The MarmiteLover Blog: Volunteering to Cook for the NHS and Key Workers during Covid19 Lockdown

Chef Kerstin Rodgers is famous for her supper club in London, an activity she had to shut down on account of Covid.  No work, no income, no partner to bring in an income.  And yet, and yet, she has managed to put her culinary skills to pursposeful use during Lockdown in London by volunteering to cook for the National Health Service (NHS) and the recently created People’s Army, founded by 29 year-old Hazel Jhugroo (next time someone harps on about millenials I might become a little more voluble in their defence).

You know something?  I haven’t mentioned Covid much in my last posts because, let’s face it, did I want to be yet another person putting in her two cents’ worth of on the dire situation or falling into the mire of stating the obvious?  But there is one urge I do want to honour now and that is the very first ‘gut feeling’ I had when lockdown in Italy took off.  “Something good will come of this,” I thought, “It might get worse before it gets better but something good will eventually come out of this.”  And Kerstin is just one example.

Hats off to her and to the People’s Army.

Below is the link to her latest post with recipes.

Cooking for the NHS and key workers during the Covid19 lockdown

At the end of her post, after the recipes, Kerstin provides links if you would like to contribute:

Please donate to the crowdfunder

Email: thepeoplesarmy@hotmail.com

Ask for support or volunteer at the website
Twitter: @peoplesarmyldn
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/thepeoplesarmyldn/
Facebook: Peoples Army Islington Covid19 Support Group

Friday and It’s Boiled Fish, Boiled Cabbage and Parsely Sauce

Since I made such a fuss about the frugality of parsely soup in my previous post, I thought I’d make up for it by indulging in ingredients that are about ‘richness’ for this post.  Which might suprise  you since the title is all about ‘boiling’.

Boiling.  I don’t think people are in the habit of boiling anything these days except potatoes (and pasta and rice, yes, naturally).  Boiling has gone out of fashion.  We sauté, we steam, we bake, we roast, we grill, we stir-fry, some of us even deep-fry but God forbid we boil foods any more.  And to think that boiling used to be a ‘normal’ method of cooking food for centuries.  We equate boiling with boring, I suppose, and indeed boiled cabbage sounds as interesting as flat, luke-warm beer taunting your thirst on a hot and sweaty day.

Soups continue to be boiled of course.  And in Northern Italy we have a supreme array of boiled meats that are considered a delicacy and a treat: il bollito  misto.  Only for the well to do or on special occasions.  In Britain, instead, boiled beef appears to have been a staple for the working classes (see the end of this post) and was the grist of a popular Cockney song entitled “Boiled Beef and Carrots” (again, I have provided links to the song and its lyrics for those who might be interested).  The French have their Pot-au-feu, the Austrians have their Tafelspitz.  And I am sure these recipes continue to be enjoyed to this day.  So let’s not get too snooty about boiling beef, okay?

And what about fish?  As I googled “boiling fish” two recipes popped up on the screen: Bahamian boiled fish and Sichuan boiled fish.  I’ve not had the pleasure of eating either dish.  But I have enjoyed boiled lobster – and even prawns, shrimps or crayfisih are boiled too, no? The Swedes not only celebrate their summers with crayfish boiled with plenty of dill to add to their deliciousness, they even have crayfish parties! (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cZ7a4Y3uL_E).

When I say ‘boil’, I really mean ‘poach’ or ‘simmer’ – meaning that the procedure is a gentle one.   Here is a link that will give you loads of good tips: http://www.professionalsecrets.com/en/ps/ps-university/chef-de-partie-fish/cook-fish/boil-fish/?newsletter_source=Popup&newsletter_confirmed=1

Here is how I went about it – no thermometer, no worries, just making fish for supper.

1

I got the fishmonger to gut and remove the scales from the sea bream.  I plonked it in a pan large enough to welcome it.  Covered it with water and added some parsley and turned the heat on.  Not a high heat, remember, I was going to poach/simmer.

2

And I turned the heat off when it was cooked.  Can’t remember how long – probably 15 minutes?  Something like that.

3

I transferred it to a wooden board and used a fork and a spoon to remove the skin and bones.

4

And here is the ‘boiled’ sea bream on the serving dish.

4a

While it was cooking, I had prepared the parsley sauce.  Easy peasy.  Blanch the parsley leaves in boiling water for about 30 seconds, then drain and drench in very cold water until all the heat is gone.  Pat dry and then finely mince.  Melt butter in a saucepan, add cream, and then add the parsely.  Add some salt and white pepper.

5

Spoon the sauce over the fish and serve.  It’s a good idea to heat the serving plate first.  Luke-warm fish, hot serving dish and hot parsley sauce.

7

I served the fish with a side dish of … yes, yet again, BOILED cabbage.  I did not boil it too long, not the way they used to  back in the 1970s when it would get cooked to a deathly pale grey; so my veggie managed to keep its nice vibrant green colour.  Thank goodness for olive oil and lemon juice.

6

Served like this, poached fish is not frumpy at all.  It’s really delicious – in an old fashioned way, perhaps, but still delicious.

Of course, you can put the urge to boil in the girl, but you can’t take the crunch frying factor out of the girl – you know me, a fried food fanatic (FFF) ?  Well, I couldn’t resist frying some stuffed courgette blossoms to accompany the meal (ahem).

8

 

 

 

Boiled beef

Boiled beef is a traditional English dish[1] which used to be eaten by working-class people in London; however, its popularity has decreased in recent years. Traditionally, cheaper cuts of meat were used, because boiling makes the meat more tender than roasting.[2] It was usually cooked with onions and served with carrots and boiled potatoes. It was not uncommon for the beef to be salted in a brine for a few days, then soaked overnight to remove excess salt before it was boiled. In other parts of England cabbage replaced carrots.

This dish gave rise to the old cockney song Boiled Beef and Carrots which used to be sung in some East London pubs when they had a pianist and singsong night.

Boiled beef is also a traditional Jewish dish served in many homes and Jewish delis alike. It is usually flank steak boiled and served with vegetables, broth, and sometimes matzo balls.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Spencer, Colin (2002). British Food: An Extraordinary Thousand Years of History. New York: Columbia University PressISBN 9780231131100.
  2. ^ Thring, Oliver (21 June 2010). “Consider boiled meat”The GuardianLondon, United Kingdom. Retrieved 2 December 2014.

Boiled Beef and Carrots

As originally recorded by HARRY CHAMPION:

As originally recorded by HARRY CHAMPION:

When I was a nipper only six months old
My Mother and my Father, too
hey didn’t know what to wean me on
hey were in a dreadful stew
hey thought of tripe, they thought of steak
Or a little bit of old cod row I said,
“Pop round to the old cook-shop
And I tell ya what’ll make me grow”

Boiled beef and carrots Boiled beef and carrots
That’s the stuff for your ‘darby-kell’
Makes you fat and it keeps you well
Don’t live like vegetarians
Or food they give to parrots
Blow out your kite from morn’ till night
On boiled beef and carrots

The rest of the lyrics on the link  below if you’re interested:

https://lyricsplayground.com/alpha/songs/b/boiledbeefandcarrots.html

Here is the link to the youtube video of the song sung by Max Bygraves:

 

 

Spinach “Brick” Soufflé with Tuscan Bean Sauce (Fagioli all’Uccelletto)

I am making this for dinner this evening.  The blog post dates back to 2011 !!! And the original recipe is by Tuscany-based Judy Witts Francini of https://divinacucina.com/ who smiles in every photo I see of her.  The photos are pretty awful, I know, but the dish is really smashing.  I am sure you will love it.  Not vegan but yes, vegetarian.  A good thing about this recipe is that it can be made in advance.  And don’t forget to make this for Popeye next time you invite him to dinner.

https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2011/12/17/cooking-in-advance-a-spinach-brick/

Cooking in advance – A spinach ‘brick’

If you are planning for a large family gathering or a dinner with friends, and time is of the issue, it is sometimes a very good idea to cook a few dishes in advance of the date and store them in the freezer.

