Archive for the ‘inner-west Sydney’ Category

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Top 10 Italian food-related experiences

December 22, 2015

It’s the time of year when ‘Top 10 Lists’ appear everywhere – for books, films, music. I’ve been reminiscing and came up with my best Italian food-related memories for 2015 (in no particular order):

. Discovering a great lunch spot while waiting two hours for my GP’s appointment. The Italian Bar in inner city Sydney is run by two Italian ex-DJ brothers who offer great pizza, antipasti and killer drinks.

Italian Bar Paddington

. Finding Elizabeth David’s Italian Cooking in a second-hand bookshop. First published in 1954, it’s a classic and her prose is good reading even before attempting the recipes.

. Celebrating offal. Trippa alla Romana (Roman style tripe) served at a now defunct suburban restaurant became a winter favourite. Tomatoey, saucy and great while it lasted.

. Experimenting with a deconstructed peperonata. Yes, I took liberties and added eggplant, but the separately oven-cooked ingredients doused with vinaigrette hits the spot.

Italian peperonata

. Closely observing fruit & veg forms while creating a watercolour still life. Borlotti beans in their shells, eggplants, artichokes, fennel, celeriac all got the treatment.

. Coming to the conclusion that the strawberry granita at Sydney’s Cremeria de Luca is almost as good as their coffee granita. And DON’T hold the panna (cream).

. Always ordering the ham and fior di latte mini brioche at Bar Sport in Sydney’s inner west. Small, delicious and everything you want in a mid-morning snack.

Ham and cheese brioche

. Getting my fill of comfort food by copying the restaurant scene in Vittorio de Sica’s film Bicycle Thieves where father and son order a Mozzarella in Carozza (fried mozzarella sandwich).  

. Growing my own wonderful green Lombardo chillies and flash-frying them in oil, garlic and salt. Nothing else required.

Italian green chillies

. Admitting frozen vegetables aren’t always the enemy. The next best things to fresh broad beans are the frozen variety. I concocted a broad bean salad recipe for the NRMA’s Living Well Navigator site 

 

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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 haunt from the 1950s to the early 1970s. Before Italian migrant families left the area for the outer suburbs and bigger homes, the café – established in Norton Street Leichhardt in 1956 as Caffé Sport – was the place to catchup with the week’s news and drink coffee. (See earlier post).

BarSportStreet2

 

I’d abandoned it for 20 years, moving on to cafes frequented by art school students and my extended circle of friends in the inner city. But last month, I needed a place to watch the 2014 World Cup: somewhere that attracted football (soccer) folk who were just as confused as me about supporting either Italy or Australia.

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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Working Out for our Mussels

October 30, 2013

The current widespread interest in foraging for food took me back to my family’s attempts at the hunter/gatherer lifestyle.

Cockatoo Island in Sydney Harbour was a hub of industrial activity when we lived in nearby Balmain in the mid 1960s. Soon there was talk among the Italian community that the action on the island’s shipbuilding facilities was easily matched by what was happening underwater.

The Italian dockyard workers on the island discovered the enormous wooden pylons under the piers were bursting with mussels. My parents had always eaten mussels in their Adriatic seaside hometown but were missing them in Sydney. They’d only eaten them once at Beppi’s Italian restaurant in Sydney after they heard the restaurant owner, Beppi Polese – also a forager- was rowing out to Middle Harbour’s Spit Bridge in a rubber boat for his supply.  

Mussels in Pot

With apologies to Belgian artist Marcel Broodthaers (The Triumph of Mussels, 1965). I couldn’t resist

 

Determined not to let this opportunity pass, my father was soon making plans to explore this bounty and mild sunny days in autumn or spring would be perfect for the trip. In a small wooden rowboat hired from a nearby boatshed, my dad, mum and I started making our 20-minute trips across the Parramatta River to mussel HQ. I was only seven or eight, but insisted on helping with the rowing. My skinny arms worked hard, but the heavy timber oars soon had me struggling. We wore no lifejackets, sunscreen or hats – and carried no water – just hessian sacks for the haul and the special mussel harvester invented by my handyman dad.

My father had fashioned a piece of fine wire mesh into a bucket shape and attached it to the bottom of a metal garden rake. When we reached the island, my mother and I stood at one end of the boat, steadying it with our arms wrapped around a pylon while my father, balancing at the other end, lowered the hand-crafted contraption deep into the water. A few upward scrapes against the timber pylon and the mesh collected all the loosened mussels.

Molluscs produce an amino acid that helps them cling tenaciously to piers, rocks and boat hulls, so this was tough work.  Dad was always careful to harvest them deep in the water as he thought they were less likely to be contaminated by fuel spills. This determination to deliver us from food poisoning had him leaning so far out of the boat we always anticipated a man overboard situation. 

