Experts say he worked like an architect or a sculptor, creating shapes, a working art to last, to exhibit, rather than just wear.

Together with my mum, I saw Opera: Passion, Power and Politics, a passion we share. I know by heart all the most famous songs of Italian opera as my father often listened to them or sang them himself. He used to take the whole family at the Opera House in Rome since my sister and I were very young. Before the performance, he would tell us the story and explained the music and the role of the different characters. For him it was not just entertainment; opera reflected his beliefs and personality, his identity. Not quite so for me, but I enjoy it very much and I liked the exhibition at the V&A. Above all the idea of having music playing in your ears throughout the exhibition’s rooms
thanks to headphones created a fantastic atmosphere. All the information and ideas about the history of opera were written in white chalk on the black walls. It was a striking effect, very straightforward both in the style and in the essence of the quotations, bullet points and slogans chosen. Even the first public opera, L’incoronazione di Poppea (The coronation of Poppea) by Monteverdi looked exciting.

Mixing voice, music, story and special effects was new and extremely successful in opera performances, similarly to what happens in musicals today. It was not only entertainment but also a way to show and reinforce the power of the ruling class of the time, the aristocracy. It arrived in London, of course, where new edifices were built for the purpose. The national spirit back lashed when The Spectator described the audience ‘like...foreigners in their own country to hear plays acted in a tongue which they did not understand.’ Opera also reflected the change in society, like in The Marriage of Figaro by Mozart, and was a political critique.

My favourite part was the Italian one, which was about Giuseppe Verdi and La Scala in Milan. Listening to the touching choir of Nabucco (Va pensiero), the Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves, was such an emotional moment, so involving and enchanting that I didn’t wish to move on. The choir sings the Jews’ nostalgia and memories of their lost country and inspired the Italian patriots of the time in their rebellion against the Austrian rule. Once again, opera was not just beautiful singing but a political subversive act. Today it is considered a traditional, old fashioned kind of music, and it seems strange it had such a revolutionary force in the past. Unfortunately I didn’t succeed in transmitting my passion for opera to my children. Once I brought them to see Traviata by Verdi in Rome but they found it so boring and meaningless that they managed to fall asleep in the uncomfortable hard seats of the upper circle. Never mind, they may reconsider in the future.

At Kensington Palace, my daughter and I saw Diana, her fashion story, an exhibition of her dresses from the 80s till her death. The dresses reflected her personality not only the fashion of the time. It was a way to communicate and shape her image, which was not only how she wished to appear but also how she felt. She contributed personally in the preparation of her dresses by suggesting changes and adding her personal style. She was very popular and charismatic, so whatever she wore had an effect, it would increase the sales of course, and it would also give a message. In time, her dresses became more and more sophisticated and their meaning stronger and more intentional. For example she preferred a direct contact when shaking hands, so didn’t wear gloves; she never wore a hat in a hospital as this wouldn’t allow her to cuddle a child properly. In the fabric printing or in the embroidery of a gown she would include the national emblem of the country she was visiting. Her dresses were not just outfits of a beautiful rich lady, but, like other aspects of her life, were meant to help others. Her charisma and caring qualities were prominent in fashion as well. In the auction sale of her dresses at Christie’s in 1997, she raised over £ 3.4 million for AIDS and cancer charities. A remarkable woman we all miss.

The Figurative Sculpture of Sean Henry was a surprising exhibition, at The Lightbox and around Woking centre. Henry’s ceramic hyper realistic sculptures were everywhere around the town centre from the shopping mall to the railway station. They mixed in the crowd (except for the seven feet tall woman at the entrance of the Peacock shopping centre and the huge Catafalque in the main square) like real people. They represent ordinary people, their faces marked by age or sadness or the weather, their clothes wrinkled and untidy. They stand, or sit, or are just stepping on. The expression is unusual, conveys a sense of frustration, tiredness, incompleteness. They are not monuments to important people, rather to ordinary, replaceable people. People who are part of the multitude, anonymous but still there, carrying on with their life, unconvincingly, mesmerizing the viewer who mirrors in them.

Last but not least, I had a quick visit at Tate Britain on a day I happened to be in London. My tour concentrated on Turner, Moore and Blake, three artists I consider paramount and unique not only in British art. Turner is my favourite, especially his later works, so modern, solar, dispersing and transparent. Whatever he learned and understood in his career is scattered in his last pictures in a free, though controlled, profoundly intimate way. It is a revelation.

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Silver Wedding Anniversary

Life is a puff of wind we enjoy breathing together

On 25th October we celebrated our silver wedding anniversary. It was a cloudy day at the time but there was plenty of family and friends to share our joy with. We married at the Chapel of the university of Rome La Sapienza, where we had met.

