Saturday, 9 January 2021

Recharging batteries: making Christmas

 I longed for Christmas holidays since the end of November thinking about meeting my family, at least in the UK, and about the arrival of my granddaughter Violetta. The commitment to my teaching job at ISL London is rewarding but I was also very tired. The students are fantastic and the program is fascinating but the commuting with London and the long days I spend at school were wearing me down.

Besides, I looked forward to seeing Violetta who was born on the 8th December!💜It was a great joy, the best Christmas present ever. The birth delivery went well and my daughter in law and my son are dedicating all their time and love to their new born. They sent us photos and videos since the first moments of her life. I was so touched and overjoyed I couldn’t stop watching the videos again and again. We planned to visit them at Christmas, as the government allowed us five days at first, but then all the plans had to be changed as we entered in Tier 4 and we had only Christmas day to visit families. We weren’t sure we were allowed to see them, though we kept in touch, had skype meetings and exchanged presents by post. I was a bit angry and disappointed at the beginning because of the sudden change that took me by surprise, but this is how things are at the moment and there is no way to change them. The situation is so difficult that complaining is futile.

To compensate the fact that I am so far away from Violetta, I keep buying and making things for her and sending them by post. I crocheted a top to be matched with a tiny onesie, bought her toys, which she won’t probably use until she is two or three months old, and made an embroidery inspired by her name tweaking the well-known rhyme:

Roses are red

Violets are not blue

But sugar is sweet 

And so are you

Seeing her in videos and photos is not the same as hugging her but, on the other hand, we are happy that she is fine and that my son and daughter in law are coping well with the challenges of having a new born baby. Being the grandmother of such a beautiful lively baby girl is exciting and mesmerising. I feel there is a wonderful future ahead though my husband and I are slowing down, feeling we are more tired than we used to be a few years ago. Violetta represents our future and hope beyond ourselves. 

There was also another great surprise before Christmas. My daughter Irene, who had lived in Tokyo for almost three years to complete a Master degree at Bunka Gakuen University , decided to come back home and live with us. We were finally reunited and celebrated Christmas together. We had also the permission to spend Boxing Day with Valentina, my autistic daughter, who is in care. I prepared lasagne and tiramisu and sent her presents in advance so they could be isolated for three days before opening them with her. She enjoyed everything and we had a good time with her. She played a lot with Irene using plasticine and colours and they made paper chains too.

My parents in law sent delicious Italian delicacies which I shared in part with neighbours and friends. My neighbour Linda sent me special mince pies she made which were a great treat. I must confess, I indulged in sweets, chocolates and Christmas cakes and gained a kilo, which I am trying to lose cycling in spite of the cold weather and attending yoga zoom classes with my group led by the incomparable Shena.  During the holidays, I cooked a lot especially for Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Eve. My daughter helped me make homemade ricotta and spinach ravioli and I made duck with marmalade and marsala for New Year’s Eve. Before Christmas, I sent small presents and loads of cards in the UK and around the world and received many cards and books too. My husband made origami boxes we filled with sweets and my daughter brought silk kimono face masks from Japan; they are light and comfortable, an ideal present in these times. My presents for the family were long and warm knitted and crocheted woollen scarves I made starting last summer. Christmas lights were everywhere in the house from the first week of December and they are still on as it is so dark outside that I am unwilling to pull them down. I skyped with everyone, my sons, who live in the north, my mother and sister in Italy and my friends and fellow writers in the UK. My mum was irritated by all the complaining she heard on TV about spending Christmas and New Year’s Eve under Covid-19 restrictions. She compares this time with what she experienced during the war. Though now our movements are controlled, she remembers that during the war there was little food and there was the constant threats of bombing, a much worse time to be honest.

Besides cooking and crocheting, I chilled out. I woke up later than usual in the morning spending a good amount of time in my pyjamas and browsing lazily on social networks or listening to old Italian songs and Christmas carols. I said to myself, if you do not have time to do it today you can do it tomorrow, there is no reason to rush. The Muppet Christmas Carol videos were my favourite during Christmas week, and also the songs by Francesco De Gregori, an Italian singer-songwriter who was very popular in the 1970s and 1980s. His music is catchy and melodic and the stories he tells in his lyrics are slightly surreal. 

