Monday, 8 December 2014

Let it snow, Let it snow...or not.

Here in southern Italy, Christmas trees are up, balconies are loaded with fairly lights and supermarkets are filled with mountains of Panettoni. Like, literally. I almost got lost among the stacks of this festive Italian treat the other day. Although let's face it, I wouldn't have had too many problems with eating my way out of there. Anyway, what I'm trying to say, is that Italians really do get into the Christmas spirit. Christmas time in southern Italy is fun. However, at this time of year two things begin to bother me. These things are as follows:

1. Lack of mince pies and Christmas cake.
2. The fact that, for the best part of December, it's still around 18-20 degrees outside.

For my fellow British expats out there, I don't even need to explain the first one. A mug of hot tea and a mince pie or four whilst curled up on the sofa watching silly Christmas films on TV? There isn't a lot that can beat that. Let's focus more on number 2. For me, as a born and bred Brit, Christmas for me is cold. Christmas is woolly hats and scarves, frost on the ground and, of course, being incredibly grateful to finally escape said cold temperatures to curl up with a mug of hot tea and mince pie(s) and watch silly Christmas films on TV. Here, that doesn't happen. I'm desperately trying to recreate the cosy, wrapped up feeling by wearing a scarf and winter coat, but all that does is result in me getting very sweaty indeed. Even the Italians who, when mid-November arrives, usually automatically change from winter to summer garments, despite the fact that it may still be 25 degrees and sunny outside, are still in fairly light jackets.

Now, there have been murmurings (actually, more like loud proclamations to anyone who will listen, accompanied by exaggerated hand gestures- they are Italians after all) that January and February will be 'unbearably cold'. Now, what Italians consider to be unbearably cold is usually about 5 or 6 degrees C, which for a British person is described as being 'a little bit nippy but not too bad', yet who knows. Really, I shouldn't be complaining because I might be tempting fate. We could be buried under a mountain of snow come Valentines day. However, at least then I'll be able to wrap up, and then 'unwrap' and get my cosy, snuggly, winter feeling; with a mug of hot coffee and milk, a wedge of panettone and some silly Italian films on TV. That'll do I suppose.


Thursday, 11 September 2014

How do I have so much stuff??

Well, it's official. I have finally moved.

And no, before you start thinking I have upped sticks back to the UK and will now have to start calling my blog drizzle and tea, never fear. I am still very much here in southern Italy. Still in the same little town but at a shiny new flat. One which has what the last one didn't; namely central heating, lots of light and an absence of millipedes (yes I know, the last one is majorly yuck but what can I do...my former home was clearly very welcoming to the little beasties). I'm currently sat here at my computer in a room that is literally flooded with light. Cue big grin.

As anyone who has ever moved house knows, the whole process is stressful and time consuming. After four years here, I have managed to accumulate MASSES of things. Transporting said masses of things between houses during 35 degree temperatures, followed by bouts of torrential rain (I know. Parts of the Gargano region, located near me, has had a years rainfall in a couple of days) has been trying, to say the least. But finally I'm here. I have filled the house with all sorts of little 'witty' signs, such as this one:

Yes, someone doesn't know how to take a decent photo. That last word should be 'appointment'. Ahem.
 And I am determined to use my (much bigger and much nicer) kitchen to make all sorts of delicious treats. In fact, just the other day I threw THIS together:

'Pizza rustica' made using spinach, ham and cheese.
 I say 'I'. There was help involved of course, because, to be honest, I should rarely be left unsupervised in a kitchen. The other day I managed not only to melt plastic in the shiny new ovenn (don't even ask) and then proceeded to smash eggs all over the floor.

So, as September has made it's presence well and truly felt (mainly weather-wise, anyway), it's time for a new scholastic year, a new house, new friends, a new local cocktail bar (oh yes!) and a new series of Bake Off Italia...it's all go! For now though, I'm off for a short jaunt to Madrid.

A presto!

