You know what is amazing about life? That it just happens. One may have planned every single detail, yet... life itself has the power to oblige a person change their plans immediately, from one moment to the other, whether in the good or in the bad. I suppose it is not a chance that, out of all the female characters I encountered in my readings, the woman that most caught my attention and admiration is Moll Flanders, with her incredible adventures and misadventures wonderfully narrated by Daniel Defoe.
A lot of my female friends, instead, adore Anna Karenina and see her as a brave and strong woman who fought for true love and did not accept her condition of married woman. Yes, okay... maybe it is true, but personally I never liked her and, although the book is simply great, I always thought of her as a spoilt brat who cheated on her husband not with the chauffeur (like Sybil Crawley in Downtown Abbey, my favourite who.. of course, dies young) or one of her servants, but with the most handsome and richest prince in town. Ah.. come on, Anna... what a disappointment. And at the end, after I don't know how many pages... what does she do? She throws herself under a train... Well, I'm sorry but I will never be able to consider her as a positive example of female empowerment.
Whereas Moll Flanders may have started as a poor but very attractive servant, but then her life took her to the highest levels of aristocracy and then back down again to deep poverty, an ongoing rollercoaster of unpredictable events that turned her from an innocent girl into a clever and fast-thinking lady.
I had read both novels during the summer, as this is the perfect season to undertake long readings. Last year was the year of My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante, which I loved although I could not identify myself in any of the characters, while this year... to be completely honest, I still haven't found a book able to involve me that much. I am desperately looking for an engaging story, as so far, in this 2019, I've only been able to read essays on art, photography and cookbooks. With regard to cookbooks, my favourite remains Alice B. Toklas Cookbook, which has no photos at all and is filled with fatty recipes I will actually never make. Still, I find it brilliant and tend to give it as a present to all my friends who love to cook (although I cannot figure out why the title is translated in Italian as Baudelaire's cookies, when the poet died ten years before Alice was born... do any of my Italian friends know?).
I reckon the reason for this are the stories behind the recipes. It's an extremely autobiographical book, in which Alice describes her relationship with art collector and writer Gertrude Stein, the dinner parties attended by the most important artists of the time and, more in general, life in France in the first half of the 20th century and during the occupation. Besides, the most famous of her recipes is the Haschich fudge... which, in addition to being delicious, I consider a daring recipe, especially for a woman of those years. But not only Alice was one of the first famous lesbians in history, she was also incredibly clever, hard-working, creative and patient (I have a feeling that living with Gertrude Stein must have been quite challenging). Anyway, Alice's words make me dream of the vegetable gardens in Bilignin and inspire me in so many ways, I really ought to put her in my inspiring-women list too!
I have tried reading other food related novels, but none truly satisfied me. I tried with some gourmet crime stories, but... no, they don't seem to work for me. I did like Chourmo by Jan Claude Izzo, but it's not really related to food, although the descriptions of the perfumes and flavours of the Marseillais dishes make my mouth water... My father is a great fan of Nero Wolfe, character born from the pen of Rex Stout, over-weight investigator with two passions: orchids and food. I have never read the books, but I have seen some episodes of the Italian tv series from the 60/70s (there's also a new series, but I haven't seen that yet) and, yes, I agree that Mr Wolfe has good taste! Actually, I have just checked online and today I might buy The Nero Wolfe Cookbook, so I can study some of the recipes and surprise my father with a stunning dinner.
Another author I love is Japanese artist Haruki Murakami. Although he is not a food writer, it is clear that he has a sort of obsession with food. With this regard, I suggest to have a look at the blog What I Talk About When I Talk About Cooking, entirely dedicated to recipes prepared by Murakami's characters. Anyway, for Murakami what we eat is a sort of reflection of ourselves, what we are and how much we care about our own body, soul and the world around us and...I completely agree with this theory.
As for myself, initially (when I started the blog) my dream was to publish a book. Not an ordinary cookbook, but a sort of contemporary guide of Venice through its food. For a moment it seemed my dream was about to come true, but then -for several reasons- it didn't and, although I was encouraged to make some changes and the publisher has always been extremely nice to me... I never made any change nor looked at the draft again (yes, it's sitting there in a folder of my computer). I didn't because in this moment, the tip of the scale of my love and hate relationship with my native city is bent more on the latter feeling and I need a break. Besides, as stated at the beginning of this post, life just happens and in the last 12 months I have been working a lot more as a photographer and -to be completely honest- I couldn't be happier. I developed recipes and took pictures for some Italian food companies, wrote articles and itineraries for American clients with activities in Italy and met restaurant owners, food and wine producers and... artisans! A lot of these experiences did not end up in the blog because I signed the rights of my work, but I truly enjoyed every single moment and look forward to many more.
Before saying goodbye, I want to share a super easy and fresh summer recipe: a peach and apricot mousse. This creamy dessert is so simple and quick to make that it' s just perfect for bookworms, as it leaves you with plenty of time to read! Hope you will like it and, please, if you have any book suggestion for the summer I am eager to hear it!
FRESH PEACH AND APRICOT MOUSSE
4 portions (generous)
200 ml fresh cream
150 gr ricotta
1 teaspoon honey
crushed pistachios and hazelnuts
1. Prepare your whipped cream: pour fresh cream in a cold steel bowl and whisk. When ready, cover the bowl in plastic wrap and refrigerate.
2. Wash the fruit, peel the peach and chop roughly. Heat a pan, add a little bit of water and let the fruit simmer for about 8 minutes, until it has melted. Let cool.
3. When the fruit mixture is ready, combine with your fresh ricotta and add a teaspoon of honey.
4. Remove whipped cream from fridge and slowly incorporate the fruit and ricotta mixture with slow movements from bottom to top, using a wooden spoon. Refrigerate for a couple of hours and serve topped with crushed nuts and dried cookies.