Tag Archives: Italian migrant stories

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. Quite easy to cook – cut in half, spoon out the seeds, sprinkle over olive oil and salt (smoked salt adds extra flavour) and half an hour in the oven. Once tender, gently fork the strands from the sides to create spaghetti in its own bowl. I mixed in butter and Parmigiano but basil pesto, ragù, anything that goes with spaghetti or noodles would suit.

I never encountered spaghetti squash when growing up. I wonder what Nanna Francesca would’ve thought of it. 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 in an ‘exotic’ way added bolognaise sauce on top – sometimes made with table tomato sauce, the type usually put on a hamburger! I felt so 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. There’s even more if you take in regional dishes within cultures. 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  💛🍝

4 Comments

Filed under dishes + recipes, kitchen stories

The Proxy Bride – new book coming

Four months until, The Proxy Bride is out and the lovely book cover has landed at my desk. It’s always interesting to see what the publisher creates for a cover and even though this is book three, each time it still feels astonishing to see my name on the front!

For this book it’s been an honour to write about a part of our hidden history – the courageous women who married by proxy and travelled to the other side of the world to husbands they’d mostly never met. And also of the Italian wives left behind on farms in Australia after their husbands were interned during WW2 and how these women banded together to survive against tough odds and much hostility towards them at the time.

Not least, it’s also about Nonnas and granddaughters in the 1980s when those stories and secrets from the past began to emerge and cultures clashed along with old Italian traditions and Australian life. Of course, while it’s a novel, so much of this book is inspired by true happenings, family stories and even a bit of my own experience as a teenager in the ’80s. Looking forward to sharing it with you! Zoë xx

8 Comments

Filed under books + writing

Next book out in September…

HarperCollins have released the blurb about the next book! The Proxy Bride will be out on 7th September and I can’t wait to share it with you. ❤️

“In 1939, Giacinta sets sail from Italy to Australia. Decades later, a granddaughter discovers the true story of her family… A stunningly crafted novel of family, secrets and facing adversity.

Imagine marrying someone you’ve never met …

When Sofie comes to stay with her grandmother in Stanthorpe, she knows little of Nonna Gia’s past. In the heat of that 1984 summer, the two clash over Gia’s strict Italian ways and superstitions, her chilli-laden spaghetti and the evasive silence surrounding Sofie’s father, who died before she was born. Then Sofie learns Gia had an arranged marriage. From there, the past begins to reveal why no-one will talk of her father.

As Nonna Gia cooks, furtively adding a little more chilli each time, she also begins feeding Sofie her stories. How she came to Australia on a ‘bride ship’, among many proxy brides, knowing little about the husbands they had married from afar, most arriving to find someone much different than described.

Then, as World War II takes over the nation, and in the face of the growing animosity towards Italians that sees their husbands interned, Gia and her friends are left alone. Impoverished. Desperate. To keep their farms going, their only hope is banding together, along with Edie, a reclusive artist on the neighbouring farm and two Women’s Land Army workers. But the venture is made near-impossible by the hatred towards the women held by the local publican and an illicit love between Gia and an Australian, Keith.

The summer burns on and the truth that unfolds is nothing like what Sofie expected …

The author of Mezza Italiana brings to life a unique point of migrant women’s untold experience, in a resonant novel of family, food and love.”

The Proxy Bride…

4 Comments

Filed under books + writing

Art, another year… and coffee

Verso buoni finali e buoni inizi! To good endings and good beginnings (and good coffee too!) What a time it is at present. “Mamma mia!” as Nanna Francesca would say, while Nonno Anni would likely raise his hands, palms up, as if all we can do is get on with it as best we can.
And so we do.

I’ve been back at my desk a week and Roger is back at work too so I no longer have my ‘personal barista’ in the house. Those who know, Mezza Italiana, may recall that on his first trip to Italy, Roger didn’t drink coffee and wouldn’t even go into a café with me, until he came to fall in love with all that is Italian, right up to growing and roasting coffee beans and even doing a barista course!

He’s never learnt coffee art but over our Christmas ‘holiday at home’ I asked if he wanted to try to create a different picture on our coffees each day and he happily gave it a go. Some are great, some maybe a little iffy, but that’s life really, a bit different each day and for the most part you sort of know what you’re going to get, but not truly and then there is the unexpected.

