January 6, 2015
This new year started slow and relaxed as it ended. After the final mad rush that built up to Christmas Eve, everything assumed a more natural pace as soon as we landed in Venice to spend the holidays with my family.
Friends were seen, indulgent festive food was eaten. I read a whole book in a few days, snugged on the armchair next to the fireplace with my brother's cat purring heavily on my lap. I haven't read in such abandoned and uninterrupted way in years, my mind finally free from distractions and anxiety. I realise now how tired I was by the amount of hours I have been sleeping if left undisturbed (eleven) and tried to second this inclination as much as I could, with a little help from one too much glass of celebratory bubbly wine.
I write this as the Christmas tree sparkles in front of me, a clear morning sky and a bright sun in the background. The air is cold and pungent, perfect to wake you up after a long sleep. One more day off before we get back, a few more hours of festive celebrations. We haven't quite given up sweets and rich foods for the January detox regime just yet...there is still some panettone left for breakfast, good for dipping into a steamy cup of coffee. There is still Epiphany today, the last day of the holiday season, when stockings are filled with sweets and citrus and nuts.
One more sweet recipe, then, before we switch to salads and soups. It's a dark chocolate bark with sea salt, indulgent but quite forgiving – a good in-between treat from everything sweet to no sweets at all. A good compromise that doesn't taste like compromise at all shall we say. For toppings, I went with citrus and almonds, both always unmistakably present in my stocking when I was a child – citrus for bulking up the content, and candied almonds picked up from the Christmas market between shopping errands. Also, some pistachios for colour, and sea salt for crunch and a savoury note. It is so easy to make you might be tempted to make it again and again: you can then swap the toppings with whatever nut or dry fruit you have in hand, but don't skip the salt – it's what really brings its flavour to another level.
And oh, friends: a very happy new year!
December 19, 2014
I am ready to be covered in hugs and fed well and copiously. There will be bigoli in salsa for dinner on the 24th I am sure, and lots of panettone. There might be cantucci too – now an official threat to my first ever tooth filling as of this week (not proud of that). We'll take small day trips here and there – perhaps Venice and Padova, or who knows Bologna, or even Milan, or just some small villages in the beautiful Veneto hills. I'll make sure to report back about any of these, but more about them in a few weeks.
December 12, 2014
'Could you please move down?'
A far away echo – words yelled by just another, tired, mildly anxious, stressed somebody living the daily psychological torture that is commuting in the city. His words are muffled, I hear them from far behind my shoulders. I can tell he hasn't made it on board yet. Someone pushes the crowd crammed by the door a little further, just enough to get one last person inside the carriage. He didn't make this train. Who knows if he will make the next.
London can really turn people into the ghost version of themselves - into selfish, cynical, rushed, distressed, single individuals who feel they are constantly battling against the world. I sometimes surprise myself thinking, 'We are too many here, and between me and you, I choose me'. People are absolutely everywhere - so many that a feeling of oppression is truly physical, palpable. My hair got pulled many times by strangers trying to reach for the phone in their pocket. Many times I had no personal space in any direction, and my hands were dangerously close to someone else butt.
And oh, the rush. There are mornings when I wake up and all I do is avoid people. If you have ever been unlucky enough to be at Waterloo station at rush hour you'll know what I mean: people coming from all directions, going as fast as a bullet, following the same path every day, knowing exactly their route and hating every human or object standing in their way. It feels like being in a video game: you need prompt reflexes to avoid them at the last second while crossing your trajectory, or someone will be hurt. It's exhausting. It's sad. We are all fighting the same battle, it seems, but there is no space for compassion, or empathy. There is only the worry to tick all the checklist boxes for the day- to make it safe and sound to the next. Which is sadly going to look exactly like the one before.
I hate this version of myself – rushed, distracted, exhausted, selfish. Particularly as the holiday season approaches, I am trying to push myself away from it all as much as I can, because if I don't, I will eventually push away all that I care about instead.Food has always played a crucial role in keeping my mental health in line. The mere act of cooking something from scratch, albeit simple or familiar or even unimaginative, but with the power of making me immediately present to what I am doing, is the most relaxing activity I can think of.
