Sunday, August 19, 2007

DEATH, DIVORCE AND MOVING HOUSE ARE SAID TO BE THE THREE MOST STRESSFUL SITUATIONS IN LIFE. So what on earth made me think I would be immune to the stresses of selling our house and moving to a new place? Forgive me if the blogging is somewhat patchy over the next month or so - I've just realised I'm not Superwoman after all.


Romance, sex, la dolce vita, culinary comedy, all combined to make a delicious tale, what more could you ask for in a book? The Food of Love by Anthony Capella is as frothy a concoction as zabaglione and just as sweet and insubstantial.

The plot is light, a variation on Cyrano de Bergerac, where Tommaso, a waiter in a top restaurant in Rome and an inveterate lady-killer, wants to bed Laura, a pretty young American spending a year in Rome studying art history and culture. Laura is fed up with men who make passes, and declares she will only go out with a man who can cook. Enter Bruno, Tommaso’s best friend, a shy commis chef at a Michelin starred restaurant who is passionate about food and cooking. Bruno agrees to assist Tommaso with his plan to seduce Laura by pretending that he is a brilliant chef who will cook for her. In reality Bruno will do the cooking and Tommaso will pass it off as his own. The plan works a treat, and soon Laura falls into Tommaso’s bed. However, life is never that simple, Bruno falls in love with Laura himself, and everything gets very, very complicated as the path of unrequited love never does run smooth.

The atmosphere of backstreet Rome is on every page, and there are some wonderful passages describing the Italian take on life, love, and food:

“In a country where fervent Catholicism was only a generation away, everyone knew there were as many grades of virginity in girls as there were in olive oil –which, of course is divided into extra-virgin (first cold pressing), extra-virgin (second pressing), superfine virgin, extrafine virgin, and so on, down through a dozen or more layers of virginity and near virginity, before finally reaching a level of promiscuity so unthinkable that it is labelled merely as ‘pure’, and thus is fit only for export or lighting fires.”

By the time I finished the book I was desperate to book a flight to Rome ASAP, or else to book a table at a really good Italian restaurant here in London.

So far I have done neither, but I will - I will do both!

Rated: 4*


I’ve come to the conclusion that this country is absolutely overrun with Jobsworths, and they are costing us a pretty penny, not to mention damaging the quality of national life. The thousands and thousands of rules and regulations which have been drawn up over the past twenty years, no doubt with the best of intentions originally, are being implemented to a ludicrous extent by petty officials who wield power over every aspect of society.

A classic example is the 79 year old widow who loves gardening and for the past 8 years has tended a roadside flowerbed in the pretty little village of Urchfont in rural Wiltshire. She has made it so attractive that it has helped the village win the title of Best Kept Village in Wiltshire two years ago.

She is not paid to do it, she does it as a labour of love and civic pride. Now the clodhopping local council, who recently woke up and noticed what she has been doing, have said that as the Urchfont Parish Council don’t have something called a Section 96 license to allow her to do gardening on a public site, she must stop at once. Tending the flowerbed can only be done if a licence has been obtained, and if the following criteria are met:

1. The flowerbed must be properly checked for hidden wires pipes or cables (none have come to light in the past 8 years but no matter…)
2. TWO people must be working on the flowerbed at any time because one must act as a lookout.
3. The gardener and a lookout must wear special clothing, specifically day-glo safety jackets.

4. Warning notices must be placed on the road in all directions to inform motorists that work is being done.

The gardener, who has been working on the flowerbed for eight years, said she would ignore the council's demands.

"I couldn't believe what they were saying I had to do, I come and work on the flowerbed at the drop of a hat, when the weather is fine and I have some time to spare. I can't drag around three great metal signs and have someone standing by in case I might want to do a bit of work on it. I have paid hundreds of pounds to plant the flowers myself and the compost every spring and autumn has been paid out of my pension. I work there until the gardening is done. I love doing it. It is my bit to keep the village tidy. It is a lovely little village. I don't care what they do to me. I will continue working on the flowerbed."

I am amazed that anyone volunteers to do anything at all these days, when they get this kind of treatment. Who needs the hassle. I suppose the local County Council would be happy to let that roadside flowerbed return to a litter-strewn patch of weeds….because then no little old ladies would be breaking the rules.

This is probably one of the most useful recipes in my entire repetoire, it is dead easy, very adaptable and everyone loves the result, perfect for Sunday lunch, a buffet, or a dinner party
In the past fortnight I have made this tart no less than three times - each time with a
different fruit and alcohol, and once using Saxby's puff pastry rather than shortcrust which I had made myself. I could probably make it in my sleep. In winter I usually make it with apples but in summer I use whatever berries I happen to have available.
It has the great advantage that it travels well, so when I have take a contribution to a meal this is a good option. Last weekend I took the one with blueberries down to Dorset. The first picture shows the tart made with blueberries and the other is with cherries.


200g shortcrust pastry made in the usual way .

75g butter
75g caster sugar
1 egg, beaten
75g ground almonds
1½ tablespoons plain flour
1½ tablespoons brandy/Kirsch/Rum
1 ½ kilos ripe cherries, stoned
or strawberries, raspberries or blueberries
or 3/4 apples or pears peeled cored and sliced
or 3/4 nectarines sliced

Pre-heat oven to 200°C

Roll out the pastry and line a 23cm loose bottomed flan tin. Trim the edges.
Place a square of greaseproof paper or baking paper over the pastry and fill the tart with baking beans. Bake blind in the pre-heated oven for 12-15 mins. Then remove from oven and allow to cool slightly before filling.

To make the filling, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, beat in the egg and then fold in the ground almonds, flour and alcohol. Fill the pastry shell with the almond cream, spreading it evenly.

Arrange the chosen fruit over the top of the cream, press down slightly.

Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 180°and continue baking for a further 10-15 minutes until the top is golden brown and has puffed up.

Remove from the oven and take off the flan tin, sprinkle the top with sieved icing sugar. Serve hot or cold, with cream/crème fraiche or icecream if desired.


Anonymous said...

Sorry, "anonomys" doesn't know how to come out of hiding! At the Hydro with "The Food of Love" - is it appropriate for someone trying to lose weight and on a diet of paw paw and citrus? Busy with "Shadow of the Wind" first, though. Scrolled QUICKY down past the delicious looking recipes - and WHERE do you find these petty legislations about which to rant?!! BFCT

Nancy said...

I look forward to your postings so much from Missouri in the U.S.A.......I could not believe the story about the lovely gardener and the stupidity of the "council"......what a world!

Around My Kitchen Table said...

Another great post. Coincidentally I was having a bit of rant about health and safety on my blog too. These pettifogging rules are just so rant-inducing! Back in May, some local jobsworth at Torrington in Devon stopped a children's guard of honour for a May Fair Queen - just in case they got accidentally jostled by the sight-seers. The fact that this fair has been in existence for 700 years and the guard of honour a part of it for as long as anyone can remember held no water at all. Grrrrr, indeed!
Like the sound of the book and love the look of the tart!

Kit said...

I loved Food of Love too. Fun froth that took me back to my own 'year in Rome' though I didn't get as lucky as Laura with finding a chef!

Your fruit and almond tart sounds delicious. I'm definitely going to give it a go.

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