Tag Archives: Italian-Australian

The Proxy Bride sneaks onto bestseller list…

The Proxy Bride has snuck into no.9 on the bestseller list for Top 10 Historical Fiction! A huge, heartfelt thank you to all of you for supporting my first novel. I’m very grateful. The list came out in The Weekend Australian and it’s such a privilege to be among these established and talented authors. It’s still sinking in to be honest! (I’ve been worried it might’ve been too much of a risk switching from non-fiction to fiction for this book.)

Also, since I mentioned in my last post that Nanna Francesca would’ve been especially happy to see, The Proxy Bride in the Australian Women’s Weekly, I thought I should mention the same might’ve been for Nonno Anni regarding a recent article about my books appearing in the Italian Australian newspapers, Il Globo and La Fiamma (full article in Italian online). I have lovely memories of him at the kitchen table often reading one of these newspapers with a morning coffee (International Roast boiled on the stove in the enamel pot, of course!)

I have to say too that seeing, The Proxy Bride on the same page as a Patricia Cornwall book reminded me of a time, almost thirty years ago, when I dreamt of having a book published. I was working during the day as a clerk doing mainly filing and data entry while also waitressing several nights in a Chinese restaurant and on other nights trying to write (when I wasn’t exhausted!) One lunch hour, I popped out to buy a book to read on the train home and someone had recommended Patricia Cornwall. When I think of the different jobs I’ve had over the years and all the types of writing I’ve done to this point, I definitely don’t take any part of this for granted. Thank you again for embracing these stories. I appreciate it very much! Zoë xx

The Proxy Bride

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The Proxy Bride book out today…

Today’s the day! The Proxy Bride has arrived and is in book shops! Kind of incredible to be holding it in my hands. For many decades the term, ‘proxy bride’ has been whispered, rarely spoken of, let alone written about – a long-hidden part of our history. It’s unlikely we’ll see Italian-Australian proxy marriages again and I wanted to write about them because these women especially were remarkably brave and their stories deserve more than a whisper.

It was actually Nonno Anni who set me to writing this book. When I was talking to him about his life for, Joe’s Fruit Shop and Milk Bar, by chance he mentioned that during WW2 in Australia when he and other Italians got sent to internment camps, the wives and children suddenly left alone on the farms did it very tough and almost starved. But a group of them banded together, he told me, and kept their farms going. That struck and I knew I’d return one day to write about it.

When I learned some of these women were proxy brides, it opened up even more to the story. Of course, this is just one part of, The Proxy Bride. There’s much more including some laughs, cooking, music inspired by Nanna Francesca’s 1950s stereogram, secrets and quite a few Italian brands and traditions you may recognise! I hope you enjoy reading it.❤️🍝🎶 Zoë x

Available today in paperback and ebook in book shops, department stores and online. (Will let you know when there is audio book news.) Thanks to all those at HQ Fiction and HarperCollins who helped bring this about and to you for your lovely ongoing support for all my books. So very much appreciated! Zoë xx

Click for booksellers…

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On the kitchen table today… rose e limoni

On the kitchen table today… roses and lemons from a friend’s garden. (With glorious fresh, crisp and sweet musky scents!) The vase came from Nanna Francesca’s ‘good cabinet’ and was a bonbonniere from a 1970s or 80s Italian wedding. (Some will remember those!) It’s fairly solid – perfect for carrying home after at least nine hours of wedding celebrating! Have a lovely day. 😊 Zoe xx

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Friday night feast…

When feeding a few on a Friday night means pizza, pane cipolle and a pan of spaghetti! (And some salad. 👀😄) All pretty rustic, especially with a temperamental oven on its last legs, but the entire house has some delicious cooking scents and everyone seems to be smiling. (Credit and un grande grazie to Roger for his part in cooking too!) Buon fine settimana a tutti! Zoë xx  😊💛🍕🍝

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Coming soon…

Just under a month until, The Proxy Bride arrives on 7 September. With it being on the way for a little while now and drawing nearer, the time feels somewhat like the time it took for the ship journey from Italy to Australia. Such a journey of anticipation, fear and excitement for so many migrants but perhaps even more so for the women, the proxy brides, destined to meet husbands, many of them, for the first time. It makes me feel even more admiration for these courageous women who took that journey on what were called ‘bride ships’.