Monday, 18 August 2014

Is a month enough?

This blogger is officially BACK.

Back in her hot, stuffy apartment, with both her coffee and pizza needs well and truly satisfied. For now. And also back at her computer, ready to continue filling you in on all things southern Italy related. Well, apart from today, that is. Today's post is actually a celebration, if you will, of all things British. I have spent the past month enjoying not only the delightful English weather (not even a hint of sarcasm there...it really was delightful) but also great British wit, British television and of course, British food. Ladies and gents, behold: A month of the UK-in pictures...

Breakfast in the garden. YES, it was actually possible!

Tea time, obvs.

My aunt's curry. Not to be missed.

MASSIVE YUM. That is all.

Yes, I actually witnessed this. Absolutely incredible...and oh-so-sad for Eastbourne.

Summer school fun and frolics

Relaxing at the Great British seaside.

This is what teachers do on their afternoon off.

Brunch at Bill's.

Erm...

Exciting camera angles.

Post cocktail, bus stop shenanigans.

If you haven't tried Mix-ups...I urge you to. NOW. But beware, it's far too easy to scoff the whole packet in one go.

Erm...shop much? High street, I salute you.
As I departed Bristol airport on Saturday afternoon (after a torturous wait at security, which thankfully didn't involve a strip search of any kind but DID involve me almost exploding with impatience), I took a moment to reflect on whether I was actually ready to come back. It's always difficult saying goodbye, and leaving behind the country in which you grew up, with which you are familiar and where everything is just easy, but usually I'm well and truly ready to return to Italy. This time however, I was divided. I couldn't wait to enjoy some Italian summer, eat some real pizza and get back to my comfortable, albeit stuffy, apartment. Yet I had had a great time in the UK: friends, family, fish and chips and Primark (sorry, that last one wasn't in keeping with the alliteration but you know...it deserved a place on the list). Had a month been enough? Would I have started to really crave Italy after even just a couple more days? Who knows. For now however, I will not wallow in my thoughts, and will begin, once again, to eat my body weight in gelato, torte, and tomatoes...

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

'So, when are you going back to the UK?'

This, dear readers, is one particular question that I am getting rather tired of answering. Why? Because I simply DON'T KNOW. The summer has arrived, and when the summer arrives, there are several things that I always do: I consume even more gelato than usual, I like to go to the beach and, perhaps most importantly, I travel home to the UK for a few weeks to see family, friends and generally catch up on all things Britain (yes, this includes eating pork pie, watching ridiculous amounts of Poirot re-runs and reading gossip magazines-a plenty). So why haven't I booked my flight? Why aren't I already getting my jumpers and jeans ready to put in my suitcase? (yes, that was a dig at UK weather...my bad). I haven't done any of this because: I don't have a PASSPORT. Yes, I too, along with thousands of other disgruntled Brits, have been affected by the big passport backlog. A simple passport renewal which was supposed to take four weeks, has now taken almost seven and I am starting to get, well, somewhat MIFFED.

Bless all of the concerned Italians, who say things like: Can't you use your carta d'identità? (no, it isn't valid for overseas travel). Can't you call the British ambassador or some other official here in Italy? (no, because all of the passport business is now done directly in the UK, not here in Europe as it was done in previous years via a hub in France, if I'm not mistaken) and my favourite? Do you not know anyone in the passport office? Does your dad know anyone? Can't you call in some sort of favour? No, dearest Italian friends, I cannot, for the UK bureaucratic system (unlike the Italian one...) doesn't really work like that. I'm then met with a load of blank faces, because people can't quite get their heads around it all. But...it's the UK! They say, gesticulating wildly. You are all so organised and efficient and proper! Indeed, UK, aren't we just? Aren't we JUST?!

