Category Archives: Books

grazie dal cuore, marcella hazan

Marcella Hazan, food writer and considered one of the foremost authorities of Italian cuisine, died September 29 at the age of 89.

essentials

Ms. Hazan married and moved from Italy to New York with her American husband in 1955. Ironically, she never cooked before she got married. But later, after beginning a cooking school and giving cooking lessons from her home, her husband encouraged her to publish her first cookbook, “The Classic Italian Cookbook”,  in  1973. She believed simple, good ingredients lead to delicious dishes and is credited with bringing traditional Italian cuisine to the American public.

Thanks to Ms. Hazan’s wisdom and detailed, quite simple and beautiful recipes, I often fry with butter and vegetable oil  (a must when you make her Asparagus Risotto) instead of extra virgin olive oil when required for better, richer and milder taste.  Her “Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking” (published 1992) cookbook sits on my counter and is the source of my favorite dishes including braised pork chops (Modena style) and risotto, my guide to using herbs, and provides extra meaning after the news of her death.

This NY Times article, “Remembering Marcella”, provides more information on Ms. Hazan’s life and cooking.

In honor of Ms. Hazan, below is a reprint of her simple and delicious tomato recipe.

Ingredients

 2 cups tomatoes, with their juices (for example, a 28-ounce can of San Marzano or Italian imported whole peeled tomatoes)                   

5 tablespoons butter               

 1 onion, peeled and cut in half                   

salt   

Preparation

Combine the tomatoes, their juices, the butter and the onion halves in a saucepan. Add a pinch or two of salt.
 
Place over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Cook, uncovered, for about 45 minutes. Stir occasionally, mashing any large pieces of tomato with a spoon. Add salt as needed.
 
Discard the onion before tossing the sauce with pasta. This recipe makes enough sauce for a pound of pasta.
 
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autumn plate

It feels like fall outside. It’s feels like fall online too, inside the community of travel, culture, literature, home and garden bloggers. So I bought a new cashmere sweater today in pale pink, thanks to these tips for fall travel style from This is my Happiness.  And trusty Ciao Domenica has offered this inspiration for delicious recipes including a pumpkin-spice cake with pumpkin cream-cheese frosting.

The start of a season presents an empty plate, ready to be filled with fall’s favorite things, like slipping on a new warm sweater, brewing up tea, settling down to a new book or catching a movie.

caleb

For me, that means reading Caleb Crain’s debut novel  “Necessary Errors.” Set in post- Iron Curtain Prague in the early 1990s, after the ’89 Velvet Revolution, the book is described as coming of age for idealistic young expat Americans abroad (for longtime BTH readers, no surprise this book is top of my list!).  I’m looking forward to learning more about Eastern European history and Czech culture. The Slate review writes “it recalls the dreamy pacing of Henry James or Elizabeth Bowan.”

enough

I’m also looking forward to returning to our wonderful local art deco theater this season. I’m still recovering from Woody Allen’s tragic Blue Jasmine and am ready to enjoy a lighter comedy this fall. Enough Said  stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Eva) and James Gandolfini  (Albert) who meet and a romance quickly blossoms, but Eva befriends – and gets an earful from – a woman about her ex. The twist is that she finds out that “the ex “is Albert.

What’s on your autumn plate?

 

 

 

the great fitzgerald

“The Great Gatsby” is out on the big screen and a good time for fans of fellow     ex-expat F. Scott Fitzgerald to focus again on one of his greatest works.

If you are like me and can’t separate the man from his works – where he draws much from his personal life and even has character Daisy quoting his wife Zelda –  you, too, may have held your breath at the movie’s rolling credits waiting for “based on the novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald” to appear. (It appears, although third or fourth down. I’d argue he deserved to be first.)

grgatsbyThe movie, from Baz Luhrmann, stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Gatsby. Movies rarely imitate its novel perfectly and “Gatsby” is no exception. While the modern adaptation to a classic story was entertaining (over-the-top music and performers and lavish party visual effects, for example), I was pleased it mostly followed the novel’s themes – the decline of the American dream, social class differences, and 1920s jazz age. It features symbols like the dock’s green flashing light and Dr. Eckleburg billboard in the Valley of Ashes. On the other hand, Luhrmann’s Daisy I found confusing as deeper and more complex than Fitzgerald’s deliberate one dimensional, superficial character. But a key question remained the same –  what role the past plays in dreams of the future – a sentiment Fitzgerald and his fellow Lost Generation expat friends, like Hemingway and Sara and Gerald Murphy, shared.

gatsby

Remember, Fitzgerald found fame and fortune early on, he then lived mostly a tragic life, struggling with alcoholism, and struggling in Hollywood writing scripts and short stories to meet the expenses of his wife Zelda’s psychiatric bills and his daughter Scottie’s education. “The Great Gatsby” received mixed reviews and sold poorly. He died believing the book and his career unsuccessful.  His earlier days in New York, Paris and the Riviera were an enchanted past he remembered often and expressed in his correspondence a wish to return to.

