Saturday, 31 May 2014

Saturday morning musings

On this beautiful Saturday morning, the last weekend in the merry month of May I was quickly looking at the on-line papers. You really can look at them quickly and get a news round up of what they consider to be the main events of the past week. There is even a quiz on the Guardian on line to see if you have been paying attention. One event was the passing on of a renowned Afro American writer. One of her favourite quotes was listed as  Never give priority to people for whom you are only an option. Well at first glance I didn't like it at all. It reminded me of when I had a helper when my children were very small and every time I thanked her profusely she said in her local dialect "We are all useful but none of us is necessary". That really depressed me. How could you think of people like that? the same with the priority quote. How could you ever consciously think of others in that way? I asked a friend what she thought. She agreed with the quote. She said that only your parents, partner and children should be your priority. This depressed me further. Of course they should be, that is obvious, but the human heart is much broader and bigger and healthier than that. There is room for people who take you for granted, who fall by the wayside as life goes by, who use you and discard you. So what? There is a place in our hearts for people who consider us an option. Maybe I have misunderstood it. maybe you shouldn't make other people a priority and neglect who really needs you.
At the same time I saw a quote by Mother Teresa of Calcutta. I told my husband that we don't hear about her much. He said that might be because.. she's dead ? So I said well so is Shakespeare, Dante, my dad and a whole lot of other people who are frequently quoted.
This is what she said

Smile at each other: smile at your wife, smile at your husband, smile at your children, smile at each other - it doesn't matter who it is - and that will help you to grow up in greater love for each other.

Just be careful not to smile at strangers on trains.

Friday, 30 May 2014

How to keep enthusiasm and passion alive in you

I have just written a very ambitious title for this post. Thousands of self help books and articles have been written about how to do this. Today I had a conversation about how important enthusiasm and passion are. How easily they can disappear. If a friend or lover betrays your trust it is sometimes hard to find the enthusiasm necessary to bring the relationship back to live. The dictionary describes enthusiasm as intense enjoyment, interest or approval,
passion - a strong and barely uncontrollable emotion, an intense enthusiasm for something.

When you need to keep the enthusiasm and passion alive in your life look at the way small children behave. They seem to pick themselves up with renewed enthusiasm and passion for whatever they do, from eating an ice lolly to playing with sand on the beach.
This passage by Charles Edward Montague 81867 - 1928) reminds us of how important it is to feel enthusiasm and passion about the world around us .He had to go off to the trenches of the first world war when he was 47 years old, so he must have known a lot about having to re-build enthusiasm and passion.

Among the mind's powers is one that comes of itself to many children and artists. It need not be lost, to the end of his days, by anyone who has ever had it. This is the power of taking delight in a thing, or rather in anything, not as a means to some other end, but just because it is what it is. A child in the full health of his mind will put his hand flat on the summer turf, feel it, and give a little shiver of private glee at the firmness of the globe.

So whenever you feel that your levels of enthusiasm and passion need a top up, look inside yourself and start at the beginning, touching the grass.
Put your hand on soft ferns to get back in touch

Avocado and prawns, a sixties favourite

There is a lot of talk about buying food that is seasonal and local . We are encouraged to buy food that is 0 kilometri which means it hasn't travelled far to get to your table. The food you buy should be as far as possible in its original state. If it didn't walk or grow don't eat it, is a popular saying. When I was growing up all the food we had was like that. We were very much a meat and two veg family. Every Friday after work my Dad would come through the front door proudly bearing a cardboard box overflowing with lovely fresh fruit and vegetables. The contents varied according to the season. In winter carrots, cauliflower, potatoes, onions, Brussels sprouts. In summer lettuce, tomatoes, radishes, cucumber. Oranges, apples, pears and bananas were constantly present. The only concession to exotic produce was a pineapple which was the crowning glory of the inviting display along with a bunch of fresh flowers for my mum. Strawberries, raspberries, fresh peas and beans, satsumas were luxuries which would appear as a treat. Our peaches came from a tin, delicious served with evaporated milk. Aubergines, courgettes, peppers were foreign visitors we had yet to become familiar with.
The Friday evening magical box from the Greengrocer usually arrived just after the six-o-clock news and my mum and I would set to work putting everything away and arranging the flowers in a vase while my dad had a cup of tea.
One day two newcomers appeared on the top of the box, a kiwi and an avocado pear. We had never seen them before and were unsure what to do with them. My dad bit in to the kiwi and recoiled in horror, what a hairy surprise. I don't think he could ever be bothered to peel one preferring to just unzip a banana. My mum said that she had had an avocado pear in a restaurant . The centre had been filled with prawns in mayonnaise. Prawn cocktail was one of our favourite starters when we went out for Sunday lunch. Avocado with prawns quickly became a firm favourite in our house, even my dad made it. He was very proud of his cocktail sauce, salsa rosa. He made it by mixing mayonnaise, tomato ketchup, Worcester sauce, lemon juice, salt and pepper, and on days when he needed a lift he would put in a drop of brandy.
All sorts of exotic fruit and vegetables are now easily found in our local supermarkets. Many were unheard of just fifty years ago. Cranberry and pomegranate juice are now offered as cures for all sorts of health problems and it seems that we just have to read that something is good for us and we all go out and buy it, whether we like it or not.
Today I made avocado and prawns according to my dad's recipe. It involves a lot of discrete tasting to get the flavours right. You can really only tell how good an avocado is once it is open. Luckily the ones I had bought were perfect.