So here I am. Sat in my hot apartment, wasting all sorts of time checking the 'passport tracking system' online. I even called them, twice, and despite the fact that I was spoken to by a VERY polite Irish man (whose name I didn't quite catch because, typically, I live in a place with atrocious phone signal) who told me that I was UNBELIEVABLY patient (yes, yes I am. For now) I still know NOTHING. NIENTE. NICHTS.

My application is, and probably still will be, 'in progress' for the foreseeable future (Yes yes, aren't I just a negative Nancy. Well, can you blame me?) That is, unless some nice, sympathetic person reading this knows someone who works for the UK passport office...

No, I don't want four thanks...just one will do...

Thursday, 26 June 2014

In the summetime...

...the weather in southern Italy is GLORIOUS. And also BOILING. But instead of just going on about how darn hot it is, I thought I would make a little list to illustrate exactly what it's like to experience summer here the heel of the boot. So, here it is:

1. Summer will arrive suddenly. One minute you're still in your jeans and a jacket and the next? You're wondering if it's acceptable to walk around in your smalls because it's so ridiculously warm (just for the record, it's not).

2. Sweating will become part of your daily life, and it'll be tricky to find a deodorant that will prevent you from leaving sweat marks all over your t-shirt. The good thing is, however, that people here don't seem to care too much. A shiny face or a few damp underarms don't seem to bother anybody. Being smelly on the other hand, does. So make sure you wash.


3. Between the hours of 12pm and about 5pm during the high summer, there will be no-one, I repeat, NO-ONE, on the streets. At this time of day it's simply impossible to be outside, and so people either choose to sleep, or at least relax in their air conditioned houses, if they're lucky enough to have them.

4. When people do venture outside, their walking pace will become tortoise-like. People here walk slowly enough as it is, so add in a nice 35°C to the mix and everyone becomes practically stationary.

5. Shops don't really stock chocolate any more. As you all know, heat plus chocolate equals goo. Ice cream, which is already goo but at least it's cold goo, will become your regular sugar fix.


6. When mid June comes around, everyone will start going to the beach. Understandably so, because in the towns and cities it's just far too hot. If you're looking for a peaceful beach day, avoid Sundays, as all the of lidi become jam packed. Screaming children to the left, dialect-speaking (or-yelling) families to the right and in front? A whole host of speedo-clad men.



7. Even though it's scorching outside and the only thing you feel like eating is a light salad, Italians will still continue to eat pasta dishes for lunch. Yes, this is probably why all they can do in the afternoon is sleep.

8. In the summertime, despite the extreme sweatiness and the fact that you don't have any energy whatsoever, la dolce vita really begins. Lazy beach days, shorts and sandals, endless amounts of gelato (or maybe that's just me?) and long, summer evenings of aperitivi and cocktails. What more could you ask for?



Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Cream and Strawberry Cake

Once again dear readers I have not written for a while. I put this down to two things: 1- most of my students are preparing for exams and therefore I have been up to my ears in practice papers and all sorts of very boring grammar and vocabulary stuff. And 2- it has been FREAKING HOT. All of a sudden we have been catapulted into the mid-thirties (not the era, the temperature...) and this Brit is doing her fair share of sweating (ew). But never fear, because I am back with a ridiculously good birthday cake recipe. If you're counting calories, I'd look away now...


Torta di crema e fragola

First, let's start with the sponge cake. You will need:

Either some ready made sponge cakes (cheater!) or the following:
6 eggs
2 egg whites
250g sugar
250g plain flour
raising agent (I used a small sachet and a half)

Mix the eggs and sugar (it will seem oh-so-eggy, but don't worry- it tastes great in the end) before sifting in the flour and raising agent. I put the mixture into one large tin, but you can divide it into two if you like. After about 30 minutes (approx- keep checking it but be careful when opening the oven door so as not to make the cake sink) at around 180°C (if you have a fan oven don't use it- 'normal' oven will do), take it out and check it's cooked through by using a skewer. If it comes out clean and minus gloopy cake mixture, it's done! I left my cake to cool before carefully slicing it in half to create two 'levels'.