Auguri per l’anno and thank you for joining me here again. I can’t wait to share the next book with you later this year! Zoe xx

PS. I think my favourite might be ‘Aladdin’s lamp’.

Leave a comment

Filed under art + photographs, italy, kitchen stories

A place to meet, share food and stories…

Forty years ago today, the Brisbane ANFE Italian Club opened its premises in Wyandra Street, Teneriffe, built on the same spot Nonno Anni and Nanna Francesca bought their first house in 1947 (pictured top left and on Mezza Italiana). Yesterday, ANFE celebrated the occasion and as I gazed around the club building it felt poignant, for I couldn’t help thinking of how my grandparents put so much of their time, finances and their hearts into this place and that this time next year, the building would be demolished.

I recalled Nanna Francesca in the kitchen cooking with the other lovely volunteers, Nonno Anni running fund-raising dinner dances for several hundred people, working the bar and waiting tables with others and, when no one else was around, vacuuming the huge floor area or cleaning toilets among the myriad humble jobs he did for the club, despite being its president. He was a driving force in getting this building for ANFE built with both steadfast support from many and at times in the face of indifference from some.

The Brisbane part of the organisation had verged on closing when he took over in 1972 as president, (a position he’d be annually re-elected into every year until his death in 2006). He strongly believed local Italian migrants needed ANFE to continue and found the block of land where he’d once lived in Wyandra Street and even helped build the actual building, along with his brother and other volunteers. (The photo Nanna Francesca took of him unloading bricks from his ute alone on a Sunday perhaps says it all!)

I love how proud he looks among the other ANFE members when the building was officially opened by Brisbane’s mayor, Frank Sleeman 40 years ago (Nonno Anni holding plaque, standing tall, centre) and decades later, the happiness on his face when he (kneeling front) and other members gathered for another photo – it’s almost like, “we did it”. All those decades of voluntary work, events and fundraisers had kept the club going.

For forty years the building has stood, solid, strong, however, it’s been sold and while ANFE will move, like the timber houses that once made way for it and other commercial premises, this building so hard-won and built by volunteers will be demolished, to be built over by a high-rise apartment building, another among dozens now dominating the area. I admit it’s with sadness I write this, as again, another small part of Brisbane’s history will be razed.

I didn’t always understand my grandparents’ connection and drive for ANFE – it was mostly a different part of their lives when I was off busy in my own. Yet I’ve come to be so proud of what they and other like-minded ANFE volunteers achieved. Just recently, I learned about a group of migrants from Afghanistan, some of whom run a modest café with a kitchen garden out the back. While they are now Australian citizens, as they learn English and adjust to a new culture, this back garden offers a place to meet, share food and stories of their struggles and triumphs, keeping some of their birth culture while embracing a new life in Australia. In way, just like ANFE was for Italians all those decades ago.

7 Comments

Filed under inspiration + history

Sneak peek… next book

The Proxy Bride is a novel inspired by true stories and set between the 1940s and the 1980s in Italy and Australia. There will be angry spaghetti, mixed grills, mixed tapes, Dean Martin on the 1950s stereogram and plastic on the lounge suite and, above all, hopefully characters you may come to love who band together amid tough times for a new life.

To be released 7 September, 2022…

The plaited chillies hanging in the kitchen are on their way!
Buona settimana!  💛🍝 Zoe x

About The Proxy Bride…

8 Comments

Filed under books + writing

Four generations…

I have this one treasured photo with three generations of the Boccabella men in my life – Dad, Nonno Anni, Bisnonno Vitale (and my zio).

When I was born, I was the first girl in centuries of generations in my Boccabella line and very fortunate to have these older men around me. Men who showed me kindness, love, respect and generosity, who never hit or yelled, worked very hard and who could also be infuriatingly stubborn at times! Am very proud to share their name and their stories.

Happy Father’s Day to all the Dads and tight hugs to those missing Dads (and also Grandpas and Great-Granddads as I do too). With much love, Zoë xx

8 Comments

Filed under inspiration + history

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.]

