Archive for the ‘rom-com scenes’ Category


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.






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.


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. 


The Revenge of the Mandarin Stinkbugs – or How I Learned to Love the Broom

July 18, 2012

I’m on all fours in the kitchen, scrubbing sugary orange blobs that have splashed from the stovetop to the floor and cursing the day I rescued my mother’s mandarin tree from a disease-ridden death.

Two bumper mandarin crops and many batches of marmalade later doesn’t quite make up for three years of pruning, regular feeding and watering, weed control and scrutinising for caterpillars. But I can’t go back now …  I’ve become the mandarin marmalade queen and there are expectations. I have orders to fill.

Home-made mandarin marmalade

Now, where’s my crumpet

I’ve come late to the world of gardening, and no-one warned me to look out for the scourge of the citrus grower:  stink bugs.

These nasty sap suckers appear in summer and you’ve soon got yourself a nice part-time job protecting young shoots. They are almost indestructible and will multiply overnight just when you think you’ve won the battle.

Whacking them into semi-consciousness seemed too brutal, so last year I squirted them individually with soapy water. Sure, it dazed them, but their revenge was a crazed kamikaze swoop towards my eyes before I ducked for cover. There’s a stylish Italian travel accessory company called ‘Mandarina Duck’ and I wonder if they’re named after a similar manoeuvre. Nah, probably not.

Nodding off on the bus a while ago following another session at the killing fields, a voice from behind whispers, “Excuse me, I thought you’d like to know there’s a bug on your head”. Panic can’t describe my reaction as I start swatting the pest, hoping it will move along without any fuss. The stink beetle, who’s enjoyed a free ride without a valid ticket flies off my head and releases such an acrid stench that I jump off the bus red faced – and well before my destination.

It got me thinking if you’re going to have something flapping on your head in a public place, it may as well be a bigger statement. Like a pigeon. In the 1995 film Forget Paris (directed by and starring Billy Crystal) Debra Winger makes contact with an unwelcome feathered friend:

This year I reverted to the broom ‘n’ bucket method, wielding my weapon of torture while wearing industrial strength goggles, gloves and a fetching hat. I’m atop a ladder while my aged mother waits below with a bucket of metho for the bugs. (It’s the least she can do for making me inhale the fumes of her home-made Italian mandarin liqueur in the early 1960s.)

Any good suggestions for disposing of the bugs are welcome. Apparently Clint Eastwood, in the film The Outlaw Josey Wales, has a habit of spitting tobacco juice on them, but I don’t know how effective it was. And I’m not willing to try it.

If you’re wondering what the Musgraveia Sulciventris looks like, here it is – quite the looker when young, somewhat uglier when mature.

the offending bug

For my delicious AmbraJAMbra, I used Stephanie Alexander’s Seville Orange marmalade recipe from her Cook’s Companion It can be adapted for all citrus fruits successfully.

Related post: Buddha’s Hand Citron-Lemon with a Twist


Tiramisù: a Nora Ephron pick-me-up

July 2, 2012

When Nora Ephron died in 2012, my first thoughts turned to dessert. 

A respected journalist, playwright, screenwriter, novelist, producer and director Ephron also loved good food and the Italian dessert tiramisù was a favourite. In her DVD commentary for 1993’s Sleepless in Seattle she says, “It hardly seems possible there was a time when all of America didn’t know what tiramisù was.”

There’s always much debate regarding tiramisù’s origins. Most roads lead to the Beccherie restaurant in Treviso, northeastern Italy. The restaurant’s pastry chef Roberto Linguanotto claims to have invented the dessert in 1970, naming it “Tiramesu”- or ‘pick-me-up’ – in the regional dialect. Sydney-based journalist David Dale has written that it may have been invented in Trieste in the 1950s with the recipe then taken to Treviso. I hate to admit I’ve scoured my mother’s old Triestine cuisine cookbooks and there’s no reference to it, just zuppa inglese (trifle). So much controversy.

