With Marcella #15 (of 466)

At my table, earlier today, you would have found an assortment of paint tins, brushes and rollers. By this evening, with most of the painting done, it was cleared in order to have two friends join me for dinner.

Something simple. Something from the store cupboard.

Marcella Hazan’s ‘Risotto with Porcini Mushrooms’. The usual great deal of stirring involved – but made a little easier by strengthened hand muscles from days of painting walls and ceilings.

We spoke of holidays – ideal and not so ideal. We spoke of holidays in Rome – and ceilings painted with a little more ‘flair’ than mine.

Tonight: #15 ‘Risotto with Porcini Mushrooms’ with Dermot and Bridget at my table.

With Marcella #14 (of 466)

Earlier today, I was at a meeting where I caught up with old friends in my line of work. We caught up on the six months or so between that meeting and the last. Things had changed considerably in those six months. For some of those friends there had been great encouragements. For me, the plans I had back then had not come to pass. It was sobering – so much can happen, or not, in the space of some months.

Tonight, I ate with a friend, also in my line of work, and as we ate we spoke of changed plans in both our lives. And I quoted from the book of James, incorrectly as it turns out. I was commenting that, according to James, God doesn’t give us any more than a year to plan ahead. My dinner companion asked ‘Is it year??’ – and, as it turns out, it wasn’t. It turns out, we don’t even have a day:

‘Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”‘ (James 4:13-17)

So, as it turns out, it’s not just my plans (for a year or a day) that are in God’s hands – it’s my life as well.

I like to think it was somewhat appropriate then (or ironic), that the meal I cooked was made with store cupboard ingredients – a bag of spaghetti, a tin of tomatoes and tins of tuna (Oh, and a garlic clove). Sure, store cupboard ingredients assume another day (or year) of life and cooking – but then the recipe was quick to make! A meal in a matter of moments – leaving plenty of moments to talk with a friend about God’s reign over all our moments.

Humbling conversation. Delicious but humble food.

Tonight: #14 ‘Tuna Sauce with Tomatoes and Garlic’ with spaghetti and a friend.

With Marcella #12 & #13 (of 466)

Tonight, at my table:

Two women who know the landscape of grief and have walked it with the Lord who loves them.

One roast chicken.

One courgette gratin.

Countless words of wisdom.

Comfort food for the body and the soul.

Tonight: #12 ‘Oven-roasted Chicken with Garlic and Rosemary’ and #13 ‘Courgette Gratin with Tomato and Marjoram’ with Narelle and Margaret at my table.

With Marcella #11 (of 466)

Tonight, it was risotto – again. I’m getting better at it. There are 14 risotto recipes in Marcella’s book, so there will be even more scope for improvement.

A friend, when hearing today that I would be cooking risotto for dinner, said ‘I can’t seem to cook risotto’. I encouraged her to keep trying.

Just prior to this interchange, I had lamented my inability to communicate clearly when I have strong feelings and opinions about things. I tend to get ‘argumentative’ – I never mean to – and I always regret it – and there are usually tears – and there were today.

I am getting better – not quickly enough for my (or anybody else’s) liking! But today I apologised, reflected, pictured how I might communicate differently should that kind of situation arise again, and then came home to cook risotto. Risotto takes time and lots of mundane stirring.

I’m getting better at cooking risotto. I trust, with prayer, time and God’s grace, I will get better at communicating in a clear, loving and thoughtful way.

Today: #11 ‘Risotto with Spring Vegetables, Tomato and Basil’ with Karen at my table.

With Marcella #10 (of 466)

Courgettes are in season (‘zucchinnis’ for those in Australia – and no, they’re not in season there). In a cookbook with 466 recipes it is relatively simple to find a recipe which will make use of seasonal ingredients.

Tonight, it was ‘Risotto with Courgettes’. It took longer than a risotto would normally take to cook – I hadn’t taken into account the extra time needed to cook the courgettes. But my visitors were patient and the extra stirring required of me could only serve to burn off a few of the ‘parmesanal calories’ soon to be taken on board. The taste was worth the wait.

We followed the risotto with a dessert of spiced, poached pears – not a Marcella recipe but taken from a magazine some time ago. Not quite seasonal – pears are at their end – but still lovely. A bit like having ‘mulled sherry’ with one of your five-a-day! So easy! So delicious!

This morning, I started reading through the Psalms. Well, I started with the first Psalm and we will see how far I get. I was reminded that the blessed woman is one that meditates on the Lord’s word day and night and, like a tree planted near a river, bears fruit in season.

This ‘season’ in my life doesn’t feel terribly fruitful – but tonight, as I slowly sautéed the courgettes and gently poached the pears, I trusted that God would bring fruit from this season of life – in his good time.

Today: #10 ‘Risotto with Courgettes’ with Stephanie and her friend, Laura, at my table.

With Marcella #9 (of 466)

Who’d have thought that blanched almonds could be made by blanching almonds? Probably you. But not me. I guess I had always figured that it was just the name for those smooth, white almonds that are ready to top a cake. It never occurred to me that the ‘blanched’ part of the name would refer to the process by which they became smooth and white – that is, immersing in boiling water for two minutes then rubbing the skins off in a rough towel.

