My Kingdom

My kitchen. 

My comfort zone.  My safe place.  My hideaway.

I won’t cry: I will make an Apple Cake.

I won’t bang my head against the wall; I will start chopping onions on a pretty green cutting board, following Jacques Pépin’s precise instructions, and caramelize them slowly in a little olive oil. (Do try them on a burger).

I will avoid dwelling on the past, refuse to be tortured by regrets, what could have been if I had gone through the other door, if I had been wise at nineteen, if I had listened to my mother, if I…

It is small, my kitchen.  Counter space?  Will twenty inches do? Yes, my friends!  I can work in that little space just fine, spreading out to my sturdy wood kitchen table when I bake.  You don’t need yards of polished granite to perform, I assure you. You don’t need recessed lights, stainless appliances, French copper pots hanging from strategically placed hooks on the ceiling.

Or the ISLAND.

I never had the ISLAND in my life and, believe it or not, I’m  surviving.

Desire.  And passion.  With a touch of fury.  All you really need to become an outstanding baker and cook.  Not that I claim to be.

All I know is that when I am in the kitchen, I am okay.  I will put on my apron du jour, command (mostly) reliable Alexa to play something (Yes, Latin Pop works wonders), pour a glass of something other than lemonade, and become Chef.

The apron, by the way, is important.  I do have a little collection of them, since people who know me well gift them to me at times (and I go directly to the housewares department of TJ Maxx more often than not).  You slip on that crisp apron and…you’re on!

Getting serious in the kitchen.

You need to be serious.  And determined. 

Serious because you love it.  If you don’t, then make reservations.

The kitchen can heal you. You are broken, limp through your emotions, tremble secretly, swear never again, consider extreme options, then brush them aside.  You are going to cook!

My trusty black GE gas range is awaiting instructions. It’s four burners, by the way, not restaurant-size, but then, I’m not running a restaurant.  I clean it lovingly every evening, grateful for its reliability.  Yes, the Sausages and broccoli di rape were cooked perfectly, the meat tender, golden and flavorful (but I did keep a watchful eye).

I will not (usually) slam doors.  I will not drive aimlessly for two hours, boiling with anger, swearing revenge (at least, not for the whole two hours).

I will not book a flight to Paris with a credit card, shrugging whatever, had enough.

I will make a little gem of a flourless chocolate cake.  I will place it carefully on an egg-yolk-yellow cake stand which will enhance its simple perfection: I will buy fresh heavy cream, whip it to cloudy softness, add a hint of pure vanilla.

I will glance around my tiny yellow kitchen, smile at the colorful stacked bowls on the shelves across from the fridge, allow my patched-up heart to skip a beat at the sight of my French baking pan collection (gathered through numerous years of baking passion), trace the sharp curves of my Bundt pans, imagining all the glorious pound cakes to come.

I will turn the ache into a tender tart filled with satin-smooth lemon curd.

I will drown the sadness by bathing bright-green basil leaves in cool water, then patting them dry for an absolutely magnificent Pesto.

The kitchen can save your life.

The kitchen is my kingdom.

(Here is the link to the recipe for the Flourless Chocolate Cake).

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Why You Should Make Le Fraisier 

Because life is short, and you always just do what you must.

Because you are practical, responsible, with common sense coming out of your ears.

That’s most of us. 

You bake a pan of Brownies for the kids (scrupulously from scratch, please!), stirring the melted butter and chocolate with a spatula, in a pot on the stove, already visualizing the little dark squares that you have been making for twenty odd years.

Suddenly, the bubble of routine and intense boredom has become intolerable, and the urge to take that panful of molten monotony and shove it out of the window is nearly irrepressible.

So, you make Le Fraisier

In fact, I bake quite often, but generally I go for simple, hearty breakfast cakes, the ubiquitous Brownies, a pound cake baked in a spectacularly intricate Bundt pan, to obtain at least a visually inspiring product.

Naturally, the time factor is the culprit, plus the constant exhaustion, as we zombie our way through life, our only purpose survival of another day.

