Tag Archives: food

Apparently I do nothing with my free time but eat. I see nothing wrong with that.

My clothing choices the past couple of days have been determined entirely by “what options do I have that involve elastic waistbands”. Probably because since Thursday, I’ve done nothing but eat…

  • Thanksgiving. In this case, a Friendsgiving, or more accurately, a Bring-A-Friendsgiving, which ended up being 30 people. I have no idea how anyone puts on dinner for 30 people. I say this even after being a last-minute rope-in kitchen hand and seeing the process in person. In fact, I think I have even less of an idea now than I did before. As far as I can tell, it involves some awe-inspiring advance preparation, a great deal of teamwork on the night, and probably some miracles. (And, let’s face it, a good bit of running around like a headless chook.)
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    So. Much. Apple pie.

    Somehow in between all the running around, I managed to eat a vast quantity of turkey and stuffing and green bean casserole (green bean casserole 4EVA) and sweet potato casserole and apple pie and pumpkin pie. And then took leftovers home for Friday. Yessssss.

  • Bicerin for Saturday lunch. Bicerin is a traditional Torinese hot drink that borders on a dessert: a layer of espresso under a layer of thick drinking chocolate under a layer of cream. Traditionally, you don’t stir these layers together and the drink evolves as you go along, going from the milky top layer to the slightly sweet chocolate layer to the final kick of the espresso. It’s rich and warming and perfect for late November, but there’s probably a reason most people wouldn’t consider it to be a lunch in itself. I REGRET NOTHING.
  • Bagna Cauda. The Piedmontese dish you either love or you hate — the divisiveness coming from the fact that it’s a sauce made of garlic and anchovies, served with raw vegetables. I’m on team “love it”. 

    It’s a very traditional dish, so much so that the regional government of Piedmont has an info sheet about it (in Italian). The vegetable choices are also dictated by tradition, and it turns out that if you’re in a vegetable market holding a bag of celery and a bag of cardi and you’re buying a bag of jerusalem artichokes, the stallholder will chuckle and say, “I see you’re making bagna cauda.”

    In case you’re thinking Garlic and raw vegetables sounds healthy, I will also point out that we had five different desserts, which is my favourite side-effect of going to a group dinner with people who all feel they ought to bring something to share.

    (This weekend I learned the English for cardi is “cardoons”, but I refuse to believe that’s a real word and will continue borrowing the Italian. I know I have rolled my eyes in the past at people who insist on borrowing words when English ones exist, but come on. “Cardoon”?)

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Macerating dried fruit

Bravery and baking.

I was reading a fantastic blog post the other day about how we shouldn’t tell women (and, I think, people generally!) what is brave for them. Which is so true! I moved to Torino not knowing anyone here and I wouldn’t call that brave, for me. Maybe it would be brave for you! I’m not saying it to boast. But for me at that time it just felt like an interesting thing to do.

On the other hand, here’s a story about how I felt brave about baking a cake. Continue reading

Cows in central Turin

Notes from my extremely glamorous life: Surprise cows! edition

Torino remains delightfully odd at times. On Saturday I was walking towards Piazza Castello when I heard a loud clanging at the top of the hill. What on earth…? It was a parade. With cows.

In other news from my extremely glamorous life:

  1. It’s been warm enough recently that gelato still seems like a reasonable idea even without my autumn resolutions. I had some yesterday. I’m pretty sure the serving sizes get bigger as the number of customers drops. At least, I felt like I was eating this cone of gelato for a loooong time (yay!) and was totally sugared-out afterwards (boo!)
  2. A non-grumpy hot beverage review: I can taste lemon & ginger tea!!! Am resisting the urge to stockpile.
  3. Daylight savings ended here yesterday, and I’m trying to make the most of the few days where that means “yay sunshine in the morning again” before the winter darkness sets in properly. Mind you, when I say “make the most of it”, I mean, “lie in bed and think isn’t it nice that it’s light outside, but I still don’t wanna get up.”
  4. On the other hand, the sun setting earlier means I get to watch the sun go down over the Alps every afternoon from my desk. Today my view was of a pale pink-orange sky marbled with clouds, softened by the haze, with a sharp silhouette of the mountains in dark grey beneath.
  5. I was struck by an apple-pie making mood last week, which made me roll my eyes slightly at how ~*seasonally appropriate*~ I was being, but it did lead me to discovering this recipe, which if were better at handling pastry would probably be perfect. As it was, it was only slightly structurally unsound and it only almost collapsed under its own weight and only a little bit of the pie ended up all over the table when it came time to serve it up, so I’ll call it a win overall.

