"Be prepared for a six-hour feast," our friend Donatella tells us. "Giusi has set up a kitchen in the whole barn so six cooks can work." Her sister, Giusi, helps take care of our house when we are not here. The sisters are opposite. Donatella has angular, dark beauty, somewhat like the Mona Lisa’s, and an ironic humor. You can look way into her black eyes. Giusi in America would be Homecoming Queen. She could captain any pep squad. She’s pretty, sociable, and upbeat. They are sisters and best friends. Each time we arrive at Bramasole, they’ve left flowers in the house, and the kitchen stocked with fruit, coffee, bread, and cheese so that we don’t need to dash out if we are tired from the flight. Both are excellent cooks, who learned directly from a mother who still makes her own ravioli.
Giusi’s two young sons are taking their first communion. This calls for a feast. We have not seen Giusi for weeks because she has been preparing the festa. After the service, around eighty people gather at the house in the mountains Giusi and her husband, Dario, share with his parents. Dario’s sister and her family live in another house on the property. They are close to self-sufficient for all their food. The family takes care of a large vegetable garden, raises chickens, rabbits, lambs, and geese. The men hunt, keeping a supply of wild boar at the ready.
Everything they produce, and a lot more, goes into the first communion dinner. When we arrive at noon, the part is in full swing. Giusi gives me a tour of the house. For almost two years she has endured an extensive remodeling. She’s kept the warm feel of the ancient farmhouse, but has installed lovely bathrooms, stone stairs, and an up-to-the-minute kitchen, which, of course includes a wood-burning stove for cooking. Every knob and surface gleams. Every window sparkles. Outside, the prosecco already is flowing and women are passing trays of crostini, Tuscan antipasti of rounds of bread spread with various toppings: porcini mushrooms, spicy cheese, and chopped, seasoned chicken liver. Under a white tent, they’ve set a U-shaped table under balloons and twisted colored-paper streamers. The two boys are seated at the head, flanked by their parents. We’ve peered in the barn where many hands are at work. A table down the center is crowded with fruit tarts, enormous bowls of salad greens. Each woman has on a flowered dress. The barn whirls with color and motion. They’re still chopping and peeling, putting the finishing garnishes together. For each plate, spring leeks, carrots, and asparagus are deftly tied in bundles with a blade of chive. I’m surprised to meet Guisi’s mother. Young and red-haired, she looks nothing like her daughters. She has made cappelli del prete, pasta called priest’s hats, for eighty-odd people.
As we soon find out, there are two pastas. Everyone is served a large helping of tagliatelle with a rich sauce of cinghiale, the wild boar. Many have seconds of this and I’m wiping the edge of the plate with bread for every drop of the delicious sauce. Then comes the priest’s hats with four cheese and seconds of that. The efficient army of women swoops down and replaces our plates after each course. Someone in the barn is washing dishes like mad. Lamb with the vegetable bundles comes next, their own lamb roasted in the outdoor oven. In the distance we can hear sheep and cows, who don’t yet know they will not always dwell in the lush pasture below but will be appearing on these same flowered plates. Two spotted puppies are passed around the table, petted and rocked. In earlier years it would have been babies, but with the Italian birthrate the lowest in Europe, babies are in short supply. A four-year-old flirt in a red dress is making the most of her position. She’s practically ambushed by admirers. Toasts begin but the two boys, along with several friends, have absconded from the table. One gift to them was a computer with games so they’ve run inside to strafe the enemy. New carafes of wine replace the empties immediately. I am through. This is a stupendous groaning board. But Ed keeps eating. A little more lamb? I see him look up and smile, "Sì." And patate? Again, "Sì."
Suddenly three men appear, carrying something heavy. People rush forward shouting and snapping pictures. Too large for their ovens, a gigantic thigh of a Val di Chiana cow has been roasted in a hotel oven in town and has just arrived on a tray that could hold a human. Soon platters of beef and more crisp potatoes circulate. I give in and have some. Oh no, it’s too good. I can’t have more, maybe a taste. Ed is eating like a lord. Two Italian women have asked him if he’s in films so he feels particularly expansive. Salad arrives. Then fruit tart, tiramisù, and the reemergence of the two boys, galloping out like ponies. They shyly cut a three-tiered cake and offer the first pieces to their parents. The cake has rich layers of lemon filling. Out comes the grappa and vin santo. I’m astonished. Ed has some of both. He finds himself arm-in-arm with several men, singing a song he’s never heard. An accordion starts and the dancing begins. I have never eaten this much at once in my life. Ed has eaten a prodigious amount.