This time, for the occasion of the silver anniversary, we went to Her Majesty’s Theatre in London on the Saturday after, to see The Phantom of the Opera (a treat I longed for) and had a luscious dinner at Carluccio’s in Woking. It was a wonderful day!

My eldest son and my daughter in law came down from Leeds and my other son joined us from Oxford. Unfortunately my autistic daughter Valentina couldn’t be with us and my other daughter wasn’t there either. She was invited to the fashion week in Dubai just two weeks before the day of our gathering, a great opportunity she couldn’t miss.

My mum was with us as she hasn’t gone back to Italy yet. As a present, I asked my husband for several books by Margaret Atwood I absolutely need for my PhD research, a gift that will last. We also received presents from our children: DVDs, to watch together, and a ticket to see Churchill War Rooms in Downing Street plus dinner for two; I am looking forward the exciting experience.

Reaching the theatre in the centre of London on the Saturday wasn’t easy as there were works going on in the railway line from Woking to Waterloo. We had to take a bus to Weybridge and catch a train from Weybridge to Waterloo, which stopped at every station. We arrived ten minutes late but could enjoy the rest of the show. I was flabbergasted by the beauty of the music and the charm of the songs. I found it very similar to a traditional Opera, a genre I love, both in themes and in melodies. The story is rather twisted in some parts with an appeasing ending, which doesn’t solve the questions posed by the different ambiguous characters (Why is Christine attracted by the Phantom? Who is the Phantom and why does he change so suddenly at the end? What is the relation between love and success or power in the story?). Nevertheless, the beautiful music suggests what is going on between Christine and the Phantom, undoubtedly a complex passion where opposite feelings coexist.

The twenty five years my husband and I lived together seem a long time to go but I feel now that they passed pretty quickly. They have been very busy years; three children at first, with only two years break one from the other, and the struggle to combine little children, work and a bit of social life. When my autistic daughter Valentina arrived (we adopted her in 2002) it was harder, but I must say we had great fun with all of them. It was a blessed time I look back with nostalgia sometimes, though I shouldn’t as I lived it fully.

The children have grown up now and are all independent, or looked after like Valentina. They are away from home, sometimes come back for short intervals or visits. Our life as a couple is reshaping and mainly focusing on our jobs, interests and personal achievements, we (especially I) couldn’t follow in the past because of family commitments. Spending time together is not so easy because of our different jobs and interests but our paths cross from time to time and we refresh the closeness that has kept us together all these years. Remembering how we met and why we chose each other in the first place is a source of endless reassurance that we did the right thing.

My husband and I are very different people, both physically (he is tall, blond, with blue eyes; I am short and dark, typically Mediterranean) and in character and interests. He is more a mathematical and ‘rational’ kind of person, believing in science and facts; he loves music and archaeology. I am definitely interested in literature and art, all kinds of art, and believe that you need to go beyond and above facts to understand people and the world; and, unfortunately, there isn’t much rationality in the way things go (it would be much easier if it worked so). Our apparently opposite natures merged and we managed to have a happy marriage.

Once at a social event in Italy, they gave us a task. We had to concentrate on coffee for a few minutes and shape the thing in our mind. When my husband and I talked about it afterwards, we realized he focused only on the cup while I focused only on the content, the black stuff. Together we made a whole cup of coffee.

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Summer recipes

During summer my mum and I enjoyed cooking and my daughter joined us from time to time. In July and August we had friends and family coming and going from Italy so our kitchen was very busy. Here are some dishes we prepared and particularly liked.

Pasta with artichokes

For four people you need: 4 artichokes, the juice of a lemon, 4 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil, two cloves of garlic, salt, pepper and grated parmigiano; optional: 2 tbsp of double cream; 500 g of fusilli or penne.

Clean the artichokes getting rid of the hard and thickest leaves as well as the core. Cut them in slices and soak them in the juice of the lemon adding some water. Warm the olive oil in a frying pan, add the garlic cloves peeled and crushed and the drained artichokes, add salt and pepper. Add water if needed and let them simmer covered with a lid for about 15-20 minutes. When they are soft and ready, grind them in a blender till you obtain a creamy mixture. As an option you can add two tbsp of double cream at this stage. Cook the pasta in water with salt, when it is ready drain it and add the artichoke cream and some oil if needed. Serve with parmigiano.

Pasta with asparagus

For four people you need: 500 g of asparagus, half an onion, four tbsp of extra virgin olive oil, 30 g of butter, two tbsp of grated parmigiano; 500 g of fusilli or penne.

Cut off the white hardest part of the asparagus. Boil the asparagus and the onion in water with salt for about 10-15 minutes. Grind 2/3 of the asparagus and the onion in a blender adding oil, butter, parmigiano and two tbsp of the water you used for cooking. Keep 1/3 of the asparagus tips aside. Cook the pasta in water with salt, when it is ready drain it and add the asparagus cream, the asparagus tips and some oil if needed. Serve with parmigiano.