Zoe’s grumpy hot beverage reviews.

You may remember a few weeks ago I declared I was going to find a good (herbal) tea to get me through the winter, with the requirement that I want to be able to actually smell the tea even with my wacky sense of smell. I remain optimistic! I have learnt all kinds of things about what I can and can’t smell at the moment! I have consumed litres of hot drinks! I am yet to find something that really works for me.

Here’s what I’ve been drinking, all chosen because they were readily available at the supermarket or in Eataly:

Pam Supermarket own-brand instant coffee: Not a tea, but I have been drinking a lot of this recently, since I can’t smell/taste the difference between good and bad coffee. It’s cheap. I can use it to make a mug of coffee, which I realize I’ve kinda missed while living in Italy. I can leave it in the office kitchen and no-one will ever steal it. It gives me a stomach ache if I drink too much and it’s not Fairtrade which gives me middle-class guilt if I drink it at all. Still an overall top pick at the moment.

Clipper Zen Again Infusion: This lemongrass, eucalyptus and ginkgo infusion made me angry. It started with the packaging. Pink flowers. It was a good thing I’m not a man, because apparently lemongrass and eucalyptus has a gender. “For that moment of peace”, printed on the front. I picked it up. On the back: “A … spa-inspired blend … Perfect for those moments of reflection.” This was the women laughing alone with salad of herbal tea packaging. Well, for the price it was being sold at, I was going to need a moment of peace. Several hours of peace, probably. I gritted my teeth and decided to take a risk and give it a shot.

Image from

Image from Clipper Teas.

Turns out I can’t smell eucalyptus. Or lemongrass. At least I can taste the nettle they’ve added to fill out the bags.

Clipper Orange and Coconut Infusion: The box is orange and says “tropical”. It probably would be, if I could smell the coconut. I can taste the orange, at least, but without the coconut it’s awfully reminiscent of the orange oil we used to use as a cleaning product when I volunteered in an Oxfam shop as a student. Despite this, it’s not unpleasant and I will definitely finish the packet.

Overpriced organic Rooibos: (I can’t tell you the brand-name because I accidentally left it at my desk at work.) Comes in dinky foil-wrapped teabags which don’t sit well with me as someone who watched a lot of Captain Planet as a small child. I can’t smell the rooibos, but I’ll be optimistic and say it’s a subtle smell. The taste is adequate, but, well, it’s also quite subtle. (“Subtle” is my new favourite euphemism.) The next rooibos I buy will probably be the cheaper non-organic stuff.

Pam Supermarket own brand black tea: This smells of tea. It tastes of tea. It doesn’t smell or taste of anything more sophisticated than that, which doesn’t bother me at all, since I doubt anyone can smell or taste anything much in this 1.19 Euro for 25 bags packet of tea. I used to think of myself as a bit of a tea snob so I hate that I like this tea, but ehh, life’s an amaing journey and all that.

Canal near Chivasso, Italy

Autumn resolutions list

Last week was blessed with plenty of perfect late summer/early autumn weather, with warm-but-not-hot days and brisk nights, and long afternoons with melancholy light. I had to travel to Milan for work twice, and both days I couldn’t stop staring at the view from the train window across the fields of eastern Piemonte and to the alps, which are still bare of snow this early in the year. These are the sorts of days I think of when you say autumn, which feels a bit silly because autumn here is mostly overcast days and drizzle. But even if my ideas of autumn are more often ideals than reality, I do love the season, especially in these early days before the winter darkness gets too close.

