Thursday 30 January 2014


I have a couple of hours before I leave for work. Chotto-ma is at school. D and I dropped her off, then came back home for a coffee before he left for work. We do that whenever I have the morning free. We drop her off, and sneak back home. I don't know why it feels like sneaking, but it's fantastic.

We sit on that brown sofa, our legs stretched out and crisscrossing like rivers; and as liquid. We drink our coffee and talk. Today, we also had these slivers of orangey chocolate crisps - addictive little critters - that a friend introduced us to recently. The crisps crunch between our teeth, and that's the only sound we hear. If I open my ears wider, there's a chik-chree-chik of a winter bird I cannot name, the ticjk-tock-ticjk-tock of a clock that's running seven minutes late, and the sounds of our floorboards stretching like old bones. I'm in love with this quiet, with this time, this tangle of limbs.

When we were walking Chotto-ma to school earlier, something caught my eye at the window of the thrift shop we pass everyday. My feet faltered, stopped, for there behind the shop window stood the coffee table I'd been waiting years for. Angels sang. It was old, tiled, used, perfect. But the shop hadn't opened yet, it was too early in the morning. By the time it opened I'd be at work, and the whole day would've passed. I knew the table wouldn't stay that long; it was a very busy shop, business was brisk, the table was just £20. I stood there, I fretted. D walked to the back of the shop; the cleaner was opening one of the shutters, but then the cleaner wasn't allowed to sell anything. Chotto-ma was getting late for school, I was getting late for work. And so, I walked away. I told myself that if it was meant to live with us, the table would stay. And if it wasn't, well, it was meant for someone else to keep their coffee on.

The table waited for us. The world had passed by its gorgeous tiles, its sturdy legs, its throwaway price, and yet, no one had taken it away. And that's the way most of our home has gathered itself over the years. Pieces, old and used, from here are there - the big armchair, the dining table, the odd chairs, the blue china cupboard which we painted and wallpapered, my desk, the footstool my feet now rest on.

Unlike new furniture, these come with stories. They have a past, they were loved and left, or passed down from those who had passed away. Adopted, orphaned wood. I like the way they bring in bits of other lives; imprints I can only guess at. I like to think of them as continuations.

Many months after we bought our dining table, while cleaning crumbs from the floor, I discovered that the table had something on its underside. A painted heart with the initials A + L next to it.

- - - -

And here's another continuation: do you remember this? Well, it's been sitting by the window for a while now, and I've watched it change from a bright yellow to a deep, dull yellow. I've watched it settle and sink into its own juices, skin softening, ageing. I've opened the lid to sniff, dipped in a finger to taste, and I can't wait any longer.

Butter with preserved lemon, roasted cumin & coriander


A good salted butter
Preserved lemon peel, finely chopped (don't use the pulp, just the peel)
2 tsp whole cumin
Fresh coriander leaves
Chilli flakes

Keep the butter outside the refrigerator to soften it.
Lightly dry-roast the cumin in a hot pan, stirring constantly. Take it off the heat and coarsely grind it with a pestle.
Mix all the ingredients together. And your butter's ready.

You can use it on anything - spread it on toast, smear it on a grilled fish, tuck it into warm rice. It's all good.

Saturday 18 January 2014


Here it is. Your second course of the Romalogue. I'm just going to wing it this time, since there's no gentling into Roman food; you can only hope to dive in and do. Do as the Romans do.

I've also made a list of places for kids in Rome, as recommended by Chotto-ma, our keen little traveller. It's a city where you might be prone to dragging children from one historical ruin to another, from one Bernini painting to another, but really, but after a while, it can become white noise. Spread it out, breathe and make sure to be a bad tourist every now and then. That's when Rome gets good.

What else do I have? Ah, yes - the lovely apartment we stayed in. The ins and outs of it. And the caged, old lift that took us up to it.

Enjoy your Roman tryst. Tell me what you think of it. I'll meet you on the other side.

What we ate:
We went to Rome with a long, and sure, list of places we wanted to eat in. Food that we wanted to try. And we did. We also wanted to cook a couple of meals at home so that we got a chance to pick fresh ingredients from the market, which we wouldn't find in England.

Here are some of the best of what we tried.

First: the pizzas, the pizzas. Rome doesn't know how to make a bad pizza, so you're safe almost anywhere, but here are some of the places we loved:

- Pizza al Taglio, or pizza-by-the-slice, from Ai Marmi on Viale de Trastevere (open evenings only), and from Il Forno Roscioli (for their Pizza Bianca).
- A sit-down pizza lunch at Bir & Fud (For thin crusts and craft beers. And their bruschettas. Beautiful.)
- A pizza dinner at Ivo A Trastevere (Busy, bustling, filled with locals. Open kitchen churning out pizza after pizza)

Suppli from:
- I Suppli (one of the best in Rome)
- Pizzarium (Although they're known for their pizza, the thick, puffy crusts were not for me. But the suppli was fantastic.)

Typical Roman trattoria food, like mamma makes it:
- La Boticella (Try the Fiori di Zucca, the chicory with garlic and chilli, the oxtail, the tiramisu.)
- Da Enzo (the carbonara, the carbonara)
- Cesare al casaletto - recommended to me by the lovely Rachel of Rachel Eats, who's a Testaccio local. More food links on her blog.

