Monday, December 23, 2013


 Will it snow this year? I find it extremely difficult to find that old holiday spirit while the rain beats against the windowpanes, as the hail clatters onto the balconies and the clouds hang low and menacing, the sky a steely gray. The lights glitter, diamonds in the shimmering black puddles, in the inky night, the branches crack and sway, the leaves spatter onto the sidewalk below as the wild wind whips the streaming rain cascading down in torrents across the square. Doors creak, we snuggle down deeper under the blankets; we love the coziness, the storms outside are romantic when one is safe inside, yet the approaching festivities call not for rain but snow! We awake to the gray, dismal morning, no sun appears at noon, and we search, alas, in vain, for that old holiday spirit.

 Snow somehow adds the jolly to Christmas, the happy to New Year. Slipping on the boots, buttoning up our warmest, snuggliest coats, burying our chins deep into mountains of scarf and, gloved hand in gloved hand, out we prance through the crunching white, the sun bright and cheerful and tip toe our way into town. Everything looks so sparkling clean, so lovely and festive to a backdrop of snow! The holiday songs carried to us on the wind and piped into every boutique somehow just sound merrier, the window displays more vibrant and playful, our fellow shoppers gleeful, convivial. Laden down with sacks and bags, boxes beribboned, we hurry home, noses red, cheeks rosy, giggling like children on Christmas morning, to curl up together in the corner of the sofa, hands cupped around steaming mugs to watch the snowflakes flurry in a Winter Wonderland on the other side of the icy, misty glass.

 One last day of shopping before Christmas and the gifts are all bought, piled up in secret places around the house. My baking has taken a festive turn and Stollen and cookies of all sorts have been tumbling out of the oven and lining themselves up prettily on the kitchen table. The magic of a real bûche de noël awaits, slathered in chocolate, dusted with snow. We’ve stocked the pantry with all kinds of simple, warming foods, enough to see us through the wintry week. My favorite Christmas films are stacked up on the coffee table, the old and the new, the real and the animated, each begging to be watched first, promising to fill our house with holiday music, laughter and good cheer!

 Tomorrow morning, Christmas Eve morning, we will wend our way to the market, bundled up in heavy coats, arms wrapped close around ourselves to ward off the blustery wind and the tat tat tat of wet flakes stinging our cheeks. We’ll push our way through the Christmas Eve crowds and fill our basket with oysters and a slice or two of foie gras, and maybe, just maybe, he will make a wonderful seafood choucroute for two. Or a cheese fondue for the boys. I’m rather a sentimental old soul, and as I step out into the flurries and chill, memories of Christmases past whirl up like a snowstorm in my mind and visions of icy white nights in Milan pulling smoky chestnuts out of paper cones, warming our hands, and popping them one by one into our mouths; excited little boys dashing up to greet le Père Noël who magically appears laden with gifts at their grandparents’ house; arriving late Christmas Eve to a balmy Florida town and being driven around up and down every street just to ogle the gaudy, outrageous Christmas decorations and the romantic luminaries all aglow, hands clapping and faces brimming over with delight, all intermingling in one glorious dance!

 The Christmas holidays have arrived in a blustery, wet haze, stomping in like an uninvited guest leaving filthy black shoeprints all over the new white carpet without even a bouquet of flowers to ease her unexpected intrusion. The chill winds of the holiday season whipped in unannounced when my back was turned, when I had least expected it.

 Christmas. The wind whistles and howls outside as the wet snow whips around through the trees, lighting up the square below and adding a festive luster to the treetops, while inside we sit cozy and warm. Like wide-eyed children on Christmas morning, we stare through the panes into the velvet night as the heavy plops of white thud against the glass and settle onto the inky black iron curlicues of the balcony railing for the night. The lamplight shimmers in the glistening snow blanketing the roofs of the cars and we snuggle up a little closer and whisper our prayers that it will last through the holidays.

 One blustery day leads into the next and as the rest of France is blanketed under an elegant stole of white, as images of Parisians standing amid flurries of flakes scroll across our television screens, we listen to the rain pound on the roof, watch it slide sadly down the glass panes, and the urge to warm up the kitchen with baking washes over me. The only feathery white powder I have the chance to feel against my skin is flour. Soft, fragrant flour blended with cocoa and sugar, eggs and cream, fill the house with the sweet scent of celebration. Thoughts of cinnamon and chocolate, nutmeg and orange fill my head as I skip into the kitchen and start pulling bowls and pans from the cupboard, as I sift through the drawers in search of teaspoons and tablespoons, measuring cups and zester. And as traffic in the City of Lights comes to a standstill in the frosty night, as grumbling tourists try and make light of closed roads and closed airports, as a warm glow emanates from a bustling workshop somewhere north of Lapland, I blend and stir, whip and fold. I toss in a little Christmas spirit in the form of mixed holiday spices: cinnamon and nutmeg, star anise, ginger and cloves, a dash of lemon and orange zest, a splash or two of rum, heady and wild, and it smells as if I am living in a white-icing edged, candy cane and gumdrop-trimmed gingerbread house.

 So while others dream of a White Christmas, while visions of snow-dusted sugarplums dance in their heads, we sit inside in the warmth, snuggled up together, listening to the rain and watching the darkness come much too early every afternoon. We cook, bake, eat and watch old films and are overcome with that wonderful holiday spirit that wraps its arms around us no matter the weather and no matter what is happening outside in the world, outside of our own existence. So slice another piece of cake, pour another glass of wine and turn up the volume of the stereo or the television just a little bit more and maybe this year we will even exchange gifts.

Plated Stories will be taking a holiday break and will see you in the New Year. 

We wish you one and all a joyous, merry holiday filled with peace and good cheer.

Monday, December 16, 2013




 The Florida sun is like no other. Morning breaks at the height of summer in a dazzling blaze of light, a haze of heat pulsing through the early morning hours already steamy. Blinding white light bouncing off of the sidewalk, searing light burning into one’s soul. Eyes squinting, sweat trickling down one’s back, peering through the light into the distance, an eerie oasis in the distance, stillness moving in the light. 

 Too much light.

 One searches for respite from the brightness but to no avail. Light much too strong, heady, powerful, allowing no shade under the trees. Feet burn on sidewalks, in the grass, the tough Florida grass, as unforgiving as the light, that bites into one’s feet.



 The watery winter light filters through the grayness, breaking through here and there in faded yellow bursts. A winter light that has no resemblance to the flashy light of my childhood winters. A light moody, blurred and dull, lacking definition and lacking inspiration. A light ineffably sad.

 Like the light outside, our own inclination fades and falters, lacking its own definition in the lazy light of winter. This weather, this nebulous light inspires nothing more than staying in, slouching on the sofa and letting one’s mind wander to ghosts of our past.