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Forza Italia

Things for celebrations

The second of June is a holiday in Italy. It is the day that Italy became a republic, in 1946. This year it happens to be on a Monday so we are all looking forward to a long weekend. The Italian flags have been hung up all around the town and there is a festive air. On the 12 Th June Italy will play it's first match in Brazil against England. Gary Lineker has already said that  England hasn't got much hope and the Italians aren't very optimistic about their chances either, so let's wave some flags, shake some rattles, cheer and clap and enjoy the atmosphere.
Yesterday in the supermarket there was a small display of football paraphernalia and I chose a couple of things to add to the celebrations. Last time I bought those long plastic bazooka things and they got in the way once Italy was knocked out.
To celebrate Italy I made Pasta Alla Norma. It is a Sicilian dish and  Montalbano eats it quite a lot. I got this recipe from a Sicilian friend . She made it for the festa della donna, because it is named after a woman. It's a great dish, you can make the sauce well in advance , so all you have to do is boil up the water for the pasta and make a green salad to go with it.

Pasta Alla Norma

Serves 4

2 aubergines, washed, dried and cut into small cubes
300g fusilli or conchiglie
600g passata di pomodoro
Olive oil
2 garlic cloves, chopped finely
Pinch of sugar
Salt and pepper
Fresh basil
Grated ricotta

First make the tomato sauce . Fry the garlic gently in the oil without colouring then add the passata, salt, pepper, sugar, a few basil leaves and simmer gently for about20 minutes.
Fry the aubergine cubes in a non stick pan with some oil until slightly browned and then drain on kitchen  paper.. Prepare the ricotta in a  bowl with some grated Parmesan cheese. Set the three bowls aside until ready to serve.
Cook the pasta in a large saucepan of salted water until cooked. Mix the tomato sauce and aubergines together and stir together with the drained pasta. Lastly add the ricotta, a few more basil leaves and check the seasoning .

Anglo-Italian stories

Anything that links Italy and Britain has a special interest for me. The two countries seem to complement each other and I love them both very much. Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806 - 1861) wrote "Aurora Leigh" which is a story in a sort of non rhyming verse about Aurora Leigh who was born in Florence with an Italian mother and English father .Like a lot of stories, it is about  a man and a woman who if they had realized that they were meant for each other right at the beginning there would have been no story. Think Elizabeth Bennet and Mr.Darcy, Jane Eyre and Mr.Rochester.
This following excerpt from the rather long poem describes her love for England

Whoever lives true life will love true love.
I learnt to love that England. Very oft,
Before the day was born, or otherwise,
through secret windings of the afternoons,
I threw my hunters off and plunged myself
Among the deephills, as a hunted stag
Will take the waters, shivering with the fear
And passion of the course. And when at last escaped,
So many a green slope built on slope
Betwixt me and the enemy's house behind,
I dared to rest, or wander, in a rest
Made sweeter by the step upon the grass,
And view the ground's most gentler dimplement
(As if God's finger touched, but did not press
In making England) such an up and down
Of verdure, nothing too much up or down,
A ripple of land, such little hills, the sky
can stoop to tenderly, and the wheatfields climb
Such nooks of valleys lined with orchises,
Fed full of noises by invisible streams;
And open pastures where you scarcely tell
White daisies from white dew, - at intervals
The mythic oak and elm trees standing out,
Self-poised upon their prodigy of shade, -
I thought my father's land was worthy too
Of being my Shakespeare's "

Gently rolling fields in the South of England

The Lake district

Florence has always been a favourite Italian city with the British, Elizabeth browning lived here with her husband Robert Broiwning

A village church in England

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Aphrodisiac mushroom risotto

This evening I made mushroom risotto. It wasn't just any old mushroom risotto, it was a special aphrodisiac version. About twenty years ago a friend took me to a book presentation by Isabel Allende. She is the one who wrote The House of the Spirits which was made into a film starring Meryl Streep. My daughter has read all her books and enjoyed them all. The book Isabel Allende was presenting on this occasion was called "Aphrodite" and she wrote it to celebrate her fiftieth birthday in praise of sensuality and a sort of aphrodisiac approach to life. It is also a cookery book and the recipes are all accompanied by her comments on their aphrodisiac qualities. She says at some point in the book that the only real aphrodisiac is love and the book is an invitation to have fun with food and bring joy to a relationship through cooking without taking it all too seriously.

Here is Isabel Allende's recipe for mushroom risotto, for two

Risotto Lori


1 cup of risotto rice
1 cup of mushrooms, champignons
1 cup of dried mushrooms, soaked, rinsed and chopped
3 cups of vegetable stock
2 tsps. of butter
4 tbsps. of olive oil
one small white onion, finely chopped
half a cup of freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 tbsp. of finely chopped garlic
half a cup of red wine
1 tsps. of truffle oil, optional
1 tbsp. of chopped rosemary
half a tsp of grated nutmeg

Bring the vegetable stock to the boil and then turn off the heat. Melt the butter and oil in a non-stick pan and gently fry the onion, garlic, champignons and dried mushrooms together and then turn them onto a plate. In the same pan fry the rice together with the rosemary, the nutmeg and then gradually add the vegetable stock, stirring occasionally on a low heat. When the rice is almost cooked add the mushroom mixture and stir well. Add the rest of the stock and cook for another ten minutes stirring all the time. When the rice is cooked add the red wine and the truffle oil if using and check the seasoning. Remove from the heat and stir in the grated Parmesan cheese.
This goes well with a green salad and a small glass of red wine.