Sgonfiotti alla romana (pancakes in the Roman way)

For four people you need: five eggs, 50 g of butter, 200 ml of water, 50 g of ham, 30 g of grated parmigiano, six tbsp of plain flour, salt, half a tsp of ground nutmeg, some oil to fry.
Boil the water and the butter in a pan with some salt. Add the flour in one go stirring till it becomes smooth. Let it cool then add the eggs, the ham cut in little cubes , the nutmeg and parmigiano. Mix and let it rest for half an hour. Fry spoonfuls of the mixture in hot oil, they should be puffy and golden when ready.

Sicilian pesto

You need: four big tomatoes, two peeled garlic cloves, 50 g of fresh parsley, 50 g of fresh basil, 100 g of blanched almonds, two celery sticks, 6 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper and grated parmigiano; 500 g of spaghetti or linguini.

Soak the tomatoes in hot water and leave them for ten minutes. Peel the tomatoes and cut them in cubes getting rid of the seeds. Grind the almonds in a blender then add all the other ingredients. Cook the spaghetti in water with salt, when it is ready drain it and add the Sicilian pesto and some oil if needed. Serve with parmigiano.

Tomatoes stuffed with rice

You need: four big ripe tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil, parsley, 4-6 tbsp of Arborio or Carnaroli rice, 2-3 potatoes, salt and pepper.

Cut the top of the tomatoes and scoop out the pulp. Cut the tomato pulp in small pieces in a bowl. Add salt, pepper and parsley to the mixture, add the rice as well, about a tbsp and a half per tomato. Sprinkle some salt and pour some olive oil in the scooped tomatoes and fill them with the mixture. Cover the stuffed tomatoes with the tomato lid you cut before and place them in an oiled pan. Peel the potatoes and cut them in cubes, add salt and spread them in the pan beside the stuffed tomatoes. Cook the tomatoes and potatoes for 45 minutes covered with a lid. Let them rest for half an hour before serving.

Savoury pies

For the dough you need: 500 g of self-raising flour, one tbsp of melted butter, two eggs, one tsp of salt, 200 ml of lukewarm water.

For the filling you have two options:

1)      500 g of ricotta, one egg, 250 g of spinach or bieda, nutmeg and salt.
2)      500 g of ricotta, two eggs, 2 tbsp of grated parmigiano, 100 g of grated ham, pepper.

Prepare the dough mixing all the ingredients and let it rest for half an hour in a cool place. For filling no. 1, cook the spinach in 30 ml of water with a bit of salt, drain it and cut it roughly. Add all the other ingredients and mix well. For filling no. 2, grind the ham in a blender, and mix it with the ricotta and all the other ingredients. Prepare the pie rolling out half of the dough, line a greased rectangular tin with the dough sheet and spread the filling in it. Roll out the rest of the dough and cover the pie. Bake for half an hour at
180° C.

Rice with nettles

For five people you need: 200 g of nettles leaves, one litre of vegetable stock,  one leek, half a glass of white wine, 30 g of butter, 350 g of rice, four tbsp of olive oil, three tbsp of grated parmigiano, salt and pepper.

Harvest the nettles (only leaves), wash them several times and cook them in some water and salt. Finally grind them in a blender. Pour the olive oil in a pan and cook the leek (only the white part) finely cut for 5 minutes, add the rice and the white wine. Stir for a few minutes then add the nettles and the stock little by little. When the rice is ready add the butter and parmigiano. Let it rest for five minutes before serving.

Melanzane ‘mbuttunate (stuffed aubergines)

This is an old recipe that goes back to my grandmother, who was from Meta di Sorrento, that you will never find on the internet. The aubergines are stuffed with biscuits and dark chocolate so that the taste is a mix of sweet and savoury. My father adored it.

You need: 2-3 aubergines, three tbsp of sugar, one tbsp of vinegar, five ground rich tea biscuits, 50 g of grated dark chocolate.

Cut the aubergines in half lengthwise and cook them for 10-15 minutes in some water with a tbsp of vinegar and three tbsp of sugar. Once soft, scoop them out and put the pulp in a bowl. Add the ground biscuits to the mixture and the graded dark chocolate. Fill the aubergines with the mixture and bake for 20-30 minutes at 180° C.

Aubergines in the Sardinian way

You need: 2-3 aubergines, extra virgin olive oil, ripe tomatoes, oregano, fresh parsley, salt and pepper.

Cut the aubergines to obtain round slices ¼ of an inch thick. Set them in an oiled oven tray. Sprinkle olive oil, salt, pepper, parsley and oregano to flavour them. Add ripe or dried tomatoes cut in small pieces without the seeds. Let it marinate for half an hour then bake for 20-30 minutes at 180° C.