 A veiled light, at once weary and romantic.

 Night falls, the light is swallowed up into blackness so complete the memory of the day falls away into the unlit recesses of the mind, forever gone. The lights of the city dot the landscape, glitter joyously, shimmering in the glass panes of the window which are now misty against the cold.

 The Hanukkah candles are lit one by one against the backdrop of night. One by one a single flame catches and blazes up in a wonder of light. A warm glow fills the room as we gather around the menorah and chant on this Festival of Lights.


 The holiday spirit has invaded Nantes if ever so discreetly, understated elegance, so very French. The great swags of glittering lights in red and silver are already hung from lamppost to lamppost, shop windows have already begun adding to the display with shows of elves and polar bears, lush wreathes and bright garlands, trees green and beribboned or merely the suggestion of trees in delicate white lights. I love the holidays yet how I miss the vibrant, exciting, overdone American version of Christmas. Homes weighed down under millions of gaudy, whimsical, colorful holiday lights; Santa in his sleigh, drawn by a team of reindeer prance across front lawns or perch precariously on rooftops, in a halo of neon, a brilliant circle of spotlight. Over the top, ostentatious beauty infuses every observer, whether celebrant or not, with an energy and enthusiasm strictly reserved for December.


 Arriving late one Christmas Eve to a balmy Florida town, we drove my young boys around the city, up and down every street just to ogle the outrageous Christmas decorations and the romantic luminaries all aglow, all intermingling in one glorious dance, a sight neither had ever seen or experienced before. Hands clapping and faces brimming over with delight, faces bathed in the warm lights, my boys light up, astonished in front of the festivities, in front of such a celebration, to the music of Christmas.


 Too much indulgence. Too many rich, heavy meals topped with cheese and laden with sauces. Too many slices of cake, bowls of ice cream, chunks of bread slathered with butter. Comforted and warmed by spoonfuls of rice pudding, sweetened oatmeal and too much cream. A winter spent bundled up in sweaters and coats, socks and padding and hidden under shawls and scarves. As we slip off the layers one by one, as the temperature inches up and the days grow warmer, we see the damage done.

 Eat lighter, they exhort! Lighter than light, we fill our basket with lettuce and tomatoes, fruits and vegetables. We sidle up to the cheese counter and stoutly ignore the bleu and comté and request that la fromagère scoop up ladlefuls of low fat cream cheese into a tub.

 There is always a profound sense of deprivation when one eats light. Or is there? Fromage frais topped with seasonal fresh fruit, chunks of grilled meat swept through spicy mustard, the crunch of pickles and the sweetness of berries roasted in just a tad of sugar and a swirl of rum.

 The lightness of mousse, the delicate ethereal lightness of homebaked ladyfingers, the comfort of a bowl of Rice Krispies and lowfat milk, light indeed.


 We met in Paris, the City of Lights. Neon days and nights aglow in the flickering Eiffel Tower and the blazing Champs Elysées. By day, we would walk the quays along the Seine, the sunlight flashing off the water, turning our heads away from the glare. We would duck into a wine bar, lights dim. Glasses of red and plates of warm lentil salad were the only witness to our tryst. Light of his eye.

 We married on a July morning, a day bathed in light. I carried myself lightly, skipping to city hall on winged feet, lighter than air. The light filtered in through the windows suffusing the hall with a golden glow. Light of my life.

 We toasted our marriage with flutes of Champagne, giddy with bubbles and love. Lightheaded.

Whether winter or summer, there really is nothing better than an ultra-light dessert. Cool, tangy, ethereal Lemon Ricotta Mousse paired with melt-in-your-mouth light ladyfinger cookies is the perfect treat when a sweet tooth must be sated or as a light finish to any meal. I adore lemony desserts and the ricotta gives this mousse body and the taste of a light cheesecake without the heaviness. Beautiful topped with fresh berries. These ladyfingers are a favorite recipe, using them to prepare Tiramisu, a charlotte or with any kind of whipped filling, lining the pan or dessert glasses with them instead of a pie crust. My husband loves them dipped in milk as a snack.

Serves 4 – 6

1 cup (250 g) ricotta cheese, drained if wet
Zest of 1 lemon
Juice of ½ lemon and more to taste
1 Tbs limoncello, optional
3 Tbs powdered/icing sugar and more to taste
¼ - 1/3 cup (100 ml) cold heavy whipped cream
1 egg white

Beat or whisk the ricotta with the lemon zest, lemon juice, limoncello and 2 tablespoons powdered sugar until smooth and creamy. Beat the cold heavy whipping cream until thick and soft peaks hold. Gently and delicately fold into the ricotta mixture.

Using clean beaters in a clean bowl (I prefer a plastic bowl for beating whites), beat the egg whites until opaque; add one more tablespoon of the powdered/icing sugar and beat until peaks hold. Gently and delicately fold into the ricotta-cream mixture until well blended. Do not overfold as the mousse should be light and creamy. Taste and add more sugar and/or more lemon juice as desired, to taste.

Divide into glasses, verrines, cups or even wine glasses or Champagne flutes and chill until ready to serve, at least an hour.


3 large eggs, separated
6 Tbs (75 g) sugar
¾ cup (95 g) cake flour, sifted
Pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla
6 Tbs (50 g) confectioner’s/powdered sugar

Separate the eggs. Place the yolks in a large mixing bowl. Place the whites in a medium-sized metal or plastic bowl and add a pinch of salt. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Line 2 large baking or cookie sheets with parchment paper ; “glue” down the corners of the parchment with a dab of softened butter or batter to assure that the parchment lies flat and won’t move when piping the ladyfingers.

Beat the egg whites on low for 30 seconds then increase the beater speed to high and beat until the whites hold soft peaks. Continue beating while sprinkling on about a tablespoon or 2 of the sugar and continue beating until the whites are stiff.

Beat the egg yolks with the remaining sugar and the vanilla until thick, pale and the batter forms a ribbon when the beaters are lifted up. Using a spatula, fold the whites into the yolk mixture in 3 parts, alternating with the flour, also added in 3 times, until smooth and well blended. Do not overfold.

Fit a pastry bag with a large plain tip (or just snip the end off; you could also use a plastic freezer bag) and fill with the batter. Pipe the batter into 5" long and 3/4" wide tubes (or larger or smaller as needed) leaving about 1" space in between the piped fingers. Sift half the confectioner's sugar over the ladyfingers and allow to sit for 5 minutes. The sugar will pearl or look wet and glisten.