Mushroom risotto

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Every time you go away

I took my grandchildren to the cinema to see Peppa Pig. They are all very small and we sat there in the dark clutching our popcorn and cuddling each other. It was a wonderful sensation. Being there with them was the main reason I had taken them. Once the film had started I paid some attention to the story. Peppa Pig was off on holiday to Italy. Up, up and away she went with her family in an aeroplane. Without warning tears fell from my eyes, I started crying uncontrollably. Luckily no-one could see me in the darkness of the cinema. Seeing the  aeroplane take off with the family on board so happy and excited took me back with a vengeance to when I used to go with my children to stay with my parents. All the pain and the emotion and the heartbreak of those summers came flooding back. Oh how I wish it had all been so different.
I wrote a post yesterday about the Italian school year. Once my children were at school the only time I could really take them to see their grandparents was in June and July. In those days there were no mobile phones, no easy texts, emails, Ryan Air, Easy jet or Skype. The trip to Britain was an emotionally charged  no win situation every time.
It cost me a lot of effort to arrange to leave my Italian life, family and friends, not to mention their father, my husband. They would look forward eagerly to going to England, having absorbed all my longing and love for my family and homeland. We would set off enthusiastically but also concerned about leaving  their dad. Luckily for a long time he had a doting mamma who was only too happy to have him to herself for a while.
Often our arrival in England was a let down. After all the excitement of packing and planning we would step out of the plane into the rain, our Italian summer clothes quickly covered with warm coats. I had to try and fit back in, pretend I belonged there that it was my home. Often my brother and his family seemed totally unaware that we were coming, They were often out or having a party when we arrived, no texts to keep people up-to-date back then. My father found the whole thing an emotional strain. he loved having us there, but he hated to see us go. He almost preferred the time before we arrived when he could plan and look forward to us coming. Once we were there he knew it would soon be time to leave, and then the pain of missing each other would start again.
For a long time I thought there was something wrong with us, why couldn't we be more relaxed about it all? Why did it cost us so much? I started to confide in other friends in a similar situation. The answers I got were all the same. My Austrian friend told me that her mother had  begged her not to go back home, she couldn't cope with the feelings of despair when she left to go back to Italy. Eventually that friend and her husband went  to live in Austria and now spend their holidays in Italy. Another friend who had to take the children away for the summer said she found it hard to re-adjust to her husband's masculine ways. After weeks of having to be in charge she couldn't take a back seat.
It is very hard to understand unless you have experienced it. Most people thought we were lucky, and so we were of course. Once I ventured to ask my daughter's teacher if she could give her work to do because I wanted to take her with me to England for a week in February. The answer was a flat refusal. She said it wouldn't be fair on the other children who couldn't go to England. I confided in a friend of mine and she said what nonsense, it would be much nicer for my children to have their grandparents and cousins near them, and I should I ask again saying that. We did go and the other children didn't seem to mind at all.
Yesterday I spoke to a friend of mine whose newly graduated daughter wants to go to Australia for two months. She was very concerned and was doing all she could to stop her. I told her about Skype and cheap flights and said maybe she could go out too for a short holiday. Two months is a very short time.
Lots of people take the attitude that if there children go and live somewhere else they will have the opportunity to see places they had never considered. It will open up their minds and their lives.
My cousin's daughter is going to California for two years and so he and his wife are planning to go and stay with her for as long as they can.
In case you are wondering about Peppa Pig, she had a lovely time in Italy with her family, and my grandchildren and I really enjoyed being at the cinema together. I came out with mascara running down my cheeks..

A poem for the elections

The election results for the European Union have been discussed at length.
there are many points of view and opinions. It is surely ultimately a positive sign when anything that makes people think and discuss and maybe change their minds for the good .All change we hope will occur for the better and peacefully. This poem by Emily Dickinson tells us to start with ourselves

The heart is the capital of the mind;
The mind is a single state;
The heart and mind together make
A single continent.

One is the population -
Numerous enough.
This estatic nation
Seek - it is yourself

