31 January 2011

Just another Winter day

Like every year, at last traffic stops were decided this winter too!
Yesterday cars and trucks were  forbidden to circulate because of pollution, but PM10 kept staying above the limit, so the block will continue (although limited to the most polluting categories of cars) until the air becomes breathable again and pollution remains under limits for at least three consecutive days... Which might need many days, unless some providential rainfalls or snowfalls help the situation.

Luckily  I don't need the car for work, and I seldom use it in the city, so I hardly notice these limitations... But they are very annoying for people living in the hinterland as public transports are quite bad as soon as one leaves Milano, and car is often the only alternative!
Milano is no worse than most other cities as far as traffic is concerned, but the problem is that it lies in a plain where winds are almost non-existent...Windy days  are really a rarity in Milano (and I'm glad of this, as wind often gives me headache!) and this blocks all the pollution over the city...It can be even seen from the upper floors of tall buildings on sunny days in winter!
I can't see any easy solution for this problem, as the city has grown like all the modern cities, centralising services and offices, so that most people live very far from their working place, and far from big shopping centers (which seem to be the only form of shops that can survive the crisis) and from everything...Modern cities seem made so that apparently you can't get anywhere on foot. When I was a child, in my neighbourhood all the basic services and shops could be reached in a few  minutes on foot... Now I have to take my car and drive for 15 or 20 minutes (or spend 40 minutes on buses or waiting for them ).The city has grown in a way that makes cars a necessity... Then we die of air pollution and must stop the traffic periodically to keep things under control. I wonder whether cities will change again one day, or we will remain slave of cars (and of traffic blocks) forever...

30 January 2011

Back on track

...At least I hope so!
This month has been particularly heavy for me, with my mother still in hospital, and  myself with some unpleasant medical tests to do, (results yet to be seen).
I have worried a lot, got plenty of headaches, made all the usual worst-case-hypotheses, and then at last I decided to move on, as there is nothing else I can do at the moment.
So today I went back to my tapestry loom and worked  at The Shores of Faery... I hadn't touched it for a long time and I guess that by the time it will be finished it will be darke with dust (it doesn't show, but I saw how dusty the loom was..I suppose the same quantity of dust was on the tapestry).
Minu was very surprised to see me there; she usually considers my tapestry loom as one of her hiding places (not that it can hide anything very much as it's just a wooden structure, but it's almost impossible to reach her when she's behind it) so she was probably a bit annoyed by the fact that I stationed there... But she watched me work for a long time.
I'll also have to finish a couple of scarves that I'm weaving on my floor loom...I'm glad because it seems I'm learning not to make mistakes with this pattern; last time I used it I spent half of the time to unweave and correct errors...

(wow, this photo is terrible! I'll take a better one tomorrow)

25 January 2011

Children's books...

I started to buy children's books when my own children were young, but as they grew up I decided that it was a pity to miss so many beautiful books, and I started to buy them for myself when I happened to see a particularly beautiful one. Now I have a small collection, mostly because book space in my home is precious and I can never buy as many books as I wish...Otherwise it would be a  _big_ collection by now.
Some time ago I happened to see the Italian edition of "The rabbits" by Shaun Tan, and fell in love with this image....This ship is amazing!!

The story is poetic and sad, told just with a minimum number of words...  Images convey all the feelings.
I think it is a very artistic book ...And actually I realized that illustrated books are an easy way to collect beautiful works of art! It's true that one can't hang the images on walls, but as I wouldn't have the space anyway, that's not important for me!
I decided I wanted to buy also the other works by Shaun Tan (as anyway his books cost as little as a magazine on on-line bookshops) , and I ordered "The Lost Thing" and "The Red Tree".
Both have in common the fact of having just few words printed on pages that need a long observation and attention  to discover lots of  details...I guess young children love these these books, but they are really enjoyable by adults too... And actually Shaun  Tan's books belong to the kind of items that look as if they were meant for children, but are probably aimed at adults...

I found especially beautiful  "The Red Tree" , that is a visual masterpiece and won many awards.. It explores feelings of loneliness, grief  and hope through amazing images.

 Now I'm looking forward to buy "The arrival", which has no words at all...But I'm sure it won't need them.

