Friday 6 December 2019

Canadian recipes with an Italian twist

Inspired by Canadian products, I experimented different recipes both at home and with my mum mixing Canadian ideas and Italian cuisine. We produced cakes and biscuits that my mum shared with friends and neighbours. I also tried some Indigenous recipes twisting them in the Italian way, mainly adding tomatoes. Here are the results of our messing about in the kitchen.

Ciambellone with canola oil
You need: 250 g of flour, 120 g of golden granulated cane sugar, 100 g of ground almonds, three eggs, four tbsp. of canola oil, six tbsp. of soya milk, 50 g of white chocolate chips and 50 g of dark chocolate chips, one and a half tsp of baking powder and a tsp of bicarbonate of soda.
Beat the eggs with the sugar, add the oil and flour, the chocolate chips as well as the rest of the ingredients. The mixture should have a smooth consistency. Grease a doughnut cake tin with the canola oil. Pour the mixture in the tin and bake at 180℃ for forty-five minutes or until it is ready. You can decorate the cake with melted white and dark chocolate pouring it on the top of the cake and adding some gold and silver sprinkles to give it a Christmas feeling.

Peanut butter biscuits
You need: 300 g of self-raising flour, 120 g of golden granulated cane sugar or Demerara sugar, 50 g of melted butter, two tbsp. of soya or oat milk, three tbsp. of peanut butter, two eggs, some vanilla drops essence, 50 g of chocolate chips (optional).

Mix all the ingredients and knead the dough till smooth. Let it rest for half an hour then roll it out and cut the patterns. I used a maple leaf biscuit cutter for the chocolate chips version and a simpler shape for the plain peanut butter ones. Traditional peanut butter biscuits have round shapes that I marked with a fork criss-crossing the patterns. Bake the biscuits at 180℃  for fifteen minutes or until ready.

In Italy I also experimented different versions of these biscuits as I could not find original peanut butter in common supermarkets. Therefore, I used some spreadable products such as pistachio, chestnut or hazelnut spreadables, the result was delicious.

Indigenous recipes
In the struggle to maintain their culture and tradition, Indigenous peoples have always cared for the environment, that is, the life of plants and animals. For the Natives, they are closely connected to the humans. Their legends and the story of the origin of the world reveal a vision that includes both the good and the more problematic parts of people; they think that life embraces cooperation and competition, kindness and aggression at the same time. Their contact with the environment is profound and reveals a great knowledge of the land, plants and animals as well as of the weather conditions and its influence on the world. In the origin, Indigenous peoples were hunters and gatherers and used all the parts of the animals they killed. They harvested wild edible plants like wild rice, fiddleheads and berries. Here are some recipes inspired by their food heritage.
Wild rice
This is a kind of rice Indigenous peoples used to harvest in fresh water, in Turtle Island and lakes. You can use black rice or black and white rice.

For 2-3 people you need: 200 g of rice, two big tomatoes, one pepper, 100 g of mushrooms, broccoli, half of a white onion, thyme, parsley, salt and black pepper.
Cut the pepper, broccoli, tomatoes and mushrooms in pieces. First cook the pepper and the broccoli in a pan with some oil, add the tomatoes and mushrooms and let the vegetables simmer for half an hour. Add hot water if necessary. Add salt, black pepper, thyme and parsley. Cook the rice in salty water, drain it when ready and season the rice with the vegetables.
Three sisters’ soup
This is a soup made with what the Indigenous peoples considered the three sisters: corn, beans and squash. According to the legend they were born from the buried head of the Sky Woman’s daughter who died in childbirth.

You need: two cobs of corns, 100 g of green beans, 200 g of butternut squash, a can of red kidney beans, three big tomatoes, olive oil, a clove of garlic, salt and pepper, macaroni (optional).
Cook the ingredients separately in water. For the kidney beans, add a peeled carrot and half an onion in the water plus salt. In a separate pan pour some olive oil, add a peeled clove of garlic and cook three big tomatoes cut in pieces without seeds, add some salt as well. let the tomatoes simmer for half an hour. Drain the corn, the green beans cut in pieces, the squash in little cubes and add them to the tomato sauce. Add the kidney beans with the water as well (without the carrot and onion). Let the soup simmer for half an hour, then add macaroni if you wish.
Porridge pie with berries
Indigenous peoples used to pick different kinds of berries, especially blueberries. They were a food source and they also believed the berries had medicinal properties.

