It’s not Rocket Science

I was watching a British chef on television this week enthusing about risotto; in fact he was making so much noise about it’s preparation that you’d think he was solving complex equations rather than making a simple Italian rice dish. I turned off the TV and went shopping for some ingredients to make my own and so here’s my recipe for pancetta and asparagus risotto with none of the bells and whistles. For this recipe which serves 4 people, you’ll need:

1 red onion. 500g Arborio rice*. 500g asparagus. 100g soft cheese. 100g cubed pancetta. 400 ml vegetable stock and 2 garlic cloves. You’ll need salt and pepper and a squeeze of lemon to season. A glass of white wine and my special asparagus stock.

To make my asparagus stock for extra flavour, Snap off the bottom inch or so of the asparagus using your fingers; the stems will naturally break where the tough woody part ends and the tender stem begins, then cut the green tip from the woody stem and add to 600 ml of boiling water. Let the asparagus cook until the water has reduced by half and the stems are so soft they can be crushed between a finger and thumb. Add to a blender and whizz up into a green liquid.

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Now you’re ready to make the risotto. Chop the onion roughly, no need to create equal sided cubes as years ago I was told by an Italian restaurant owner that risotto should be rustic and comforting. Flash fry the onion and pancetta in a little olive oil (not extra virgin) for 3 or 4 minutes and then put to one side. To the pan add some olive oil and when hot add the rice and the 2 whole garlic cloves, stir the rice until it’s got a coating of oil then add the white wine and stir again before removing and discarding the garlic cloves as we just want a hint of its flavour. Add the pancetta and onion followed by the 300 ml of asparagus broth; don’t go in for all of this a ladle full at a time nonsense, just pour it in and keep the rice moving as it starts to cook.

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When the rice has absorbed the liquid turn the pan on the hob 180 degrees; this stops the rice sticking and burning in one spot of the pan. Add half of the vegetable stock and continue stirring, add salt and pepper to season and repeat when the liquid has been once more absorbed. Once the rice is cooked and the liquid absorbed take it off the heat and add the soft cheese and place a lid or a plate over the pan as it melts into the rice.

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I use stracchino, a young cow’s milk cheese also know as crescenza, if you don’t want to add cheese simply substitute it for 50g of unsalted butter. Once it’s melted I give the pot one final stir and a squeeze of lemon juice and it’s ready to serve up.

I had one lonely slice of ham languishing in my fridge so I ripped it up and tossed this into the pot alongside the onion and pancetta rather than waste it. If you have a few left-over mushrooms you could add these if you like, in fact anything can be added to a risotto to save waste.

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* If you prefer your risotto made with either Roma or Carnaroli rice this is okay, I use Arborio as that’s my personal preference.

There you have it, una ricetta semplice (a simple recipe) for risotto without all the fussing and faffing of a television chef.

Fishy Friday’s

Growing up in England and miles away from the coast meant that I didn’t eat much fish: in fact I was once given a fish finger as a child and recoiled in horror. Apart from tinned tuna, mussels and the occasional fish supper I didn’t eat very much fish. But now living just 18 minutes from the sea means it’s a different story. Whereas I’d probably eat fish 2 or 3 times a year now it’s 2 or 3 times a week. I’ve discovered that I like octopus and calamari, I still don’t really like prawns and people I cannot be trusted with an unopened jar of anchovies.

Friday at an Italian restaurant definitely means there’ll be fish on the menu and whenever I can I like to drop into our local, aptly named, Il Bucaniere, (the Buccaneer). The reason being I can always guarantee to get frittura di pesce. Last week we dropped in for lunch which costs just €10 a head, and for this you get wine, water and 2 courses.

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Lunchtimes are always busy with Friday’s being the busiest. To help out the menu for the day is written up on a chalk board beneath the TV, (Italian’s and TV’s in restaurants, that’s a whole post of its own). To guarantee a table we arrive early and already the seating area at the back of the restaurant is full. We settle into our seats out at the front and the service is swift. We decide to try something we’ve not seen on the menu before and within minutes the most comforting dish of polenta with a rich fish flavoured sauce and mussels arrives. Wow, this is a taste surprise.