A single rose

A rose garden

Monday, 26 May 2014

The school year in Italy and Britain

One of the biggest differences for me to cope with in Italy was the  Italian school calendar.
In Britain our school year was divided into terms, Spring, Summer and Autumn. We started school at the beginning of September, had a week's half-term holiday at the end of October so we could have fun on Halloween and Bonfire night. then we had a two week Christmas holiday. we had another half term holiday in February and then a two week break for Easter. Then we had a Spring half term holiday at the end of May. We then  finished for the summer holidays about the 20th July. Our summer holidays lasted about six weeks and we all considered them long holidays. Magazine articles abounded on what to do with the children during the long summer holidays. Most of us just had a two week holiday away with the family. We were very happy with all of this, we liked being at home and playing in the garden. My dad used to say he loved his life and his work, life was one long holiday. He'd seen enough sand during the war to last him a lifetime. We did go on some lovely holidays though, Wales, Scotland, camping in France and Italy, and we had a caravan by the river or by the sea. This was all very adventurous and we felt very lucky. As we got older we worked during our holidays, temping jobs in offices or factories, waitress in cafes or pubs. no sitting around doing nothing for us .All young people seemed to do this.
When I met my husband and he told me about his Italian school holidays I was astounded. he told me they finished school at the beginning of June and didn't start again until the beginning of October. He said that he spent a month at the sea and a month in the mountains. He said this was common, there were all sorts of Scout groups or Colonie, where children could go if they didn't have the possibility to do otherwise. It was very common to rent an apartment in the mountains or by the sea and just go there to escape the heat of the town. Holiday jobs were unheard of.
 When he was at school there were also numerous Feste,  to celebrate special saints or historical events. A lot of these feste have since been abolished, there were too many of them. The Italian school year now starts in the first half of September and then there is a holiday on the first of November. the Christmas holidays  last about two weeks and start on Christmas Eve until the 6 Th of January, Epiphany.. Next comes a short holiday for Martedi grasso, shrove Tuesday or Pancake day and then just a couple of days for East. The summer holidays start at the beginning of June and  so now we are having all the end of  the school year festivities.Everything stops now, dancing, football, all extra curriculum activities grind to a halt.
 In Britain it is only half term but in Italy it is already the end of the school year.
In Britain we went to school all day. Our lessons started at 9.20 am and we went home at . In Italy most children only go to school in the morning and on Saturday, even though there are some schools that have orario continuato, all day timetable.
I was surprised to discover that the actual number of hours that children spend at school is practically the same in both countries.
You would think that the Italian school holidays start in early June because of the heat, but that is just when the serious exams start taking place. The Italian equivalent to A levels, La Maturità is held in June and July. If the students then want to try and get into university to do medicine or engineering or anything else with a numero chiuso, limited number of places, they have to study all through the summer heat of August to take the entrance exams at the beginning of September, because their
Maturità has no value at all as far as the universities are concerned for certain degree subjects.
Both systems have their advantages and disadvantages. In Britain we choose three or four subjects to study at A level after having taken our GCSEs at 16.
As I've told you an education system is often just a haphazard sequence of events..

Start the week on a positive note

Regular readers of my blog will know that Monday is the day when I feel energized and ready for action. I make lists of all the things I've got to do, want to do and should do. Some housework is always necessary after the weekend so on goes the music. The Bangle singing Manic Monday or other housework songs that can be heard above the noise of the vacuum cleaner. Today it is M People singing Search for the hero inside yourself. It is also a good time to reflect on last weeks events and write your diary. In my diary I just write the facts, you never know what to do with it when the year is over, but it's nice to fix things in your memory.

When I went to listen to Simonetta  Agnello Hornby she said that she considers gratitude to be the greatest virtue. I always try and find time last thing at night to think about what I have to be grateful for. Like most of us though I tend to dwell on what I  got wrong. I remember when I was teaching I always tried to end the listen with a compliment for each pupil or student. It wasn't always easy with the naughty ones., I usually said something to the effect of they kept me awake.
we have still got one more week of the merry month of May and nature is a great delight. Here is a perfect  quote for Monday morning from Jerome K. Jerome (1859 - 1927) A writer dear to my heart because his book "Three men in a boat" is set on the beautiful River Thames which I know and love so well. He mentions the town I come from and lived for a while in the area.

 A new life begins for us with every second. Let us go forward joyously to meet it. we must press on, whether we will or no, and we shall walk better with our eyes before us than with them ever cast behind.

Jerome K. Jerome's book Three men in a boat, to say nothing about the dog, is well-known for it's comic timing and dry wit. My favourite passage from it is about the Cistercian monks who lived at Medmenham abbey in the thirteenth century.

The Cistercian monks, whose abbey stood there in the thirteenth century.....
A grim fraternity, passing grim lives in that sweet spot. that God had made so bright! Strange that Nature's voices all around them - the soft singing of the waters, the whisperings of the river grass, the music of the rushing wind - should not have taught them a truer meaning of life than this. They listened there, through the long days, in silence, waiting for a voice from heaven, and all day long and through the solemn night it spoke to them in myriad tones, and they heard it not.

So this week's key thoughts for me, are gratitude, go forward joyously, search for the hero inside, and listen out for the beauty around me, I feel exhausted already ....

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Weddings and speeches

In Britain it is traditional to have speeches at weddings. At a certain point during the reception the Bride's father and the groom's best man will give a speech. A lot of thought and preparation is given to this. The Best man usually tells daring tales and reminisces on the past misdeeds of the groom. One of my friend's said her father couldn't sleep for months before the wedding because he was so worried about his speech. He had been told not to worry and that. all he had to do was make a few jokes and say something about how much it cost. He stood up and started his speech at the wedding and telling us that he had been given this advice, but he was from Yorkshire and he said that Yorkshire men never joke about money. This raised a lot of laughs, the way he said it. For a long time the most popular start to a speech was for the person giving it to say that a speech had to be like a Woman's skirt. Long enough to cover the subject but short enough to be interesting, we always dutifully laughed. The same with the Frenchman saying that by now women and men had achieved equality between the sexes. The difference was very small. Then the punch line "Vive C'est petit difference !""  Again, dutiful laughter..
My own personal mention in a wedding speech was when I couldn't attend because I was about to have a baby. We sent a telegram which was read out at the wedding. the Best man gave the apologies of Mavis and Angela. My dad quietly corrected him and told him why we weren't there. The Best man then announced to the whole party that Mavis and Angela were having a baby..
At my niece's wedding the speeches were in English and Hungarian. The groom's sister from Hungary impressed us all as she gave a wonderful speech in perfect English. She started off by saying that her brother looked stunned and the bride looked stunning.

