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Blog Hop: Why Do I Write

June 30, 2014

“You like me … you REALLY like me” was my comment to Rachel Lebihan when she nominated me to answer the Blog Hop question “why do I write?”

And just like Sally Field did in that 1985 Oscars’ speech when she won the Best Actress award, I clutched a gold trophy in my hands and gushed.

Bowling Trophy

I dedicate this to Rachel who is a food writer, restaurant reviewer and a former editor at The Australian Financial Review. Her blog The Food Sage  is a collection of wise words on all things gastronomical.

Writing has always been part of my job as an arts administrator for cultural organisations presenting performance, literature, heritage, multicultural celebrations and film programs. I took a break 18 months ago when I decided I could no longer write “this year’s festival will be the biggest and best yet” in marketing collateral.

During this time I started my blog The Good the Bad & the Italian and lately have branched out into writing about my experiences as a sole carer for my 90-year-old mother (for a new health-related website) as well as taking on small freelance contracts.

What am I working on?

I’ve been re-visiting some stories on my blog and trying to expand them into more substantial tales to see if I can write something longer than 500 words that is still mildly entertaining to unsuspecting readers. Turns out I can, but not without some sweat: short ‘n’ sharp is my preferred mode. Being part of a group of talented writers in The Prose Workshop for the past six months has been a delight, and worth every hard-earned 1000 word exercise. Some interesting ideas are developing …

Why does my writing differ from others in my genre?

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it a food blog? Well, no, not really. My writing is mainly about food but is contained within personal experiences, parental eccentricities, Italian folklore, topical events and discovering vintage (er, old and forgotten) kitchen accoutrements lurking in the cupboard. And films.

You won’t find many detailed recipes on my blog – except for the odd link to someone else’s content – as I don’t much enjoy quantities and methods, preferring to leave that to dedicated food bloggers.

Don’t ever ask me to categorise my blog as you’ll get a furrowed brow in response.

Why do I write what I do?

Many of my blog posts are inspired by stories of growing up as an Italian-Australian kid in Sydney’s inner-west in the 1960s. It was such an interesting time, observing my parents cooking, entertaining and trying to keep aspects of their heritage alive after their post-WW11 migration.

I’m also interested in how food is represented in films, particularly some pre-1980s American movies where Italian families only ever ate spaghetti and meatballs, which is not an authentic Italian dish. Pasta e fagioli (pasta and bean soup) became ‘pasta fazool’. Thank you Dean Martin.

Gathering these thoughts into something I think people might want to read is always a gamble. Will they REALLY like it?

How does my writing process work?

I have an elegant little hardcover book called a ‘Quadernetto’ (Italian for ‘small exercise book’) and I jot down ideas in it religiously. It’s roughly A6 size with a silky navy cover and graph paper pages and it follows me everywhere. Occasionally I’ll tap a thought into my iPhone, but it tends to stay there.

I draw inspiration from many things: old black and white photographs in family albums; stories in local and overseas magazines and websites; contents of cupboards; postcards; wacky songs and film scenes. These find their way as torn pages, photographs and scans into manila folders to be turned into words.

Then the untamed writing on my desktop iMac begins.

Just as I was nominated to take part in this Blog Hop, it’s my turn to introduce to you Cynthia Bertelsen who blogs at Gherkins and Tomatoes.

Cynthia is an accomplished writer, photographer and  author of Mushroom: A Global History (2013). She boasts a cookbook collection of over 3500 titles (no, that’s not a typo). Cynthia writes about life, cookbooks and cooking and I love the depth and focus of her writing, which she describes as “global and historical”.

Andiamo!

 

 

 

 

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The Trip to Italy: Food Capers

June 2, 2014

“We’re not going to do any impersonations are we?” Steve Coogan asks Rob Brydon early on in The Trip to Italy.

The sequel to 2010’s cult hit film The Trip is a delicious excuse to again offer the two comedians an opportunity to outperform each other during a culinary roadtrip. Of course there will be impersonations.

It’s true they can be insufferable at times, but the exchanges reach such levels of absurdity it’s hard not to admire the comic interplay of the mostly improvised script. I guffawed harder than I imagined I would.

