Saturday 24 April 2021

Keeping in touch: my Easter holidays

 Easter holidays passed so quickly I couldn’t believe we were back to the usual routine. Now the sunny weather is calling us outside for improbable trips and sightseeing in forbidden venues. I dared to travel north during the break to see my sons and daughter in law and my granddaughter Violetta, but only for one day each and only six of us at a time maximum. The weather wasn’t as bad as the forecast predicted, a bit windy but sunny, so we met outside. I made tramezzini the day before (sandwiches with mayonnaise in the Italian way) and pastiera, a traditional tart with ricotta, cinnamon and wheat cooked in milk that my Neapolitan grandmother used to make every Easter. I also tried dark chocolate hot cross buns and a Colombina (little dove) as extra treats (recipes here below).

Though we didn’t spend so much time together we made the most of it. It was intense and emotional. I brought little toys for my granddaughter Violetta and was so impressed by the way she cleverly interacts with people at her age. But I am the grandmother and rightly think so. I must say my son and my daughter in law are so attentive to her needs and fond of her that there is nothing else that my husband and I can do except visit them and enjoy the moment. My daughter Irene made lovely drawings of Violetta from her best photos and we
sent them as presents to friends and to her great-grandparents in Italy. We also spent a whole day with my autistic daughter Valentina in her garden and celebrated Easter decorating the trees, egg hunting and doing craft activities. She especially liked hitting the unicorn shaped piñata and doing some face painting. She chose to have a butterfly on her face and painted flowers on her sister’s forehead and on her father’s bald head. She enjoyed the pudding, a chocolate and cream marquise I made just for her.

Before Easter I followed the 71st Sanremo Festival on the Italian TV. There was no audience due to the Covid-19 restrictions but it was great entertainment. It was presented by Amadeus with the support of the fabulous Fiorello and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the popular footballer who plays as a striker for Serie A club Milan. His perfect figure, almost statuesque, and presence on stage were enough attract an audience. The winner of the song contest was the group Måneskin with Zitti e buoni (Be quiet and behave) 

Ibrahimovic, Amadeus and Fiorello 

Honestly, I wasn’t so happy about the final results as my favourite songs were the following:

Ermal Meta: Un milione di cose da dirti (a million things to tell you) 

Colapesce Dimartino: Musica leggerissima (Super-easy-listening music) 

Noemi: Glicine (wisteria) 

Malika Ayane: Ti piaci così (you like yourself like this)  

I hoped one of them would win in the end. It is not that I don’t like Måneskin, but I don’t think Zitti e Buoni is their best song. What I really enjoyed in the Sanremo Festival were the fabulous outfits created by the most renowned Italian fashion designers, such as Armani, Dolce & Gabbana, Gucci and Valentino. They were not just beautiful, they were works of art and perfect in all aspects. Not only the clothes were gorgeous, but also the accessories, the shoes the hairstyle and the make-up. No match with anything I have seen so far on TV shows, not even comparable to the Oscars. Here are some examples:

What has recently moved me profoundly is the death of Prince Phillip. Maybe it was expected as he was almost 100, but it was a bereavement for the whole country. I felt moved by his understated kind of life and the sincere love between him and the queen. He was an apparently ordinary person who nevertheless faced difficulties in his childhood. He wasn’t poor but his mother had a breakdown and his father was absent. He was brought up by relatives and then sent to boarding schools. These situation did not affect his good humour and his genuine personality. He always supported the queen and was discretely present throughout her life. And he was a handsome man. At the funeral the queen looked tired, older in some way and lonely. I felt deeply sorry for her.

My job at ISL London ended the last day of March. I had a good time in such a welcoming and diverse environment and the Italian students I taught in the past seven months were fabulous. They produced a poetry anthology and an anthology where they collected the fairy tales they wrote in the prose unit. They also recorded the monologues they created in the drama unit and uploaded them on the school website. Just before I left, the Japanese students celebrated the sakura spring festival with paper cherry blossoms and origami scattered all around the school. It was lovely. 

However, I did not have much time to rest after the end of my job at ISL as I had to complete some work for IBO (International Baccalaureate), mark papers online and make the final corrections to my PhD thesis before sending the final version to the internal examiner. I did everything on time and eventually received the good news that my thesis had been accepted and that I would be awarded the PhD on 30th April 2021. Due to Covid restrictions, the ceremony will be postponed to July 2022, but once I receive the certificate I can start applying for postgraduate jobs. I would like to carry on with my research on intertextuality in Margaret Atwood’s work possibly with some funding. I almost can’t believe that I am having a doctorate at 58 with the prospect of an engaging future of researching and writing ahead.

Eventually I managed to relax a bit, watching videos and interviews featuring Margaret Atwood’s recent talks:

And The Motherhood Project of the Battersea Arts Centre:

I read a review on the show in The Guardian which was not so positive and I was intrigued by the topic so I decided to buy a ticket. Though not all the monologues are top quality, I think that they are all professionally performed and very engaging, even at a distance. The focus of the different pieces is so varied that it covers all the sides of motherhood, from the frustrated and tired housewife to abortion, discrimination of the ‘unmotherly’, mothering pets, transgender motherhood, abuse and disability. 

Last but not least, the final verdict for the murder of George Floyd seems to seal a turning point in the long history of abuse, killing and discrimination against African Americans. Or so we hope. Here is an interesting comment from The Times: 

And here are the recipes:

Dark chocolate hot cross buns

You need: 200 g of strong flour, one egg, 50 g of sugar, two tbsp of honey, 30 g of cocoa powder, 80 g of dark chocolate (ground), 7 g of dry yeast, 150 ml of warm milk, 50 g of lard, ¼ of a tsp of ground cloves and ¼ of a tsp of ground nutmeg, 50 g of raisins soaked in liquor and water.

Warm the lard with sugar, honey, nutmeg and cloves and a pinch of salt. Mix the flour with the yeast and the egg and pour in the milk. Add the cocoa powder and the chocolate. Finally add the lard mixture and the raisins and knead the dough. Let it rest for 2-3 hours in a warm place covered with a wet tea towel. Divide the dough in balls and place them on a greased oven tray. For the cross add water to two tbsp of flour plus two tbsp of icing sugar and form the cross on the top of the buns using the mixture and a piping bag. Bake for 20-30 minutes at 180 C. Glaze with melted honey.


You need: 300 g of strong flour, one egg and one yolk (use the white for the icing), 7 g of dry yeast, 100 ml of warm milk, 50 g of mixed peel, 100 g of sugar, 50 g of melted lard.

Mix all the ingredients and knead the dough. Let it rest for 2-3 hours in a warm place covered with a wet tea towel. Shape a dove on a grease oven tray and prepare the icing mixing the white of an egg, 4 tbsp of icing sugar and some drops of lemon juice. Spread the icing on the colombina and decorate with coloured sprinkles. Bake for 20-30 minutes at 180 C.

Chocolate and cream marquise

You need: four egg yolks, 50 g of sugar, 50 g of dark chocolate, 2 tbsp of honey, one tbsp of liquor, 250 ml of double cream plus 2 tsp of sugar, 80 g of melted butter, 50 g of cocoa powder, a pinch of salt the grated zest of an orange and two tbsp of orange juice.

Beat the egg yolks with the sugar. Melt the chocolate with the butter and honey and let it cool. Add the chocolate mixture to the eggs. Whisk the cream with two tsp of sugar. Add the rest of the ingredients to the chocolate mixture and fold in the cream. Line a loaf tin with cling film and pour in the chocolate marquise. Chill for six hours or overnight and serve with cream or custard.

So, let’s enjoy the sunny weather, till it lasts. 🌼

Friday 2 April 2021

Planning ahead: Easter renewal


A few events in the last month made me conscious of the difficult time we are experiencing. Sarah Everard’s abduction and murder shocked me. Attacks, violence and rape against women happen all the time all over the world, but this was in London at 9.30 pm to a young woman heading home from a tube station. She was in a normal situation; she wasn’t walking in a gloomy underpass at 3 a.m., she wasn’t skimpily dressed, drugged or drunk. Stories came out on the internet, on newspaper columns and social media of women who had been molested or harassed in the street several times in their lives. It is a constant feeling of not feeling safe even in daylight, of being the target of comments by men or of being wolf-whistled. Women feel the sensation that maybe they have been often close to what happened to Sarah Everard. In her case an apparently ‘normal’ situation turned abnormal, a dark nightmare, a horror story. Her remnants could be identified only by her teeth. This raises several unanswered questions. How was she abducted exactly and how did she die? Why her? Was she ‘chosen’ by chance or was there a connection between the murderer and her victim? Was it planned? Will the whole story be eventually revealed?

Then the vigil with so many people gathering, the Duchess of Cambridge visiting and the police warning the crowd to disperse. Finally the handcuffing  of some of the protesters.

Covid regulations, they said, which was true but sounded unfair and excessive considering the situation. 

I remember that when I was young crowded buses in Rome were a nightmare. I rarely missed men groping or feeling a hard thing pressing on my bottom. I could hardly budge so sometimes I addressed the harasser or tried to squeeze my handbag behind my bottom. It was very unpleasant, disgusting and at the time I felt it was unavoidable, just the consequence of being young and a woman. Going back home at night in empty buses or solitary lanes could be risky as well and arriving safe and sound gave me a sense of relief, I had made it home.

Meghan and Harry’s interview with Oprah Winfrey was a bit of a shock too, though nothing comparable with Sarah Everard’s case. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are millionaires, living in a super wealthy area of Hollywood surrounded by privileged people. The reasons why they left the UK and the way they were treated by the British press are upsetting but, in a way, predictable. This is what happens to celebrities and the Royal family is constantly under scrutiny. They are supposed to be perfect and situations are created to make news, and money. I wasn’t surprised by the racist comments, there are always weird fellows in large families, though I don’t believe the Royal family are racist. I expect they are controlled and their freedom is limited. I imagine it is hard but it is understandable. They have several advantages though, they live in palaces and castles, they have servants and secretaries who think about the daily schedule and routines. They wear beautiful and expensive clothes and jewels, attend parties, concerts and other important events. Some of them also share part of their wealth with charities, which is remarkable, and, on the whole, are good well-behaved people, except for a few exceptions. Most of them, like Kate and William, make every effort to connect with ordinary people. I wonder what will happen when the queen is gone, she is such a unifying figure. I like Harry and Meghan and I hoped that they could be an example of diversity, an alternative view to the more conventional William and Kate and the traditional role of the queen. But they gave up and sadly it seems there is no way back. They seem sincere and looking for their own way. I just hope the situation won’t become too harsh and risky.

