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.