Steve & Rob still

 

The premise – that they travel from the northern Piedmont region down to Capri reviewing six fine dining restaurants for the Observer magazinedoesn’t stray from the first film’s successful formula. I desperately wanted to eyeball more Italian food while re-aquainting myself with Michael Caine, Hugh Grant, Marlon Brando, Dustin Hoffman, Humphrey Bogart, Woody Allen, Anthony Hopkins, Roger Moore and many more.

Al Pacino and Marlon Brando make a welcome appearance as the Corleones (in Cooper and Brydon’s double act). Given The Godfather is rich with scenes of family dinners, I was craving their dialogue be delivered from mouths packed with ravioli. Coogan suggests that Brydon stuff a bread roll in his mouth for his Marlon Brando impression but Brydon demurs as he has a yeast intolerance.

The summer roadtrip in a black convertible mini continues through postcard vistas down the Ligurian coast through Tuscany, Rome, the Amalfi Coast and Capri. The non-stop banter takes in literature, art, family and the word “cumquat”, with Brydon the perfect alfoil for Coogan.

Dishes incorporating rabbit, quail, guinea fowl, squid, bonito, octopus and something scarily called ‘scorpion fish’ are served. I wanted more lingering food shots – and bigger reactions to those first mouthfuls. On the Amalfi Coast, Coogan tastes the main course and moans in ecstasy “oh, oh my God”. Not as memorable as the Meg Ryan/When Harry Met Sally scene, but not to be sniffed at.

One of the film’s rewarding themes is director Michael Winterbottom’s “homage to Byron and Shelley”. He has Coogan and Brydon retracing the romantic poets’ footsteps to the beautiful ‘Bay of Poets’ in Liguria where Shelley died and Byron’s house in Genoa.

Coogan and Brydon have admitted in interviews they don’t know much about food. Brydon backs this up with this gem on a hotel terrace – “Eggs for breakfast. Can’t top that … except with brown sauce”.

They came, they ate, they cracked jokes.

Black Ink RavioliThe recipe below comes courtesy of Australian distributor Madman who sent me a tantalising selection from the film. 

Pictured left is Black Ravioli stuffed with Mussels on Potato Cream, Candied Tomato and White Tomato Foam. It’s from the two Michelin-starred Ristorante Oliver Glowig in Rome.

 

The Trip to Italy is currently screening Australia-wide.
Images courtesy Madman Entertainment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Italian Shandy – just add Campari

May 1, 2014

‘I have a head for business, and a bod for sin …’ 

There I go, talking about myself again.

Well, it’s actually a quote from Mike Nichols’ clever 1988 rom-com Working Girl.

The quote – which Melanie Griffith cooed to Harrison Ford in a bar – came to mind when I was sneaking in another favourite summer drink before the temperature plummets.

I’ve long been a Shandy drinker, much to the horror of friends who are serious about their craft beers. So I was thrilled when I found a recipe that changed the lemonade/beer combination into something Italian/Australian, something friends couldn’t snigger at.  CampariShandy

The Campari Shandy is a great discovery. When you’ve worked through the frothy foam on top, you get to the slinky, sexy stuff beneath. Just like the scene in the film.

I first heard the word Shandy used in relation to the ‘Ladies Lounge’ signs I’d seen in Sydney’s inner-west pubs. Gender segregation in Australian pubs banned women from the public bar to the lounge prior to the 1970s and Shandies were popular drinks. By the time I was old enough to experience a Ladies’ Lounge, the bans were lifted following mass protests by women, a few even chaining themselves to bar rails.

I don’t think Italy has Shandies, so I don’t know how Italians would feel about their favourite bitter-sweet aperitif being mixed with beer. It might be too, too much for the purists upset by the decision in 2006 by the Campari company to stop using crushed cochineal beetles following pressure from vegetarian groups.

Then again, those who are unhappy about the ‘new’ Campari and claim that it’s one-dimensional and has lost its three distinct layers, are moving to Aperol in protest and probably wouldn’t care about the new, chemically coloured Campari smothered with a few glugs of beer.

