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My zio (uncle) Livio and zia (aunt) Dina are so in love. Even after 60 years of being married, it is obvious how much they love each other to anyone who spends time with them. They exchanged the photos below before they were married and still have the much worn original copies. Livio gets up early in the morning and prepares breakfast for both of them. He has done this since the day they were married. These days she has difficulty getting up stairs and bending down, so he cleans the house for her. She calls him la mia stella (my star) and they laugh and tell stories in a mixture of italian and half forgotten English from the 20 years they lived in Australia . They migrated there in 1954 and worked in factories like most Italian migrants, struggling to learn the languages and customs.

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Their time in Australia gave rise to funny stories, which they Iike to recount – there was the time that zio Livio had just bought a car and in the early evening they drove to Luna Park in St Kilda, which was quite far from where they lived in Box Hill. They could not find the way back and ended up getting lost and getting directions from the milkman on his horse and cart who was just starting deliveries at 3.30am. Or the time zia Dina confused the word “kitchen” with “chicken” and told her work mates that she had 10 “kitchens” in the back yard!

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They eventually learned the way of living in Australia but some things in their lives never changed. Whilst staying with them on my trip to Italy, Zio Livio informed me that he has had the same breakfast for nearly every day of his 88 years, including his time in Australia. It was a breakfast that came from a life of poverty in the Veneto region of Italy between the world wars, when you could only eat simple staple foods as that is all that was available.

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It goes like this – Livio boils up about 750 ml of milk and places it into two large breakfast bowls (one for him and one for Dina) and adds some hot percolated coffee. He then gets a couple of bread rolls (white pasta dura bread that you buy easily in Italy), preferably a few days old, and breaks this up into medium sized pieces and drops them into the caffelatte (coffee and milk mixture) until most of it is absorbed. Then he adds a large table spoon of white sugar. At this point if it is looking a bit wet, he adds a bit more bread. He eats it with tremendous gusto and joy. It was a delight watching him tuck into his breakfast.

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He swears by this traditional and simple breakfast and says that it has helped make him the active, fit and happy 88 year old that he is today. Zia Dina has plain sweet biscuits dunked in the same caffelatte, which is what I remember my parents having for breakfast when I was still very young.

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As much as zio Livio swears by his breakfast, I stuck to caffelatte and fruit for breakfast whilst I stayed with them in Monfalcone as the peaches and apricots they had were unbelievably luscious and flavorsome. Every morning over breakfast I would listen to their chatter and think how incredible their love story is.

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  • Maria says:

    This is exactly what we had, not only for breakfast but sometimes after school. I am 46 years old and still love it. We migrated to Australia in 1970, it was so hard. Thank you for telling this story, it’s made my day to remember this.

  • carmz says:

    I love this for breakfast… my nonna usually uses good crusty white bread that is a couple of days old, but fresh is still good… 🙂 yum

  • sharon whitehead says:

    what a beautiful story , thank you for sharing it .. i am not sure about the breakfast but i do love my milk coffee and bread so may give it a try one day !

  • Albert Gnaccarini says:

    Hi Paola, I had “pan e caffelatte” for breakfast on the weekend too! It’s a regular winter weekend brekkie for me.

    I wonder of your zio ever has polenta for breakfast. My mum used to give us cold, leftover polenta sliced into small cubes with cold milk and just a sprinkle of salt. I know it sounds odd, but I reckon it was pretty good. Toasted (or grilled, usually) polenta with honey or jam was good for breakfast too. Not much got wasted in mum’s kitchen.

    I can understand the hillarity on hearing the broken and half forgotten English. My folks came out here in ’57 and followed largely the same trajectory with their language skills. I remember mum had a problem with a tight door lock once, not long after dad passed away. As if to assert her independence, she decided fix it herself and proceeded to give the lock a liberal dose of a product I’d left in the garage at her house before I moved out called “Loc-tite”. The name obviously made sense to her, she had a lock that was tight. This stuff must have seemed just the thing to her. Except Loc-tite is intended for assembling mechanical components into an everlasting bond! The consequences were legendary and a source of amusement for all, her included, for years.

    Love the photos.

    Bon viaggio

    Albert

    • Hi Albert, thanks for your comments (and for sharing your stories) and yes Zio does have polenta for breakfast occasionally (leftovers). But it is hard to get him away from “pan e latte”!

  • Catherine says:

    This is a joyful post and reminds me of my wonderful mother in law. Nonna Adelina came from Valonara and Nonno Carlo from Marostica, and my husband still would have this for breakfast daily if made for him. Maybe I will start on weekends. We adore the part of Italy that is your home too and treasure our visits to family there.

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