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Coffee, Brioche and the Beautiful Game

July 31, 2014

BAR SPORT in Sydney’s inner-west was my family’s regular Saturday morning stop-off from the 1960s into the mid 1970s. Before Italian families left the area for the outer suburbs and bigger homes, the café – established in Norton Street Leichhardt in 1956 as Caffé Sport – rewarded us with coffee, cake and familiar faces. (See earlier post).

BarSportStreet2

 

I’d abandoned it for 30 years, moving on to less family-friendly cafes in the inner city. But last month I needed a place to soak in the 2014 World Cup, somewhere that attracted soccer* folk who weren’t afraid to show their true colours.

The Team Sheet

The players don’t change all that much: elderly men talking illnesses, ailments and soccer; middle-aged men in business meetings; a family with a couple of kids and the odd blow-in. Owners Joe and Frank Napoliello do a fantastic job keeping soccer fans happy all year, showing Euro matches on the large screen TV. But they really take it up a couple of notches during World Cups when they throw open the doors until ungodly hours, especially for the Italy and Australia matches.

BarSportWorldCup.2

 

Pre-match Entertainment

The merchandise stall is interesting, but I’m not tempted by the t-shirts, instead finding myself a spot in the unreserved area near the coffee machine.

BarSportT-Shirts.2

 

Kick-off

There’s just enough time during the warm-up to inspect the footy food. On offer there’s assorted panini, focacce and dolci on display for breakfast and I decide on a mini brioche with fior di latte (mozzarella) and leg ham to go with my macchiato. They’re both perfect. The sweetness of the soft bun marries well with the filling, reminding me of the traditional sweet Easter bread (Pinza) from northeastern Italy that we’d eat with sliced leg ham.

BarSportFood

 

Half-time

While the spectators dash in various directions, I reflect on what’s brought me here. Regular father-daughter outings in the 1960s to see the local Italian soccer team (APIA) play in the 1960s fuelled my interest in soccer. We’d take bread rolls filled with mortadella and provolone cheese. But in my mid teens I could no longer hide my secret soccer life to school friends and foolishly embraced the oval ball game just to fit in. I also started eating sausage rolls.

Second half

The players have ramped up their diving and writhing on the pitch and I can afford to turn away for a minute and order more brioche and coffee. This carb-fest continues for a few weeks and I wish the referee would give me a caution or show me a red card.

Coffee&Brioche2

 

Full time

That’s it. Time for the café brothers to snip the losing team’s national flag from the row of bunting strung overhead. And also time to dissect the game and for strangers to become friends.

Post match commentary

I don’t know when Bar Sport became a house of worship to the beautiful game. The only sports fever I remember 30 years ago was the corner table with a chess and draughts set on offer.

IMG_1008

 

I gather my things and wonder if these visits would only be four-yearly World Cup affairs. Or if making the place a regular haunt might be too nostalgic. I also think about the bad coffee I’ve been drinking at nearby cafes for years and I opt for the latter. I’ve come full circle.

(*I’ve used ‘soccer’ throughout rather than ‘football’ to save confusion for U.S. – and other – readers).

This is not a sponsored post/review. No fee or caffeine supplies were accepted by the writer.

 

 

 

 

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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

~~~

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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