Venice & The Wabi-Sabi (with three recipes for sweet Italian tarts)

Three Recipes for Sweet Italian Tarts - From My Dining Table Three Recipes for Sweet Italian Tarts - From My Dining Table

Some places have an aura. Call it a history, a feeling, what you will. But you know what I mean, don’t you? You kind of walk in and feel a thousand years wiser. It’s as if you can picture the story that the faded walls are telling you, you can hear the old peeling paint speak, the dusty glass windows and the creaky door that won’t quite shut – they all have a tale, and now you have become an intimate part of it. Venice is full of those places. It’s a city brimming with history. No one building is straight lines. No single floor isn’t crooked and cracked, where water has seeped up through the foundations and centuries of pounding footsteps have worn it away. I sort of think of it as a European expression of wabi sabi - not so much simplicity and minimalism, but perfect imperfection. That is what makes the city so beautiful.

Three Recipes for Sweet Italian Tarts - From My Dining Table Three Recipes for Sweet Italian Tarts - From My Dining Table

It’s a comforting beauty, on a human scale. When you’re walking through an age old street, over paving stones first laid in the middle ages, and you’re carrying your shopping – it’s heavy and the bags feel like they’re about to break through the bottom. Then you look up to see a crooked gothic window, somehow that’s when it’s most beautiful. Or when you’re sitting in a coffee shop with a Palladian folly to your left, and you’re doing the crossword puzzle; oblivious to the building’s magnificence, the kind of architectural virtuosity that people travel across conteinnts for a mere glimpse of; yet somehow you’re  invigorated by it. The crossword flows better because of it. These are the moments – when the mundane and the sublime collide. These are the moments like no others.

Three Recipes for Sweet Italian Tarts - From My Dining Table Three Recipes for Sweet Italian Tarts - From My Dining Table [Continue reading...]

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The First Signs of Fall, Grape Picking & an Autumn Feast

Grape Picking and an Autumn Feast - From My Dining Table

It's been a long time coming. The signs started a while back: the first leaves turning. Those thunderstorms at night, when the heavens opened and rained down on us with all they had. At once apocalyptic and comfortingly familiar. After all, it happens every year. And then, when we woke the next morning, in the calm after the storm, the skies were clear blue - sharp, razor blue, like the proverbial Irishman's eyes; the air was just that smidgen cooler. The sun felt like it will never warm our skin quite in the same way again. Autumn was here. It's taken me some time to get used to the idea. I won't lie. I'm like that, you see: new people, seasons, places, restaurants, what have you - they warm on me slowly. I need to feel that I've got to know them a little, that we've bonded in some way or another, before I'm happy to commit, to embrace fully. That said: I'm an Aries, so once I do embrace, I never let go. I wasn't born an Autumn baby - I'm more about the bright Spring days and the overblown peonies of early Summer. That's my natural milieu. That said, now that it's here, somehow my colour palette has shifted - subtle at first, barely noticeable. I find myself gravitating to the golden hues and the muted oranges. My tastes have morphed: I want soup, thick and piping hot. I've been spending more time in the kitchen, craving the soothing warmth of the stove. Not because, it's so cold. It's not - not yet, anyhow. But because suddenly it feels … [Continue reading...]

A Trip to Burano and a Recipe for a Seafood Fritoin, and Buranelli Butter Biscuits with Lemon and Rosemary

'Buranelli' Butter Biscuits with Lemon Zest & Rosemary and A 'Fritoin' - From My Dining Table

The great irony about living in a city - any city - is that one never really finds the time to do all the things that are most special to do there - you know, the things that sit tantalisingly on your doorstep and other people travel across continents for, longing to see. The tourist-y things.  In Venice, this great irony weighs heavier than most places. Venetians, you see, when all is said and done, resolutely think of themselves as a breed apart from tourists; they float in a parallel universe, walk the streets with the certainty of someone who recognises each winding calle as their own, with the quiet confidence of those who feel quite so at home nowhere else. 'Not being a tourist' is, in fact, an art form cultivated by Venetians - devotedly and over generations. They speak their own language - Venetian, unintelligible to an Italian from any other corner of the country; they eat their own food - a clear demarcation between tourist-y restaurants (the ones with garish photos of food on the menu) and non tourist-y restaurants (the ones where there is no menu - you eat what the kitchen brings you and, inevitably, it is exquisite); they do their own thing - drive their boats through the quieter canals, and take the dark back alleys, that seemingly lead nowhere, to go about their daily business; somehow or another, they end up all but avoiding the main sites - with all the … [Continue reading...]