Leave a comment

Filed under books + writing

Polpette and peas in gravy…

Polpette and peas in gravy, such an ‘Australitaliano’ combination – meatballs and peas in tomato sauce. Comfort food at its best. Nanna Francesca cooked this a lot (and when I was a kid, I found it a bit confusing that, being southern Italian, she called the tomato passata or sugo – ‘gravy’ considering my Australian Mum called gravy a deep-brown liquid accompanying a roast). Nanna Francesca would’ve been 95 today so it seems fitting to cook her polpette e piselli in gravy. We always celebrated her birthday on the 12th, the day she was born though the official date on her birth certificate was the 19th (lodged late as her parents argued who to name her after). Tradition won, as did her father, and being the first-born, Francesca was named after her paternal grandmother.

This photograph of Nanna Francesca isn’t the clearest unfortunately, but she just looks so natural and happy in it, I couldn’t go past it. It’s from the 1960s and I love how the flowers she holds look like they’re from a garden rather than bought. It seemed all her life she worked so hard – at the farm, at home, in the fruit shop and milk bar, at the ANFE club and always looking after family. And she spent many hours at the stove cooking for four generations of us. It’s lovely to see her dressed to go out and given some flowers.

While it’s almost twenty years she’s been gone, I feel lucky to have had her in my life for the time I did and of course, the memory of our loved ones lives on, especially when we cook the dishes they cooked. (I’ve included the recipe that was printed in Delicious magazine and yes, the dish they made for the article photo is much more elegant than my at home version you see pictured here!)

Buon compleanno a mia Nonna, with love and recognition for all your love and hard work – and your polpette and peas in gravy! xx

Leave a comment

Filed under kitchen stories

Rich blue skies in the Apennines…

View from Fossa.

The torre, Fossa’s oldest structure dating back to the 12th century.

I can’t quite believe it’s twenty-five years since the first time I went to Italy… And those who know Mezza Italiana know that, for me, going to see where my family came from was a trip I took with some trepidation and mixed feelings, and yet it turned out to be incredibly life-changing. Little did I know then, I’d one day write a book about it and that the best thing about that would be connecting with so many of you and discovering how you shared either similar experiences about your ancestry and/or a love for Italy. It still amazes me to think that trip became the start of Mezza Italiana, especially as I wrote about something that I’d kept so close inside for my whole life until then.

Monastery on the outskirts of Fossa… Il Convento di Sant’ Angelo d’Ocre, founded in the 13th century.

Rich blue skies in the middle of the day.

Being twenty-five years on, I decided to dig out the photos I took on that first trip to Fossa in Abruzzo. (Some of them certainly look like they’re that old now!) I also had a modest Pentax camera that took rolls of film so some photos mightn’t be the best or as many as I’d take now on a phone camera, considering the cost to get rolls of films developed on a backpacker’s budget then! Still, it’s lovely to look back, especially to see Nanna Francesca and Nonno Anni next to me on the front steps the day I arrived as well as beautiful Fossa when there was no hint of the earthquake to come more than a decade later. And I still can’t get over the rich blueness of the sky some days up there in the Apennine Mountains! No filters or tricks on these photos, just nature at its most exquisite. Thank you for taking the Mezza Italiana journey with me and for sharing your stories too. Grazie infinite cari amici! Zoe xx

Early morning mist over the mountain with the romance of chimneys, terracotta roofs… and a quite tall tv antenna. 👀

Fossa at dusk. Almost timeless.

 

 

 

 

More photos here

 

2 Comments

Filed under inspiration + history, italy

At the end of the year…

“On Boxing Day, Annibale, Francesca and the others loaded the back of the Chevrolet with cold drinks, some roast chickens and a couple of large watermelons. After several years of keeping the fruit shop and milk bar open almost every day, Annibale had decided they’d close for a couple of days over Christmas and the family would head to the beach for the day…

They chose a grassy spot in the stippled shade of a Norfolk Pine and set out the Esky on top of an old canvas tarpaulin. Maddalena and Vitale sat on fold-out chairs in the shade while everyone else headed for the beach. The sand was rough with bits of broken shell underfoot but it was a perfect day for the seaside, warm, with little wind, sunlight glinting on the water. Francesca hadn’t stood on a beach since her childhood in Palmi. Just the sound of the gentle waves breaking in little bubbly ripples around her feet brought a smile. None of them could swim but they only went in waist-deep, crouching and talking, ducking under at times to cool their heads.