For the rest you will need:
A punnet of strawberries
a big lemon
some sugar
a splash of limoncello
white chocolate
whipping cream (about 500ml)
creama pasticcera
crema chantilly (see below for how to make these)

Then you will need to 'wet the cake'- Italians say 'bagnare la torta', and this is often done with some kind of alcohol. I cleaned and chopped half the punnet of strawberries (small pieces) and put them in  bowl with some sugar (taste test to how sweet you want the strawberries), and the juice of one big lemon. I added a little cold water too. I actually left these overnight in the fridge, and the next day, they had produced the most delicious 'strawberry juice'- perfect for 'wetting' the cake! I added a cheeky drop of limoncello too...

I evenly distributed the juice and the small pieces of strawberry over the bottom layer of sponge and then on the top layer. At this point the two halves were on separate plates; I hadn't yet put them together. After doing this, I spread some crema pasticcera thickly on the bottom layer (see below) and then popped the other half of the sponge on top.



I covered the entire cake with whipped cream (which I whipped to within an inch of its life to ensure it stayed put on the cake) and dollops of crema chantilly (again, see below- this is just a variation on the crema pasticera). I used the other half of the punnet of strawberries to decorate the cake, and I also grated some white chocolate on top too.

This may be stating the obvious, but make sure you keep the cake in the fridge until it's ready to be eaten.

Creama Pasticcera

The recipe and instructions to make this sweet, custard-like filling that Italians use in all sorts of cakes and biscuits was given to me by an Italian friend of mine and was therefore written in Italian. To prevent any translation errors (of which there would be several) here is a link to a great little blog which carefully describes the crema pasticcera process. With pictures and all!

http://cosabolle.wordpress.com/2013/01/10/how-to-make-crema-pasticcera-or-pastry-cream-illustrated/

Creama Chantilly

 Creama Chantilly, for those of you who don't know (until a very short time ago I was amongst you),  is actually just another name for sweetened, whipped cream. I whipped up some cream and added a few dollops of crema pasticcera to sweeten it more. Whether I was doing this correctly I'm not sure; but what I do know, is that it tasted delicious.


Monday, 2 June 2014

Kinder Bueno Cheesecake

Hi folks! I hope you all had a great weekend. On Saturday I had the pleasure of attending my very first southern Italian wedding; my stomach is now in recovery, and I will be posting all about it in the very near future! For now though, check out this delicious (and very simple) Kinder Bueno Cheesecake recipe, which I recently made to try and impress my boyfriend's family, along with a couple of other calorific treats (have a look at that blog post here)



  To give credit where credit is due, I actually took this recipe from boutiquebake.com. I only made one little alteration: just a little extra butter. I found that the original amount didn't quite bind the biscuit together as much as I wanted.

Here's what you'll need:

For the biscuit base: 300g of digestives and 200g of butter

For the cheesecake: 350ml of whipped cream, 450g of cream cheese, 150g of sifted icing sugar and 6 single Kinder Bueno bars. You can obviously use more Kinder Bueno bars if you wish!

 First, place a sheet of greaseproof paper in a circular spring clip tip. You could use a normal tin, but it might be a little tricky taking the cheesecake out later. Melt the butter and then crush the digestive biscuits well. Then mix them together and press into the tin. Make sure they are nice and compact.

Whip up the cream, and in a separate bowl mix the cream cheese and icing sugar. You can do this by hand but I found it much easier using an electric whisk! Melt the broken up Kinder Buenos either in the microwave or over a saucepan of hot water, then mix all of the ingredients together. Spread the mixture over the biscuit base, making sure it's smooth and level.

Put the cheesecake in the fridge for at least 4 or 5 hours to set properly. I left mine in there overnight at this was perfect. I then topped it with chocolate sauce and some extra Kinder Bueno chunks.



The great thing about this recipe is that you can modify it easily. In the future I'm going to use the same basic recipe to make an Oreo or Snickers cheesecake. It's making me hungry just thinking about it....