This is a recipe for a spinach ‘sformato’, similar in many ways to a soufflé, which I happen to bake in a bread loaf pan and which therefore looks a little like a brick – hence the name ‘spinach brick’.  It is  served accompanied by a bean and tomato sauce.  I used fresh spinach to make this recipe but frozen spinach will do too.

Ingredients: 1kg cooked spinach, 500ml of béchamel sauce,  4 eggs divided into gently beaten yolks and stiffly beaten egg whites, 100gr grated parmigiano (or more if preferred), a good knob of butter for cooking the spinach.

Ingredients for the béchamel sauce: 500ml milk, 50 g butter, 50g flour, freshly grated nutmeg, pinch of salt.

Start by making the béchamel sauce and set aside.

Melt some butter in a saucepan …

Cook the spinach in the butter for a few minutes, add salt and pepper, switch off heat.

Then separate the egg yolks from the egg whites and beat the latter until they are nice and snowy and fluffy.  Set aside.

And now it’s time to put the dish together.

Add the béchamel first to the spinach …

Then the beaten egg yolks.

Now add the grated parmesan cheese.

Use a spatula or wooden spoon to mix up all the ingredients.  And then add the final ingredient:

Add the cloud of beaten egg whites.

Give it a good mix … and that’s it for now.

Pour the mixture into the bread loaf pan.  Bang the pan gently on a surface … this will make it spread more evenly.

Cover with clingfilm …

And pop the bread loaf pan in the freezer for future use.

COOKING THE SPINACH BRICK

When it’s time to cook the spinach brick … defrost it until it reaches room temperature and then bake in an oven preheated at 190°C for about 40 minutes.  Remove from the oven and allow it cool a little before turning it over onto a serving dish.

The “brick” is then sliced into individual portions and is served with a mashed-up bean sauce derived from the famous Tuscan/Florentine recipe known as “fagioli all’uccelletto” (see recipe below).

MAKING FAGIOLI ALL’UCCELLETTO TO BE USED AS A SAUCE

Ingredients: 4 cloves garlic, 4 sage leaves, fresh or canned plum tomatoes, chilli, 1 jar or tin of cooked beans (either borlotti beans or cannellini beans), extra virgin olive oil.

Pour the olive oil into a small frying pan and turn on the heat.  Slice the garlic into thin rounds and add to the saucepan together with the sage leaves and as much or as little peperoncino (chilli) as desired.  When the garlic turns a dark golden colour, add the beans and tomatoes, turn the heat up and cook for about 10 minutes.

Please note that it is nowadays frowned upon in Italian cooking to let the garlic turn so dark, it is thought to overwhelm and spoil a dish with its bitterness.  But in this particular culinary instance, please DO let the garlic cook until it becomes slightly brown (not burnt) before adding the sage leaves, beans and the tomatoes!

Repeat: cook for about 1o minutes, adding salt at the end.  And this is what the faggioli all’uccelletto recipe consists of.   And one would serve it in a nice bowl to accompany meat dishes or sausages or even on its own, as a side dish.

I, on the other hand, wished to purée the beans and so plopped everything into a saucepan, so that I could use the hand held processor without splattering the food all over the kitchen wall (happens all the time!).

Now a purist would have used a food mill to process the beans … but I can safely say that an electric processor is absolutely fine for this recipe.  At this point, I got hold of another jar of cooked beans, drained them of their cooking water, and poured them into the saucepan.  I liked the idea of the sauce showing off some beans.

Time to eat our spinach brick …

Slice the spinach brick into whatever sized portions you fancy …

I cut a long line down the middle and then across …

And now heat up the sauce and pour it all over …

See how the beans play peekaboo through the sauce …

Buon appetito … and if you are properly hungry this is a most satisfying plate to set before one’s eyes!

P.S.  The photos of the finished dish are pretty awful, I have to admit!  But it was a case of taking better photos or … getting on with the dinner that reunited friends of ours who live close by and friends who had come all the way from Hungary.  Enough said …

BUT this spinach recipe can also be served on individual dishes and the sauce can be served separately — you don’t have to drown the spinach in the sauce the way I did!

P.P.S.  I was taught this recipe by my lovely Canadian friend who had enjoyed a cooking class with Judy Witts Francini at her then Florence location of Cucina Divina many years ago.  I happen to think it quite delicious and it is truly a life saver when it comes to buffet parties as well as large sit-down dinners.

An Article by “My Custard Pie” on the Link between the Covid Virus and How we Eat

I reposting an article recently written by Sally, an English lady who lives in Dubai and knows a lot about food and wine.   Her blog is a pleasure to read and her photos put mine to shame, ha ha.  Now is the time to keep our moods positive but now is ALSO the time to question how we eat and drink.  Let us look for the silver lining brought about by this nasty Covid-19 and do whatever we can, however little, to make sure our food is provided in a more sustainable manner.

The link between coronavirus and food – what can we do?

The link between coronavirus and food – what can we do?

MARCH 18, 2020

plate,knife, fork, glass, bread board

To the question ‘Isn’t writing about food frivolous? Aren’t there more important topics?’, I have always said no; what is more important than food and water? The current coronavirus pandemic has laid bare just how vulnerable we are to food-related issues, large and small.

‘It’s not just about getting enough to eat when cracks can appear overnight in food supply chains where control has been handed over to an elite group of large commercial companies, eroding diversity, with little say from Governments. When there is the whiff of a threat panic sets in and the ‘every man for himself’ herd mentality comes into play rapidly, as, among other extreme reactions, people begin to food hoard. The bigger picture when it comes to food is how this affects the planet, the structures of our societies, and even where the virus comes from.

What caused the Coronavirus in the the first place?

Dan Saladino, talking on the BBC Food Programme, says that evidence so far points to a market in Wuhan in which wild animals were brought together and slaughtered. Through them, a virus (originally carried by bats) was transferred along the food chain and into humans. It’s a zoonotic disease and is not the first to infect humanity, but the rapid changes in our food systems mean that it certainly won’t be the last.

Dan interviewed Professor Andrew Cunningham of the Zoological Society of London, an expert on how these diseases spread from animals and into humans. He explained why viruses are now jumping species at a greater and faster rate. Measles is thought to have been a zoonotic disease, and passed from animals when they were domesticated to become a humans-only disease. HIV also originated in wildlife. In our history, the human race has been exposed to relatively few pathogens carried by wild animals.

Our growth in population and greater connectivity (like air travel) means that viruses are now spreading on an unprecedented scale. In the past, when small communities were infected, people either got better or died before infecting others so the virus abated.

On the BBC Food Programme, Dan asked Professor Cunningham to explain more about the original cause of Coronavirus. A newly affluent China has fueled demand for more wild animals and a new trend for eating exotic meat (seen as a delicacy) which was not part of traditional Chinese food culture. Large markets of live wild animals imported from various parts of the world have been collected together like never before, especially in the last decade, says Professor Cunningham. Species are mixing in unnatural conditions, then being slaughtered in the market, with humans congregating in large numbers around them. There is a demand for ‘warm meat’ so people are exposed to blood and other bodily fluids from these animals at the market and when they butcher them at home. The wildlife supply chain from China extends right around the world breaking all the natural barriers that humans have evolved with for millions of years. Ecological and geographical barriers are being smashed by this supply chain.

But it’s not just in Chinese markets where our interaction with bats is increasing, both directly and indirectly, more than in our entire history. Due to food shortages in some parts of the world, bats are being hunted in greater numbers, and, also, we are encroaching into bat habitat.