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The second course I have ordered is the frittura di pesce, deep fried calamari and small fish. It’s a fiddly dish to eat but if you go native and use your fingers then it’s easy to strip the fish from the bones, and no one is looking at you because they’re all too engrossed in their own plate of superbly cooked fish. I save a few of the calamari tentacles until last as they’re my favourite part of the dish.

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Our table is cleared and as we pour the last of the wine into glasses we make appreciative noises about how good it feels to be full of Friday’s fish.

An Italian Day

A friend once mentioned to me that her neighbour went to the market or local shop everyday to buy provisions for that day’s lunch or dinner. She told me that if she did a weekly shop then she’d save herself a daily trip to the shops. I thought about this and spoke with an Italian friend about it and her reply was, “Of course we shop everyday, that way we know we have, cibo più fresco.” PING! on went the ‘of course’ light. In a society where seasonal is important, women have shopped daily for years to make certain they purchase the best and freshest produce.

Often people comment that Italian’s appear to be chaotic and disorganised, but that’s far from the truth. Italian’s are very organised in their day to day lives and as I think back to how my day has been today I realise I’ve adapted to some of these daily rituals easily and without actually thinking about it. So here’s a typical Britalian day for me and how it mirrors that of my Italian colleagues and friends.

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My day starts with strong black coffee and after breakfast I set off for work. Today I drive up into the mountains as I’m visiting the town of Torricella Peligna to take photos of an apartment that is being put up for sale. I have a pleasant morning with the owner and get the shots required to market her apartment. The sky is as clear and blue as a Ceylon sapphire as we leave the town and below us the road twists and turns through the countryside, with its patchwork of fields and olive groves. The car’s windows are open and the scent of jasmine is drawn inside making this journey a feast for the senses. We pass through the town of Roccascalegna and decide to drop in to check all is well with some new clients who purchased a house a few months back. I find that Sue, Keith and their beautiful daughter Sophie are settling in to their house well and are becoming happily embroiled into their Italian community.

It’s now one o’clock and time for that important of daily Italian customs, lunch.

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We drop into our local restaurant which is already filled with diners and after a ten minute wait we’re seated and ordering. Italian lunch is the most important meal of the day, it’s not to be rushed, it’s meant to be eaten in a relaxed manner to aid digestion. In complete contrast to the meagre Italian breakfast lunch is substantial. I order my primo;  chitarrina allo scoglio, a pasta dish made with the local Abruzzese square shaped spaghetti. The mussels and clams are sweet and the broth that lurks under the pasta has the fragrance of the sea. Around us the other diners are eating, drinking and chatting at a leisurely pace. Lunch isn’t something that should be rushed in Italy. More white wine: ice cold and fizzing in the carafe is delivered to our table and our dishes are cleared away in readiness for the secondo.

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Being an Italian restaurant there’s a television mounted on the wall and muted news reports are playing as the waiters clear tables and redress them in around 40 seconds for more waiting diners. My secondo arrives, a plump piece of salmon dressed simply with olive oil and a slice of lemon. My contorno (side dish) is slices of fresh tomato and wafer thin rings of red onion.

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Workers look at their watches in a relaxed manner, no one is rushing to get back to work yet; after all the standard time given over for lunch is two hours. I check the time and order coffee and stretch my arms above my head feeling happily full.

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After my two hour repast and having paid my €10  we leave and I go back to work. My afternoon is taken up with admin until it’s time to pack away the office for a few minutes and head off to the cantina. A short drive later, I’m loading boxes of wine into the boot of the car and I’m almost ready to leave when the assistant calls me over and gives me two free bottles of wine and tells me to have a good evening.