Here are some things I would like to do this year (this list is short partly to keep things achievable and partly because a good chunk of the weekend time I’d usually spend on planning/writing a blog post was spent on working on items 1 and 2 — at least I’m getting started on my resolutions early!):

  1. Continue eating gelato regularly until it gets too cold to reasonably stand around outside with a cup of frozen stuff in my hands. Once it stops being so hot I need gelato, I have a terrible tendency to forget about it, which is daft.
  2. Find a tea and/or tisane I like. More to the point: find a tea I can smell well enough that it doesn’t feel like drinking hot water. Experiments so far suggest fruity tisanes work, but I would love to find a more traditional tea.
  3. Get out of Torino at least on a day trip at some point. Maybe go for a walk somewhere? Go to Liguria and enjoy the beach without the crowds?
  4. Collect and press some leaves.
  5. Work on my stew/casserole skills. I don’t have a good go-to stew recipe, and it will be a challenge to find one without onions, but there must be something out there!

(I’m impressed with myself: only 60% of my ideas about autumn revolve around food, if you take this list as representative. I would have imagined more like 90%.)

Book review: Stir, by Jessica Fechtor

I made a batch of these chocolate cookies yesterday afternoon. I love this recipe — see my modifications at the end of this post — because it’s very simple and you don’t need to measure ingredients particularly accurately, but the result is a cookie with a deep flavour and a texture that’s heading on for brownie-like. Basically, this is the double-choc cookie recipe that will ~*change your life*~.

I’ve been on a bit of a “the girl who brings cookies” kick recently, which is not an identity I’m entirely comfortable with (I’d rather bring my rapier wit, y’know?) but I am enjoying getting back into baking after spending Spring going “urgggh, I’m too tired and cooking is hard and complicated.” And creaming butter and sugar by hand feels approximately like exercise so this is all about healthful living, right?

Actually, part of what prodded me to get back behind the mixing bowl was reading Stir: My Broken Brain and the Meals That Brought Me Home by Jessica Fechtor, which is a book I’d love to read the proposal for because the concept is that it’s a combination food memoir (ok fair enough…) slash (wait for it…) recovery-from-a-brain-aneurysm memoir. Continue reading

Turin by night from Monte dei Cappuccini

Notes from my extremely glamorous life: way too much food edition

Late summer through autumn is when Piemonte goes into full-on food mode and I love it. I spent this afternoon with friends at Festival delle Sagre, a food festival in Asti, a town about an hour from Torino. It had been a cool and rainy morning and text messages flew back and forth about whether it would still be on, whether we should go. We couldn’t not go! It had been so much fun last year and if we didn’t go today, K. wouldn’t get a chance to go. We got word there would still be food stalls, and decided to go whatever the weather.

Around lunch time, as we were bundling into cars with our rain jackets and umbrellas, the sun came out, and stayed out all afternoon. (It’s raining again now.) It ended up being a warm late summer afternoon in Asti, filled with food and wine and conversation and laughter and a spin round on a ferris wheel. Me afterwards: “I’m glad A. and M. brought their kids, they gave us an excuse to go on the ferris wheel. Wait. We probably would have done it anyway, wouldn’t we.”


Things I have learned recently:

  1. Lugging home my work laptop on the weekend is truly useless. No matter how much I fully intend no really for reals to get some work done on Saturday morning, I will inevitably find something else to do. Like clean a kitchen.
  2. I say “a” kitchen because my procrastination is at a level where I will clean pretty much anyone’s kitchen rather than do work.
  3. Cleaning kitchens is more immediately satisfying than doing physics research.
  4. Having gelato in the afternoon is no barrier to going for granita at night. I’m about 80% certain at this point that I will eventually leave Italy with type II diabetes.
  5. Most alcohol makes my stomach churn unless I have unsociably tiny quantities. However, preliminary research suggests this is not true of sake. Further experimentation is required. Funding agencies: I’ll gladly take grants to study this. Call me.
  6. You will never go wrong by bringing a batch of cookies to a get-together. (cf my comments above about type II diabetes.)
  7. Turin is really pretty at night.