Here are some links:

De Gregori, Gesù bambino (Baby Jesus)


De Gregori, Natale (Christmas)


De Gregori, stella stellina (Star, Startlet)


Queen, thank God it's Christmas

Nat King Cole, Christmas song

Ella Fitzgerald - Christmas Songs

Muppet Christmas Carol - It Feels Like Christmas

Muppet Songs: Ebenezer Scrooge - Thankful Heart

And watched the Unicorn Theatre stories:

I felt creative but at a slow pace. It was relaxing and my brain energies recharged though I knew I had to go back to a more structured routine by mid-January. Now that we are in Tier 5, I will work from home till the end of February, which gives me more time and is less tiring, though I have to plan my lessons more carefully and the remote sessions are usually very intense. However, I feel worried about the
increase in contagion and I look forward to the vaccination which will hopefully allow more freedom from spring time onwards. I can see the end of the tunnel though it still seems far away. I hope to see Violetta in spring and travel to Italy too, which I miss. 

It is a difficult time but not the end of the world😊

Sunday, 20 December 2020

Indulging in cakes: Christmas recipes

 Baking is one of my favourite hobbies, especially on Friday or Saturday early mornings after a week of hard work. I feel it is relaxing and rewarding. I am always intrigued by new recipes and love experimenting, adding, mixing and trying different ingredients I pick up at the supermarket. Good creations come out of the oven, warm, inviting, ideal for breakfast and tea breaks. I exchange pieces of cake with my neighbour Linda too. She makes cakes for her children and six grandchildren. Her cakes are soft, tasty and always perfect, So we have extra treats and different options. Here are some suggestions for the Christmas break, alternative puddings and cakes to the traditional ones. Enjoy!

Nutella tart and Nutella cake

For the tart crust you need: 250 g of self-raising flour, 2 eggs, 80 g of butter, 80 g of sugar.

For the Nutella ganache you need: 250 g of Nutella, 100 g of single cream, one egg, two tbsp of corn flour; 100 g of dark chocolate and hazelnuts to decorate.

Prepare the dough mixing all the ingredients in a bowl and chill it for half an hour. In a saucepan warm Nutella, corn flour, the egg and single cream on medium heat. Roll out the dough and line a greased tart tin. Pour the Nutella mixture on the crust and bake at 180 C for half an hour. Let it cool then melt the dark chocolate in the microwave. Mix the hazelnuts with the melted chocolate and pour it on the tart.

For the cake you need: 250 g of self-raising flour, 80 g of melted butter, 250 g of Nutella, 2 eggs, a pinch of salt, 1 tsp of baking powder, one tbsp of rum or liquor, four tbsp of milk; 100 g of dark chocolate and hazelnuts to decorate.

Mix the yolks of the eggs with Nutella, add the flour and the baking powder mixed with the milk. Whip the whites stiff and add them to the Nutella mixture. Finally add the liquor and salt. Bake the cake in a greased round tin at 180 C for half an hour to forty-five minutes. Let it cool then melt the dark chocolate in the microwave. Mix the hazelnuts with the melted chocolate and pour it on the cake.

Dark or white chocolate tart

For the tart crust you need: 250 g of self-raising flour, 2 eggs, 80 g of butter, 80 g of sugar.

For the ganache you need: 200 g of dark chocolate (70%), 150 g of single cream, one egg, 20 g of butter, one tbsp of honey, 50 g of flour; cocoa and icing sugar to decorate.

Prepare the dough mixing all the ingredients in a bowl and chill it for half an hour. In a saucepan warm the chocolate, flour, honey, cream, egg and butter on medium heat. Roll out the dough and line a greased tart tin. Pour the chocolate mixture on the crust and bake at 180 C for half an hour. Let it cool then dust the top with cocoa and icing sugar. 

For the white chocolate version have white chocolate instead of dark and add 100 g of ground almonds in the mixture. Decorate the top with flaked almonds. 

Frangipane cake and tart

For the tart you need:

Crust: 250 g of self-raising flour, 2 eggs, 80 g of melted butter, the grated zest of a lemon, 80 g of sugar.

Filling: 150 g of ground almonds, two eggs, 100 g of melted butter, 100 g of sugar, the grated zest of a lemon, 50 g of flour, apricot jam, 100 g of flaked almonds.

Prepare the dough mixing all the ingredients in a bowl and chill it for half an hour. For the filling mix the ground almonds, eggs, butter, sugar and the zest of the lemon. Roll out the dough and line a greased tart tin. Spread the jam on the bottom and pour the almond mixture on it. Finally sprinkle the top with the flaked almonds. Bake at 180 C for half an hour. Dust with icing sugar when cool.

