Sunday 16 December 2018

Christmas stuff

Just before the Christmas holidays we had our usual gathering near Doncaster where Valentina, my autistic daughter, lives. We indulged in delicious Italian food at Trattoria Toscana: penne alla romana, pasta Vincenza, mozzarella fiorentina, pizza Quattro stagioni, filetto Toscana, pollo Sorrento and bolognese. Valentina loved it.

Valentina and I painted wooden decorations with glitter paint and hanged them in her room. We also built a Christmas tree and cut and glued together a paper nativity. She wore the party clothes we brought, a new hat, furry gloves and soft snood from my youngest son, and cuddled the new teddy
bear my eldest son and my daughter in law gave her. My other daughter skyped from Japan so we could feel as if she was with us. Valentina was so happy to have all of us there she didn’t want to let us go. But we had to go back to Surrey eventually and get ready to fly to Italy.

I managed to make a Christmas cake before leaving and some gorgeous biscuits with new biscuit cutters I bought for the occasion. I am going to wrap them in clear film or put them in boxes to give as a present. They look so enticing and mouth-watering.

Here are the recipes you can enjoy experimenting during Christmas time. Have a binge on them, it’s now or never.

Torta savoiarda (cake of Savoy, sponge cake)

This is a sponge cake that recalls savoiardi biscuits, sponge sweet biscuits usually used in tiramisu recipe. You can fill and cover the cake with cream or custard. I suggest two kinds of cream, one is a chocolate cream, the other one is Chantilly cream.

For the cake you need: six eggs, 200 g of white caster sugar, 90 g of flour, 90 g of potato flour, some vanilla drops, a pinch of salt, one tsp of baking powder, half a tsp of bicarbonate of soda.

For the chocolate cream you need: 250 g of milk, 100 g of sugar, 50 g of cocoa, 30 g of flour, a pinch of salt, 20 g of soft butter.

For Chantilly cream you need: 250 g of milk, 50 g of sugar, 2 yolks of eggs, 30 g of flour, a pinch of salt, 2 tbsp. of liquor. You also need 200 g of whipping cream and a tbsp. of sugar.

Separate the eggs. Beat the yolks with the sugar until you have a foamy and smooth mixture. Whip the whites until stiff and add it to the yolks. Add all the other ingredients and mix well. Pour it in a greased cake tin and bake at 180° C for 30-45 minutes.

For the chocolate cream, mix all the ingredients in a pan and cook on a hob until the mixture comes to boil and thickens.

For Chantilly cream, mix all the ingredients for the custard cream, cook it until it comes to boil and thickens, then let it cool. Whip the whipping cream plus sugar and finally mix the two creams together obtaining a smooth texture.

Cut the cake in half and damp the two parts with liquor mixed with sugared water, or with milk and sugared water if you don’t like liquor. Fill it with one of the creams and cover the top of the cake with it as well. You can also decorate the top as you wish with coloured fondant icing cut in patterns, berries, sprinkles, or chocolate chips. Be creative!

Here are some biscuits from traditional recipes I slightly tweaked. The result was brilliant and I loved decorating them with icing.


You need: 350 g of flour, two eggs, five tbsp. of honey, two tsp of ground ginger, half a tsp of sweet cinnamon, a pinch of salt, half a tsp of nutmeg, half a tsp of ground cloves, half a tsp of baking powder and the tip of a tsp of bicarbonate of soda.

Mix all the ingredients starting with the flour and eggs and adding all the rest little by little. Knead the dough and let it rest for half an hour then roll it out and cut the shapes. Bake the biscuits on a greased oven tray at 180° C for 15 minutes.

Vanilla biscuits

You need: 300 g of flour, two eggs, 100 of white granulated sugar, 50 g of melted butter, some vanilla seeds, some drops of Madagascan vanilla extract, half a tsp of baking powder and the tip of a tsp of bicarbonate of soda.

Mix all the ingredients starting with the flour and eggs and adding all the rest little by little. Knead the dough and let it rest for half an hour then roll it out and cut the shapes. Bake the biscuits on a greased oven tray at 180° C for 15 minutes.

Almond biscuits

You need: 180 g of white flour, two eggs, 70 g of melted butter, the grated zest of a lemon, 100 g of golden caster sugar, 100 g of ground almonds.

Mix all the ingredients starting with the flour and eggs and adding all the rest little by little. Knead the dough and let it rest for half an hour then roll it out and cut the shapes. Bake the biscuits on a greased oven tray at 180° C for 15 minutes.

Chocolate biscuits

You need: 250 g of flour, 100 g of cocoa powder (100% cocoa), 80 g of melted butter, a pinch of salt, three eggs, a tbsp. of liquor, 100 g of muscovado sugar or dark brown soft cane sugar.

Mix all the ingredients starting with the flour and eggs and adding all the rest little by little. Knead the dough and let it rest for half an hour then roll it out and cut the shapes. Bake the biscuits on a greased oven tray at 180° C for 15 minutes.

