Friday, 10 July 2020

My summer holidays during the pandemic

The pandemic caused such a change in our everyday life and we had to accept it silently. The closure of shops, staying at home, social distancing and strict hygienic measures were not so easy to cope with. It wasn’t a big problem for me at first as I had a lot of work to do from home for my PhD and my writings as well as other hobbies, but in the long term it was wearing. I longed to go out, visit shops, museums, places that would inspire me, distract me from routines, that gave me a change. I followed events and meetings online but it was not the same as meeting people in person. Virtual meetings were interesting, sometimes involving, but going out, talking with someone physically in front of you is another thing. However, it was intriguing to have a peep in other people’s houses, the
pictures in the background and book shelves. Were people sitting straight in front of the screen or slouched on a sofa? Watching a virtual exhibition or a theatre performance on YouTube is better than nothing but it is not comparable to going to the museum or to the theatre. The emotions you feel looking at pictures, outfits or other objects on display, observing them from different angles, lingering and absorbing what they communicate cannot be replaced by a short quick video. Going to the theatre is such an involving experience; the atmosphere of the live performance even watched from the upper circle where I usually book my tickets is thrilling. This also includes the pleasure of dressing up for the occasion, meeting people, having an ice cream or a drink. In the long term, online events are like surrogate or tasteless food, sort of pills or dehydrated tablets that might give you the necessary calories but don’t give you the flavour of the real thing. A dish of bucatini all’amatriciana is not the same as an energy bar.

We had to change our holiday plans too, of course. I had planned to spend at least a month in Canada attending a conference at London Ontario and then carrying on with my research on Margaret Atwood at the University of Toronto. I had also planned to meet my Canadian friends in British Columbia, but the conference was postponed to June 2021. In Canada there was a lockdown as well and my friends were in quarantine. The same happened for another conference I had at the University of Göttingen. My flight to Italy was cancelled too and I don’t dare to book a flight in August. My mum turned ninety at the end of May and I was sorry not to be there. We had a long conversation and a big hug through the phone screen. She told me she is knitting a blue scarf for me and insisted that I should go to Rome to see it. I said I will, as soon as the lockdown eases off, but I don’t feel safe to travel to Italy now. I haven’t seen her since last Christmas, I miss her and the rest of my Italian family. My children phoned her too to wish a special happy birthday but it was a bit sad not to be there altogether to celebrate such an important achievement.

I feel afraid to move out of my area. I think the risk of infection is still there though the death toll and the contagion have decreased drastically in the last few months. I feel that a lot of imprecise information is going around so it is better to stay safe at home. Besides, experts say there might be another wave of the coronavirus in autumn, so I suppose I won’t leave the UK before Christmas. It is frustrating not to have a proper break, not planning or looking forward to a change; the future looks flat. I cannot see a difference, a stimulating alternative to what I am doing and living every day. I hold on to the deadlines for my thesis and my writings trying not to neglect my creative side, which gives me a vital support. The good weather is helping but I am not taking much advantage of it though my garden is blooming.

My husband and I are planning some trips in the nearby areas, Surrey Hills, Winchester, Salisbury and the seaside, maybe in Devon or in the south coats. Only one-day trips as I don’t feel comfortable to rent a house, even for a few days, I prefer to go back home at the end of the day. From 1st June we were allowed to visit my autistic daughter Valentina who lives in a residential school near Doncaster, only for two hours and in the open air wearing PPE. I really missed her. We skyped with her once a week during the lockdown but we didn’t really interact with her as she doesn’t speak though she was always happy to see us and sent us kisses through the screen.

Maybe to experience something different I am thinking of planning a tour of the imagination to stimulate my creative side with new books, images, stories and music. The best way to do it is avoiding a precise target, do it loosely without a deadline, just doing it for the sake of it, for pure pleasure. It is also important to do it when I feel like it in order to relax, to have a break, to break free. In this time, it can be a way to grow and survive emotionally.