 

Remember how I was asking the other week for onion/garlic-free recipes? One suggestion (thanks CatherineRose!) was quiche, which I love in principle… but in practice I’m too lazy to make pastry for a base. Fortunately, this is a good cheat-y pseudo-quiche recipe, one of those ones where you basically throw flour and egg and some tasty things in a pie dish and pull out something reasonably quiche-like from the oven 40 minutes later.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a pie dish.

Fortunately, I do have several spring-form cake tins that are about the right size for the recipe.

Unfortunately, spring-form cake tins do not hold raw egg at all, as I discovered as I got raw egg all over my table cloth. No worries, I thought. I’ll just put this spring-form cake tin inside a larger spring-form cake tin and that will catch the drips. I put the pair of tins in the oven, and 30 seconds later was yelling something along the lines of “No f&#$ you, quiche!” as I watched the egg drip through the outer cake tin and onto the oven floor.

Fortunately it was at this point I finally realized I could scoop everything into a muffin tin that would hold the mixture perfectly to make a dozen mini-quiches. You know that “I meant to do that!” look that cats give when they know they’ve done something ridiculous? That was exactly my face at that moment.

Paper flowers

Losing my sense of smell just ruined gorgonzola cheese.

So… The most blog-able thing I’ve done recently was to lose my sense of smell.

Not quite sure when it happened. Maybe last weekend. Do you know what’s really hard? Wracking your brains trying to think when you last remember smelling something. Seriously, try it — see, now you’re also wondering if you haven’t smelt anything for weeks.

But I like to think it was fairly recent, because surely I wouldn’t have gone very long in Italy of all places without noticing I couldn’t smell. Continue reading

22 hours in Beijing: long enough to know I want to go back.

The day I booked my Christmas vacation flights to/from Perth I wrote in my diary:

So. I got distracted by airfare search engines and now I have a ticket with Air China, […] Singapore-Milan via 22 hours in Beijing. In January. When the smog is worst and it can be -20 [Celcius]. I can’t say “What was I thinking??” because I know exactly what I was thinking: This will make a great story.

Those facts about the pollution and weather? I looked them up after making the non-refundable booking. To give myself credit, I did look into visa requirements before putting down the money, but that was as far as I got because as soon as I discovered China offers visa-free entry for up to 72 hours as long as you enter, leave and stay in the same city, I was hitting the “buy now” button.

I think I see why some of my friends think I’m an impulsive traveller.

But I am also an obsessive researcher, even if I don’t always get the “do research”  and “book tickets” steps in the right order. Soon I was down a rabbit hole of travel forum posts with titles like “how bad is Beijing air in winter?” and answers ranging from “wouldn’t want to live there as an asthmatic but otherwise ok” through to “you’ll get lung cancer the minute you step off the plane”. There was also a lot of talk of exceedingly low temperatures, icy winds, and un-heated accomodations. Oh, and stories of getting lost and having no way to even read street signs. A stopover in Beijing might make a great story, but I did wonder if the story would be “The time I nearly died of frostbite while searching for someone who could tell me where my hostel was, ps: I now have black lung.”

So I was apprehensive as I got on my flight from Singapore to Beijing. What if my clothing wasn’t warm enough? What if I’d misunderstood the visa rules and couldn’t leave the airport? What if I lost the vital piece of paper with the address of my hostel written in Chinese characters?

Well, score 1 for Team Impulsive Ticket Buying, because I had a great time.

Things started looking good as soon as I landed and I realized how fortunate I was with the weather. It was a sunny winter mid-afternoon, a gentle breeze, and the infamous pollution looked remarkably similar to the haze you get in many Italian cities 1. I’m sure it’s not always like this, but I was thankful it was.

