Mothers’s Day, La Festa Della Madre, always presents a few dilemmas. To celebrate or not, to give gifts or not. The commercialisation of the day is viewed with suspicion in my family, however for grandmothers and great -grandmothers, this day often has more significance. In the past, we’ve enjoyed small family gatherings with my mother, often in the dining room of the Lomond Hotel. A table for nine, set with white linen and fresh flowers, free bubbles for the ladies, followed by a simple three course meal, it was an easier way to get together than at Christmas. My mother always gave small gifts to her three daughters on this day, recognising that we are all mothers. This year, as my mother is in residential care, visits are not yet permitted. The facility management is adhering to very strict guidelines and has partially opened up: one designated family member may visit her once a week. To err on the side of caution makes sense, given that the elderly are so susceptible to the devastating effects of this plague. And as for my immediate family, none of us are planning to break the gathering rules. I’ll miss her today, but she does enjoy a long phone chat.
My biggest dilemma today is this- sweet versus savoury for Mother’s day? I’ve gone with both. For my daughter, a mother of three daughters and two leggy whippets, a crostata filled with apricot jam, Crostata di Albicocche, and for my caring son, a sourdough Panmarino bread filled with baked garlic and fresh rosemary.
When it comes to sweet versus savoury, I think I’d choose the garlic- laced bread. I may need to steal a slice or two of that loaf. How would you choose, dear reader?
Another year ticks over, resolutions have been made, private reflections and observations about the things that are important. After those meditations on the first of January, the year brings on a mad rush of adrenalin as I attack the kitchen like some crazed Befana on a broom, sorting through the pantry, the larder, the fridges and cupboards, trying to restore some order after the Christmas mayhem. Out they go, all the old chutneys and jams, some of them smelling so delicious even though they are three or more years old. The chickens are in for a jammy feast, with old dried foods from the pantry thrown into the mix, hot water stirred through, fire burn and cauldron bubble. When the hurlyburly’s done, I’ll sit down to a chilled white wine and contemplate this summer post. There is no photo of me here -you, my reader, must imagine a wild unkempt hairdo and an unflattering old Bali Dress used for these jobs.
In the remaining clear space on the bench, there are some rather handsome Christmas gifts gracing my kitchen. The first is a heavy-duty blender from my eldest son. Its powerful motor works like a dream. So far we have had mango, ice, banana and orange juice smoothies, brain numbingly cold and healthy, reminding me of the fruity concoctions made in Chiang Rai, Thailand. This now lives in the industrial zone in my kitchen.
This gorgeous cake tin was a KK gift from my sister-in-law. Jo. It has a perfect seal. I seem to be making more cakes these days. How did she know?
Loads of zucchini are landing on the shelf and ending up in summer soups. My diet has turned basic and simple this month. You can’t clean like a mad witch and cook too!
I now make my own yoghurt weekly. It is another routine, along with the sourdough bread, that has slipped into my life. It is so simple, especially if you have a nice big thermos. Boiled milk, cooled to warm, with a tablespoon or two from your last batch of yoghurt is whisked through, then into the thermos it goes for six or more hours. Too easy. Using this large vintage Japanese thermos, I can now make two litres at a time, enough yoghurt to go with curries, to make tzaziki and other dips, Greek cakes and so on. There is nothing better than a breakfast of home-made yoghurt and a compote of fruit, especially poached cherries.
The things you find in the pantry!! I seem to have cornered the market in Indian dhal and bulgar. These, combined with fresh garden produce, will form the basis of my $1.00 meals. I’m on a mission to eat the contents of the pantry and to shop less – one of those New Year reflections about simplicity, waste and healthy eating.
Having finally mastered the pressure cooker, which has been hiding in a kitchen cupboard for a few months, the lentils, beans and chickpeas are having a work out.
Prior to Christmas, I found a monster 3 kilo bag full of Tagliatelle nests at Psarakos in Thornbury. Once opened, they are now stored in one of my big bread bins. These nidi only take 5 -6 minutes cooking and, with the tomato and basil glut on the horizon, will form the basis of more cheap eats.
My Mother’s apricot tree goes on and on, with five kilo picked daily. She poaches and stores them in little boxes in the freezer for winter desserts. Not bad at 92 years old, but I think it’s time I made her jam. Jars in the dishwasher, jars on the bench, nothing like making jam on a 40 degrees celsius (104 F) day. When the blackberries are ready and the temperature even higher, this jam making strega will be working at dawn, or possibly leaving home early to live elsewhere.
I found this recipe some years ago: it lives in my special hand written cake book- the one that is devoted to cakes that really work. It is my favourite cake recipe and gets adapted according to the season. The lack of a pastry base makes it so easy and quick to prepare. The original recipe calls for pears, but I am substituting apricots. Ripe peaches and nectarines work quite well too. I am yet to try it with cherries. The apricots are in season, and I must be quick before Mr Tranquillo and the visiting humanoid fruit bats eat the lot!
Torta di Mandorla, Albicocca e Amaretto
Italian Almond and Apricot Cake with Amaretto.
125 g softened unsalted butter
150 g castor sugar
50 g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
375 g almond meal
2 Tablespoons Amaretto liqueur
7 or more apricots large, ripe, enough to fill the tart
25 g flaked almonds
Preheat oven to 180c /160c FF. Grease and line a 25 cm loose bottom tin.
Place butter and sugar and eggs in a stand mixing bowl and beat for 5 minutes until thick and pale.
Stir in the flour mixed with the baking powder, then fold in the almond meal, followed by the Amaretto. Pour into the prepared tin.
Arrange halved apricot over the top and lightly press down so they are submerged. Scatter the top with the flaked almonds.
Bake for 45- 50 mins. Cool in tin.
Cool, dust with icing sugar. Serve with a small glass of Amaretto.
This keeps well in the fridge for a few days. Re- warm slices briefly in microwave.