I baked like mad and still doing it, another way to relax and nourish myself. Dinners seemed such an important moment during the lockdown. We gathered at the end of the day with a steaming minestra or tortellini with cream and tomato soup and had a chat. I experimented with new recipes, prepared delicious Italian dishes trying to use less fat and less sugar as I kept on gaining weight. The doctor recommended me to lose weight six months ago and I felt guilty I gained two instead. I was desperate but there was no way to make the arrow of the scale move a bit towards the left, and there’s no way to cheat. So I bought larger clothes, long loose dresses, fresh and comfortable to wear and new earrings to match. Some good recipes came out though; here are the results of my efforts in the kitchen:

Treccia (braid-shaped stuffed bread)

You need: 500 g of flour, two tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, 250 ml of lukewarm milk and water, one tsp of salt, 7 g of dried yeast, 100 g of prosciutto or bacon cut in pieces, 100 g of grated mozzarella or cheese, one beaten egg to brush the top.

Mix the flour, salt, yeast, olive oil, water plus milk and yeast. Knead the dough and let it rest in a warm place for 2-3 hours covered with a wet tea towel. When it has risen to twice its size, knead the dough again and divide it in three parts. Roll out the three parts of dough in stripes and spread the mozzarella, or cheese, and the prosciutto, or bacon, on them. Fold the stripes over and interweave the braid with the three parts of dough. Set the bread on a greased oven tray, cover it with film and let it rest in a warm place for half an hour.  Finally, brush the top of the bread with a beaten egg and bake it at 200°C for forty-five minutes or one hour.

Tiramisu with strawberries

You need: 250 g of mascarpone, 200 g of strawberries, 3 medium eggs, four tbsp. of sugar, 300 g of rich tea biscuits or savoiardi, some coffee.

Cut the strawberries in small pieces but keep a few of them to decorate the top. Prepare the cream beating the egg yolks with the sugar, add the mascarpone and the whites whipped stiff. Then add the strawberries. Spread two or three tbsp. of the cream on a square bowl then set the layers of biscuits and cream. Dunk the biscuits in coffee and set the first layer then cover it with the cream. Carry on with a layer of biscuits and a layer of cream finishing with the cream. Decorate the top with strawberries cut in half and chill for 3-4 hours before serving.

Tart with strawberries and cream

For the dough you need: 200 g of self-raising flour, 50 of cocoa, 50 g of dark muscovado sugar or brown soft sugar, one egg, 70 g of melted butter.

For the filling you need: 250 g of ricotta, 150 g of caster sugar, 250 ml of double cream or whipping cream, 300 g of strawberries. Dark chocolate chips to decorate.

Prepare the cream mixing the ricotta with the sugar and chill it for two hours. Add the whipped cream and chill for two more hours.

Prepare the dough mixing all the ingredients and chill it for half an hour. Roll it out and line a greased tart pan with the dough. Bake it at 180°C for half an hour.

When it is cool cut the strawberries in small pieces, but keep a few of them to decorate the top, add them to the cream and spread the cream mixture on the tart. Decorate the top with chocolate chips and chill for one hour before serving.

Porridge muffins

You need: 300 g of porridge oats, one banana, 100 g of flaked coconut, one tsp of baking powder, one tsp of vanilla extract, 100 ml of soya milk, 3 tbsp. of honey, two eggs, 200 g of fruit (I used plums cut in small pieces, but it can be blueberries, peaches or whatever fruit you like).

Cook the plums with a tbsp. of Demerara sugar until boil and leave it to simmer for ten minutes. Mix all the other ingredients in a bowl and then add the plums. Pour a full spoon of the porridge mixture in cupcake cases and bake at 180°C for half an hour.

Porridge pie

For the dough you need: 250 g of self-raising flour, two eggs, 70 g of sugar, three tbsp. of canola oil or sunflower oil.

For the filling you need: 250 g of porridge oats, two eggs, some fruit (I used three peaches and four apricots cut in small pieces).

Prepare the dough mixing all the ingredients, knead it and chill it for half an hour. Cook the fruit with two tbsp. of Demerara sugar until boil and leave it to simmer for ten minutes. In a bowl mix the porridge oats with the eggs and the fruit. Roll out half of the dough and line a pie dish, pour in the fruit and porridge mixture and cover it with the rest of the dough. Bake at 180°C for half an hour-forty-five minutes.