I was concious of my limited time, so my main priority was Eat All the Food, while fitting in as much sightseeing as I could around this primary goal. So my first move, once I’d dropped off my stuff at my hostel, was to get some dinner. At the night market at Wanfujing, I decided against fried scorpions on a stick in favour of the more Australian-palate-friendly grilled lamb (also on a stick). Tasty and with just the right amount of chili powder for a cold night.

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Porta Palazzo needs an entrance like this.

I was pretty full after the lamb, but the market was warmer than the surrounding streets due to all the cooking going on, so I hung around and had a yoghurt drink and the most delicious savoury pancake I’ve ever eaten — like this, but the guy in the market was much more skilled than the guy in the video. I also considered some dumplings, but I just couldn’t make room, so I decided to leave that for the next day.

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Most of my photos turned out like this — I blame grease in the air from all the frying going on.

As well as the outdoor food stalls, there were indoor stalls with tables set up like a food court, and other stalls selling mostly souvenirs, the sort of knick knacks that look so enticing when piled up together but which you know would look sad and tacky sitting by themselves in your house. Quite a few stalls had speakers with loud Chinese pop music going, which added to the atmosphere. No serious fine dining here, but it was great fun.

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More decoration ideas for Porta Palazzo.

Normally I’m a homebody when I travel and after dinner I go straight back to my room to read a novel or putter about on facebook, but the clock was ticking on my stopover so I pushed myself to stay out. I headed to Tiananmen Square for a post-dinner stroll under the watchful gaze of Mao’s portrait, a handful of guards, and a whole heap of cctv cammeras. After the cheery busyness of the market, the huge concrete square, nearly empty but still noisy from traffic on the road running through it, was quite the contrast. I didn’t stay long.

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Mao and guard.

The next morning I had to make some hard choices about what to do with the hours left to me. Beijing is huge (understatement!) and there are so many amazing options. I decided on the Temple of Heaven park, which I went to as soon as I got up. I am obviously a decadent westerner because I was all rugged up against a chilly morning and considering finding somewhere indoors to go instead; meanwhile the locals were out doing tai chi and playing badminton and hackey sack. Like in the market the night before, there was plenty of loud music and the atmosphere was sociable.

Those are actual adults playing hackey sack. Good thing we didn't know in highschool that our activity of choice was shared by middle-aged Chinese women.

Those are actual adults playing hackey sack. Good thing we didn’t know in highschool that our activity of choice was shared by middle-aged Chinese women.

The main tourist draw of the park are its temples, which are beautiful:

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Nice work, architects.

I wish I could tell you more about them but I only had a quick look around one of the complexes before heading back to the subway, because I was on a misison for dumplings. (I think dumplings are a legitimate excuse for failing at blogging, yes?) Lonely Planet recommends Dūyīchù and I’d say that’s a fair call. It’s well set up for tourists with a picture/English menu available, but importantly, the dumplings are delicious. They made for a great end to a great trip, which was far too short. I have got to do this again some time.

Finally, I can’t not mention the giant festive tree near Qianmen subway stop, which clearly calls for a “Who wore it better”-style contest between Beijing and Turin:

who_better

Points off for Turin for only being colourful while lit up at night.

Practical info for future reference: When I went through immigration, every line was long and slow except the 72-hour visa-free desk which had no queue at all. Score! Make sure you have info on both your arrival and onward flights. From Beijing airport, the Airport Express takes about 30 mins to get to Dongzhimen subway station and costs ¥25. From there, the subway is a great way to get around — clean, cheap (around ¥3 for a single trip) and has plenty of English signage, including all station names. I stayed at the Peking Yard Hostel, cost was ¥80 for a dorm bed (plus ¥100 refundable deposit) and I would stay there again.

I ran into some problems getting cash because my Italian card isn’t very international-atm-friendly and I didn’t have the PIN for my Australian card at the time, but I did eventually manage to use my Italian bank card at an ICBC atm. You definitely need cash to get around.