For the cake you need:

200 g of ground almonds, 150 g of self-raising flour, 1 tsp of baking powder and 1/2 tsp of bicarbonate of soda, two eggs, 100 g of soft brown sugar, four tbsp of sunflower oil, half a glass of soya milk, some blanched almonds.

Beat the sugar with the eggs, add the ground almonds, the flour, and the bicarbonate of soda and baking powder mixed with the soya milk. Finally add the oil. Pour the cake mixture in a greased tin cake and sprinkle the blanched almonds on top. Bake the cake in a greased round tin at 180 C for forty-five minutes. Dust with icing sugar when cool.

Pear cobbler

For the cobbler you need: 250 g of self-raising flour, one tsp of baking powder, 70 g of butter, 100 g of ground ginger biscuits, 80 g of sugar, two eggs, four tbsp of milk.

Pear filling: 800 g of pears, two tbsp of caster brown sugar, the juice of a lemon, half a tsp of fennel seeds and half tsp of ground nutmeg. 

Cook the ingredients for the pear filling in a saucepan till the pears are soft. Prepare the cobbler mixing all the ingredients. Pour half of the cobbler mixture in a greased tin cake then pour the pear mixture on it and finally the other half of the cobbler mixture on top. Bake the cake at 180 C for half an hour to forty-five minutes. 

Pear cake with ginger

For the cake you need: 300 g of self-raising flour, one tsp of baking powder, half a tsp of bicarbonate of soda, two eggs, 100 g of golden caster sugar, 80 g of melted butter, half a glass of milk.

For the pear and ginger mixture you need: 4 pears, 150 g of single cream, half a tsp of ground cloves, one tsp of ginger.

Cook the pears and ginger mixture in a saucepan till the pears are soft. Prepare the cake mixing all the ingredients. Pour the mixture in a greased tin cake then pour the pear and ginger mixture on top. Bake the cake at 180 C for half an hour to forty-five minutes. 

Apple and bread pudding

You need: 5 apples, 150 g of soft brown sugar, 50 g of dark chocolate, 50 g of melted butter, the juice of a lemon, 6-5 slices of bread.

Dice the apples and cook them with half of the sugar and the juice of the lemon in a saucepan, add the chocolate and let it cool. Mix the butter with the remaining sugar and spread it over one side of the bread slices. Line a rectangular tin cake with the bread then spread the apple and chocolate mixture on it. Put some remaining bread slices on top and bake for 20-30 minutes at 180 C.

Rice pudding with dried apricots

You need: 200 g of dried apricots, 500 ml of milk, 100 g of arborio rice, one vanilla stick, one egg, the juice and grated zest of a lemon, 100 g of soft brown sugar.

In a saucepan cook the rice in the milk together with the sugar, the egg and the vanilla stick. Chop the apricots and add the zest and juice of a lemon. When the rice is ready, add the apricots and bake the rice mixture in a pudding container for 20-30 minutes at 180 C.

Have a good tasty Christmas time.🎅🌟💝

Friday, 4 December 2020

Poetry, Italian women writers, workshops and new reviews

Because of the pandemic, the staycation and the lockdown, I spent most of my time at home and could commit to my writing and to my study especially during the summer but also in the autumn. I completed my PhD thesis on Margaret Atwood in the summer and had feedbacks from my supervisors in autumn. Then I submitted my thesis on 26 November and soon felt immensely relieved. I still have to pass the Viva, that is, an exam with three examiners, one internal and two external, who are now reading my work and will get back to me in a couple of months hopefully. I may pass, fail or they might suggest making changes to my work and resubmit it. In the meantime, I am keeping busy with my work at school. I have also attended poetry workshops, zoom meetings with my fellow writers, I have read extensively and worked on my creative writing.

At ISL London my Italian students took part in a poetry reading at Gunnersbury park where they read the Italian poems they had created during class. Finally, they collected the poems and their English translation in an anthology: Il sentiero della poesia (Poetry trail), which we printed at school. It was a great achievement; the final product is brilliant and I am very proud of them. Here are two examples of their fantastic work:

Pagina Bianca 

La paura della pagina bianca come 

La paura del vuoto spaziale o 

La paura di cadere dal grattacielo 

Poi c’è la maestra arrabbiata che stai dormendo 

Ma tu non vuoi svegliarti... 

