There were a couple of nights a few weeks ago, before the heat decided to come and make itself comfortable, in which the air sweeping from the harbour carried an unusual chill. One night, on our usual evening walk along the water – the ritual that separates the working part of the day from that of leisure, contemplation and unrushed time in the kitchen – we had to put an extra layer over our t-shirts. We walked hugging ourselves the whole way, wondering where such breeze was coming from, dark clouds gathering swiftly over our heads.
We rushed home just in time before the first downpour started. Another followed shortly, and then another, at seemingly regular intervals, as if the sky was emptying itself by the bucketload, taking a break between each. We thought it a good night for a robust bottle of red and for lingering in the kitchen and around the table while waiting for a warming dinner.
Happy new-ish year! Hope you had some lovely, peaceful, restful, glass-clinking, food-filled holidays. Ours were unusual: we spent a big chunk of them at the beach eating avocado on toast in true Aussie spirit while humming Frank Sinatra’s Christmas songs. Surreal.
And now, without even noticing, the holiday season is almonds gone. It was all so understated this year, I barely realised that today is 6th January. In Italy, we celebrated Epifania, the day when the three kings show up on the nativity scene, and also, the day when the Befana – the old witch who used to bring gifts to Italian kids before the whole Santa thing came up – descends into people’s fireplaces to fill up stockings. In my sock, I would find the simplest things –mandarins or clementines, a few sweets, perhaps colour pencils. It wasn’t as big of a deal as Christmas, but we all liked to keep the tradition alive.
One of the first exchanges between Jesse and I on the night I landed in Sydney went something like this:
‘Did you bring the big moka pot?’
‘I had to leave it. My bag was overweight’
‘Well, we have the little one that you brought…’
He wasn’t happy. For the first time in five years, we had to part with our 12-cups Italian stove top cafetière. It was one of the first things we bought together when we first moved into our little flat in Bra. It had travelled with us through Italy and then moved with us to London. It had come along on most of our trips – to France and the Basque Countries, to Croatia, to Mexico. Now, it was sitting in a box in my parents’ garage, wrapped in newspaper, mingled with other possessions of ours, catching the dust. We had to leave it behind in favour of a smaller and lighter 3-cups moka – a later addition to the family, suitable mostly to Sundays’ after lunch pick-me-ups, or sporadic after-dinner coffee cravings.
As you might have grasped from the latest updates, I am no longer in Veneto. A few things have changed since the last post, mostly regarding the fact that I put a few miles between me and the homeland. Long story short, I am now in sunny Sydney.
The plan is to be here for a few months (more on that another time). Meanwhile, I am just enjoying the fact that I’m escaping winter and getting a double dose of summer instead. The seasonality change might twist things around a bit on these pages, mostly because this is meant to be a seasonal recipe journal, and what’s in season here now are lovely green peas and crisp asparagus. It feels a bit confusing, admittedly, so I’m trying to take things easy. For now, just to get into the groove of the holiday season and tune in with what’s happening in our respective home countries, Jesse and I have been baking quite a few autumnal delights. That, despite the fact that it’s very warm and sunny outside my window.
Padova holds a special place in my heart. You might know by now that it’s where I lived during my undergraduate years, the first big town where I moved to live on my own – or rather, with other people other than family. I recall some things about courses and classes, but what really stuck with me, sometimes causing high peaks of nostalgia, is the freedom and unruliness of those years; the friendships that were sealed and are still alive and present even at a distance; and the conviviality and the aliveness of the city, so full of youth and students one sometimes forgot that actual people lived there. What I also remember, is the host of great food I had access to without having to drive for miles: the daily vegetable market, the many great pastry shops and bakeries, not to mention the high concentration of bars making tasty sandwiches and serving cheap but excellent spritz. It is not a surprise, then, if I am totally biased when I write about this city. My judgement is somehow fogged by the sweet, boozy memories of such glorious past. Still, Padova has a lot to offer to unbiased visitors, too, with dining and food shopping ranking high on the list of things to do.
Only a 30-minute train ride from Venice, Padova is a city that runs around two things: the prominent University, and commerce. Close to sixty thousand students are currently studying at Padua University, whose foundation as a school of law dates back to 1222 and makes it the fifth oldest in the world. You can still admire the remnants of such glorious, ancient past by walking into the courtyard and under the frescoes vaults of the oldest building belonging to the University, Palazzo del Bo, headquarters of the Law faculty; and in the lush Botanical Gardens, created in the 16th century and still a place of studies for many botanists. You might also notice the high presence of students rushing on their bikes, slaloming cars, buses, trams, pedestrians (for lack of proper bike paths)on their way to the next class on the other side of town. Although often subject to much public criticism – they degrade the city, some say! – the high number of students has always had a good influence on the economy and liveliness of Padova: businesses thrive thanks to the money they pump into the economy of the city in the form of rents and living expenses; and bars and vendors often offer a range of inexpensive, honest, good eats and drinks to cater their cravings.