Friday, 14 June 2019

Japan: between East and West

Visiting Japan was a unique experience. I travelled with a friend of mine from Rome and spent time with my daughter too, who lives in Tokyo attending a Master in Fashion and Design at the Bunka Gakuen University. We went in April, cherry trees were in bloom, the weather was nice most of the time and there were plenty of interesting sites to see. We had a good time all together, though a bit tiring, but we are getting old. I had terrible back pains sometimes, apparently due to my muscles tightening because of muscle strain. My friend had a hip replacement four months before and had to take it easy. For this reason, we visited only Tokyo and Kyoto as we did not have enough time and energies to travel to other beautiful places such as Nikko, Mount Fuji, Osaka or Hiroshima. You can read my travel journals here:
The experience was definitely engrossing and worth doing. At first impact everything seemed similar to home, but then interesting subtle differences stood out and intrigued me. I wished to know more. In Japan there are contrasts, as in every society, which are cleverly blended and nuanced. For example, Japanese culture was strongly influence by China at all levels: language, alphabet, literature and religion, and at the same time they made their culture unique. Japanese are able to merge different religions and philosophies, such as Shinto, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism and, at a minor level, Christianity. They are devoted to Zen meditation and at the same time have a strong work ethic. In their daily life they look perfectly organised and yet are aware of the ephemeral quality of life symbolised by sakura, the cherry blossoms, whose beauty lasts only a few days, and their fading is considered more attractive than the blooming. Finally, their solid grip on traditions, their attention to rituals and ceremonies, the respect for ancestors and sense of loyalty that go together with a great technological development competing with and emulating the West.

Reading Matsuo Bashō’s haikus was a great inspiration and helped me to understand Japanese culture. The prints, textiles and paintings at the National Museum in Tokyo were also an interesting stimulation. This prompted some writing as well at the Woking Writing Circle where we discussed Japanese haikus, here is the link:
The journey to Japan opened my mind, inspired my writing, my art and my cooking (some Japanese recipes will follow on this blog), which made me understand that travelling can be a great source of knowledge and creativity as well as being fun.

Saturday, 1 June 2019

Easter treats

Easter is a great time for cooking, baking and experimenting with new recipes, as well as Christmas time. My mum and I messed around in the kitchen as usual twisting old recipes and mixing them with new ones to the delight of the whole family. This year we decided to skip the traditional pastiera, colomba and bread with cheese, and looked for alternatives. We made biscuits, of course, in the shape of bunnies, butterflies, chicks and eggs coated with chocolate and sprinkled with cake sprinkles. We gave them as presents to friends and neighbours packaged in boxes tied up with rainbow ribbons. We also added a haiku by Matsuo Bashō, the renowned Japanese poet, written on cards I brought back from my recent journey to Japan. They were very much appreciated, both the biscuits and the poems. Here are some examples:

Spring air –
woven moon
and plum scent.

Ebb tide –
dip to mud.

If I’d the knack
I’d sing like
cherry flakes falling.

Spring’s exodus –
birds shriek,
fish eyes blink tears.

Sleeping willow –
soul of
the nightingale.

We used a lot of ricotta in our new recipes, which is a typical ingredient for Easter time, and vegetables for a healthier twist.

Pancakes with peas, parsley and ricotta

You need: 100 g of ricotta, 100 g of peas, 100 ml of milk, 50 g of flour, 2 eggs, some fresh parsley, one tbsp. of grated parmigiano, salt, pepper, olive oil, half an onion.

Slice the onion thinly and fry it slightly in a frying pan with some olive oil. Add the peas, salt and pepper and let it simmer for half an hour, add water if necessary. Let it cool and prepare the pancakes. Beat the ricotta with the eggs in a bowl, add parmigiano, flour and milk and the parsley thinly cut. Add half of the peas then beat the mixture till it is smooth. In a frying pan heat some oil and cook the pancakes. Serve warm with the rest of the peas as side dish.

Pie filled with ricotta, asparagus and parmigiano

For the dough you need: 250 g of self-raising white flour, salt, one tbsp. of olive oil, a glass of lukewarm water.

For the filling you need: 500 g of ricotta, 15-20 asparagus, half an onion, salt, pepper, olive oil, 10 g of butter, one egg.

Prepare the dough mixing all the ingredients, knead it and let it rest for one hour in a warm place covered with a tea towel.

Boil the heads of the asparagus in hot water for 5-10 minutes. Cut the onion thinly and fry it slightly in a frying pan with some olive oil and the butter. Add the asparagus and some of the water in which they were cooked plus salt and pepper. Let it simmer for half an hour adding some more water if necessary. Let it cool and mix the asparagus with the ricotta and the egg. Roll out half of the dough and line a greased rectangular tin. Pour the ricotta and asparagus mixture in it and cover it with the rest of the dough. Bake at 180° C for half an hour.

Soup with broccoli

You need: 200 g of broccoli, olive oil, a clove of garlic, crushed chili, 250 g of macaroni, one tbsp. of tomato passata, salt and parmigiano (optional).

Boil the flowering heads of broccoli and keep the water. Fry slightly the garlic and chilli in a pan with some olive oil. Add the broccoli with some of the water, salt and a tbsp. of passata. Bring to boil and let it simmer for 10-15 minutes, add some water if necessary. Cook the macaroni in the broccoli and water mixture and serve hot with grated parmigiano.

Easter biscuits

Here are some new recipes to make biscuits with alternative flours. I coated the biscuits with melted dark and milk chocolate and sprinkled them with cake sprinkles and decorations.

Intriguing bunnies

You need: 150 g of soya flour, 150 g of self-raising white flour, 100 g of golden caster sugar, two eggs, four tbsp. of soya unsweetened milk, a pinch of salt, 70 g of melted butter.

Beat the eggs with the sugar. Add the flours, salt and butter. Finally add the soya milk and knead the dough until it is smooth. Let it rest for half an hour covered with a tea towel. Roll it out and cut the biscuits. I used a biscuit cutter with the shape of a bunny. Bake the biscuits on a greased oven tray at 180° C for 15-20 minutes.

Lovely butterflies

You need: 150 g of rice flour, 150 g of white self-raising flour, 50 g of melted butter, one egg, two whites whipped stiff, 100 g of sugar, some drops of vanilla extract, four tbsp. of milk.

Mix the flours with the egg, the sugar and the butter. Whip the whites of the eggs stiff and add them to the mixture, add the milk as well and the vanilla extract. Knead the dough and let it rest for half an hour covered with a tea towel. Roll it out and cut the biscuits. I used a biscuit cutter with the shape of a butterfly. Bake the biscuits on a greased oven tray at 180° C for 15-20 minutes.

Funny eggs

You need: 200 g of kamut flour, 100 g of ground almonds, 100 g of Demerara sugar, two eggs, 80 g of melted butter, a tsp of baking powder, the grated zest of a lemon.

Mix all the ingredients and knead the dough. Let it rest for half an hour covered with a tea towel. Roll it out and cut the biscuits. I used a biscuit cutter with the shape of an egg. Bake the biscuits on a greased oven tray at 180° C for 15-20 minutes.