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Generosity seems to be an intrinsic part of the Italian psyche as is their cordiality, it’s customary to be told to have a good day, a pleasant evening, buon pranzo (have a good lunch) and all other manner of well wishes throughout your day. These salutations are never forced and they’re always received and reciprocated in a genuine way. I’m happy to say that there’s none of that dictated corporate bonhomie in Italy.

Back home, it’s time to sample the wine and a glass of excellent red is poured as I check the last of the emails for the day before setting off for the evening stroll in readiness for dinner. Passeggiata, the Italian custom of a stroll before dinner is a perfect way to catch up with gossip, and as soon as you get into the habit you realise it’s a perfect way to integrate with your community, it’s a sort of walking adhesive.

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It’s now around 8pm and the cars have started to arrive at the local restaurant, the tables outside are populated by people drinking aperitivi as the waiters finish setting up for the evening service. And all over Italy people are preparing for dinner, the same way it’s been done throughout generations.

Are You One of the 25% (part two)

As promised here’s part two of the six things that I think people should consider before moving abroad to live. The first part can be found Here. The first part focussed on language learning, not making assumptions and not using the move as a form of escape.

Do bear in mind these are only six of possibly many more things that need to be considered, but with these two blog posts I’ve tried to address some often overlooked things to think about before making that move. So without further ado, here’s my final three things that I think you must think carefully about before you pack up your possessions and drive off towards a new life in foreign parts.

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Downsize: Before you pack away every last thing that you own it’s a good idea to think about what you have and what you are likely to need/use in your new home. If you’re moving into an apartment then sell the lawn mower and other garden related things that are superfluous. Believe me I know someone who moved to a new apartment that had a communal garden tended to by the condominium and he paid to ship his gardening tools to Spain only to have to get rid of them once he was there. Books and DVD’s are heavy and can take up valuable space when paying for shipping. If you really can’t live without your film collection then invest in a disc holder and get rid of the plastic cases that will take up room and ship mostly air in the long run. Books are precious to some people and if that’s you, then take only those that you know you will read again or can’t bear to part with, books that will move from a shelf in one country to sit in boxes in an attic in another is a waste of money.

Think about furnishings, are they suitable for the climate you’re moving to? I shipped two large leather sofas only to discover that leather is horrid to sit on in the Italian summer. If you are packing up and discover towels that have seen better days and rugs that you can read a newspaper through, bin them. And while you’re packing up the kitchen, with every utensil you pick up, ask yourself when you last used it, if the answer is a year or so ago then put it into the charity shop pile.

Go through you’re wardrobe and donate all of those clothes that you’ll never wear abroad. If you’re going to be in rural France on a self-sufficiency drive then get shot of the dinner suits and evening dresses, the pigs and chickens won’t care what you wear. Before moving to Italy I sold all but eight of my 79 pairs of shoes, and since moving here I’ve worn only two pairs of the saved ones.

It makes perfect sense to downsize and pay to ship, only what you will need and use. Don’t fall into the trap of buying things to take that you assume you’ll not be able to get in your newly adopted country; unless of course you’re moving to the central plains of Mongolia, and then will you find anywhere to plug in your newly acquired wireless iPod docking station?

Remember, what you don’t take can be sold to go towards your shipping expenses or go to help others either in a charity shop or at a furniture/household charity bank.

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Dispel Belief: We’ve all watched movies like, Under the Tuscan Sun and watched TV shows like, A Year in Provence, that’s cool and I say watch and enjoy, but don’t believe a word of it. There’s nothing more sure to get our wanderlust rising than a well shot film with gorgeous vistas and a bevvy of beautiful people to temp us into falling in love with them. Even if you are partial to conversations with the kitchen wall, chances are you’ll not find yourself, like Shirley Valentine did. The reality is very different. Instead of falling in love with a hunk from Positano and riding on the back of his Vespa with your hands around his toned midriff, you more than likely find yourself on a cramped bus that smells of diesel next to an old contadino with armpits riper than his watermelons. In short if you think your move will be like a film plot or the narrative from a Spanish best seller then don’t move as you’ll be sorely disappointed.

