Monday, March 31, 2014


Jammin' With You.

 From grape jelly to cherry jam illustrates my life. A childhood of grape jelly, deep, dark purple, almost black except in the light when it shimmers the violet of aubergines. Grape jelly spread on toasted white bread, grape jelly with peanut butter for the ideal sandwich – although I did prefer them separately. Unsophisticated jelly for a kid.

 Jelly glasses, jam jars. A collection of Flintstone's jelly glasses lined up in the kitchen cabinet (right next to the Goofy Grape, Jolly Olly Orange and Freckle Face Strawberry mugs), the only glasses we kids drank from, always one important reason to buy grape jelly. Fred and Wilma, Barney and Betty, Dino and the kids, we scrambled to claim each one as our own. Pour a glass of milk or juice and drink it down, discovering the face of the cartoon character molded into the bottom. Who was I today? Wilma? Betty? Pebbles?

 Cherry jam, my adult predilection, a mark of the country I have adopted – or which has adopted me – the country I now call home. Cherry jam spread on toasted baguette for breakfast or tender brioche for an afternoon treat. Jam jars, not glasses. Jam jars stacked in threes, cleaned of the jam, jars perfect for storing spices and colored sugars, baking mixtures of cocoa and sugar or cinnamon sugar, raisins and nuts let loose from their packet. Jam jars the best for stashing half cans of chopped tomatoes or leftover pizza sauce, chickpeas not used in the latest tagine. But never to drink from. A long way from childhood, a long way from home.

Jam Session

“The rule is, jam tomorrow and jam yesterday - but never jam today.” the Queen said. - Lewis Carroll

 Jam, jelly, marmalade, preserves. I never give it a second thought, what makes it jam, what jelly, what preserves?

 And throw fruit butter into the mix. I discovered fruit butter – jam to my obviously naïve, gastronomically challenged mind – in Philadelphia. We used to get together at the hippest restaurant in town for college students back then, an all-you-can-eat salad bar buffet, the best French onion soup and homebaked breads in the world. And there was always a terra cotta pot filled with smooth, sweet, tart apple butter the color of deep caramel, a local specialty. Apple butter – jelly? jam? – generously spread on thick slices of chewy bread, goodbye diet, hello hips. College comfort.

 Marmalade must be bittersweet, the sugary sweetness of fruit and sugar, the bitter edge of citrus rind. Orange, lemon, kumquats….

 Jam or jelly, jelly or jam, no one has explained it to me yet, no one has yet to convince me. Smooth and wobbly, gelée they call it in France. With bits and pieces of fruit, confiture. I always, invariably choose cherry.

 Jam swirled into vanilla cake batter. Jam melted and brushed over paper-thin wedges of fruit in elegant concentric circles on a fine round of puff pastry, glistening gold.

Traffic Jam

 One memorable traffic jam in the center of Milan, an Italian traffic jam. Heated argument ensues, the drivers out of their cars, struggling towards each, fists clenched, arms flailing, girlfriends hanging on, pulling back. Voices raised in hysterics, calling names, threats flying back and forth like punches. Whose fault? Your fault? The whole macho thing going on. Cars inching forward, closer and closer, from all directions, lines of cars splayed out like the June Taylor Dancers in formation. