This, That and The Other Thing

Though mostly about food

As happened with many of us, Chez Nicky and Nora (I mean let’s call a spade a spade, it’s their house we just live there) the first few months of the pandemic led to a flurry of cooking, baking, roasting, basting, sauteing, and all the other “ings” involved in the kitchen.* With the advent of warm weather – or boiling heat the last three weeks – less is being done in the kitchen. Or if it is being done there is a certain resignation about the doing. That hasn’t stopped me from watching a few favourite cooking shows on YouTube.

While searching for a bread recipe I came across Glen & Friends and a rather unusual Peanut Butter Bread from a depression era cookbook. Turns out that every Sunday Glen posts a video using a recipe from an early cookbook that has been sent to him by viewers. He experiments, makes substitutions, and sometimes when he and his wife Jul taste the results they admit that they don’t like something or that it was less than successful. Here’s the Peanut Butter Bread video – it was unusual but made for a nice change for toast bread:

Glen’s observations and sidebar facts are interesting and informative as indeed are some of the comments from viewers:
– I didn’t know that before we converted to metric in 1970 a cup in Canada was 227ml and that today it is 250ml. Or that the American cup is 236.588ml except in places where it’s 240ml!!!!!! Even though they are on the Commonwealth standard cup New Zealand and Australia have a different measurements from Canada for their 1/2, 1/3 and 1/4 cup!!!!
– For some reason American viewers seem to be obsessed with the milk here in Canada – particularly when it comes in bags! I’m not sure what exactly is so upsetting about it but sorry folks that’s one of the ways it’s sold here in civilization! Then several people were offended by Glen referring to “Homo milk” but for different reasons. One because it was offensive to gays and another before it was part of the “gay agenda”. I just sent Laurent out to get “homo” milk and not because he’s buying for our household but because that’s what we call “whole milk” in Canada.

Glen does all manner of recipes not just of a historical nature, Max Miller over at Tasting History specializes in a wide range of foods from the past – most often the long ago past. From that infamous Roman condiment Garum to a 1920s Birthday cake Max cooks up the goodies and, even better, gives us a history lesson the way history should be taught – with humour and wit.

Max only started the channel at the beginning of the lock-down when he was put on “furlough” and played around with his love of cooking and history, and his video expertise. In the last seven months he’s landed well over 227k subscribers and growing. Now it doesn’t hurt that Max is a bit of eye candy – as one commentor mentioned it’s a bit like having Captain America teach you history and cooking! Just another super power!

Also a bit on the historic side is Whipperwill Holler but more from the point of view of a 20th century rural community. Lori Brown and her husband Mr. Brown, I’m sure he does have a first name but I don’t recall her using it, live on a homestead near Imboden, Arkansas. Lori often reaches back to her time as a “lunch lady” in a local school for recipes, sometimes it’s old recipes from their families or simply food that anyone born during the Depression, the Second World War or the two decades after saw on the table at home. Of course there are canning recipes and despite Arkansas being considered the MidWest a few with a Southern bent. From what I can gather the farm that has been in Mr Brown’s family for several generations. Miss Lori’s kitchen is large and an Ali Baba’s cave of the old and the new.

Given that it has cooled down for Sunday dinner I’m going to take that pork tenderloin we bought two months ago out of the freezer and use Miss Lori’s one dish recipe she posted for their Valentine’s Day dinner. It was a great success the last time I tried it. I’ll give the desert a pass: I just made a batch of pistacchio** ice cream with that “gay milk” that Laurent bought.

Yes, Whipperwill Holler is “folksy”, unfortunately “folksy” is one of those words that started life as a positive statement but in recent years has taken a pejorative turn. In the case of Lori and Mr. Brown, and their Homestead I am going with the positive definitions in the word for today.

*That was one hefty run-on sentence!!!! My old English teacher Miss Firth would at it with her red pencil and mark it up with MEs. And this one too I suspect.
**Spellcheck tells me it should be pistachio but don’t believe everything Spellcheck tells you. I use the Italian spelling and that “cc” is pronounced “K” like in Pinocchio.

The word for August 22nd is:
Folksy /ˈfōksē/: [adjective]
1.1 Having the characteristics of traditional culture and customs.
1.2 Of a person: informal and unpretentious.
Old English folc “common people, laity; men; people, nation, tribe; multitude; troop, army,” Middle English folk; 1914 + y “characteristic of the common people.” Old English had folcisc “popular, secular, common.”

The Measure of the Meal

This little gem appeared on a site today and reminded me of a few of my attempts at cooking when we first arrived in Italy.  It took a while but I soon figured out what a “nut” of butter,  a “string” of oil, and a “splash” of wine really amounted to.  And as for Dario’s mother’s recipe for Easter Pasteria there was the almost disaster when she called for a “four bottles” of orange essence.  Fortunately I had posted a picture of the ingredients on FaceBook and got a panicked SMS say:  No!!!!!  Small bottles!

Now with Christmas coming up this would be a thoughtful stocking stuffer….  just saying:


And I’m reminded of a quote I gave when submitting Marco’s mother’s recipe to an International cookbook:

Four years in Italy taught me that simple is better and fresh is best; and the eye, the nose, the finger and the mouth are the best tools any cook can have in the kitchen.


On this day in 1927: The Holland Tunnel opens to traffic as the first Hudson River vehicle tunnel linking New Jersey to New York City.