Playing Games, Dreaming Dreams & Eating Spaghetti with Lobster

Houses, Dreams & A Recipe for Spaghetti with Lobster - From My Dining Table

One of my favourite games to play is planning my last supper. Anyone who knows me well, will know that I love nothing more than to plan a good meal. Feasting really is - and always has been - my 'thing'. But to plan a meal with no thought for the pragmatics of oven space or the dross of washing up, is just too delightful for words. I can't resist. The game usually goes something like this: I start. I always start. My opening gambit, a simple supper; indulgent - yes - but in its very decadent simplicity. Barbecued lobster with really good chips. The thrice cooked kind, deep fried in duck fat. Followed by either chocolate cake - flourless, naturally - or tiramisu' - proper tiramisu' with savoiardi biscuits soaked in very strong espresso, none of that dry sponge cake malarkey. Then I ask the others around the table to plan their last supper. One by one. This is the best bit. You can tell so much about a person from what they choose for their last supper. And who they would like to cook it - you know that someone is serious about their food, when they specify who is going to cook it. One thing leads to another, fictional food envy grows rife. It gets quite competitive. Suddenly lobster and chips seem rather prosaic. What about tagliatelle with white truffles? And a cheese course? Is there room for pears with gorgonzola? … [Continue reading...]

Boats, Orchards & A Recipe for Prosecco Peaches with Zabaglione Cream and Amaretti

Boats, Orchards & A Recipe for Prosecco Peaches with Zabaglione and Amaretti - From My Dining Table

When Anthony and I got married - five years ago, now - I bought him a boat as a wedding present. Not a flashy boat - a little bathtub of a boat, with a minute outboard motor. The idea was that we could explore the lagoon together. You see, you're only ever a true Venetian once you have a boat. Or better, when the man in your life has a boat. The boat is - in fact - a male prerogative. Of course, there are women who know how to drive, tie knots and the like - and there must be women who own their own boats, but they're chimeras. Few, far between and very much out of the ordinary. Certainly, cause for conversation - kind of like women taxi drivers in London. You know they exist, but I have yet to be driven by one. How about you? Of course, I should rebel. The twenty-first century educated feminist in me knows this. And occasionally, I toy with the notion of learning to drive the boat myself. But then summer life morphs into a lazy hazy dream; I'm chauffeured around, strewn out on cushions, looking up into the clouds in a clear blue sky. And learning to drive the boat is added to my to do list for next year. Anthony keeps the boat at the cantiere - a massive, dusty warehouse, where vessels are stacked up one on top of the other, and lowered into the water with a crane as and when their owners want to use them. There's a petrol pump, and an expanse of concrete that looks on to the open … [Continue reading...]

Dreamy Sundays, Beloved Old Books & A Lavender Pannacotta

Dreamy Sundays & Lavender Pannacotta - From My Dining Table

There is something comforting about old books - books written decades ago, before twitter, mobile phones, or the twenty-four hour news cycle. I'm not old - not, really - but I have never lived in a world without telephones or television. Yet that world - the one depicted in stories before my time - feels oddly familiar. Somehow it all resonates: the hats and the diamond pins, the kid gloves and the afternoon tea, the handwritten letters on embossed writing paper and the swishing skirts. Maybe because I grew up devouring Agatha Christie murder mysteries - and when I had read them all, I went back to the beginning and read them once again. Or maybe I have some sort of a spiritual connection with that era - from another life that I no longer remember, but recognise intuitively on some level of my subconscious. But there is something about that world - the glamorous thirties, forties and fifties - that feels inexplicably nostalgic and deeply soothing.   … [Continue reading...]

Gelato with Grappa Drenched Raisins & Whipped Ricotta Sfogliatine with Figs

Gelato with Grappa Drenched Raisins & Whipped Ricotta Sfogliatine with Figs

This is the Lost Summer. The summer that never was - it's  drifting around somewhere in Neverland; with Peter Pan and the Lost Boys. You know - the little boys who fall out of their prams, while their nanny is looking the other way, and are spirited off to Neverland.  It's as if I blinked and it passed us by. The summer, that is. The weather has been all crazy storms at sunrise and bouts of raging hot sunshine at sunset. Unpredictable and unreliable. The lagoon here in Venice ominously grey one minute, and clear, clear blue the next. I've heard rumours of an apocalypse of sorts. Some remember the summer of 1984 - apparently that was a stormy one too. Others say that they have never been a July like it - not in living memory. Yet still the air is hot. Heavy and muggy - like a thick wooly blanket wrapped around you, that you simply can't shake off. And even when it storms - there's a moment, fleeting, a gust of fresh air that blows through - but then it's gone, the heavy heat reigns once again. … [Continue reading...]

