Photo Journal: An Italian family tradition – tomato sauce making day

There’s actually not all that much I want to write this morning; I’d rather the photos do the talking. Last weekend heralded our family’s annual tomato sauce making day at my grandparents’ house, something I’ve been meaning to capture on film for a few years now. As you may have notices from my blogging habit, recording memories is important to me, and I wanted to share some of the pictures I took to give others a bit of an insight into a centuries old Italian tradition that continues in the backyards of countless emigrants in Australia today…

img_7188

img_7195

img_7197

img_7200

img_7206

img_7212

img_7245

img_7249

img_7253

img_7260

img_7261

 

Photo Journal: Preston Market, Melbourne

I can’t believe I haven’t thought to bring my camera along before, but I thought it was about time to give some love to one of my favourite places in Melbourne; the Preston Market!

I used to visit the market pretty often as a kid with my grandparents – there are a lot of Italians in the market, both as vendors and buyers. I remember trailing Nonna and Nonno while they spoke to store owners, catching up on the latest gossip while purchasing their fresh produce. I loved it 🙂

Now, I visit every week with my husband, to do our grocery shopping. While I still have to visit supermarkets for some staples like milk, dog food, some toiletries, those sorts of things, I can’t imagine ever going back to buying all of my fruit and veggies and meat at a supermarket anymore! The quality is unbelievably better, as are the prices, not to mention the experience of the market atmosphere itself. I’m a huge market lover, and always make a point on my travels to visit as many as possible – I’m pretty lucky that I can get that same experience so close to home, too!

The fruit and veggie section is always my first stop…

IMG_6060

I absolutely LOVE the deli section!!! Tasty cold cuts, more cheeses than you can poke a stick at, and the incredible selection of antipasti… those are the tastes of my childhood!

IMG_6063

IMG_6064

The meat section is a carnivore’s dream. You can get anything and everything there, up to and including internal organs, pigs trotters, tripe, the absolute works! I like to be organised and write up my grocery list before I get there, but sometimes the best way to go about it is to find an incredible cut of meat and plan the rest of the meal around it!

IMG_6067

IMG_6068

The seafood is pretty fantastic too – my Nonno Giovanni (dad’s dad) hosts an enormous, traditional Italian seafood feast each year on Christmas eve – I’m talking lobster, calamari, prawns, the whole shebang. Anyway, he gets his seafood here every year, placing his order ahead of time, so he can roll in the morning of the feast to collect his fresh bounty.

IMG_6069

One of the not-so-traditional places in the market that I’m a big fan of is the health food store – I visit this place every week to stock up on the most fantastic organic oats I’ve ever eaten, as well as chia seeds and cacao nibs. They have a truly fantastic range of other supplies that can often be hard to find and/or quite expensive – quinoa, coconut sugar, dried figs, and almost every type of flour you can think of. AND the prices are top notch!

IMG_6071

But my favourite part of the market? The fact that it’s a place to meet and eat and relax and enjoy life. This table with the 6 old guys literally stopped me in my tracks and made me smile so much – you see it in markets around the world, the older generation sitting around and enjoying some local food together, catching up on the good old days, speaking their own languages, and completely oblivious to everything else going on around them.

It’s a genuine and truly beautiful scene, there’s not much more to be said about it… this is why I love markets. Yeah, the food is always amazing there, the prices are always great, but it’s also where you experience life, real life with all it’s flaws and imperfections that add up to a perfect scene like this 🙂

IMG_6072

Cook this: Nonna Gemma’s buttery, salty French toast

IMG_2265

I’ve been a bit flat lately. I’ve been feeling like crap, physically ill, on and off, for months now, and really can’t work out why. Actually, it may be years, not months, if I’m being honest. There’s a lot going on, both mentally and physically, and on the physical side I’m being tested for gluten intolerance, lactose intolerance, iron, vitamin D, thyroid, etc stuff. Mentally & emotionally is a bit more complicated. I think one of the contributing factors is missing my grandmother.