Shaun Tan's site is at http://www.shauntan.net/ , discover his works there!

15 January 2011

I'm in a catalogue!

EtsyItaliaTeam published a catalogue of items suggested for Valentine's Day ... And one of my items was included!
I find it a bit funny to end up in a Valentine catalogue as I've never received anything myself on Valentine's Day...But I'm very pleased I was included, and the catalogue is very beautiful.

Many thanks to Nanofactory , who did all the editing and graphical work (and even got the photo herself, as I forgot to send it to her) !!

07 January 2011

Back to normal

Christmas holidays ended yesterday with Epiphany ("L'Epifania, che tutte le feste si porta via", as the Italian saying goes, "Epiphany, that brings away all the holidays") . Most schools will re-open only next Monday, and many people are still on holiday, so the return to usual life  will happen slowly during the weekend.
Parking places can still be found easily in my road, and that means that a lot of people are still away at the moment.
But the Three Kings reached the end of their journey (led by the comet and the Sputnik) at last! I had promised a photo of my nativity, and here it is:

(It's nothing special, I know! We don't build large and complex sceneries like many people do, but honestly I wouldn't even know where to place a larger one. This is just placed on the top of old VHS tapes on  a bookcase. The whole scene is not much larger than shown in photo, and include a couple of small houses, some sheep and some assorted animals, as well as a few additional shepherds).
In the weekend I'll have to dismantle it (and the Christmas tree)  and put away everything, until next year!

01 January 2011

New Year cooking

One of the most popular traditions in Italy is to eat "cotechino" or "zampone" on the first day of the  year, accompanied by lentils... This is meant to bring a prosper new year, with lentils "bringing money" to you.
I can guarantee it won't work :-), but it's a good dish, so I thought this year I could take some photos of my cotechino to show how the dish is prepared.

Cotechino is similar to a big sausage (it usually weighs around half a kilo) made  with meat and   "low-value" parts of the pig that couldn't be put to better uses... Traditionally nothing could go wasted (people were poor in ancient times!), and  many traditional recipes use ingredients we would hardly eat today...
So cotechino is  fat and certainly not indicated in a diet, but as we eat it once or twice a year, it's not a big problem...
There are many brands of pre-cooked  cotechini, sold in metallised plastic envelopes that must be boiled  just for 10 or 20 minutes, but this time I bought a "real" one, to be cooked completely.
The first operation to do is to prick it with a needle or a skewer..._Not_ with a fork, as the fork would make many holes close to each other, that would cause the cotechino to  break while cooking.
Then it must be put in cold water and be left there for 3 hours.  Here it is, before cooking...

I'm not sure what this operation is meant to do! Maybe it serves to soften the skin as it gets soaked in water, that's my only guess.. Anyway I left mine in the water overnight, as otherwise I would have had to get up in the very early morning to put it in the water in time to cook it for lunch. (Apparently it didn't get any damage from staying in the water so long).
Cotechino must be boiled, but it can't be just boiled as it is, as it must cook for a long time and it would break... It must be enveloped in a fabric.
A kitchen towel is perfect; of course don't choose a nicely printed or embroidered one! Think that it will have to boil for three hours; any old discoloured kitchen towel will be alright.
I wrapped an old towel around my cotechino and tied it with some rope, so that it wouldn't unfold during  the long cooking

 Then I started cooking it and let it boil slowly for three hours (yes, that's a lot of time, but you can just leave it there  by itself and do other things, it doesn't even risk burning it! Just keep the water boiling very slowly).

After three hours it was  ready! I took it out of the water and unfolded the towel carefully, then placed the cotechino on the dish with lentils (see the first photo of this post!)
Lentils were prepared very simply, I just minced a couple of carrots, an onion and a cerely then fried them with a little butter and a few small pieces of bacon, then added lentils ...Normally I would add a little wine but I didn't have it so I couldn't do that; I added water and a stock cube. Anyway there are several possible variations, lentils can cooked in many ways and there are probably a lot of  family traditions!

So that was my main dish for the 1st day of the yearm as in most Italian families!

And in case you wonder where the three Kings are today, they have advanced further along the corridor bookcase, and here they are, in a very narrow point (and yet worse parts are coming!)...