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Archive for the ‘Sweet Things’ Category

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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sugar cane

Whoa!  This week, along with all of these rich greens, we got a long stalk of sugar cane in the CSA haul.

I don’t know what to do with it!  I immediately googled it, and here’s one piece of advice I found on the endlessly entertaining internet:

“To eat it you have to chew it like gum or like a cowboy (straw).” [Wikihow.]

My friend Chantel, whose family we share the CSA with, exclaimed “guarapo!” a Cuban pure sugar drink made by grinding and pressing the sugar cane.  Well… sounds good, but I don’t have one of those grinders handy.

You can use sticks of it as skewers for kabobs, for pork or shrimp.  But that seems like a waste.

Kheer, which requires sugar cane juice. But how to juice it?

This guy made some interesting discoveries.

But I’m still not sure what I’ll do with it. It makes an interesting accessory…

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We’re deep into our CSA season with Red Root Farm, in Banks, Alabama, and we’re knee deep in big leafy greens: kale, collards, mustard, cabbage.  The first three I’ve cooked many times before, and know that with some pancetta, garlic, or walnuts tossed into the saute pan, you can’t go wrong.  But I’m not big on cabbage.  Cole slaw stayed behind in my childhood.  Braised cabbage has appeared infrequently on my table.  What to do with a beauty like this?

(Cinnamon bear is looking on dumbstruck, as you can see.)

So, since the red ones are my lentils of choice lately, I was pleased to find this yummy recipe on Smitten Kitchen, under the heading “recipes from a cumin junkie.” Love it.

Another veggie that I’ve… um… rediscovered is the humble turnip.  The other night I made a hot pan of braised and glazed turnips and carrots to go along with the chicken I’d roasted while my family was visiting.

But I’m also a sinner when it comes to foodie pleasures.  Total locavore, I am not.  As you know, I take great pleasure in my Bialetti, and am even a bit fanatical about it.  The new one I have, the Brikka, makes an actual crema through the use of a pressure valve.  Check it out:

The best accompaniment to an espresso?  The thinnest, spiciest little gingersnaps on earth, from Sweden, and purchased at World Market.

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Dear Readers,

Thanks for sticking with me in my absence. I’ve been busy finishing my dissertation, and am finally down to proofreading, formatting, and double-checking footnotes.  I’ve also been eating well, and enjoying as much time as possible with our good friends here during our last weeks in Rome.  And I’ve been having fun with this little guy, who had a wonderful year at the amazing Scuola Arcobaleno making countless kinds of art, learning to play the violin and piano, running in his first track meet, and, most importantly of all, speaking Italian so well that he corrects his parents’ pronunciation and grammar.

I’ll return to blogging in a few weeks….

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long lapse

piñata, pensive preschoolers

Thank you for sticking with me, readers.  I’ve been busy with visitors, Jack’s 5th birthday party, more visitors, my dissertation, dissertation, dissertation…  Did you know that it wasn’t until the 1840s that wood pulp was used to make paper?  Or that Byron could speak so aptly of 21st century America?

Man’s a strange animal and makes strange use
Of his own nature and the various arts,
And likes particularly to produce
Some new experiment to show his parts.
This is the age of oddities let loose,
Where different talents find their different marts.
You’d best begin with truth, and when you’ve lost your
Labour, there’s a sure market for imposture.

On a less cynical note, spring is here, and so are our favorite seasonal foods: strawberries, fava beans, asparagus, repeat.  Strawberry shortcake=sublime simplicity.

And check out the strawberry cream torte from Dolci Desideri Jack chose for his birthday! (That’s Nico admiring it; Jack is in blue, holding a very non-locavore cupcake.)

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dolci & vini

Sweets and wines.  That seems to be the theme of the weekend, starting yesterday morning when Jack and I made an errand-packed trip to Dolci Desideri to soak up the scene as well as the coffee and treats.  A happy crowd always packs the small space in front of the counter, but the orders flow in and out with amazing rapidity and ease.  If it weren’t for the friendliness of the 3 people on the breakfast crew, you’d think they must be highly tuned robots.  I worked in coffee shops and at restaurants for many years, and remember the way meeting the meal-time rush becomes an experience of purely bodily memory, in which the paces and spaces between the plates and esspresso machine and dishwasher is mapped onto the mind.

Jack’s school friend Tobia was there with his Mama, Papa, and baby sister Anita, who was lapping up cappuccino foam—a passion her Papa finds “worrying.”  Tobia and Jack sat next to each other on the little yellow pleather couch, and giggled at each other’s sugar- and lemon-cream-smeared faces.  They asked what ciambelle were called in English, and when Jack said “doughnut,” they all started laughing.

We picked out some cookies—and early Easter “ovetti” to bring to the dinner party tonight at Jack’s friend Felix’s apartment.

In the evening, Peter and I walked across the street to the Villa Villino where Leonard Barkan and Nick Barberio were hosting a tasting party with a title: Vivat Bacchus.  Best known as an eminent art historian and literary critic famous for such groundbreaking (the pun is hard to resist) works as Unearthing the Past, Leonard is also an oenophile and wine writer for Gambero Rosso.  He and Nick, a photographer with an eye for everyday ironies, are also incredibly generous.  They invited the whole community, and served 20 different wines from 5 of the major Italian wine making regions.  Leonard had prepared a list of all the wines, and set them up on the marble counter according to region and varietal.  (Thank you, friends!)

I’ve learned so much about Italian wines over the past few months, and now feel less bewildered and apt to choose something with a well-known name.  I tasted 5 wines from 3 regions.  I’ve always preferred the crisp mineraliness of Alsatian wines in whites, so I liked the two wines I tried from the Alto Adige: a floral Gewurztraminer (Walch 2008) and a Moscato Giallo/Goldmuskateller (Rottensteiner 2008). The latter was full of apricots and was both light and dense at once.  I also had just a sip of a Tocai, Livio Felluga 2008 that was also like delicious stone fruits but dry and crisp.

There were all kinds of goodies to eat between sips, and I stuck to the marinated olives and two kinds of pecorino—one cream-colored and sharp, and the other deep yellow-orange and dotted with black peppercorns.  That was delicious—and made a nice bridge to the first red I tried, a 2006 Barbera d’Alba called Tre Pile from Aldo Conterno, my favorite wine of the night.  From there (and over the course of two hours) I moved to the most full-bodied red, a Nebbiolo d’Alba: Rocca Albino 2007.  I like wines that can hold their contradictions without neutralizing them—like those whites I mentioned, and like this one, which was both lush and stiff at the same time. I guess wine writers call that “structured.”  And that’s about right.  The Barbera and Nebbiolo I tried had architectural aspects.

This is an appropriate style, in a place where you can’t help but be steeped in the appreciation of architecture, and where buildings are strong and durable, and yet elegant and soaring at the same time.   For example… the Tempietto:

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Sunday morning was spectacularly sunny, and warming up quickly.  We had our first spring day (followed by more rain today).  It was perfect for our walk—with Anna, Jon, Lulu, Jesse, Rena, Nick, and Zoe—down the hill and across the Tiber to the old Jewish ghetto where one special forno makes perfect doughnuts.

When we got to the octagonal tower next to the old Cenci palazzo, we could smell the sweet warm scent of baking dough.

There was a line out the door, as expected.

(Those cakes in the window are ricotta-chocolate chip and ricotta-cherry tortes, with their crumbly, not-too-sweet burnt sugar crusts.)

Jon went in with a handful of change, and came out with the last 4 doughnuts.  Just in time!  These kids would have been inconsolable.

These are the antithesis of Krispy Kremes: dense, chewy, and just slightly sweet.

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