Following one of my favorite TV programs, The Great British Baking Show, while partially dozing, due to the above-mentioned exhaustion (and perhaps the oversized glass of Pinot Grigio), I perked up when I watched the

Genoise

mesmerizing preparation of the stunning Fraisier, one of the glories of French Haute Pâtisserie.

In the ‘old days’, before my life became so fast-paced and maddening complicated, I used to dedicate long, enjoyable, hours to the preparation of elaborate cakes and tarts, following lengthy recipes in my enormous cookbook collection.  I became quite an accomplished pâtissière!

Mousseline

 

Then life caught up with me.

Well, I’m rebelling.  I’m not making Chocolate Chip Cookies this time, but a stunning Fraisier!  And I don’t need a reason for it.

I did some research in my French baking books, surfed the web, till I found a video that seemed quite reliable.  I watched it very carefully, then wrote my shopping list, hit the stores for a few items I didn’t have at home – strawberries, almond flour, milk (yes, milk: nobody drinks milk in my house), then began the methodical prepping of the various components.  It took a couple of days, stealing time from this

and that; prepare the almond genoise (French sponge cake), the crème pâtissière, the mousseline, the simple syrup, the marzipan. A serene joy filled my heart as I watched each creamy, velvety concoction turn out beautifully.

The little things.

The final assembly was perhaps the most heart-fluttering and dramatic stage of the process.  The exquisite beauty of a well-executed gateau  makes one feel, well, worthy.

Homemade Marzipan

Damn, I still got it!

I invited my whole family over for cake, the day after.  Just because.

Le Fraisier became only a memory in thirty minutes flat!  Thank goodness for smartphones.

Make a Fraisier, my friends.  Good for the soul.

 

(If you want to give it a try, here is the link to the  professional video I followed to the letter. Have fun!)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i4tiAdE38E4&w=560&h=315

Thanksgiving e tutto il resto

12 novembre 2017

Crostata di zucca (Pumpkin Pie)

Dunque, in America, la festa di Thanksgiving  segna l’inizio non ufficiale delle feste natalize.

Da lì è una corsa a precipizio verso il giorno di Natale.

Dai preparativi culinari – centinaia di biscotti da regalare ad amici, parenti e vicini – allo shopping esorbitante che poi fa finire tanti anche in debito pauroso con le credit cards (ok, un mea culpa ci vuole, devo ammettere che ci sono cascata anch’io qualche volta), allo stress quasi insostenibile di aver tutto pronto in tempo, pur continuando a lavorare full-time e ad occuparsi delle solite faccende quotidiane.

Crostata di mele (Apple Pie)

Infatti io non sono una grande fan delle feste, perché, al contrario di altri membri della famiglia, tutto ciò tocca a me. Alle madri, insomma, come al solito.

Poi mettere su l’albero, un’altra gran seccatura, che sta poi lì a ingombrarmi il living room per circa un mese e mezzo (sì, il nostro alberello va su nel weekend di Thanksgiving, e lo stesso per un piccolo presepio), i biglietti di auguri da scrivere e impostare (anche a persone di cui non ci importa un fico, ma si deve essere educati), la forzata allegria e quell’accidente di tempo di solito poco bello (nel mio caso, anche le novene affinché non nevichi, altrimenti non posso indossare le mie splendide décolléte a stiletto e i vari stivali, stivaletti e cuissard di camoscio).

Insomma, un casino di lavoro che ti spinge verso l’esaurimento nervoso.

Prepariamo la Pumpkin Pie!

Ma i dolci, quelli li faccio volentieri. O, per dir meglio, li ammiro volentieri, dopo averli fatti, e tutta la cucina sia stata riordinata.

Dicevo, si comincia da Thanksgiving. Quest’anno andrò a pranzo da parenti, per cui mi tocca solo fare il primo (la pasta alla zucca), la cranberry sauce piccante come contorno per il tacchino farcito e i dolci. Naturalmente non mancherà la tradizionalissima Pumpkin Pie di cui nessuno potrebbe mai fare a meno (sarebbe come Natale senza gli struffoli per i napoletani), una grande crostata rettangolare di pecans e l’americanissima Apple Pie.