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Don’t Rush: Think carefully about what time of year you’ll be moving, an Italian summer can be oppressive and not best suited to lugging furniture out of a van. Italian winter’s although relatively short can be cold so it’s best not to be moving into a house with no means of heating if there’s a chance there’ll be a metre of snow overnight. Think about the property you’ll be moving too carefully and plan to move at a time best suited to your needs. Also check dates; will it be a bank holiday or is there a festa in town? Nothing will spoil the move if the shops are closed and you can’t get milk for your tea or the streets are shut off for dancing so you can’t pass with your possessions. If you’re planning moving to Italy remember most of the country shuts down in August and never: I repeat. Never plan to move during Ferragosto (August 15) always leave a couple of days either side as the whole country, (including me) will be celebrating.

Once you’ve moved into your new home there’s another, don’t rush, that applies. Don’t rush into remodelling the house, if you can live in it, then do just that. Live in it and you’ll discover on a daily basis what works for you and what doesn’t. Obviously this doesn’t apply to major restorations. However if you can live on a building site it can be very helpful. I moved into my house the day after we evicted the rats and lived in one room as we did the planned work, this enabled us to make changes as we discovered what was right for us and the end result was very different from the original plan.

Also don’t rush into making friends with every person that speaks your language. It’s beneficial to have friends that share your native tongue and understand where you’re culturally coming from. But back in your native country you’ll have been selective, so don’t stop just because you’re an ex-pat. There’s nothing worse than having lunch with a table full of ex-pats that back in your birth country you’d have avoided in a heartbeat. Friendships will come and the best ones take a little time, but are best waiting for.

Are You One of the 25%? (part one)

According to industry figures, various random polls and statistics, 38% of people dream of buying a property abroad and in that figure 25% dream of starting a new life in another country.

The top four EU countries for relocating to are, Spain, France, Italy and Portugal. Spain is still the largest draw with the largest portion of the market; however compared to the other countries Spain gets more retirees followed by Portugal, while France and Italy have the highest portion of people looking to build a new life.

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Now there’s nothing wrong with wanting to build a new life, I’ve done it myself, so I know a little about the ups and downs and the highs and lows of it. Thankfully for me and mine the transition has been a case of more soaring highs than plummeting lows.

Due to my work I have daily conversations with people looking to find their dream property and I’m happy to give advice when people ask for it, but there’s always those few who remain blinkered by those rose-tinted glasses. Now I don’t say this to sound judgemental and rude as most people do throughout the process of viewing and buying realise that the dream and reality can often be polar cousins. So after a long conversation today with a lady wanting to relocate with her family to set up a business I thought I’d give my six top tips for anyone in that aforementioned 25%.

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Language. It seems a simple concept that if you plan to move to a country that speaks a different language that anyone wanting to relocate would learn the mother tongue. Sadly this isn’t always the case and some people move and never learn the language. This has in my opinion two major flaws, the first is that without even the basic skills you miss out on so much of what being in an Italian community is all about. The other is that without language you can feel very isolated. Now I’m not saying that everyone should be fluent and leave their place of birth with a doctorate in linguistics, but just a good basic knowledge is a good starting block and will help make the transition from outsider to insider easier.

Assumptions. Many people make assumptions without doing research. The amount of times I’ve heard someone say, “I’m going to move out and then get myself a little job.” With Europe in what seems to be endless economic difficulties, the chance of getting that ‘little job’ seems less of a prospect once you have moved to your new country. As already mentioned without the language even a job serving behind a bar would be problematic. Maybe working in an English/English speaking bar in Spain could be more achievable but a local bar in rural Italy where the patrons speak dialect would be nigh on impossible.

Never make the assumption that life will be easier, life will be better and life will be more sedate. In reality, initially your life becomes harder; days are filled with language and cultural lessons and as I always say it’s not a better life, it’s a different life.

