Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Milk of Magnesia

Just some photographs from lunch on Christmas Day. After a while I just couldn't be bothered to pick up the camera. Can you still buy Milk of Magnesia in Blighty?

Sunday, 12 December 2010

What's this then?

A funny fruit. Funny peculiar rather than funny ha-ha of course. Matures in November and has a very sweet gloopy orange pulp that is nice to eat but some white-ish pith that are very bitter. Very popular with birds hereabouts when there's not much else to feed on. The branches are very delicate and break easily. A special Combo prize to the first reader to give the correct name. Maybe I should change the name of this nonsense blog to Unmitigated Italy.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Hen Night

I bought a hen from a local peasant (paid way over the odds of course) and it came with all its bits and pieces. Inserting my hand you-know-where I found that apart from its guts there was also an egg which I had for brekker next day with brown bread soldiers and lots of butter. I boiled  the fowl with carrots, a stick of celery and an onion and it was eaten with a fruit mustard. The wine was the deliciously drinkable Cabernet Franc from Smooth Tony. Yum yum pig's bum.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Le Marche and Rome

The dog-eat-dog cut and thrust of the Combo empire-building programme continues apace and necessitated a trip to Urbino in Le Marche and then The Eternal City. Urbino is a predictably exquisite hilltop town near the Adriatic coast, virtually untouched since Dante sharpened his quill.
How about this for a bar?
And then I snuck in here for a couple.
The local white wine is called Verdicchio and there are two sub-classifications, Castelli dei Jesi and Matelica which are effectively two different regions. Expressing an interest in the difference between the wines, the charming owner gave me an unexpected BOGOF so I got four glasses for the price of two. Plus stuffing my face with all the usual delicious aperitivi that crowded the bar counter. I spent €6. Imagine an Italian going into a pub in, say, Godalming and asking about the difference between London Pride. and Taylor's Landlord. Two free pints? Your 'avin a larf, intcher? (I'm sure they don't speak like that in Godalming by the way.)

Then it was on to Rome the next day. Business finished I spent ten minutes rubbernecking outside the Italian parliament waiting for that week's government to collapse. There was this police car outside. Neat or what? Note the completely superfluous two blue lights on the roof.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

The Gentleman's Relish

Rummaging around in the larder for some nibbles the other day, I found tucked away at the back the above, a present from Lord Unmitigated, part of a washed-up expat food parcel he kindly sent over yonks ago. The Marmite, PG Tips, decent Cheddar and bottles of ale went the way of all good things almost immediately of course but somehow this slipped through the net. Always thought the best before dates on food labels are a con. This tasted absolutely delicious on hot brown toast. Thank you old chum. All washed down with a big mug of PG Tips, of course!

Thursday, 4 November 2010

A Damp Winterish Wedding...

...but none the worse for that!
One of Mrs Combo's cousins, like many thrusting young Italians, works on a cruise ship. He dropped on with a Peruvian waitress so decided to make it legal at a remote 1960s church hereabouts. With typical Italian disregard for the finer points of spirituality the church builders couldn't be bothered to put in a ring of bells so they made do with a nice pair of loudspeakers that broadcast on a loop tape a supremely tinny recording of two clanking bells:
It is also an Italian tradition to use rice as confetti and also to wish the couple good luck as they leave the church. Unfortunately English txtspk would now seem to be de rigeur
The food at the wedding breakfast was excellent....

...as was the grip quality of the lavatory paper used for the bridal hearse.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Mellow Fruitfulness blah blah..

I managed to snap this just before it started raining three days ago. It is still raining. Copiously. General stuff is now starting to be carried down the hill. A small river is running through the cellar and a prodigious hole has appeared in the woodshed roof. A drink must be in order, that'll make it all better.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

The Fear of God

With choir on Sunday evening to a distant village to sing a concert. Village deserted, rain lashing down, bar closed, more choristers than public. Usual story. The evening brightened up considerably however when I saw this painting dominating the east end, behind the altar. I presume it's St. Bartholomew. You can say what you like about the Church of Rome, but they do good death.
They also would appear to have a pretty decent sense of humour too. Having been flayed to death, he was made the patron saint of tanners.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

A Bad Choice

One of my favourite local-ish wines is Bonarda, from the Oltrepo Pavese district, in the western part of Lombardy, not that far from Comboland. Bonarda is perfect red wine for glugging in quantity, with about 12º of alcohol, nicely acidic and just so slightly fizzy. It'll never win any prizes of course as it's for people with peasant tastes (me) but it's great fun. Doing some idle browsing in a supermarket the other day I chanced upon this Sangue di Giuda (Judas's Blood!) from the same district so I thought, whoopee, I'll have some of that bleeder. Error. It's sweet and foul. Live and learn. Excuse rubbish photo, I was so disappointed with Judas's wine I necked a bottle of decent Barbera as recompense.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

A load of old...

The trip to London wrought its revenge with a decent bout of laryngitis which meant three days in bed, no wine and lots of simple, nourishing food.
The Combo Mother-in-Law rustled up one of her staple dishes for me. Tripe with Spanish beans, potatoes and tomatoes.
I can just about remember my father tucking in to a huge steaming bowl of tripa alla inglese, that being great leathery sheets of the stuff boiled for about nine weeks in milk and onions. Intending visitors could be seen running away from the house with a handkerchief pressed over their faces, dry heaving at the foul stink. Then there was my time in the abattoir where I got to know cows' (and pigs' and sheep's) stomachs rather too well, but that's for another day.
This very Italian dish is a lot more delicate (not difficult), but I still have a problem, oops sorry, issue with the texture of tripe. It's not meat but it's not fat either its....hmm, offal in its purest form I suppose.
WH, this sounds like a dish for you. Do you ever cook tripe? Can one still buy it in Blighty?

Tuesday, 28 September 2010


What is it with Waterstones' counter staff? Are there ANY heterosexuals who work in one of their shops?
I remember when I used to go to their Kensington High Street branch which, several years ago, seemed to have 100% wimmin-based personnel. The emotion of profound, intense dislike that radiated out over the cash till was tangible. And that was without buying anything by Ted Hughes or Jim Davidson.
Last week I went to their Piccadilly mausoleum to buy Under the Sun, the Collected Letters of Bruce Chatwin, for a dear friend. Bruce was, of course, extremely fond of crashing the yoghurt truck with other members of his sex.
Waterstones seem to have slammed their employment policy into reverse in the intervening years. All the counter staff were male. Dressed in black. I tried to choose the least overt. To no avail. "Ooh" he trilled far too loudly, "you will JUST LOVE this!" I looked at my shoes as hard as I could. " Bruce was so, just so impossible, like a chameleon" (giggle) "Which we all are, aren't we" (glancing up at me whilst slipping the book just so into the bag), "whether we like it or not?"
Sometimes it's tough being a man in a bookshop.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Little Beauties

I appreciate there is some danger of this nonsense getting all foodie at the expense of being all boozie, but I must share this one with you.
Some recent rain followed by late summer heat gave hope to fungaioli hereabouts and so your correspondent ventured out into the Comboland woods with Lucky and Flossie to see what was going on.
And look at this beauty! Forget your Penny Buns, these are the real deal, coccone or Caesar's Mushroom in Blighty, where they aren't to be found as I understand it. Shame because they are exquisite eaten like this:
sliced raw, served on hand-ground raw beef and drizzled, darling, with your best olive oil and then lovingly scattered with parsley. To accompany this I knocked off a bottle of local Cortese, just slightly sparkling.
PS The big mistake here is to confuse them with these which look identical when growing, before the head pops out. Apparently they taste jolly good too, but then two weeks later you are dead.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

What's tomato with you?

Of course, it's all very well piggin' out on tomatoes, morning dew picked from the sagging vine (you're fired, ed.) but the secondary joy of the Combo Crop is making a passata sauce and freezing it for use during the winter. It's terribly easy, if rather hot work in a summer kitchen. Put as many of the bleeders as you can in a large saucepan, add enough water just to cover the bottom of the pan and set over a low heat to go all soft.
The whip 'em out and put them through the mouli by hand (real Italians have a machine that does it but I can't be arsed, after all these toms are organic, right?)

and then just heat for ten minutes or so to drive out a little excess water and then freeze in bags.
As a taster for the coming season Mrs Combo produced this dish called parmigiana which has aubergines, said tomato sauce and Parmesan. Helped down by an excellent Barbera d'Asti from
Giovanni Piacenza, a very hearty winemaker in all senses of the word.
Yum yum, pig's bum!

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Happy Birthday Lucky!

Probably the most pampered Labrador in Christendom celebrated her 11th birthday this week. We went down to the river for a dip. Happy birthday Sausage!

Thursday, 19 August 2010

One for Diplo

When all the talk is done, when chins have been stroked and teeth sucked, the proof of the pudding is when the end result is placed delicately in your gob. The finest buffalo mozzarella, delicate olive oil made by some wizened inbred peasant from Liguria, fresh basil from the herb garden and undoubtedly the finest tomatoes on God's green earth. I thank you.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Miserable Romans

The badly-oiled, leaking behemoth that is Combo Catering creaked into action last weekend. Big wedding at a local country house. Your correspondent was in charge of the drinks table at the pre-dinner aperitivi and then acted as wine waiter throughout the evening.
Pride of place pre-dinner was this very expensive bowl full of cheap, home-made, tooth enamel stripping sangria.
I made about ten litres and they necked virtually the lot, to wash down lots of tables of delicious nibbles, lovingly prepared by Mrs Combo.
However, it was an odd wedding, very low-key for Italian standards, a few desultory "eep, eep urraaaas"* and that was about it. Seemed more like a provincial Rotary Club lunch. I asked a local guest afterwards for a reason and he said "Most of them were up from Rome. Miserable bastards, Romans."

*It's what Italians shout at weddings as they toast the bride and groom. Lord knows where they got that from.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

As High as Kites

Away with Bruno the last weekend to Trentino for the annual summer party given by this choir. Not for the faint-hearted, this very Italian celebration starts in the morning and lasts all day. It takes place in a field about 5,000ft up a mountain. We arrived at around 10.30 in the morning and I heeded Bruno's words from my first time there a few years ago: "If you take wine before midday you won't see 3 o'clock. Trust me." So I trusted him and saw out the first 90 minutes lining my stomach with a quite excellent broth taken from the meats being boiled over an open fire.
Some of the members of the choir like to fortify their beakers of broth with some red wine, the local Teroldego. I erred only once.
All the food is cooked at small stations dotted here and there and, not surprisingly, is invariably delicious. Lots of meat of course.
And polenta, per forza.
The white wine is kept cool with the anguria in a tub filled with ice cold water from a local spring.
The red wine is usually brought to the table by wheelbarrow. As the consumption of wine speeds up so the singing starts. The choir was formed after the First World War and their repertoire is based mainly on folk songs from when the Italians were engaged against the Austrians, high up in the snowy mountains. It was a bloody, cruel conflict (is there one that isn't?) and their songs are very Italian, very mournful, mainly about how they miss their Mum (first) and then their wife or girlfriend (second). It's mostly in close six part harmony and you can hear some here.
Oh, and they also drink like fish.
We left (more or less upright, surprisingly) the thrash at around half past six in the evening. Then we went out for some supper and lots more wine. Fan-tas-tic!

Friday, 30 July 2010

They're back!

Game over for the Merseyside-California tomato alliance I'm afraid. And these are just the first ones.
Appropriately the first photograph taken on the new camera. Remind me to tell you about the courier company that delivered it.
* Thumbs up and thanks to ChrisP for pointing me in the right direction. They say this one is bomb proof. We'll see

Sunday, 18 July 2010

The Fruit of the Land

The wet spring and the hot summer coupled with copious amounts of dung look like making the Combo vegetable business even more lucrative this year. The zucchini flowers are outrageously large and exotic .......

......and the tomatoes are shaping up to beat all records.

Gadjo, read this and weep! For you the tomato war is over!

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Well, there's a thing!

Took the dogs out extra early this morning. Staggering past Riccardo's vineyard and vegetable plot, I saw a rather, er, well-built man rhythmically digging and lifting potatoes. Flossie immediately flew into said plot and I followed to retrieve. The digger paused. He was wearing mid-calf leather boots and unnervingly short shorts. And that was it. And his head was shaven to the quick. The exercise meant his body was rimed with sweat, despite the early hour. "Morning", I said, "have you seen a dog?" "No" he replied, running his hand down his torso. "You don't recognise me do you?" I stared at him. "Can't say I do. Your face is..." "I'm the carabiniere, from the village" he said proudly, flexing his arms against the fork, "people never recognise me when I'm like this. Riccardo asked me to help him this morning." Now I saw him, sitting behind the wheel of a dark blue Land Rover, in a freshly-ironed crisp shirt and tie, with that over-the-top peaked cap they wear and the dark blue trousers with a smart red stripe. And mirror shades of course. Always mirror shades. "Ah, of course!" I replied. "There, you see, now you recognise me too! It's always the same story. I love this work, here, in the middle of nature, when it's hot. Really hot." "Well, that's a good job then isn't it, because today's going to be a scorcher, ah, here's Flossie" I replied as brightly as I could, before legging it. "Don't work too hard, ha ha." "You can never work too hard," he replied darkly, before turning back to his labour of love.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Third World