Italian cooking with a Kosher influence in Rome's gorgeous Jewish Ghetto:
- Sora Margherita (The Carciofi alla giud├Ča, the Fettucine Cacio e Pepe and the meatballs) 

Coffee at:
- Caffe Sant'Eustachio (A Roman institution. Caffeine-ing the city since 1938.)
- Bar Gianicolo (one of our favourite finds, after a leafy uphill walk from Trastevere)
- Baylon (modern mismatched cool, old books and chrome lamps, great coffee and fresh juice in recycled jars)

Gelato from:
Fiori di Luna (The gelateria that every guidebook will lead you to)
Albeto Pica (Another on-the-map gelateria. Of old fame.)
Old Bridge (The one no guidebook tells you about. It has an unfortunately English name, but one of the best gelatos we had in Rome.)

And finally, an absolute must-do:
Sunday brunch at Open Colonna (Modern Roman cooking in superchef Antonello Colonna’s glass-roofed restaurant. Don't leave the city without doing this, don't.)

Food shopping (the only kind of shopping I did in Rome):
- Head to the local butcher and stock up on hand-minced local sausages. Especially the Luganica, which are so, so very good.We even flew them back to the UK.
- Pick up freshly made (not dried) pasta, especially the ravioli, from any local pasta maker.
- Biscuits from Artigiano Innocenti (Hard to find, but worth the hunt)
- Get a bottle of extra-virgin olive oil and some Mozzarella di Bufala from Roscioli or Volpetti (legends, both)
- From the market - fish, courgette flowers, artichokes and chicory leaves.

And here's what you do with the cicoria. Pluck the chicory leaves from the stem, boil them in salt water for 5 minutes, drain. Heat olive oil, crush a few whole garlics still in their peel. Throw them into the oil with some chilli flakes. Toss in the leaves. (We first had this in La Botticella, then cooked it at the apartment the next day. Probably the best thing I've had in Rome.)

For more on Rome and its food, check out Katie Parla's inexhaustible blog.

Where we stayed - the apartment:
After months of hunting, we found this charming apartment located in the heart of Trastevere, walking distance to most things (we walked to Centro Storico, as well as Testaccio), but away from everything touristy. It has a fish and vegetable market around the corner, along with a gelateria and speciality cheese shop. There's a bakery below, opposite a little shop that makes fresh pasta in small batches. And right opposite the apartment sits a cool rock-and-roll bar called Big Star with great coffee, beer on tap and darn good music. In Rome, bars are about coffee first, alcohol later.

The apartment has everything you could think of. And Silvana, who owns it, was the loveliest host who handed us the keys, with a big smile and box of good advice, and then left us to it.

You can contact Silvana, or find out more about the apartment here.

Rome for little legs:
Chotto-ma could move to Rome. Where else would you find all her favourites in one place? Pizzas, pastas, gelatos, fountains and dogs. At every turn. That such a place even existed...!
Here's her list of must-dos. A fool-proof list, I thought, if you're doing Rome with kids.

- Explora il Museo dei Bambini di Roma (because you owe them one museum that's all about them)
- I Burattini del Gianicolo (a old-world puppet theatre on a lovely hill)
- Mouth of Truth or La Boca della Verita in the Church of Santa Monica. Of Roman Holiday fame. And one for which Chotto-ma was ready to walk miles. She'd read all about it in her book, and couldn't wait to put her hand into the big gaping mouth. Her next favourite bit was lighting a candle in the church.
- The Planeterium (because she's into all things space)
- Largo di Torre Argentina - a cat sanctuary
- Piramide di Caio Cestio (Because she's also into all things Egyptian. And because there's the beautiful, quiet Protestant Cemetery behind it where Keats and Shelley lie. A piece of peace in the midst of the city, which Chotto-ma loved.)
- A visit to the seaside (It's a beautiful break from the busy-ness, and all a fun train ride away. We took a train from Pyramide and got off at C. Colombo, to visit friends who lived in a house filled with lemon and pomegranate trees. There's a beautiful beach right opposite the station, stretching for miles. Not to mentioned, a glass-walled ristorante looking out to sea.)
- Cinema dei Piccoli - the smallest movie theatre in the world, and it's for kids! English films are dubbed in Italian, without English subtitles. But what fun!)
- A meeting with La Befana, Rome's favourite witch. She's flies down on her broomstick every January 6, bringing treats for children. You can meet her at Piazza Navona on the day of the Epiphany. Chotto-ma met La Befana, who ran up to her with a big bar of chocolate, in Orvieto, a village in Umbria.
- Trevi Fountain or Fontana di Trevi - Oh, the thrill of throwing that coin in! You have to face away from the fountain and throw the coin over your shoulder. It's apparently the way to wish your way back to Rome some day. And Chotto-ma did. She also wished to see a rainbow.


A day away from Rome - Orvieto
I think I'd better say ciao! now, and leave you with photographs of this little Umbrian village. If you want to visit Orvieto for a day-trip, you can read more about it on this lovely blog.