Buon appetito! :D

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

A sweet success!

Well well. As I sit here typing this I am feeling pretty darn chuffed with myself. Why? Because, dear readers, I happen to have demonstrated that my baking skills are, in fact, not bad at all. As you all know, I am fan of eating dolce. A big fan. A massive, super sweet-toothed fan. And yes, every now and then I do get involved in a bit of cake making and sometimes I even share my little sponge cake or cupcake recipes with you. But this time, this particular weekend, I think it's fair to say that I just about surpassed myself. As it was my boyfriend's birthday, I calmly volunteered to make a birthday cake. Momentarily forgetting (great big face palm) that 'making a birthday cake' here in southern Italy does not involve wedging a couple of sponge cakes together with some nice chocolate icing. Oh no no no no.

Firstly, there can't just be one cake. Absolutely not. There must be a 'selection' of treats, as every person's plate must contain at least 3 or 4 different types of dolce. Now, this is not an 'official' rule, but it may as well be. Previous birthday ''get-togethers' that I have been to have left me with a tummy full of 5 or 6 different cake samples. Secondly, in our list of 'cake requirements', the standard of the cakes must be no less than excellent. There's no 'Oh-it's-the-thought-that-counts' mentality here. It has to be bloody brilliant. And finally, he or she preparing said cakes must be able to deal well with stress. The thought that it may all go wrong, or that the standard of the cake won't be up to par, or that people will passively insult your cakes by leaving big slices of them uneaten on abandoned plates...in other words, get ready to put blood, sweat and tears into your dolce if you're cooking for a load of fussy Italians.Especially a good 25 of them.

So you can imagine that, after uttering the words 'sure, I'll make your birthday cake', my world started crashing around me. OK, I'm exaggerating a bit. But only a bit. Even deciding on which dolce to make was a trauma. Cream? Chocolate? Fruit? Oh why are there so many options. Anyway, in the end I decided on the following: A vanilla, two-layer sponge cake decorated with crema pasticcera, crema Chantilly , fresh strawberries and grated white chocolate. This was to be the 'main' cake. The piece di resistance. I would also do two Kinder Bueno cheesecakes and a plate of fairy cakes topped with crema Chantilly. For several hours, my kitchen turned into a pasticceria and I turned into a mean, cake making machine. Once the process was finished, and I realised that I hadn't sat down in over three hours, I stepped back and surveyed the situation. The cakes looked pretty darn good. All had gone to plan. But my kitchen? It looked like a great big bomb of cream, strawberries and Kinder Bueno bits had gone off in it. Dirty pots and containers had been abandoned all over the place and the electric whisk looked like it had had better days. All of this didn't bother me so much however. As the party was drawing nearer and it was almost time for my cakes too be judged by a ruthless panel. I mean, eaten by my boyfriend's loving family. Ahem.

Fast forward to several hours later, and the fruit had just been devoured. (The order of food here goes like this: savoury, fruit, dessert, liqueur. Always.) My heart was actually pounding as I brought out the dolce and presented it on the table. Nobody said a word. And it wasn't that sort of 'stunned by the beauty of it all' silence. No. They just weren't really fussed. Buuuuh. It's OK, I said to myself. Clearly the presentation isn't so important. Wait until they try it. Slices were plated up. Said plates were distributed. And I waited. For a while, nothing. Munch munch. Chew chew. Then suddenly:

Excellent...delicious.

Really nice Amy.

I had started to breathe again.

Is there any more? I'd quite like another piece.

YES. Fist pump.

At this point I was grinning like a loon at my little success. Plates were being finished! People were asking for more! My man beamed at me. But then I heard this:

Very nice Amy. Yes...can we book you for the next birthday party?!

.......*Amy shaped hole in the wall*

The goods.

Recipes for these cakes to be published soon!!




Friday, 16 May 2014

More documents please!