While we talk about people making assumptions, here’s one I hear all the time: “I want an olive grove where I’ll farm it and sell the oil to live on.” And as the River City People said with their first single back in 1989, What’s Wrong with Dreaming? The answer is nothing is wrong with dreaming as long as you’re in possession of the facts. It’s costly to farm olives commercially, the set up fees alone can be prohibitive and then there’s years of experience and knowledge to acquire before the realisation of the amount of physical work required. People often cite a well know UK couple that created an adopt-a-tree business and turned over €100,000 in their first year. After a short period they sold the business to an Italian company and returned to the UK saying that the hard work destroyed the dream. People often say they can sell their oil locally, my response is, “Who to?” Everyone local has litres of their own oil from their own trees.

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Escaping. Sometimes people will say to me that they’re escaping their old self to find the new person inside. Sadly just because you move to another country you don’t get given a new personality at the border. If you’re a person that wakes with the first chirrup of birdsong and leaps out of bed to embrace the day with vigour, then why would this change. Equally if you prefer your own company and there’s nothing finer than plodding around town mumbling to yourself then to be brutally honest no amount of, la dolce vita or joie de vivre will change this. You are what you are. Okay some of what we do and who we are is dictated to by our surroundings, but most of us remain the same, despite our new hobbies and interests in another land.

If you’re using the move to escape something physical like a relationship or other troubles, then think hard. These things will still remain where you left them and therefore will never be resolved. I’m not qualified to dole out advice in these cases, but surely to attempt to resolve issues before you move on can only be a good thing and is one less piece of baggage to carry overseas.

Moving abroad can be a blind stride into the unknown but with a little knowledge and lot of preparation it needn’t be a step into the dark.

Part 2 coming soon.

When the Words Fall Out

I’ve posted short pieces previously about not being a native speaker in my adopted country and that the Italian language can at times lead to hilarious circumstances or great confusion. I’m happy when Italian’s praise me on my command of their language, and do find it easier now after several years to hold more than basic conversations. Partly this is due to my working in an office where 75% of the staff don’t speak English, (apart from the few, less than glamorous English words I have taught the boys). I’m equally proud when English people comment on my language skills; however sometimes I do feel like a fraud as I’m not as accomplished as they perceive me to be. But every day brings new vocabulary and a better understanding of those pesky irregular verbs. Only last week in the office I needed a pair of scissors and Nicoletta was on hand to tell me they are called, forbici

Then there’s those pesky words that trip up foreigners, words like, pesce (fish) and pesca (peach), the amount of times I heard an English person in a restaurant ask what’s on the peach menu is innumerable. Recently I fell victim to these tricky nouns: I was offered a coffee and biscotti by a lovely couple whose house I was showing to clients, I accepted the coffee but told them I’d already had breakfast so would pass on the biscuits. The man then asked me what I’d had for breakfast, and I replied that I have the same thing everyday, an egg. However as the Italian for egg is, uova and grape is uva and my pronunciation was lacking that morning, he assumed by grape I meant I have wine for breakfast, which he and his wife found most amusing.

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The most frustrating part of learning a second language is those days when the words fall out. Some mornings it’s as if I’ve woken up and parts of my stored Italian lexicon have fallen out of my ears during the night. For example this week I had a morning when I couldn’t recall the Italian for the word, who and yesterday I’d misplaced the word for, lost.

Another moment was when out one evening in L’Aquila we stopped to get some take away food and I asked for some salad, however as we were in polite company I didn’t want onions and despite foraging through the deepest recesses of my brain the word just would not come, so I ended up with onions, and onion breath all evening.

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There’s also those other moments when the words fall out, usually after too many glasses of wine the night before or a plethora of Peroni. I’m certain that under the influence my language skills are still adequate (although this could be disputed) but the next day I seem to have left great reams of words and whole sentences on the pillow.

This said, I have come to the conclusion that on the whole people are very forgiving of foreigners who mangle their language. I’ve found all of the Italian’s I have come into contact with very helpful and polite and I’m sure this can be said of most people regardless of their country. Unlike years ago in France when I went to buy a loaf of bread. The French shop keeper huffed and puffed before pedantically telling me my pronunciation was wrong. Needless to say I didn’t buy her bread.