Well, I think MY family invented it. In the early 1960s, we made our own Sydney inner-west version with Arnott’s Milk Coffee biscuits (the ones with the three rows of pinholes and the scalloped edges.) We called it “Torta Fredda” (Cold Cake). Not a sponge finger or Savoiardo in sight, just standard issue Oz biscuits that produced a more solid, tightly compacted cake than the tiramisù.


The building block of our 1960s-style tiramisù (left)


the real deal (right)


I loved helping my mother soak the biscuits alternately in coffee and Marsala, while my father made large vats of chocolate buttercream* to spread between the biscuit layers. He’d then thickly coat the cake with cream after filling the cracks with more cream as if repointing a brick wall. I think this cake may have been influenced by the squillion layered, artery blocking Hungarian Dobos torte, as Trieste was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire for over 400 years.

I tasted nothing similar until the late 1970s when I ordered a tiramisù at one of Sydney’s best Italian restaurants – Darcy’s in Paddington, and a little later at The Mixing Pot in Glebe. From there, it featured on every Italian restaurant menu for about 30 years.

Back to Sleepless in Seattle, and I must quote from one of the film’s best scenes … Widower Tom Hanks is getting ready for his first date in 13 years when friend Rob Reiner explains things have changed and his date will probably pay for her own meal and if sex is likely, he’ll use a condom. But, most importantly, “There is now tiramisù.” Hanks has no idea what tiramisù is and Reiner replies, “You’ll find out.” Panicking, Hanks shouts, “You better tell me … some woman is gonna want me to do it to her and I’m not gonna know what it is.”

*Ephron once said “you can never have too much butter”, so I feel much better.ù.html

And on New Year’s Day 1965, we celebrated with “Cold Cake”.

The official Tiramisù site:

The Beccherie restaurant:


She came, she tasted, she disapproved

May 21, 2012

In YOU’VE GOT MAIL, the Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan romcom, Hanks talks about a certain US coffee chain being good for those who can’t make decisions.

“The whole purpose of places like St*bucks is for people with no decision-making ability whatsoever to make six decisions just to buy one cup of coffee. Short, tall, light, dark, caf, decaf, low-fat, non-fat etc. So people who don’t know what the hell they’re doing or who on earth they are can, for only $2.95, get not just a cup of coffee but an absolutely defining sense of self: Tall. Decaf. Cappuccino.”

Fair enough. But how many people want that defining sense of self to say: Weak. Bitter. Tasteless?

I’ve kept quiet about bad coffee for too long. As a long-time macchiato drinker, I don’t mind that the macchiati I order in Sydney cafes come in a variety of sizes (well, I do, but…). What really disappoints is so many are undrinkable, giving me no choice but to leave a long trail of unfinished drinks all over town.

Tasting an inferior long black in a 5-star Canberra hotel in the late 1980s. I still adopt that scowl when required.

I remember watching the 1960s US sitcom GREEN ACRES. One of the main characters – the newly married Lisa (Eva Gabor) – prepares the daily breakfast coffee for husband Oliver (Eddie Albert). The thick, tar-like sludge that oozed from the pot looked shocking to me back then. Today I’d probably drink it in a heartbeat.

My coffee credentials are firmly steeped in an Italian heritage that takes its caffeine seriously. Trained as a small child by my father to grind the beans on a manual machine in my lap, I still bear the dents on my inner thighs where I clutched the grinder. Crunch crunch crunch, then into the stovetop Moka. My place of birth is responsible for this obsession and I freely admit to withdrawal symptoms between visits. (In the Jan 2012 issue of ‘Italianicious’ mag, I talk more about this in ‘Trieste and the Meaning of Coffee’ – see link or in next post).

A good coffee is a revelation and I had fully intended that my first blog should include a recommendation or two for local cafes, however, chances are the barista who makes my coffee today will be gone next week. Sydney, you’re such a fickle town.

This is not meant to be a food blog, although if the stars align and I find a cafe where the coffee is consistently good – with a perfect crema, a full body and no hint of bitterness – I’ll certainly share. Suggestions welcome too.

(The writer is still suffering the after-effects of a nasty morning cafe coffee and apologises for the tone. Women in the 17th century were banned from coffeehouses for less than this!)

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