I dressed in red to celebrate Canada day virtually with the Canada-UK foundation on Zoom. They organised a pancake breakfast with interesting speeches on the Canadian values of diversity, multiculturalism and tolerance, and a quiz. We sang the national anthem as well. They sent me a parcel with Canadian products from . During the day, I made some biscuits from recipes I already had, using peanut butter and maple syrup. I posted the peanut butter biscuit recipe last year here:

And here is the recipe for the Maple syrup cookies:

You need: three tbsp. of maple syrup, three tbsp. of canola oil, 150 g of self-raising flour, 100 g of porridge oats, 100 g of golden granulated sugar, one egg.

Beat the sugar and the egg, add the other ingredients and knead the dough. Let it rest for half an hour then roll it out and cut the patterns using a biscuit cutter or make small balls and press them with a fork. Bake the biscuits on a greased oven tray at 180 for ten-fifteen minutes or until ready.

Have a good summer time, I will be back with my blog posts in September.

Friday, 26 June 2020

Coronavirus diary: New Pamphlet, PhD, my writing and poetry

My pamphlet Negotiating Caponata, is out. It may seem a little thing but I feel very proud. I shipped it to my family and friends in Italy, UK, Australia and Canada. I hope they like it. There will be a Zoom Launch on 16th July as well. Here are the links to Dempsey&Windle’s website and to my website:

My website has just been reshaped by webmasters Andrew and Becci ( ). They did a great job; it looks amazing.

I am carrying on with my PhD thesis on Margaret Atwood; it was my main target during the free time I had in the lockdown. It was hard work and still is as I am trying to finalise it by autumn. Editing is the longest part and the most difficult. The final work needs to be almost perfect and at a level of a PhD, which means it needs to ‘create new knowledge’ at the ‘foremost of the academic discipline’. Quite tough. I don’t know what the examiners will decide once I submit my thesis, I just hope the process will end at some point and I will get the award. The whole thing is giving me a bit of anxiety and my blood pressure rose, but I am carrying on and hope I will succeed eventually. I have already published extracts of my work on Atwood in academic articles and more informal pieces and have had abstracts accepted in conferences, which are suspended at the moment but will take place in 2021. So, my research on Atwood’s work will carry on as well as my links to Canadian culture, Canadian friends and Canadian territory. Studying Atwood, I discovered a new dimension that is enriching my life and broadening my views. I do not intend to stop as it is becoming more and more exciting.

During the lockdown, I wrote and published articles and reviews as well. Some are linked to my work on Margaret Atwood, others are poetry reviews and also a review on Raphael’s virtual exhibition at Scuderie del Quirinale in Rome. Here are the links:

Rachel Burns, A Girl in a Blue Dress

David Hockney: Ways of Working

Dónall Dempsey, Crawling Out and Falling Up

Kitty Coles, Visiting Hours

Two Painters at a Crossroad: Geoffrey Pimlott and Colin Merrin

Roy Marshall, After Montale

Notes on the Testaments

David Cooke, Staring at a Hoopoe

Floods, global warming and overpopulation

Coping with Covid-19 in the UK, Italy and Japan: a comparison

Raphael 1520–1483, a walk in the exhibition

Daphne Milne, The Blue Boob Club (South Magazine 61)

Conyer Clayton, We shed our skin like dynamite

‘Being a woman painter: reflections on Elaine Risley’s career in Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye

Richard Kell, The whispering sky

Robbie Frazer, 192 Miles with Carla

In order to relax a bit from my academic work I made sketches and paintings. I produced some sketchbook journals that record what I was doing during the confinement, that is, cakes, pizzas, pictures of empty spaces, like city squares and supermarket shelves, and painted my obsession with the virus in different forms. The process encouraged my creativity and soothed my troubled mood making me feel better. They are not great pieces, but I can develop one or two of them in the future.