You need: 150 g of strawberries, 150 g blueberries, the juice of half a lemon. For the dough you need: 250 g of self-raising flour, 50 g of melted butter, two eggs, 100 g of sugar. For the porridge mixture you need: 200 g of oat porridge, 100 g of milk plus 100g of water, some maple syrup, one egg.
Prepare the dough mixing all the ingredients and chill it for half an hour. Wash and drain the berries then add the lemon juice and a tbsp. of sugar. Microwave the porridge with milk and water for two minutes. Add the maple syrup and the egg. Roll out the dough and place it on a greased pie tin. Add the berries to the porridge mixture and pour it in the lined tin. Bake for half an hour at 180℃ .
Icelandic biscuits
I was at a poetry event at Stephansson House in central Alberta. Pretty blond ladies offered us delicious Icelandic biscuits and lemonade. They also gave us the recipes which I tried at home with some success. Here they are:
Icelandic shortbread
You need: 200g of self-raising flour, 70 g of sugar, one egg, some cardamom seeds or half tsp of ground cardamom, 100 g of melted butter, grated zest and the juice of a lemon.
Mix all the ingredients and knead the dough. Chill it for half an hour then roll it out and cut the biscuits using a biscuit cutter. Bake the biscuits on a greased tray for 15-20 minutes or until they are ready at 180.
Ginger bread

You need: 300 g of self-raising flour, 100 g of caster sugar, one egg, two tbsp. of maple syrup, 80 g of melted butter, half a tsp of cinnamon, ground cloves and ginger. Some cinnamon plus sugar to sprinkle to top.
Mix all the ingredients and knead the dough. Chill it for half an hour then roll it out and cut the biscuits using a biscuit cutter. Sprinkle the biscuits with a mixture of cinnamon and sugar then bake them on a greased tray for 15-20 minutes or until they are ready at 180.
Vanilla biscuits
You need: 300 g of self-raising flour, 100 g of melted butter, 100 g of icing sugar, 1 tsp of vanilla essence, one egg, two tbsp. of maple syrup.

Mix all the ingredients and knead the dough. Chill it for half an hour then roll it out and cut the biscuits using a biscuit cutter. Bake the biscuits on a greased tray for 15-20 minutes or until they are ready at 180.
Have a go at Christmas, the biscuits are excellent treats to taste with mulled wine and hot chocolate on chilly winter nights.

Have a lovely Christmas time!😍

Saturday 23 November 2019

In Birmingham to see Margaret Atwood

At the end of October, I was in Birmingham to see Margaret Atwood at the Royal Symphony Hall. There were a lot of road works, which prohibited access not only to vehicles but also to pedestrian, around the centre and I struggled a bit at first to find my way but eventually I managed.  Everything I needed was within 15 or less minutes walk: the central station, the cathedral, museums, the Symphony Hall and the Travelodge where I spent a night. In the centre, I found Tim Hortons, the Canadian McDonald’s, near the station. I couldn’t help buying some delicious donuts.

I had time to visit Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery which has some unique pieces by Canaletto, Joshua Reynolds, some Impressionists, such as Pissarro, Sisley, Utrillo, De Vlaminck as well as works by Rubens, Guercino, Crespi and Orazio Gentileschi. Remarkable contemporary artworks by Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore for sculpture, and Peploe, Lowry, Morandi, Hodgkin and Winifred Nicholson for painting testify the significance of the collection. It is not a large display but there is one or two exceptional pieces for each artist that give a clear idea of the artistic movements.

The most interesting part for me was the Pre-Raphaelite rooms with works by Burne-Jones, William Morris, Ford Madox Brown, J.E. Millais and Dante Gabriele Rossetti. Unfortunately, ‘Proserpina’ by Rossetti was not on display (probably on loan to another museum, they told me) but there was an astonishing portrait of Fanny Comforth in red chalk. I could see ‘The Last of England’ by Ford Madox Brown that I had only admired on book reproductions till then, as well as fabulous designs for wallpapers by Morris; they are so inspiring with their intricate elegant patterns. He thought that ‘beauty is a marketable quality’, so, his art merged his wish to produce artistically beautiful things that are also useful.  Morris was not only an artist but also a poet, a collector, an entrepreneur and a designer. I find his idea of applying art to everyday life extremely interesting. His aim was to produce something that was useful and appealing in the sense of artistic and aesthetically pleasant in the context of art tradition. For this reason, besides wallpaper patterns, he even designed artificial floor covering, linoleum. In his ideal concept of art and design, he was against mass production as he thought it was a perversion and led to alienation. Eventually he was successful, and his firm had prestigious commissions.