No doubt as I continue on my journey with the Italian language there’ll be many more moments where the words fall out or my flat Northern vowels scramble what is in essence a beautifully lyrical language.

Carrots, Confusion and the Great Wine Jaunt

With friends who own a house nearby over from the UK, I had the opportunity to have something’s delivered from the homeland. Now as regular readers know there’s hardly anything I miss from England, but I did have a thing for Tesco tinned whole carrots; I know they make a lot of people shudder, but I love them, so I dropped the lovely Annie a request for a few tins and she turned up with 12 of them and some horseradish sauce, which goes wonderfully with fresh mackerel and fava beans.

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Following the carrot delivery, we all decided it was time to pay another visit to the local cantinas and have a days wine tasting and buying. So the weekend arrived and we drove to the first winery at Casalbordino. We bundled through the door, the English rabble causing the lady behind the counter to step back in shock. It’s 10.00 am and she looks upon our request to try the wine this early in the day with a raised eyebrow..

We sip at the red, then the white and all agree the white is very good, a couple of us aren’t impressed with the red, but we put it down to the lack of breakfast and the early hour. We make purchases and then head down to coast road towards Vasto. We drop into another winery and more wine is tasted and purchased. We finish off at our favourite winery and once again bottles are opened and we’re tasting away: Although we’ve purchased these wines before, it’d be a waste not to have a glass or two of freebies. Between us we manage to confuse our host before we purchase 109 litres and after bidding her farewell we head into town.

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We enjoy a coffee overlooking the beach before heading off for lunch where we do our best to confuse the waitress before we are all feasting on delicious plates of pasta and gnocchi served with more red wine.

Finally we are in Italy, and at the seaside, so we must end our trip out with ice-cream, so we pootle en masse to a lovely gelateria we know and after being served sit outside on the stools that look like upside down waste bins and round the day off with our ice creams.100_8943

Favoloso…we can’t wait for our British chums to return again.

Disco Driva and Wine Workers

This weekend I switched the iPod from general shuffle to a playlist shuffle, the sun was shining and I had a desire for some 1970’s disco music. People often find it odd that I like disco considering the amount of punk, indie and rock in my music collection. But I’ll hold my hands up and state honestly that I am and have always been a bit of a disco bunny.

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Photo from Freepics.com

Growing up in the 1970’s most of the music around was (what I call) dull-rock like ELP, Barclay James Harvest and (cringe) Smokie and bands that I hated with a vengeance like Genesis, Yes and Pink Floyd, in-fact the only rock band I did like back then was Black Sabbath.

I was always a Northern Soul lover; I loved the dancing, intricate moves and backflips, I can’t tell you how many pairs of trousers I split the crotch in doing the splits at the youth club discos. So when disco burst onto the scene with more dance music I grabbed it by the throat and danced the ass of it at every opportunity.

So I’ve been driving along the Italian roads with my windows open and the likes of Donna Summer, Karen Young and Chic playing loud, on my way from Fossacesia my all time favourite song and disco diva, Sylvester shuffled to the fore, and as I bounced along the lane I sang along to You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real): it never fails to make me happy.

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In fact every song by the late, great Sylvester James makes me happy, so when I’m back home I set the iPod to Sylvester and spend the afternoon in a self-induced euphoric disco  haze.

Later that evening we went with friends to a local bar, that’s a bit rough around the edges but serves excellent porchetta and arosticini and as we sat enjoying the fragrant pork and the mutton skewers three men walked in still dressed in work overalls. As they ordered their drinks and sat down, it struck me much the Italians are like the British, but at the same time how very different. The men had dropped by for a quick drink and sat with newspapers open at the sports pages and chatted about football, no different than English blokes just off work. The difference was they didn’t have a pint of beer, they sat drinking a glass of red wine each. Just the beverage sat them apart from their English cousins, I would lay bets had this been Germany then a stein of beer would have been the drink of choice.

