Browsing: Good Movies and Reads

The Shoemaker’s Wife-by Adriana Trigiani


Here is an excerpt from my recent summer read:

“A beautiful woman, much younger than his mother, was working at the table.  She wore a long jumper of gray-striped wool with a white apron tucked around it.  Her black hair was wrapped tightly into a chignon and tucked under a black kerchief.  Her dark brown eyes squinted as she rolled a long skein of pasta on a smooth marble work slab.  She hummed a tune a she took a small knife and whittled away tiny stars of dough, unaware that Ciro was watching her.  Her long fingers moved surely and deftly with the knife.  Soon, a batch of tiny pasta beads began to pile up on the board.  Ciro decided that all women are beautiful, except maybe old ones like Sister Domenica.  “Colallini?”. Ciro asked.

The young woman looked her and smiled at the little boy in the big clothes.  “Stelline,” she corrected him, holding up a small piece of dough carved into the shape of a star.  She scooped up a pile of the little stars and threw them into a big bowl.

“What are you making?”

“Baked custard.”

“It smells like cake in the hallway.”

That’s the butter and the nutmeg.  The custard is better than cake.  It’s so delicious that it pulls angels off of their perches.  At least that is what I tell the other sisters.  Did it make you hungry?”

“I was already hungry.”

So begins the time that little Ciro is raised in a convent in the Italian Alps.  The story takes him to New York and northern Minnesota, both places that I know and love.  Adriana weaves a beautiful tale based on her own families’ lineage and Italian heritage.  Therefore, it is no wonder that food is a running theme in this story.

Adriana must come from a family of cooks as she also has co-authored a nonfiction book entitled “Cooking with My Sisters”, which I have added to my “must read” list.

Kath’s quote: “Custard:  A detestable substance produced by a malevolent conspiracy of the hen, the cow, and the cook.”-Ambrose Bierce

Love-that is all.


“Paris Was Yesterday”-by Janet Flanner


“Paris was Yesterday” is not a food-themed recounting as are the majority of works  that I normally read and provide excerpts of here.  In fact, if I were to pick one subject of the many that were included in this read, it would have been the coming together in Paris of the major writers of the young century at Janet Flanner’s favourite French cafe.  This reminded me of  “Midnight in Paris” written and directed by Woody Allen-a film that we loved in spite of the critics not being particularly thrilled with it.

In her lengthy introduction, she sets the scene for her time in Paris and this is primarily where her food references are found including this one from page 7:

“With my stomach stirred to hitherto unexpected satisfactions, with my palate even now able to recall the sudden pleasure of drinking a tumbler of more than ordinary red or white French wine.  I can recall the sensual satisfaction of first chewing the mixture in my mouth a crust of fresh french bread and then the following swallow of the wine itself, like the dominant liquid guide leading my nourishment down through my gullet into my insides.  Eating in France was a new body experience….

The lunch was a fixed price and in its lack of surprises.  There was a plate of hors dourves including a slice of Jura pate, flavored with wild thyme, and as the main dish, a succulent stew or an escallop of veal and a salad with goats cheese, plus a small black french coffee which tasted like death.  It was a civilized, countrified, appetizing inexpensive French meal.  It probably cost me about thirty cents plus a ten per cent tip for Yvonne the Terrible” ( so named because she was such a terrible waitress).


My favourite artists also assembled in Paris and are represented in this book.  I am particularly fond of  the work of Degas and Monet and not so much of Picasso but this reference makes me feel more inclined towards him, as a person.

“By this time he had his arms around me and was thumping me enthusiastically on the shoulders.  “You look fine; not a day older”, and I said “Nor do you”, and he said  “That’s true;  that’s the way you and I are.  We don’t get older, we just get riper.  Do you still love life the way you used to, and love people the way you did? I watched you and always wanted to know what you were thinking…Tell me, do you still love the human race, especially your best friends?  Do you still love love?” “I do”, I said, astonished at the turn the monologue was taking.  “And so do I!” he shouted, laughing.  “Oh, we’re great ones for that, you and I.  Isn’t love the greatest refreshment in life?” And he embraced me with his strong arms, in farewell.”

Kath’s quote: Isn’t love the greatest refreshment in life?  Pablo Picasso

Love-that is all.

Photos of Monet & Degas are my own, taken in Musee D’Orsay, Paris.

The Villa Girls-Nicky Pellegrino


I am very enamored by the novels of Nicky Pellegrino-not only does she set her stories in Italy but she explores the variety of professions that focus on food: a baker, a sous chef, a cookbook writer, to name a few.  In this delicious recounting, a woman becomes a professional food stylist, all the while discovering that there must be balance in indulgences and in life.  I can literally taste the food and she describes it!  Here is a lengthy (and mouth-watering) excerpt:

“On a cold winter’s night, I’d take refuge in the soft creaminess of a buttery risotto, in the flavours of fried cauliflower and taleggio cheese or the earthiness of field mushrooms.  I grew hungrier and greedier.  When Beppi wasn’t at home I rummaged in his food stores searching for things to cook and eat.  The kitchen was a treasure trove.  I found bundles of home-made pasta, carefully dried and wrapped in linen tea towels; sauces and soups neatly labeled and packed away in the deep freezer.  I started to play with ingredients I unearthed, making a salty, pungent dressing from anchovies and garlic to drizzle over vegetables, simmering a meaty shin bone in a sauce of tomatoes and red wine to serve with rigatoni.  One night I made what I considered my triumph, a huge fish soup with prawns and mussels that Addolarata had brought home from Little Italy, flavoured with lots of fresh flat-leaf parsley from the pot on the window sill and slugs of peppery olive oil.