Teniamoci forte, allora, pronti a tuffarci nel turbine delle feste.

Cliccate sui link per alcune delle mie ricette di questa grande all-American festa.

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

Sweet Deceit

Dark as sin, tender, moist, intensely chocolate, this cake will seduce your taste buds.

Beautiful in its simple Bundt elegance, a silky crumb, cuts like butter. But there is no butter in this cake, my friends.

A mysterious, unusual, ingredient infiltrates the traditional ones, blends seamlessly into the smooth batter, sheds its brilliant arrogant hue and enhances the gustatory pleasure.

Appearances can be deceiving, as you know, even a glorious chocolate cake can NOT be what you think.

Deception is woven into the simple innocence of our daily lives, and, so often, we trip on the lies and get hurt.

Those who smile, sympathize and promise, then stick a sharp knife deep into your soul when you turn, filled with belief and hope.

The false friends disguised as true ones, eyes lowered in humility, fingering their rosary beads in the light of the Lord. Flaky friends, only amused by the novelty of all things and people, seeking constant entertainment, forgetful of promises and responsibilities.

Those who parade their enviable lives, lavishing compliments on all, but in reality chained into a stale status quo that has shriveled their personalities, annihilated their dreams, reduced them to mechanically functioning beings.

So many, sadly, who languish in those ‘lives of quiet desperation’, staring wide-eyed at the invisible ceiling in the endless nights, aching with suppressed passions that are never to be expressed.

The secret ingredient deeply concealed inside, never to be released.

But then there are cakes.  Their secrets can only make you smile.

This beauty is delicate but assertive, solid but yielding, hiding its benign, ordinary/not ordinary curious ingredient.

Here is the recipe.   Thus the mystery shall be revealed.   Happy Baking!

Dolce inganno

9 ottobre 2017

Torta misteriosa.

Nera come il peccato

Tenera, intensa,  cioccolato puro.

Ma non lo è.

Nel cuore morbido nasconde il suo segreto. Un ingrediente strano e insolito ha penetrato tutte le fibre del dolce, si è amalgamato, fluido, nella pastella e ne è istantaneamente diventato parte integrale. La sua tinta  brillante, anche arrogante, è sbiadita fino al completo annientamento.

Trucco riuscito.

E così tanti i trucchi, i raggiri, gli intrighi che ci abbindolano tutti i giorni della nostra vita.   Con gli altrettanti falsi, i manipolatori, i ladri meschini che ti derubano dell’innocenza e della fede nell’umanità.

Coloro che si occultano dietro l’imponente coltre della religione per raggirare con destrezza i poveretti che non guardano oltre le coroncine del rosario in continua attività.

Au contraire, poi ci sono quelli che si vantano della loro vita spregiudicata, te la sbattono in faccia, beffardi, che spesso e volentieri ignorano le loro responsabilità, ma si fingono persone dalle idee moderne che non è altro che un patetico eufemismo per il menefreghismo più assoluto. Che facciano quel che gli pare, tutti gli altri, chiunque siano, purché li lascino liberi di dedicarsi ai loro self-indulgent comodi, che poi forzeranno tutti ad accettare come normalità.

Ma normalità non è, e mai lo sarà.

Esiste il bene, esiste il male. E la linea di separazione è chiara come il cielo di giugno.

I falsi felici, sempre sorridenti (a denti stretti ma bianchissimi) che prodigano di complimenti quelli con cui si sono incastrati, ma, ahimé, purtroppo ridotti ad esseri rimpiccioliti, tristi, abbattuti, uomini infinitamente soli, uomini che bruciano di passione crudelmente imprigionata. Quello il loro ingrediente segreto, mascherato magistralmente dal manto di falsa allegria.

Per fortuna che ci sono i dolci: i loro segreti sono molto meno traumatizzanti.

Ottima questa adorabile torta. Nella ricetta sarà svelato l’ingrediente misterioso. (In inglese, sorry).

