Tuesday, January 11, 2022

A HAPPY NEW YEAR (I THINK)

In Catania at the end of November


Every now and then, in this seemingly never-ending Covid situation, I get stopped in my tracks with fear and that is what happened in December when Omicron blared out its presence to the world. We were so near, we thought, so very near, to having a "normal" Christmas and to living in a way that resembled pre-Covid times. But it was not to be and, although triple-vaccinated, I'm still scared, especially with positive test results rising exponentially in Sicily and elsewhere in Italy - 947 in my town of 53,000 inhabitants today. Although we are not locked down or restricted as we were a year ago, masks are compulsory outside as well as inside again, we are supposed to be social distancing wherever possible, unnecessary mixing is discouraged and school reopening has been postponed from today until at least Thursday. It is not yet known whether teaching will be via distance learning or on school premises. In addition to these measures, you will have read about the Italian government's decision to bring in what amounts to compulsory vaccinations for the over 50s. We watch, we try to be careful and we hope, like the rest of the world.

At Christmas, I am glad to say, we were not required to fill in the hated self-certification documents in order to go anywhere at all or prevented from seeing friends and family and I spent a lovely Christmas Day with three friends who love books and dogs. Yes, I did consider staying at home but we are all vaccinated and at nearly 72 and with the virus raging, I wondered, and still wonder, if I will see another Christmas and whether we will at some point be barred from even small household mixing again, although the Italian government is doing everything it can to avoid having to take such a measure and Prime Minister Draghi has assured the nation this evening that he is not intending to take the country into lockdowns again. 

Having decided to accept the kind invitation, however, things did not exactly go to plan in the run-up and on Christmas Eve I nearly went into full hysterical mode as I was in the middle of making a cake to take to my friends' house when a domestic disaster struck. The recipe was for the wonderful Dame Mary Berry's Chocolate Cappuccino Tart, a cake I have made many times before and which has always been a success here. (I don't use instant coffee granules, though, because I don't buy them; I make myself an espresso and use a teaspoon of it in the cake and I use mascarpone in the filling.) If you look at the recipe, you will see that you have to make the base first, then refrigerate it while you make the filling. Well, I had just popped the base in the fridge and had the chocolate and coffee in a bowl ready to put over the saucepan of simmering water when I happened to look at the floor and beheld disaster in the form of a flood. The water, I ascertained, was coming from under the sink and at 1pm on Christmas Eve I estimated my chances of finding a plumber willing to come out as nil. While controlling my breathing, I did summon enough common sense to switch the hob off and then I went downstairs to warn the neighbour in the flat below. Luckily - phew! - her son was there and informed me that he was a plumber and would come. (I'd had no idea, either that he was home from the North or that he was a plumber.)  He fixed it but it took a while, not least because we had to wait a few hours for the shops to reopen for parts. Thank you, thank you, whoever is up there and to the kind man who happened to be down there!

I finished making the cake at midnight but didn't think the filling looked as smooth or as inviting as it had before (probably because I'd had to put that in the fridge too - I didn't have enough chocolate left to start again) but decided there was nothing I could do till it was set and I could inspect it in daylight. In the morning I came to the same conclusion though, and wondered whether to give up on it and just take some shortbread biscuits I had bought a couple of weeks before in Catania for Burns Night (the first time I had been there or anywhere outside Modica since my birthday in February 2020 - no need to tell you why!) I discussed it on the phone with a friend and his opinion was "cake, cake, every time" but I decided I had to check the taste. If it was OK, I would take the cake and just explain why a small slice was missing and that is what I did, but not before decorating it with some grated chocolate. Then later, at my friends' house, I added some candied orange peel to the top. Now, chef Carlo Cracco of Masterchef Italia fame says you should never garnish a dish with an ingredient it doesn't contain and I'm sorry, chef, but what else could I do? My friends thought it was all rather comical, by the way - which they wouldn't have if they'd seen the kitchen floor - and they enjoyed the cake.



On New Year's Eve I did stay at home, as I have for many years, because I like being at home with Bertie and because I would not risk leaving her on a night when there will almost certainly be fireworks outside. There were not many but when Italians decide they are going to have them they do not hold back! It didn't go on for long after midnight, to be fair, and there was only one episode that I heard of fireworks being let off in the street earlier. On New Year's Eve in Italy you are supposed to eat lentils, which it is believed will bring you money and my philosophy is why take chances and not do it? For years, to honour the Italian tradition while in Britain, I made a lamb dish with lentils, then lentil loaf, and here I have made Mary Berry's Cottage Pie with Lentils  (minus the swede, which I dislike and can't get here anyway and I only ever mash potatoes with butter) and lately Nigella's Bulgur Wheat and Lentil Salad, all of which I can recommend. But this time I wanted to make something different, so I prepared Claudia Roden's Rice, Lentil and Date Salad from her new book Med and I will certainly be making it again. To go with it, I made chicken escalopes with Parma ham and sage (from a very old Sunday Times cookbook I have) and for dessert a mini-semifreddo with candied orange peel. Well, to be honest I made the full quantity - I just put it in mini-tins! I don't believe in not spoiling yourself on special days just because you are on your own.



Then came Twelfth Night last week and Italy's good witch the befana brought treats to good children (that's all of them on that night!) On Thursday I carried out the sad task of taking the decorations down. Sad, for me at least, because I love that period of sitting at home with a book and reading it by the flickering lights of a Christmas tree and because we do not know what will happen in another year. (And it's just as well we didn't on New Year's Eve 2019-20!)  

Speriamo bene - "Let's hope all will be well", as Italians say and Bertie and I wish you all a belated but very Happy New Year

Buon anno a tutti!







3 comments:

Sackerson said...

All's well that ends well !

Sean Jeating said...

Happy New Year, Lady Limoncello. May the best in 2021 in 2022 turn out to be the worst.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Yes, indeed. Happy New Year.

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