Beppi was never particularly complimentary about the dishes I served up to him.  ‘That was not too bad,’ he would declare once he’d wipes a crust of bread around his plate to soak up the last of a sauce. ‘Quite nice, I suppose.’

‘Take no notice.’ Pieta told me later,  ‘He never has a good word to say about the meals other people have cooked.  The tastier they are the grumpier it seems to make him.’

Pieta was the only one who noticed how the food looked.  Each time I served up a meal she commented on the plate I’d chosen or the way I’d arranged it.  ‘You’ve got a really good eye,’ she told me once or twice.

To me it never felt as though what I was doing was clever.  ‘I’m only trying to make the food look as delicious as it tastes,’ I told her.

Sometimes I got things wrong.  I’d forget to stir a sauce and let it stick to the bottom of Beppi’s cracked old Le Creuset casserole.  Or I’d try to fry a delicate fillet of white fish until it was dry and rubbery.  Beppi was kinder to me when I failed.  He gave advice and offered to teach me a few dishes.

‘Watch him like a hawk,’ Addolarata warned me.  ‘If you don’t pay attention he’ll sneak in a pinch of or two of some secret ingredient so that you never can get your food to taste quite the way his does.’

But Beppi showed me flavours I’d never have thought of myself.  Red mullet baked with raisins and pine nuts the way the Romans cooked it.  Laid out in the dish ready to go in the oven it looked so pretty.  When I told him I’d never made pastry he taught me how to make a tart of ricotta custard topped with cherries cooked in brandy.  Desserts opened up a whole new world of eating for me and for the first time ever I felt my stomach strain against the waistband of my jeans whenever I sat down.

For a while I didn’t care if my thighs spread and my stomach bulged because I had discovered there were other delicious things you could do with ricotta like bake it with lemon zest and saffron or stuff it into soft pillows of ravioli.

Cooking was an easy way to lose myself and make a bad day seem better.  When I was piling a rich purple beetroot risotto into a clean white bowl or resting a roasted leg of chicken on a mound of gently stewed caponata I forgot about thing’s like builder’s dust and dry rot.  Instead of worrying about the apartment or the latest drama at work, I planned the next thing I would try to make and pestered Addolarata for the ingredients.  I wanted squid ink for a risotto, smoked paprika for a stew, spicy sausage laced with fennel, interesting new bowls and platters to display them on.

I grew used to listening to the noises of the house, and when I could tell Beppi wasn’t in the kitchen, I would creep in and find something to quickly chop and bury in olive oil.  I loved mixing flavours, colours and testures, often firing off a couple of photographs of the finished dish as I anticipated the moment of spooning it into my mounth.

Eating became my way of punctuating each day with pleasure.  I couldn’t understand how I had taken so long to discover it.”

Kath’s quote: “They eat the dainty food of famous chefs with the same pleasure with which they devour gross peasant dishes, mostly composed of garlic and tomatoes, or fisherman’s octopus and shrimps, fried in heavily scented olive oil on a little deserted beach.”-Luigi Barzini


Read A Good Book Lately?


Cookbooks are an interesting medium.  I love getting them as gifts.  I will set aside time to pour over them and then my imagination takes over: which guests will I prepare it for? when shall I try the dish on my family? do I have the ingredients in the house right now? etc. etc.

My cookbook collection is so well used that I now have to keep many of the worn and torn books in cardboard magazine holders on my bookshelf (which is actually the space around my micro-wave when I converted the first humongous one that we received as a wedding gift to the more practical and streamlined variety of today).  In truth, I would like to eliminate my microwave altogether and fill the entire space with cookbooks, but that is another story…

Over the years I have had my favourites, in the 80’s I cooked almost entirely from the Best of Bridge Series and still refer to them from time to time.  In the 90’s my cooking “lightened” up and Canadians Bonnie Stern and Anne Lindsay became my premiere resources.  During these times I also subscribed to Time Life  Cookbook Series and had two entire collections.  But like encyclopedias, their usefulness seemed to diminish.  More recently, my largest collection is of Jamie Oliver books. The first one was a gift to me by J1 and J2 (my son and daughter-in-law).  I love when my kids try to teach their old momma new tricks.

I can’t get rid of a beloved cookbook-they become like family photo albums for me.  Like a collection of memories, I believe they deserve a permanent position on my bookshelf.

This weekend and Eat Write Retreat, I was gifted with three books.  The first was written by Michael Natkin and contains vibrant vegetarian recipes.  Michael spent part of the weekend with us and was an inspiration to us all.  I am trying to adopt the attitude that if most of  the world can cook creatively with beans,  lentils and more veggies, then so can I.

