Archive for June, 2012

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Hold the Traffic! I have another coffee story to write.

June 18, 2012

Don’t you love entering competitions? The promise of a luxury holiday, cash … or in this case something more modest: the opportunity to have your happy snap displayed in a public space.

ABC Open, in conjunction with the Historic Houses Trust, is running a competition called ‘Now and Then’, where you reframe an old photo within a new one to show how the setting has changed over the years. It’s a great idea, and has already attracted some inspired entries. 

After trawling through my albums I found just the photo I needed: me, on a Vespa, circa 1959, outside the   Caffè Sport in Norton Street, Leichhardt. Vroom vroom. Not quite Roman Holiday but you’ve got to start somewhere.

Every Saturday morning my mother, father and I shopped on Parramatta Road between Catherine and Norton Streets. It’s hard to imagine, but in the 1950s and 1960s the area was abuzz with activity and an interesting mix of butchers, fruit shops, delicatessens – and ladies’ frock shops. We’d then meet friends at Caffè Sport for a cappuccino or two. At four and a half years of age, I still had my training wheels on and hadn’t quite graduated to a macchiato.

Their coffee drunk, most of the men would go to the pub across the road and the women and children stayed put. I loved listening to the chat from the mainly Triestine clientele, but was especially transfixed by one of my mother’s friends who used to sink her enormous front teeth into her Savoiardi biscuits post-dunk, and suck them in before they became slush and plummeted into her caffè latte.

But back to my mission trying to recreate the Girl on the Vespa image. It didn’t matter that the camera battery was flat when I arrived in Norton Street last Saturday morning, as the combination of torrential rain and bumper to bumper traffic led to mission impossible. I’d overlooked the fact that vehicular traffic has increased in 50 years and the blank pub wall I needed to shoot had a constant foreground of moving cars. Not one single break in the traffic for the entire 20 minutes I stood there (broken up with a quick coffee fix). I’m planning a return visit this week sometime between morning peak hour and sunset, when I’ll stop the traffic if I need to with a sign ‘GO BACK. Desperate Competition Contestant at Work’.

Scene on vespa from Roman Holiday

This is the shot I was going for. Oh well.

If only I had an original interior cafe shot, with its La Pavoni coffee machine working non-stop, I could use that as my Plan B and avoid the traffic.

‘Now and Then’ competition details.

♦ I welcome your thoughts or retorts. The Comments button is only a click away…


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The Secret Radicchio Society

June 4, 2012

I’m sitting at my mother’s dining table finishing my salad, thinking about life without these special green leaves.

Growing up in 1960s’ Sydney eating Italian food that my immigrant parents served, I’d hardly tasted the popular iceberg lettuce non-Italians ate. My father wasn’t a natural gardener, but one thing he did well was growing and harvesting bitter greens from the chicory family.

His specialty was a type of small-leafed, pale green radicchio grown in and around our hometown – Trieste – in northeastern Italy. These greens weren’t available at greengrocers, so most of our family friends from that Italian region grew it here in Australia: those who didn’t always had friends willing to donate some.

There’s not much you can do with this type of radicchio but eat it with vinaigrette. My father, however, chose to up the ante and sometimes added finely chopped, raw garlic. Being a non-Anglo preteen, I was anti-garlic and refused to buy into its alleged worm killing properties, so I discarded each tiny piece. If my father really suspected we had worms, he could have made life easier by trying a folk medicine remedy: a couple of garlic cloves in each shoe, to be absorbed through the skin. Slower, but kinder!

Realising I needed a creative way of eating the greens, dad added quartered hard-boiled eggs to the salad. I loved the way they dissolved into the vinaigrette, coating the leaves with a powdery yellow shine. Once all leaves were eaten, there was always a tussle for rights to sop up the liquid at the bottom of the bowl with crusty bread.

We stopped eating it for many years as different types of salad greens were available and Italian families no longer had the passion to grow it. Occasionally, in the 1970s, it would appear at barbeques and we’d swoop on it like seagulls, or we’d find it at family-run restaurants specialising in Venetian and northeastern Italian cuisine.

Growing radicchio from Trieste

The radicchio patch in all its glory

About eight years ago I had a craving for it and suggested to my mother I might try growing it in her backyard. I tracked down an online seed supplier who markets it in Australia as “Cicoria zuccherina di Trieste”. The term ‘zuccherina’ refers to its sweetness, but more accurately it has a pleasant bitter taste, especially if it’s eaten while still young and tender.

The radicchio patch – dedicated to my late father – has fed us continuously as it re-grows after each harvest. I sow it every two years after the leaves become a bit hard and hairy, and have my hands full protecting it from heavy rain and keeping two family cats from stretching out on it to bask in the sun. It needs watering every day – twice in dry summer weather – and my mother has become chief waterer.

Cicoria Zuccherina di Trieste con uova

The fruits of my labour

Greengrocers now sell many varieties of chicory, endive and radicchio such as the red Treviso and Verona, but don’t stock the type we eat, probably as it’s too delicate to withstand the handling and transport. In Trieste they are spoilt for choice, with up to four varieties sold daily at outdoor markets around the city.

It’s such a special part of the meals I have when I visit my mother twice per week; the table looks bare in the two months that the radicchio is in the early growing phase and too small to harvest. 

I think I need to become a fully-fledged market gardener and stagger my crops to enjoy it year-round.

 

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