Archive for the ‘classic movies’ Category

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Very Inspiring Blogger

November 25, 2014

I love the smell of an award in the morning …

Kodak

No, not that one. THIS one

BloggerAward

There’s nothing that can make up for a bad cup of coffee but sometimes it can at least be forgotten by a pleasant distraction.

Fellow blogger Colin Bisset has nominated me for a Very Inspiring Blogger Award. Che bella sorpresa, thanks so much. Writer/broadcaster Colin has a lovely blog where he blends his love of words with his love of design. We bonded over a post I wrote about my preferred coffee-making method and I’m thrilled he admits I changed his coffee habit.

Awards are hard-won, and there’s a little housekeeping to do first. I have to abide by the rules of this game by:

  • Thanking and linking to the person who nominated me
  • Listing the rules and displaying the award
  • Sharing seven facts about myself
  • Nominating 15 other blogs I enjoy, then commenting on their posts to let them know I’ve nominated them

Here goes:

  1. I was named after the main character in the 1944 romance novel Forever Amber. My mother saw the film in Italy years later and loved the name (which is Ambra in Italian)
  2. Raw onion is my enemy. Apart from giving me tears so ferocious I need a towel to mop my face, I hate the taste, the after-taste and the lingering taste the day after
  3. I have adopted the neighbourhood cat lady as my mentor and hope to become just as eccentric
  4. I badly need (swimming) stroke correction
  5. I worship at the alter of choreographer Bob Fosse (especially The Pajama Game, Sweet Charity, Chicago and Cabaret)
  6. I learnt to dance salsa in 1999, perfected it in Cuba in 2000 and didn’t stop dancing until 2007. Boy, was I tired.
  7. I’m a fairly decent cook but Asian stir fries defeat me

But enough about me. This is the business of sharing, and these are the blogs I like to read (no particular order):

Bizzy Lizzy’s Good Things – A collection of recipes, essays, food news and reviews

The Food Sage – All things gastronomic by food writer/restaurant reviewer Rachel Lebihan

Gherkins and Tomatoes – A blog about the universal language of food

Garden Drum – Plants, gardening, edibles, garden design, pets, wildlife, travel

Paradisus Garden Lovers – Garden inspiration and advice from designer Peter Nixon

Silver Screen Suppers – The wacky world of film star dining (featuring a lot of Vincent Price)

Venice: I am not Making this Up – Journalist Erla Zwingle’s wry take on life in Venice

Jovina Cooks Italian – Home-cooked Italian meals with emphasis on regional specialities

Italy on my Mind – Comprehensive ‘how-to’ recipes for elegant Italian dishes

On Food and Film – Hyperbolic ruminations on food and film

Skiourophilia – Covetable bits’n’pieces and vintage wares

Curnblog – Film reviews, interviews, opinions and interesting perspectives

Hollywood Essays – Behind-the-scenes stories and photos of Louis B. Mayer’s early Hollywood

Good Morning Trieste – Food, art, photos from my p.o.b. – Trieste

Thanks again Colin for the nomination – and the distraction.

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Pasta Shapes my Memories

April 25, 2013

Apparently, there are more than 250 pasta shapes available but I have no idea why.

I’m sure someone set themselves the task of sampling every single pasta shape and has probably written about it. Me? I’m happy to stick to the five or six I enjoy regularly because of my strong associations with them.

One of my favourites is maccheroni as it reminds me of the time my mother was hired for a cooking demonstration in a Sydney CBD department store in the late 1950s. Home-cooked pasta was unheard of among non-Italians and the store was keen to introduce it to shoppers. I was maybe four or five and remember going with her to the store with a family friend (my father was working). I helped her distribute the paper plates of pasta straight from pots of boiling water, topped with meat sauce (ragu) she’d prepared earlier. My mother spoke little English, so there was a translator on hand, but it didn’t seem to matter as the shoppers lapped it up. What concerns me, however, is the way I was allowed – as a young child – near the hot pots’n’pans and stove. Ah, those wacky days before OH&S took over.

I like mafaldine too, which also brings back memories from the early 1960s and I can picture the long curly pasta strands covered in homemade tomato sauce flying through the air. A landlady without a great food repertoire ran the boarding house next door. She fed the six 20-something men – recently migrated from Italy – the same dinner every night. After the fourth day in a row of pasta, the men rebelled and the meal – pot and all – was hurled by the woman from the kitchen window into the backyard in disgust. Their loss was the pet dog’s gain.