November 25, 2014
It’s astonishing the way our memory works with flavours. Someone sitting next to me on the tube eating a packet of crackers – I can only smell the sweet, warm, slightly sickening aroma of the complex sugars being broken down by someone else’s saliva and yet, I know exactly what those crackers taste like, I can taste them in my mouth too.
We talked about it with Jesse the other night. He read an article, or perhaps it was a short story – did he say one on the New Yorker? NYT? I forget now – where at one point the character would arrive home from school and smell the pot roast bubbling away on the stove in the kitchen, cooking to perfection just in time for dinner. “I could see myself coming home and doing exactly those same gestures, smelling the same smell. I know exactly what that food tastes like, even though I haven’t eaten it in years."
The power of a smell, of a taste – the power of our memory. It’s bewildering sometimes. How does it work? I think someone won a Noble prize about that once, but maybe the experiment was with a dog? Also, of course, Proust. Everybody knows about the madeleine – and how one can write a seven-tome-long fictional trip starting from there. What’s your madeleine? Do you have a food you can picture in your mind and that can set you back in time, back into a specific place? Can you taste it in your mouth?
November 12, 2014
I am a great planner. In fact, I created a grandiose calendar where I wrote the days I was supposed to sit down and browse relevant, interesting seasonal recipes from the stash of cookbooks I have sitting next to the couch, with post-its between them hoping to be, one day, removed. I had planned the days I was meant to list the ingredients I needed, the day for the shopping, and finally, the day for the cooking. I wanted to cook something interesting every week to make dinners a bit more adventurous and exciting. I planned to cook and taste, then try again and finally decide if the recipe was worth mentioning here, or just ticking and moving on.
I had a plan for writing, too. I wanted to write every week, a little every evening, and to photograph every weekend – to be more disciplined with the bits of creativity that dot my daily life. I wanted to put down in words and visuals all the ideas that pass through my mind at the speed of light – all the food, recipes, stories and bits of life brought back by an event of a sudden connection of thoughts – and are gone before I can record them. I had grand plans to sit down and just pour down onto a physical or virtual page all the ideas that blur my mind during the day and that make me anxious at work.
I am as good a planner as I am a procrastinator. I am undisciplined. Tired. Lazy. My plans don't take into account these aspects as I fly high in hope and optimism. What happened instead was my shopping pattern returned to be casual, instinctual, dictated by habit and sudden fancies after only a week. My recipe research dropped, and I returned to cook the things I feel comfortable putting together without any recipe but rather pulling together flavours and ingredients from my pantry and assembling them in fashions I think might work. I struggled to write in the evening, to find inspiration or just the right set of mind, and quickly returned to my readings and series-watching habits.
Writing a little every day – that is my biggest goal, yet it feels so unachievable right now. My mornings are too early and too fast before I head out of the door to my whirlwind of events. My evenings are late, and the worst time of the day for me to write, unless I swallow that fifth cup of coffee and write all in one go through the small hours of the night. I usually come home tired and mentally drained – a cacophony of stimuli and a handful of fragmented sentences. Home to a husband that demands my attention and with whom I want to spend my little spare time. In the evening, I am the furthest away from a decent storyteller I can ever possibly be.
Still, I ache to be here. I have been sitting on this post for days, looking for a good angle and a good story to tell about this salad, and the more I thought about it, the less I could say. The less hard I tried, the more clear it became that this salad tells no other story than the story of myself, here and now: of me eating somehow healthily, using seasonal produce turned into a hopefully exciting salad that could come together as quickly as possible. A salad made with ingredients that didn't take any room in my shoebox size refrigerator; and that would keep my green cravings at stake after a long day under the fluorescent light bulbs of the office. It tells the story of someone who likes to cook and eat well, but who struggles with time and energy. Someone who would gladly eat leftover soup for three days in a row than cooking for one hour after dumping my bags on the floor and taking my shoes off.
Thankfully, little planning, time or energy is required for this salads – just a trip to the greengrocer to get some vibrant, fresh seasonal ingredients. Oddly, this is my favourite time of the year for salad because it is when fennel, bitter leaves (the love of radicchio is in my genes) and citrus are in season – a heavenly combination that is extremely versatile and rewarding. It all makes for a lovely dinner alongside some pan-fried trout, some chicken or just a piece of cheese and some bread (and wine).