Three or four sackfuls (about 30 kilos) later, we’d head home, with my father doing most of the rowing while we nursed our scratches and bruises from hugging the pylons too tightly while he foraged. The homeward journey seemed to take forever and was uncomfortable and cramped with the haul taking up precious leg space. The boat was heavier than it had been during the outward journey, but my father rowed on, dodging passing motorboats and welcoming the occasional splashes of cold water on his white Bonds singlet. 

The trip finished, we unloaded the boat on the beach while the Anglo-Australian fishermen shook their heads, yelling to us that the mussels were not fit for human consumption. My parents told me not to worry about ‘gli Australiani’ and reassured me it was their loss.

Back at our house, the crowds started gathering. Our family friends had all come round to collect their share, some staying for lunch or dinner. After cold beers, it was time for rinsing off, scrubbing and de-bearding – of the mussels, not the crew. We cooked up a feast and ate them stuffed, steamed, crumbed and fried, added to a risotto, tossed into a pot of pasta. With plenty of leftovers, we were in mussel heaven for days.

These days I buy mussels wrapped in plastic and paper from a trusted fishmonger but I miss the days of bringing them home in wet hessian sacks, with their distinctive sea-salt smell.

One of my favourite ways to eat them is as the Venetians do – stuffed and baked in the oven and called Muscoli or ‘pedoci’ al Pangrattato.

 

Fried mussels

For four people:

2 kgs medium sized mussels ….. 1 cup breadcrumbs ….. 1/2 cup finely chopped parsley ….. 1-2 cloves garlic, finely chopped ….. pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper ….. 1/4 cup olive oil ….. lemon juice to taste
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Combine breadcrumbs, parsley, garlic, salt and pepper. Scrub mussels well and using a small knife inserted between the shells, open each one and remove beard.  Scrape mussel flesh and its water into one shell only and discard other shell. Arrange mussel-filled shells onto baking tray and pile a small amount of breadcrumb mixture onto each, just covering the flesh. Drizzle with olive oil and bake for approximately 10 minutes or until browned. Serve hot with a squeeze of lemon.

(Working out for our Mussels was short-listed in the 2014 Life Writing competition held annually by Melaleuca Blue Publishing. It’s included in an anthology of short stories titled You’ll Eat Worse than that Before You Die published in print and ebook form).

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Lurking in the Cupboard #2: Toothpick Holders

October 4, 2012

An occasional post about long-forgotten household gems in my mother’s kitchen

The two swans are finally getting some attention. I hear they can get a bit haughty, so I’m extra careful before I shoot photograph them.

As novelty toothpick holders go, these little beauties are very covetable, but sadly have sat untouched in the china cabinet for many years.  Once regular stars at my parents’ dinner parties, they were for a while surpassed by a newer model – a square ‘80s timber veneer Port Macquarie souvenir, but it too sits abandoned.

Swan-shaped toothpick holders

It used to be perfectly acceptable to wield toothpicks after a meal, one hand over the mouth while the digging and poking took place with the other. They’re said to be the oldest instrument for dental cleaning, with skulls of Neanderthals showing clear signs of having teeth picked with a tool, but if they’re so useful, when was the last time you put toothpicks out for a dinner party? And when did you last see them on a restaurant table?

Every neighbourhood Italian eatery we frequented in Sydney’s inner-west in the ’60s and ’70s set their tables with toothpicks. The Tre Venezie, Moro and Miramare restaurants in Stanmore and (I’m sure) Beppi’s in East Sydney offered them beside the salt, pepper, olive oil and vinegar.

Sally Galletto, manager of one of my favourite restaurants – Lucio’s in Paddington – tells me they still have them, but at the waiters’ stations, not on tables.

If the demise of the toothpick as dental accessory is complete, let’s at least pay homage to its other uses. Here’s my Top 10:

.            stabbed through cubed cheese with red pickled onions as 1960s party food

.            decorating a hotel Club Sandwich (topped with curly cellophane)

.            as a fastener for Devils on Horseback and Italian veal involtini

.            holding together a cocktail orange slice and a Maraschino cherry

.            speared through the heart of two green olives in a classic Martini

.            poked vertically on everything in an antipasto platter, creating a mini forest

.            Ray’s (Dustin Hoffman) preferred utensil for eating pancakes in Rain Man

.            as a character nickname in Some Like it Hot: ‘Toothpick Charlie’

.            as a mouth prop for cinema mobsters and cowboys

.            Ryan Gosling chewing one in 2011’s Drive to emulate James Dean              

Have I forgotten any?

But back to the beginning. In case you’re keen to start using toothpicks, I recommend honing your skills with actor/cabaret star Paul Capsis’s chance conversation webisodes ‘Toothpick Etiquette’ 101, 102 and 103.

Related posts on retro household items: 

https://ambradambra.wordpress.com/2012/12/11/lurking-in-the-cupboard-nutcracker-the-utensil-not-the-ballet-2/

https://ambradambra.wordpress.com/2013/01/23/lurking-in-the-cupboard-4-metal-food-tins/

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

 

 
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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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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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