Potato Skins, Mary Magdalene, Lucca Homeless Lunches, the Book I’m Writing and Other Stuff
It’s been ages. If I’m writing I need to be writing a book – it’s about simultaneous interpretation, identity and Stalin. Hmm. That’s not a very good pitch. I’ll try again – It’s the mid-80s and there’s a guy in a remote Soviet psychiatric facility says he’s Stalin. People start to believe him.
For ages it was called I Am Josef Vissarionovich. Now it’s called Don’t You Know Who I Am?
However, since I am plainly not writing the fucking book, I could at least write something…could I?
Saw Mary Magdalene (no, no, the film) dubbed into Italian in a deserted Lucca cinema yesterday and thought various things, aside from; “Joaquin Phoenix is hot,” though mainly that. As soon as it started I realised I was going to get depressed about the plight (plight!) of women, then, now, always. Even though it’s supposed to be a vaguely feminist film, reinstating her as an apostle equal to Chewitel Ejiofor and Tahar Rahim (also both hot, btw). What you ideally don’t want to be in life is a chattel, if it’s not a collective noun (or crucified, more obviously). The potential for violence, rape and general abuse of women in remote, rural areas where their status is pretty much equal to the goats, well, etc…
Also, while Joaquin, who is a fabulously mad and weird Jesus as He presumably must have been, was talking about the Kingdom of Heaven or something (not quite sure, it was in Italian) I was thinking about the lovely cartoon of Stephen Hawking, there in the glittering cosmos stepping out of his wheelchair and walking, young and handsome, into infinity. Immediate tears. And I’ve always imagined heaven as embracing everyone I know, smiling, none of the inhibitions, circumstantial nightmare, bitterness and misery of the real relationship, but all healed and genuine – what we really meant to say was ‘I love you’. Not all the rest.. I mean, I’m not holding my breath for this, obviously, but it’s how I’d do it if I were establishing the kingdom of heaven myself.
(PS. It’s a slightly boring film).
I’ve been cooking at a charity in Lucca. This is not an easy thing to go and do. Well, it’s easy once you’re there, but ITALY. I’ve been looking for somewhere that might want my help for literally years. I found websites, Facebook pages, people’s numbers and tried them all. Nothing. Then, in a weary fit of knowing what you have to do in Italy, I went and banged on the door of an address in Lucca. Nobody answered. It was raining (it has now rained for five months non stop in Lucca – not English rain but proper monsoon), and I was on my own (as ever) and miserable. I sat at a cafe on Piazza Napoleone and ranted to the charity’s Facebook page. How can I help if you’re impossible to find? Then I noticed another address on the page and schlepped off, a soggy mess, to see if there was anyone there. Bikes stacked up outside against the wall, a nun pottering about inside in full regalia, a lot of African boys standing around chatting, an office. Yes!
So, I go in twice a week and sous-chef for Antonella, the big kitchen boss (actually tiny), making lunch for 60 of Lucca’s hungry and homeless and then, 20 minute turnaround, 60 boys from the local hostel. There is a lot of frying and a lot of pasta. One day I fried about 300 eggs. The boys, African, Albanian, Syrian, all go to school or work and are basically optimistic (being under 25) and they are sick of the pasta, muttering in French and asking if the meat is cat meat. They are energetic, buzzing, intense. The hungry Lucchese are much, much sadder, big and slow. They get food delivered from Caritas, served and added to by us. Two interesting things. 1) Of about 60 people who come every day only one of them is regularly drunk and even he isn’t that drunk. 2) The food is GOOD. Squid in bietola, vegetable sformato, cod with chickpeas, and stuff the UK homeless would never get or, probably, wouldn’t eat if they did. This lot is defeated by life, some of them really well-dressed, probably not homeless, just broke, really making an effort. Others, especially the older Middle Eastern men who speak French, look as if they were doctors and teachers back home. There is a real feeling of the desperation and humiliation. The resident nun, a big, loud lady who left school at 11, is lovely to the boys and horrid to the homeless. Weird. Anyway, this lunch happens in a very run down but beautiful palazzo with a big garden where the boys smoke in the cloister and where we get herbs. The Italians are pretty awful to their refugees until they get leave to remain. After that, well, it’s pretty lovely actually.
I feel like I should say stuff about Russia but, really, what is there to say?
Audiobooks? The Dry. The Elegance of the Hedgehog.
Podcast? Dirty John.
Netflix? The Get Down
I made these for a dinner party I had in a perfect AirBnB in Rome, right on Portico D’Ottavia in the ghetto, above a fried artichoke place and round the corner from the Acquamadre Hammam where you must all go immediately. So exciting to be in a caldarium in actual Rome. Cooking for ten with only a table knife and no pans was quite difficult. Did the chicken pastilla and cheescake deal, but while we stood around we ate ..
Potato Skins with Guacamole
Bake potatoes. Scoop out the insides and discard (Hope fried them to crispy and added feta cheese for breakfast the next morning so don’t throw them away!). Cut the skins in half or quarter slices depending on size of potato. Rub olive oil, salt and ideally paprika on them (but I didn’t have any paprika) and then roast them until crispy – about ten minutes but check them a lot.
No blender guacamole – mash very ripe avocados (two for ten people was good) and then add lime juice, parsley, spring onions and garlic mashed in salt.
In a retro 70s fit, I put the guacamole in the potato skin boats.
This is so beautiful in Italy because most oranges are blood oranges. Seriously, this salad is just oranges. You can add chopped fresh chilli (I did), rocket, parsley, mint, coriander, salt, pepper, a bit of lemon juice and olive oil.
What to do with Chicken Scrags
You know those nasty little mini chicken breasts supermarkets sell? Vile. But it’s all I had last night. I was thinking of Chinesifying them with sesame oil and seeds, spring onions, soya sauce etc, but I was feeling the Middle East. Weirdly, this was delicious. Then again, it’s asparagus season here and you hardly need even to cook them.
Fry the chicken in olive oil with chopped chilli, onions and garlic until it’s nice and brown, add ras al hanout, salt, pepper aaand…cinnamon. When it all looks fried and cooked and delicious add a can of tomatoes. That’s IT. Rice. Asparagus. So good.
I’ve put a recipe for this up before. It’s the Honey and Co cherry and coconut cake, but I made it with pears. It’s got mehreb in it (crushed cherry pips – who knew?), coconut, almonds and then you push plums or cherries or really anything into the batter and bake with pistacchios on top. I add vanilla essence but then I add vanilla essence to everything.
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