Buckwheat, Apples and Ghosts

img_5857Working from home has many perks (as well as some downsides). It’s hard for me to stay out of the kitchen when I’m supposed to be at my desk. Yesterday I decided to give myself something special for elevenses, as they say in England. I had made buckwheat pancake batter earlier in the morning for Theo, but then he was late for school and in the rush we didn’t cook them.  So later on I decided to make some pancakes. They were brown and warm and slightly crisp on the outside, but inside each pancake a slice of caramelized apple added soft sweetness. I drizzled dark Vermont maple syrup over them and sat with a cup of coffee. I warmed the milk and foamed it just the way I like it, and indulged in my mid morning treat, recognizing the goodness of it all.

Moments of peace come and go- for me they usually arrive courtesy of food, flavors, and treasured objects. My coffee cup, for example, was made in Orvieto. It’s wide at the top, and not too deep- perfectly scaled so my coffee doesn’t cool down before I can drink it all up. The pottery is painted in the traditional hues that many ceramicists of Orvieto have used for centuries: greenish-blue and accents of dark brown (is this the classic burnt umber of a Crayola box)? Its patterns and stripes are simple, repetitive. This cup feels good in my hands, and each time I pick it up I think of the day I bought it.

It was Lucian’s birthday- it would have been his 11th, and we were still freshly in mourning. Orvieto was a perfect place for this occasion. It’s a dramatic but quiet town built on a huge rocky outcropping, and it’s an easy day trip from Rome. Earlier that day we’d walked the trail around the old city walls, and picked wildflowers. Orvieto’s sloping streets are filled with pretty shops. There is plenty of traditional, good, Umbrian hill town food there, like umbrichelli pasta dusted with fluffy grated cheese and truffles, braised cinghiale, and roasted pigeon, and we rested with a hearty lunch.  At the center of the town is the stunning cathedral. Its black and pink bricks create narrow stripes, so uplifting and gloriously different from all the whites and greys of Rome- while gruesomely detailed biblical scenes carved into the facade signal a warning: know these ancient stories and be fearful.

I bought this cup I now hold in my hands from another Anna, whose small pottery studio was tucked just behind the main piazza. A few steps up a stone alley, her gate was canopied by draping vines of honeysuckle. I was so enchanted by them that I paused with Theo so Greg could take a photo of us. When a woman called out from the shadows of a doorway: Buon Giorno! we realized we were actually standing in the entrance to her shop, not on a lane, as we had presumed… and though we weren’t looking to buy any ceramics, we entered her space, respectful and quiet. I came away with a cup, though I wish I’d bought six, and a simple jar for decanting olive oil. It has a slender body with a narrow top for pouring, and is made from the warmly pigmented Umbrian clay.  Anna and her little studio were engaging and humble. When we left, we walked back towards the piazza, where I stopped to look at the photos I’d taken- and I realized that instead of a lovely, honeysuckle covered archway, the photo I had taken was just one frame, and it was completely black. A little ghost had been there and is with me still.img_9043


Get your Early Glow(s) on


   Early Glow Strawberry Oven Preserves with Yogurt

Early Glow Strawberry Oven-Preserves with Yogurt

This is it: the moment when our late Spring fantasies finally come to fruition  We’ve been seeing those big, sour Driscoll strawberries in the grocery stores for months, and pretending Spring is strawberry season. But this ain’t California, and I’ve learned to be patient. And finally: real, red, pretty, strawberries are in the local farmers’ markets. I fell victim to their charms last week. I saw, I tasted, and I bought one 6 dollar quart of them without even batting an eye.  Then I walked around the corner of the market and spotted a table of even redder, riper, sweeter (I tasted again) strawberries. Oh, I bought those too. Early Glows, I was told- a super sweet and juicy variety. Get them while you can.  Based on my rudimentary research, only Sycamore Farms from Middletown, NY is selling these super-sweet berries at the Union Square greenmarket right now.

For three mornings I rinsed a few lovelies and served them up, judiciously selecting only the amount I thought we’d eat, so none would be waterlogged and go to waste. But my children are odd and even though the first words out of my 9 year old son’s mouth were: “Those are some Sweeeeet strawberries!”, neither he nor his little brother ate more than two. I did my part, but come Sunday, I still had more than a quart of strawberries, now somewhat over-ripe, sitting around.

Wanting to bake a treat I knew would get eaten, I made this:


                                         Strawberry-Pistachio Crumb Cake

This lovely, tender cake is a simple thing to make and you do NOT need a mixer.

Pistachio Crumb Topping: Stir together 3/4 cup four, 1/2 cup sugar ( I used some brown and some white), 11/4 cup coarsely chopped toasted pistachios, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom (if you have it), 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted.

Cake: Preheat oven to 350 with rack in the center. Butter and flour a 9-inch square baking pan, tapping out excess flour.

Whisk together the dry ingredients in a medium bowl: 1 1/2 cup flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 1/4 teaspoon baking soda, 1/4 teaspoon salt.

Cream together: 1 stick room temperature unsalted butter and 2/3 cup sugar until light and fluffy- give it some elbow grease. Add 2 large eggs, beating well after each addition. Stir in 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract.

Mix in, alternating: the flour mixture and 1/4 cup buttermilk, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Spread into prepared pan and smooth top so it’s even. Dot with halved or quartered strawberries, to lightly cover the surface (about 2 cups). Sprinkle pistachio crumb topping over strawberries, and bake until cake is golden and a skewer or thin knife comes out clean when inserted in center, 55-60 minutes.  Cook on a rack for 10 minutes, and then invert quickly onto a tray- place rack on bottom and invert again, so crumb is on top. Let cool before cutting.


Ever the home economist, I decided to save gas and cook off the remaining over-ripe strawberries while the oven was on, so I made this: Early Glow Strawberry Oven-Preserves for spooning onto yogurt, ice cream, anything.

Toss: 2 cups halved or quartered strawberries with about 2 tablespoons sugar and 1/4 cup water in a deep-sided baking dish. Bake at 350 until tender and lightly syrupy, abut 1 hour. Let cool, transfer to a jar, and store in the refrigerator at least 2 weeks- if they last that long.


no strawberry shall
      go unused