At noon, Maddalena waved everyone in, and they traipsed up the beach for lunch. Towels wrapped about their waists, they sat on the edge of the tarpaulin, feet caked with wet sand sticking out onto the grass. Everyone devoured pieces of roast chicken, licking salt and grease from their fingers, before biting into slices of watermelon, the sugary juice flooding their mouths. Remo and a few of the young migrants who’d come with them competed in how far they could shoot black seeds from between their lips onto the grass.

After lunch, while the others went to get an ice cream or for another dip in the sea, Annibale lay back on the tarp snoozing, one arm flung over his eyes. The waves slapped with calming monotony. Children shrieked in their games along the sand. Seagulls strolled, squabbled and scooped water into their beaks at the water’s edge. With a chuckle, Francesca took a photo as Annibale dozed, unaware. Then she sat down next to him, watching Remo and Lorenzo building a sandcastle with a moat. There was no way the incoming tide would fill it until they’d long gone back to Brisbane. Francesca felt so happy being at a beach again she didn’t want it to end.”

From, Joe’s Fruit Shop and Milk Bar.

(Nonno Anni at Suttons Beach, Redcliffe.)

Like so many migrants running their own businesses, for years, my grandparents worked every day, including nights and weekends to keep their fruit shop and milk bar open from 7am to 11pm, and after several years of no holidays at all, only had a one-day holiday at the beach each year for decades. I will forever be inspired by their work ethic and have so much respect for all those migrants working hard in the same situation today. Grazie con molto rispetto. Zoë xx

2 Comments

Filed under inspiration + history

Two dishes, from two regions and two bisnonne… Abruzzo and Calabria

When we cook the same dishes that our ancestors cooked it connects us to them, to our history and it also brings us back to something within ourselves that we mightn’t have thought of for some time or something we hadn’t yet discovered. Just the aroma of a dish cooking can release a trigger of deep memories that lets things rise up and take shape in us.

I grew up in Australia, far from where my great-grandmothers, Maddalena and Francesca lived in Italy. And yet, here I am, almost a century on, cooking the same dishes they cooked, a lovely connection to these two strong women. The dishes are maccheroni Calabrese (knitting needle pasta) and pasta alla chitarra (guitar pasta) made on a ‘chitarra box’ I got from Abruzzo. I sought to make sauces that reflected their history too. The maccheroni Calabrese (pasta rolled on a knitting needle for its shape) has a richer red sauce with melanzane and chillies that Francesca’s town of Palmi is known for. And the chitarra pasta has bitter, wild greens added to the passata, inspired by Maddalena walking hillsides near Fossa picking wild greens into her upturned apron and taking them back to cook with. It also has pecorino cheese on top because that part of Abruzzo is known for its sheep.

These dishes (pictured) are from my kitchen so they are a little rustic (as are their photos!) and mightn’t live up to those cooked by my bisnonne, but they made me feel happy and reminded me of those before and sometimes maybe that’s all we need when it comes to cooking.
Hope your next time cooking is delicious and joyful! Zoë xx

4 Comments

Filed under dishes + recipes

Bisnonna Francesca in her orchards, early 1950s…

I never usually know what ‘international day’ it is but happened to see that today it’s in honour of rural women, so thought I’d share with you this rare photo of my great-grandmother taken of her alone.

For much of her life she worked on their fruit farm at Applethorpe, also keeping it going for a time with her young children after her husband suddenly died aged 54. I believe the only holiday she ever really had was on the ship journey she took from Italy to Australia in 1934. She was a hard worker, determined, a loyal wife and raised three children. Sadly, she was also to die young at just 50, only a couple of years after her husband.

I love that in this picture it appears like a shaft of light is falling across her. I also love that this is the only one of her in bare feet. xxx

2 Comments

Filed under inspiration + history

Some book news…

So pleased I can share with you that Mezza Italiana is going to be broadcast on ABC radio’s, Nightlife from early December and into January. The audio book is voiced by actor and voice-over artist, Marcella Russo, who was fantastic to work with. I also recently found out that, Joe’s Fruit Shop and Milk Bar is to be translated into braille, which is a wonderful surprise. A few years back, I had the opportunity to do a literary talk at a luncheon at NSW Parliament House to support the Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children and I’m really thrilled that this translation has come about.