After the 5 minutes, sift the remaining sugar evenly over the ladyfingers. This helps to give the ladyfingers their characteristic crisp top. Bake the ladyfingers for 10 minutes then turn the baking sheets around back to front and continue baking until the fingers are lightly golden, about 5 minutes more depending on your oven. Remove the baking sheets from the oven and allow to cool slightly before removing them with a metal spatula onto racks to cool completely.

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Monday, December 9, 2013



 Saturdays were spent at the public swimming pool, whiling away the sweltering, muggy, lazy Florida summers. A gaggle of ten-year-old girls, we would ride our bikes to the trio of pools behind the high school (used during the school year for the swim team, on weekends and all summer long for those who desperately needed respite from the torrid heat), lean the bikes against the chain link fences that circled the pools like a Wild West corral, mosey in and spread our towels out as elegantly as ten-year-old girls could on the hard, scorching cement.

 I carried with me a little black leather coin purse embossed with Mexican designs, a gift my mother had brought for me from one of her many vacation cruises, in which I carried a tiny photo of my latest crush, a photo carefully snipped from the sheet of class portraits (the same frozen stare in kodachrome that I received from his living glance), along with several coins with which to buy something icy cold from the concession stand. When the heat became too much, the sun at its peak in the cloudy blue sky, when the sweat trickled down our necks, backs and legs in rivulets even as we swept out of the cool water, sweat mingling with pool water, we would hop over (foot to foot, hopping to keep feet from burning the cement) to choose our ice cream.

 But I never chose ice cream. Ice cream was for winter. In the heat of the summer, one needed ice. Sorbets, slushies, slurpees, sno cones, popsicles, Italian ices, frozen treats to put out the flames with ice. I would invariably ask for a Snowball. Sweet cold cherry ice in a cone-shaped plastic container, the frozen perfection would be pushed up and out for the eating with a squeeze of the plastic cone. Front teeth scraping across the frozen surface, scritch scritch scritch, I would be shivering well before I reached the last of the cherry-flavored ice now a puddle of sugary, sticky syrup to be slurped from the bottom of the cup, head tipped back, eyes closed against the sharp sunlight. And nestled in the bottom of that plastic cone was the added prize: a candy-coated gumball.

 It is quite possible that the single and only reason I ever went to the public pool – seeing as I do not particularly care for swimming – was to eat a Screwball.



 The ground was as frozen as I was as I tiptoed ever so carefully down the steps and across the campus, treading ever so slowly from paving stone to paving stone in my wedge-heeled summer sandals. I had transferred schools midterm, defying the wishes of my parents and all common sense, heading north for the first time in my twenty-some years after a lifetime in Florida. I arrived in snowbound Philadelphia early January, stepped from the airport terminal into a chill I had never known, a frigid northern winter. 

 I began classes in the bleak midwinter, a Siberian landscape stretched away from me as I wended my way to each building. I had very little with which to insulate myself from the arctic temperatures, the numbing wind, the raw winter weather. Splotches of snow covered the streets, sidewalks and green here and there, my open-toed sandals, so perfect for a Florida school year, were no protection, even as I layered on socks and leg warmers. I piled on thick woolen sweaters, Salvation Army purchases, hand-me-downs from my brother, over my light cotton dresses. I felt for all the world like a duck out of water, an eccentric misfit in the middle of this strange new land, this frozen tundra of a big city.

 I spent my first school holiday with my brother in Boston. The dead of winter. Philly is nothing to Boston, the glacial temperatures, the mountains of frozen white, the wind that would whip around you, push and pull you back and forth, irreverent, frozen wind. Yet, even indoors, where one expects some kind of respite from the wintry chill outside, where one expects a cozy, comforting, hibernal warmth, my brother kept his heating off. We would huddle around the oven, spending our days in the kitchen, cooking and eating and laughing and chatting. But come night, we would shuffle off to our bedrooms and crawl under the mountain of blankets and quilts. And freeze. My hat, that wooly bonnet my mother knit for me, pulled down on my head, over my ears, gloves on my hands, fully clothed, yes, but wearing my winter coat as well, I would slide under the covers and, shivering in the frozen night, try to sleep.


 The Snow Queen. I was enchanted. I spent hours staring into the shimmering hologram of a cover, the magic of the three-dimensional image of the brother and sister in their darling little livingroom, a chalet of warm wood and light white linens. My fingers caressed the photo, and I could stare into its depth for hours, fascinated. 

 A wonderland of a book, it’s heavy cardboard pages opened to reveal images played out in cloth dolls, recounting Hans Christian Anderson’s tale of the Snow Queen and her frozen heart. 

 I was fascinated by the icy whiteness, the Queen’s sleek sleigh of white and the Queen’s prancing snow white horse dashing through a landscape of pristine white. Images frozen in time, frozen in space, yet so alive for the young girl that I was, driven by my wild imagination, longing for the strange and mysterious. I would have gone with the Snow Queen, hand in hand, accompanied her in her sleigh through the snowy fields like the little blond boy in the pages of the storybook. Her frozen heart was nothing to the romanticism of the frozen scenery, her frozen beauty. 

 Turn the page and the little boy is kneeling on the frozen lake, a chunk of shiny ice clutched in his hands, his sister begging him to drop it, leave it be before a frozen shard can stab his warm heart, turning it to ice. 

 A sweep of glowing Northern Lights like embers of a dying fire could not melt her frozen heart, warm the chill that numbed her heart. Nothing could save her.



 The valet stepped briskly over to the window, footsteps muffled by the thick carpeting, and drew back the heavy, elegant drapery with one graceful movement of his uniformed arm. "I apologize for the view," he carefully explains, "If you were to visit us again in the springtime the gardens would be green and the flowers abloom in a gorgeous riot of color. It is rather sad and gray at this time of year!" We step over to the French windows and peep over his shoulder and I gasp. I am gazing at a frozen alabaster landscape painted in shades of pearl and pewter and white, achromatic and silent yet somehow alive, stunning, breathing with the slight, subtle movements of light and shade. Standing here in this grandiose Parisian Palace Hotel in the dead of winter, the day after one of the coldest Christmases I can remember, I look down and behold a fairytale vision, a winter wonderland: the frozen Tuilleries Gardens are white, icy white, a heavy veil of mist covers everything as far as the eye can see and it is magnificently, mysteriously romantic. Bare trees and stone sculptures reach up like phantoms shrouded in mist and all is motionless, it is as if the world has come to a standstill leaving only the two of us to listen to the silence, and all the rest is still and forgotten.

 Later, bundled up against the frigid, intensely raw wind, arm in arm we leave the warmth and glow of the hotel and scurry down the barren streets of the city to find our favorite little hidey-hole of a restaurant. We step over the threshold into a blast of tropical heat where a noisy, joyous conviviality reigns as clients pack elbow to elbow at the little wooden tables, chattering loudly and slurping up great bowls of soup. We shrug off our coats and slide into chairs, leaving winter alone outside to blow her frozen breath on the windowpanes in puffs of foggy kisses.