An example is the industrialisation of pig farms in Malaysia, in the 1990s, which encroached into bat habitat. Fruit orchards were planted in close proximity to the pig farms. The bats would come in and eat from the orchards then drop contaminated fruit into the pig pens and be eaten by the pigs. This is how the Nipah virus was transferred from bats into pigs which led to the eradication of the Malaysian pig industry and the deaths of over 100 people.

The impact of food production on the climate crisis is now recognised more widely. Industrial farming of animals and their gas emissions, industrial agriculture with deforestation, mono-crops and how chemicals are degrading the fertility of soil and killing species such as bees and birds, all effect the planet and the balance of nature.

What hasn’t been discussed widely, is as we change land use (and change the planet), our agriculture becomes more invasive into nature. Coronavirus exposes a further weakness in that system which, according to Professor Andrew Cunningham, is a warning shot. The fatality rate of coronavirus is thought to be 2-3% at this stage, but among other zoonotic diseases, Ebola has a 50% fatality rate, Nipah a 75-90% per cent fatality rate, so, as the Professor says, there is an urgent need to fund the work that needs to be done to stop the next pandemic.

sweetcorn, pepper, cucumbers, chillis and courgettes

Changes in our food system

In my lifetime I’ve witnessed a complete transformation of how we grow, buy and consume food. I lived in a small village quite near to a town (which had a fishmonger, some greengrocers and one small supermarket). In the village, we had two local shops which sold fresh vegetables available in season, where we shopped little and often. In the winter we relied on root vegetables, brassicas and the like, and orchard fruit such as apples and pears which were stored (naturally wrapped, not in gas-filled environments). Imported fresh goods were limited (bananas and lemons primarily). Spring and summer fruit and vegetables were welcomed as they broke the winter dearth with variety and taste. Food was valued, food waste was minimal, convenience food limited. Fresh milk was delivered by the milkman (reusing glass bottles) and bread by a bread van. Cows from a couple of farms wandered down the road twice a day from surrounding fields to be milked in the milking parlour, their milk was then bottled locally.

It was not all idyllic and undoubtedly this came at a cost, both economically and socially; there were fewer women in the work place and more ‘housewives’ to prepare food from scratch for instance. These were transitional times with WW2 privations still very much in living memory.

This sounds like ancient history instead of just a few decades ago. Choice of food was limited in a way that seems inconceivable now when we can buy anything we want, at any time, from round the world.

However, our supply chains of food have become more centralised and opaque. In the UK, the BSE epidemic demonstrated how the ingredients of cow feed were disregarded in favour of cost-cutting and resulted in a new disease. The horse meat scandal showed that ingredients are difficult to trace and can slip easily into the food retail system.

What can we learn from this?

In a recent video, Russel Brand examines how coronavirus casts a light on the whole structure of our society.

“That we can’t just live in abstract economic systems, just do what we want and limitlessly consume without consequences” he says. “The way that it feels when our cathedrals of consumerism are laid bare, the empty breadless, riceless shelves. And you realise, ‘Oh this is invisibly held together by systems we don’t think about’.”

He quotes Zia Tong, “Everything is filmed today except where our food comes from, where our energy comes from and where our waste goes”.

How can we change things?

It’s very hard to know isn’t it? And easy to be overwhelmed. I do believe that after this coronavirus crisis we will never go back to ‘normal’ – and that will have a much wider impact than whether we can get a tin of baked beans or not. Trying to be optimistic, maybe it’s a good thing as a catalyst for meaningful change, especially relating to food?

This is what I’m going to do, but don’t claim to have the answers:

  • Questioning everything we eat. How it was made or raised, it’s impact on the people who made it, the ingredients, where it or the components are from, the way it was produced and the way it got to us. It’s not as easy as boycotting plastic bags – the information around food is, as demonstrated, often misleading or obscure. Consumer power is part of the equation; where we shop, our support of producers, our influence on where things are sourced. It may mean changing what we eat and the way we cook and eat, we may not always get it right, but we have to make the best decisions we can.
  • Spreading the word. I consider myself pretty well-informed about the issues around food but the information from the BBC Food Programme about zoonotic viruses chilled me to the core. I’m sure that if it was known more widely it would be the wake-up call that Professor Cunningham says it should be. This is why I wrote this post and will continue to use any channels (in person or online) that I can to influence the people around me.
  • Pressuring governments or those in power. It has to be a greater priority. Leaving things to the free-market and in the hands of fewer and fewer powerful companies dedicated to share-holder value and profits will never work. We need the people who we elect to look after our interests to do exactly that – and it will only be achieved if we reassess our food system and the way we treat the planet.

And finally, I believe that the only way to effect real change is by supporting each other. I’d really appreciate your feedback on this – whether you agree or disagree – and if you have recommendations about how we can do something meaningful together.

Thank you

Sources:

All the information about the transfer of viruses was from this BBC Food Programme episode with Dan Saladino and Professor Andrew Cunningham, much of it quoted directly.

Coronavirus: What Has It Revealed? by Russell Brand

How long before our soil gives up? Guy Singh-Watson, Riverford

plate, knife, fork, glass, bread board

What Wine Is all About

Today, I would like to post an article written by Tom Maresca, a wine connoisseur from North America whose wife, Diane Darrow, happens to  be an amazing cook (https://dianescookbooks.wordpress.com/about/).   My blog post is all about ‘good food, to put you in the mood’ and to my mind, drinking a glass of wine to accompany the meal is definitely a fillip when it comes to enjoying life.   I live in a country where wine is very affordable and if wine snobs exist here just as they do all over the oenological world, it is most true that wine is thought of as part of a meal, even a humble person’s meal.  If you like Tom Maresca’s article, do please go to the link below and leave your comment for him there:

https://ubriaco.wordpress.com/2020/03/12/is-alcohol-moby-dick/

Is Wine a White Whale?

Having reached an age where I spend far too much of my life in doctors’ offices, I notice that every time I go to a new one, whether it might be for a cold, or a sprain, or the plague, I am always asked “Do you drink?”

On the face of it, an innocuous question, perhaps even an idiotic one: Of course I drink. Everybody drinks, or we couldn’t survive. But that, obviously, isn’t what the question means: It means do you drink beer or wine or spirits, and it is patently a biased question, implying that it’s wrong to do so.

I’ve noticed that I’m never asked about my consumption of soft drinks, whose to-my-mind tooth-rotting amounts of sugar would seem to constitute a real health hazard. No, the question is only ever about consumption of liquids containing alcohol. “Ahoy! Have you seen a white whale?” Alcohol is clearly the Great White Whale of American medicine.

I have occasionally heard the question put more bluntly, in a way that exposes the underlying bias: Do you use alcohol? I try not to snicker at that: I don’t know anyone who uses alcohol. No, I do not use alcohol; I drink wine – a complex liquid, of which alcohol is usually just about 13 or 14%. Alcohol in its pure form I never touch, so the question is stupid and misleading. No one ever sits down to a nice dinner and a cheering glass of alcohol, and to imply that the alcohol in wine is its center and point is fatuous.

The concentration on alcohol is a perfect example of science run amuck, in which a single element is so abstracted from everything else that it can become a universal villain. Nobody asks flu sufferers if they breathe or if they “use” air – though that may be coming, may it not?

What is left out in that annoying question is the basic fact that the alcohol we wine lovers consume never comes to us as a neat little jigger of pure alcohol. Taking only chemistry into consideration for the moment, it comes bonded to the 86 or 87% of wine that isn’t alcohol. Most of that is water, and the rest is color and flavor elements derived from grapes, plus such trace elements – chemical or mineral – that the vines have sucked out of the soil and transmitted to their fruit.

