Monday, March 24, 2014


white still life-3

Symphony in white.

 A froth of meringue like a debutante's gown, a drift of whipped cream like pristine snow, peaks drooping elegantly like weeping damsels. Snow angels, portrait in white on white.

 Flour, white purity. Flour sifted onto a wooden board, a surface scarred and warped with time and use, brown rubbed to white. A shower of white. A round of dough cool and damp plops into a puddle of flour, a poof of white. Two white handprints on the back of my skirt.

white sugar

 I placed the bowl of pumpkin soup in front of him and it was as if a lightbulb went off in his head. He jumped up, yanked open the refrigerator and grabbed the packet of butter. He peeled back the foil, shiny gold and blue, encasing the sweet butter the pale yellow of baby chicks and sliced through the chilled block.

 "When I used to stay at my grandmother's house over school vacations" he began as a thin slice of butter slid into the thick orange soup, cold melting into hot, "we used to do this. The butter was fresh and white, so absolutely white! And it smelled fresh… insanely fresh!" He contemplated the puddle of butter against the surface of the soup. "It wasn't like this. It was delivered straight to my grandmother's door from the farm right outside the village. Pure white creamery butter wrapped in white paper. A tiny little lady would come and deliver it. My grandmother always called her "my cousin - ma cousine."

 Fresh white butter. And visions of the salty, yellow sticks of butter of my youth; the discovery of white, sweet butter at my aunt's. I never knew butter could be so white. New York butter. Farm fresh French butter. White.

 And thoughts of my mother-in-law making cheese in the family shop. Fresh milk, as white as white, fresh cheese wrapped tightly in powdery white muslin dripping white.

white cauliflower-4

Pasta in bianco. Riso in bianco.

 Plain pasta, plain rice, the two pillars of my young son's diet. Pasta in bianco. Riso in bianco. White pasta, white rice. Unadorned, no red on white, no green against white, not thick, tangy tomato sauce, not salty pesto heady with fresh summer basil. White. Add to that a just-grilled slab of swordfish, his favorite, seared to cook no darker than white. Tiny little mozzarella balls, ciliegine, the size of large marbles, the color of snow, cream, polar bears, stars.

white popcorn-2

The World in Black and White

 Black and White cookies were our special treat each visit up north, New York and family. We would stop at the first bakery we found and each get one, or Sunday morning bagel run meant slipping a Black and White for each child into a brown paper bag. White cookie with a faraway hint of lemon, white icing, black icing, half and half. I would always eat the side with the white icing first, icing tasting of nothing more than sugar. I would reserve the black side, the dark side, the chocolate icing for later, to be eaten, to be relished in private.


White Wedding

 The bride wore white but not only. Virtuous white cut with blue symbolizing peace and unity, purple symbolizing magic and mystery. A marriage of color.

 Two cakes, not one, graced the table, embodied the union. Devil's Food Cake, dark and dense, wickedly gooey, mischievous. Black as sin. Devil's Food Cake slathered with buttercream drunken with cognac, messy and slippery in the noonday sun.

 Angel Food Cake, light and ethereal as angels' wings, a feather gently brushed across a cheek. White as innocence. Angel Food Cake upright and tall, the whites of eggs whipped and whipped to elegant glossy crests, handled ever-so delicately, ever-so tenderly, like a bride on her wedding night. Folded into powder-white flour and icing sugar, lightness, fragility.

 A white cake for the day, its immaculate perfection, its milky whiteness only broken by the blue, by the purple, of the wild berry coulis. Blackberries, blueberries, raspberries crushed and stewed until the color of her corset, of her shoes. Innocence and purity, peace and unity, magic and mystery.

White cake-3-2

 My brother Michael was a fabulously talented cook and baker, even when we were mere teens. This cake was a special treat and I still have fond memories of slicing into it with a serrated bread knife and enjoying spongy, light mouthfuls. The only thing I have left is a recipe card on which he penned the recipe. I baked to serve this at my own wedding lunch.


1 cup flour (cake flour, if you have)
3/4 cup confectioner's/powdered sugar
10 egg whites (should come to about 1 1/4 liquid cups) at room temperature
1 1/4 tsp cream of tartar (if you don't have, stabilize the whites with a few drops lemon juice)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp almond extract, optional

Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C)

Sift together the flour and confectioner's/powdered sugar, sift again 3 or 4 times total.

Beat the whites, cream of tartar/lemon juice, the salt and the vanilla/almond extracts until foamy then continue beating as you gradually beat in the granulated sugar until stiff peaks hold. Fold in the flour/sugar mixture in four additions.

Mound into an ungreased 10-inch tube pan. Bake 30 - 40 minutes (depending upon your oven) until set and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool inverted.

Michael always drizzled chocolate glaze on top, allowing it to drip down the sides of the white cake.

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  1. I can only gawk about this post! It is so hard to get right a high key image and this is a classic! Visual poetry! Love it!
    Now, about the cake - I have to take some time off my never-ending dieting and try this enticing thing. You'll hear about it soon! Sending you my love! S.

  2. You've done it again! Thanks for the delightful pictures and text. A quality post, as usual.

    The cake looks and sounds heavenly.



  3. This is my first time on your place and I am absolutely loving it. Your work is so inspiring :)

    1. Welcome to you, Nandita! And thank you so much!

  4. Gorgeous. I want popcorn (I always do) and white white cake and other things. Lovely!

  5. Beautiful written and amazing photograph, Love this post. perfect !

  6. How wonderfully bold to take photos of white on white. I love how they work!

    The white dinners for a young son remind me of a festive dinner party I read about in one of our cookbooks (I thought it was Shehzad Husain's "Entertaining Indian Style" but of course, now I can't find the reference anywhere). All the dishes and food were white - I think silver might have been allowed as well. It sounded like it would be really hard to pull off. Well done for managing this very thing with so much style and elegance!

  7. As amazing as can be from two of the most talented folk I know. Wow...this is as good as it gets; pure harmony of words and photographs.

  8. Your words and photographs are beautiful. I send you my best thoughts, Ana-Maria

  9. I love the marriage of Jamie's words and Ilva's photos and these in particular are spectacular. Especially that cake Jamie. I have an angel food cake pan and it is alone and sorry. Colorado's altitude has not been kind to my efforts; maybe I'll take your recipe and try, try again.

  10. I can understand why you did not drizzle a chocolate glaze down your cake when you are showcasing so many gorgeous 'white' options, but I do LOVE that idea! :-)

  11. I adore white on white on white. It appeals to my sensibilities. It's Japan and Scandinavia. It's linen and lace. It's a tall glass of milk and a big fat pavlova. It's understated and profound all at once. Beautiful words and images as always.

  12. All on this page is lovely - the photography, the cake, and the prose, especially about your brother. What sweet tributes. Thank you for sharing it all. I will think of your words as I bake and share this beautiful white fluffy cake.