What do you eat when you’re not well? Isn’t it funny how being ill changes our appetites, our desires, our palates. Now, I’m one of those very fortunate people who are rarely ill. And when I am I do my utmost to get better as soon as possible because being ill puts me in a terrible mood, I just don’t understand hypochondriacs who thrive on their physical upsets. I had a lot of childhood diseases when growing up … all of them I believe, you know, the usual suspects for which there are vaccines now: measles, scarlet fever, mumps, whooping cough, the works. I even contracted malaria as a young child when we were living in Karachi. Nah! Being hale and healthy is a beautiful thing.
But of course we all succumb now and then, especially when our immune systems are on strike. And so it was that I came down with one of the worst colds/flu whatever I’ve had in years, and this was 48 hours before favourite husband and I were taking the train to Milan to spend the birthday with favourite son who lives there. The last time we were together for his birthday was three years ago, shortly before he moved there, so you can imagine my distress. I was gobbling down ginger, Vitamin C, drinking all kinds of tea, taking aspirin, salving my chest with essential oils, and just resting and sleeping, it was all I could do. Feed a cold and starve a fever, they say, but I didn’t have a fever and I wasn’t even well enough to cook. Husband stepped in, but I seriously can’t remember what we ate. Flat out all of Saturday and nearly all of Sunday by which time I was indeed better but hardly well. My husband was going to Milan in any case for business that provided a hotel room for the night, which came in most useful once we got to the city. I headed straight for the hotel and did the sensible thing: rested and drank tea and chewed on fresh ginger that I had brought along. When I say ‘rested’, what I really mean is I tried to rest. As much as I could. Because in the middle of all this, I found out that my mother was not well, and once the doctor finally got to visiting her, he diagnosed pneumonia (she just turned 92 by the way and still lives on her own). Can you believe the timing! Thank goodness for good friends and neighbours who said they would be more than happy to check in on her the next morning and bring her the necessary medicines. There were hours of telephone calls and whatsapp messaging between my two sisters living in the UK and me and it was bloody stressful to say the least. But I was not going to let all this in the way of my enjoying a lovely evening to celebrate favourite son.
Milan’s underground (metro) system is brilliant for getting around and it didn’t take us long to meet up with him at the appointed time, and his girlfriend, and two friends of theirs who were also joining us to celebrate. It was in a district that has been gentrified and a very ‘cool’ place where one could have both pre dinner drinks and nibbles, the “apericena” (a pseudo meal invented in Milan but now popular all over Italy and one that I frankly detest, because it’s neither here nor there) or dinner itself. We decided on the latter but asked the waitress if we could have some chips to help us along with the drinks. I ordered a bloody mary. And then I ordered another one. And then I had some wine along the way with the meal itself. It was a super duper evening, lots of fun, and I was just so happy. (I mention the bloody mary because apparently they are very good for us, all that tomato juice, freshly squeezed lemon juice and tabasco etc.)
The next morning we took a leisurely stroll down the elegant Via Montenapoleone and Via della Spiga, doing a lot of window shopping and noticing how slingbacks are all the rage this year, fashionistas take note! Loved the Dolce and Gabbana shop(s), TOTT (totally over the top, see below) but that’s maybe because they reminded me of summer.
The one and only Prada. Love the bottoms of these trousers.
One thing I’ll say for Rome. It has a café or ‘bar’ as we call them here every 50 yards or so, maximum 100. I remember over a decade ago in Paris thinking how, yes the cafés are all very well and good and charming in Paris, but they are really few and far between. Same thing in Milan. Go figure.
This is the café we finally stumbled upon and what a delight, indeed.
Sadly, the museum I wanted to see on the mysterious and alluring Via Mozart was closed that day, as was another, and so it was that we ended up unwittingly at what I called the ‘horrid museum’ (well, it was all medieval, chain-and-mail and swords and dark and couldn’t wait to get out of there claustrophobic, I don’t know how the family lived there until 1974), grabbed a salmon bagel at Milan’s imposing train station and went back to Rome. Our favourite daughter came to get us at the train station, we picked up some Chinese take-away, and went home. After eating my share, I went to my mother’s and stayed the night there. If you are wondering how she is, blood tests taken two days ago show that all is well. There is a reason her nickname has become “Highlander”, bless her. She is still on the low side and coughing, but on the mend.
Anyway, I got worse from there on and two days later I took to bed. Well, the sofa during the day and the bed at night, dealing with those awful hacking coughs that keeps not just self awake, but the whole neighbourhood and poor patient spouse. I did my back in with the coughing, and had to take medication for that, that’s how bad it got. And did I mention the ignominious malfunctioning of the bladder, seriously! But the real proof of my poor state of health was … guess what? I had no craving for wine. I actually did not drink wine for days. Even my husband got a bit worried, and he’s not one to worry. I had my first proper glass of wine only day before yesterday. Prior to that just the thought put me off.
So. Husband not exactly a good cook. Thank goodness for reserves in the freezer and for the ease with which a very ordinary chicken soup can be made. I had a craving for toasted bread, so had plenty of that with olive oil dribbled over it. Then I got a craving for plastic bread, to toast and spread butter upon. And the weirdest craving was one for baked beans, yes, baked beans! So I had to make some at home. I had some pancetta, some onions, brown sugar, salt and pepper and bob’s your uncle.
What I didn’t have in my larder was plum tomatoes. So I made do with concentrated tomato paste.
Not exactly the same as the Heinz kind but … good enough!
Found three lonely sausages and baked those in the oven, adding a little bit of water.
Also in the oven went some cauliflower with a bechamel and parmesan sauce.
And since the oven was on anyway, I thought I’d get rid of some phyllo pastry.
I wilted some radicchio with butter. (The radicchio was in the fridge.)
I spread the cooked radicchio over the phyllo pastry and added blobs of gorgonzola that I found lurking in the fridge.
It didn’t take long for it to cook.
And that was dinner that evening … bits and pieces waiting to be used up in the freezer.
The next day I made a saffron risotto and added parmesan and beaten eggs to it. I used chicken stock to cook it. What you see in the photo are the leftovers, the following day, and it doesn’t look very enticing I know but trust me the risotto was just the ticket, it really hit the spot.
The other evening, the evening I began to drink wine again, I was well enough to cook Roman-style ossobuco with mashed potatoes. To start off with, I made home made pasta to but cut into squares and cooked it with peas and onions and a hint of carrot, using more chicken soup naturally! It’s known as “quadrucci coi piselli”.
I got my mother-in-law Maria to help me, it was she who stretched out the pasta bless her, and helped me slice it into squares.
And the day before I got really ill (i.e. when I stopped drinking wine), I made my version of madeleines which I took to my mother’s to bake.
So, thinking about all this, it seems to me that chicken soup is a vital ingredient to recovery. And that fragrant bread, especially toasted, served with oil or butter, is equally health promoting. I’ve no idea where baked beans figure in this equation but they really hit the spot for me, tee hee. And of course we all know the rhyme, beans beans are good for the heart …