Some news from Italy puzzled me too. The temporary suspension of the AstraZeneca vaccine and the confusing changing of tier colours. White, yellow, orange and red were not enough for the creative Italian mentality, they also had dark orange and dark red to mark a shift in rules. Sometimes inside the same region there were areas of different colours, for example an orange region could have dark red spots. The only white region was Sardinia. Things got worse in March despite the vaccination program, which was slower than in the UK, and stricter lockdowns were implemented in some areas. 

At the end of March I ended my work at ISL London, which was sad in a way as I enjoyed the teaching and the contact with colleagues and students, but, on the other hand, this gave me more time to make the final corrections to my thesis and to work on my creative writing projects. This is also the period that I mark papers for IB, the International Baccalaureate organisation based in Cardiff, so I feel very busy and committed to complete my work. Furthermore, I need to plan ahead: academic articles, reviews and maybe organise my

poems in a new collection and submit it to publishers. I am also working on short prose pieces but I need more reading and more time to finish them. In May I will have poetry workshops, conferences in summer and after summer and I would like to see my mum in Rome at some point. For Easter I hope to visit my sons, daughter in law and my granddaughter Violetta in the north of England, and hopefully meet my autistic daughter Valentina. Everything will happen outside in gardens or parks. We will have picnics and hang eggs on trees and bushes hoping the weather will be merciful. Here is a video of Violetta

Here are a few Easter treats I planned for the picnic:

Mimosa cake

For the sponge you need: 4 eggs, 200 g of sugar, 250 g of flour (the weight of the flour should be the same weight as the eggs), 50 ml of water, one tsp and a half of baking powder, one tsp of bicarbonate of soda.

Custard cream: 2 eggs, 40 g of flour, 100 g of sugar, 500 ml of milk, the grated zest of a lemon.

You also need 250 ml of whipping cream or double cream and some liquor or milk to sprinkle the cake.

Start preparing the sponge. Whisk the eggs with the sugar for 10-15 minutes then fold in the other ingredients. Pour the mixture in a round greased cake tin and bake at 180 C for half an hour.

Prepare the custard cream mixing all the ingredients in a sauce pan, stir and cook until it boils. Turn off the heat and let it cool. Whip the cream in a bowl and put it aside. 

When the cake is ready and cool cut the upper part and put it apart, then cut it in half. Sprinkle the two main parts with liquor mixed with water or with milk. Mix the custard cream with half of the whipped cream (Chantilly cream) and spread half of the mixture on the bottom half of the cake. Cover it with the other layer of the cake and spread the rest of the Chantilly cream on top. Finally cover it with the rest of the whipped cream. Cut the upper layer of the cake you left apart in small cubes and sprinkle or stick the pieces on the cream. Chill for 2-3 hours before serving.

Easter pavlova

This seems to be a favourite treat for Easter time in many different versions, ideal to celebrate abundance after the fasting of Lent time.

For the meringue you need: five egg whites and 200 g of caster sugar.

For the filling you need: 250 ml of double cream.

For the decoration you need: 100 g of white chocolate, 100 g of black chocolate, berries and mini chocolate eggs.

Whip the egg whites until stiff adding the sugar little by little. Spread the meringue in a circle in a round tin lined with baking parchment. Create a sort of crater in the middle. Bake for one hour and a half at 150° C. and let it cool inside the oven. When it is cool melt the white and dark chocolate in separate bowls in the microwave and pour them on the meringue. Whisk the cream with a tbsp of sugar and fill the crater. Decorate with berries and mini chocolate eggs.

Spring biscuits

For Easter I am planning to make the traditional pastiera but biscuits are always handy especially in picnics. I used nice new bunny biscuits cutters I found online and my daughter brought a Totoro biscuit cutter from Japan, here are the recipes:

Bunny biscuits

You need: 200 g of self-raising flour, 100 g of ground almonds, 4 tbsp of almond oil,, food colour (optional), 2 eggs, 150 g of icing sugar.

Mix eggs and sugar then add all the other ingredients. Let the dough rest for half an hour then roll it out and cut the biscuits. Bake them on a greased oven tray for about fifteen minutes at 180 C.

Totoro biscuits

You need: 200 g of self-raising flour, 4 tbsp of walnut oil or sunflower oil, 100 g of instant polenta, 2 eggs, 130 g of sugar.

Mix eggs and sugar then add all the other ingredients. Let the dough rest for half an hour then roll it out and cut the biscuits. Bake them on a greased oven tray for about fifteen minutes at 180 C.

Have a great Easter time!💟☂