I must admit to feeling a bit of trepidation myself as the book date approaches while at the same time looking forward to sharing it with you. Thank you to so many of you who have been steadfast in the years of my researching and writing to share these stories, it is truly wonderful to have you here in this little corner of the world and I love how you share your own sentiments and stories here too.

You may notice here that the book also includes a dozen recipes. I didn’t plan this but then, considering there is a fair but of cooking and eating along the way in this story (and it’s such a part of Italian life!) it seemed right to include them. I think the names of just a few might start to reveal a little more of the book… ‘Angry Spaghetti’, ‘Mixed Grill’ and ‘Crostoli in Cioccolato’, recipes passed down, connecting different generations, countries and stories, sometimes with a bit of an unexpected twist too… Zoe x

More about The Proxy Bride

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Roasted spaghetti squash…

Spaghetti squash… a sunny winter vegetable. It grows on a vine like pumpkin and has yellow, star-shaped blossoms that only open for one day. Love how, once tender, you can gently fork the strands from the sides to create spaghetti in its own bowl.

I never encountered spaghetti squash when growing up. And when it came to spaghetti pasta, when I was a child in the 1970s, at home we mostly had fettucine not spaghetti. Going to Australian friends’ houses I envied how they had spaghetti and added bolognaise sauce on top. I felt self-conscious that at my house we had fettucine with my grandparents’ homemade passata mixed all through and twirled it onto a fork. I’d get tied up in knots about doing anything ‘different’ and not fitting in.

Now I think it’s wonderful that Australia having migrants from more than two hundred countries also means people cooking and sharing more than two hundred traditional cuisines and that’s as well as our First Australians’ rich culture of food and cooking. It’s said that different groups often come to be accepted when their food becomes known, enjoyed and sought after. To think, once spaghetti was so strange and foreign to some and now it’s such a beloved dish in all its forms. Hopefully there are now kids with Italian ancestry happily twirling their spaghetti in front of their friends and even teaching them to do so too. Maybe even with spaghetti squash! Zoë x 💛🍝

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Winter circles…

Winter circles… kitchen, garden, lovely moon and of course, coffee (thanks to Roger’s barista skills!) It’s the best time for my favourite type of slow and oven cooking and the dishes pictured include (top right) ricotta gnocchi baked in the pan and (bottom left) a serpente of mushrooms and wild greens (but the snake got away on me a bit!)

I wish I had a fireplace as flames are such a lovely part of winter but instead must be content with this beeswax candle – though I have to say it does smell delicious. And for those who saw my last post, the first mandarin (pictured) from the tree actually was very delicious, and perfect, perhaps even more so because I could go out and pick it from the backyard!

Hope you’re keeping warm and carrying on cooking and getting out into the garden, park or patio, even if to just be in the sun and crisp air for a bit, or to see the winter moon. Zoe x

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Mandarini e rosmarino…

The shortest day of the year and the garden’s winter light seems crisper, a dryness to the cool air. As I get older, I realise more and more my gardening is taking on aspects of the Nonnos and Nonnas among us, as if by osmosis… checking each day, touching the plant leaves, saving seeds, happiness at seeing healthy worms in the freshly turned over soil. Perhaps one day I’ll even start planting by the moon like many Italian gardeners do, instead of plonking plants in and hoping for the best.

Mandarins and rosemary are reigning in the vegie patch at present. I’m soon to pick my first mandarin for the season and each day keenly check their growing blush of orange. Meanwhile, the rosemary is like a forest and as well as using it in cooking, I’m starting to put rosemary wands in flower vases and love their scent when I touch them while going past.

There’s an Italian saying… where rosemary bushes grow large and bloom, the woman rules the house. I’m not sure about that, although it might make Roger laugh, I’m sure! But I do love how it makes me think of Nanna Francesca’s rosemary shrub and how my Mum grew it too. They were both strong yet gentle as needed be, forte e gentile, and if those qualities rule a house, then so be it. Happy winter solstice! Zoe xx

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Vegie patch flowers…

It’s usually feast or famine in my garden and while I’ve always wanted to be one of those people who have lots of magnificent flowers growing, it seems they never bloom much and then move on to the next life. As winter draws near and the garden is changing with the seasons, I’ve realised that over the spring and summer, I do have many flowers in the garden, it’s just that they usually end up turning into food!

They mightn’t be as big or spectacular as other flowers but they are very giving, both to us and the different wildlife that visit, so I do feel pretty grateful to have had these lovelies in the vegie patch over the warmest months. And they’ve been the start of what would later be picked to became part of many dishes that have ended up on the kitchen table!