One of the weekend’s creators-Robyn Webb is the author of the second book: The Diabetes Comfort Food Cookbook.  This one is close to my heart for two reasons.  Comfort food is what I am all about, in fact, I am learning to find other means of comfort (like walks in the park and bubble baths) so that I will turn to food for solace, less often.  In addition, diabetes is rampant for us in Manitoba and has penetrated into my own family.  So far I have kept it bay and intend to continue to do so.  Interestingly, when my youngest flipped through my new cookbooks, she found this one to be the most appealing.  So Robyn is successfully enticing a new generation of foodies.

The last one that I lugged home from Washington in my carry on bag (for fear that the weight of my books would necessitate an extra checked baggage charge)  is a collection of recipes by bloggers with this dedication: “To food bloggers everywhere.  Thanks for leading us back into our kitchens”.  This is a collection of easy weeknight meals.  Midweek cooking is everyone’s challenge isn’t it?  Putting wholesome and nutritional meals in front of our families when we are just dashing in the doors ourselves, can be a frustrating experience without some great resources (like this one).  A collection of bloggers recipes….I think that I maybe onto something!

Kath’s quote: “When treasures are recipes they are less clearly, less distinctly remembered than when they are tangible objects. They evoke however quite as vivid a feeling-that is, to some of use who, considering cooking an art, feel that a way of cooking can produce something that approaches an aesthetic emotion. What more can one say? If one had the choice of again hearing Pachmann play the two Chopin sonatas or dining once more at the Cafe Anglais, which would one choose?”-Alice B. Toklas

A Trip to the Beach-Melinda & Robert Blanchard Part 2


Continuing in the Island adventures of living the dream and opening their own restaurant on their beloved Island:

Chapter 6: “Six o’clock on opening night.  Our staff was in high gear.  A bond had developed among everyone; in just a short time, the common goal of creating and building this restaurant had brought us all together.  The first day of unloading containers with the Davis brothers was history now, as were the long, hot days of construction, the endless testing of recipes, and the unnerving search for ingredients.  Opening night was the culmination of what had become a collective dream, and each member of our staff had played their part.  Blanchard’s was their restaurant now as much as ours.

In the kitchen everyone was in clean, starched chefs jackets and ready to cook.  Garrilin washed the bush, as she called it, for salads.  Shabby had the grill hot and ready to go , and the rest of us nervously waited for our first order.

The wait staff bustled about, looking strikingly handsome with their crisp white dress shirts contrasting their smooth black skin.  They were proud of their Blanchard’s logo embroidered over the pocket.  With meticulous care the stemware had been polished until it sparkled, and each glass was held up to the light, ensuring that no smudges or spots remained.  the mahogany bar top was burnished to a glowing sheen, and bottles were straightened repeatedly on the back bar until each was where it belonged.  The bar refrigerator was stocked with freshly squeezed orange juice for rum punch, ice cold Heinekens, Caribs, sodas, and Perrier.  The ice bin was full, and in it, bottles of sauvignon blanc from the Loire Valley chilled next to Chardonnay from Sonoma, ready to be poured by the glass.

Lowell, Miquel, and Alwyn checked the dining room with Bob again and again, straightening place settings, moving glasses an inch to the left, then to the right, then back to the left.  They recited the table numbers and reviewed the menu and the wine list for the umpteenth time.

We had arranged flowers in bud vases for the tables, picking blossoms from the garden.  Some had green furls made from a leaf, a brilliant yellow allamanda tucked in the middle, and a tiny dot of red in the center from a firecracker plant.  Others had log, leggy green shoots-almost Japanese in nature-and pink hibiscus floating in the center.

Bob and I stood in the middle of the dining room and looked around in awe.  Floor to ceiling teal shutters were flung open, and beyond them the garden s twinkled as a gentle breeze shifted the plants and flowers that were illuminated from below.  The fountains shimmered as the underwater lights bounced off the water columns dancing in the air.  Beyond the gardens the sea crashed against Mead’s Bay; our stone path, lit softl;y on each side, meandered towards the waves.  In the dining room, potted palms rustled under lazily spinning ceiling fans.  The white rattan chairs sat ready to be broken in and our dishes,silver and hand-blown crystal flickered in the candlelight,  The sound of Vivaldi filled the room.  I felt a rush of excitement ripple through my body, and I squeezed Bob’s hand.  It was like waiting for the curtain to go up on Broadway.”

They served these on opening night:

“Banana Cabanas (makes two):

Put 1/2 c Coco Lopez into a blender.  Add 1/2 c Bailey’s Irish Cream, 2 ripe bananas, 2 c ice cubes, and, if you like, 2 oz white rum. It’s great with or without the rum.  Blend on high speed until smooth and creamy.”

Kath’s quote: “To be always intending to live a new life, but never find time to set about it — this is as if a man should put off eating and drinking from one day to another till he be starved and destroyed.”-Sir Walter Scott

Copyright (c) <a href=’’>123RF Stock Photos</a>

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