Slice and cut fresh watermelon into cubes, put them into a plastic bag and freeze it, if you freeze some extra watermelon, you can drink it all year round - it can't get fresher than this! 

2 big or 4 small

350 g/ 12,5 oz frozen water melon in cubes
100 ml/ 0,4 cup rum (or more, it depends on how strong you want it to be)
1-2 tbs icing sugar or more. Optional
juice from 1 lime
mint leaves to garnish with

Put all ingredients except the mint (or why not include it?) in a mixer and run until it is nice and slushy. Pour into glasses, top with a mint leaf or two before serving.

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Monday, December 2, 2013


Fetish (fet -ish) n. 1. an object worshipped by primitive peoples who believe it to have magical powers or to be inhabited by a spirit. 2. anything to which foolishly excessive respect or devotion is given. 3. an object arousing erotic feeling. - Oxford American Dictionary Heald Colleges Edition

 Chocolate. Certainly an object worshipped by many, not all of whom are primitive, yet some of whom would absolutely extol its magical powers. I have friends and known others, fools or not, who flaunt an excessive devotion to this “food of the gods”, willing to forgo most other pleasures for this sacred delicacy. And as a true fetish, many have laid claim to its reputation as an aphrodisiac, seducing a lover with a drizzle of warm chocolate sauce or a box tied up in gold ribbon.

 Chocolate, that most mysterious of foods, both soothing and sinful, comforting and decadent all at once. Passionate and inspiring, it stirs up more emotion than any other food; it is the downfall of many. No wonder it has also often been called the “food of the devil”.

 Chocolate, whether bold and bitter or smooth and sweet, crunchy, crispy, hot, warm or cool, light or dark, has been the source and inspiration for books, films, forums, salons, clubs. And a multitude of medical studies. Some like to claim that they eat it for this healthful property or that, that it brings on a sense of wellbeing or even euphoria. But all that takes away from its underlying power, its seductiveness. Deep down, chocolate pulls us into a dark, almost spiritual realm, a source of intense craving that no substitute can appease.

 But whether chocolate is consumed for its psychoactive or cognitive-enhancing properties, its magnesium boost, as some kind of holistic medicine, as a tool of sexual conquest, or as a substitute for lunch dates with friends or lonely evenings in front of the television, savored with a glass of wine, neck-deep in bubbles, no one can deny the passion that it stirs up in each of us.

 Standing in the Home Ec room watching my very elegant 8th-grade French teacher Miss Moore roll up chunks of deep, dark chocolate in pale, moist, out-of-the-can biscuit dough, must have been my first experience with something I considered so sophisticated, so very French. I pushed myself up on tippy toes trying to capture each and every movement of her hands as she created this special treat for a roomful of impatient students anxious to savor their very first taste of France. Our only experience of that foreign, most romantic of countries was between the pages of our French book where a very properly dressed Sylvie went to the piscine with her brother and watched la télévision while maman prepared dinner. Photographs of lovers strolling along the Seine, tumbles of flowers spilled out of market stalls and the French Président going to work on a bicycle inspired me, instilled an urge, a wanderlust… it was all so beautiful, so chic, so far away from this beachside town, hot and unsophisticated. This treat, so French, transported me if only in my young mind, if only for the time of a class.

 Yet years later there I was, on the streets of Paris tenderly clutching a flaky, crisp pain au chocolat, rather stunned that I was actually, finally there. My very first day, I stumbled into the nearest corner boulangerie – as was the thing to do on one’s very first day in Paris, bien sûr -and pointed, grinning, at the plump, golden pastry, just a teasing hint of the chocolate peeping out from between the folds.

  Bread & Chocolate stirs up visions of tow-headed children on Parisian streets, elegant little children in shiny Mary Janes or black brogues dressed in pleated navy skirts and Loden coats, their excited after-school chatter filling the void between honking cars and city sounds, each enfant cheri clutching a hunk of baguette, dense, warm from the boulangerie, a long, narrow bar of chocolate sticking out for all the world to see. Watch them as they bite into the crispy crust, crumbs hurriedly brushed away, joyously ripping into the tender center, crack into the slender bar of chocolate Maman or nourrice has so lovingly tucked inside and all thoughts of sharing a crêpe and a glass of wine with a chic young parisien fall aside: this is picture-perfect French romance itself.

Childhood Delight, Adult Necessity

 I have one son that likes nothing at all. Oh, of course that is an exaggeration but when one’s parents and only sibling love almost everything, are open to new taste sensations, new cuisines, all foods with little exception, and one limits one’s likes to a mere handful of choices, it goes without saying.

 He has no sweet tooth. He could truly do without sweets, no cake, no cookies, no candy, no ice cream. He is quite content with a fistful of breadsticks, a bowl full of olives, a slice of bread smeared with hummous. A tuna fish sandwich, extra mayonnaise, please. Which is even odder what with all the desserts, tarts and sugary things the rest of us consume.

 Yet once in a blue moon, he will request a sweet treat, either for a special occasion, his birthday, or to carry to friends. And every now and then (when cows do fly) he actually has a craving. And it is without fail, unequivocally, unshakably chocolate. And more exacting, more demanding one child cannot be. A simple chocolate layer cake – just chocolate, no coffee, chestnut, rum or Cointreau blended in – with a very simple chocolate buttercream. The normal chocolate cake, if you see what I mean. A pan of brownies with, yes, chopped pecans but heaven help us nothing else, nothing foreign, nothing weird. A good, deep chocolate flavor, the texture neither too gooey nor too cakey. Just brownies. Or something chocolate chip… chocolate chip cookies will be gobbled up quick as greased lightening. Or chocolate chip banana bread, the tiny chocolate chips in perfect balance with, just the right proportion to the banana.

 And that’s it. Chocolate.

I drank this type of chocolate one damp and cold November afternoon in the north of Italy, until then I had only had the more licquid kind that you drink in Sweden (very good too, especially so when served with whipped cream on top) and my encounter with dense chocolate to drink resulted in instant love! Here in Italy you can buy it in powder and all you have to do is to mix it with milk and warm it up but I prefer the homemade version, mostly because I can make bigger portions!

2 rather big cups

4 tblsp high quality cocoa powder
3-4 tblsp sugar
4 tblsp corn starch
400 ml/1,7 cup milk
spices or some other desired flavour

   Mix cocoa, sugar and corn starch very well. Pour milk into a pan and then add the dry ingredients while you whisk. Bring to the boil under constant stirring until it has reached the desired density.

   Drink and enjoy!