Woking Stanza, Woking Writers Circle and Write Out Loud organised Zoom sessions which were not only helpful for my writing but also kept us in touch and we could have a good chat though at a distance. I also completed my diabetes awareness sessions online and had a few Zoom meetings with my UCA student and her tutor. For me, it wasn’t easy not to meet people in person, days seemed void but I decided to set my goals day by day and managed to keep up pretty well at the end. Podcasts and videos from newspaper, museums and youtube helped me too. Here are a few links I enjoyed:

Atwood and other writers:




I kept clapping hands for the NHS, though I felt sadder and sadder each time thinking about all the people who have died, and still die, from the pandemic. I find the political controversies pointless and detrimental in some way, both in Italy and in the UK. I don’t think there is any perfect solution to this situation and things cannot be solved in the short term. What affects me most is the social distancing and restrictions about meeting family, but it will be eased off at a certain point hopefully. I am planning to spend the summer at home, complete my thesis, write more articles, do some art work and crochet, and waiting for a future where people will gather again.

Saturday, 13 June 2020

Coronavirus diary: keeping busy

I did my best not to get bored. A part from working on my PhD thesis and my writings. I met my fellow writers online. It was exciting to have a chat on our pieces, exchange feedbacks and have the opportunity to keep in touch despite isolation. We met every four weeks and updated the Woking Writers Circle’s website with pictures and comments. We kept in touch on Twitter and Facebook as well trying not to lose track of what we were doing, suggesting each other new ideas on our experience of Covid-19, transformations, football, how we were at 20 and how our gardens go. I joined webinar events with Canada-UK foundation, online art classes, meetings, performances and lectures. It was a bit hectic at times. The Tate and V&A sent emails with engrossing links to articles and videos. It was a good chance to keep going and find new prompts for my creative life.

During the lockdown I also did a lot of crochet, knitting and sewing, starting new projects that made me feel creative and alive. I don’t know why but I mainly concentrated on purses and bags using both crochet patterns and some nice pieces of fabrics my daughter gave me some time ago. It was more the process than the final product that intrigued me, the opportunity to create something new, realise my product. I used buttons to close the bags as I ran out of zips at a certain point but then I placed an order for fifty zips on Amazon. Each time I finished a purse or a bag I sent the photo to my mum through Tania’s Facebook account (she is the carer’s who lives with my mum). Both Tania and my mum sent me back pictures of their work, crochet and knitting beautiful things, they did during the lockdown. I also made bags inspired by Japanese boro bags and a t-shirt for my autistic daughter Valentina with Leela, her favourite cartoon character, embroidered on the front. I put some things on Facebook marketplace (I am under Carla Scarano) and managed to sell some items, mainly Japanese things: haori, kimono and Japanese pottery. It was fun.

I am working on a poetry pamphlet, Negotiating Caponata. I was overwhelmed when I received the good news that it was accepted for publication by Dempsey and Windle
( The poems are about food and family relationships; some of them have been published in magazines such as South, The Blue Nib, London Grip and The High Window. My fellow writers of Woking Stanza and Woking Writers Circle gave me some good tips on titles and on how to improve some images. My daughter helped me too from Japan; she has a literary side she is not developing at the moment, as she is concentrating on fashion, but it is there. My poetry tutor Dawn Wood was very important in the process of redrafting. She has published her work with Templar Poetry and is a painter and a sculptor too ( I trust her advice and feel very comfortable with her. I am in the process of proofreading my pamphlet with the help of Janice Dempsey who said it will be ready in July 2020. I am so excited and happy about it and am looking forward to having a copy in my hands and sending it to my family and friends. There will be a link on my website for Dempsey and Windle’s website once it is published.

I took part in a football challenge with the help of my husband on Facebook started by Greg Freeman. Here are the results of my research and some good pics:

Francesco Totti (born 27 September 1976), mainly played for Roma and the Italy national team as an attacking midfielder or second striker. He scored 307 goals with Roma and is considered one of the best players of his neration and Roma’s best ever player. His play is versatile and creative, he is a great leader and has sense of humour. He published several books of jokes playing on his supposed naivety and inexperience, here are some examples:

He is married with Ilary Blasi and has three children. Here is a video of his achievements:
Forza Roma, Forza Lupi!