Occasionally I’ll still cook creste di gallo (roosters’ combs) just to hear my grandfather’s voice denouncing them to my grandmother as shaped “like old folks’ dentures”.

But usually I reach for spaghetti, despite my first school kid trauma of discovering a tuck shop spaghetti sandwich was not the same as mamma made at home: what WAS this gluggy, sweet, orange coloured baby food?

Spaghetti, or sometimes linguine, is the pasta of choice in many film scenes. You just can’t convey some messages with any other shape.  TheApartment_strainingSpaghetti

Think about the steamy kitchen sink scene in Billy Wilder’s The Apartment when Jack Lemmon prepares dinner for Shirley Maclaine and strains the pasta over a tennis racquet. “You’re pretty good with that racquet” she says. Lemmon replies “Wait till you see me serve the meatballs!”  

Or the spaghetti-eating scene with the two besotted dogs in Disney’s Lady and the Tramp

But the last word goes to Walter Matthau (Oscar) in Neil Simon’s 1967 bachelor fest The Odd Couple during a nasty fight when he throws Felix’s freshly cooked plate of spaghetti (or linguine)* and sauce against a kitchen wall, where it slides down, strand by strand. That image just wouldn’t be the same with bow-tie or shell-shaped pasta.

* Watch the ‘Odd Couple’ clip for the spaghetti v linguine tussle    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LDXSXkYoM5Y

 Lose yourself in the definitive Guide to Pasta Shapes 

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The Eggs and I: Comfort Food My Way

March 31, 2013

I’ve been thinking about comfort foods this past week after a family medical emergency. I guess most people think about casseroles or hearty winter soups as a source of nourishment in stressful times, but for me it’s eggs.

Eggs seem to lurk in strange places in my family’s north-eastern Italian cuisine: in Russian salads, alongside boiled meats and with radicchio (see earlier post on The Secret Radicchio Society). Sometimes I think the famous stateroom scene in the Marx Brothers’ film A Night at the Opera looked at this cuisine for inspiration when Groucho orders a meal from the steward – “two fried eggs; two poached eggs; two scrambled eggs; two medium boiled eggs. And “TWO HARD BOILED EGGS”.  Cracks me up every time.the eggs and i

I’m in between hospital visits, and what do I scoff down in 30 seconds flat on the run? A coddled egg squashed between a slice of bread. Not sophisticated but filling.

It’s Easter Sunday today but I haven’t quite been able to make the hand coloured hard-boiled eggs I often produce for festive picnics. So it’s caramel-filled chocolate eggs for afternoon tea instead.

And in among the surrealism of the past week are memories of another film that always makes me smile: The Egg and I (1947) with Claudette Colbert and Fred MacMurray as city slickers who buy a rundown old country farm. It’s a nice ‘fish out of water’ story (probably mackeral with egg mayonnaise in our case) and also a grammatical sticking point for those who like to argue that it should be ‘The Egg and Me’.

Psst- for those who like their trivia hokey, The Egg and I  paved the way for the nine successful Ma and Pa Kettle films in the 1940s-50s.

Here’s the Marx Brothers’ Night at the Opera stateroom scene egg warmup: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cC8PAQQIoCM

Russian Salad (Insalata Russa) recipe courtesy of Italian Language Blog

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Food on Film: A Missed Opportunity

March 11, 2013

The Weekend Australian’s film critic Evan Williams wrote an entertaining piece last year about memorable food films citing Babette’s Feast, Julie and Julia, Tampopo and La Grande Bouffe, among others, in his story Reel Delicious .

Culling my mother’s old LPs a few weeks ago, I stumbled on an album by brilliant Italian actor/comedian Walter Chiari. He played the lead role in the popular Australian film They’re a Weird Mob (1966, Michael Powell) as Nino Culotta, a sports journalist who travels to Sydney by ship following the promise of a magazine job. Cut to the comedy of errors that follows and he finds himself digging holes as a brickie’s labourer working alongside three likely lads – all good-natured Aussie blokes who soon teach him the local customs.  They're a Weird Mob DVD

What surprised me about the film was the lack of food scenes or Italian culinary references. If They’re a Weird Mob were made in today’s food-obsessed world, its plot of an educated Italian immigrant finding himself in an Anglo-Australian mid 1960s setting could have been milked by the filmmakers for all its worth. The only exception is a restaurant scene where Nino politely advises a couple of sheilas “you can’t eat spaghetti with a spoon”.

