Photo essay: our Italian family Christmas Eve tradition… Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!! I hope everyone enjoyed the day with their loved ones and made it onto the “good” list and had a visit from the jolly man 😉

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Seeing as how Christmas is (to me, anyway) more about spending time with the people you love, and also as how this blog is in large part my digital time capsule, I wanted to share something a bit special this morning as we all rush off to open gifts and deliver trays of pavlova to the family lunch table. I wanted to share a few pictures of our most important and enduring family tradition; dinner with dad’s side of the family and his parents’ house. More commonly and affectionately known as “The Feast.”

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Traditionally, Italians don’t eat meat on Christmas Eve; instead, they indulge in seafood. And so every year, Nonno hits the Preston Market, sparing no expense for the freshest prawns, calamari and lobster he can get his hands on (and being a decades old customer, he gets some pretty good stuff).

The Feast happens Christmas Eve, every year, without fail. I’ve only missed one; last year, because we were in Chicago (eating Italian food at Eataly, because anything else on Christmas Eve would be sacreligious). International travel not-withstanding, it’s a given that we’re all there every year. Mum and dad, my auntie and uncle, us three girls plus our other halves, and my cousins. Nonna and Nonno host every year in their big, beautiful house, and whatever else has been going on is forgotten for the night. This year is the first year we’ve done it without mum and dad; it’s their turn to be overseas this year. So I thought I’d capture a bit of the fun for them so that they wouldn’t have to completely miss it 🙂

 

Tradition dictates the following:

– But first, wine. This year’s conversation between Nonno and I:
“Jessica. Wine?”
“Yeah, why not Nonno?! Just a little bit though, I’m driving.”
“No! Let’s get drunk!”

– Food. Calamari come first. If you arrive early enough, you make your way to the pizza room to “help” fry them (read: eat a few pieces before anyone else). Once served at the dinner table, fights to the death over the golden grilled pieces of deliciousness are not uncommon. My cousin has been known to eat more than the rest of us combined (that kind of behaviour has now been outlawed).

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– Then comes pasta. Because that’s what Nonno wants to eat. Every. Single. Day. There are also those two idiots who have as much freshly grated parmesan in the bowl as pasta – I’m one of them.

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– Next up: giant mutant prawns and lobster. They’re fresh and clean and absolutely enormous, served with lemon wedges, tartare sauce, and a simple salad dressed with olive oil, salt and vinegar. My uncle waits (sometimes) for everyone to take their share of the salad, then proceeds to eat his share straight from the big metal bowl, while laughing maniacally at whatever’s going on around him.

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– Also a few bowls of bocconcini. Nipple jokes are inevitable. They don’t make us giggle any less now that we’re all adults.

– And don’t forget the fruit platters, Lindt balls, coffees and Nonna and Zia’s zeppole – Italian sugar-coated donuts made from the lightest, fluffiest dough. Zia even made a few balls and filled them with Nutella; further proof that Italians are the original hipsters. We’ve been making this stuff for years!

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The only thing missing this year was mum and dad, who are currently enjoying a beautiful, cold Christmas in a little Italian town with mum’s extended family 🙂

So, from my family to yours, Merry Christmas and Buon Natale! I hope everyone had/has a great weekend 🙂

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Eat here: Il Melograno, Melbourne (gelato)

Il Melograno, Northcote, Melbourne
https://www.facebook.com/ilmelogranomelbourne

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These guys haven’t been open all that long, but are already establishing a pretty good reputation for very good gelati. With an Italian (Sicilian, actually) at the gelati-making helm, you know it’s going to be good!

With a semi industrial feel offset by the wooden tables and stools tucked along the wall, it’s a really lovely, welcoming little place where you can get not only a gelati, but breakfast/brunch type plates, too. I spied on my last visit an absolutely magnificent anti-pasto platter, and can’t wait to get back and try it out! But, the gelati…

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The regular flavours are listed on the blackboard as you walk in, and the daily specials are written on the wall behind the front counter, constantly changing depending what’s in season. Below was the gelati I got on my first visit – bacio and salted macadamia. So delicious! Really smooth and creamy, beautiful flavours; it’s the closest to the gelati I ate in Italy that I’ve had in Australia! Another visit saw me have the coconut (WOW) and tried some of dad’s chocolate and rosemary (sounds weird, but it’s a subtle flavour and surprisingly moore-ish), and husband’s pistachio (divine)… can’t fault anything I’ve tried there so far!

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And the best part? THE CUPS ARE EDIBLE!!!!! Which is great for me, because I hate the cone thing – it just gets too messy and I’m a spiller. How is no one else already doing edible cup?! Brilliant!