The evening came to a close and I drove back home with Sylvester singing, Rock the Box, and as we pulled up outside the house, this disco driva, pressed the centre of the iPod and then set it back to, ‘shuffle songs’ in readiness for the following day.

Limoncello

I love a drop of limoncello, and for me it’s best served as cold as a polar bears nether regions, straight from the freezer. Anyone who likes this after dinner tipple should take a trip to Sorrento where every street seems to have a shop selling the intoxicating yellow liquid. Commercially manufactured limoncello ranges from a very sweet tasting drink to bright yellow concoctions that scream additives and e numbers.

The best limoncello, in my opinion is the home made variety, and everyone has their own recipe and preference. Friends in Cheshire make a delicious liqueur with a mix of lemon and lime. Using the same process, I’ve made an orange variety, which I wasn’t keen on, a grapefruit one which was mind-numbing but very good; not for people on statin medications though and even a strawberry variety. But it’s the lemon that works best for me and today I started my first batch of 2014.

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So for those of you thinking of having a go at it, here’s my recipe:

Ingredients

5 lemons (unwaxed)

1 litre of 95 proof alcohol (a good quality vodka works if you can’t source clear alcohol)

1 litre of water

750g of granulated sugar

1 five litre bottle of red wine (optional)

First drink the 5 litres of red wine so you have a large container to make your limoncello in. It’s probably best you make this a couple of days after the consumption of the wine as you may have a heady hangover. Wash and using a potato peeler, peel the skin from the lemons and drop it into the empty bottle, then add the juice of 4 of the lemons and slice the remaining lemon to drop into gin and tonic later in the day. Try to make sure no lemon pips drop into the jar as these can make the limoncello bitter. Add the litre of alcohol, screw on the lid and wait for 40 days. (There is one school of thought that says the oils from the lemon skins are absorbed in 3 days, but as I’ve never made a 3 day liqueur I can’t vouch for the reliability.)

After 40 days add the sugar to a litre of cold water and put over a low light to dissolve, do not stir the sugar solution as it creates stringy threads in the liquid. Once the sugar has dissolved put the liquid aside to cool down completely. Strain the lemon infused alcohol through a fine sieve to remove any pulp and skin and then add the cold sugar solution.  Bottle and store in a cold place, preferably the freezer and drink at your leisure.

Dark Skies and Serenity

As we’re semi-rural there are no street lights, however, occupied houses do have an outside light provided by the council. Ours is about 6 metres away from our front door, it gives just enough light to stop you tripping over in the lane, other than that we have very little light pollution, so we almost get what astronomers call, Dark Skies. Now I know very little about astronomy, I can just about pick out the Plough and hazard a guess that the very bright star is Sirius. In truth I’ve never really given much thought to what’s up there in the night sky. I did once find it odd looking up at a different layout of stars while I was working in New Zealand, but that’s about the sum total of my interest in the sky at night.

Tonight the sky is clear, no clouds obscure the stars and as Fond Affections from, This Mortal Coil’s debut album, It’ll End in Tears plays, I sit outside. Maybe it’s the majesty of the heavens or the wine, but tonight I’m finding it quite relaxing to just look up. There are no shooting stars or unidentified objects up there, just little blobs of light that scientists tell us have travelled far too many years to comprehend to get here. What happens when the light has no where else to go, is it snuffed out? I put the question out of my head and as if planned Antony and the Johnsons start to play, Soft Black Stars, their cover of the song originally recorded by Current’ 93. Antony Hegarty’s plaintive voice  spills outside, his trembling vibrato complimenting the stillness of the evening.

I could go on about how this feeling of contentment could only have happened here in Italy, but I wont, as that would just be nonsense. It’s just a classic case of time and place creating an emotional response. Would I have looked up and felt this serene had the iPod shuffled and Professor Green or Fall Out Boy played, probably not, so I let the song wash over me, sip my wine and watch the twinkling up above me.