Here’s just a few… Flowers from top left to right: eggplant (looks like a bunch of bananas in the middle!), lettuce, nasturtiums, tomato, mandarin, chilli, pumpkin, coffee and turmeric. (Sounds more like a pantry!) And last but definitely not least, very thankful for the bees and other insects that come to do their magic. 💛🐝

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From one hand to another…

I’m so thrilled that, Joe’s Fruit Shop and Milk Bar has now been translated and published in braille. In a way, the story is completing a lovely circle in travelling from my mind to be written by hand then to be read by hand and to another mind.

Thank you to all those at Braille House who made this possible. It really feels very special! 💙 Zoe xx

[Image descriptions: Image 1: blue book cover with braille along the spine and a black and white photo of Joe and Francesca and their little boy, Remo in front of their 1950s milk bar.
Image 2: a braille alphabet.]

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Epiphany, la Befana and pizze fritte…

January 6th – Epiphany and the visit of la Befana, the wise men and women and marking the end of 12 days of Christmas. Whatever your beliefs, ‘epiphany’ is a lovely word with connotations of insight, discovery and a sudden understanding of something that is very important to you.

Am pleased to say that la Befana brought my nephew some little toys rather than coal last night and also that she managed to find her way from Italy to Australia!

In another Italian tradition… after learning about Abruzzese pizze fritte – its song and secret recipe handed down from mother-to-daughter (and sometimes son), but only on New Year’s Eve – Roger and I decided to end the year by cooking these.

Except, not knowing all of the secret recipe that contains anise and saffron, we decided to make our own version with toppings of basil pesto and crispy prosciutto, bufala di mozzarella, melanzane, tomato and basilico leaves from the garden. The fritte were also cooked in a wok and finished in the oven, which worked well, but isn’t quite traditional! Yet they were delicious and I loved thinking about their connection with Abruzzo.

Wise women and men arrive on Epiphany. Fresco painted in 1303 by Giotto and his team of painters, Scrovegni Chapel, Padua, Veneto Italy.

And thinking about this today, I guess I had an epiphany of sorts that it doesn’t matter if something sometimes isn’t ‘perfectly traditional’. The fact I’ve grown up on the other side of the world from the Italy of my ancestors and still treasure the centuries-old traditions and recipes is still expressing a love and honour for them, the past and Italia. If it otherwise means not following a tradition at all because it’s too hard or the recipe is lost, perhaps it’s okay to adapt them at times. For that becomes part of our history too, all of us adapting here and there along the way over the years, while still understanding what is important overall. Tanti auguri di felicità per l’Epifania! Many wishes of happiness for Epiphany! xxx

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Spring garden and severe storms…

My vegie patch has been going well this spring – I’ve counted 36 tomatoes on the plants so far – and also coming along well is the corn (my first try growing it) and there’s eggplant, pumpkin, figs, plenty of pawpaws, lots of different herbs, nasturtiums, daisies and sunflowers on their way for the bees.

Unfortunately, there are also severe storms predicted and after the tomatoes copped some hail on Sunday, this morning I decided it safest to cover up the vegie patch with netting as best I could, being a short person! (I was also perhaps channelling Nonno Anni and his enthusiastic netting that he used to do for his fig trees! That said, hopefully the tent pegs and clothes pegs I’ve got holding it all in place do work.)

Really hoping the severity of the storms forecast doesn’t eventuate so that not just the garden but people and animals stay safe too. I’ve used this fine, white netting that is best for protection from hail as well as hungry visitors. (The other netting pictured that is black with larger holes is not very effective and it’s cruel as birds and flying foxes can’t see it as well and also get caught up in it and break their wings.)

I also wanted to say congratulations to everyone in Melbourne and thank you for your forbearance! Well done!! You’ve stayed in my thoughts and am so pleased for you all. Enjoy coming out of lockdown! As the Nonnas would say, Sempre avanti. Zoë xx

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Carnations, kindness and minestrone…

Thank you to great-granny Maddalena who showed me about forbearance, cheekiness, growing vegetables and cooking minestrone and great-grandma Charlotte for her work ethic, kindness, growing gerberas and carnations and baking scones.

I’m forever grateful to have had two great-grandmothers in my childhood from two of my ancestral cultures and many older women who’ve guided me with their wisdoms and care throughout my life so far.