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Monday, November 25, 2013



It is, in my view, the duty of an apple to be crisp and crunchable, but a pear should have such a texture as leads to silent consumption. - Edward Bunyard, 'The Anatomy of Dessert’

 A conundrum

 Why do we like some things and dislike others? Why do some foods titillate our palates and some foods turn us off? And why do yet others make us shiver with delight or shudder in pure disgust? Taste, smell, texture, memory.

 Memory. I cannot eat white chocolate because of a long ago experience, the young teen that I was gorging on a bagful of white chocolate stars to the point of illness.

 Smell. Coffee is the nectar of the gods, a heavenly fragrance. As a cup of coffee, no matter how bitter, cloyingly sweet from too much sugar, weak and watery as only American hotels can serve, I breathe deeply, consume the odor, devour the heady aroma, and am satisfied. The coffee tastes just that much better as the scent is carried to my nostrils, feeds my brain and my memories.

 Taste. They say that there is a genetic element to taste, whether we love or hate fresh coriander, cooked carrots or anything else. I have one son that always gobbled down plates piled high with vegetables but disliked fruit, while the other son always loved fruit yet clamped his mouth shut when vegetables were carried towards him. My own tastes have changed since I was a kid: I used to love beets and tongue and now the one and the other make me shudder with revulsion.

 Texture. The sugary sweetness of pears, the juiciness of a ripe Comice or Conference drives my men wild, the only fruit all three of them love. Husband buys them half a dozen at a time, pale gold, tinged with green or blushing red, plump and curvaceous. But I just cannot, no matter how hard I try. Oh, the flavor is beautiful, I will admit, but the texture of a pear, the ever-so slight, barely perceptible crunch, the disturbance of the inexplicable grittiness, the flesh too moist, too soft, melting away to nothing rather than offering up resistance, a satisfying bite, only made more apparent when cooked.

 While others call the pear “fondante”, meltingly smooth, I call the pear's pulp weak and lacking personality, a texture that does not live up to its flavor, a promise not kept.

Pears-7 Pears-6

There are only ten minutes in the life of a pear when it is perfect to eat. - Ralph Waldo Emerson

 Bundled up in sweaters and coats, hands pushed into gloves, gloved fists pushed deep down into pockets, we head briskly to market on a chilly Sunday morning.

 Pears and apples are the season’s harbingers, the first autumn fruit to appear on the market stalls, even before the mounds of grapes in purple (so deep a purple they are almost black) and green (the larger sea-glass green like bunches of playing marbles or the pearl-sized grapes, the skins transparent revealing the seeds hanging in space like tiny flies in amber), before the mushrooms, the common to the uncommon, lying placidly, as mushrooms are wont to do, in piles near the front in elegant, gentle shades of brown and cream and gold while the first clementines are just making their tentative appearance from sunny Spain (and while the citrus is still tart, not yet sweet enough, the pears and apples are sugary and luscious).

 The apple and pear people are back with the first chill, also harbingers of the season, making their rambunctious, rustic appearance, taking up their usual market spot outdoors under the eaves. Two vibrant women, hair hurriedly pushed back into scraggly ponytails, old, worn cardigans tucked under heavy blue cotton aprons, dash back and forth from client to bin and back again, selecting from a seemingly never-ending array of apples and pears fresh off the branches, explaining which are for eating, which baking, which are sweet and which are tart. They unceremoniously dump the fruit in scrubbed, stained plastic basins perched atop one of two scales, expertly translating weight to cost. Their male colleagues, in spite of my own prejudice, are just as informed, just as knowledgeable as to which apples (the reines de reinettes, the fuji, the jonagold) or pears (the comice, williams, or conference) are best for eating, for baking into a tart or a clafoutis or roasting and caramelizing for a savory dish.

 I glance over the crude wooden orchard crates filled with golden green and red fruit (the color of autumn leaves) and breathe in deeply the wonderful fragrance of autumn as we await the "go ahead, you're next what do you want?" nod from one of the vendeuses.

Pears Pears-3

  The very first time I saw a pruned pear tree was in the Jacques Tati film Mon Oncle. The eccentric, old-fashioned uncle wanders around his sister and brother-in-law’s designer garden in wonder and we see what he sees with the same childlike innocence. Once inside the automatic, electronic gates, one enters into the idealized, architecturally futuristic, geometrical, symmetrical garden. Tati steps gingerly along the cement path, weaving in and out of gravel plots, hops from stepping stone to stepping stone around ultra-modern garden furniture and fountains, wends his way through the impeccably kept yard of the villa, a temple of "good taste" and a shrine to financial and social success.

 At one point in the film, Tati, l’oncle, the uncle, wanders around the garden observing the oddities and comes upon two pear trees pruned and attached flat to the wall of the house, espaliered or trimmed and trained in a classic fan or vase shape, perfectly symmetrical and rather barren, ornamental rather than encouraged to bear fruit. He observes the trees in wonder and accidentally – or on purpose – breaks the branch off of one of the trees. An act of rebellion, a statement of taste.

 Since that time, we have driven by pear orchards and I have observed poiriers, pear trees, pruned and trained in this fashion, strung up on trellises in rows upon rows, perfectly aligned, very sculptural. I am fascinated by the beauty and elegance, so refined, so purposeful compared to the unkept, rustic beauty of an apple orchard.

pear pears-8-2

 We longed for an outing, a bit of culture, a museum or two, a garden to stroll through, a meal to enjoy. We drove an hour east to the city of Angers, the capital of Anjou, the cradle of the Plantagenets, home of the medieval Apocalypse Tapestry and the stunning Château du Roi René, a solid fortress, the chateau of the Dukes of Anjou.

 As we wound our way, camera in hand, towards the Fine Arts Museum, we found ourselves in a tiny garden leading up to the museum. I stopped and turned around, glancing right and left over the well-pruned plants in a gathering of perfect globes of green and I spied a plaque on a stone wall.

Dans ce Jardin 
fut obtenue en 1849 – 1850 
la Poire Célébre ‘Doyenné du Comice” 
par le Jardinier DHommé et Millet de la Turtaudière 
Président du Comice Horticole 
- 12 Octobre 1955 – 

 The birthplace of the Doyenne de Comice Pear in the year 1849 - 1850. Right where I was standing, what was then the Comice Horticulture Fruit Garden. And in 1894, the London Journal of Horticulture names the Doyenné du Comice the Best Pear in the World.

Pear Ricotta Tart

I much prefer apple desserts to anything made with pears, but to please my husband I do make the occasional pastry or cake with ripe Conférence, Comice or tiny tender Williams. This Ricotta Tart is surprisingly light while being creamy, the ricotta giving it that slight hint of nutty, the taste of a ricotta cheesecake without the heaviness. I normally make this in the summer months using plums, but couldn’t resist making it with pears, the sweeter and riper the better. The pears paired so perfectly with the ricotta filling that I even found myself enjoying several slices. Simple to make and a delightful seasonal treat.


