Monday, December 24, 2012

Naapoli! Naapoli!

Last month, my cousins and I went on an adventure chaperoned by my aunt. Of course, given that I've slipped in the word 'adventure' here, I must clarify that it's nothing compared to what Huckleberry Finn experienced. What I'm subtly saying is that our adventures were more in meeting new people and seeing new sights. So, when we took a ferry ride it was nothing like the one young Huck took!
(For those who don't know who Huckleberry is...shame on you!)

Now, our adventures were set in Europe. And this story comes from beautiful Italy. After seeing the romantic sights in Venice, which by the way is where we took the ferry ride, we were to venture forward to Rome. A roughly 6 hour train ride from 'Venezia' would take us to the eternal city and we were beyond excited.  Mid way through the journey the train stopped at Florence, where a truly Italian old man boarded the train. He took the empty seat in our compartment with a cheery 'Bounjourno'. Since he looked like our grandfather's age, we helped him put his suitcase up. He gave us a delighted look, a wide smile and put his coat up, adjusted his beret and sat down happily.

Anyway, here we were, young Indians in a foreign land starved of the usual unique Indian banter that is encountered in trains in our country. But hey! This old man looked like he could substitute for a couple of noisy Indians.
So, here started our curious questions...
"Bounjourno Signore, are you going to Rome?"
"ormanioo gjshaadioo haaaadigeee" (I must admit its a little difficult to nail down the exact words)
Now, curious questions with hand signals kicked in.
((Moving my palms parallel to each other in circles trying to signal the train))
"Uhh..Roma? Roman...Rooome..??"
"gajimioo sabiidioo...oohhh...nooh nooh..Naaapoli Naapoli!"
((He put his hand to his heart and gave it two thunderous pats and repeated himself))
"Me..Naaapoli Naapoli"
Here was this charismatic man who clearly was very-very proud of his hometown - Naples.
((He then did some thumbs up'ing))
"Naapoli" *thumbs up* "Naapoli" *thumbs up*
Wow! So Naples must be one crazy place.

With free flowing questions in English and answers in Italian a few things got established:

  • He was from Naapoli - as clearly explained above
  • He made doors for a living - he kept pointing to the compartment door when occupation was the topic of discussion
  • He had a loving wife - "mi amour mi amour" is what he kept saying with hearts in his eyes 
  • He had a very cute little grand son - as he video dialed his daughter so that he could introduce his grand son to us!

His questions to us were excellent! If you thought we Indians are nosy then you better think again. But I must say that a charming smile, twinkling eyes and nosy questions in smooth flowing Italian isn't an annoying combination at all. In fact it's quite the opposite.
Translating what he might have asked us and said to us, here goes -

"Where are you from?...oh India India..North? South?...okay south south...Are you all students? What does you father do?...oh father doctor and you father businessman...very nice...must be very rich no...ah okay you no answer that question...thats how much monies you spend in Venice...okay no answer that also...okay how much you spend for cafe(coffee) in Venezia....oh yay you answer that...what? You spend une cafe(one coffee) 4 euros...Mamma Mia!!!*pats heart frantically*...une cafe 4 euros! Really? *deep breath* ...Naapoli only 1 euro!...Une euro Naapoli!...okay how much you spend for plane ticket...India Itay..answer? pls?...yes you answer?...What?....1000 euros!!!(I actually meant to say 800 euros. Anyway)....Mamma Miaaa!! *pats heart*.....Mamma Miaaa!!!....Mamma Miaaaaa! *takes deep breath* *breathes* *breathes*"

I think he still must be hyper-ventilating!
Unable to contain his surprise and horror I suppose, he went and called his friend from another cabin and in rapid Italiano explained the 1000 euro plane tickets. A chorus of "Mamma Mia's" followed from the two of them. After calming them down and smiling for a couple of photographs, the train slid into the main terminal at Rome.

It was a journey to remember. He will always be a happy memory to us given that so much information was exchanged without knowing each others language. This goes to show that language is no hurdle. The old gentleman from 'Naapoli' was endearing in many ways. He wanted to know so many things, cracked jokes in Italian that somehow penetrated our Indian minds and even fondly invited us to visit him in Naples someday.
As we bid goodbye at Rome Termini he held each of our hands and gave it a kiss wishing us a good journey ahead.
Mamma Mia!

To celebrate this story, here's a Strawberry cake inspired from the Hummingbird's strawberry cheesecake cupcakes! Instead of pouring the batter into cupcake moulds, I decided to use a small round tin.

120g plain flour
140g caster sugar
1½ tsp baking powder
A pinch of salt
40g unsalted butter, at room temperature
120ml whole milk
½ tsp vanilla extract
1 egg
12 large strawberries, chopped into small pieces
For the frosting:
300g icing sugar, sifted
50g unsalted butter, at room temperature
125g cream cheese, cold
1. Preheat the oven to 170°C. Put the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and 40g of the unsalted butter in a free-standing electric mixer with a paddle attachment (or use a handheld electric whisk) and beat on slow speed until you get a sandy consistency and everything is combined.
2. Pour in the milk and vanilla extract and beat on medium speed until all the ingredients are well mixed. Add the egg and beat well for a few minutes to ensure the ingredients are well incorporated.
3. Divide the chopped strawberries between the paper cases. Spoon the cupcake mixture on top until two-thirds full and bake in the preheated oven for 20 to25 minutes, or until light golden and the sponge bounces back when touched. A skewer inserted in the centre should come out clean. Leave the cupcakes to cool slightly in the tray before turning out onto a wire cooling rack to cool completely.
4. Meanwhile, make the frosting by beating the icing sugar the remaining 20g of the unsalted butter together in a freestanding electric mixer with a paddle attachment (or use a handheld electric whisk) on medium-slow speed until the mixture comes together and is well mixed. Add the cream cheese in one go and beat it until it is completely incorporated. Turn the mixer up to medium-high speed. Continue beating until the frosting is light and fluffy, at least five minutes. Do not overbeat, as it can quickly become runny.
5. When the cupcakes are cold, spoon the cream cheese frosting on top.

If you want to make it as a small cake then pour the batter into a cake tin. Once the cake is done cut it into two halves and ice it with the cream cheese frosting. Cut a few strawberries into small bits and mix it lightly with a little of the frosting and place it on top of the cake. Garnish with two big whole strawberries!


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