Tuesday, 27 May 2014

A sweet success!

Well well. As I sit here typing this I am feeling pretty darn chuffed with myself. Why? Because, dear readers, I happen to have demonstrated that my baking skills are, in fact, not bad at all. As you all know, I am fan of eating dolce. A big fan. A massive, super sweet-toothed fan. And yes, every now and then I do get involved in a bit of cake making and sometimes I even share my little sponge cake or cupcake recipes with you. But this time, this particular weekend, I think it's fair to say that I just about surpassed myself. As it was my boyfriend's birthday, I calmly volunteered to make a birthday cake. Momentarily forgetting (great big face palm) that 'making a birthday cake' here in southern Italy does not involve wedging a couple of sponge cakes together with some nice chocolate icing. Oh no no no no.

Firstly, there can't just be one cake. Absolutely not. There must be a 'selection' of treats, as every person's plate must contain at least 3 or 4 different types of dolce. Now, this is not an 'official' rule, but it may as well be. Previous birthday ''get-togethers' that I have been to have left me with a tummy full of 5 or 6 different cake samples. Secondly, in our list of 'cake requirements', the standard of the cakes must be no less than excellent. There's no 'Oh-it's-the-thought-that-counts' mentality here. It has to be bloody brilliant. And finally, he or she preparing said cakes must be able to deal well with stress. The thought that it may all go wrong, or that the standard of the cake won't be up to par, or that people will passively insult your cakes by leaving big slices of them uneaten on abandoned plates...in other words, get ready to put blood, sweat and tears into your dolce if you're cooking for a load of fussy Italians.Especially a good 25 of them.

So you can imagine that, after uttering the words 'sure, I'll make your birthday cake', my world started crashing around me. OK, I'm exaggerating a bit. But only a bit. Even deciding on which dolce to make was a trauma. Cream? Chocolate? Fruit? Oh why are there so many options. Anyway, in the end I decided on the following: A vanilla, two-layer sponge cake decorated with crema pasticcera, crema Chantilly , fresh strawberries and grated white chocolate. This was to be the 'main' cake. The piece di resistance. I would also do two Kinder Bueno cheesecakes and a plate of fairy cakes topped with crema Chantilly. For several hours, my kitchen turned into a pasticceria and I turned into a mean, cake making machine. Once the process was finished, and I realised that I hadn't sat down in over three hours, I stepped back and surveyed the situation. The cakes looked pretty darn good. All had gone to plan. But my kitchen? It looked like a great big bomb of cream, strawberries and Kinder Bueno bits had gone off in it. Dirty pots and containers had been abandoned all over the place and the electric whisk looked like it had had better days. All of this didn't bother me so much however. As the party was drawing nearer and it was almost time for my cakes too be judged by a ruthless panel. I mean, eaten by my boyfriend's loving family. Ahem.

Fast forward to several hours later, and the fruit had just been devoured. (The order of food here goes like this: savoury, fruit, dessert, liqueur. Always.) My heart was actually pounding as I brought out the dolce and presented it on the table. Nobody said a word. And it wasn't that sort of 'stunned by the beauty of it all' silence. No. They just weren't really fussed. Buuuuh. It's OK, I said to myself. Clearly the presentation isn't so important. Wait until they try it. Slices were plated up. Said plates were distributed. And I waited. For a while, nothing. Munch munch. Chew chew. Then suddenly:


Really nice Amy.

I had started to breathe again.

Is there any more? I'd quite like another piece.

YES. Fist pump.

At this point I was grinning like a loon at my little success. Plates were being finished! People were asking for more! My man beamed at me. But then I heard this:

Very nice Amy. Yes...can we book you for the next birthday party?!

.......*Amy shaped hole in the wall*

The goods.

Recipes for these cakes to be published soon!!

Friday, 16 May 2014

More documents please!

As I'm sure you know, I'm not usually one to rant and rave on my blog; preferring to focus on the more positive elements of life- peaceful southern Italian living, delicious dolce and...more delicious dolce. But today is different, dear readers. Why? Because today's topic of conversation is the infamous Italian bureaucracy.

Recently, I have found myself in the middle of a bureaucratic nightmare. Not only do I need to renew my passport (a UK passport obviously) and therefore require Italians to take care of translations, photos etc, but I also need to renew my driving licence. Oh, and I recently got my official residency here too. Like I said: it's a true bureaucracy-fest, and here, you either sink or swim. I'm swimming...but only just. I won't bore you with all the gory details, but I'll tell you about a few 'special occasions'- where the Italian bureaucratic system has really demonstrated how fabulous it really is (yes yes, that's sarcasm.)

1. It took at least 20 minutes for the man at the local town hall to decide what to write as my place of birth on my identity card. Great Britain? United Kingdom? England? I insisted, he didn't listen, instead preferring to call two other equally as clueless colleagues for help.

2. I had to go to aforementioned town hall at least 5 or 6 times to do various, rather useless things. The man who works there grabbed my arms and told me 'not to be scared'. I was.

3. The local Motorizzazione (Driving Licence agency) is a terrifying place, where everyone is angry and shouty. EVERYONE.

4. At said Motorizzazione I was given completely the wrong information and told that I could not convert my licence to an Italian one. After several phone calls, Internet searches and a lot of time wasted, we realised that this was not the case and actually, I COULD convert my licence. Now I understand all the shoutyness.

5. With all the necessary documents, I arrived at the local court to do my translation (traduzione giurata), just to be told that the judge who usually deals with these matters wasn't available and I should return the next day. Any advice on what other supporting documents I might need? I asked the man hopefully. Unsurprisingly, he didn't have a clue.

6. When I returned to the local court to do my translation, there was nobody waiting in front of me and the judge was available. Result! It was too good to be true however, as I had to wait 20 minutes just for her to finish her coffee/rant at her colleague.

These are just snippets. And they are pretty tame ones at that. There will undoubtedly be huge numbers of other expats who have felt the wrath of the disorganised, nonsensical bureaucratic system here in the Boot.To all of you, I offer my sincere condolences for your wasted time. To those of you who are considering diving into this mess, my advice to you would be this:

1. Take a patient, real-life Italian with you when you have meetings and appointments to go to. Any linguistic issue you may have, they will take care of. And the person who you are dealing with may have issues about your foreign-ness, so the real-life Italian may help to cushion this too.

2. Do your research online (there are lots of sites and forums- just google 'Italian bureaucratic nightmare' and you should get something) and get as prepared as you can. There will ALWAYS be something else that they need though, so just try and control your anger when they make you return 2 more times with other useless documents that were not mentioned on said online forums.

3. Have a nice glass of whisky/glass of local red/big bar of chocolate/tranquiliser ready for you when you return home. You will need it.

Good luck to you all, my fellow expatriates!

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

May days

So far, May has been a pretty good month (apart from the bureaucratic nightmare that I have been struggling with...more on that in the near future). Not only has the warm weather finally decided to arrive (it was taking its sweet time...let's hope it sticks around) but I have also managed to meet up with a very special friend of mine. Valentina and I have been friends for about three years now, and she was the first real friend I made here in Italy. Every time she's around in the city, we make sure that we can squeeze in a good gossip.

As well as this lovely meet up, I received a very special gift from my aunt in the UK: a beautiful painting done by her own fair hands. And the Italian courier didn't make so much as a smudge on the package- hooray! Isn't it fantastic??

And finally, (as all good things come in threes) I had the pleasure of sinking my teeth into this very sweet treat:

What you can see here, dear readers, is a strawberry tiramis├╣. Words simply cannot describe how delicious it was, so here are a few more photos for you to enjoy/salivate over.

Have a great day!