[1] Not sure “it looks like Milan!” is a good thing to say about a city’s air quality, and how it looks probably isn’t much of an indication of how toxic it is, anyway. But for a very short visit, it was easy to deal with.

Dinner flash mob in Turin

3 things I’ve learned in Italy

Before I moved to Italy, I imagined that after a couple of years, I’d be fluent in the language (ha!), I’d have learned to cook lots of amazing dishes (I had takeaway pizza for tea tonight), I’d understand Italian politics (ehhhh… maybe it’s beyond understanding?) and I’d be riding around on a Vespa (obviously I’d never seen traffic here).

But I’m not completely wasting my time, and here are three things I’ve learned:

1. How to appreciate traditional food.

Not always, I admit. My pizza this evening was from the place downstairs from me that is run by a Chinese family and sells pizza and Chinese food. (An obvious combination, right?) Definitely not generations of a family from Naples, each son learning from his father how to prove the dough and mix the tomato paste.

But I think it’s fair to say that in Italy, “This is just how my grandmother made it!” is high praise for food. I’m only exaggerating a bit when I say that food from the next town over is crazy foreign food that you might eat once a year at a food festival. There are special foods for not just Christmas and Easter but a whole bunch of saints days, as well as the seasons, and the idea of eating something at the wrong time of year is inconceivable.

Traditional doesn't mean "no fun" - this was a dinner-eating flash mob back in summer.

Traditional doesn’t mean “no fun” – this was a dinner-eating flash mob where everyone wore white, that I happend across back in summer.

All of which is quite novel for me. I’ve never quite worked out how to answer, “What dishes are typical to where you grew up?” which in Italy is a perfectly good get-to-know-you question, but in Australia makes no sense. And when I go back to Australia, I love that there are Mexican and Indonesian and Vietnamese and Thai restaurants all within walking distance of my parent’s place. But I’ve become quite taken by the idea of having a well-defined cuisine, that you’ve cooked and eaten so long that you understand it perfectly.

(Note that I’ve learned to like this idea, sadly I’m a long way off from being able to cook…)

2. How to interact with small children.

Confession time: I’m not naturally a children person.

If you’re a friend of mine and you have kids: your children are wonderful and I legitimately like them.

But I have a hard time thinking of anything to say to people about their babies other than, “yup, that sure is a baby.” Toddlers mostly remind me of tiny drunk people. Supposedly if you’re a woman, your hormones are meant to make you want babies. All my hormones have ever made me want is carbohydrates.

Before I moved to Italy, I mostly just ignored children, which is easy enough to do; they’re generally pretty low to the ground. But I got here, and everyone is nuts about kids. People strike up conversations with toddlers in the supermarket. Teenage boys (!) coo at babies on the bus. No-one has a problem with kids being around, even in museums and restaurants.

So I suddenly found myself in this environment where interacting with peoples’ kids is just a thing you do, like greeting shopkeepers or using your umbrella if it’s even a tiny bit rainy. And it turns out it’s a skill you can develop. (Unlike the umbrella usage, which I’ve never got the hang of. Holding an umbrella up takes effort, why bother when it’s just drizzly?)

Also, toddlers really are like tiny drunk people: you can keep them entertained with the stupidest things and you’ll get bored long before they do.

3. How to wait.

I got a good lesson in this one earlier this week. I’d received a bill for garbage collection services, and Tuesday, the day before it was due I went to the post office to pay it. I would have gone earlier, but the week before, I didn’t get around to it, and the Monday was a public holiday.

Turns out, everyone in Torino got the bill at the same time. And it’s payable only at the post office.

So I get to the post office, and I’ve got ticket number 190. They’re currently serving number 103. At a rate of about 1 per minute.

Yes, I really did spend 90 minutes waiting to spend 1 minute paying a bill.

I won’t say I enjoyed the experience, but it certainly taught me patience.