In another scene he’s at home with his workmates after a hunting expedition. All they’ve produced from the trip is a miserly rabbit, which is rejected by one of the wives and a dinner of baked beans on toast with extra tomato sauce is eaten instead. Nino looks on in amusement. But jump to 2013 and what a wonderful opportunity to have him jump up and offer to debone the rabbit and stuff it with garlic, breadcrumbs and capers. Perhaps with some grilled radicchio on the side.

Nino is such a likeable character that he happily accepts two mugfulls of milky tea (or is it instant coffee?) from a workmate after long hours sweating in the hot sun on a worksite. Today, he would have offered his workmates an espresso made from the stovetop Moka pot he’s set up in the shade of the truck.  Drinking scene in pub - They're a Weird Mob

And wine? No way. Our ‘New Australian’ tries to blend into his new lifestyle by drinking far too many beers with his mates at the local pub. Where’s the Prosecco? The Pinot Grigio? Or a Vermentino from Sardegna?

These missed opportunities are more than compensated for however with some great Australian idioms used throughout the film.

Meeting a new drinking buddy, Nino is asked “Whaddya do for a crust?”

He’s also told in no uncertain terms that he’s “not right in the scone”.

More praise for the film: http://blogafi.org/2012/11/22/why-i-adore-theyre-a-weird-mob/

Italian-Australian chef Stefano de Pieri’s stuffed rabbit recipe that Nino could have made:  http://www.lifestylefood.com.au/recipes/17413/stuffed-rabbit

Images courtesy Roadshow Entertainment

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Maraschino: A Tale of Two Cherries

November 24, 2012

First it was lavender, ginger and gardening. Now I’m embracing fruit preserved in liqueur – and I’m a wee bit scared.

It was the grappa-soaked cherries accompanying the roast duck main that did it for me and I’ve been back to the Italian restaurant in Sydney twice now just for that dish.

Maraschino cherry posterThis image on my fridge door is suddenly more than a replica of an 1874 Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur poster – it’s a call to bottling and preserving. Luxardo is an Italian distillery famous for the production of the clear, almond flavoured liqueur made from marasca cherries. The small, sour cherries originating from Croatia are now also grown near Padova in north-eastern Italy where the distillery is based.

Most people are familiar with the maraschino cherry: garnish of choice on a Black Forest cake, bottom dweller in the classic Manhattan cocktail, child magnet* on a banana split. These garish red specimens bear no resemblance to the real Maraschino cherries that were once steeped in their namesake liqueur. The modern manufacturing process, invented by food scientists in the US, includes soaking in salt brine to remove their natural colour and flavour, pitting, more soaking in a sweetener for around a month before a final dip in artificial colouring and benzaldehyde (almond flavour) which was often confused with formaldehyde. And probably prompting a food critic to describe the cherries as “the culinary equivalent of an embalmed corpse.”

Real Maraschino soaked cherries are lovely but impossible to find now, with Luxardo selling their substitute preserved Marasca cherries in syrup, not liqueur. With the stone fruit season just round the corner in Australia, I’m suddenly very keen to try preserving local cherries in liqueur. I might even go one step further and try Stephanie Alexander’s cumquats in brandy.

Luxardo Maraschino liqueur bottleHere’s a recipe for Maraschino Cherries soaked in Maraschino liqueur (available at specialist liqueur suppliers such as Amato’s in Leichhardt) and worth buying for the raffia-wrapped green bottle alone.

* As I write this, a scene from Sergio Leone’s gangster epic Once Upon a Time in America (1984) comes to mind. The young boy buys a small cake to trade for his virginity, but decides to eat it instead, obviously tempted by the suggestive cherry atop the cream. I hope it was the real thing.

Luxardo bottle image: Jay Hepburn

I’ve just discovered that blogger pal Paola from ‘Italy on my Mind’ has written about cherries too. Here’s her recipe for a delicious Hungarian Cherry Cake.

Related posts about liqueurs: 

https://ambradambra.wordpress.com/2012/09/22/the-coffee-cocktail-murder-on-the-dancefloor/

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As the Tomato Said to the Actress

October 30, 2012

I don’t know why this wasn’t plainly obvious to me, but my canned tomatoes have taken on new meaning since I discovered the brand name’s origins.