In Italy we always have my brother giving speeches at weddings. He is very good at it, although he doesn't think so, which makes him, of course .. perfect.  Also my sister-in-law as my daughter's godmother gave a brilliant speech in Italian. It is an occasion to express your affection and solidarity for the couple. My brother's latest godfather speech seemed to have been inspired by the in- flight  magazine from British Airways. From where I was standing I couldn't hear a word he said, but I caught the punch line  All you need is love.
In Italy it is not traditional to have speeches at weddings. One of the reasons might be because the prayers and speeches are all done in church. Often the bride and groom's mothers will say special personal prayers along with the brothers and sisters or best friends. In fact any one who wants too can say a special prayer for the couple. Or it might be because Italians aren't so enthusiastic about having a best man stand up and say something like "The first time I met John he was wearing a wig and a leopard skin thong in the student's union..."
Wedding card

Gifts are given to all the guests at Italian weddings. These are hand made booklets

The essential ingredient for a happy marriage

Kissing clouds

Getting on with people

My dad was always saying that you could do one hundred good things and then doing just one bad one could wipe them all out in one go. If you did something wrong it would take many good acts to put it right. I remember some advice I read in an Italian woman's magazine to never let your partner see you with a face mask or such because no amount of sexy lingerie would ever wipe that memory from his mind. It 's the same with telling the truth, once someone has told you a lie or betrayed your trust  it takes a while to rebuild confidence. I'm, sure we all agree that getting on with people is one of the most important skills we have to learn. Watching Supernanny or S.O:S Tataas it is called in Italian, the nanny said that children have to be taught three things:- to eat properly, to sleep properly and to get on with other people. Some relations are easy, you can both be naturally fond of each other and always feel at ease in each others company and that's when friendship blossoms quickly.. Getting on with the neighbours, colleagues at work, other nationalities, all the people you come into contact with every day is a skill.
 Yesterday I read a letter on a problem page in an English magazine from a reader who had introduced two of her friends to each other and was now dismayed to learn from Facebook that they were doing things without her. The advice given was to get off Facebook and ask them both out for a coffee with her, and that fidelity can only be expected from your partner, not friends. Some people are better making and keeping friend than others. Getting on with friends and relations makes life much more pleasant for everyone involved. Not to mention your life partner or permanent commitment or whatever you call them. It is very important .A long time ago I read a phrase that stuck in my mind and which I think is very true, it takes many small acts of kindness to build a relationship and many acts of neglect to destroy one.
I was reading about John Ruskin, William Morris and Sydney Cockerell, they all sort of knew each other at some time. Sydney Cockerell (1867 - 1967) was an English museum curator in Cambridge. This is what he wrote in his will:-

I declare friendship to be precious beyond all words. But it is like a plant that withers if it not be heedfully tended. It must be fostered by means of visits, of letters, of little services and attentions, and by constant thought, sympathy and kindness. I implore my children and grandchildren to remember this.

I expect he said it to them whenever he could about all their relationships.

Easy peasy, late Spring, Family Sunday lunch

The temperature is going up every day and very soon it will be too hot to use the oven in Italy except for first thing in the morning. The days of easy living are here. It is time to make anything that needs cooking early in the day. I love having all the family round for Sunday lunch and there is often a birthday to be celebrated too. My dishes for entertaining are all easy and require little skill, but good shopping is essential to get the best quality ingredients. Today I planned a family celebration for 16 of us from 1 year old to eighty.
Everything needs to be suitable for all those ages and not spoil if kept waiting. Here is what I made today, and it all got eaten up with relish. I try and make extra so I can give the guests something to take home to start off their working week with something ready-made for Monday evening.

Hummus with tarrallucci with aperitifs

Rice salad,, with mixed vegetables  and tuna fish
Pasta salad with cherry tomatoes,small mozzarella,sliced olives

vegetarian shepherd's pie
Spinach and ricotta quiche,torta salata

Green salad

Strawberries and cream and Scottish shortbread

chocolates with coffee

Most of the shopping can be done the day before.
Ready made Hummus dip
Tarrallucci or other suitable crackers
Rice for cold salads
Mixed vegetables in a jar
Best quality tuna fish, drained
Pasta, either penne or conchiglie or Fusilli

The Vegetarian Shepherd's pie and the Spinach and Ricotta pie are in my previous posts.

The Rice salad and the pasta salad can be made first thing in the morning along with the Spinach and ricotta torta salata. The Vegetarian Shepherd's pie is best made in advance, either the day before or frozen.