“Even after the process of fermentation, wine conserves different organic compounds from grapes, such as polysaccharides, acids, and phenolic compounds, such as flavonoids and nonflavonoids. These substances have known anti-inflammatory and antioxidant capacities, and are considered as regulatory agents in cardiometabolic process.” In plain English, there are things in wine that are good for you.

That whole package, of which the alcohol is an integral part, composes what we relish in the wines we drink – the body, the mouth feel, the aromas, the spectrum of flavors that each wine gifts us with. Are we to suppose that the alcohol in a wine is not modified in some way by its integration into such an amalgam?

Drinking wine with a meal is not like pouring neat alcohol down your throat, all by itself. Sure, it can be a poison that way. But in wine, the alcohol goes into a stewpot of carbohydrates, protein, fat, and minerals from the foods, and they’re all acted on by the digestive enzymes as they’re absorbed into your bloodstream. I think there’s more complexity to that process than typical medical explanations provide — maybe even more subtlety than modern-day chemistry admits of.

And that, of course, focuses only on physiology and ignores the psychological, social, and cultural aspect of our “use” of wine. I believe the effects of alcohol on the body are modified or altered not only by the things we eat with it but also by the way we share it with other people and the occasions on which we do so. Measuring alcohol only in the abstract as a chemical falsifies everything about drinking wine.

We must remember: Science is a way of looking at and understanding the world, an often effective and useful way of so doing, especially when judged by its own standards. But they are not the only standards, and science is not the only way of seeing and understanding the world. The questions science answers are only the questions that science asks, and there are rafts of questions that are never asked because they aren’t “scientific.” Other ways of seeing the world can be just as effective and useful, and we need to remind ourselves of them.

One small example: How different a world, how different a set of assumptions would be implied, if your doctor ever asked “Do you enjoy wine?” – and that is a perfectly sensible question. Cheers!

 

Turning that Frown Upside Down or When a Glass of Wine Stands for the Restorer of Good Health

IMG_6977

A week ago, I had what is euphemistically known as a ‘procedure’ on my back.  A surgeon had to remove (cut out) an ulcerous epithelioma that was about 4 cm in length.  Thank goodness for modern surgery and local anaesthesia and the whole operation took about 45 minutes in all.  Surprisingly, the surgeon informed me that I could even drive that same day and that I should feel little discomfort and probably wouldn’t even require a pain killer.  He had explained that the procedure itself would of course leave consequences on my body, it would be as if someone had punched me, say.  Nice.

Turns out the surgeon was right and that evening, much to the horror of a lot of people who love me, I decided not to turn down a dinner invitation by my cousins in Rome.   I have two sisters who live in England.  One of them was in town and the dinner party was in her honour and I didn’t want to be a party pooper.  I did feel a little out of it, that’s normal after an operation, whatever people say about ‘procedures’ – the body, after all, has taken a knock and is in some kind of shock even as it hurries to heal the wound.  The evening was lovely, as is usual with my Tranquilli cousins, and I drank a normal amount of wine (a little less than I would when I am with these cousins when our intake of wine tends to, ahem, be bountiful so as to speak).  Sleeping wasn’t much fun because of course I could indeed ‘feel’ the wound and the stitches busy at work.  I was fine the next day.  No intake of pain killers.  Some discomfort, normal.  Not a good night’s sleep, again.  Even went to work on the Monday and that’s when I began sneezing.  Not a lot.  Very discrete.  And then it all began.

By Monday evening I was feeling very low, very weak and – horror of horrors – by 8 o’clock I still wasn’t fancying a glass of wine.  My wound started to hurt to the point that I had to take a good dose of ibuprufen, I ate very little, and went to bed without even one glass of wine.  More pain killers the next day, feeling awful, finding no rest whether in bed or on the sofa.  That restless tossing and turning.  No energy to read a book, watch TV.  But, and most of all, No wine!!!!  Feeling slightly better the third day.  No need for pain killers but still weak.  I forced myself to have three measerly sips of wine with my dinner.

Basically I had come down with flu.  Not coronavirus, just plain ol’ fashioned yearly flu. I am normally resistant to flu even though I do succumb to the odd cold and cough.  I am so very lucky that way, I enjoy very good health.   Please note, I wrote ‘enjoy’.

I think we have to enjoy ourselves in order to be healthy, whatever our DNA heritage.  I am very mindful of that old adage about “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”.  And drinking wine with friends happens to be one way of enjoying life, as far as I’m concerned.  I am a ‘wine o’clock’ person.  At a certain time of day (only in the evenings, I don’t drink at lunch) I hanker after a nice glass of wine.  It makes me happy.  And life is all right.  Of course I know what’s going on – it’s self medication in a way.  It’s illusion – one can and ought to be perfectly happy even without the wine.  It’s the donning of rose tinted glasses and so on and so forth.   It was very interesting for me to read in a book of  Ayurvedic medicine (which I’ve since lost so can’t quote from it, sigh) about how alcohol turns out to be the ‘sweetest’ of all ingredients within their system, sweeter even than sugar or honey.  Interesting, no?  What that boils down to, what it means is that: when one desires a glass of wine on a constant basis, one is really seeking sweetness in life.

Ain’t that the truth !

It would seem that the word ‘acohol’ itself, often attributed to Arabic origins, is actually Hindu!  “Therefore, when one learns that “kohala” (कोहल) is the Sanskrit word for an alcoholic preparation in Ayurvedic medicine, it becomes a near-certainty that the word “alcohol” can be located to the Indian subcontinent and its origins to ancient Hindu texts on medicine and science. In fact, one of the the texts of Susruta (the ancient Indian scientist to whom we owe the word “suture”) — Susruta Samhita — describes the three stages of human and animal behavior after the consumption of alcoholic beverages!” – quoted from a very interesting article by Abhinav Agarwal, I encourage you to read it: https://medium.com/@abhinavagarwal_/alcohol-an-etymology-1407d9de25f5.

Western Doctors can’t make up their minds whether a decent amount of wine/beer/alcohol is good or bad for you in the long run.   Mostly they say it’s bad for you.  I say that in the long run we are going to die anyway so we may as well enjoy ourselves on the way.

That said, I don’t believe in getting drunk and, I have to come out with it, so very many English and American people I come across drink far too much and often on an empty stomach.  That’s where the French and the Italians can show us how to adopt a more moderate (dare I say ‘healthier’) approach.  Wine is to be enjoyed with a meal or at least with some kind of snack.  Oh yes, and by the way, very young Italians do get into binge drinking as a social activity which was never the case a few decades ago.  So this is not about taking sides.  It’s about ‘noticing’.

I just quickly looked up some statistics on alcoholism and Europe has been described as the biggest region for alchol drinking in the world.

What it doesn’t specify is that drinking at mealtimes has always been, yes even since Biblical times, a cultural factor inherent in Europe and the Mediterranean Basin including the very Near East.  The Jewish Passover praises the drinking of wine!  There is a saying in Italian pointing out that a glass of wine is good for the blood.  In contrast, when Italians watch American films or TV programmes where people (mostly men) down great big gulps of whisky as though it were water, they gasp in horror.  “Ma come fanno?”, they say, “How do they do it?”.  I don’t know either.  I had a Scottish stepfather who was extremely fond of his daily dose of Whisky but that man always sipped.

During my early days at the UN in Rome (the Food and Agriculture Organization, acronym FAO), I remember being taken aback at the coffee bar where some men liked to order their coffee ‘corrected’.  A “caffé corretto” in Italian means a coffee with some kind of hard liquor in it.  Grappa or the like.  I just couldn’t fathom how they could desire one first thing in the morning!  The barman wouldn’t even blink, to him it was ‘normal’.  The Chief Medical Officer, my Swedish boss Dr Nordlund, certainly didn’t think it ‘normal’ and made sure that the coffee bar gently declined serving that corrected coffee until after lunch. I think it is probably true that in very cold climates, people do crave sheer shots of alcohol whereas in warmer Mediterranean areas, it’s more about the beer and the wine.  Young children would  be offered a shot of grappa in the mountainous part of Veneto before going to school.  Seriously, I’m not kidding.