In other book news I’m gradually coming toward the end of what has been a massive project of writing two books back-to-back including a lot of research over the past few years. I’m not yet sure what effect the current pandemic situation is going to have on this and to be honest it does feel a bit overwhelming and uncertain to be in the arts at present, but when the time comes that I have more news I can share with you, I will do so straightaway! In the meantime, I hope you are well, especially those who have been enduring longer lockdowns than others. My heart and thoughts stay with you and am wishing you hope, more fortitude and some light in your day, even if it is something as small and special as a bird popping by the window. In bocca al lupo. Zoe xx

8 Comments

Filed under books + writing

Don’t know what it is, but just like seeing the sign, “spectacle maker” so much more than “optometrist”.

{And the café next door run by Abruzzese Italians has brilliant coffee.}

Castlemaine, Victoria.

Leave a comment

Filed under inspiration + history

Mezza Italiana released in the US!

Mezza Italiana has been released in paperback in the US! With many thanks to HarperCollins 360, Mezza is now available at US bookstores, online or to order in.

So lovely and incredible to think this book that was first written on a kitchen table in Italy has made its way across another ocean! Thank you for embracing it!

Tante belle cose, Zoë xx

 

 

 

 

Mezza Italiana

 

6 Comments

Filed under books + writing

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.

 

2 Comments

Filed under italy

My Nonni from Abruzzo….

Life in Abruzzo is currently doing a series called, My Nonni from Abruzzo that looks at how such migrant heritage may reach well beyond its original Italian borders to other areas of the world through the influence of grandparents. Such a pleasure to be asked to contribute and be among these family stories.

If you’d like to read the article you may do so here…   My Nonni from Abruzzo 

4 Comments

Filed under italy

From that first trip to Fossa…

With Nanna Francesca and Nonno Anni outside the family house in Fossa when I arrived there for the first time all those years ago (bearing in mind by then I’d been travelling and living out of a backpack for several months!!)

Little did I know how much this first trip to see where in Italy my family came from would come to have such an effect, and when this was taken I certainly didn’t imagine that Mezza and Joe’s would follow. Have just completed work on the next book (fingers crossed!) and wanted to take this opportunity to thank you for joining me here along the way. It’s so lovely to have your support and to know you a little through your messages. Thank you!! Xx

8 Comments

Filed under books + writing, italy

via dei Beati… and being almost home

Coming up this street in Fossa always feels like being ‘almost home’ whether returning from nearby L’Aquila or a long flight from Australia. For just around the next corner is my family’s house and while it has centuries of history, to me it also has that comforting feel like coming to stay at your grandparents’ house.

In recent years, this street was renamed via dei Beati for two saints born here, Bernardino in 1420 and Cesidio, 1873. But for me, this is also where Granny Maddalena stood not far from the church door you can see and watched her son, Annibale, then 15, walk away from her as he carried just one port to start his journey to Australia. It changed the course of our family history from then on, but his keeping a part of Fossa in his heart to one day share with us showed me that in a way it was part of us too. (For which, after resisting it a long time, I’m now very grateful!)

2 Comments

Filed under inspiration + history, italy

Italian Christmas treats…

CaggionettiCaggionetti/calcionetti are traditional Italian Christmas treats particularly popular in Abruzzo (where my Granny Maddalena made them). They have a filling of almonds, walnuts, chocolate, chickpeas, lemon zest, cinnamon and honey enclosed in paper-thin ravioli casings fried in white wine and olive oil then cooled and dusted with icing sugar.

Perfect for eating in front of a fire with nighttime snow falling outside… far from the heat and humidity that Brisbane promises for me this Christmas….

Merry Christmas! Buon Natale!

{Photo courtesy of Gabriella of Teramo, Abruzzo}
Find her recipe and step-by-step photographs here… http://ilrifugiodigabry.blogspot.com.au/2011/12/calcionetti.html

 

And also… Oranges and Christmas

2 Comments

Filed under kitchen stories