Paperback copies of, Joe’s Fruit Shop and Milk Bar have currently sold out but there is another reprint underway so they should be available again by early December. Thank you to all of you who’ve embraced, Joe’s over many years and to those who’ve recently sent me messages wanting to read it but unable to get a copy. If you’re after a copy, please order one through your local bookshop or online as they’ll definitely be coming in 3-4 weeks (and in time for Christmas too!) 😉 If you’ve been following my website here for years or even just a short time, you’ll know I never ‘sell’ my books and I hate even sounding so. I just wanted to let you know if you’re interested in Joe’s that it’s definitely coming back. For me the main thing is sharing the story of Nonno Anni’s life and those around him, because so many elements are all of our stories really and precious and my one hope is to preserve them.
It was actually Nonno Anni who originally gave me the idea for, The Proxy Bride. When I was talking to him about his life for Joe’s, he mentioned by chance that during WW2 when he and other Italian men were taken from farms around Stanthorpe and sent to internment camps, the women and children suddenly left alone did it very tough. He later heard they were given no assistance and with curfews and restrictions weren’t allowed to drive, many didn’t know how to use the farm equipment or ride a horse and faced poverty and starvation. He mentioned this group of women who banded together to keep their farms going. That really struck me and I felt I’d come back and write about it. When I learnt that some of these women were also proxy brides, it opened up more to the story.
It seems all my life Nonno Anni was telling me different stories, usually at a table after a meal together. Perhaps when I was young, he saw in me that I might write them down one day, even before I saw that in myself. I chose this photo as it’s such a lovely one of him, though I feel unsure at sharing this one of myself in pigtails but trying to look sophisticated, haha! 😄 It was the ‘80s and I was about 13 and my favourite things were roller-skating, dancing and writing stories (yes, even then!) Nanna Francesca took this photo of us after a stop at Lake Jindabyne during a summer road trip. I spent some time with my grandparents every school holiday and while at times I took it for granted or wished I was doing stuff with my friends (yes, just like Sofie in Proxy Bride), I really appreciate those times now and the precious stories they both gave me. Zoë ❤️ xx
Zoë Boccabella books…
Melanzane fritte – made with eggplants from the backyard vegie patch, just like the crumbed, fried eggplant slices that Nonna Gia and Sofie cook together in, The Proxy Bride. I’ve put these ones on one of Nanna Francesca’s plates and next to them is a little pot I bought in Italy to stand in as a ‘chilli pot’ (though I confess mine has salt in it at present!)
I hadn’t planned to include recipes at the end of this book but when I was writing about the food in it, I found myself cooking many of the dishes to remind myself of them. Since the way I learned to cook from my grandmother was mostly by watching and tasting, measurements were always a ‘handful of this’, a ‘dash of that’ and if I asked, ‘But how much?’, the answer would be a shrug and something like, ‘Just enough, of course, see?’ It was certainly interesting to try to pin down exact recipe measurements and in the end I thought it might be lovely to share these too.
You might also recognise the cornicello, that amulet of luck that can only be given as a gift, never bought for oneself. A symbol of the earth, fertility, healing and protection that’s endured from as far back as 3400BC in a long-held connection with and reverence for nature as well as humans’ reliance on it for food and survival. Looking at this picture I have to smile – eggplants, a cornicello and handed-down recipes, that’s certainly a little bit of southern Italy going on in northern Australia. 💛 Zoë xx
‘Helping Dad’. 😄 (Got to love that 1970s wallpaper. And the Band-Aid on the knee!) Buona festa del papà. 💕 Warmest wishes on this Father’s Day to our fathers and grandfathers present and past, our father figures, those of us who’d hoped to be fathers and all who are caring for and protecting children. Grazie eterni, Dad. 💙 Zoe xx
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
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 😊💛🍕🍝
On the kitchen table today… a friend’s home-grown lemons and mandarins on one of Nanna Francesca’s 1950s dinner plates. So lovely when someone brings you fruit and flowers they’ve grown in their garden. To me they’re the perfect gifts. (And the fresh, crisp lemon scent currently in the kitchen is divine!) 🍋
I have to say, we ate off these dinner plates at Nanna Francesca and Nonno Anni’s for decades and it’s incredible how small they are compared to plates these days. That said, I think there were often second, (and even third!), helpings at times. 👀😄 But as is the case when an Italian Nonna has been doing the cooking – no one ever goes hungry!
