I am reading a very old book about Tuscany by Frances Mayes that seems as fresh as today. I can’t go to Italy currently but love it as the source of many great travel stories. Italians in their own culture certainly live differently than we do. Frances Mayes spent fall through spring in San Francisco but lived in the Tuscan town of Cartona during the summer where she and her husband bought a house there long ago. This book brings back a flood of memories about our many trips to Italy and its considerable cultural contradictions.
Ruth & I have been trying to diet due to an increase in COVID, stay-inside weight. However, Ruth bought a book of pasta recipes in Sacramento last week and we have been having spaghetti, a diet no no, almost every night. Frances Mayes, who is shown to be slender on the back cover of this old book, talks about her love of Italian food; and one chapter is all about Italian-style cooking. Talk about contradictions! Her Hazelnut Gelato that sounds delizioso and contains 6 egg yolks, one and a half cups of sugar, and 2 cups of heavy cream. She talks about inventing dishes using seasonal ingredients but then slavishly documents recipe amounts, like 4 tablespoons of pine nuts in her Sage Pesto. In a way this makes sense since people who read this book and try the recipes need to know about how much of each ingredient is needed.
In one chapter I made Ruth laugh out loud twice with Mayes’ stories. In the chapter after her favorite recipes she is recalling a friend in college who said, “I’m so glad I went to London. Now I don’t ever have to go again.” Ruth & I have been to England several times. Eleven pages later she writes, “I think there’s a microbe in Italian painters’ bloodstreams that infects them with the compulsion to paint Jesus and Mary.” Amen. A few pages before this she comments, “If you’re in great shape, you’ll still huff and puff a little on a walk to the upper part of town.” This is so true of the Italian town and even la citta!
By the way, the recipe book Ruth purchased in Sacramento is called Spaghetti Sauces and is by Biba Caggiano. It’s the 6th book of Biba’s that Ruth has bought. Its copyright date is 2011. In December, 2019 I treated Ruth to dinner at Caggiano’s popular Sacramento restaurant for her birthday. A serious fan of Biba’s recipes, Ruth and I were shocked to learn that Biba died in August, 2019. Her recipes and Frances Mayes’ wit live on.