To make the rice salad simply boil and drain the rice then run cold water over it to stop it cooking. In a large bowl gently mix the vegetables and tuna, then add the rice and some olive oil, salt, pepper and a squeeze of lemon. Mix gently. If liked you can add cherry tomatoes, olives, capers and other pickles.
To make the pasta salad, first wash and  half the cherry tomatoes. Place them in a large serving bowl and sprinkle them with salt, pepper, basil leaves and olive oil. Mix gently and leave the flavours to develop while you cook the pasta. Drain the pasta, run cold water over it and then add gently to the tomato mixture. Add sliced olives and capers to taste. Add the mozzarella just before serving. and mix gently .Decorate with fresh basil leaves

Instead of a cake lots of fresh strawberries served with freshly whipped cream and icing sugar to taste.
Make sure you have your fridge stocked with ice lollies for the children for a mid afternoon treat.

Bread sticks, Ricotta and spinach pie, Tarralucci and Hummus, Pasta salad

Strawberries and cream with Scottish shortbread

A special box of chocolates is always welcome with coffee

What is love?

It's very late and I'm thinking about love. There has been a lot going on in my life to do with love . From my school days I remember being told about the three main types of love, Eros, agape and pathos. Of course the most exciting one as a teenager was Eros, the other two I sort of took for granted. the teacher told us that Agape was love for humanity and pathos for family and friends. I hope she got it right because I haven't looked it up on Wikipedia to check because it is too late so I'm just trying to remember and say what is in my heart. the love for family and friends and humanity came easy, it was there in my heart from the day I was born. the Eros one seemed to be much more tricky, less permanent, harder to gain and sustain. So much has written about love, it is an endless fascination for us all. Everyone wants and needs it. Today I read something about love by one of the Quakers, Isaac Penington (1616 - 1679).

What is love?
It is the sweetness of life;
It is the sweet, tender, melting nature of God,
flowing up through his seed of life into the creature, and of all things making the creature most like unto himself, both in nature and operation. It excludes all evil out of the heart, it perfects all good in the heart.
A touch of love doth this in measure, perfect love does this in fullness.

We need to consciously fill our hearts with love every day.
We all have different ways of showing our love for each other.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Common flowers reflecting joy

The other day my brother and I were trying to describe someone that we are both very fond of. Witty,kind, affectionate and funny immediately sprung to mind. Then I blurted out that what I really like was that he is so normal. Then I thought what do we mean by normal? Well I think it means that being in their company makes you feel serene and relaxed, if you have a laugh so much the better. You know you are not being judged and they are not waiting for you to put a foot wrong. So often when people dismiss behaviour as being just a part of human nature, they are talking about negative things. It's human nature to be jealous, dislike someone, betray or steal. It is also human nature to be kind, caring and loving and feel compassion.

This made me think of dandelions. All through my English childhood they kept me company. I used their leaves to feed my rabbit. Their bright sunny faces brightened up the meadows where I played. I never picked them though because my mum had a thing about them staining my hands. My friends and I had competitions to see how many times we could blow away their fluffy heads and tell the time with them, then imagine them as parachutes falling gently to the ground.
Dandelions grow everywhere, like daisies and buttercups. I always thought they were called dandelions because dandy means smart and attractive and they look like a lion with a mane. Someone told me that dandelion comes from the French Dente de lion, which means lion's teeth. When I came to Italy dandelions were all the over the place here too. I asked what they are called. Most people looked blank. The best they could come up with was El piscia can, which means dog's wee. Huh I thought they were the romantic ones.

There is a song by the Rolling Stones called Dandelion which is the b side to We love you. Apparently Keith Richards named his daughter born in 1972 Dandelion. Her mother later changed it to Angela.

This poem  by the American poet. James Russell Lowell,(1819 - 1891) tells us to look for the beauty in common flowers, normal things. I bet you didn't think I knew a poem about a dandelion, and it is really lovely, you will never look at a dandelion in the same way again.

Dear common flower, that grow'st beside the way,
fringing the dusty road with harmless gold,
First pledge of blithesome May,
Which children pluck, and full of pride, uphold.
How like a prodigal doth nature seem,
When thou, for all thy gold so common art!
Thou teachest me to deem
More sacredly of every human heart,
Since each reflects in joy its scanty gleam
Of heaven.
Dandelion clock, irresistible to the child in you