Continence is the opposite word of incontinence (lack of self restraint as opposed to pee pee issues).  And it happens to be a word I use for the first time ever, here in this post.  It makes my lips purse.  There is so much moral indignation hanging over it, victorian-style double-standards, virtue bashing.    Ugh.  And yet, it has to be said that there is plenty of continence to be found as regards alcohol consumption in Italy.  Take the word ‘bar’.  In Italy a bar serves both coffee and tea and soft drinks and all the rest of it, as well as wine and spirits.  All day long too.  No restricting alcohol hours.  Drinks of every kind.  And yet I’ve never met a disruptive, ugly drunkard in any of the bars I’ve been to.  (Mind you, I’m not the sort to be in the wrong part of town at the wrong time of night, so maybe I’m being a touch too Pollyanna about this.)  When my poor innocent Italian mother went looking for a ‘bar’ in Hong Kong many many moons ago, with three young children in tow, hankering for a cappuccino, she was more than a little shocked to be shown to a place that was indubitably connected to the local sex industry.  (Looking back now, it makes me wonder what that kind Hong Kong person must have thought of my mother, asking for a ‘bar’ !!! Tut tut, AND with three young children, shocking.)

Non alcoholic apéritif drinks are very popular in Italy and there are plenty that will prefer them to a glass of wine.  All Italian bars serve these drinks called, duh, “analcolici”.  They make them sound like fun and they cater to those who want something ‘spicy’ without the alcohol kick.  They come, it must be said, in lurid colours too.  Crodino is bright orange.  Camparino a neon-bright ruby colour.  And just think about the oh so popular Spritz!  Just exploding with colour (and colourants too, I fear, ahem).  What I am trying to say, I think, is that the overall culture of drinking in Italy is about enjoyment, sharing, bonding and unwinding as opposed to drinking just for the sake of drinking (with the exception of the real alcoholics and the young binge drinkers). I know that I personally drink a lot more wine than my Italian friends, comparatively speaking.  I joke with them when I say that the reason I’m so healthy is that bacteria are scared of the wine I drink (well, it is true that alcohol kills bacteria).

The last thing I want to do is encourage people to drink heavily and badly, disrupting their health and causing unnecessary deaths.  This, what I think is a reliable source and report ( https://euobserver.com/social/145854) reckons that an average of 800 people die from alcohol related issues per day in Europe.  Hmmm.  That amounts to less than one percent of the total European population of 741. 4 million.  (I did the arithmetic and it comes to 0.960).  It may be under one percent but even so it just makes me very sad. Read the quote:

“According to the WHO report, “people of low socio-economic status had a three-fold mortality risk for causes of death fully attributable to alcohol use compared to people with high socioeconomic status”.

Globally about 0.9m injury deaths were related to alcohol, including around 370,000 deaths due to road injuries, 150,000 due to self-harm and around 90,000 due to personal violence.

In Europe, the work of several scholars shows a relevant relation between public violent incidents and alcohol consumption – the proportion was about 50 percent in the UK and ranged from 26 percent to 43 percent in Germany, Austria, and the Netherlands.”

Around 50 percent in the UK !!!

I don’t want to be sanctimonious and boring about it but …  in Italy there is, still, a Culture with a capital C around drinking that needs to be cherished.  The other factor that comes as no surprise is how the low socio-economic status weighs so heavily upon the statistics.   I hate poverty !  It’s the worst disease.  And it doesn’t bring out the best in people as so many films try to make us believe (films probably funded by those monsters, the world’s richest one percent).

Wine and alcohol aren’t the real problem when it comes to these studies, the meaning of life is.  The availability of the means to lead a decent life, from the very start, that’s what’s crucial.   Sigh.  If you haven’t heard of it, do please look up Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.  It’s still valid.

All I can say is that last night, finally, at around dinner time I was really looking forward to my glass of wine.  I have a runny and red nose, I look awful but I feel that I am finally on the mend.

Cheers!  Here’s raising a glass to your health!

P.S. “Alcohol kills bacteria and preserves food. Culturally, it’s usually a center of social life. It features prominently in certain religions. Biologically, alcohol is a source of energy—10 percent of the enzymes in our liver are devoted to converting alcohol into energy, says McGovern” quoted from https://www.sciencefriday.com/articles/the-origin-of-the-word-alcohol/

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Frascati Food Shopping, Aperitivo with Michelle, and a Genius Courgette / Zucchini Recipe

Mrs Masi and her family run a vegetable shop in Frascati and are open on Sunday mornings too.  They are the suppliers of very many restaurants in town.  I tend to be a democratic greengrocer and buy from more than one place but theirs is the venue I end up frequenting the most, as it were,  because … because half the time, I don’t know about you,  but I’m in a hurry, there is always so much to do.  This is how it goes: it’s getting to be evening, ideas for dinner need to be considered and scaled down, and off I trot to up the hill into town to get my meat and two veg.  The veg fromt the Masi family and the meat from the Chioccia family in Via dell’Olmo.

I believe that shopping should entail more than just a modicum of pleasure and what better way to celebrate the exercise than an aperitivo after all that strenuous activity?  Hence, on a regular basis now for some years,  I will meet up with my friend Michelle Smith at our favourite watering hole, the “Stanza del Duca” in the town’s oldest square. It’s just behind the historic Palazzo Vescovile, the bishop’s residence.  This is the heart of centuries-old Frascati and, in terms of neighbourhoods,  we consider it the way Romans would Trastevere.  Sleepy time during the day, bustling and alive in the evenings (not so much in January and February admittedly – but then that’s when we all go into hibernation).  Piazza San Rocco wakes up in the evenings, with its many wine bars and restaurants, and the people it draws, the mainstay demographic, are mostly young.  The daily “The Guardian” wrote a lovely article about the buzz in Frascati last September and I am borrowing a photo from it … hope I don’t get into trouble for doing so? 

guardian frascatiAnyway, here is a link to the article: https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2019/sep/10/rome-frascati-wine-food-italy.

Michelle and I put the world to rights over a glass of wine or a spritz and our host, the inimitable Giancarlo delle Chiaie, is very generous with his pour as he is with his trove of stories aka gossip.  Mild gossip, I hasten to add, we are not malicious people.  We bang on about standards, and what the town administration fails to do, how short-sighted they are, versus our way of how things ought to be done.  Sigh.  And on the bright and light side, music plays an important role.  Giancarlo is a choir master and an accomplished organ player and his friend Romeo Ciuffa, who is also a regular at the Stanza del Duca,  is a professional musician and organizes many a chamber music concert in our neck of the woods.  And all that talk makes for thirsty work so Michelle and I will very often ask for a wee top-up to our glass as we carry on delving into topics that require our  undivided attention.

I often think that breakfast, while one is on holiday and without a care in the world, in a hotel say, is the nicest meal of the day.  One has the whole day lying expectantly before us and to look forward to, as we dig into our orange juice and coffee and toast and what have you.  Similarly, but more often for me, I think that aperitivo-time is the best time of day.  The cares of obligatory work are over for the day, in theory, and one can relax and be light hearted and broaden the horizon of mental attention.  Michelle and I can be very philosophical at aperitivo time.