Reading or re-reading “The Great Gatsby”  helps you get the most of the movie and fill in the blanks. To dig deeper, I recommend the recently released historical fiction of his wife “Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald” by Therese Anne Fowler ( NY Times review can be found here ) and “F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Life in Letters”.

Additional Bringing Travel Home posts on the Lost Generation can be found here:

Discovering Expats of the 1920s

Living Well is the Best Revenge

easy chic: a guide to paris street style

It’s no secret that France – or really Paris – is the center of style. When you visit and walk the streets, there is evidence of it at any age or shape. Well-tied scarves.  An understated, personal look. Sleeveless on women over  60. Great shoes on kids.  Timeless and practical, not trendy.  Natural and easy. Confidence. Today’s French style owes much to the inventions of Coco Chanel (read more about her influence here in a previous post).

So because I consider this style the holy grail of my fashion identity, I’m adding the newly-released  “Paris Street Style: A Guide to Effortless Chic” to the other French guides collecting on my bookshelf on subjects ranging from parenting to eating well.

style

French fashion writers Isabelle Thomas and Frederique Veysset offer richly illustrated sketches and photos in this fashion guide and promise to ” help you cultivate an everyday style of timeless glamour.”

In addition, the book lists a series of fashion faux pas to avoid (no Converse after age 26, it’s reported, is one. Ouch.) and expert advice on getting your effortless chic style on. I’m there.

hobson-jobson

I’m interested in words. Language is fascinating  – its history, progression and influence. I’m curious how certain words came to be and where they came from. The idea that if Dante Aligheri were alive today, we would have a conversation in his little-changed Tuscan Italian is mind-blowing. I’ve read that the Italian greeting “ciao” comes from the word “schiao” – Venetian dialect shortened for “sono vostro schiavo” or “I am your slave.”  “Salve” – a greeting used frequently in Northern Italy where we lived but unfamiliar to most people outside the region – comes from the latin verb “salvere” or to be in good health.

Then there are informal contractions used out of context or awkwardly. I lie awake at night when my Italian PhD student friend  and European business owner-acquaintance use the English word “wanna” in their written correspondence. I haven’t had the heart to confront them, but my insides knot up  to see an inappropriate use of “want to.”  But, somewhere and somehow Euro-English – the official language of the European Union –  has decided that “wanna” is okay – even in formal correspondence. But I digress.

It’s interesting to hear how words have been borrowed and imitated and transformed by foreigners. When I taught Business English in Italy, I heard “chattare” ( an Italian verb rooted in the English Internet word “chat”), along with “stress”, “weekend”, “computer”, “video”, “blog” and “clic.” I would love to collect these words in some sort of index or glossary.

Which brings me to Hobson-Jobson.

“A glossary of colloquial Anglo-Indian words and phrases, and of kindred terms etymological, historical, geographical and discursive. By Colonel Henry Yule and AC Burnell.”

More than 100  years ago Yule and Burnell collected more than 2,000 entries – with notes –  of Indian words borrowed, used and sometimes changed by the English living there. This legendary dictionary of British India was called the Hobson-Jobson, a scholarly but fun glossary published in 1886 – and lists Anglo-Indian words like shampoo  (from the Indian word “champi or head massage), bungalow, pyjama, curry and bangle. The book also – perhaps indirectly – gives us a historical and social snapshot of the relationship between the two countries. The book can be seen as a memoir, BBC News writes, of colonial India.

For example, the Indian word dam is defined as originating from the damri coin that once existed but now means something is worthless (Damri – Dam – Damn). An exceprt from the Hobson-Jobson text reads:

“Damn  is a common enough expression for the infinitesimal in coin, and one has often heard a Briton in India say : ” No, I  won’t give a dumree!” with but a
vague notion what a damri meant, as in Scotland we have heard, ” I won’t
give a plack” though certainly the speaker could not have stated the
value of that ancient coin.”

Word lovers can get their hands on a new edition of the Hobson-Jobson next year launched as part of the Oxford World Classics Series. You can learn more about it here via BBC which is broadcasting a radio program focusing on the ever loved Hobson-Jobson.

words photo credit: National Institutes of Health NIDCD

bookmarked for fall

As we slide into fall and I pull out my warm socks – not for today but a future and cooler California afternoon –  I’ve got an evergrowing list of books I’m looking forward to diving into.

I just finished “Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet” by Jamie Ford as part of my book club selection. I couldn’t put it down.

