It’s all about food

Coming from Stoke on Trent in the UK I’ve discovered something that people from my town of birth have in common with the Italian people.

What can this be?

It’s food.

In Stoke people are always talking about food, you’ll often be asked what you had for breakfast, and even straight after dinner (we Stokies call lunch, dinner) you’ll be asked what you’re going to be having for your tea, (we Stokies call dinner, tea).

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The Italian people are passionate about food, mention that you’re going to the coast for a fish lunch and they’ll ask where will you be eating? What will you be having?  Talk about dinner the night before and they’ll ask how you prepared it and they are happy if you give them a step by step account of your cooking methods and ingredients.

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In Stoke the local delicacy is the oatcake, a soft savoury pancake made from oatmeal that’s served with breakfast ingredients like bacon, eggs, sausages etc. and local people are devoted to them.

In Abruzzo the local delicacy is arrosticini. Mutton skewers, more often than not, cooked out in the open and devoured with gusto with bread simply drizzled with olive oil and the local population love them.

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As summer brings in the warmer weather the one thing people from Italy and the UK have in common is eating outside. Italian’s like nothing better than meat cooked ‘sul braciere’ on the brazier, meaning over charcoal in the same way the Brits love their lamb chops and burgers cooked al fresco on the BBQ.

Maybe we’re not that different after all.

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Body Clock, Barbecue and Balcony

When people hear that you live in Italy, they assume you have year round sunshine, but it’s not really like the Spanish Costas, where pensioners pop over for tinsel and turkey and ex-pats are still topping up their tans in November. In middle Italy we get snow; albeit not very much unless you’re up in the mountains, and we get miserable, wet, drizzly days in the winter, but what a revelation December 2013 was. We had more warm sunny days than cold wet ones and this meant we could extend our outdoor activities without donning an overcoat.

Throughout the month we took the dogs for a run on the beach; deserted now the holiday makers have left, and we also spent more time generally outside. With the back garden almost finished I spent a very warm December day getting my orto ready for the New Year, I was actually in a T shirt, sweating as I worked the earth, planted some garlic and built a seed bed.

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On the 29th we spent a morning walking with friends on the beach at Lido la Morge, (that’s where I scratched the Buon Anno, message in the sand) and following the beach trip we popped into friends at Torino di Sangro for a planned barbecue. I’d told a friend in the UK about the barbecue and he said we must be mad, a barbecue in December. We expected it to be chilly, but instead what we got was glorious sunshine and a warm afternoon. So as my friend in the UK shivered and locked himself away from the rain, I was outside in my shirt sleeves looking at an amazing view as I munched on a burger and the best homemade coleslaw I’ve ever tasted.

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On the 2nd of January, with the New Year still in its infancy, we had our first get-together of 2014, we spent a delightful afternoon on a roof terrace belonging to friends in Bomba. The views over the countryside and the lake are breath-taking, made all the more enjoyable when they’re viewed whilst holding a glass of wine. We had a lovely buffet lunch followed by great conversation that drifted into the early evening.

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Now I’m not telling you this in an attempt to make you jealous… okay maybe just a little bit, but to point out how unusual it is when you’re not used to the difference in the climate. There’s this odd feeling that it can’t be real when you sit outside having lunch in the sunshine in a month when you’re used to wearing scarves and coats. It’s not like when you escape the winter for an intended holiday in the sun, when you’re living here and doing the mundane day to day things, there’s this odd feeling that your body clock has misfired. I’m not complaining mind, I’d much rather be sat in the sunshine with my sandwich than in a café in Stoke with condensation running down the inside of the windows. Maybe next year we’ll have a colder, wetter December to remind me of one in the UK, who knows. Mind you that said, if that’s so, you know I’ll be here complaining about it.

Seppe and the Courgette Trumpet

Sunday evening was spent at a barbecue hosted by our friends Viv and Seppe.  As people arrived, ribs and sausages where deployed above the red coals, Seppe had glowing in advance, everyone contributed to the feast, I took a strawberry torte, a melon and grappa jelly and some coffee pannacotta, Graham took a rice dish and some chocolate and chilli cake and Gina brought an amazing artichoke bake she had made in advance; which everyone cooed over upon tasting. The evening passed by pleasantly, the children left the grown-ups and went to play in the streets: Something sadly children don’t do anymore back in England, mostly, in my opinion down to paranoia and playstation.

As the evening progressed Seppe showed everyone how to make a courgette trumpet, and before long we had put together a band: I say band in the loosest sense of the word, and it wasn’t long before adults, woozy with wine were projecting what can only be described as fart sounds into the evening air.

So I thought I’d share the method of making this innovative vegetable instrument with you:

1. Select a courgette/zuccini stem.

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2. Remove the leaf.

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3. Cut a slit into the stem about a centimetre long.

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4. Put stem into mouth and blow. I find it works better for me if the slit is vertical to my bottom lip.

The evening was rounded off by the children excitedly telling us there was a fox in the piazza, and sure enough there it was, a friendly, skinny fox begging for food, after Ben gave it a sausage it ran away, and the guests also started to depart, everyone agreeing it had been a marvellous evening of food, fun and friendship.

South African Food and the Three Badgers

On the evening of my fashion faux-pas we visited some South African friends of ours who have a lovely small house with the most magnificent views over the Italian countryside, including a spectacular view up to our town, Casoli and its castle. At night when it’s all lit up, it is breath taking.

We had a pleasant evening drinking beer and chatting, as meat cooked on the barbecue. When it came to eat we all shuffled inside and the spread laid out on the table looked grand. Our hostess had made traditional S. African dishes, that included a potato salad that was so delicious it knocked spots of the boring cold potato and mayo gloop I’m used to getting in the UK. A spicy yet sweet beetroot salad was accompanied by a taste sensation, a bean dish that was slightly sweet yet fresh tasting with lots of bite.

The four of us ate with gusto and chatted away into the small hours, until all that was left was a few bones for the feral cats and empty bowls where the food had once been. As I left, the panoramic view was lit by twinkling lights in the distance; beacons indication life going about its business elsewhere.

The evening was still and as I drove home there was the scent of freshly cut grass in the air. As I came around the last bend before our house my headlights caught three bouncing bottoms on the road. I stopped and dipped the lights and we sat watching the three badgers whose bottoms had been bouncing as they lolloped along the road. We were treated to a few minutes of activity before they melted into the Abruzzi wilderness.

What a perfect way to end an evening.