At five, we are the first to leave. Our friends Susan and Cole, who married at our house during the restoration, are arriving in time for dinner. We find out later that most guests stayed until eleven, with the beef making several more appearances.
Our friends have arrived early and are sitting on the terrace. Happy as we are to see them, we barely can walk or speak. Ed describes the meal, ending with, "I just hope we’re around when those boys get married. Imagine what that will be like." We collapse for two hours then emerge in the sweet time time of day to take them around our garden, gathering lettuces, zucchini, onions and herbs for a simple salad and frittata. For them. We don’t want to eat or drink for three days. We sip tepid water while they enjoy a great Brunello.
According to Sra, "This event is not about cooking or recipes. It’s about food and quality writing. What I want you to do is share your favourite pieces of food writing with the rest of the world through this event. It could be prose, poetry, a scene from a play, fable, non-fiction, an article from a magazine or a newspaper, a food review, a cookbook review, a post in a blog, haiku, limerick, satire, anything; even writing that looks at food, cooking or eating in a negative light, but it has to have these as one of its main themes."
I chose the above passage from Frances Mayes’s Bella Tuscany: The Sweet Life in Italy. Sorry it’s a bit long but I thought worth reading in its entirety. The writing is so deliciously vivid that I felt like I was there and tasted the food.
If you’d like to participate In the Write Taste, go here to read the guidelines and join in on the fun.
Happy Blog Anniversary, Sra!
Ed. Note: You can find a roundup of the other entries here.
"Fall out! Wipe your masks and fall in! We are going to do it again!" Lieutenant Hundley hollers out as she open the door. With our legs shaking, we march out.
Much later, we march half-time back to camp. My eyes are swollen, my nose is snotting, my throat is sore, and I still got vomit on my shoes, but I went through my gas drill over and over and over, and I made it. When I pass her on my way to barracks, Hundley say, "Well done, Private," and gives me a nod. I can barely open my eyes, but I know she means it.
We got to do it again tomorrow.
But I am not scared. I am not scared of nothin’ now. I got blisters on my heels, my hands is cut up, my shoulders are sore from marching with a pack, and I can’t never get enough sleep, but I wouldn’t trade nothin’ for this. Not a thing.
Didn’t nobody ever tell me I was this tough. Didn’t nobody ever tell me no girl could work this hard, and nobody never said that work this hard could give you pride. My nails might not be nice enough for polite folk, and my face might not be clean, but I earned my place in this man’s army. I earned it.
And ain’t nobody gonna make Marey Lee Boylen go home.
~ Mare’s War (p. 102)
It’s time for the 8th Novel Food, the culinary/literary blogging event co hosted by Simone of Briciole and Lisa of Champaign Taste. I recently read Mare’s War by Tanita S. Davis, a book which I wholeheartedly enjoyed and decided to make my Novel Food choice.
Mare’s War is about two teenagers, Tali and Octavia, who are forced to go on a cross-country road trip with their grandmother. During the trip, they find out more about their grandmother, who’s called Mare (pronounced like the French word Mère, which means mother. She feels she’s too young to be called Grandma.). The girls are surprised to learn that Mare ran away from home at a young age, lied about her age, and joined the African American battalion of the Women’s Army Corp during World War II.
I found it fascinating to learn about this group of women that I never knew existed and how they played an important part in the war. Both the narration of the young girls and their grandmother mesmerized me from the first page of the book, to the last. Really good story. I loved how the book is filled with all types of tidbits — historical, humorous, sad, serious and more. It left me with a good feeling at the end.
There’s a section in the book, where Mare is in the army and peeling potatoes to make potato salad. I suppose everyone has made potato salad before but I never did. The passage in the book inspired me to try it. Easy! The ingredients consisted of red potatoes, onions, mayo, egg yolk, vinegar, salt, pepper.