 

A debut novel for this author, it’s a story of friendship and young love between a Chinese boy and Japanese girl and the struggle of family and cultural conflict between generations. The story is set in Seattle and recreates the city’s history during WWII, the part it played in the internment of Japanese Americans and how the internment affected its people, city and jazz scene.  I was so moved by the book that immediately after finishing it, I located the author’s email and dropped him a note about how much I loved the book and how wonderful it would be to see as a movie some day. Jamie Ford emailed me right back thanking me for my message and wrote that he is close to selecting a film option, although there is never guarantee for the actual production. He did say, however, that this weekend he would be in Seattle for the opening of a stage adaptation of the novel, so if any readers live in the area, it’s worth checking out!

Next up….

Jess Walter’s “Beautiful Ruins” has been given excellent reviews by both the NY Times and NPR and many literary blogs I read. The book is described as “constantly surprising” as the reader follows the tangled lives of characters aspiring for love and success. The story bounces seamlessly between past and present across a span of 40 years  – from 1960s Italy to Hollywood,  Edinburgh and Idaho. “A dazzling, yet deeply human, roller coaster of a novel”….It’s caught my attention!

As a sort of follow-up to Adam Gopnik’s “The Table Comes First” that I recently read, I am looking forward to getting a copy of “La Seduction: How the French Play the Game of Life”. Written by Elaine Sciolino, a former Paris bureau chief for The New York Times, it explores why seduction (the term used broadly – for a person or a baguette) and pleasure is the heart of French life.

Thanks to ciao domenica blog’s never-to-disappoint book recommendations, I am adding to my already full shelf of Edith Wharton books by including Jennie Field’s “The Age of Desire” on this list. The novel imagines Wharton’s illicit affair at age 45 with young journalist Morton Fullerton. I have been drawn to Wharton’s writing since my early 20s because of her social insight, irony, travels and her escape for expat life.

And, last, I am planning to read this season any travel book about Quebec City and the environs where we will be heading next summer when we visit Eastern Canada. Any suggestions, do share!

la bella lingua

One of the best things about being back in Italy was speaking Italian again. Like riding a bicycle, words we haven’t spoken in years were plucked up from somewhere deep down, and we found ourselves effortlessly communicating again in our adopted language at dinner parties, restaurants and other countless conversations with old friends. My Italian isn’t too sophisticated –  I often take the easy road by constructing  sentences around the easier grammar tenses while my husband is much braver – but it was back. Using the formal Lei without a missed beat. Extending long greetings when you say goodbye to someone. Buon Giorno, salve, ciao, ci vediamo, grazie a lei, arriverderci, a  domani!  Getting in a heated argument- which feels even better in Italian – at the best place for a fight, a ticket booth line at an Italian train station. The Italian language is old, complicated, challenging, and different depending where in Italy you are  – but pays off as the most beautiful, expressive and delightful language to speak.

Confirming my love for the Italian language, I just finished “La Bella Lingua” by Dianne Hales.

“Learning a new language is like growing a new head…You see with new eyes, hear with new ears, speak with a new tongue.” – La Bella Lingua

  Right before our trip, I picked this book up at our local bookstore with the intimate knowledge that it’s always a gamble when choosing a novel from the travel section. But this is the real deal.

Ms. Hales has done her homework (and more). The book is a love story to the Italian language, providing anecdotes through her experiences living and traveling in Italy and pursuits in studying the language. Her über thorough research reveals interesting and little known aspects of Italy’s history, literature and culture, and demonstrates how several key Italians and scholarly groups – past and present – have contributed to helping the language develop and survive.  This book has inspired me to search at the local library for “The Divine Comedy” (or “Divina Commedia”)  by Dante Aligheri,  any film by De Sica, and the opera Madama Butterfly (which I was surprised to learn  opened in 1904 at Milan’s La Scala and bombed, then reopened in Brescia,  where we lived for several years, to then triumph in Paris and around the world!) 

Hales makes the point that while a unified Italy is fairly new, the Italian language  – which has served as  the great unifier – is very old. The 14th century dialect of Florence – the language of Dante Aligheri himself – is little changed and what is taught and spoken in Italy today.  English may be the language everyone needs to know, Hales writes, but Italian is the language people want to learn. With only 60 – 63 million native speakers Italian barely eclipses Urdu, Pakistan’s official language for 19th place as a spoken tongue. Yet Italian ranks fourth among the world’s most studied language. (Only four countries other than Italy recognize Italian as an official language.) The soaring popularity of the language is hardly surprising, she writes, with its exported food, fashion, art, architecture, music and culture … and I’ll add, Italian boyfriends.

For lovers of Italian – those of us who have lived or traveled to Italy and keep going back, who are fascinated with Italy’s history and culture and protagonists, and consider ourselves lifelong students of Italian,  “La Bella Lingua” shares our passion and provides a new perspective and adventure through the world’s most enchanting language.

Next up: My favorite study Italian abroad schools in Italy