Marco’s Mother’s Pastiera

I first encountered Pastiera, the traditional Napoletano Easter dolci, when we were doing an “Italian theme” Easter dinner back in 1990.  My friend John was delegated to make it using a recipe from the New York Times Sunday Magazine. Back in those days many of the ingredients were hard to find and the “wheat berries” had to be bought in a health food store and the lengthy process of cooking them followed. John wasn’t too confident that this such a great idea for a desert and made an angel food cake as well. As I recall the “pastiera” was considered to be a bit on the exotic side.

I wasn’t to encounter it again until I moved here four years ago and then only really became familiar with it after meeting my friend Marco, the Napoletano.  Two Easters back he talked about it – and how he had learned how to make it from his mother, whose pastiera was the best in Napoli.  Last year he snuck a piece from the family table and brought it back to Roma for me to try.  This year he shared the recipe with me and I’m attempting to make it myself.

As with most family recipes it is big on description and cautions but a bit short on details.  Measurements are by the eye, to taste and experience.  I’ve had to send him several e-mails asking for clarification about instructions such as “whip the egg whites, then incorporate them into the mixture” – good but whip them until what consistency?  Now Marco would have seen his mother do it, who had probably watched her mother do it – so the eye – and finger – had learned when the time was right.  My own thoughts were until they “form soft peaks” – turns out I was right.

Marco’s Mother’s Pastiera (sort of)

Half kilo of good quality cow’s milk fresh ricotta
Half kilo of sugar (fine but not icing sugar)
1 small jar of pre-cooked grano* or about 300 gr
1/2 litre of milk
Candied fruit (little but some is required)
6 eggs
5 Vanilla packets
4 bottles Fiori d’arancio (Orange blossom essence)
A portion of short pastry (say that you will need a pound)

*Grano is whole grain that has been soaked in repeated changes of water – sometimes for as long as seven days, though 3 days is more the norm – then cooked.  It can be bought precooked in jars and cans in supermarkets here and Italian food stores in other countries.

Making pastiera is a two day job and once baked it should ideally sit – though I’ve been cautioned never in the refrigerator – for a day or two to let the flavours blend.  So it is traditional to start it on Holy Thursday, complete it on Good Friday and service it on Easter Sunday.

So this morning – Holy Thursday – I started the easiest part of the cooking.

In a large bowl mix together the ricotta and the sugar.  When it has become creamy cover and let rest in the refrigerator for a day.

Boil the grano in the milk for about 20 minutes.  During the cooking add 1 tablespoon of lard, a packet of vanilla and a bottle of orange blossom essence. Allow to cool and then cover and store in the refrigerator for a day.

So far so good though I had worried about the consistency of the grano but Marco assured me that it would all balance out and not to worry.   I’ll be making the shortbread pastry tonight – using lard not butter – though according to Marco in a pinch even frozen pastry will do!  I’m not sure but I think that may be his own addition as a bachelor cook.  As I say the recipe is passed down and its not unknown for people to make small changes for taste, availability and convenience.

So tomorrow – Good Friday – and Part 2 of making Marco’s Mother’s Pastiera.

21 aprile – Giovedi Santo

Lunedi Lunacy

I thought I’d look at food a bit more in depth this week so to start things off here’s how to make “Macho” salad.

Jörgen (Torkel Petersson) will be our Monday morning guest chef. He’s the star of the Swedish film Farsan and he’s become convinced that his wife thinks he isn’t manly enough. So he “embarks on a quest to become more assertive and studly in order to save his marriage.”

06 settembre – San Zaccaria (profeta)

A Weekend in the Country

“A Little Night Music” has always been one of my favorite Sondheim musicals – and no not just because of Send in the Clowns (though Glynis Johns and Len Cariou singing it can still reduce me to tears – sadly that video is no longer available on YouTube) but more for the sort of writing heard in numbers like “A Weekend in the Country.”

And tomorrow we’re going on our own Weekend in the Country and Laurent will get a much-needed break from the glory that is Roma. After work today our friend Linda came and picked up Reese, who will be spending his own weekend in the country at her place. Of course that meant I spent this morning in the kitchen cooking up his food –Coat of Arms of the Commune di Rieti ground beef, carrots, broccoli, zucchini, green beans and rice, that dog is eating better than some people I know!

Tomorrow morning we set out – our trusty TomTom set for Rieti, about 80 kilometers north-east of here. We’re meeting up with a small group of people – Susan from Italytur, two other Canadians and a trio from Naples at the Fiano Romano roundabout and heading for:

  • A stroll through an olive orchard with spectacular views of the Appines and an olive tasting
  • a visit to an 11th century Monastery including a look at the Illuminated Manuscripts in their Scriptorium
  • Lunch at the Monastery
  • A visit to an olive mill that still grinds and presses for oil using the old methods
  • Then off to Susan’s B and B for a cooking class with chef Maurizio concluding with dinner combining some local wines with the fruits (and meat and vegetables) of our labour

That’s Saturday then on Sunday:

  • Breakfast at the B and B
  • A visit to a chestnut grove and processing facility – its chestnut season here and marroni canditi are in all the pastry and sweet shops
  • A visit to a castle that has been in one family since it was built in the 10th century
  • Lunch at a local wine shop with tastings
  • A look-in at Reiti itself – once a major stop on the great Via Salaria

At that point we’ll head over to Linda’s place about 40 kms away in Capena for dinner with her and Nazareno and pick up Reese. The pace promises to be country-speed and fortunately, not as tenison fraught or hectic as the one Sondheim’s characters are about to endure.

They (who the hell are “they” anyway) are calling for 20% chance of showers tomorrow in the Reiti region. Auld Hat, Lorraine, Cowbell and the rest of you Fire Dancers please start your engines and dance those clouds away.

16 novembre – Santa Marguerita di Scozia