The Feast of the Holy Redeemer & a Recipe for Sea Bass ‘Al Sale’

The Feast of the Holy Redeemer & a Recipe for Sea Bass 'Al Sale'

Venice is a sleepy town. Entertainment is neighbourhood gossip or maybe a sudden twist in weather patterns; flooding in July, say, or heavy fog in September. By ten o'clock at night the streets are empty, in an eerie ghost-like kind of a way. Everyone is in bed. I love that about the city. Secretly, I too love nothing more than an early night, with a gripping novel and a mug of hot, sugary tea. That said, one night a year - for one night only - Venice parties. And, hell -  it parties like there's no tomorrow. I party with it too. Naturally. It would be rude not to. … [Continue reading...]

Paolo’s Black Truffle, Mascarpone & Sage Pizza

Black Truffle, Mascarpone & Sage Pizza - From My Dining Table

Think soap opera. But set among crumbling brickwork and evocative frescoes: the story of the squares of Venice. And of the characters who live in them. You see, at the very heart of all that is truly Venetian is the campo - an open square, a patch of flagstones, kind of like a piazza but on a miniature scale. If you know Venice, you'll know what I mean: the city is a maze of tiny alleyways and campi.  Every Venetian grows up and lives out his life in his campo. That's where he plays hide and seek as a child, and dries his laundry as a grown up. Were he to move house, he might find a new campo to live in - one that's no more than a few steps from his newfound home address. And over time, he might grow to love that campo too. But the campo where he grew up forever holds him tight - that's where the church he married in is, where his butcher and his baker are, where his heart lies.  … [Continue reading...]

Sweet Peach and Basil Sgroppino & Venice for the Summer

Sweet Peach and Basil Sgroppino - From My Dining Table

This morning I woke up in Venice. Birds singing softly in the garden that I look on to from my bedroom window; the birds like to settle on the lemon tree right by my window. A gentle breeze blowing through the white linen curtains which screen that same little window. And the sound of the water lapping gently in the canal that runs just alongside our house. I woke up in Venice yesterday morning too, and the morning before that. But this morning it really sunk in. It felt like home - nostalgically so. And it felt like summer. It's a strange thing that 'home' feeling - tricky to pin down and impossible to label. Home is something that you sense, not something that you see. It smells and it tastes. It's in the minutiae, those details imperceptible to others - and so all lifechanging-ly important to you. A plate of pasta cooked with a sugo al pomodoro  just so - not any other which way; or the ritual of buying ice cream - gelato alla nocciola - from a specific shop at four in the afternoon - not at any other time of the day.  It's everything that you long for when you're gone and everything that you relish upon your return.  … [Continue reading...]

Summer Berry Meringue Folly & A Trip to Russia

Summer Berry & Thyme Meringue Folly & A Trip to Russia - From My Dining Table

The middle of the night - twenty past midnight, to be exact - but look out of the window and it's mid afternoon. The sun is shining bright, people strolling through the streets. You know - nonchalantly going about their day to day business. The world is upside down: topsy turvy. I am Alice and I have stepped through the looking glass. And these are the Russian white nights, when the sun seemingly never sets.  Last week I travelled to Russia. Two nights in Moscow - just long enough to walk through Red Square, take in the Kremlin, indulge in a bowl of chilled summer borsch and cheer from the stalls at The Bolshoi. Then on and up north - across the flat lands of the Russian countryside - to St Petersburg. By train - all very Anna Karenina. Minus the luxuriant furs. … [Continue reading...]

Baby Spinach, Tarragon and Walnut Burek & a Trip to Portugal

Baby Spinach, Tarragon and Walnut Borek - From My Dining Table

Inspiration. From the Latin 'inspirare'. Literally: to breathe in. To breathe deeply of the beautiful, of the otherworldly. Many moons ago the world believed that inspiration came from Muses - sweet poetry, the most famous of myths, and masterpieces alike, all the work of slender maidens draped in silk, with gold leaf belts and tight ringlets artfully coifed atop their dainty little heads. Legend has it that they lived on top of Mt Helicon - in the very heart of the Greek peninsula. If you ask me, though, inspiration - the kind that you get really excited about, the kind that never dates - occurs when you witness worlds colliding. That moment when minds come together. The more diverse the minds, the greater the impact. Like rainbow coloured fireworks in a cold, silent winter sky. I travelled to Portugal last month to take part in a workshop. There I found inspiration. My muses - minus the stylised ringlets - were Beth and Sanda (who led the group and whose work on their sites - Local Milk and Little Upside Down Cake - I adore), and the other ladies taking part - Leslie, Sif, Olaiya, Lisa, Eve, Alice and Nathalie. Talent, wisdom, imagination, style, drive, energy, vision, languages, discussion, traditions - they all abounded. Rare to find so much shared and so much distinctiveness all in the one place. In the space of three days, I learnt so much. It was ostensibly a … [Continue reading...]