There’s a good reason this place is getting so much love and attention at the moment – the gelati is that good – try it for yourself this weekend!

 

Il Melograno on Urbanspoon

My grandparents’ garden paradise

I consider myself to be supremely lucky – not only do I belong to a fairly close-knit, fairly traditional Italian family, but I am 28 years old and have only recently lost my first grandparent. The other three are all still with me, and not only that, but they’re all strong. I think that comes from the way they were raised; to be strong, self-sufficient, always fighting and always preparing for another day.

 

Dad’s parents’ house has always been a hub for important family events, bringing together both sides of the family. We gather there for birthdays, anniversaries, special holidays. Our big one is Christmas Eve, for what us grandkids have dubbed “The Feast.” Traditional Italian Christmas Eves involve a lot of seafood, and just food in general. Our family makes no exception to this rule, with the family gathering to feast on calamari, prawns, lobster, all fresh from the market. Salads, pasta, meat, potatoes, it’s all there! And all help on the back decking of their house, overlooking their big, beautiful yard, complete with one hell of a veggie patch, fruit trees of every kind, and a wood fired pizza oven that has it’s own little house.

 

Not long ago, I thought I needed to capture some of the beauty of this backyard, the place I’d grown up in. The yard I’d run around, ridden through on a tractor, climbed trees to look over, torn party dresses while climbing fences on “adventures” with my sisters and cousins. It’s where I’ve always eaten good food, then learnt to cook it as I got older, picked mulberries and figs off trees, using the lemons that had fallen off the giant, central lemon tree as projectile weapons against my sisters and cousins, and in turn being hit hard with more. It’s where I’ve taken part in the annual tomato-sauce making, watched my grandmothers drink wine and giggle like teenagers while gossiping in Italian, where my grandfathers have talked and talked and watched us kids with serene, satisfied smiles, and where I have both literally and figuratively grown up. It’s something I want shared and immortalised, because it’s really special. I hope everyone has a special place like this in their lives  and I’d love to hear about some of them  : )

 

 

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

 

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

 

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

 

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

 

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

 

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

Photo Essay: Nonna Gemma’s frittelle

I’ve tried to start this post a few times, and haven’t been able to do it right. Haven’t been able to do it justice. There’s too much history to tell, too many stories. So, let’s try to keep it simple.

 

My Nonna Gemma was one hell of a woman. She was my grandmother, and I, her first grandchild. We had a special relationship and meant a lot to each other. She taught me to knit, to sew by hand, to speak Italian, to cook, to clean, and to stand strong and fight. She herself fought through four enormous brain tumours, the first of which presented towards the front of her head, the size of a grapefruit, a few years ago now. They kept coming back and she kept fighting. She fought them off over and over again, but last June, sadly, her fight was finally over. We didn’t want to let her go, but she fought with all of the dignity and grace of warrior princess, and she had certainly and finally earnt her peace in Heaven.

 

When I think of Nonna, I think of her little wooden kitchen with the beautiful green plants outside the window. I think of her sewing room where I’d happily sit for hours on the tiled floor with a bucket of buttons, a scrap of material, a needle and thread, sewing away, oblivious to the world. I think of the spare bedroom where I used to sleep, with her jewellery box sitting on the dressing table, sparkling in the light, where I’d dream of the day I’d be old enough to be a lady in jewels. I think of her taking me along to visit her friends on school holidays, where they’d hug me and pinch my cheeks and send me home with biscuits. I think of the tree in the driveway that I used to climb to the first branch of, and sit, and look at the garden. I think of her dry sense of humour, ridiculous sarcasm and ability to make any of us six grandkids feel like damn fools, while she laughed at us, with that “don’t give me your young-person sass, I’m your grandmother” look on her face, glass of pink champagne in her hand, sitting at the head of the table like the queen she was. She’d waltz into any party, be it her actual birthday or someone else’s birthday or Christmas, and just command the attention of the room without an ounce of effort. It was incredible! God, she was funny though. Even the boys, as they got older, couldn’t hold it with her. She’d take the mickey out of you for anything and everything, and for a kindly, old, Italian grandmother, she took no prisoners and made no apologies. We loved it! And God help the new boyfriends and girlfriends we took home to meet her – she had an absolute field day with them!

There is so much to know about her, and no words could ever do her justice, but the most important thing to know about her was that she loved her family more than anything else, and she loved to have us all sitting around a table, sharing a meal that she’d prepared and having a good time. That’s about all I can write without bursting into tears, so let me show her as I remember her; bossing Nonno around the kitchen, cooking and laughing together, in the kitchen I spent so much time growing up in, making their infamous frittelle…

 

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

 

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

 

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

 

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

 

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

 

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

 

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014