I LOVE panettone! It’s one of the foods I enjoy most at Christmas time. Panettone is Italy’s version of Christmas cake, although it’s not really a cake but more like a type of sweet bread. Traditional ingredients are very simple: flour, eggs, yeast, butter, sugar, candied orange and lime, raisins. The method for making it however is extremely laborious and requires a lot of time and patience.
Some say that panettone was a creation of love. A 15th century legend attributes the invention to the nobleman Ughetto degli Atellani, who was in love with the daughter of a poor baker named Toni. He disguised himself as a baker and prepared this sweet bread to conquer the lovely maiden. Instead, another, somewhat less-romantic legend says that during a Christmas lunch at the court of Ludovico il Moro in Milan, the cook burned the Christmas cake he was supposed to serve. Seeing the cook’s despair, a scullion named Toni proposed to serve the sweet and simple bread loaf that he had prepared that morning. The dessert was enthusiastically received by all the guests present, and the cook congratulated Toni and name the cake after him, Pan di Toni (Toni’s Bread).
Panettone has always been on my family’s table at Christmas time in Australia. When I was little I don’t know where my parents managed to get them from as ‘wog’ food was hard to find – maybe that Giuseppe guy sold them from the boot of his Valiant. In the past ten years or so the big chains began selling them a dime a dozen and finding a good one became hit and miss. In recent years I’d started buying expensive imports, and although good, the flavours don’t compare to the ones I’ve tasted here in Italy in the past two years. Hell, even the cheapies bought from the local supermarket are delicious.
On Christmas morning my uncle cut into one that was so rich in colour, deliciously moist and packed full of orange peel and sultanas. I couldn’t help but go back for seconds. And thirds. When the jokes started flying about how my family was going to have to hide it if anyone wanted another piece I realised that maybe I needed to save some room for lunch. The day ended with more panettone which was served drizzled with crema di marscapone, a rich cream of marscapone cheese to which egg yolks, sugar and alcohol are added. It was, as the Italians say, ‘una bomba’ (a bomb), meaning delicious but heavy, and definitely not good for the waistline – thank God it’s not something eaten every day. Fast forward to today, two days later, and I’m still devouring it for breakfast, preferring it with a cup of strong, black coffee, into which I dunk pieces of the cake. Yum.
Christmas can also be a time for reflection and this has been the case for me this year more than others. On the long journey to visit my family I started thinking about the year that was and the new year ahead. For a few years now I have had only one resolution – to be more spontaneous. I’ve always been a thinker, a planner and a list maker and all I’ve wanted in recent years is to just be able to live for the moment and take each day as it comes. It’s been hard not to be spontaneous these past sixteen months in Italy, I’ve had to learn to make quick decisions on the fly with no time for my exhaustive research patterns of the past. While not all of them have been favourable, there has always been a lesson to learn and a little bit of growing to be done. Sicily too is the perfect place for spontaneity as no one ever makes plans more than a day in advance – the longer I stay the more I find myself thinking and acting like the locals. ‘Doing anything on the weekend?’ someone may ask. ‘Ci sentiamo’ (we’ll speak), is a common reply.
So with spontaneity no longer a valid resolution to take into the new year I began thinking about what I might like to achieve in 2013 and started making a list (okay, so some habits die hard). All the usual suspects are there: tame the bulge, exercise more, learn something new – these are easily achievable. Then I started thinking about emotional baggage and realised there were many things connected to the past that I want to let go of.
Letting go is going to be no easy task. Letting go of ideas, expectations, desires; letting go of bad habits, false beliefs, unhealthy relationships. Every day presents opportunities to create myself anew, to shrug off the baggage of the past, open myself up to the possibility of the moment and take action to create an incredible future. Although I understand this intellectually, knowing it and living it are two very different things.
I want 2013 to be a time to reflect on my history without judgment. To accept my circumstances and friendships as they are and remember that none of these are defining. I want to let go of my judgments and ideals, the material things, all my ‘stuff’, as I know they have no real value. I want to believe that the universe is unfolding as it should and that holding on is only holding me back. I want to have fun, be playful, cheerful and positive. Love myself, love others and love this life. And finally, I want to be grateful. Grateful for all that I have and all that I am.
So here’s to letting go of the past and embracing the future. If all else fails there is ALWAYS panettone. Happy New Year everyone.