Having a flutter on the gee-gees has been a favourite whim since the early days of Combo. It is obviously not my fault. It was my mother who sent me to the bookmaker's shop in Kingsteignton in about 1966 to put two bob each way on Superfine in the Grand National. The first step through that door was like walking into a toy shop. All that smoke, the tinny tannoy commentary, the man marking prices on the board...heaven. I was hooked. Thanks Mum, look what you did to me!
All gambling in Italy is state controlled. If you try and click on to Ladbrokes or Coral or Paddy Power, a page comes up with the Italian Government department crest saying the company does not have a license to operate in Italy. What it really means is, they couldn't cope with the competition. However as I looked longingly a couple of weeks ago at the Royal Ascot page on the Sporting Life site there was an offer from William Hill. Deposit £20 and get a free matched £20 bet. What the hell, I thought. I clicked and, heavens above, the Hill site opened up in all its seductive beauty! I started to fill in the online form, name, address, then country with the huge drop-down menu. A, E, I...hold on, where is Italy? No Italy! I sent off an e-mail to their customer services department and got the tart reply that "William Hill no longer accepts bets from the Italian Republic", with no further elaboration. So, fellow gin-soaked expats here in one of the world's most beautiful countries, if we want to have a bet with William Hill maybe we should move to Armenia or Burkina Faso, Kyrgyzstan or Liberia, Yemen or Zimbabwe, all of whom are perfectly acceptable to the London bookmaker.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

London Boozers

Sitting in The Doghouse listening to the rain plink relentlessly on the exquisitely tiled roof, I thought of my time in London and the various pubs that took the Combo shilling. Do you know I think I can feel a list coming on? So without thinking too hard, here are my top ten pubs in reverse order. Please bear in mind this is ten years out of date and is biased to west London.

10. The Elephant and Castle, just around the back of one of my favourite churches in London, St Mary Abbots on High Street Ken. Perfect for a pint after Evensong on a warm summer's evening.
9. The Red Lion, just off Jermyn Street. Wonderful mirrored interior and the bonus of a decent bookies directly opposite. Many a happy working afternoon was spent there, often enlivened by the sound of fellow inebriates cartwheeling down the precipitous stairs to the bog.
8. The Andover, Hammersmith. A locals' local, a spotlessly clean, well-run back street Fuller's boozer. Well it was, when it was run by Tom and Moira, the perfect Irish couple. They retired, now it's gone to the dogs, all chi-chi and soulless.
7. The Captain's Cabin, around the back of our office on Jermyn Street. Included because it was such a filthy shit hole, on the corner of a narrow side street that stank of urine. Inside it was worse, terrible beer, disgusting food, shoddy service, ghastly pond-life clientèle and a permanently sticky carpet. I liked it enormously. I understand it has been refurbished. Such a waste.
6. The Scarsdale, Kensington. Excellent session pub with cracking Aussie barmaids. Many a happy hour etc.
5. The Tabard, Turnham Green. Perfectly placed around the corner from the underground station on my way home to Bedford Park. Three doors from Andy's Kebabs, a shrine to calories. I remember once dining upstairs and seeing the table soar up past my face with a soundtrack of breaking wood and wicker. My chair had collapsed under me.
4. The Windsor Castle, Campden Hill Road. A gorgeous pub, smashing beer, wonderful interior and eye-wateringly expensive. What more could you want? Also the scene of the biggest, most life-changing mistake of my life. 1.40pm, Saturday 19th November 1988. Not that I'm bitter you understand.
3. The Dove, Hammersmith. Everyone loves this pub, wonderfully snug in the winter, glorious in the summer on the back terrace, watching the Thames rise and fall. I wonder what happened to Old Caramac, eh Pete?
2. Gordon's, Villiers Street. I know, I know, it's not a pub but this is my list and I don't care. A very special place. Makes me hanker for London just thinking about it. Another beaker of Sercial my man!
1. The French House, Dean Street. If I had to choose a pub for One Last One, it would be here at about 11 o'clock on a Friday morning. Probably a Bloody Mary since you ask.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010


I know, I know, I know, don't go on. I have been remiss and I deserve some sound punishment. Put together a horrible blend of idleness, drunkenness and the thin excuse of not having a camera and this is the result. No posts for a month. Still don't have the new camera. Comboland is rather short of decent retailers for this sort of kit so I am waiting for a trip to Big Town when all will be resolved. Any recommendations by the way reader? I am pretty sure I will be going for a Panasonic again, but any tips welcome.
By way of a farewell, I will put up this heart-tugger, one of the last shots from the old camera before it was car-doored. Ain't she sweet?