White Page 

The fear of the white page like 

The fear of the void or 

The fear of falling from the skyscraper 

Then there is the angry teacher because you are sleeping 

But you don't want to wake up... 

Lorenzo Giovannini (G 8)

Vecchia Amica Mia 

Nella nebbia del mattino 

Una figura avanza 

Persa nella sua malinconica danza 

Incontra il suo destino 

L’allegra morte la saluta felice 

Abbracciandola come un vecchio amico 

Proveniente da un luogo antico 

Con la sua aria d’ingannatrice 

L’aveva imbrogliato 

Sussurrando fandonie e bugie 

Piccole parole ma solo diavolerie 

E dal sole delle sue promesse era rimasto abbagliato 

Dear Old Friend

In the morning mist 

A figure advances 

Lost in its melancholic dance 

It meets its destiny 

The cheery death greets her happily 

Hugging her like an old friend 

Coming from an ancient place 

With her air of deceit 

She had tricked him 

Whispering nonsense and lies 

Small little words but only devilries 

And from the sun of her promises he was dazzled 

Cecilia Vecchi (G 10)

Alda Merini

Grazia Deledda
We also had a discussion in class about Italian women writers. We are studying Grazia Deledda and Elsa Morante among other authors in the prose unit and I told them that when I attended high school in the late 1970s there was not one woman author in my Italian anthology and it was the same for my husband who lived in a different part of Italy at the time, in Veneto. I told them I would check if things have changed in the meantime after the ongoing feminist fights and the MeToo movement. So I asked my sister who lives in Monterotondo near Rome and teaches Italian in a high school. She told me that in the Italian anthology they use at her school only one woman writer is mentioned in a short paragraph: Grazia Deledda, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1926. My sister teaches her students other women author but this is her personal choice. She also checked with her colleagues who teach in different schools and realised it is a common trend, women writers are ignored or barely mentioned. Therefore, Italian students don’t study Italian women authors and consequently know little about them.
Elsa Morante

Apparently it doesn’t matter if most of the Italian women writers were popular and successful during their lifetime, sold millions of books, won awards or worked for important newspapers. They broadcast program on them on RAI from time to time but this is not enough, women authors should be present in school programs too. I am speaking of authors such as Grazia Deledda, Sibilla Aleramo, Alda Merini, Elsa Morante, Natalia Ginzburg, Lalla Romano, Matilde Serao, Oriana Fallaci, Dacia Maraini and many others. Here is a good long list on Wikipedia: or just google ‘Italian women writers’ and you will be spoiled for choice.
Natalia Ginzburg

I attended several poetry workshops in the autumn with The Poetry School and Second Light network for women poets. The tutors, Hannah Lowe, Helen Ivory and Sarah Westcott, were brilliant. I had the opportunity to write new poems and am thinking of organising a new complete collection in about a year’s time. I also attended the launch of Pascale Petit’s new collection, Tiger Girl, in a zoom meeting organised by Bloodaxe Books, and the great Margaret Atwood’s new collection launch, Dearly, organised by Fane. It was so emotional to see Atwood in her house during the talk. Her new poems are a revelation. She said that the poems of the collection come from ‘a drawer of writing’ from her teenage years that she then rearranged, revised and typed them. The final versions are poignant as ever and close to the issues of our damaged world. After the foreword, there is the list of her incredible achievements: fifteen poetry collections plus Dearly, seventeen novels, eight books of

shorter fiction, ten non-fiction books, seven children’s books, and three Graphic novels. It is unbelievable how a single person can produce so much and at such high level in a life time. I wonder why the Swedish Academy hasn’t awarded her the Nobel Prize for Literature yet. The poems of this collection deal with issues and themes dear to Atwood: environmental concerns, encounters with animals and mythical beasts, myths and legends as well as political issues. She explores, suggests and plays; she is always sharp, humorous and everchanging in her writing. Her love of life and curiosity and passion for whatever concerns our world come through from her poetry as in her previous works. Here is her poem ‘Dearly’. She said she wrote it in 2017 while walking back to her Bed and Breakfast slowly because of a problem with her knees in Stratford, Ontario:


It’s an old word, fading now.

Dearly did I wish.

Dearly did I long for.

I loved him dearly.