Gianfranco Zola (born 5 July 1966) is an Italian footballer who played as a forward. He played for Napoli and Parma, and then moved to Chelsea where he was assistant manager and then in 2008 manager of West Ham.  He was particularly good with his right foot. Zola was awarded The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in 2004 for his merits and was appointed best football player in 1997. In 2003 he was voted Chelsea's greatest player ever. He was born at Oliena in the beautiful island of Sardinia in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea but said he felt at home in London. Zola loved Covent Garden area, London Bridge and London’s parks.
Zola is also a good pianist:

Roberto Baggio (born 18 February 1967) mainly played as a second striker, or as an attacking midfielder. He was creative and gifted. He was named in the list of the world's greatest living players. He scored hundreds of goals in his career. He played for different Italian clubs: Vicenza, Fiorentina, Juventus, A.C. Milan, Bologna, Inter Milan and Brescia. Baggio is known as Divin Codino ("The Divine Ponytail") for his hairstyle maybe linked to his Buddhist beliefs. He had some accidents in the first part of his career which did not compromise his talent. He is considered one of the best Italian footballers after WW II.

My husband completed an amazing puzzle of 18000 pieces called ‘Evening Walk in Paris’, 276x192 cm. We had to clear part of the living room to fit the whole thing on the floor and take a photo. It was awesome!

In May there was the Eurovision Song Contest Come Together. I never miss this program and was disappointed when they cancelled it. However, I liked the way it was organised this time, re-proposing past shows and videos of hit songs, such as Volare, Save your kisses for me and Waterloo. The video clips of 2020 entries were a bit short but they gave you the idea of the songs. It was a lovely show with Mr Graham Norton at his best. The most moving and beautiful moment was when the different singers performed Love Shine A Light separately, here is the video:
I enjoyed it immensely and didn’t miss the competition, which doesn’t seem suitable at the moment, but appreciated the cooperation between the different countries and singers.

For Easter I made cards I sent to friends in the UK and in Italy and to distribute to neighbours. In my drawings, the flower pattern I used with a flower stamp my daughter gave me ended up strange. I decorated it with felt pens and coloured pencils and then I smeared it with inks and enamels thinking about the virus spreading and ruining people’s lives and families, killing by chance. I struggled to make a finished drawing as sketching provisional pieces seemed the norm in this uncertain period. I doodled as I needed to free my style in order to express my worries and anxieties in a world that is forced to become silent and still but bubbles beneath the surface. I made some loose sketches at the end and a comic strip inspired by the pandemic.

Can I go back to painting leaves, flowers and landscapes? Can I forget about the virus? It seems impossible at the moment, the obsession and worries are too present in my everyday life. At a certain point I decided to give up all my previous projects: cherry blossoms, kimono patterns, bunches of tulips, my daughter’s last fashion collection that I had sketched on my sketchbook journal in Japan. I put aside the many photos I had taken around the area where I live when spring blossoms bloomed in April’s gorgeous weather and the views of deserted streets and squares. I surrendered to my obsession eventually. I painted the scarlet, grey and blue mischievous virus again and again with bewildered pleasure.

The same happened with my poetry. Here is some haiku I wrote on my experience of distancing and isolation:


Queueing at Sainsbury’s
quick chat at a distance
surrounded by blue.

Cycling against the wind
half an hour of freedom
roars in my ears.

Long days of stillness,
no hurry to reach
the end of the rainbow.

Time to chill out,
rest, unravel
circumventing passers-by.

Spring bursting
like a muffled bomb
inside my ribs.

The rainbow one was published in Covidioms, a collaborative poem sequence, documenting life under lockdown. The link to the booklet is on Poetry NI website is here:

All poems in the anthology are great, some funny, some moving, all hopeful. My poem is number 88.

Some people say that this period is like in wartime except for the bullets and bombs. It is a suspended time where we are supposed to carry on in view of what would happen somewhere at some point in the future, but we are not sure when and where. Time for withdrawal and meditation which fitted with Lent time but carried on after Easter as well. A delayed time where we do not need to hurry, what we cannot do today we can do tomorrow. No weddings, no funerals, no beginning, no end. Brexit, Islamic terrorism and refugees’ emergency seem far far away.

