Today I’m serving up a story about focaccia. One day back in 1992 I was jammed into the back of a tiny car, travelling through Italy, from Amantea in Calabria to Monteleone in Puglia. The trip started off scalding hot, the sun beaming down on the beaches and hills of Amantea. When we emerged on the other side in Monteleone I had to pile on every sweater and pair of pants I owned to keep out the chill. While it hadn’t appeared that we had climbed high, we were in the “hills” and the cold weather had already moved in during our trip.
My lovely relatives in Monteleone, who I was meeting for the first time, offered me two plates of food that I will never forget. They were filling, heart warming, and spectacularly simple but luscious. First was a bowl of pasta rapini (my love for it will never die!) and the second was warm focaccia (I called it pizza) from a local bakery. The crispy on the outside, doughy on the inside, dotted with roasted cherry tomatoes creation was heavenly. Something about it was love at first sight.
(Photo by Kyle Bruggeman, Nebraska News21)
“Naples invented zeppole and all Italians licked their fingers.” Buon Festa del Papà! It’s Saint Joseph’s Day (San Giuseppe)!
If you live or work anywhere near an Italian community, you may be acutely aware of a wave of cream-filled pastries lining bakery shelves today. This is all in celebration of St. Joseph. In the Catholic religion most saints and holy people have specially designated feast days. Italians are never ones to shy away from a feast – any reason to celebrate with food really – and Saint Joseph/San Giuseppe is a special one because it celebrates the father of Jesus. As such, this day is typically also known as father’s day in Italy (Buon Festa del Papà!). Also, in Italy you typically celebrate the day dedicated to the saint you were named after as well as your birthday. Finally, there’s this crazy delicious pastry assigned to March 19 – fried, cream added and a cherry on top. So, if you are religious, have a father, are named Joseph or just plain like Italian desserts – today’s the day to celebrate!
The snack of choice today is zeppole. That’s zeppoli if you are from the south of Italy and zeppola for the singular form. Today’s zeppole (as that word is applied to a few different types and shapes of fried dough) is a light dough or choux pastry formed in either a circle or a dough-nut shape, cut in half and stuffed with cream or decorated on top with cream and bits of candied cherry. Zeppole are also known by other names, including Bignè di S. Giuseppe and sfinge.
So how do you get from celebrating a Saint to eating fried dough?
This week was an exciting one! On Tuesday, I had the pleasure of co-hosting “Amici”, part of the Wake-Up Italian Style morning show on CHIN Radio here in Toronto. “Amici” is a great venue for younger Italian-Canadians to connect and share how they are active in the community. The format is unique too: the host, Edoardo speaks in Italian and “Amici” co-hosts speak in English. This isn’t unlike how many Italian-Canadian households function now, with some members speaking only Italian and others only English, but everyone understanding what is going on.
A lot of the conversation centred around how I identify within the community (Italian-Canadian or Canadian-Italian?), as well as other second- and third-generation Italians. Also of interest was the discussion of language, and whether language and culture are so intricately tied that if you don’t know how to speak Italian, can you call yourself such. I find these topics fascinating and language, in particular, is often brought up to me as a question given that this blog covers Italian topics, but in English. In honour of that conversation, and to spark more chatting about it, I’ve reposted my article that appeared Panoram Italia last year that was based off of this blog post about language.
First, I’ve included the best bits of the morning show below (minus the music, sorry!).
They also taped parts of the show to feature online, so you can see me as a YouTube star…
Finally, as promised, the article that starts a lot of conversation…
Losing Your’s Parent’s Language (originally appeared in Panoram Italian Montreal Edition, July 2012)
When Oliviana Mingarelli visits her grandmother in Montreal, she admits she speaks “Frenchtalian”, a combination of French and Italian. For someone who can speak English, Italian, French and Spanish, mixing two languages or more comes easier than one might expect.
“If there was a word I could use for the combination of three languages, like neapolitan ice cream, I would describe our conversations that way too,” says Mingarelli 31, who notes that Spanish mixes with her Italian conversations often as well.
My January started off a little rough (everyone has the flu, things stopped working and now it’s -27 degrees Celsius here with the windchill. ugh). So it wasn’t the best month to start of something new, like a resolution. I think resolutions are too hard to keep and not keeping them is just an eventual disappointment. So this year, I have new years themes: what I want the year to be like based on my hopes and theories of what might make this year a bit more enjoyable than the last. One of these themes is to “go easy” on myself. I have a tendency to want to fill everyday, actually every minute, with something productive. Ask me to sit and watch TV, and I’ll do it while making a list in my head of everything else I should be doing or what I’ll be doing next.
It’s tiring. And I’m tired of it. It’s not that I want to do less either, I have a whole bunch of goals I want to reach, but I want to take time to enjoy reaching them and enjoy the time in between “doing stuff.” Maybe it’s the Canadian lifestyle in me and I have to admit what I’ve lost touch with in my Italian blood is “la dolce far niente”, that Italian lifestyle of enjoying the idleness of life.
Dolce Far Niente literally means “sweet doing nothing” = “Delicious idleness.” Sheer indulgent relaxation and blissful laziness, being deliciously idle.
If you’ve ever been to Italy you know just what I’m talking about: stroll along city squares, sitting in a café just because, enjoying the view because you can. And the best part about it is appreciating the fact that doing nothing isn’t bad at all, it’s part of life, probably a necessary part of life. I used to watch my grandfather enjoy it all the time (in his retirement at least), taking in the view of his garden from his patio chair as the day turned to evening.
Shopping for Christmas presents is not always the best thing about Christmas (I maintain it’s the baking, but you already knew that). For Italian-Canadians, no one can be harder to buy for than Nonno and Nonna. I know this because I struggled with it for years. Though I no longer have grandparents with me, I now help shop for my husband’s grandparents and often get questions from coworkers and friends who would love some gift ideas for Nonna and Nonno.
As someone who turns to the internet for solutions, searching for “gifts for nonni” won’t get you far. Most recommendations will be for an Italian-flag t-shirt of some sort. That’s pretty lame. So I’m writing the post that I would have wanted to stumble upon when I was searching for gifts for Nonni and I’m hoping it will help others.
Of course with gifts, it’s key to take into account what your Nonni are interested in….knitting (so they get yarn), fishing (so they get new lures), cooking (so they get a new pasta cutter). But at a certain point it’s difficult to get them anything that you haven’t already purchased them or something that is useful to them. Sure you think the new pasta machine attachment for the KitchenAid mixer will save all sorts of time, but Nonna still wants to roll the dough by hand. You can’t beat tradition.
But you can beat the stress of shopping for Nonni, at least this year. Here’s my top 5 gift ideas for Nonni:
Recently I was able to contribute an article to Panoram Italia magazine (the Montreal edition) about “What We Used to Get“, meaning what Italians used to receive for Christmas or the Epiphany back in Italy or when they were new immigrants to Canada. It was so interesting and entertaining to interview older Italians about their early Christmases – it is certainly amazing how well they remember the small gifts they did receive. It’s clear that in the times of poverty in Italy and the struggles in Canada, every small gift and joy left such an emotional impact. Torroncini, torrone, oranges, chestnuts and dried figs were all common gifts to receive and some remain tradition to have at the table for the holidays to this day. Up to just a few years ago, my mother still gave us stocking with oranges and chestnuts at the bottom as a reminder of what simple gifts she used to receive in Italy.