To understand how Christmas in Verona has changed in the last 20 years, go to the O Christmas Tree essay in the Life in Verona section of this website. While you are there you can take a look at the Ugo essay, as he orchestrates our Christmas celebrations every year.
December 28 Happy Birthday Cinema
Every year Ugo organizes “Buon Compleanno Cinema”, at which he shows silent films accompanied by live music – tonight we have Igino on accordion and Federico F. keyboard. Some 60 people gather in a deconsecrated church in Verona’s centro storico to view two films by Georges Méliés – Le Voyage Dans la Lune (1902) and Au Clair de la Lune ou Pierrot Malheureux (1904). These are followed by Mantrap (1926) directed by Victor Fleming and staring the incandescent Clara Bow, “the hottest Jazz Baby in films”. Clara’s superb acting talent and well-turned ankle sends many hearts a racing and, I am sure, that her name will be Googled and YouTubed by scores of new-found fans. We also saw Over Silent Paths (1910) directed by D. W. Griffith, a wild west yarn about a gal who avenges her father’s murder.
Every Boxing Day we go to Ugo’s for tea. These Boxing Day Tea Parties used to be only for women but when they invited me the first time (some ten years ago) they said I could bring Michael. Since he is the only real English Person in attendance his role has morphed into the Tea Maestro. Then around 6 we are joined by Ugo and the boys and the evening wanders into dinner time, with Ugo roasting chicken and that wanders into….well when the children were young a film like Cars….now it is whatever film that is arousing Ugo’s interest at the moment.
With dinner we drink:
Fattoria Garbole Valpolicella Superior 2007 Fruity, satisfying, a real pleasure. A juicy amalgam of cherries and black berries.
Donnafugata Kabir Moscato di Pantelleria 2004 . Gold with vibrant yellow highlights. Nose: tangy citrus notes(mandarin and citron). Moscato sweetness dances across the palate. A very pleasing experience. Lightness and sweetness in perfect harmony is very difficult to achieve. It is like lively nectar.
I drank it with chocolate-covered gingerbread. Excellent.
“Have you tried the Kabir?” I ask Silvio (a.k.a. Mr. Chestnut)
He squints at the bottle. “Ah,” he says. “Donnafugata. You gave me a glass of Tancredi (the winery’s Nero d’Avola and Cabernet Sauvignon blend) and now every time I am in a restaurant I look for the name Donnafugata on the wine list. Their wines are always good.” Mr. Chestnut beams. This is significant because he is a man who finds fault with everything and sees the dark side of every experience….but Donnafugata makes him beam. Wow! I am unable to catch this rare moment on film.
Tonight’s film is Una Signora per Un Giorno (Lady for a Day), directed Frank Capra. You no doubt remember the remake, also directed by Capra, that stared Bette Davis as Apple Annie and Glen Ford as David “lo Sciccoso” (a.k.a. Dave the Dude).
“Porca troia, che gioia,” says Ugo at the end of the evening. (loosely translated as: Holy Cow, what joy!”)
I say to Michael: “I think that beats ‘God bless us every one’.”
I give the twins 4 books, 2 of which are over 100 years old, 1 is over 150 years old and the last is closing in on 160. These score a hit with Francesco.
“Where did you find books this old,” he asks.
“When I was young there were used bookshops in every town,” I say.
I am so glad that in my childhood pokey old bookshops existed and that at every summer garage sale there was a stack of books alongside boxes of unneeded baby clothes and broken tennis rackets. I told Francesco that I had worked as a Book Scout to earn extra money when I lived in New York. In those days it was still possible to find First Editions at Charity Shops. Oh, this is a month of nostalgia for me.
I think I have instilled in Francesco a love of the texture, fragrance and general beauty of an old book. I hope so as I have already earmarked other books from my collection that will make it into his hands in the coming years.
Midnight in Paris has revved up my nostalgia-meter. I begin to long for my childhood and the wonderful hamburgers you could buy at little kiosks and diners before giant burger chains ran the independents out of business. I wrote to friends asking for tips on making a real hamburger.
My cousin Susan suggests: Get a brisket at the market and have the butcher grind it for hamburger leaving in the fat. Sautee a carrot, onions (half an onion for over a pound of hamburger), a garlic clove and a stalk of celery. Run this through the food processor. Add soft bread crumbs. Add salt and pepper and mix. Sometimes add a dash Worcestershire sauce.
My pal Rita says: “My entire family has loved my hamburgers from day 1 – whether grilled, broiled or pan-fried – trick is adding half an envelope of dry onion soup mix into the ground beef (one pound of extra lean – I use the other half for my killer meat loaf).”
My own tinkering has led to: finely chopped leeks, a healthy dash of Worcestershire sauce, a dash of oregano and pinch of paprika, plus the obvious salt and pepper. Serve with a slice of fresh tomato and sliced dill pickle.
December 16 Donnafugata and Trout
I taste the Chiaranda 2008 (DOC Contessa Entellina Bianco) from Donnafugata (www.donnafugata.it) (a blend of Chardonny and Ansonica) Bright, pale-gold infused yellow. Full tropical fruit notes on the nose, with an undertow of minerality. On the palate: juicy, fruity (white peaches, a ghost of apricot, an idea of greengage plums), satisfying.
I serve it for lunch with salmon trout seasoned with coriander, parsley and lemon zest. Hooray!
I go to see Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. This gets me to thinking about The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook, and that leads me to my book shelf and Found Meals of a Lost Generation: Recipes and Ancedotes from 1920s Paris (published in 1994 by Faber and Faber). Many of the luminaries who flocked to Gertrude Steins salon were there for the food lovingly prepared by Alice. The following is her recipe for Nameless Cookies….which I think should be served with Recioto di Soave.
Sift together ¼ cup powdered sugar and 2 cups white flour. Cream 1 cup butter and add to the flour mixture slowly, little by little; this procedure, stiring rather than beating as flour is added, should take about 20 minutes. At midway point, add 1 tablespon curaçao and teaspoon of brandy. When mixture has been combined, roll the dough into small “sausage” rolls about 2 inches and ½ inch thick. Place on lightly oiled cookie sheet 1 inch apart in a pre-heated 275º F. oven: bake for 20 minutes. Remove gently with spatula, gently shifting powdered sugar over them while still hot. Kept in a tightly closed container, cookies will last up to 3 weeks.
George Méliés was born on this day in 1861. He is the “Father of Film Fantasy” and Ugo has organized a celebration at the Osteria 23 this morning at 11. Méliés – for those who are not silent film buffs – created many of the special effects techniques that we take for granted. He also, according to Ugo, was the first director to take full advantage of the casting couch.
Only 7 people show up. But the boys at the bar are good sports and lay on a spread of sandwiches and potato chips. We bring along a magnum of 2010 Prosseco Crede from Bisol to help grease the wheels of the festivities.
“This is good,” says Cristina, history teacher and magazine writer, taking a healthy swig. “It enters dry and then becomes sweet!”
The image that accompanies this diary insertion is a nativity scene made by Monica’s children, please note the angel made out of a sparkling wine cork.
Monica S. picks me up and we head to the pool with her two young daughters. We sing “There’s Gonna be a Heartache Tonight” by the Eagles at the top of our voices to the pool and the Beatle’ ”When I am Sixty-four” on our return.
Later at her house: “I have come up with an excellent abbinamento (food/wine match),” says Monica. We taste 2003 Domini Veneti Vigneti di Jago 2003 Amarone (www.cantinanegra.it) with freshly shelled walnuts. Monica is right; it is a superb combo.