If you’re interested in participating in the next Novel Food, check out the guidelines here.
Thanks for putting this event together, Simone and Lisa. It’s always fun to read a good book and be inspired to make a dish.
I’ll be back later in the week to post a link to the lineup of other Novel Food participants. Stay tuned.
Ed. Note: You can find the first roundup of Novel Food entries at Briciole and the second roundup at Champaign Taste. Check them out when you have time, you’ll find a great list of books AND inspired-created meals.
There are potatoes in the mess, and we got to fix potato salad for Sunday dinner. Potatoes is something I know — Mama made me peel potatoes, snap beans, and mix up biscuits for Sunday dinner back home since I was eight or nine. I peel potatoes like I was born doing it.
"Marey Lee," Annie say, "now, how do you do that, make the peel all come out in one curl?"
I just grin. I might not know nothing about nothing in this man’s army, but I sure can handle myself in a kitchen. Miss Ida should see me now. "Just hold your knife like this," I say, and all my squad turns toward me. Sure feels good to teach them something for a change.
~ Mare’s War (p. 77)
When I turn eighteen, I already know what I’m going to do.
First, I’m going to buy a plane ticket to D. C. and go to Julia Child’s kitchen at the Smithsonian and leave roses. They don’t let you walk through it, but somewhere– I don’t know where — I’m going to leave a bouquet and a little note for her. Julia Child is my patron saint. She’s the queen of all reasons people can do anything they want in life. Saint Julia didn’t start cooking until she was practically forty, and she went on to do TV shows and make cookbooks and be this huge part of culinary history. She never got too fancy, she never freaked out, and she was never afraid to try new things. I want to be just like her — except maybe get famous faster.
The second thing I’m going to do is buy myself a set of knives. Pia swears by this set of German steel knives she got when she graduated, but I’ve seen the TV chef Kylie Kwong use a phenomenal-looking ceramic knife on her show on the Discovery Channel. Either way, knives are what the best chefs have of their very own.
The third thing I’m going to do, after I get back from Washington and get my knives, is… get discovered. Somehow. I know I’m going to have to pay my dues, but I’m so ready for my real life to start. It’s not something I admit to a lot, but my real dream is to be a celebrity chef. Do you know how many African American female chefs there aren’t? And how many vegetarian chefs have their own shows? The field is wide open for stardom. Every time I watch old episodes of Saint Julia, I imagine that I have my own cooking show. The way celebrity chefs do it now, I could also have a line of cooking gear, cookbooks, aprons, the works. People would know my name, ask for my autograph, and try my recipes. All I have to do is finish my trig homework and get back into the kitchen.
A la Carte
Lainey is a 17-year-old high school student who loves to cook. She wants to become a famous chef, with her own cooking show, and has chosen Julia Child as her patron saint.
I loved this young character who is really creative, talented with food and knows what she wants to do with her life. Lainey’s classmates and teachers reap the benefits of her culinary skills. I wish I’d been that talented when I was her age. Who knows? I could have had my own show on the Food Network channel by now.
All through the book, I kept thinking to myself, why didn’t didn’t I have a younger sibling like that who’d enjoy cooking for me. I guess it’s too late to ask my parents for one, huh ?
Normally, when I read about a food mentioned in a book that strikes my fancy, I have to look up a recipe for it. However, in A la Carte, part of the charm of the story is that the story character, Lainey, includes several handwritten recipes from her notebook. I couldn’t wait to try the Saint Julia’s "Perfectly Hard-Boiled" Egg Salad.
It was very interesting to make the "perfectly hard-boiled" egg the Julia Child way. I liked that my egg yolks didn’t turn green. The recipe called for pimento stuffed green olives. Since I didn’t have that, I used Greek olives. I didn’t have a sweet pickle relish or sundried tomato or tapenade. Instead, I used a few grape cherry tomatoes. Oh, and I didn’t have shallots so I used red onions, which I like. So, there were minor substitutions to some of the ingredients but it wasn’t a problem. I really liked the way the egg salad turned out. Delicious!
A la Carte is a book for young adults but adults of all ages can enjoy it. I certainly did.