Have a great Christmas time!🎄

Sunday 25 November 2018

PhD, Poetry and Reviews: The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood

Throughout this year, I have enjoyed tremendously my academic research, as well as cooking and baking, and my writing. I also managed to give a bit of space to my artistic side producing cards and embroidered stuff.

You can have a glimpse of my PhD research on Margaret Atwood’s work reading here below my review on The Edible Woman, her first novel published in 1969. I sent the review to several magazines but none of them accepted it as it is not a recent book. However, I think its message is still valuable today.

I also published some more reviews:

How The Light Gets In by Patrick Osada
Motherhood by Sheila Heti
Yayoi Kusama: The moving moment when I went to the universe
Impressionism: The Art of Life
Rome Modern City: between tradition and renewal
Duilio Cambellotti, Myth, Dream and reality

Three of my poems will be published on the Blue Nib, and one on London Grip; another one was published in an anthology of Surrey poets (Dempsey & Windle) in occasion of the National Poetry Day 2018.

You can also read one of my flash fiction pieces here:

I hope you will enjoy it all.

Negotiating with the body: The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood

Virago Press, Great Britain
ISBN 978-0-86068-129-8
£ 9.99

‘Mankind cannot bear too much unreality’
The Edible Woman

Marian MacAlpin, the young protagonist of Margaret Atwood’s novel The Edible Woman, could well have been another victim of the deceitful world of consumerism in which she – and we – evolve. Yet her awakening to this joyful masquerade of advertisements is what makes the novel a bitter and timeless social critique. Although written in the spring and summer 1965, to be finally published in 1969, the novel still speaks meaningfully to our consumerist society with its mesmerizing commercials and artificial cheap hedonism.

These glossy sticky layers cover a grubby society whose relationships are revealed to be based on artificial enforced rules, provoking confrontational and threatening behaviours. In this hidden reality, men are predators disguised as rescuers, and women objectified entities at their disposal, potential victims trying to find their voices.

The obsessively present ads and their promises are not only artificial but also delusional. They expose the striking contradictions between the world of commercials and ordinary life. And this poses a threat, to the characters as well as to us everyday life consumers.

The Moose Beer commercial, which Marian needs to pre-test for the survey agency she works for, is a most striking example. Its stereotyped representation of the tough ‘real man’ who spends his free time hunting and fishing in the wilderness is obviously comical. And yet, when confronted with the men’s figures of the story, we can sense the danger. For Marian’s fiancé Peter, a hunter and amateur photographer, shooting an animal and ‘shooting’ a photo become synonyms; his display of guns, rifles and knives gets mixed with his cameras. And if the well-groomed, soap-smelling man lacks the real ‘tang of wilderness’ necessary for a stout-hearted fellow, he also enjoys the brutal description of the killing and gutting of a female rabbit he performed with one of his friends after a hunt.

The threat here is to become the ad in spite of oneself. A quest for identity seems doomed in this world where human beings are commodities, dispensable items like all other products. This realization, the idea that being a consumer also implies being metaphorically and literally consumed, triggers Marian’s awareness. And for a woman, the effects can be devastating.

Similarly to today’s commercials, ads mainly aim at selling products using women’s bodies and their sex appeal. Through this they indirectly dictate a behaviour, a role that women are supposed to comply with. The ads thus become a potent tool to enforce and confirm the rules of patriarchal society and force women into pre-fabricated roles.

As ads pervade life, Marian’s body is used and objectified, forced to perform servant roles like pouring drinks and serving food, or even acting in sex performances choreographed by Peter, inspired by male magazines and commercials. This last fact is more than relevant today, as we are not unfamiliar with its persisting existence.

Stuck in this fabricated, limited world, Marian keeps looking for a more authentic self. When she goes shopping, she consciously defends herself from this mentality, ‘willing herself to buy nothing’ except what is written on her list. But at the same time, she feels tempted by advertisements and the apparently self-assuring role they promise.

Unable to voice her worries, her body speaks for her, revealing her anxieties. In spite of her easily-influenced mind, her body expresses a non-verbal language that warns her of the traps of consumerism. Eating disorder becomes her rebellion as anorexia takes hold of her body. The latter starts to refuse food as she feels it alive, till cutting itself off. Food and social pressure are equally repelled: her body rebels to the roles and rules imposed by society as it refuses to consume, to absorb food, to ‘adjust’ to it.

The refusal of food brings Marian to the brink of starvation and forces her to become aware, to change her mind and repudiate the masquerade of the glossy party doll. The final baking of a woman-shaped cake becomes an edible substitute that should satiate Peter’s hunger and grant her freedom and survival from the oppressive rules of consumerism and patriarchal society.

In a final act of cannibalism, which negates as much as it reaffirms the roles of consumer and consumed in a postmodern perspective, Marian eats the woman-shaped cake. An act of re-appropriation and consumption to make sure the enemy is definitely destroyed and, at the same time, absorbed.

In Marian’s negotiation with the body – her body marked by starvation, manipulation and objectification – she finally compromises with it, in a search for wholeness that entails domesticity and acceptance of the basic rule of survival: eating. Still a consumer, she becomes a more conscious one, not so easily deceived by ads. A lesson still valuable today.