Single Sweet Pastry Pie Crust for a 9-inch (23-cm) pie plate
Scant ¼ cup (100 ml) heavy or light cream
2 Tbs flour
1 cup (250 g) whole milk ricotta
¼ cup (50 g) granulated white sugar or more to taste
2 large eggs
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp vanilla
1 Tbs amber rum or Amaretto
About 21 oz (600 g) small ripe pears, peeled, cored and sliced
1 Tbs granulated brown sugar
2 - 3 Tbs slivered almonds or Italian pine nuts

Pre-baked Sweet Pastry Crust:

Lightly but thoroughly butter a 9-inch (23-cm) pie plate, line with the dough. Refrigerate for about 30 minutes while the oven preheats.

Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Remove the Pie Shell from the refrigerator. Prick the base all over with a fork and place a piece of ovenproof parchment paper in the shell and pour on pastry weights or dried beans. Bake for 8 minutes. Carefully remove from the oven, lift out the parchment paper with the beans and return the shell to the oven to bake for another 8 - 10 minutes until the bottom is set and golden.

Remove the shell from the oven to a cooling rack and lower the oven temperature to 375°F (190°C).

Prepare the Ricotta Filling:

Place the cream in a small bowl. Sift the 2 tablespoons of flour over the cream and stir or whisk together until blended, smooth and thick.

Place the ricotta in a large mixing bowl with the 2 eggs and beat or whisk until blended, smooth and creamy. Add the sugar, the flour-cream paste, the ground cinnamon, vanilla and rum or Amaretto and beat just until blended and smooth. Taste the ricotta filling and add more sugar or flavoring if desired.

Lay the pear slices in the pre-baked pastry shell in concentric circles, pressed together or slightly overlapping. Pour the ricotta filling in the shell over the pears and spread to smooth. Sprinkle the tablespoon of granulated brown sugar all over the filling then sprinkle a tablespoon or two of slivered almonds or pine nuts on top.

Bake for about 45 minutes or until the piecrust is a deep golden brown and the ricotta filling is set in the center. The fruit should be tender. Remove from the oven to a cooling rack and allow to cool to room temperature before slicing and serving. The tart can be eaten at room temperature or chilled, but store any leftover tart in the refrigerator;  chilling the tart in the refrigerator will set the filling if you prefer it that way.

Monday, November 18, 2013


“The fairest thing in nature, a flower, still has its roots in earth and manure.” – D.H. Lawrence

 Roots were a part of my diet for as long as I can remember, a part of my heritage. Feet slogging through mud or kicking up dirt, my ancestors carried baskets filled with grime-covered potatoes, beets, onions and other things of the earth, cheap, filling, nutritious, through the shtetl and home to cook. A poor man’s feast.

 Eventually, the family was uprooted, yes, pulling up roots and flitting across lands and over oceans to start anew, plant their roots in a new country, feed and nurture those roots until they created a firm and steady base and had sprouted tall and fine, branches reaching high up into the stars. The branches spread and we moved apart, climbed the social ladder, moved far away from who we were in so many ways.

 Yet we still dine on those roots, partly in remembrance, partly in order to maintain our connection to that past, of who we are, what we are. We thrive on those roots, the foodstuff, yes, but the strong sense of family, of heritage and history. Dining on those roots, the potatoes, beets, onions, carrots, radishes, the knishes, kugels, soups, cholent, tsimmis, we remain solidly rooted.


 There were two trees in our front yard, the white-barked paper tree and the one with the forked sitting branches closer to the house in front of my parents’ bedroom window. Both grew and grew as the years passed, grew in tandem with four little children, branches, arms and legs growing long and lanky yet strong and certain. As the years flew past, the children’s roots pushed deep into the earth, attaching them steadfastly to this spot, this home and they would wend their way back constantly even as they moved farther and farther away. Roots run deep.

 The trees' roots grew long and thick, hardy and rugged. But in the Florida dirt, all sand, sitting just atop the water, those roots grew outwards rather than down, creating bumpy, gnarly hillocks and craters spread out star-like around the trunk of those two trees, splayed out towards house, sidewalk, driveway, lamp post. Bare feet and sneakers stepped gingerly around and over those roots, walked them like tightrope walkers or stood balanced, arms stretched out, wavering slightly back and forth. Those roots were stools for young readers, a mysterious storybook forest for picnics, the perfect spot for a jimmyrigged tent.

 But over time, the roots began pushing under the house, lifting it up, cracking the support. Over time the roots edged too far under the sidewalks and made it impossible to mow the lawn, keep the tough, prickly Florida grass and weeds at bay. And so dad had those two trees, branches, roots and all, pulled up and they disappeared. The grass grew in, the shade disappeared, the mystery and beguilement of that extensive map of roots ceased to exist, and a part of our childhood faded into memory.


 Carrot and Leek Soup 

 Ever since I married my Frenchman, ever since I remember, my mother-in-law has prepared and served the exact same thing every single evening for every single dinner without fail. Le souper, she called it, the old-fashioned term for supper. But also to sup… on soup (la soupe). And soup it was: carrot and leek soup. Carrots fresh from the earth, brushed off of excess soil, peeled and chunked and tossed into that ancient aluminum soup pot. She would swipe down the leeks, trim and slice thickly and add to the carrots. Water, salt and pepper, truly a poor man’s soup straight from the country, her own family’s roots. Boil, boil, boil and simmer until the leeks have disintegrated and fallen into paper-thin, translucent layers and long strands floating elegantly in the liquid somewhat like Ophelia’s hair waving on the surface of the lake. It was cooked until the carrots were more than tender, quite near mush on the tenderness scale, and the cooking liquid dull and murky yet fragrant, smelling of the garden, redolent of roots. And purée; she would stand at the stove, in front of the pot and stick her emulsion mixer straight into the soup and whir and buzz until all that remained was a watery orange liquid. 

 We would pull up chairs to the table, the news blaring from the television, as she placed serving platters of cold meats leftover from lunch, cheeses and fruit on the table. She would bring in a box of biscottes, those typically French dry toasts usually smeared with butter and jelly and dunked into our morning coffee until softened and then slurped up before the soaked biscuit dropped, plopped into the café au lait. She would serve each of us a large bowl of the carrot and leek soup. In the wintertime, we would cup the bowl, curl our chilled fingers around the ceramic or glass for warmth. And we would place a biscotte in our bowl of soup and watch it float atop the surface, slowing soaking up the carrot and leek liquid, the carrot and leek essence before pushing our spoon into the bowl. 

