Food & Me
Food was always the centre of everything at home, not only at big events, but in the everyday topic of conversation and enjoyment.You see, I was born into a family in which 3 grandparents had Italian ancestors...
From my childhood I remember my mum always cooking some delicious dish or planning the next, our kitchen eternally filled with much anticipation and all those aromas.
Those were the 60’s, the days of the perfect wife showing off her housekeeping and culinary skills. Cooking proper lunch and dinner meals, with starter, main dish and dessert.
All Food homemade from scratch. We used to live at that time with my paternal grandfather and uncle, and formal abundant Food was the priority of my mum’s day, that started very early every morning at the local market.
She would always produce the most exquisite dishes and the more original and elaborated cakes. The”Eugenio C “ cake that looked like the real ocean liner, for the occasion of my grandpa’s trip to Europe, complete even with smoke coming out of the chimneys (my dad’s contribution); a standing 60cm tall female bunny cake for my 5th birthday; a room full of cakes and delights as a surprise Día del Niño (Children´s Day) treat for my siblings and me, etc.
My sister Rosana and I from an early age were allowed to participate in this women’s world (men wouldn’t step into the kitchen!) of baking, roasting, and grating, although it took time for us to be successively promoted from vegetable peelers to sauce taster to finally be culinary creators in our own right.
I remember when my dear aunt Hilda had to be hospitalised for more than three months and my mum would spend most of the day at her side, that my sister and I saw the opportunity to free ourselves in the kitchen! Every afternoon after school, we would watch a TV programme called "Buenas Tardes, Mucho Gusto” (something like “Good Afternoon, Nice to Meet You”, but where the word Gusto has also the meaning of “taste”, referring to what the programme was really about: Food. It was then more like Good Afternoon, Much Taste. It was our chance to ask the young lady that was looking after us to buy us the ingredients needed and we would cook or bake each day’s speciality. It was our baptism in the kitchen. I was 9 and my sister 8 years old, we made so many mistakes but learnt so much!!
I remember particularly a Budín de aceite Ibarra, “Ibarra Oil Pudding”.
The trick was to replace the butter for the vegetable oil brand Ibarra. I remember vividly thinking: if this pudding is called “oil pudding”, it cannot have only a small amount of oil, surely it is a mistake in the recipe, must have much more, I decreed to my younger sister. Well, I remember that the pudding took ages to be cooked, and even then, when I pressed it down with my fingers, all the oil would come up!! Absolute disaster!! But I learnt to respect quantities in puddings...It was July, in the middle of winter down there. The next step was to wait until it was dark and then go to the front door with Rosana, and when nobody could see us, damp the pudding into the acequia (urban ditch) to erase all evidence of the disaster...
We persevered although, and by October we excitedly decided to honour our aunty, still in hospital, with a Mocha Birthday Cake for her birthday.
We were ecstatic, since this time we managed to produce a real cake, all by ourselves! However, we were explained that our aunt was still too delicate to taste anything yet, not to mention a mocha cake...We were very disappointed and saddened but we understood. We ate her cake. It was sooo good, it tasted of unassisted achievement!
Coming back to the old days, all the extended family used to go and visit my great-grandmother Nona Catalina , and this was a party day. Not at all about music and drinks but it was the day when everybody did something for the maintenance of her home. That day most of the house was painted, the furniture was repaired and polished, and the crops were tidied. And then, the highlight of the day, we would sit at her long long table and enjoy all together Nona Olimpia’s (my grandmother) Food, possibly some homemade agnelotti, or ravioli maybe. With a rich chicken sauce, made with the poor little creatures that were running around by when we arrived in the morning. We, the children , spent most of the day playing, climbing fruit trees, and enjoying the wide shade of the fig trees by the irrigation ditch during the hours of the siesta. Good old days...
During my teenager years, I was not allowed to go out much. The first thing was to ask permission, something that was not always granted, although I was an exemplary daughter, I swear, but it had nothing to do with that. It was not seen as a punishment, but more like that for good girls, the lesser they are seen the better for their reputation. It sounds very funny these days, but this is how I missed much of the innocent fun I could have had. That notion came from generations and my mum was under pressure from her family to make sure her daughters were mainly kept in...(By the way, I met my husband when I was 14 years old and he was 15, eventually we got married and are still together after all these years, and I managed that even with the lack of exposure!!). Anyway, occasionally I used to be allowed to attend this or that invitation. The first question my mum would ask would be: what are you planning to cook/bake to bring to the party? I was never allowed to go somewhere without making some Food by myself. It is a custom that I still keep nowadays...