A quick internet search on Gina Lollobrigida – after finding her autographed photo in a shoebox – threw up ‘La Gina’ canned tomatoes. The story goes that Italian immigrant Carlo Valmorbida was a huge fan of the luscious Gina and upon deciding to introduce canned tomatoes to Australia in 1963, named his product after her. Am I the only person who didn’t know this?

Italian actress Gina Lollobrigida black and white image

I think this photo of Gina is either from the late 1960s or mid 1970s. She came to Australia as a Logie Awards guest in 1974 so that’s possibly the more accurate. All I remember is my father coming home from work one day with the autographed photo for me, with the inscription “To Ambra, con simpatìa, (with affection) Gina Lollobrigida”.  My late father worked in hotel maintenance in those days and would often meet visiting overseas actors and singers and bring home mementos.

I got to thinking about tomatoes in relation to women. Known as the “love apple” for its seductive colour and sensuous sweet flesh, it was believed to be the devil’s fruit by the Roman Catholic Church, offered by Eve to Adam instead of an apple. Even more annoying for the patriarchal church, the tomato was considered the very symbol of woman: tempting, bewitching and a threat to male dominance.

During the 1920s and 1930s the expression “tomato” was used in some American films to describe a good-looking woman. Sometimes women even used it to describe themselves: in Billy Wilder’s 1955 comedy The Seven Year Itch,  Marilyn Monroe’s ditzy blonde greets her downstairs admirer with “Hi. It’s me, don’t you remember? The tomato from upstairs.”

And it goes without saying that “tomayto” is a lot funnier than “tomahto”.

Gina played the lead in the 1969 screwball comedy Buona Sera, Mrs Campbell (which later was the inspiration for ‘Mamma Mia’) but I doubt the choice of name was related to Campbell’s Condensed Tomato Soup. However La Lollo obviously likes a tomato connection, appearing in a late 1960s’ advertisment for Leggo’s Tomato Paste.

La Gina canned tomatoes

This summer I look forward to embracing the tomato, starting with  Jamie Oliver’s Tomato Consommé

Warning: you’ll need a butcher’s hook.

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A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Colosseum

October 15, 2012

Q. What measures 2m x 1m, is composed of 200,000 plastic bricks and evokes a swords-and-sandals era?

Watching Woody Allen’s latest film To Rome with Love with its shots of Eternal City landmarks reminded me of an exhibition I wanted to see at Sydney University.

The thought of a Colosseum fashioned from LEGO bricks brought back childhood memories of bonding with new-found Italian cousins on a trip to my hometown in the mid ‘60s. Many cold wintry afternoons in Trieste were spent playing with LEGO, and many sessions followed back in Australia until teenage self-consciousness took over. With rare figures currently fetching steep prices, it might be worth checking the crevices of my mother’s old vacuum cleaner for hidden LEGO treasures.

Colosseum made from Lego, University of Sydney

As the exhibition centrepiece, the world’s first LEGO Colosseum ticks all the boxes. In cross-section – with half the structure in present-day ruin, the other half as it was in 80 AD – it features gladiators, chariots, rabid animals, spectators and modern touches too including tourists, ice-cream stalls and the Popemobile. But what about the CATS? With 200 of Rome’s 300,000 stray cats living happily in the real Colosseum, here we’re only allowed a solitary white moggie in the grounds of the complex.

Lonely white crouching cat

Maybe the replica’s Australian creator Ryan McNaught is not a cat person? Woody Allen certainly isn’t and considers entering a petshop a fate much worse than death. Personally, I’d have preferred more Colosseum in his film, imagining his recreation of the famous lobster scene from Annie Hall, with the neurotic director handing the cat wrangling over to Dianne Keaton. I would have happily assisted as I’m almost an apprentice “gattara” (Italian woman who regularly feeds Colosseum cats) in my co-fostering role for two desexed ginger orphan lovelies near my house. A phone call asking me “What’s New Pussycat” would suffice.

In the meantime, I’m coveting this lovely silk ‘Cats in the Colosseum’ scarf. (Available from Amazon for only $39 – and on my Christmas wishlist.)

‘The Colosseum’ exhibition continues at the Nicholson Gallery, Sydney University until January 2013.

For lovers of musical theatre, Stephen Sondheim’s Tony-award winning romp ‘A Funny Thing happened on the Way to the Forum’ is playing in Melbourne in October and November. 

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