Hope you have a lovely day. Zoe xx
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 💛🍝
On the kitchen table… a couple of pumpkins we bought from a farmer’s roadside ute near Esk. I love being able to buy straight from a farm ingredients that are in season at their peak and pumpkins even have autumn colours! These will help make many meals but my first thought was pumpkin and ricotta crespelle with crispy sage leaves and a little Parmigiano on top. (Luckily Roger is a fine maker of crespelle, crepes, or scrippelle as they’re called in Abruzzo.)
For centuries in Abruzzo, pumpkins have remained a significant part of folklore and the farming calendar with late autumn being a time of reconciliation and thankfulness when harvesting is over. With the end of the growing seasons and the ‘dead’ of winter ahead, it’s also a time of acknowledging those before us, now gone. Cocce de morte (death heads) are carved from pumpkins and a candle lit inside to illuminate them, welcoming past loved ones to join those present back at their houses and tables for a feast from the harvests. With its roots in pagan times there is dancing, singing, bonfires, gratitude, new wine and plenty to eat and, of course, pumpkins! A lovely tradition melding the past, the present and acknowledging what the earth and hard work can provide. Zoë x
As promised, the first steps in making wine this summer, taught the old-style way by Nonno Anni and older Italians…
Step 1: Roger harvested grapes growing from vine cuttings he gave my cousins a few years back. The grape variety is ‘Isabella’, suitable for growing in warm climates – and it was a stinking hot day when he picked the grapes. (Tried my best with photos of the vines over the pergola but not easy when I’m so short!)
As you can see, harvesting backyard grapes is a bit different to a winery as they don’t all ripen perfectly at the same time. I think those plastic containers hold about 21 kilos of grapes.
Step 2: Sorting the grapes, removing any rotten ones and making sure they’re clean (along with Roger’s feet!)
Step 3: Stomping the grapes, the old-style way (except it’s Roger, not some pretty, young maidens like in Italian films). 👀
Step 4: Crushed grapes and importantly, crushed skins, beginning the fermenting process.
Step 5: Strained juice in demijohns to ferment and let the magic naturally happen for a while.
Down the track, when it comes to the clarifying, bottling and aging process, I’ll share that with you too. Buona giornata! 🍇 Zoe x
It seemed fitting to follow my previous post of coffee with… cake! It’s been decades since I made patty cakes or cupcakes (‘tortine‘ in Italian). I decided to make some for my cousins who, when I visited them at Christmas time, sent me home with their home-made crostoli in a paper bag. A small gesture that was unexpected and lovely.
We’re returning to their place to harvest the wine grapes they’ve been growing from cuttings Roger gave them a few years back. And so begins the process of him making the wine for this year (yes, he still does so the old-style way taught to him by Nonno Anni and older Italians!) Will share with you some of the process in my next post.
In the meantime, hope my cousins like the tortine! (With so many fancy ones about these days, I had forgotten how nice simple vanilla can be.) 💛 xx
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’.
An unexpected package in my letterbox… a present from a lovely friend, Eileen, who was ordering fabrics for her business, happened to see this tea towel and thought of me.
It’s been a long while since I’ve been able to go back to Abruzzo where Nonno Anni, Granny Maddalena and so many in my family are from, and where I used to buy such tea towels at the local market. So it’s great to add this one to the collection. (I’m guessing some of you may be familiar with these regional Italian linen tea towels!)
I used to carefully put them aside in the linen cupboard but now I use them and it’s lovely to see them in the kitchen each day. Thank you to Eileen for such kindness – it made my day to receive this! xx (Eileen makes cushions in gorgeous vintage fabrics at Touch Wood Design.) Times have been tough for so many lately. I guess I hold hope that such kindnesses, however small, that we might be able to do, can keep giving us some light.
Wishing you a lovely day! Zoe 💛🌻