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Archive for May, 2011

a bit of Italy


We’re in Vermont for the long weekend, and, aside from catching the scent of lilacs drifting everywhere, the best sensory experience of the past few days has been standing at the Italian-style espresso bar in the new gelato cafe in Hanover, NH, Morano Gelato. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it was Proustian, but the little ritual brought back pure nostalgic pleasure in a muscle memory.

The owner of this inspired cafe, Morgan Morano, is a young local woman who, during college and culinary school, lived in Italy on and off for the last six years.  While in Florence, she studied gelato-making and brought her skill and Italian-inflected style back to her hometown. She offers the classic Italian flavors and uses local ingredients when possible (for instance during berry season).  When I tasted the first trace of nocciola gelato (hazelnut) on my tongue, I was transported.

Morgan has quickly converted the locals, too.  Every day that I’ve been here, there has been a line out the door.  The facts, and the flavors, speak for themselves.  On the wall behind the high counter, a sign explains the difference between gelato and American ice cream:

GELATO is much lower in butterfat than American ice cream.

GELATO is denser than American ice cream.

GELATO is served at a warmer temperature than American ice cream.

For those interested in further research, the website explains the process by which this density of texture and flavor is achieved.  I love this place not only for the authentic gelato, however, but also for the complete experience it provides.  The gelato and coffee facilities are straight from Italy, as are the little plastic spoons and cups.  Everything else in the shop is a perfect re-creation of an Italian cafe: the smooth bar at chest-height; the bottles of room-temp. water and small glasses that stand on the bar for the espresso-drinkers’ refreshment; the t.v. high in the corner playing Italian news; the slightly cheesy music; the shininess of every surface.


I really wanted to start speaking Italian, but I said to myself, “let’s not get carried away.”  I’ll just say this: Grazie, Morgan.

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What could be better, really?  These elegant little flowers are beautiful and edible!


Fresh mozzarella, anyone?

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hot oranges

Remember when M.F.K. Fisher warmed tangerines on the radiator?  Well, less elegantly and inadvertently, I just invented a new snack for myself: hot orange.  I decided this morning to make that  orange-scented olive oil cake again, and, attempting to multitask, I popped an orange in the microwave to take the chill off and proceeded to quarter three oranges, forgetting that 10 seconds goes by in a flash.  Oops! 30 seconds later, I heard the beep and took out a hot, sweating, fragrant orange.  The peel came right off, the sections were steaming, and the flavor was intense! I’m going to do this more often….


The cake, then. It is a perfect cake: crumbly, moist, full of flavor, and, in fact, healthy!  The only fat in it is olive oil (and egg), the sugar is not too high.  And it’s an any-occasion cake: dinner-party dessert, breakfast, tea-time, or mid-morning little smackerel of something.

(It would be good with honey.)

I also love the process of it.  First, three successive boilings of the orange quarters to temper the acidity, then a slow simmer of orange in simple syrup.  The drained oranges are then pureed and mixed into the dry ingredients with eggs and olive oil.  The cake is finished with an orangey glaze that soaks into the crumb structure through the top and the bottom edges where the glaze puddles.  The process also fills the house with the most wonderful aroma of tropical warmth.

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In just under a month, we’ll be moving from Auburn to Minneapolis. Quite a change.  We’ve been soaking up the summery May weather here by spending time in the big backyard.  We found blackberry bushes in the corner near the wren house.  The nasturtiums we planted are blooming in spite of the drought. It sounds silly, but these nasturtiums have given me one of my most satisfying gardening experiences.  They pop up in no time, they’re colorful, they’re edible, and their vine-like stems grow into beautifully negligent nests (a good description of my garden-style).

For a dinner party the other night, I made the orange-scented olive oil cake I’ve written about here before, and decorated it seasonally.

And here are Jack and Jordan the other day.

For Jack’s birthday party last month, also on the deck in the backyard, our little geography buff wanted a map cake, so I made two layer cakes decorated as the eastern and western hemispheres.  Jack drew the continents.

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