It still feels weird to talk about her in the past tense, that she doesn’t “exist” anymore. I don’t like writing that she “was” a big part of my life; she still is. She helped raise me as a child. She taught me to knit and hand stitch in her sewing room. She taught me to pick out good produce at the market, and then to cook it like a pro. She made outfit after outfit for me, including my deb (debutant ball) dress. And the veil I wore on my wedding day. She gave me crap for my ripped jeans, asking if they needed mending, and telling me that wearing them wasn’t cool. She always started phone conversations by asking if I’d eaten (no, it’s not some Italian joke, she legit asked every time), and how Marley, my dog, was going. After she’d told me off for not answering my phone earlier in the day (Sorry Nonna, I’ve been at work. “Why?!” was her response, most of the time – I could never tell if she was serious or just taking the piss).

Anyway, I live with a teacher, and as such I now observe the comings and goings of the school terms. I guess my dis-ease came to a boiling point this week, because when husband told me he was totally ready for school holidays, the most random thing happened. A memory filled my head and took over for a second, like one of those crazy movie flashbacks… I was a primary school aged kid again, at Nonna’s house – I’d usually stay at her house a few nights every school holidays, so we could just hang out together and do stuff that mum wouldn’t let me do. I was sitting at the bench in the kitchen, on the wooden stool you can see in the picture below, where we had breakfast together, watching her cook French toast for us. And I felt my soul crack a little. It’s cracking again right now, as I type this.

Nonna would work SO intently at her little stove top, making sure our breakfast was just right. Everything had to be perfect for her grand children, especially the food. Our favourite breakfast was French toast, made with thick, fresh Italian bread, cooked in an absolutely ludicrous amount of butter, with more than a sprinkle of salt. It was always perfectly crispy and golden without ever burning. She was a master, really.

Anyway, I’ve been told to load up on gluten before being tested, so screw it – last weekend it was French toast for breakfast! Yes, it’s indulgent, and no, it’s not going to benefit you to eat this regularly. But sometimes when your soul is crying out for a hug, comfort food is where it’s at. Here’s my best attempt to re-create Nonna’s French toast.

IMG_3139.JPG

It was pretty simple – a few eggs and milk whisked together, dip the bread in (I went a la Nonna and used a loaf of Italian bread, bought from the Preston market, sliced myself with the crusts removed – stop judging me) and fry up on a non-stick pan containing a small ocean of butter. And yes, I added some fruit to try to justify all of the butter and carbs. I also went on a really freakin long 15km walk after I ate this!!! It also cheered me up a bit, and goodness knows I needed it. If you need a pick me up too this weekend, whip yourself up a plate of this buttery deliciousness this weekend – trust Nonna Gemma, it’ll make you happy!

IMG_2668.JPG

Photo Journal: My grandparents’ garden

I consider myself to be supremely lucky – not only do I belong to a fairly close-knit, fairly traditional Italian family, but I am 28 years old and have only recently lost my first grandparent. The other three are all still with me, and not only that, but they’re all strong. I think that comes from the way they were raised; to be strong, self-sufficient, always fighting and always preparing for another day.

 

Dad’s parents’ house has always been a hub for important family events, bringing together both sides of the family. We gather there for birthdays, anniversaries, special holidays. Our big one is Christmas Eve, for what us grandkids have dubbed “The Feast.” Traditional Italian Christmas Eves involve a lot of seafood, and just food in general. Our family makes no exception to this rule, with the family gathering to feast on calamari, prawns, lobster, all fresh from the market. Salads, pasta, meat, potatoes, it’s all there! And all help on the back decking of their house, overlooking their big, beautiful yard, complete with one hell of a veggie patch, fruit trees of every kind, and a wood fired pizza oven that has it’s own little house.

 

Not long ago, I thought I needed to capture some of the beauty of this backyard, the place I’d grown up in. The yard I’d run around, ridden through on a tractor, climbed trees to look over, torn party dresses while climbing fences on “adventures” with my sisters and cousins. It’s where I’ve always eaten good food, then learnt to cook it as I got older, picked mulberries and figs off trees, using the lemons that had fallen off the giant, central lemon tree as projectile weapons against my sisters and cousins, and in turn being hit hard with more. It’s where I’ve taken part in the annual tomato-sauce making, watched my grandmothers drink wine and giggle like teenagers while gossiping in Italian, where my grandfathers have talked and talked and watched us kids with serene, satisfied smiles, and where I have both literally and figuratively grown up. It’s something I want shared and immortalised, because it’s really special. I hope everyone has a special place like this in their lives  and I’d love to hear about some of them  : )

 

 

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

 

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

 

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

 

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

 

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

 

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014