As I'm sure you know, I'm not usually one to rant and rave on my blog; preferring to focus on the more positive elements of life- peaceful southern Italian living, delicious dolce and...more delicious dolce. But today is different, dear readers. Why? Because today's topic of conversation is the infamous Italian bureaucracy.

Recently, I have found myself in the middle of a bureaucratic nightmare. Not only do I need to renew my passport (a UK passport obviously) and therefore require Italians to take care of translations, photos etc, but I also need to renew my driving licence. Oh, and I recently got my official residency here too. Like I said: it's a true bureaucracy-fest, and here, you either sink or swim. I'm swimming...but only just. I won't bore you with all the gory details, but I'll tell you about a few 'special occasions'- where the Italian bureaucratic system has really demonstrated how fabulous it really is (yes yes, that's sarcasm.)

1. It took at least 20 minutes for the man at the local town hall to decide what to write as my place of birth on my identity card. Great Britain? United Kingdom? England? I insisted, he didn't listen, instead preferring to call two other equally as clueless colleagues for help.

2. I had to go to aforementioned town hall at least 5 or 6 times to do various, rather useless things. The man who works there grabbed my arms and told me 'not to be scared'. I was.

3. The local Motorizzazione (Driving Licence agency) is a terrifying place, where everyone is angry and shouty. EVERYONE.

4. At said Motorizzazione I was given completely the wrong information and told that I could not convert my licence to an Italian one. After several phone calls, Internet searches and a lot of time wasted, we realised that this was not the case and actually, I COULD convert my licence. Now I understand all the shoutyness.

5. With all the necessary documents, I arrived at the local court to do my translation (traduzione giurata), just to be told that the judge who usually deals with these matters wasn't available and I should return the next day. Any advice on what other supporting documents I might need? I asked the man hopefully. Unsurprisingly, he didn't have a clue.

6. When I returned to the local court to do my translation, there was nobody waiting in front of me and the judge was available. Result! It was too good to be true however, as I had to wait 20 minutes just for her to finish her coffee/rant at her colleague.

These are just snippets. And they are pretty tame ones at that. There will undoubtedly be huge numbers of other expats who have felt the wrath of the disorganised, nonsensical bureaucratic system here in the Boot.To all of you, I offer my sincere condolences for your wasted time. To those of you who are considering diving into this mess, my advice to you would be this:

1. Take a patient, real-life Italian with you when you have meetings and appointments to go to. Any linguistic issue you may have, they will take care of. And the person who you are dealing with may have issues about your foreign-ness, so the real-life Italian may help to cushion this too.

2. Do your research online (there are lots of sites and forums- just google 'Italian bureaucratic nightmare' and you should get something) and get as prepared as you can. There will ALWAYS be something else that they need though, so just try and control your anger when they make you return 2 more times with other useless documents that were not mentioned on said online forums.

3. Have a nice glass of whisky/glass of local red/big bar of chocolate/tranquiliser ready for you when you return home. You will need it.

Good luck to you all, my fellow expatriates!


Tuesday, 13 May 2014

May days

So far, May has been a pretty good month (apart from the bureaucratic nightmare that I have been struggling with...more on that in the near future). Not only has the warm weather finally decided to arrive (it was taking its sweet time...let's hope it sticks around) but I have also managed to meet up with a very special friend of mine. Valentina and I have been friends for about three years now, and she was the first real friend I made here in Italy. Every time she's around in the city, we make sure that we can squeeze in a good gossip.

As well as this lovely meet up, I received a very special gift from my aunt in the UK: a beautiful painting done by her own fair hands. And the Italian courier didn't make so much as a smudge on the package- hooray! Isn't it fantastic??



And finally, (as all good things come in threes) I had the pleasure of sinking my teeth into this very sweet treat:



What you can see here, dear readers, is a strawberry tiramisù. Words simply cannot describe how delicious it was, so here are a few more photos for you to enjoy/salivate over.



Have a great day!