 She peeled potatoes, turnips, carrots, all root vegetables, with the same old paring knife, tip long broken off, the wooden handle worn, faded and cracked from time and years of use. She would grip the handle and begin her short, sharp, vigorous movements, the flick-flick-flick of the knife against the outside of the tough roots, bits of peel in orange, browns, or creamy whites smattering in a large glass mixing bowl or a spread of day-old newspaper or onto the cheap vinyl tablecloth, the pattern long scratched and faded from constant scrubbing. 

 Roots were a common food in that working class house ; potatoes boiled or cubed and sautéed, potatoes hand cut and double fried in oil for crispy frites; potatoes mashed with plenty of milk and butter, the leftovers pressed and rolled into balls and fried in margarine until blackened and crunchy on the outside, boulettes, the children’s favorite. Carrots cooked in pot au feu, blanquette de veau, poule au pot. Radishes, pretty little red and white-tipped French Breakfast just barely trimmed and crunched on raw, eaten dipped in a bit of salt, eaten with fresh bread and butter. Turnips tossed in stews, leeks, garlic, onions, cheap, hardy, kept in crates in the garage or out in the shed all year round.


 The root of all evil. Those damn silver roots veritably glowing against the blackness of my hair, age twining her crooked fingers through my tresses. 

 A cutting placed in a clear glass filled halfway up with water from the tap. Visit it daily, top off the water, peer into the glass and watch, wait for something to happen, a sign of life. Toss out the murky water and add fresh, carefully holding the tiny plant away from harm. Roots push downward and grow like children, long and lazy and self-absorbed. Roots swishing elegantly in slow motion through the water like medusa tentacles. 

 For five years husband and I searched for our roots, dug deep, getting our fingers dirty, breaking our backs. Each tiny sprout, each root exposed excited us, inciting us to dig faster, farther, deeper. And we threw ourselves into it more furiously, more intensely, body and soul. Like searching for buried treasure. He exposed his roots to understand what he was running from, trying to detach himself at least to a certain extent, and recreate his future, not bound to the earth of his ancestors yet replanting himself, sowing new seeds, cultivating new roots a step away from the old, a new growth. I uncovered my own roots to more firmly hold onto what I came from, follow those roots to the source, strengthen the foundation, grow closer to the past in order to reinforce my present.


4 servings

1 large celery root, try to get a heavy one when you buy it
fresh rosemary
juice of one lemon
400 ml/ 1,7 cup uncooked quinoa
400 ml/ 1,7 cup water
1 pinch of saffron powder
chopped chivessalt
extra-virgin olive oil

   Peel the celery root and cut it into thin sticks.

   Braise the celeriac with the rosemary in some olive oil. Squeeze as much lemon juice over as you like and add salt. Go on braising until the celeriac is soft and golden, if needed add a little water.

  While the celeriac is braising you prepare the couscous: put water and a tbs olive oil in a pan, add salt and the saffron and bring to boil. Add the couscous, stir and leave to absorb the water under a lid. Add the chopped chives and stir now and then.

   Either make couscous 'pucks' and top these with the celeriac or mix both together and serve thus.

Monday, November 11, 2013



City Leaves, Country Leaves 

The falling leaves 
Drift by my window 
The falling leaves 
Of red and gold 

But I miss you most of all 
My darling 
When autumn leaves 
Start to fall 
- Johnny Mercer 

 Country leaves. I have a handful of polaroids of the two boys surrounded by autumn leaves. Lying on their backs in piles of crisp gold and brown with hints of the last green of the summer, arms spread out like angels in the snow. Or tossing armloads of leaves high in the air, at each other, their big dog in camouflage, her gold and brown coat dissimulated in the autumn wallpaper. The spread of meadow stretching away from and around the house in the middle of the woods and the cornfields welcomed a stunning carpet of leaves every autumn. The boys would snuggle into down coats or layers of sweaters, tug caps or plop pirate hats atop their heads, knot cowboy bandanas around their necks, carefully draw elegant curlicues of a moustache or thin cat whiskers between lips and nose and bounce excitedly out of the house and knee deep into the leaves. 

 Wheelbarrows pushed through the piles of autumn leaves, raking into mountains and tossing armloads into the cart. When the two little boys weren’t jumping feet first, joyfully, ecstatically into the mountains of leaves splashing them everywhere, their screeches of delight frozen in midair, captured in time with the snap of the camera. 

 City leaves, years later, the same beautiful golds and browns, splashes of red and subtly tinged with blue, lie in gutters, murky and wet, plastered up against the fences surrounding forbidden plots of ground in the grand cement squares that dot the city. Clumps of matted leaves collected atop the metal grills of drains, the dog delicately, deliberately stepping around them. Memories of kicking through heaps of leaves fade into sadness as our shoes now slosh through the dampness, pulling off sticky leaves from our shoes like peeling price stickers off the backs of books. No joy in the city autumn leaves.

  autumn salad-2

Cook, Cook, drink your tea,
But save some in the pot for me.
We’ll watch the tea leaves in our cup
When our drink is all sipped up.
Happiness or fortune great,
What will our future be?
- Afternoon Tea at Pittock Mansion

 A friend once offered to read my tea leaves, the same friend who believed in the healing powers of massage and proved it to my doubting mind. She did. We sipped tea from flea market cups, delicate and feminine, in the quiet of the house. When the tea had been drunk and the leaves settled into the bottom black and moist, she wiggled the cup back and forth before peering into the leaves where she saw my future.

  autumn salad leaves-2

 I learned to wash spinach leaves from my brother. He purchased large sacks of dark green leaves, their huge thick stalks poking through the plastic. He would carry them home and dump them into the sink. He would yank up the faucet and let a powerful rush of water wash over the leaves, filling up the plugged sink. He would push the leaves, which had the stubborn tendency of floating back up to the top, bouncing up above the water level like excited children in the ocean, he would push them back down into the ice cold water. Up and down, up and down even as his fingers numbed. Swishing the leaves around in the sink, he would loosen the clumps of black earth clinging to the spinach. Grabbing bunches of leaves with both hands, he would lift the spinach out of the water and give a hearty shake. Drain the sink and start all over again, once, twice, thrice, until the dirt was gone, giving each single leave a final quick dash under running water just in case.

 Without patting the leaves dry, he would toss them one by one into a large pot, pinching and snapping off the stems on their way. Fitting the lid tightly atop the pot, he would cook the spinach simply in the water left clinging to the leaves until they were shrunken to a mere shadow of themselves. He would lift the lid off the pot and we would peer through the steam to the heap of bright jade shimmering in the bottom. He would scoop out the leaves and put them aside in a bowl and pour off the liquid tinged with green, a lightly metallic scent curling up on the heat, and drink it like tea. “We don’t want to dump all the vitamins down the sink!” he would laugh.