This is my entry for the 7th culinary/literary blogging event, Novel Food. It’s co-hosted by Simona of Briciole and Lisa of Champaign Taste. If you’re interested in reading more about the event and would like to participate in it, go here to read the guidelines.
Ed Note: A round of up the Novel Food entries has been posted in two parts. You can find the one part on Briciole and the second half on Champaign Taste. There are a lot of fun books and recipes. Check them out!
Saint Julia’s "Perfectly Hard-Boiled" Egg Salad
A la Carte by Tanita S. Davis
4 Hard-Boiled Eggs**
2 Tbsp. Mayonnaise
5 or 6 Pimento-stuffed Green Olives, chopped (or 2 Tbsp. olive Tapenade)
1 small Shallot (optional), finely chopped
1 tsp. Dijon Mustard
1/8 tsp. Paprika
1 Tbsp. Sweet Pickle Relish (or Sundried tomato or Tapenade)
1 Tbsp. Fresh Parsley. Finely chopped * (or cilantro)
To taste: Salt and freshly ground Black Pepper (about 1/8 to 1/4 tsp of each)
Peel your eggs – in the sink, to keep the shells close to the disposal. Carefully take out your yolks, and set the whites aside. Add to your yolks the mayonnaise, your chopped olives, shallots, the mustard, paprika, and pickle. Then chop your whites, and add to mixture. Add parsley, salt, and a litte fresh ground black pepper to taste.
*You can use cilantro and sundried tomatoes as a variation. Some people like their bread cold for cool egg salad — For a fresh egg salad, you might use warm rolls. Yum.
** Saint Julia’s notes on boiling eggs are easy. All you have to do is make sure your eggs are covered at least an inch deep in cold water in the pot, so make your pot deep, not flat and wide. Boil for exactly 17 minutes. Transfer the boiled eggs to ice water immediately to chill for 2 minutes. Take them back into the boiling water for 10 seconds: This will make sure your yolks aren’t green and that the eggs won’t stick to the shells. Now move them back into the cold, and let them sit — if you can — for 15 minutes. If you can’t, it doesn’t matter, but cold eggs peel better.
an my unofficial entry to the literary/culinary blogging event called Novel Food, where we can prepare and blog about a dish that has a connection to a published literary work. The wonderful Simone (of Briciole) and Lisa (of Champaign Taste) co-host this event, which is in its sixth season. I say that it’s an unofficial entry since I’m a bit late in submitting my entry. However it was a recipe I’d planned on posting for quite some time. Thanks, Simone for including my late entry.
I’d seen this cake recipe about a year ago on Tapioca Flour (obrigada/thanks Valentina!) and saved it with the intention of making it immediately. I never got the chance.
This Brasilian Carrot Cake post was inspired by one of my favorite romance stories, Crush by Crystal Hubbard. It’s about a heart throb rock star who rescues a headstrong girl from a near fatal accident at his concert and they fall in love. The heroine is half Brazilian and she mentions her Brazilian grandmother’s cooking and several Brazilian dishes throught the book.
In a previous Novel Food event, I prepared a dish (Leftovers with Dendi Oil) mentioned in the book. The Brasilian Carrot Cake is not mentioned in the book. However, it is something I see the heroine enjoying, something that perhaps her grandmother made for her. Or, something that she may have unsuccessfully tried to make for her rock star boyfriend and then ended up ordering a dessert from a Brazilian restaurant to make up for her baking blunders. LOL!
I also wanted to make this cake in celebration of some good news I received about author Crystal Hubbard. She recently completed a very tough but successful round of chemotherapy treatment. Yay! So, I celebrate the good news with two of my favorite romance characters and a slice of Brasilian Carrot Cake. Congrats Crystal!
Ed. Note: Something interesting about the Brasilian Carrot Cake is that Valentina pointed out that it’s a ‘national passion’, a national institution. In the comments section, she also mentions that the taste of this particular carrot cake is very diiferent from European-style carrot cakes. After tasting it, I can also add that it tastes much different from American carrot cake, too.
The chocolate icing might sound unusual but it actually tastes perfect with this cake. Absolutely perfect.