Campari Shandy for one:

. 50 ml Campari

. 300 ml light-coloured beer

. 1 lemon or lime wedge

Pour the beer over the Campari – obviously.

PS – The late, great Roger Ebert loved Working Girl too.

 

 

 

 

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Caffè Shakerato – with a nod to Frank Sinatra

April 8, 2014

It’s with a heavy heart that I bid a fond farewell to a new-found summer friend.

The Caffè Shakerato has been my drink of choice lately, but is meant for long, hot afternoons rather than our current autumn weather.

Not quite a frappé, and certainly not an iced coffee, the Caffè Shakerato is made from espresso coffee, sugar and ice cubes shaken vigorously to create a chilled coffee with a frothy crema.

The Shakerato has been popular in Italy for a few years but I had trouble finding one in Sydney. There’s a smattering of newish inner-city cafes offering it, but the three old-style Italian cafes I visited had never heard the term and, judging by their baristas’ shrugs of indifference, weren’t in a hurry to embrace it.

Keen to make one myself, I needed to ramp up the sultry atmosphere to accompany all the grinding and shaking.

I remembered a novelty coffee tune with an uptempo beat and absurd lyrics that I first heard decades ago and had stubbornly stayed with me.

The Coffee Song was first sung by Frank Sinatra in 1946 and seemed perfect for exercising my samba legs. Also known as They’ve Got an Awful lot of Coffee in Brazil, it lampoons Brazil’s coffee glut and the inventive ways the Brazilians found to consume it. It starts off  …

Way down among Brazilians

Coffee beans grow by the billions

So they’ve got to find those extra cups to fill

They’ve got an awful lot of coffee in Brazil

 

You can’t get cherry soda

’cause they’ve got to fill that quota

And the way things are I’ll bet they never will

They’ve got a zillion tons of coffee in Brazil

… and The Coffee Song  gets even nuttier further along, ending with signor Sinatra attempting an indistinguishable foreign accent.  I couldn’t help thinking he had an awful lot of Spanglish in his words.

For a Caffè Shakerato, you’ll need:

. 1 espresso coffee – hot

. 1/2 tsp caster sugar (or sugar syrup)

. 6 small ice cubes

~Shake ingredients in a cocktail shaker for about 30 seconds until ice is almost ~melted. Strain into a statement glass. (You could add a dash of liqueur too).

This now completes my list of summer coffee favourites including the affogato and granita di caffè con panna (with cream on top).

 

Screen shot 2014-04-07 at 6.54.12 PM

 

Here’s a full version of the tune (which was later covered by Sam Cooke and The Andrews Sisters among others: The Coffee Song/They’ve Got an Awful lot of Coffee in Brazil 

Any other sightings of the Shakerato are welcome.

 

 

 

 

 

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An Excuse for a Haiku

March 5, 2014

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A blog name inspired by film director Sergio Leone

A kick-ass cocktail in his honour

Spaghetti Western – I’m a little drunk on you

~~~

~~~

Recipe for this killer drink courtesy Food Republic using the new (to Australia) SOLERNO Blood Orange Liqueur

Giddyup!

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Lurking in the Cupboard #8: Bomboniera with Bite

February 17, 2014

A decommissioned ashtray turns out to be anything but …

It’s been a while since I attended a wedding where bomboniere were given to guests. Even so, I doubt they’d look anything like this vintage gem once used as an ashtray by my father.  retro bomboniera

My late aunt and uncle’s choice of a German short-haired pointer* for their late 1950s’ wedding bomboniere is intruiging. Maybe handsome hunting dogs that are bold, boisterous, intelligent, affectionate and trainable were more fashionable in Italy than pastel tulle and ribbons. Perhaps it was their take on the sentiment attached to the traditional five sugared almonds in bomboniere: fertility, long life, health, wealth and happiness.

The giving of bomboniere (or ‘favours’) dates back to early European history when honey-coated almonds, dried fruits, aromatic seeds or pine nuts were given to guests by wealthy aristocrats to celebrate marriages, birthdays and christenings. Almonds later became the nuts of choice and sugarcoating them symbolized the bitterness of life and sweetness of love.