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Matchstick time

Vinogirl - I need your help! It's election night and I want to stay up for as long as possible and, of course, alcohol is de rigeur. But what to drink? I'm having a crack at some Bonarda, no not the Argentinian* one but the real one from the Oltrepo Pavese region, not that far from Comboland and it is just such a perfect glugging wine, kicking in at about 12.5º, just-so-slightly fizzy, a foaming purple in the glass that settles down to a perfumed, juicy red that goes down a treat. I have never seen a bottle of Italian Bonarda on sale in Blighty and it is a crying shame. Anyway, enough of that. I wonder if I shall make midnight. Doubtful.And if the insurance company will cough up for my new camera. Double doubtful.

*the grape that makes Bonarda, Croatina, was taken to Argentina by the first Italian immigrants.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Beats Me

Having contrived to close the car door on my jacket pocket which contained my precious Panasonic digital camera (another €300 down the swanee but at least it was a fairly dignified exit, the one before that drowned in Chinese fish oil) bloggin' has been even lighter than normal.
However at choir practice a tenor, a fan of modern art, passed me a photocopied page and asked me to translate into Italian the title, or description, I'm not quite sure what it is. Anyway, it is the catalogue page of the piece, a pen drawing, that he has bought.
The drawing consists of a dotted line that starts at the top and then sort of veers off to the left, below that is a squiggle with a black dot in the middle; to the right of where the dotted line starts there is what would appear to be the rendition of a 1950s plastic lampshade.
This is the title and/or description:
"Since the House is all wall and possibly not going to fall down, I go within to take a bath. Nanny has turned it on. Alone, I feel full of desire to copulate with the water, which is green and smooth coming out of the taps."

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Sending a Letter

Down to a local post office to send a letter to Blighty. This particular post office (not the one above, sadly) is only open three mornings a week, from 10 to 12. There is always a relaxed air, even though it is the size of about four telephone boxes and bizarrely has a very un-Italian single queue system in place (a single arrow painted on the floor). The Poste Italiane worker was behind the glass, his head thrown back, probably in deep and fond contemplation of his forthcoming retirement at the age of 50 on 85% of his salary. I waited a moment and then knocked gently on the counter. He returned to the awful reality of work with a grunt. No greeting of course. "Blighty please my dear old thing" I said pushing the envelope under the screen whilst quietly humming Heart of Oak. He picked up the letter and looked at it very carefully. "Computer's not working so can't frank it" he said eventually, barely able to disguise his pleasure. We looked at each other for a few moments. I thought it might be worth trying, although I knew it was a long shot. "Um, I suppose a stamp might be out of the question?" He smiled sadly and gently shook his head, slowly pushing the letter back under the glass.

Friday, 19 March 2010

All Those Years

More post-lunch debris, this time from Ron's %$th birthday last week. Sorry the picture is so awful but you try and take a decent shot after downing a bottle of Bonarda, and then some. Very good kit, Bonarda. Comes from the Oltrepo Pavese district. If you ever see a bottle, have a go.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Railway Station Bars

I think that those bars that are to be found near railway stations are invariably the more interesting wherever you go in the world. The customers usually include ne'er-do-wells, tramps, itinerants, low lifes, and all the bottom feeders of this wonderful world in which we live. And a place where the Combo genes feel instantly at home of course.
A Sunday trip to Milan became, because of the Byzantine workings of the Italian State Railway timetabling system, a true endurance test (78 miles = 4 hours) with many opportunities to change trains and change bars. Normally of course, one runs up a tab in an Italian bar and coughs up at the end of the session. But those bars in the vicinity of railway stations have learnt to their cost that such largesse often ends in tears when shady types form their customer base.
I rather liked this sign with its diverse range of glassware asking punters to pay for their drinks immediately. Which I did of course. Campari and Soda topped up with a good slug of white wine, since you ask.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

'Ear 'ear

I would like to introduce the new addition to the Combo household to you. She is called Flossie and is a right little monkey. She has ears like semaphore railway signals as you can see.

Sunday, 21 February 2010


Great bar and trattoria in the middle of nowhere. Accurate use of the English possessive too.