Photo essay: an Italian family tradition – tomato sauce making day

There’s actually not all that much I want to write this morning; I’d rather the photos do the talking. Last weekend heralded our family’s annual tomato sauce making day at my grandparents’ house, something I’ve been meaning to capture on film for a few years now. As you may have notices from my blogging habit, recording memories is important to me, and I wanted to share some of the pictures I took to give others a bit of an insight into a centuries old Italian tradition that continues in the backyards of countless emigrants in Australia today…

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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 🙂

Christmas Eve Eve. Theme: New Orleans

It’s no secret that husband and I fell ass-backwards in love with New Orleans in January; when we visited the shopping centers to get some new Christmas decorations back in November with the idea of having a theme instead of random crap everywhere, and found packs of baubles and beads in green, gold and purple, as well as sparkly mini Mardi Gras-style masks, it seemed like the universe was throwing us a bone. We stocked up, decked out the tree, and couldn’t have been happier with the result! The only thing missing is a sparkly gold flour de-lis tree topper, but by the time I thought of it, it was too late to order one… Maybe next year.

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Once the tree was up, we had another Christmas tradition to discus – our Christmas Eve Eve dinner. Yeah, it’s a thing (for us, anyway). It all started when we first started dating 11 Christmases ago; between Christmas Eve dinner with my family, a quick Christmas morning visit to his parents’ place, Christmas lunch with my family and back with his family for Christmas dinner, we didn’t actually have any time for just US. So we made Christmas Eve Eve our thing, and it just kinda kept going…

All it is is that we have dinner together that night, no matter what. Some years has been as simple as a Nandos chicken wrap or bowl of pasta; other years have been nice restaurants and fancy home cooking. This year we thought it’d be fun to keep in theme and go New Orleans style 🙂 it was also my turn for Breakfast Club, so I thought I’d incorporate that in as well, and made muffulettas for breaky. Not quite the Central Grocery stuff, but not bad…

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I still had to work, so after breaky I got on yo that, but not before setting up the slow cooker for dinner. One of our favourite and most memorable meals in New Orleans was the BBQ we had at The Joint, particularly the pulled pork with slaw and mac & cheese. So dinner was pulled pork, mac & cheese pots and slaw.

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And don’t forget the beignets for dessert, albeit half a pound lighter on the powdered sugar than Cafe du Monde 😉

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Our only other Christmas tradition now is to take Marley for a walk to the park so he can play for a while, then come back and have home made scones with jam for breakfast.. After that, we’re at the mercy of our families! How about everyone else – what holiday traditions does everyone have?! I love hearing about these things!

Read this: The Wind In The Reeds by Wendell Pierce

The Wind In The Reeds
by Wendell Pierce

“We make our stories. And our stories make us.” 

Spending the weekend at home looking after a sick little puppy meant I had plenty of time to read (yay), so I thought it’d be good to start the week with a new book to add to your reading lists… This book was a beautiful read, but I’m truly struggling to know how to define it…

Written by New Orleanian Wendell Pierce, an acclaimed actor who was part of arguably one of the best television dramas of all time (The Wire) and probably my favourite series of all time (Treme), this book explores:
– African American history in the south
– his family’s specific history
– the importance of religion and education in African American families
– his path to becoming not just an actor, but a true artist
– the people who influenced both his life and career
– his role in bringing his city back together after the horrors that came with Hurricane KatrinaIt’s not a strict autobiography, in that Pierce tells so many more stories than just his own, and gives such a touching insight into the lives and trials of his family and community.

He wrote a lot about his family, and the enormous debt of gratitude he owed to his parents. He spoke of how hard they worked in a time where they were so oppressed, when segregation was as horrible as you could imagine, and he write with such dignity that you can’t help but feel so much towards their struggles. Reading about how his father worked two jobs so that Pierce and his brothers could have the education their parents both firmly believed they were entitled to was heart breaking and inspiring at the same time; Pierce also write about his father’s most prized possession, a letter framed and hung on the wall declaring his final mortgage payment and that he was in fact the sole owner of his own home. Something that I’ve never thought twice about, the ability to apply for a mortgage to own my own home – that was a battle for his parents.

He writes about his time spent filming both The Wire and Treme, and if you haven’t seen them, I’d recommend making that a priority. Both are the creations of producer David Simon, and Pierce write about how they were created not just as stories or entertainment, but as true documentaries of life on the streets of Baltimore and post-Katrina New Orleans, respectively. Pierce’s work on both shows was incredible, and reading about his experiences at the times he was filming gave a lot more insight.