On the sightseeing list for my next trip to Italy is the Museum of Sugared Almond Art and Technology in Sulmona, the birthplace of sugared almonds. The town, 160 kms east of Rome, has been producing them since the 15th century.  Now popular at all manner of celebrations, they’re ‘confetti’ in Italian, ‘Jordan Almonds’ in the US, ‘koufeta’ in Greece and ‘mlabas’ in the Middle-East.  sugared almonds

How coincidental then that prior to Christmas I bought a sizeable bag of sugared almonds. I have no idea why. I threw them into the shopping trolley in the pre-Christmas madness just in case somebody dropped by. What? Who ‘drops by’ in the 21st century? Or was I expecting to conduct a mini wedding ceremony or impromptu christening at my place?

Really, I just fancied the pastel colours that reminded me of a recent post about tutti frutti.  

There’s really not much you can do with sugared almonds except suck the sugar off and bite into the nut. The inventors must have had a Plan B, but if so, it’s a secret. Why does covering a nut with pastel-coloured sugar render it unusable in cooking?

But something called Candy Cane Chocolate Bark turned up everywhere last Christmas and I was keen to try my version of this thin layer of chocolate covered with crushed candy canes.

I used this How to Make Chocolate Bark without a Recipe recipe and added a slurp of Amaretto …  Sugared Almond Liqueur Chocolate Bark was born.

Almond Liqueur Chocolate Bark

*Thanks to Twitter pal Rom @smartdoggus for dog breed identification

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A Fine Kettle of Fish

January 30, 2014

If anyone ever calls me ‘sardonic’ – assuming they don’t mean I look like a fish – I’d almost take it as a compliment.

I love fish talk. You can almost smell the turns of phrase devoted to fish: A big fish in a small pond; crooked as a barrel of fish hooks; drink like a fish; fish in troubled waters; having bigger fish to fry; like shooting fish in a barrel; plenty more fish in the sea; like a fish out of water.

And my favourite – which is also shared in Italian – neither fish nor fowl. Does this mean it’s not a ‘surf n turf’?

A high school friend used to say that someone had “a smile like a deep sea mullet”. Cracked me up, but I’ve never heard that expression since.

A couple of evocative expressions belong to one of my favourite fish, the highly (in some quarters) unfashionable mackerel.

There’s a mackerel sky…

mackerel sky

And a mackerel tabby cat… 

mackerel cat

Vincent van Gogh thought enough of mackerel to paint them in his lovely Still Life with Mackerels, Lemons and Tomatoes

Van Gogh Mackerels  

The Portuguese do a damn fine job of canning them

tinned mackerel

And ‘Holy Mackerel, Batman’ says it all.

The word mackerel may be derived from the Old French maquerel (c.1300) meaning a pimp or procurer and as the fish species spawns enthusiastically near coastal areas, it’s plausible.

My family’s always been big mackerel eaters and bought it from Trieste’s glorious waterfront fish market, an imposing 1913 structure with a bell tower. Nicknamed Santa Maria del Guato, it was the Adriatic city’s shrine to fish of all denominations.

Here in Sydney we bought our fish from less salubrious fishmongers. We cooked our mackerel on my father’s jerry-built brick BBQ and although not a pretty piece of handywork it did the trick. The whole mackerel were cooked until slightly charred and then the laborious de-boning process began. That was my mother’s job and she patiently be-headed and opened the fish and picked them clean. Bone by bone. They was then seasoned, sprinkled with chopped garlic and parsley and spread with a layer of home-made mayonnaise.

Last week I found some super fresh smallish blue mackerel at the fish markets, chock full of Omega-E fats and sustainable in Australia. Simply grilled with a squeeze of lemon, they were a knockout. And I’m not fishing for compliments.

Grilled Mackerel

Neil Perry is a mackerel fan too and does a nice pan fried version with a spicy sauce. http://www.lifestylefood.com.au/recipes/300/pan-fried-mackerel

Related posts:

Working out for our Mussels – http://tinyurl.com/kf3go8m

Spanish Cuttlefish with Italian Attitude – http://tinyurl.com/mxkqbuv

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