Archive for the ‘film quotes’ Category

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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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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

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~~~

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

Giddyup!

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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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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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It’s all about The Cup of Cino

February 9, 2013

It’s never too early to plan for your dotage.

With this in mind, I’ve gathered my disparate collection of ceramic coffee cups in anticipation of the day I breathe a sigh of relief at not having to compete with younger, louder café patrons and just entertain my friends and their Zimmer frames at home.

This frenzied stocktake was brought on by a guest blog post I contributed last week to the Italian Language Blog where I reminisced about my family’s in-house afternoon coffee catchups.

I also tut-tuted at the increasing use of the disposable cup – sometimes seen in the popular ‘bucket size’, rushing down the street with a human sucking from its plastic lid. That can’t be pleasant, surely, and not only diminishes the coffee drinking experience but also contributes to ever-increasing landfill. (In Australia alone, 500 million disposable cups are thrown away every year – each one taking up to 50 years to biodegrade.)

If I save only ONE person from ever drinking good coffee from a paper cup again my job here is done. Would you really drink a good wine from a plastic tumbler? No. You’d take Danny Kaye’s advice and admit that “the chalice from the palace has the brew that is true” (The Court Jester, 1955).

orangecupvittoriacatscubitaflowermuggreendinnerset70Stripesporcelainpersiantwocupsbrown

Read fullLanguage of Coffee’ post: http://blogs.transparent.com/italian/the-language-of-coffee-2/

Related posts about coffee: 

https://ambradambra.wordpress.com/2012/08/29/lurking-in-the-cupboard-manual-coffee-grinder/

https://ambradambra.wordpress.com/2012/06/18/hold-the-traffic-i-have-another-coffee-story-to-write/

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Lurking in the Cupboard #3: Nutcracker (the utensil, not the ballet)

December 11, 2012

I used to be able to name every nut that there was…”

Ah, yes, the deadpan boast from actor/director Christopher Guest in the mockumentary Best in Show* came to mind when looking for our nutcracker. 

It’s that time of year when nuts in shells are available – a nice change from those annoying gusseted packets mostly containing small rancid crumbs.

With a nutcracker required for the Northern Italian sweets and cakes on our Christmas menu, third drawer down in mother’s kitchen cabinets is usually a good bet. It belonged to my great-grandfather in Italy and crushes walnuts, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts. Flip it over and it takes care of the smaller almonds. Brilliant. And it’s not the plier shaped type used for cracking lobsters and crabs. Let’s keep the traces of nuts away from shellfish in case of allergies.

I love the texture of nutshells. I like the sound of cracking them open. And I’m amused by the word ‘nuts’ itself. Silver engraved nutcracker

So many good linguistic expressions too:

Drives me nuts

. Nuts to you

. I’m nuts about you

. You’re a hard nut to crack

. I’m a history nut

. In a nutshell

My mother often tells the childhood story of climbing her grandmother’s huge backyard walnut tree with her cousins, dropping heavy nuts onto the table below where old folks had gathered for a serious game of dominoes. Splat!

Walnuts are my favourites – as they were with the early Romans, who considered them food for Gods. What else can boast being a health food, growing on a tree with prized wood and is a magician’s prop in the ‘Three Shell and Pea’ game?

Having assorted nuts at the Christmas dinner table is great for conversations when passing round the nutcracker. If you don’t have a nutcracker, use a hammer. Or with macadamias, get a cockatoo to attack the hard shell.  On second thought, a parrot hopping around the dinner table is not terribly elegant.

Walnut Sauce for pastaOne of my favourite pasta sauces is made from walnuts and originated in the Liguria region of north-western Italy – the home of pesto. Here’s Nigella’s recipe for the walnut sauce Salsa di Noci.

One of my unfavourite things however is pickled walnuts. The English love them, but has anyone else tasted those squishy black blobs floating in brine? If you must tamper with green walnuts, make a liqueur like Nocino and drizzle it on gelato.

*And the last word on nuts – from this scene in Best in Show (2000) 

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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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Late Bloomer Gilds the Lily

August 13, 2012

‘Clivia, oh Clivia, say have you met Clivia … Clivia the Tattooed Lady’.

OK, if you’re not a Marx Brothers’ fan, you’re wondering what on earth I’m talking about. If you are a fan, please indulge me. It’s of course the wacky song Groucho sings in the 1937 film A Day at the Races.

Sometimes pronounced “clive” after their namesake Lady Charlotte Florentine Clive, I much prefer the flower name to rhyme with “trivia’ – otherwise how could I possibly burst into song each year when they show themselves?

orange Clivias

Who says gardens are dull in winter? Apart from my singing (and clivias) we’ve got an explosion of  pale pink marguerite daisies, cymbidium orchids, violets, snowdrops, enormous calla lilies and gorgeous bearded irises that just keep on giving.

I love calla lilies and they’re especially striking this season, standing tall opposite the front door. I like to think we chose that position in keeping with the Romans who planted them inside the portal to their homes for a winter solstice bloom, simulating indoor sunlight for the darkest days of the year. The greater the display usually meant the wealthier the resident. We’re still playing Lotto with no success, so the display’s modest.
Calla Lillies in gardenSuch a versatile flower too: it’s both a symbol of fertility and death – used at weddings and also placed on graves. Or on female TV vampires in 1960s sitcoms as they slept corpse-like at 1313 Mockingbird Lane.

American artist Georgia O’Keeffe painted some exquisite calla lilies in the early 1930s.

As for memorable calla lily film scenes, there’s a pearler in the 1937 comedy Stage Door, about a boarding house full of aspiring actresses and their dreams and disappointments.

“The calla lilies are in bloom again. Such a strange flower…” Can you guess the actress in the scene on this sound clip from Stage Door?

I’m a late bloomer, much to my mother’s delight. Neither of my parents were good gardeners, only growing an essential patch of north-east Italian radicchio and various herbs (see earlier post Secret Radicchio Society).

For a while, my mother tried her best, showing a talent for breaking off geranium stems, sticking them willy nilly in dry garden beds and hoping for the best. (I think she secretly wanted to create a bit of Tyrol in Sydney’s inner-west, bless her.) The result was a little sad until I took over and brought many neglected plants back to life.

I’ve left one geranium for her to tend round the back of the house. And I tend the lilies.

It’s a win-win really.

The photo at right is of my mother and me in 1960, in our Sunday best, standing proudly in front of a spider fern. Notice the ubiquitous geranium lurking in the background.

 

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