My Happy Place (sempre)

27 agosto 2017

No, non mi nascondo in cucina. Mi presento sul palcoscenico.

Sono io il regista e l’attrice.

Chiudo il sipario sul mondo maledetto, tiro fuori la mia batteria. Stampi, stampi, il mixer, il burro, la vaniglia, le uova, la farina e tanto zucchero.

Il cuore è bloccato, ma il forno è caldo. La rabbia ti sfregia, ma la teglia dorata scintilla. Socchiudi gli occhi, tesa ma forte, risoluta a non farti schiacciare dal peso dei doveri, degli eventi, dalla tirannia delle emozioni.

Il cioccolato è fuso, il burro dolcemente malleabile, lo zucchero di canna ti si scioglie fra le dita.

Addio a te e a te e a te.   Sfigati tutti.

I dolci non tradiscono, le torte s’innalzano, vette leggere e stimolanti. Il profumo è aromatico, vibrante. Il piatto da portata giallo attende, liscio e lucido.

Non mi arrendo facilmente io.

Faccio un dolce, ergo sopravvivo.

(E scrivo, of course).

Eccovi la ricetta di questa fantastica e americanissima Torta bianca e nera (in English – fatevene una ragione).

My Happy Place

 

My happy place.

Temporary, fragile.

My kitchen, my cakes.

Shutting out the scary world for a while.

Flour, sugar, eggs, butter, vanilla. They smile when you reach for them and place them on the table. We are ready to go, they announce with glee, welcome back, rejoice, you’re baking!

Indeed I am. The kitchen is my oyster. The oven is preheating, the pan is carefully buttered.   The music is playing, the haze of comforting numbness is softening the impact of reality, the one that stings.

You are gone, and you and you and you.

I inhale the scent of cinnamon. Cakes don’t betray you.   They will rise and perfume the air, be soft and tender and warm. They will taste like that is all you need to carry on. And sometimes it is.

Beat me, scare me, bite me, slap me, torture me, o unpredictable life.

I slip into my happy place and the aroma is marvelous.

I bake, therefore I survive.

(And I write, of course)

Recipe for this awesome, sweet, solid all-American Marble Pound Cake available here.

Celebrating in Armonk!

Grazie to all my wonderful students for celebrating with me the last Summer Class of Italian Language and Culture at the North Castle Public Library.

Lots of delicious homemade food, stories to share, and laughter: another successful year!

I will fiercely miss you, carissimi studenti, for the next two weeks.

But we will start all over again on September 5th!  New students are welcome, as our beginners course also resumes.

Ci vediamo a settembre.

Buon agosto a tutti!

(I contributed the Blueberry-Yogurt Bundt Cake, recipe here)

Cakes

Because they make me happy.

Reverse the tears, dull the anxiety, turn on Rihanna, Biagio Antonacci,  Thomas Buttenshøn, 21 Pilots.

Take out the cake pans.  Like this adorable Beehive Bundt mold.

Flour, sugar, butter, they don’t hurt you.  Malleable and ivory, the butter whips into creaminess and sweetness and dreams of comfort and kindness.

Make the cakes, turn off the clamor of the world.

Tender, golden, velvety, small but great.

The mood is soft and gentle again.

Never underestimate the power of cakes.

Easter: Reborn in Hope

Be merry, be bright, be hopeful!

A day of sun, blue skies, gently-flowing rivers and church bells.

Easter once again, bursting with all that is to come, all glorious and tingly and promising.

We rise again to seize the day.

Happy Easter to all!

Buona Pasqua, amici presenti e passati, a voi tutti un augurio di pace e serenità, di un futuro azzurro come il cielo di primavera,  scintillante e privo di nuvole.

Sono ancora qui, sempre innamorata della vita, nonostante tutti gli schiaffi che mi hanno colto di sorpresa.  Da chi non avrei mai immaginato.

Ma sono forte, io, scrivo, insegno, e mi perdo nella gloria della cucina.  Viva i dolci!