Those passages really struck me for another reason; I like to think of my blog as my time capsule, my running documentary of what my life is right now. Pierce writes about the fact that with something like Treme, future generations will be able to watch it with their grandparents and understand that that was really what they lived through, without all of the Hollywood dramatisation. That’s truly a precious gift to pass on.

While I’m not a religious person myself, my parents are, and I could relate to a lot of what he wrote on this topic as well. While not a strict Sunday church-goer, his faith and love for God came because he so loved and respected his mother and father, and they in turn loved God. His faith, in a way, was through and in his parents; that made sense to me. While the majority of his family were very religious, there were a few who shunned it completely. His mother said that men are fallible, but that’s no reason to turn your back on your faith. He and his brothers were encouraged to question the views that the church presented – perhaps if I’d had that encouragement rather than strict instructions to follow blindly and dumbly, I’d still have a little faith.

The importance of family also shone through very strongly – how having someone to lean on when times are tough is a necessity, and how you are never truly alone. And it wasn’t just his immediate family; it was extended family and the community. When one struggled, the others picked up the slack. He took that concept all the way back to a traditional New Orleanian tradition of second lines and Mardi Gras crews, group and clubs. Learning more about the traditions of New Orleans from someone who lived there was fantastic, too, and what held my interest the most.

So as you can see, it’s a bit of a mish mash, but at the end of the day, it’s about empowerment and overcoming. It’s a truly beautiful read; grab a copy here  : )

 

“Hope is a memory that desires. If we can remember who we were and what we had, and can act in concert to reenact the rituals that defined us, we might find in that the hope to go on, despite the indifference of others to our fate.”

We stumbled upon an Easter parade in the streets of Florence…

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Easter 2013. I was in Italy. It was our last night in Florence, and we were to leave for Venice in the morning by train. We had been up since around 7am and hadn’t stopped all day. We were absolutely exhausted and would be needing our energy for Easter lunch the following day with mum’s family. So, we took the excuse to be completely pathetic and get an early night, turning it at around 9pm.

Around an hour or so later, we woke with a start to yelling, cheering, drumming, trumpeting. Our hotel, located so close to Il Duomo you could almost count the individual tiles that made up it’s intricate facade, was unwittingly also smack bang in the middle of all the action! We threw open our room windows, wrapped blankets around our shoulders to ward off the unseasonably cold spring wind, and watched the most fantastic parade wind it’s way around the dark streets below. After 20 minutes, our exhaustion got the better of us and we finally fell asleep to the beat of the marching drummers. It was a little too dark for a photo that night, but below is the scene from our hotel window the following morning, before we checked out…

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The following morning, we rose early to take advantage of the few hours we had left in Florence before our midday train. Down the stairs we went, emerging onto a busy street. It was Easter Sunday and our hotel was only a few metres from one of the greatest churches in Europe. The craziness was to be expected. We started walking, aimlessly, through the streets when we heard it again; the drumming. We scurried along, trying to follow the sounds of the drummers, bursting from a small side street onto a larger street upon this…

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We found the parade! A cursory check of the watch indicated a solid two hours before we needed to be back at our hotel to check out, so we followed the parade, in all it’s noisy glory, all the way to it’s final destination, la Piazza della Signoria. We watched the flag throwing, the elaborately costumed paraders and the other people gathered around. We noticed a well dressed gentleman being followed by an attentive security detail, wishing everyone a buona pasqua (happy Easter), shaking hands, smiling for photos, kissing babies, that kinda thing. We shook his hand, too, when he got to us, also wishing him a buona pasqua (I did, anyway; husband had absolutely no idea what he was saying, he just smiled and nodded politely). When we finally did get back to the hotel, I asked the lady who checked us out who he was. She swooned a little and told us he was the Mayor of Florence, and the pick of the people to be Italy’s next Prime Minister. He was Matteo Renzi, and is now, indeed, Italy’s Prime Minister. Absolutely lovely man, by the way!

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That was one hell of an Easter day, one I’ll never forget, and one of those days that makes me eternally grateful for the fact that I chose to follow the crowd and allow myself to get caught up in the moment that day. While I’m not a religious person, it was beautiful to see all of these people celebrating old traditions so happily and with so much gusto. I hope everyone, no matter where you are in the world, no matter what your traditions are, has a wonderful Easter  : )

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