Who is Michelle, you might ask.  Well, she’s not easy to describe in a nutshell … she is one of those people who is a dab hand at anything she does.  A jack of all trades who gets to be very masterly time after time.   Though living in the same area, we didn’t get to meet until relatively recently and we hit it off straight away.  For the purposes of this post let us say she is a sommelier, translator, and painter.  She set up a website (all on her own, every single bit of it !!!!) called easyfrascati.com.  And  I will come out and say it outight: one would think that Frascati’s town council would have gone to the intelligent trouble of setting up an informative website? But no, it took an English rose to do so. Tut tut.  Last, though she and I can wag our fingers disapprovingly, it’s not about self importance, Michelle is one of the most modest people I’ve ever met.  It’s because we care.  We see so much potential going unattended.   Dear, dear … shall we have another glass of wine before going home?

Michelle is also a good cook by the way and so we often discuss recipes.  “So, what are you cooking tonight?” will often start the conversation.  Which brings me to today’s recipe.  I got all excited because it is so much more than the sum of its very simple parts.  When one is a little strapped for time, one should still find the energy to make the main meal of the day a ‘special’ one.  What’s the point of living otherwise?

I got this recipe from Mrs Masi, and I thank her for it.  The only ‘long’ thing about it is its cooking time in the oven.  It can even be eaten at room temperature although I tend to think that it gives its best when served just out of the oven.

INGREDIENTS:  slices of courgette/zucchini, olive oil, mozzarella, thinly sliced onion, some parsley if you like it, breadcrumbs, salt and pepper

IMG_6715What you see are the sliced courgettes coated with olive oil, over which I sprinkled salt and pepper,  I then added little lumps of mozzarella.  I squeezed the mozzarella to remove some of the liquid.

IMG_6717I also added half an onion, very very thinkly sliced.  And an avalanche of roughly minced parsley.

IMG_6718Finish it all off with a layer of bread crumbs.  I suspect I drizzled some olive oil over the surface for good measure, before popping it into the oven.

IMG_6719And this is what it looks like when it comes out of the oven.  To be honest I can’t remember how long it cooked (just over half an hour) and I expect the temperature was 200°C.

This recipe looks like a lot of trouble went into it and yet it couldn’t be simpler to make!  Unless your name is Phylis Knudsen, you could even add a few ancovies to the mix.  (Bless her, Phylis can’t stand anchovies.)

So, what are you thinking about making for dinner tonight?  Please don’t tell me you are ordering in ….! 🙂

P.S.  If any of you should be in Rome and would like to do something a bit more bucolic and pastoral outside of the capital, please feel free to get in touch with either Michelle or me.   And there will always be a glass of wine and good food to put you in the mood …. 🙂

P.P.S.  I wrote about La Stanza del Duca in this post from last year.  Here is a link in case you missed it: https://frascaticookingthatsamore.wordpress.com/2019/01/01/a-duke-some-ladies-lots-of-hats-and-an-afternoon-tea-in-frascati/

Another Meatloaf, “Little Women” and Tailgating it in Rome

For once I shall do things the other way around, providing an intro to the recipe and ingredients first and writing my little ‘story’, the context, after.

If you want to spruce up an ordinary meatloaf, present it encased in pastry.

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Instead of Beef Wellington, you can dub it Meatloaf Wellington.  I chanced upon this recipe on the internet and am providing a link below.  It’s in Italian but no worries – even if you don’t speak the language, everything is so straightforward, you’ll get enough of an understanding to get started right away.

Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gNlvwwC0e88

One of the reasons I did want to get started is that the last time I had made a meatloaf it had been a complete disaster, a ‘beautiful catastrophe’ as Zorba the Greek would have remarked (see my previous post harking back to it).  So I’m a bit sensitive that way, you see.  I am glad to report that my recent attempt turned out pretty well and that I was able to enjoy the leftovers as a kind of picnic in Rome the following day.

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INGREDIENTS

500g of minced meat, 2 eggs, parsely, salt and pepper, 2-3 tablespoons of grated parmesan cheese, slices of cheese that will melt easily, slices of ordinary ham, slices of parma ham (optional), salt and pepper, sheets of ready-bought pastry.  An extra egg for coating the pastry.

I added plenty of freshly grated nutmeg and a scattering of lemon zest.  Also, I made my own pastry because the kind sold around here contains palm oil or hydrogenated fats and other nasties.  For that I needed 600g of flour, 300g of butter, salt and enough cold water to bring it all together. I did what one’s not supposed to do and that is use a blender.  I put the ball of very sticky dough in the freezer for one hour before using it.

Below is my neighbour and bestest friend Rossella … helping me roll out the home-made pastry.

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The video says to cook it for about 40 minutes at 200°C, let it rest and allow any liquid to drain away.  Once cooled, the meatloaf is encased in the pastry and cooked again for half an hour.  I would say that that is too much cooking and the meat dries out somewhat.  Next time, I shall limit the cooking to 25 minutes the first time.

My dinner guests enjoyed the meatloaf but we were so caught up in our conversations that we could have had cheese on toast and it wouldn’t have mattered.  Wine always helps of course (that is if you like drinking wine).  The essence of a dinner with friends is the banter and laughter and interruption and changing of subjects and not wanting to go away even when it’s very late.  But good food always helps.  Good food to put you in the mood.

The following ‘story’ is dedicated to all my lovely girlfriends, wherever you might be in the world, but boys are very welcome to read it too !

LITTLE WOMEN AND ME

Well, for starters my name is Josephine (I was named after my Italian grandmother Giuseppina) but everyone calls me Jo.

I grew up with two sisters, not three.  And I was a bit of a tomboy, as they used to say in those days.  I didn’t like it when I had to wear a frilly dress to go to a birthday party, I was always told not to ruin it which of course meant I couldn’t run around too much or climb a tree.  I much preferred wearing shorts.  I’ve always been a barefoot baby and liked nothing better than to take my shoes off as soon as I could.  Like any other woman, I adore shoes but my love for going barefooted has never abated.  I used to love running and playing with the boys, and was very ‘physical’ even, and would get into a fight if provoked.  Dolls weren’t really my ‘thing’.   Building huts was more fun.

The years I speak of, from about the age of five to twelve, I grew up in Karachi, which was then West Pakistan, followed by Teheran, and then Dhaka, which was then East Pakistan before it became Bangladesh.  My Scottish stepfather worked for a pharmaceutical company and that’s how we moved around a lot.  With the job came cushy houses, beautiful ones at that, with large verandahs and even a swimming pool sometimes.  Plush lawns and scented flowers.  And a team of people to help run the house – servants they were called then, or ‘the help’ I believe in the States?  The lap of luxury sort of thing.  Except there were many amenities that were not available in those countries, during those years.  One of which was TV.  I remember when a television set first appaered in our house in Dhaka, I would have been close to eleven.  There was only one channnel and  featured two English speaking programmes a day – the Man from UNCLE, the Lucy Show, come to mind.  And no TV on a Monday for some reason.  Perhaps a film once a week?  And there were power cuts on a regular basis, very often interrupting a TV show.

All this to say that we children had to entertain ourselves.  My two sisters were much younger than I, so the interaction was perforce one-sided, with me being the bossy older sister.  There was no question that I loved them, and we are incredibly close to this day, and we all slept in the same bedroom.  But I was bored, bored, bored so much of the time.  And lonely.  I craved company of my own age.  I did have friends, I did, but it wasn’t as if I could walk over to their house, I had to be driven their either by my mother or by the driver.  It had to be arranged, it couldn’t be spontaneous.  Also, friends would leave, their parents moving to another country, and that was always very sad.  I’ve never got over parting from friends.