Also, I forgot to mention that I’m still looking for my own rock star. As before, interested parties can apply here (on this blog).
The roundup of Novel Food entries have been posted. They are in two parts and you can find them at Briciole and Champaign Taste. Check them out, there’s nothing better than finding a good read and recipe!
Lastly, in addition to Valentina’s site, you can also find the original recipe and lovely photo of the cake on Ana’s blog (Kitchen Space). The recipe for this cake comes from her grandmother, Anna. Thanks, Ana for sharing the recipe with us, all.
Crush by Crystal Hubbard
Brasilian Carrot Cake
4 medium carrots, peeled and grated
3 medium eggs
2 cups of sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 cups plain flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
2 tablespoons butter
5 tablespoons milk
8 tablespoons sugar
Grease a bundt pan and reserve. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C (Paz note: That’s about 350°F)
Take the grated carrot, the eggs, the vegetable oil and sugar and put it all in the blender.
Whiz it long enough to blend it all together but being careful not to over do it otherwise it might alter the consistency or even the colour of the cake. Pour the mixture in a mixing bowl and add the dry ingredients, stirring well. Transfer the mixture to the prepared bundt pan and bake for approximately 40 minutes. Leave it to cool on a rack.
Meanwhile put all the icing ingredients in a saucepan and stir it until the butter has melted and the mixture has thickened. Pour it over the cake whilst still hot. **Please note that the cup measurement used is 250ml.
Miranda withdrew from the fridge clutching a small bowl of day-old rice, a grilled chicken breast, half a Vidalia onion, a green net bag holding a few grape tomatoes and a tiny tin of sliced black olives. She set the items on the counterop next to the stove. "I could order in Chinese. There’s a place near here that stays open until three on the weekends, or I could throw something together. I think."
"Bernard said you didn’t cook," Lucas smiled.
"Chopping and re-heating is not cooking."
"What can I do to help?"
[...] He leaned in close to her to scrape his garlic into a skillet where Miranda had started the rice dancing in hot vegetable oil with a dash of dendi, the bright orange oil extracted from the African palm of northern Brazil.
"My Avó Marie Estrella used dendi the way Italian cooks use olive oil, " Miranda told Lucas, who had begun slicing the chicken breast into strips. "She was a very good cook. That gene bypassed me and went to my sister, Calista. I got my other grandmother’s cooking ability. Grandma Ilene’s food was just awful. She thought she was the best cook in the world, though."
[...] Lucas ate heartily. This was truly the best meal he’d ever had, and it was only leftovers.
This entry is for the literary/culinary blogging event, Novel Food, which is hosted by Simona of Briciole and Lisa of Champaign Taste. Participants are asked to post their literary-inspired culinary creations.
The above excerpt comes from one of my favorite stories, CRUSH by Crystal Hubbard. It’s about a rock star, Lucas, who rescues a girl, Miranda, from being crushed when she attends his concert. Since the book is a romance, you can imagine what happens afterwards — they fall in love, of course.
Miranda is half Brazilian and in the book, she mentions her Brazilian grandmother’s cooking skills and she attempts to cook Brazilian cuisine. A familiar ingredient she uses is palm oil, a vegetable cooking oil used in Brazil and many other tropical countries. High in beta-carotene, it gives off a reddish color. It is very tasty and can be used as a preservative. However it is high in cholesterol, so it’s a good idea to use it sparingly.
The heroine’s use of palm oil reminded me of when I grew up in Africa as a young girl. We had different trees in the back yard, mango trees, guava trees and a great big, tall palm tree. I remember palm oil being used a lot in the kitchen.
Like Miranda, I also had leftovers in my fridge — rice, eggs instead of chicken, mixed vegetables, tomato paste instead of fresh tomatoes and Spanish olives instead of black olives. I also had onions and garlic. And what do you know, I had palm oil, too. So, I decided to make my own leftovers concoction with the special ingredient — palm oil — to tie it all together. I heated everything together in a skillet, added salt and pepper and served immediately. Mmmm… Not bad at all. Now I’m going look for a hungry, hot, fine-looking rock star to feed. Let’s see, who can I find?
Oh, and Happy Easter!
Ed Note: Interested rock stars may apply here (on this blog).