But, as my brothers pointed out, it was not fair to see me or my sister in the kitchen preparing nice Food to take away to a party, leaving them without the chance to taste it, after being watering their mouth with the rich aromas. I thought that their pledge was a just one, so I decided to prepare always two dishes: one for the party and another for home. ...
So Food, and more Food, always the core of everything in my family...
With the coming years, and not exactly in this order, I went to University (living at home, of course), I graduated as a pharmacist and then as a biochemist both with the highest marks and honours, got married to my childhood sweetheart, had three incredible boys, completed a masters degree in Immunology and led a scientific research career following my husband around the world: Singapore, France, Singapore again, UK (not bad for a girl from a small town in the other side of the world who was meant to be kept in ;) ).
What an amazing opportunity to experience firsthand new cultures, new customs, new Food!! I immersed myself in this adventure and try to make the most of it!
In Singapore, I made friends with a Chinese lady neighbour and we started exchanging Food recipes. But there was a problem: it was very difficult for us to find the ingredients and to know how to cook each other’s recipes. Therefore, we decided that we would cook them and eat them together. It was a unique experience and the dumpling recipe was superb!! Then I volunteer to teach how to bake biscuits at the local school my children were attending, as a way to keep a close eye on them and their adaptation to the new place. At the school they were shocked at knowing that I would use ingredient such as butter, milk and sugar to make the biscuits. I was even more shocked to see them shocked about that! I learnt that milk was practically a novelty for them, the government trying to stimulate children´s consume by handing out milk bottles with the zoo entrances, cinema tickets, etc. Maybe that explained the “rounded” legs I saw in many old Chinese women and men, lack of calcium?...And I started exchanging recipes with the school cook. That was something to witness, me with a basic Singlish (Singaporean English) and this lady chef with an inexistent Spanish! But we managed somehow...
The main challenge for me was overcome the lack of oven in Singapore!! We were renting a very modern and beautiful apartment but as all the others, had no oven. I managed long time later, to find a sort of portable tin device that you could plug on and produce some cakes and some roasting. At that time, I used to cook and bake on Fridays desserts and cakes for the whole weekend. I learnt many things in there: that for Chinese people desserts are not necessarily sweet, they could be made with kidney beans and sweet corn and stained with strong artificial-looking colors; they didn’t bake or roast, they mainly boiled, fried or stir-fried most of their Food; they used an automated rice machine as we use our kettle; our microwave had lots of automatic functions, all different ways to cook rice...(which you buy in huge bags, forget the 1 or 2 kilo packs).
After Singapore, came France. Well, that was a Food paradise, not surprise in that. In there I discovered wine, ironically, since I come from one of the main wine regions in the world, (Mendoza, Argentina) and my father owned vineyards famous for their legendary production. Again, ”good girls don’t drink”...Anyway, it was time to give it a go and I loved it!
I tasted and cooked everything within my reach, from typical French Cuisine dishes to the warming fondue bourguignon and fondue au Fromage, perfect for entertaining. France will always have a special place in our hearts because in there we taught our children to ski, we had so much fun!
Then it was Singapore again and finally (finally?) the United Kingdom, with easy access to carry on exploring and tasting the Food of every corner of the world: Italy, Mexico, Cuba, Jamaica, Peru, Thailand, the list is long and hopefully, still expanding.
You will agree that I have kept myself busy. So busy in fact (full/part time researcher, mother to three boys, wife to a much travelling husband) that I couldn’t dedicate enough time to the other things I also enjoy in life: playing the piano, participating in sports, and of course, preparing Food!
I decided then to look for a more flexible job that could allow me to pursuit my other interests.
I am currently starting up as a Freelance translator specialised in Science (
I teach the piano to young children of friends and I am member of the Bristol Gig Club where I row regularly at the harbour side and occasionally in the sea (our next adventure is at the World Championship in the Isles of Scillies!).
As part of this new me, my husband and I have been extending our kitchen and also our dining room to allocate a 10 seat table.
The idea is to spend as much time as possible cooking and enjoying Food with family and friends, with our sons and their girlfriends, an all-day open place where to meet for a bite and a chat....
Let me tell you about these experiences through the recipes I have selected for these pages. Most people I know Identify me with cakes but there is a lot more I can share with you.
Bear with me, I intent to tell you many stories, like the one of my other ancestor’s line, the “Yugoslavian” one (today we would say
I am sure you will be very moved and touched by it and by the tale of our reunion few generations later...
Please feel free to get in touch with me; I would love to hear from you.
I am planning to make this site more interactive, be part of it! I am certain that you also have something interesting to share!
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