I remember complaining about my boredom to my mother and her unruffled response was to tell me that she? She never got bored when she was a child.  Not helpful.  And so I’d invent games like the time I was a farmer … Robin Hood … an air hostess in an aeroplane.  After seeing the film The Sound of Music, I became Maria of course, bursting into song and prancing about.  I’d put classical records on and pretend I was a ballerina. I really enjoyed games at school and was good at all of them and just loved to beat the boys.  I loved going to school because there, finally, was some company for me.  It was called Farm View and there is a facebook page now.  It was a small international English speaking school and I was in my element, loving all subjects from arithmetic to history to painting to English Literature.  And French, of course.  When eventually I went to boarding school in England, I was astonished to discover that I was at least two years ahead of my French class.   But that’s another story, culture shock, stock and barrel.

Also, I enrolled in the Indian dancing lessons, with the lovely anklets that had bells on them.  The headmistress, Mrs Coventry, apparently nearly had a hairy fit when she learned that I was going to be performing an Indian dance as part of the school pantomime that year and was duly impressed to discover that I turned out to be a very graceful dancer.   My mother, bless her, thought I’d find solace in piano lessons and she drove me once a week to the teacher’s house.  We didn’t have a piano at home, so I would practise for half an hour before the actual lesson, which always included a cup of tea and a biscuit.  I enjoyed my lessons, very much.  When I was growing up, tea (the drinking of together with biscuits or a slice a cake or whatever) was an everyday ‘thing’, a precious pause during the day.

What I really enjoyed was reading.  The school had a library and took us to see films (old black-and-white films at that) at the British Council, which also had a library.  Oh the joy of reading!  It was the one thing that salvaged me from the loneliness, the boredom of an otherwise privileged upbringing.  I became a book worm.  I remember repairing to the bathroom to finish reading a book until well into the wee hours, shutting the door so I wouldn’t wake my sisters up with the light. I’d wake up bleary eyed the next morning but oh so satisfied.  My choice of reading was not exactly intellectual.  There was Noddy and fairy tales, the Bobbsey Twins and Nancy Drew but Enid Blyton most of all.  Golly!, how I loved the Famous Five and other adventure stories. One of my teachers, Mrs Chowdury, had gone to university with Enid Blyton’s daughter apparently and I was sooooo impressed.  Daddy used to take me with him to the equivalent of a mall in our neighbourhood, called the D.I.T. Market.  Well, when I say ‘mall’, think small bazaar, really, and a dozen or so shops.  Any excuse to get out of the house and, also, a chance to buy some comics.  At the time there used to be a wonderful American series of comics under the heading “Classics Illustrated”.  They featured adaptations of literary classics such as Les MiserablesMoby DickHamlet, and The Iliad.  Wikipedia says “Recognizing the appeal of early comic books, Russian-born publisher Albert Lewis Kanter (1897–1973) believed he could use the new medium to introduce young and reluctant readers to “great literature”. I well remember The Last of the Mohican, Lorna Doone, many Shakespeare plays, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, The Last Days of Pompei, Moby Dick, The Three Muskateers.  AbeBooks.com says “We will never know how many youngsters who read Classic Comics and Classics Illustrated are now confirmed bibliophiles with homes full of literature, but we suspect the figure is high.”  Well, they caught me all right.  I can think of nothing sadder than a house without books.

And those books I did read, as well as the comics, were fodder for my imagination and I would often re-enact scenes from them in my make-believe world of play, not unlike the four sisters in Little Women.  Despite the tropical heat and the monsoons, you wouldn’t believe how ‘cold’ it could get in my rendition of Heidi’s mountain idyll.  My mother couldn’t understand why I insisted on amping up the air-conditioning to freezing levels behind her back in our bedroom.  Little did she know.  We only drank powdered milk in Dhaka but to me it was goats milk, of course.  Pollyanna played a pretty important part too.  To this day, I love the film with Hayley Mills, I still have the DVD.  The last time I watched it was probably ten years ago but to me it will never grow old or become outdated.  The punch line: if you go looking for evil in this world, you are sure to find it.

Of all these books and their heroes and heroines, however, it was Jo from Little Women that has accompanied me always.  Something about her spirit, her resolve, her human frailty coupled with her sensitivity and can-do enthusiasm made an indelible mark upon me.  I grew up with two sisters, went to an all-girls boarding school, and at one time had mainly women colleagues when I was working at the UN in Rome … I dearly love women and am a born feminist.  Yet, for all of Jo’s yang personality that I can identify with, it is with Beth that I have one huge trait in common.  I am a home body.  I don’t really crave ‘adventure’ as it were.  I wish all my friends and family could live close by.  And I always did want to marry and have children.  The follow-up book, Jo’s Boys, really touched a chord.  And for years and years I dreamed of opening a small school, where children would be treated with tender, loving, creative care.  And, such are the coincidences in life, I did marry a professor of sorts, just like Jo!  I’m still waiting to launch my inspirational cooking school … we’ll see.

In the end, it was cooking that became a way of life for me.  Cooking became my ‘adventure’.  And that’s how I came across the video recipe for this blog post.

PREPARING THE MEAT LOAF WITH ROSSELLA

It is Sunday and I am having guests to dinner, my favourite cousins and a favourite friend. I went to work the day before, a pasta class at the Minardi Winery, which ended just after 3 p.m.  After which I go to do the shopping and get home just before 5 p.m.   I eat something, whatever I can find in the fridge.  And I start preparing some stuff for the next day.  At 8 p.m. I shower and get dressed and go to a dear friend’s 70th birthday party, quite the bash, at least 60 guests.  By midnight I’m falling off my perch and regretfully leave at around quarter past.  Unheard of for me, I am one of those who ‘could have danced all night’ but not last Saturday.

I go to bed at around 1 a.m. but instead of falling into a deep slumber, end up tossing and turning all night.  I wake up all sleepy and slow and realise that I am going to need help to get through the day.

So I call upon my next door neighbour, Rossella.  Our flats are on the same landing.  We try and have coffee together regularly, the way we used to, but sometimes we don’t see each other for three weeks in a row now.  That’s how life has become for us, for us all, always busy, always in a hurry, strapped for time.

Though not obsessed with cooking the way I am, Rossella is no slouch in the kitchen and is also a tidy cook.  One thing at a time versus my 101 things going on at the same time.  Steady.  She was more than happy to oblige.  I do not mean this in any condescending way whatsoever but … Rossella, like many women whose children have left home and are without a partner or husband, is lonely.  Heck I get lonely and I do have a husband!  Our flat seems so quiet without the children.  Rossella is very capable and has run family clothes shops; her parents’ shop in Rome was the first to bring La Perla lingerie to the capital, it was quite posh.  She and her sister had to close it down a couple of years ago, after a full 80 years of operation.  She was always a working woman.  She keeps herself busy in many ways but … but if you are a home lover (like Beth!) and there is just you in the house … well, it can get veeery quiet.  Very.  Cooking together is soothing.  We spent a good three hours together in the morning, and another nearly two in the late afternoon. Indeed the meatloaf, except for the pastry, is all her doing. Grazie Rossella!

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Upon parting, we decided that we’ll meet once a month, with a few other girlfriends, to cook something new together.

The dinner went very well and, as I said, there were leftovers …

TAILGATING IN ROME ALONG THE TIBER

 

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I can’t remember exactly when we watched the 1994  “Little Women” film, featuring Wynona Ryder and Susan Sarandon etc. on television.  By ‘we’ I mean my daughter, my son and my husband.  Well, my daughter and I fell for it hook, line and sinker and I bought the DVD of course, or perhaps video tape, can’t remember.  And it became a sort of Christmas film-watching staple for us.  “Oh not Little Women again!”, my son her brother would wail.  And she and I would have to watch some appalling action film in revenge. The scene where Beth dies never fails to bring me to tears.  Just like the book, this film is moving without descending into the sludge of soppy.