To all those kind, strong, gentle women out there and the men who support them – happy International Women’s Day. Zoë xx

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Milk Bar… open 7 days

Thinking of all those volunteering and working over this time when many get to take a break. It still amazes me how my grandparents opened their milk bar and fruit shop 7 days a week from early morning ‘til late at night with only two days a year off – for 20 years straight! And then ‘scaled back’ to 5 days a week for the following years.

Nonno Anni worked for 36 years before his first holiday and Nanna Francesca wasn’t far behind. It makes me feel blessed and so grateful to write for a living, something I dreamed of from when I was 7 and found out the stories that I loved writing could actually be a job.

Thank you for your lovely comments and messages throughout the year. It is always wonderful to hear from you. Fingers crossed I have some book news I can share with you in 2020! In the meantime, whether you are working, volunteering or taking time out over this time, please stay safe and all the very best for the coming year. Tante belle cose! Zoë xx

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Small moments of beauty

Granny Maddalena harvesting from her vegie garden before going inside to cook for all the family. Sometimes it’s the simplest things…

#worldkindessday

 

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the “good” cabinet….

The “good” cabinet – filled with items only to be used for special guests, certainly never for family. These were Nanna Francesca’s modest, glass-fronted cabinets of hi-ball glasses, espresso cups, coffee pots and bonbonniere of figurines and sugared almonds (left) in the late 60s and (right) in the early 70s with me, Mum and Nanna Francesca (same Christmas tree).

By then, my grandparents had an additional “good” cabinet and covered the VJ walls of their Queenslander house in fibro sheets painted with white, high-gloss for a “fresh, clean look” (p.6 Mezza Italiana).

And yes, this was the era of the plastic hallway runner over the carpet. What I’d give to be able to see it all again! The cabinets themselves were lost in Brisbane’s 2011 flood but below right are some items from them I managed to salvage beforehand (they don’t look Italian at all?!!) haha. And the same clock now sits in my living room. Something nice about seeing it each day knowing it was in my grandparents’ living room all those years.

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from Abruzzo to Australia…

Joe’s Fruit Shop and Milk Bar continues each weeknight on ABC Nightlife – thank you to all who’ve sent messages upon discovering the book – lovely to hear from you!

By chance, I came across this photograph when looking for something else for the next book and realised it might be the only one to show the family unit of Maddalena and Vitale and their two sons Elia (left) and Annibale/Joe (right) taken not long after they were reunited in Australia.

Financial hardship, separate migration, the Depression and WW2 forced Vitale and Maddalena apart for all but about three of their first 26 years of marriage, the boys without their father, and then Maddalena and Annibale apart for a decade after he migrated at 15. So lovely to see them reunited here. They remained close for the rest of their lives in Australia with Maddalena and Vitale even living with Annibale and his family for many years.

 

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a little bit of mezza Italiana/Australiana…

Came across this little bit of ‘mezza Italiana/Australiana’ at the beach on the weekend… a surf rescue boat emblazoned with the word, Arancia (orange). I realise it’s a NZ brand name but for some reason it just felt great to see this Italian word on something such a part of Australian life in beach and flood rescues.

Recently, I heard a radio discussion about foreign languages currently taught in Australian schools. Of the six languages most commonly learnt, apparently Japanese is the most popular followed by Italian, Indonesian, French, German and Mandarin, each being classified as business or heritage. They said, Italian is a heritage language taught due to the contribution of its large migrant community and their descendants over the past century or more. Pretty lovely to hear.

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Old pictures and pikelets…

Nanna Francesca’s birth date is today, the 12th, though her birth certificate states February 19th due to its delayed lodging as her parents fought over naming her after their mothers. Tradition prevailed. She was named for her paternal Nonna in possibly the only argument won by the usually quiet, laid-back, Domenico over my grandmother’s maternal side, the indomitable Carrozza women (short, stout and strong).

This photograph was taken on Nanna Francesca’s birthday 40 years ago at my parents’ Red Hill house. It was the era when I’d often stay over at my grandparents’ place and Nanna Francesca took me to the ‘pictures’, as she called it, and afterwards lunch at the Coles cafeteria where I mostly had hot chips in a cardboard cup then pikelets. Of course, being a kid, I took it all for granted then, but am so grateful now to look back on those times and for the time she gave me.
Buon compleanno, Nanna Francesca. xxx

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Christmas shopping…

Christmas shoppingCouldn’t resist taking a quick picture of these Italian products I saw as part of a Christmas display in the general supermarket of a country town in Australia. And both northern and southern Italy represented!

