Sunday 14 October 2018

In touch with my family

While I was in Surrey with my mum, the rest of the family was away for the summer. My autistic daughter Valentina lives in a residential school near Doncaster so we go and visit her every three-four weeks. She was in a creative mood this summer. Every time we went she drew for us whatever she wanted to watch or get, like cartoon characters (Futurama and SpongeBob are her favourites), new clothes or special food. She has become so skilful with it that it is her main way of communicating when there is something different she wants from the usual things. She had a go with the swimming pool the staff arranged for her in the garden but didn’t seem happy to go out when we visited. She preferred to stay inside, enjoy our company and change her clothes arranging them in fashionable funky ways.

My other daughter is in Tokyo so my husband and my son went to see her for a few weeks. They were enthusiastic about it. They described Japan as very well organized and tidy. Trains are always on time, there’s no litter in the streets and people never speak loudly, they whisper or keep silent, and bow of course, at a proper distance from one another. They said museums are not so great, but their art is superb. unfortunately mount Fuji is often wrapped in fog, so it is hard to get good pictures, better download them from the internet. They sent me some funny photos with my husband framed as a geisha and my daughter and son smiling in a busy market place. It was hot, they said, and food is good, though some things, like vegetables and fruit, can be very expensive, £10 for some grapes and £3 for an orange.

We had two family gatherings. One in front of the TV watching the Football World Cup in July. Unfortunately, the Italian team was out but we supported different teams in turns according to our whims. I supported England, of course, and hoped till the end it could make it against Croatia, but the Croatians looked so tense and determined to win, sort of shipwreck survivors’ squad, that managed to defeat the well fed and fit English players. Maybe next time. But I was happy England got so far, I think it was a great achievement.

At the end of the summer, my eldest son and daughter in law came to visit us from Leeds for a week. It was wonderful to have them with us for some time, relax together, watch TV, have a long good chat after dinner. They had time to visit London and meet her relatives in the south as well. We went to a new Italian restaurant together, Rosso Mazara (, where we spoiled ourselves with fantastic gamberoni (big prawns), linguini allo scoglio (linguini with seafood), pasta alla norma (you can find the recipe here below), calamari, sardines and delicious bruschetta and arancini.

My mum and I dragged my daughter in law in our charity shops hunting tours. We could pick up a
few bargains ranging from clothes, CDs, haberdashery, china and glass stuff and toys. I found a little doll with a set of clothes and shoes for my daughter Valentina for £2 and wine and sherry glasses I craved for only £1 each. My mum found a lamp for £3 and some vases she is going to bring back to Italy. Then clothes, of course, a long dress with bead decorations I am going to send to my daughter in Japan and beautiful frames for £1 or £2, sort of vintage style, which I prefer to the brand new ones you pay £10 or more for in department stores.

I use frames for many occasions, above all for photos. I need to have family photos everywhere at home: walls, shelves, near my desk, which is the kitchen table, on the fridge, and near the TV. My children are all away from home and though I keep in touch with them by Skype, WhatsApp and by phone, but it is still hard for me not seeing them often, especially my ‘Japanese’ daughter. So I keep them at hand in family pics I update from time to time creating compositions and collages, crowding the house with their smiling presence.

Shopping in charity shops has multiple advantages. First of all, the economic one, you will never spend much money there, I mean hundreds of pounds, and the money will go for a good cause. Besides, you can find something unique, maybe old style that can add a quirky touch to your outfit, and it can be good quality. Then there is the treasure-hunt, surprise aspect, you never know what you’re going to find, the lucky pick hidden under a pile of faded scarves or felted pullovers. You need to be persistent and follow your instinct, something you may not need today might be vital tomorrow. So buy it, you need some distractions. And if you are not going to use it, you can give it as a present. Spoil yourself, it’s just a few pounds. My mum and I always feel better after our charity shop tours.

After our luscious dinner at Rosso Mazara, my mum and I experimented pasta alla norma at home. It is a recipe from Sicily created to pay a tribute to the great opera composer Vincenzo Bellini, who was from Catania. He wrote the score of Norma where the protagonist sings the famous aria (song) Casta Diva (Chaste Goddess. You can listen here to the aria sung by the great opera singer Maria Callas: ) to the moon to ask for protection and intercession. Though the recipe does not recall the unfortunate story of betrayal and self-sacrifice of the Gaul priestess, it is a very tasty dish that mixes typical Mediterranean products. Here is the recipe.

You need: 300 g of penne or fusilli, 2 aubergines, a clove of garlic, 300 g of cherry tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil, fresh basil, grated salted ricotta (sort of hard cheese you can find in Italian deli shops), half of a red onion.

Prepare the sauce cutting the tomatoes in half and cooking them in a pan with oil and garlic for half an hour. Add basil and simmer them for another half hour. Peel and cut the aubergines in cubes, fry them in a frying pan with some oil and the onion thinly cut. When ready, mix the aubergines and the tomato sauce in the pan and add the basil. Let it simmer for 15 minutes.

Prepare the pasta and season it with the sauce. Serve with grated salted ricotta on top and enjoy!

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