So … did I fancy going to see the new Little Women film? my daughter asked me.  Sure.  Any excuse to see more of my daughter.  Not so sure I really want to see the film, but so what.  In Nancy Mitford’s “Love in a Cold Climate”, the character of Farve, the heroine’s uncle, is notoriously eccentric in his ways. And not one for conversation either.  Having to endure polite conversation at the dinner table, his hostess kindly enquires of him, in an attempt to break the ice, whether he has read any good book lately.  His retort is no.  He did read a book once.  White Fang.  It was so dashed good he never bothered to read another.

Well … that’s a little how I feel about the 1994 Little Women film.  It was so so very good, why go for a remake?

Anyway.  My daughter works in the centre of Rome (lucky gal) and parking comes at a premium. She finishes at 7 p.m. and the film started at 8 p.m.  There was going to be a bit of walking wherever I ended up parking which meant, which meant, that there wasn’t going to be much time to repair somewhere and get a bite to eat and a glass of wine.  Hmmm.  Head scratching and nose twitching, what to do, what to do?

Picnic.  In the car.  Like they tend to do in Great Britain on account of the weather.

It’s the only thing that would make sense.  I’d bring something for us to eat before the film so we wouldn’t starve.  Favourite daughter agreed.  What she did not know was that I had leftovers from the night before, by way of pastry-encased meatloaf.  She was expecting sandwiches and that sort of stuff.

I packed everything in the boot of the car, getting all eager beaver and into the spirit of things.  After faffing about for a good 15 minutes, my parking angel guided us to a perfect spot on the winding Lungotevere road, along the Tiber.  I just had to laugh.  We both had a good giggle.  We were almost directly opposite the imposing Palazzo Giustizia, St Peter’s lit-up dome just behind us, the Bulgari House with its garish lit-up roof-top palm tree about 100 yards down the road from us, and Piazza Navona also within spitting distance.  Glittering, beautiful, romantic, historic Rome lay all around us.  Just a few hundred yards away, also, was the princely Palazzo Borghese, which hosts the Spanish Embassy residence, where I had once had occasion to dine for a fundraiser.

And here I was tailgating it with my daughter, picnicking in the car.

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That said we had a jolly good dinner.   Please note, we ate inside the car and not in the middle of the road.  We ate off ceramic plates, with proper knives and forks.  We had the meatloaf en croute with a side dish of “broccoletti”.  I brought some ketchup along in case the meat turned out to be too dry (it wasn’t fortunately).  A couple of apples to finish off and, of course!!!, a glass of prosecco.

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Louisa May Alcott would have approved, she would have understood.

 

 

 

 

Meatloaf Disaster

Sheepish in Meatloaf Battle or … Cottage Pie à l’Italienne

I am reposting this because … because disasaters do take place in the kitchen just as elsewhere.  And can sometimes be remedied.  Ha ha.

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This was sunset over Rome less than two weeks ago, the sky lighting up with crazy colours that just beggared to be oooh and aaahed over.  Quite quite stunning, it had me in transports of delight over the wonder that is the world we live in.  I had a glass of wine in my hand and took the time to snap a few photos and then went back to the kitchen to finish off supper, all excited about my novice entry into the world of meatloaf.

I don’t remember ever making meatloaf though I might have many many years ago.  I’ve tried my hands at very many recipes.  Some families are meatloaf loving families — mine obviously was not.  I remember eating meatballs (polpette) as a child, but not meatloaf.  And to be honest, I don’t really recall loving meatloaf much either, when I have eaten it at other people’s houses — the meat always a bit ‘dry’ in the mouth and its consistency trapped in a flurry of indecision (“do I want to be firm or do I want to fall apart?”).  Not until I was served meatloaf at friends of ours last summer, and the texture and taste of this meatloaf was remarkably zestful, tasty and more-ish.  Enquiry revealed that a hint of mortadella was what made it taste so good.

And so I resolved to make one such meatloaf.  How hard could it be? yes?

I don’t want to go into it, my pride just can’t take it.  All I will admit to is … that it was disaster.  It was one of those “what a beautiful catastrophe!” à la Zoraba the Greek.  Take a look for yourselves.

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I started out right …  browning the loaves in the heavy pan, over a soffritto.
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And then things went from bad to worse …

 

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Finally, I could take it no more … and so removed some of the erstwhile meatloaf meat …

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And finished cooking it in a non stick pan.  Basically, I had made a meatloaf frittata!!! oh woe is me!  O me misera!

Thankfully it tasted all right but I am still smarting from the ignominy of it all.  It will be a long time before I attempt another meatloaf!

But of course I still had quite a lot of aspiring meatloaf meat still to be dealt with the following day and I was damned if I was going to go down the meatloaf frittata route again.  So, aha!, a spell of genius came over me.  I would turn that grotty looking meat into something very very heart warming: a cottage pie!  (Shepherd’s Pie is put together from leftover lamb from the Sunday joint, traditionally, and served as a family meal in the week …. whereas Cottage Pie was made with minced beef rather than lamb).

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I put the minced beef  into an oven dish …

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Smothered it in mashed potatoes …

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I garlanded it with a row of tomatoes cut in half.  I dotted chunks of mozzarella all over the place and added some sprigs of rosemary.
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A good drizzle of olive oil (always olive oil) ….

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And in it went into an oven (I presume at 200°C … that’s usually a good temperature) … for about 35-40 minutes.

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What can I say … my culinary face was saved …

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And I have invented a new dish/recipe: Cottage Pie à l’Italienne!
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“What a beautiful catastrophe!”

 

Remember that one? It’s a quote from https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2011/02/17/what-to-seek-in-zorba-the-greek/

Beloved Blini – Home Made!

It’s that time of year, festivities, end of calendar year.  And one way to celebrate is to make Blini.  By the time you read this it will probably be too late for you to make any in time for dinner tonight (and that’s if you’re staying in) but who knows? Maybe next year?

Next year is not only a new year, it is also a new decade.  May this decade bring peace, prosperity, emotional healing as well as good health, comfort and cheer, warm relationships and lots and lots of fun for everyone.

INGREDIENTS

100g – Buckwheat flour

200g – 00 Flour (with pinch of salt BUT add the salt later, when it has rested for 1 hour)

300ml milk with pinch of sugar in it

200 yogurt or sourcream

4 eggs – separate egg yolks from egg whites

Yeast: half a cube of fresh brewer’s yeast, about 12.5g

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GETTING STARTED

Warm the milk until it just about reaches boiling point, take it off the heat and then add the yeast. Whisk so that it dissolves in the milk.

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Below you will see the yogurt in one bowl, on the left, with the milk with the dissolved yeast in a pan on the right.  Top left, the bowl with the two flours and four egg yolks in it. Top right are the four egg whites.

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Start by adding the yogurt to the milk pan.

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And now you can pour this mixture into the bowl and use a whisk or a wooden spoon to combine all the ingredients.  You could, if you preferred, beat the egg yolks separately and include them in the wet ingredients.  You choose.

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Cover with a tea towel for about an hour.

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This is what it looks like after about one hour.

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Whisk the four egg whites.

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Add the beaten egg whites to the blini batter.

IMG_6008Add the salt only NOW.  If you add the salt too soon, it will hinder the raising agent work of the yeast.  Again, cover with a tea towel and let it rest for one hour, better two.

IMG_6009And here it is now … all light and fluffy and waiting to be cooked.

IMG_6010Melt a small amount of butter in a frying pan, maybe a non-stick one would be a good idea.  When the blini start to ‘bubble’ on the surface, turn them over.  It doesn’t take long to gook the blini.  They’re just lke pancakes after all.

IMG_6011IMG_6014They are very nice served with sour cream and smoked salmon.

IMG_6015Shame I can’t get fresh dill around here.  Aw well, never mind.  I used a bit of dried dill instead.

HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE !!!