A splash of gold in the grass

Friday, 23 May 2014

La mia Londra, Simonetta Agnello Hornby

In the classroom of the first school where I taught English as a foreign language, there was a  poster on the wall with one of Dr.Samuel Johnson's most famous quotes.
When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.
Samuel Johnson (1709 - 1784) said that a long time ago but it could easily be said today too. Dr.Johnson is probably most famous for his Dictionary of the English Language which was published in 1755 and had a far reaching effect on Modern English and was considered the most important dictionary until the Oxford English Dictionary was published  in 1905.
Yesterday I attended a book presentation by an Italian author called Simonetta Agnello Hornby. She was born in Palermo in 1945 and went to London to study English as a young girl. She fell in love and married an Englishman and went to live in London in 1972. I was very impressed by her. She was friendly and approachable. She told us that she had two grown up sons and had worked as a children's lawyer for many years in Brixton and had been a part time president for the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribune.
The book she was presenting is called La Mia Londra, My London. First of all we were shown a short film of the author walking around London, drinking coffee, eating pizza, enjoying the parks. She told us that to get to know London she spent a lot of time walking around. She said that was the best way to get to know a city. She told us that Samuel Johnson had had a profound influence on her. She felt the same way about London as him. She stressed that her book was not a tourist guide, it was her own personal view of the city that she loves.
When she had finished speaking we were invited to ask questions. There were lots and lots of things I wanted to say but I just clammed up. Someone asked her about her admiration for Samuel Johnson. Each chapter of her book begins with a quote from him.  Someone asked why Birmingham is less important than London. Someone asked if she missed Sicily and how she coped with homesickness. She said that now there is Skype, Ryan Air and Easy jet. She said her sons feel English and now they are married they do the cooking and shopping because of the way they were brought up by their Italian mamma. then of course someone had to ask about our poor ill reputed English food. I was delighted when she said that she loves English food. Her face lit up describing Roasts, puddings, pies,cakes. She told us the recipe for a pudding called Sussex Pond. Next someone asked her to tell us the differences between Italians and the English. Her first response was that really she could only talk about Sicilians, not Italians, and then she listed a whole lot of similarities between the two.
The last question was from a teacher who taught Italian as a foreign language. He said that Noam Chompski says that for people who learn a second language it will never be as good as their mother tongue. She interrupted him with a huge smile saying "Noam Chompski is right". She said her English will never be as good as her Italian.
When it was my turn to have my book signed she asked me how long I had lived in Italy. She was charming, friendly, interesting and very clever. Sicily should be very proud of her.I'm looking forward to reading her book.

Dr Johnson's house

The latest book by Simonetta Agnello Hornby

Out in the country for a picnic

One of the nicest ways to make the best of the lovely Spring sunny days is to go out into the country and have a picnic. Some sandwiches, cans of beer, apples and a piece of chocolate and a nice shady spot and maybe a picnic rug. Lots of people had the same idea today. Lots of different languages rang out along the lanes as people cycled and walked calling to each other in their native tongue.The pleasure of sitting out on the grass in the open air is something we all can have. John Clare (1793-1864), knew that we do not need to own things to enjoy them.

Nor land nor yet living belongs unto me,
Yet I can go out in the meadows and see
The healthy green grass - and behold the showers fall,
As the wealth of that being that blesses us all,
And he that feels this, who can say he is poor?
For fortune's the birthright of joy - nothing more,
And he that feels thus takes the wealth from the soil,
For the miser owns nought but the trouble and toil.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Fly by embracing one another

Sometimes other people can really hurt you. The first thing to do is examine your conscience to see if you can in any way be held responsible for the hurt they have caused you. Often the sad truth is that you have done nothing so terrible and you just have to accept the way things are. When one of my sons was small  he was suffering at the hands of some of the other children at school. I blithely recited a childhood chant that I remembered,

 sticks and stones
 will break my bones
 but names will never hurt me.

He looked at me sadly and told me that was not true, names do hurt.
Few of us sail through childhood without learning the hard way that friendship can cause pain. My little granddaughter use to like calling me into the bathroom with her so we could tell each other secrets. One day she told me that she had discovered that it is dangerous to tell your secrets because they can be blurted out by who you thought was a trusted friend. She was five at the time.
After struggling for a couple of years at primary school, with a rather difficult threesome, my own daughter started middle school and we were both delighted with the new easy going friends she made there. One of them gave her a card that said,

We are each of us angels with only one wing and we can only fly by embracing one another.

This is by Luciano De Crescenzo who was born in Naples in 1928. He wrote a book about his home town called Cosi^ parlò Bellavista, Thus spake Bellavista, which was made into a film.
Perhaps one of the most helpful quotes about pain, whether emotional or whatever is by Burnet Hillman Streeter, (1874-1937),

Conquer by accepting. Pain, like other elemental forces in nature, can be turned to use but only if the laws of its operation are first understood and conformed to. Those who meet it clear-eyed and with a positive and active acceptance make a strange discovery. they find that they achieve an enrichment and a growth of personality which makes them centres of influence and light. they become socially creative.

Dogs and roses

An odd number of red roses is a sure sign that love is blossoming

Shopaholic hounds
Wild roses are sometimes called dog roses . Today I saw dogs in unexpected places and roses galore . Roses in gardens and shops, climbing over walls and adorning balconies. I read somewhere that if people are asked to say which is their favourite flower and which is their favourite number a vast amount of people will say roses and number seven. There is probably a scientific explanation. How can roses not be a favourite flower? They come in colours for all tastes, from
Strong vibrant yellows and oranges to delicate pinks and white.  What woman has never felt weak at the kneese when presented with red roses , the greatest symbol of true love. In Britain to be given a dozenred roses is a sure sign of a serious suitor. In Italy however it is considered lucky to be given an odd number of roses. So if you are sent thirteen red roses please don't throw one away in a panic like I did .
Along with all the roses I admired today I saw some little dogs that looked very happy to be accompanying their owners running their errands.
Helping to deliver the letters

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Inspirational words of wisdom

One of the ninety two year old men that I mentioned in a recent post had one of those Inspirational words of wisdom quotes above his desk for the whole of his working life.