I make my way along the sidewalk

mindfully, of my wrecked knees

about which I give less of a shit

than you may imagine

since there are other things, more important—

wait for it, you’ll see—

bearing half a coffee

in a paper cup with— 

dearly do I regret it—

a plastic lid—

trying to remember what words once meant.


How was it used?

Dearly beloved.

Dearly beloved, we are gathered.

Dearly beloved, we are gathered here

in this forgotten photo album

I came across recently.

Fading now,

the sepias, the black and whites, the colour prints,

everyone so much younger.

The Polaroids.

What is a Polaroid? asks the newborn.

Newborn a decade ago.

How to explain?

You took the picture and then it came out the top.

The top of what?

It’s that baffled look I see a lot.

So hard to describe

the smallest details of how—

all these dearly gathered together—

of how we used to live.

We wrapped up garbage

In newspaper tied with string.

What is newspaper?

You see what I mean.

String though, we still have string.

It links things together.

A string of pearls.

That’s what they would say.

How to keep track of the days?

Each one shining, each one alone,

each one then gone.

I’ve kept some of them in a drawer on paper,

those days, fading now.

Beads can be used for counting.

As in rosaries.

But I don’t like stones around my neck.

Along this street there are many flowers,

fading now because it is August

and dusty, and heading into fall.

Soon the chrysanthemums will bloom,

flowers of the dead, in France.

Don’t think this is morbid.

It’s just reality.

So hard to describe the smallest details of flowers.

This is a stamen, nothing to do with men.

This is a pistil, nothing to do with guns.

It’s the smallest details that foil translators

and myself too, trying to describe.

See what I mean.

You can wander away. You can get lost.

Words can do that.

Dearly beloved, gathered here together

in this closed drawer,

fading now, I miss you.

I miss the missing, those who left earlier.

I miss even those who are still here.

I miss you all dearly.

Dearly do I sorrow for you.

Sorrow: that’s another word

you don’t hear much any more.

I sorrow dearly.

I published a few poems online too, here are the links:


The Peak

Masking Faces 

Parsley; Only a cake 

And had a poem published in Dempsey and Windle’s anthology What’s Next?, ‘Masking Faces’. 

My articles and reviews are online too:

Art reviews:

Kimono: Kyoto to catwalk 

Raphael: Prince Albert’s passion 


Tantra: enlightenment to revolution 


Cycling solo: a glimpse into storytelling 

Poetry reviews:

Polly Roberts, Grieving with Animals 

Derek Adams, Exposure: Snapshots from the Life of Lee Miller 

Clare Williamson, Visiting the Minotaur 

Denise Bundred, Litany of a Cardiologist 

R. L. Wilson, Backstage to Paradise (South Poetry 62)

Belinda Cooke, Stem

Belinda Cooke, Forms of Exile: Selected Poems of Marina Tsvetaeva 

Alex Josephy, Naked since Faversham 

Susan Stewart, Love Lessons: Selected Poems of Alda Merini 

Rebecca Bilkau, Sunday’s Child 

Patrick Osada, From the Family Album

Phoebe Stuckes, Platinum Blonde 

Belinda Singleton and Kathryn Southworth, Wavelength: a dialogue on light and sound 

Jim Johnstone, The Chemical Life 

During Halloween time, I enjoyed very much the Grimm brothers’ fairy tales revisited by Philip Pullman in his book Grimm Tales for Young and Old  and read by actors from the Unicorn Theatre:


The brave little tailor

Hansel and Gretel


The devil with the three golden hairs

The actors are brilliant; they make the stories alive and pleasantly spooky.

In my efforts to chill out during the weekends after commuting to London during the week, I am knitting and crocheting scarves for my children for Christmas as well as making cakes and puddings and listening to old Italian songs. One morning I woke up with a song in my mind my father used to sing that dates back to the 1940s. I did a bit of research on YouTube and found some other hits by the same singer: Natalino Otto, popular from the 1940s until 1960s. His songs were innovative as were inspired by American swing and jazz music and adapted to the Italian style. He achieved great success selling millions of records. Here are some links to his songs and lyrics in the English translation:

Il pinguino innamorato

The penguin in love


Un bacio a mezzanotte

A midnight kiss


Ho un sassolino nella scarpa

I've got a pebble in my shoe


Mamma voglio anch'io la fidanzata

Mama, I want a girlfriend too


Sola me ne vo per la città

Searching for You (I Walk Alone Through the City)


And now I am looking forward to the Christmas break and meeting my future granddaughter Violetta. 💜