Morris had a lifelong friendship and collaboration with Burne-Jones with whom he worked at the Holy grail tapestries inspired by Thomas Malory’s Morte d’Arthur. The tapestries were commissioned by William Knox D’Arcy to decorate his home, Stanmore Hall in Middlesex. Most of the tapestries, based on the original, belong to Birmingham Museum Trust but are rarely on display due to their delicate quality. They illustrate the quest for the Holy Grail by the knights of the Round Table, their failure, due to past sins, and visions.  It is a symbolic story that seems far from today’s mentality but still maintains its importance in the perpetual quest for an ideal that might not be transcendent but is still present in most people’s views.

The museum has also an interesting section on Birmingham history and a remarkable display of the Staffordshire Hoard, the largest hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold, silver and garnet (over five kilos of gold) mostly in fragments. It Testifies the skilful metal work typical of German culture. The fragments show the mastery of cloisonné garnet metal work, gold filigree and stamped silver foil. An astonishing gold helmet is reconstructed and on display, it was part of military equipment belonging to elite warriors and noblemen. There are also some religious objects as the hoard was probably buried when the Anglo-Saxons were converting to Christianity.

The most interesting among the non-permanent exhibitions was Within-Without: image and the self, exploring how people construct their body image challenging stereotypes and public representations. Positions of power and ‘the male gaze’ are represented by provoking artworks that point to fluidity rather than giving conclusive solutions.

Seeing Margaret Atwood interviewed by Irenosen Okojie was riveting and important for my research. She spoke about Cat’s Eye and Alias Grace, but above all the event was centred on The Handmaid’s Tale and The Testaments. She spoke about her female characters and the risk of backlashes against feminist achievements by conservative movements. Though her vision might seem bleak sometimes, she is hopeful that things can be changed. She said that it is possible to reverse climate change issues as well as totalitarian regimes, which always fail at a certain point. She is hopeful, though she doesn’t believe in legacy and expectations or in perfection. She said that she is suspicious of perfection and expectations are disappointing. She also spoke about the film adaptations of Alias Grace and The Handmaid’s Tale, about her readings and the author who has influenced her the most, surprisingly Beatrix Potter. I found her final remarks about literature inspiring. She said that a piece of literature is not a message but ‘an experience you have to go through’, like Dante in Inferno.

Before leaving Birmingham, I had my shopping tour, of course: charity shops and Primark. I found a black mini-skirt with daisies embroidered for my daughter Valentina (size 8, she is so tiny) and some Christmas stuff. Primark was huge (the world’s biggest one, they say), a megastore. It is on five floors with a Disney area and a Disney cafĂ©. In the mezzanine there is a restaurant and a cafĂ© with comfortable sitting areas. It was packed with people of all ages dragging trolleys and carrying bags full of Primark things. They were strolling around as if in a high street or in a theme park of sorts. It is a place where you can spend a day. I loved it. I found something to buy, of course as Christmas is near and I am already preparing the presents to bring to Italy.

In the last months I was prolific as usual in producing reviews and articles. Here are some links:

Some of my poems have been published or are going to be published soon:

‘Cooking Betrayal’ in South 60
‘What I was leaving’ in The Blue Nib 40
‘Cyclamens for my Mother’ in Alternative Truths (Dempsey&Windle)
‘Stars and Flags’ in Ink, Sweat and Tears
‘Dispersing your ashes’ in The High Window

My PhD carries on with some small crisis as I am finalizing my thesis and it seems very hard to make it work near perfection. In the meantime, I returned to academic mentoring, this time at UCA in Farnham. It is a pleasant place to work, full of artists, full of colours. I am also carrying on with volunteering shifts at The Lightbox, though I have less time as I am working.  At the Lightbox I met members of Woking Art Society and I decided to join it together with my son Francesco, who loves painting and art. We are attending their meeting once a month at the Vyne in Knaphill and visit their exhibitions. We attended an inspiring workshop too, with Liz Seward at Brookwood and I am planning to go back to drawing and painting though slowly as my priority is my PhD thesis now.