Marcella’s Piedmontese Almond Biscuits call for ‘325g shelled almonds, blanched and skinned as described on page 605’. I did what was called for. It took time but no particular expertise and the end result was surprisingly satisfying.

The biscuits proved more than satisfying and provided treats of sweetness at three different gatherings over this past weekend. Apparently the biscuits will ‘keep for a very long time if stored in a tin box’.

Apparently. Who will ever know?

The ‘Women in the Workplace’ gathering enjoyed them with coffee on Friday night. The ‘Birthday Girls’ enjoyed them on Saturday morning – with coffee and a slightly failed, but nevertheless yummy, mocha cake from an alternative cookbook. Then on Saturday night, some lovely folk who hosted a dinner at their place enjoyed the remaining biscuits from the tin.

Three gatherings with talk of God (and consumption of Italian biscuits) at the centre.

The biscuits are otherwise known as ‘brutti ma buoni’ – that is, ‘ugly but good’. And they were.

Yesterday, the day before, and a lone sample remaining today: #9 ‘Piedmontese Almond Biscuits’ with a whole load of people at three different tables.

With Marcella #6, #7 & #8 (of 466)

I like oranges. I like them best when someone else peels them for me. I loved them most when my Mum would peel the orange like a snake (the peel being like a snake, not my Mum), cut the orange into segments, then wrap the snaky peel around the orange again and send me to school with it.

Today, I peeled four oranges all by myself, discarded the peel, sliced the oranges, lay them in a serving dish, sprinkled them with sugar and lemon zest, then poured over the juice of two more oranges and half a lemon. Then, as instructed, I left it covered in the fridge ready for tonight. I wasn’t terribly convinced – but chose to trust Marcella’s words of commendation for this recipe:

“Among all the ways in which a meal can be brought to a fragrant close, none surpasses in refreshment these sliced oranges macerated in lemon peel, sugar and lemon juice.” The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, p643.

I and my visitor happened to heartily agree with Marcella.

The roast chicken and accompaniment of a courgette dish before dessert would also be hard to surpass. The chicken was so simple and so good that it will likely appear at another time so I will leave off praise for that recipe till then.

Today: #6 ‘Roast Chicken with Lemons’, #7 ‘Courgettes with Tomato and Basil’ (though I forgot to scatter the six torn basil leaves at the end…) and #8 ‘Macerated Orange Slices’ with Stephanie at my table.

With Marcella #5 (of 466)

I didn’t feel like eating leftovers from the freezer. I didn’t feel like walking to the supermarket. I had walked 2 1/2 hours already today. I was feeling pretty proud of myself. But pride, as my mother often told me, cometh before a fall.

I decided to make Marcella’s ‘Frittata with Cheese’. I had eggs. I had cheese (not the exact type required – but more on that another time).

The recipe was for serving 4-6 people. I halved the recipe. I intended to eat half tonight and half tomorrow.

It was lovely.

I ate all of it.

I need my visitor to come back.

I am in danger of becoming 2-3 people.

Today: #5 ‘Frittata with Cheese’ with nobody but me (myself and I) at my table.

With Marcella #3 & #4 (of 466)

Today, I met with three women. One with cause to celebrate. One with cause for concern. One with cause for grave concern. The concerns were matters I could do little or nothing about. Nothing but listen, try not say anything stupid, and pray with them.

I came home to cook dinner. Thankful for the reliability and ease of Marcella Hazan’s recipes, I settled into the task at hand: making Marcella’s ‘Pesto by the Mortar Method’ to be used with her ‘Pasta and Pesto with Potatoes and French Beans’.

I did pause to wonder if I could justify some ‘cross-crediting’ as I had covered these recipes in alternative forms in previous culinary visits with Nigella and Anna, but my internal rule-abiding would not allow. Besides, it was a comfort to approach a not-so-challenging challenge after the day that was in it.

I once met a pastor who had taken up the hobby of making bird houses in his spare time. He did it to have something that he could complete and perfect in the midst of work with people – work that was never complete or perfect – not entirely.

I have taken to cooking through cookbooks. Nice neat lists. Pages to mark. Recipes to complete, to note in my book, date and tick. Not to mention the joy of tasting something that results from careful attention given to a prescribed collection of ingredients. So neat, so tidy, so satisfying and, in today’s case, so delightfully green!

I’d not made pesto in a mortar before today. As I pounded away with the pestle, the pesto slowly took shape (or, I should say, the leaves and pine nuts and garlic surrendered their shape). I reflected briefly (as I can rarely reflect and cook at the same time – hence the therapeutic value) on the challenges before those women – challenges that would not go away anytime soon. Their challenges are messy and pressured – but I trust that God can bring something good out of it all.

I know I can’t.

But I can now make pesto by the mortar method. I will, however, revert to the food processor for the next adventures with this bright green treasure. Not only is it easier – but it will count as another of Marcella’s recipes completed!

Today: #3 ‘Pesto by the Mortar Method’ and #4 ‘Pasta and Pesto with Potatoes and French Beans’ with Helen at my table (she is leaving tomorrow morning and is therefore currently trying to ‘pestle’ her belongings into her suitcase – another challenge I can do nothing about).