There was once a time when it was unusual to see even a panettone in the supermarket of an Australian capital city let alone a smaller town. So lovely how food can quietly keep on bringing different cultures together!

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Mini ‘tomato day’…

mini tomato dayWhen I came across cherry tomatoes selling cheap a little while back, I couldn’t resist. This was my mini ‘tomato day’, well, couple of hours, not with all the family but just me, and not to make passata but to make ‘sun-dried’ cherry tomatoes.

A little olive oil and smoked salt, a couple of hours in a very slow oven and once cooled they were ready to put into jars drizzled in more olive oil to preserve them (not that they lasted too long!)

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Italian Australian Easter…

Brisbane News articleWith Easter coming up, I was asked about my Italian family’s gatherings for part of an article in the latest issue of Brisbane News. In the photograph, I have in front of me a Colomba di Pasqua, an Easter dove cake similar to the Italian Christmas panettone.

I also fondly recall Nanna Francesca making Pane di Pasqua, Easter bread, with whole eggs in their shells tucked among the plaited dough (the eggs became like hardboiled as the dough baked).

By the way, to the left in the photo is her Sunflower coffee set, which I treasure. It is now almost 70 years old!
Buona Pasqua!

 

{Click on article for a larger version.}

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Backyard harvest…

grape harvestFrom the Isabella vine that grows over the pergola, some of the grapes harvested this year (in one of Nanna Francesca’s salad bowls circa 1960s/70s.) Each year the grapevine yields enough to make about half a dozen bottles of wine…a modest, homemade vintage but a tiny bit of Italy in an Australian suburban backyard.

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‘Sali e Tabacchi’…

sali e tabacchiThis sign might be familiar to those who have bought a bus or lottery ticket, tobacco or, until recent years, salt in Italy. Yes, the traditional ‘Sali e Tabacchi’ or ‘Salt and Tobacco’ shop was for a long time the only place to buy salt while it remained a monopoly of the state, (a nod perhaps to ancient times when salt was worth as much as gold!)

However, we took this photo in Australia, not Italy, after spotting the sign hidden along a Melbourne laneway. Another little bit of Italy in the hearts of those in Australia. Looking forward to heading back to Melbourne again in March!

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the old macaroni factory…

Macaroni factoryThe Lucini macaroni factory (circa 1859) is said to be the oldest building in Australia built by Italian-Australians. There are 150-year-old frescoes inside that unfortunately remained hidden as it was closed the day we came by. Sitting in the main street of Hepburn Springs in Victoria, the building was also the location for Jan Sardi’s film, Love’s Brother, about two Italian brothers in Australia and a proxy marriage to a girl in Italy.
Macaroni factory 2

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Homemade arancini with ragù alla Bolognese…

homemade aranciniIt is claimed that arancini originated in Sicily as far back as the 10th century. The balls of rice with various fillings are shaped, crumbed and fried, resembling an orange – the Italian for orange being arancia. (Rice cooked the day before and cooled in the fridge works best.) In Messina, they can be more cone shaped, while in Naples they are pall’e riso (rice balls) apparently. I think ours (made 11 centuries later in Australia!) ended up being influenced a little by both cities.

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Maremma sheepdogs and penguins…

Abruzzo postcard picturing Maremma SheepdogThe Maremma Sheepdog is indigenous to central Italy, particularly Abruzzo and the Maremma area in Tuscany and Lazio, and has been used for centuries by Italian shepherds to guard sheep from wolves.

Recently I discovered a project in Australia where Maremma Sheepdogs are protecting a penguin colony almost decimated by foxes, and under their protection the penguins are increasing in numbers. {The dogs also guard free-range chickens.} A little mezza italiana/ australiana perhaps.

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Coffee beans drying in the sun…

Next step in the coffee process – the beans (or seeds) from inside the coffee cherries have been washed and are now drying.

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Roasted chestnuts….

Autumn means chestnuts, castagne and I always think of my Italian grandfather, Nonno Anni whenever we roast them. In the Abruzzo in the 1930s, Nonno Anni harvested chestnuts beneath Gran Sasso, later taking them to turn to flour at the stone mill with the wooden water wheel on the canal below his village of Fossa.

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