On the whole it was a period characterised by stillness, sadness for the deaths but also an opportunity to thrive in creativity, find different ways of communicating, feeling alive in this unexpected crisis. Would everything go back to what it was before? To what we now call ‘normality’? Probably not. But who knows what will happen in the long term, in five-ten years. Maybe nothing, maybe more.

Saturday, 30 May 2020

Coronavirus diary: recipes

I baked, cooked and experimented recipes extensively during the lockdown. It was a way to keep me busy and cheer me up making and eating good food. I mainly made new cakes, pastiera for Easter, bread, pizza but also jams. I prepared more elaborated meals with lasagne, gnocchi, pasta amatriciana and puttanesca. I have good neighbours with whom I exchanged recipes and cakes, leaving our things on the front door. I had a go at the Royal Easter biscuits as well, a fantastic recipe, but could not make them as beautiful as in the official pictures, here is the link:

Bread with olives

You need: 500 g of strong flour or bread flour; 200 ml of lukewarm water, one tsp of salt, 7 g of dried yeast, 20 pitted black olives and 20 pitted green olives, two tbsp. of extra virgin olive oil.

Mix all the ingredient and knead the dough. Let it rest in a warm place for 2-3 hours covered with a wet tea towel. Knead it again and form small breads, then place them in a greased oven tray and bake at 200°C for half an hour.

Pane azzimo (unleavened bread)

You need: 200 g of plain flour (or self-raising flour if you wish to have a softer result), 150 g of wholemeal flour or other alternative flours (such as rice flour, buckwheat flour, hazelnut flour, or spelt flour), 200 ml of lukewarm water, two tbsp. of extra virgin olive oil, salt, one egg to brush the top.

Mix all the ingredients and knead the dough. Let it rest for one hour then prepare sort of round pancakes. Set them on a greased oven tray and make some holes on the top with a fork. Brush the top with a beaten egg and bake at 180°C for half an hour. For a sweet version add 100 of Demerara sugar instead of salt.


This is a simple and tasty recipe from Tuscany. It was also called ‘pan lavato’ (washed bread) as the main ingredient is stale bread soaked in water.  Originally it was the peasants’ lunch or poor people’s food made with bread and the vegetables they had in their garden, such as tomatoes, onions, cucumbers and basil. They also added salt, oil and vinegar.

To make panzanella you need to soak some bread in water, better if stale bread, and crumble it. Add the vegetables cut in small pieces, extra virgin olive oil, some drops of vinegar and salt. Mix and chill it for one hour before serving.

Flower biscuits with marmalade juice

I had some left over of marmalade juice from the marmalade I made in winter, so I decided to use it. But you can use whatever syrup you have and like.

You need: 300 g of rice flour, two eggs, 70 g of caster sugar, 150 ml of marmalade juice, 70 g of melted butter, 1 tsp of bicarbonate of soda.

Mix all the ingredients and knead the dough. Let it rest for half an hour then roll it out. Cut the biscuits with a biscuit cutter (I used a sakura shaped cutter, that is, cherry blossom, I bought in Japan). Bake the biscuits on a greased tray at 180°C for half an hour.

Cake with marmalade juice

You need: 150 g of rice flour, 150 g of sponge flour, three eggs, 100 g of golden granulated sugar, 3 tbsp. of canola oil or sunflower oil, 150 ml of marmalade juice (or another syrup), two tsp of baking powder, one tsp of bicarbonate of soda.

Beat the yolk of the eggs with the sugar, add oil and flours together with the baking powder and bicarbonate of soda. Whip the whites stiff and add them to the mixture. Pour the mixture in a greased cake tin and bake at 180°C for half an hour or forty-five minutes. Decorate it with melted dark chocolate and sprinkles.

Rhubarb and ginger jam

I found rhubarb at the greengrocer’s and couldn’t resist trying to make jam. I added ginger as I think the two flavours match well.

You need: 400 g of rhubarb cut in 2 cm pieces, 50 g of glacé ginger, 500 g of sugar, half a tsp of grated ginger, zest and juice of one lemon.

Grind the lemon zest with the sugar in a blender. Add all the other ingredients and set the mixture over a medium heat in a pan. Bring to boil and cook it until the rhubarb is soft. Store in clean jars.