One of the privileges of coming from one place and living in another is you pick up customs and quirks from both cultures, then make them your own. I was born in England, but grew up in Italy, so Christmas for me is as much about tagliolini with white truffles on Christmas Eve as it is about turkey with all the trimmings for lunch on Christmas Day.
I moved to Venice when I was six. Memories of life in England are few, but one I hold dear is of picnics in Hyde Park. These were impromptu affairs, reserved for those rare occasions when sunshine coincided with a free Sunday afternoon; they involved brown bread sandwiches, cut into small triangles, a couple of punnets of strawberries and a worn tartan rug.
The summers in Venice can be stiflingly hot, the air still and heavy, except for a gentle breeze from the Adriatic. On days like this, I take my son, Aeneas, 3, to the Lido and we eat on the beach with friends, as I did as a child. But just as often, I will find a shady spot for us alongside one of the canals, where we lay blankets over the old paving stones and sit, watching the boats drive by and the seagulls circle overhead.
Italian picnics are less about the novelty of eating outdoors and more about the food. Cold rice salad with chargrilled peppers, parsley and capers; salty prosciutto sandwiches on brioche; baby tomatoes with creamy mozzarella, tossed in olive oil and fresh basil; cold pasta salad in all forms. Not to mention the savoury pies, the cheeses, the vegetables, served chargrilled and drenched in olive oil, and the sweets. Though I don’t always meet the exacting culinary standards of my Italian friends, I’ve picked up their way of treating a picnic as a foodie feast. A mix works best — of simple items that you can buy from the shops and a few more extravagant dishes that I take the time to cook. And I always insist on eating our feast on the ground and with my fingers, English style — food tastes better that way.