 It was almost a ritual, done with a bit of reverence.

 Spinach leaves steamed and squeezed dry or at times sautéed in olive oil and finely chopped would be turned into spanikopita or turnovers; raw layered between cheeses and pasta and tomato sauce becoming lasagna; cooked into spinach soup with a splash of cream.


 Sunday walks in the vineyards well outside the city, the vines lush with leaves. The end of the summer when it is still warm, the sun high in the sky, we pack a picnic of cold roasted chicken that we pull apart with greasy fingers, bags of potato chips, fruit and a bottle of chilled white wine (the glass slippery with condensation). We sit half in the sun, half in the shade on a red and white checked cloth and listen to the leaves flutter in the breeze, breaking the perfect silence. In the autumn, as the days grow shorter, the breeze just a bit cooler, the ground a bit damper and the leaves darker, gathered together into a dense wall through which the deep purple clumps of grapes peep, we walk briskly side by side as the dog trots back and forth. Hands pushed deep into pockets, we listen to the rustle of the leaves in the wind.

 Husband had planted pots of grape vines on our terrace in Milan. He draped them up and over, in and out the wires he laced from one edge of terrace to the other. Each year as the summer arrived in the city, the leaves would appear and reappear pushing themselves along the wires determined to reach the other side. Each year the leaves would grow in thicker, more lush, a deeper color of verdant. The third year, the first small bunches of grapes appeared, at once silly in their meagerness and fabulous in the magic of fruit created out of these city vines. And all summer long we lived out on that terrace under a canopy of leaves.
  Olive branch-2 olive leaves

 She had a mess of pretty little pale green leaves in a basket. The leaves were covered with a fine down, matching the feathery soft mauve-hued blooms dotted throughout. I asked her what it was and she said “borage” and explained how it is cooked. She scooped up a handful of the herbs and I saw that her nail polish, chipped in places, was the same vivid blue as the flowers.

 There were piles of raw beets dressed in dusty deep magenta, which threaded its bright, colorful way up into the leaves creating an intriguing contrast against the grass green of the leaves.

 There were piles and piles, mountains of lettuces, a jumble of leaves. Tough and tender, curly, frizzy, straight or gently curved, gently curled. Some frilly as a princess' gown. In all shades of green.

 A jumble of leaves in a box, bundles of fresh leafy herbs knotted with thin rubber bands. Pretty feminine little leaves of chervil; voluptuously plump basil, the leaves as smooth as a woman’s skin; a fan of chives, more stalks than leaves but how I love the burst of long, thin twig-like greenery and I am urged to bring it to my face and brush it across my cheek. Sprays of parsley, the leaves dancing much more gaily than the others. The fresh coriander, my favorite, its leaves teasing me, fooling me into thinking just maybe it is plain, ordinary parsley except when pinched, the leaves emit an exciting citrusy odor, something exotic, inviting me to cook. The poor leaves of sage are shoved willy-nilly in a plastic sack, their beautiful silvery shimmer, their soft downy veil smothered in plastic, forbidden to charm.

cavolo nero

 Black and white photographs found in a cabinet hidden away for so many years, so many decades. Black and white photographs, some pale grey and grainy, others so inky black they become hard to decipher. My father in the navy, in the Pacific, on board his ship with his flying buddies. His lanky body, a “long tall drink of water” my mom would say, so like my brother’s, so like my son’s, his grin boyish and innocent even in a time of war.

 Photographs of a gathering of men in sailor’s whites under a tremendous pagoda, a gate in some Asian city. My father on leave.

  Spinach and Feta Filled Puff Pastry Leaves 

I first tasted the marvelous combination that is a spinach and feta when my brother made me a Spanikopita when I was in college. I fell in love. Over the years, I began making this filled pastry for my own family, yet in a burst of ingenuity I decided one day that it would make individual packets rather than one large pie. I prepare them when we have company as part of an apératif served with glasses of white wine or as a great lunch served with a salad. This, I must point out, is the only way my younger, most persnickety son will eat spinach, which is no small feat and certainly proof of how delicious it is. My original recipe calls for the filling to be wrapped in filo dough but Ilva turned it into something even more special by wrapping this tasty filling in puff pastry. 


25 – 27 oz (700 - 750 g) fresh spinach, well-cleaned and coarsely chopped
3.5 - 7 oz (100 – 200 g) feta cheese, drained and crumbled *
1/2 cup (60 g) grated parmesan cheese, fresh when possible
2 large eggs, lightly beaten (if you make this in pie form, use 3 eggs)
2 Tbs chopped fresh mint leaves
¼ tsp ground nutmeg freshly ground pepper and a salt to taste
1 lb (500 g) excellent quality ready-made or homemade puff pastry
1 – 2 egg whites only to brush the outside of the pastry leaves

* the amount of feta added is quite variable and depends upon how much you want - we like more, Ilva's family less; do not forget that it is a salty cheese so you may want to adjust the amount of salt in the recipe in correlation with how much feta you use.

 Wash the spinach leaves, shake off excess water and put into a large pot with a tight-fitting lid. Steam the spinach until wilted, then pour into a colander to drain. Allow to cool until easy to handle. Press out all the excess water you can with your hands, then gather up the cooked spinach and place in the center of a clean but old cloth dishtowel. Wrap or roll up the spinach in the towel and squeeze for all you are worth, squeezing out as much water as possible. Place the spinach on a cutting board and chop.

 Put the chopped spinach in a mixing bowl; add the crumbled feta and parmesan cheese, the chopped mint, nutmeg, salt and a good grinding of pepper (when adding salt, do so sparingly; remember that the feta is salty). Blend well. Now beat the eggs until well blended and stir them into the spinach-cheese mixture.

 Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C).

 Cut out an even number of shapes from the puff pastry, in single serving sizes (we came up with about 12 leave shapes to make 6 pastries). Divide the spinach-feta mixture evenly between half of the shapes – the bottom piece of puff pastry – and carefully spread it evenly allowing at least ½ inch to ¾ - inch all around the filling free for sealing the top to the bottom. One by one, place a top puff pastry shape on top of a bottom piece with the filling, gently pulling so the edges meet all the way around. Press and pinch to seal well. Continue until all 6 are done and sealed. Brush the top of each pastry with egg white. Using a sharp knife, carefully create a leaf design in the top without cutting all through the layer of puff pastry.

 Place the Puff Pastry Leaves on a baking sheet (this can be lined with ovenproof parchment paper) and bake in the preheated oven until puffed and the top is a nice golden brown, about 15 – 20 minutes. 

 Remove from the oven and serve.

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