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change what I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

He was a very serene man. Being in his presence you always felt that he had time for you, he wasn't about to rush off somewhere. He was greatly loved by all who were lucky enough to know him.
When he was with my mum and dad they would often swap their favourite inspirational words of wisdom. My dad had loads, many of which were made up by him. He liked to quote Confucius and tell us that we were going to have an old Eastern custom at the dinner table. This meant we had to be quiet. It sounded really nice the way he put it, to sit there in silence pretending we were samurai.

Today I read a quote by Abraham Barzali along the lines of,

Without the desert, there is no oasis.

This made me think of water again and how precious it is. Only this year there has much distress caused by floods that like everything you can have too much of it. I know of people in Britain who have been living in rented accommodation for months because their homes have been wrecked by the floods earlier this year. Now in ex-Yugoslavia people are suffering because of too much water. It seems there are great shows of solidarity and courage as people help each other, all their differences forgotten.

When we lived in Belgrade, Yugoslavia was one nation. The friends we made were very proud of this. Seven countries, with different languages, all joined together and flying the same flag. Now of course they are separate, as is ex-Czechoslovakia. In September there will be another momentous decision to be made about Scotland.
Thinking about all these countries that may be happier apart reminds me of another words of wisdom quote by Mark Amend, which seems a great name for a wise person.

Be strong enough to stand alone,
Be yourself enough to stand apart
But be wise enough to stand together when the time comes.

One night in Amsterdam

About fifteen years ago when my children were teenagers, my daughter had to go to Britain for an interview at university. Her dad being the one she had got her brains from, was chosen to accompany her. I was left at home with my two teenage boys. A long weekend loomed ahead. On the spur of the moment I decided to take them to Amsterdam to visit my cousin's daughter and her boyfriend. A quick trip to the travel agent and we were all set to go. I felt very adventurous and daring and quite proud of myself. They, on the other hand, complained that to go to Amsterdam with your mum was really so uncool. As we boarded the plane their enthusiasm increased. We landed at Amsterdam airport and all of us felt the thrill of the adventure, not to say being impressed by the amazing sights of huge mounds of doughnuts.
While we were waiting for my cousin's daughter to come home from work we decided to try the open air ice-skating rinks that were all decorated for Christmas and looked so inviting and we had heard so much about. My boys were fitted up with skates and I move round the rink so that I could take photos of them as they came into view. I waited a long time with my camera poised and so walked back to see where they were. Lo and behold my youngest son had tripped up on the rubbish rented skates, fallen on the ice and his face was covered with blood. As my finger was on the button I automatically clicked it, at which point my elder son, ever protective of his younger brother, looked at me in amazement and asked what sort of mum takes a photo of her son like that. An ambulance arrived, cleaned him up  and then drove away telling me that no harm was done. Then what I could only describe as one of the heavy mob, with a heart of gold, loomed over me and told me I should take my son to hospital just to make sure nothing was broken because his nose was very swollen. Actually it wasn't really, he has a Roman nose. He told me that he had been in so many fights that he had had the bone in his nose removed specially. He then called us a taxi and bundled us in. The taxi driver asked me if I wanted to go to the good hospital or the bad one. Well without hesitation I said the good one, because in spite of the inappropriate photo my son means the world to me.
At the hospital they were very kind, pronounced him fit and well and told us to take it easy after our shock and absolutely no alcohol.
We then went to my cousin and her boyfriend's flat where they were waiting with a tray set out with champagne and tapas. My cousin's daughter was on the phone to her mum. I explained why my son was covered with bandages and said sadly no alcohol for us. She spoke to her mum, then she turned round and said emphatically "Mummy says champagne is the very best thing to have after a shock."
Everything was on the up from then on.
They took us to a restaurant near the red light district, it was full of young people and my cousins knew everybody. Large jugs of Margaritas appeared, the rim of the glass covered with salt. My sons became animated and joined in enthusiastically. I was just about to wonder how I would ever stand up again when someone ordered food. Delicious Mexican food that was perfect with the endless supply of Margaritas. My cousin and her boyfriend were delightful entertaining company and I felt the years slip away, I was a teenager again myself !!!
Afterwards my cousin's boyfriend took my sons to have a look round the Red light district, they had to see it, he said. We girls, yes I was one of the girls again, held back happily reminiscing and catching up with each others' news.
My cousin's boyfriend came back a bit peeved, the girls behind the glass windows had only been interested in my boys.
The warmth and friendliness of our hosts and all their friends was the best cure we could ever had hoped for.
The next day we went round the Van Gogh museum which was wonderful and deserves a post of its own, and then to Anne Frank's house,ditto.
After Anne Frank's house we were all very sad and down and wandered round the streets looking for somewhere to have lunch. It felt a bit like London, a bit like home, and then joy of joys we saw a sign outside a sort of Dutch pub saying Tomaten suppen. Tomato soup in a pub on a cold winter's day when you're feeling in need of cheering up, wonderful.
I secretly like to think that after our Amsterdam experience I became a cool mum after all, thanks to my cousin's daughter and her boyfriend.

No need for a bike lock in Amsterdam simply take your saddle with you, Ouch !!!

Not sure what was on offer here, but it made us smile

The scene of the accident

Amsterdam terraced houses coming to an end

Canals instead of streets,

The next day everything was much brighter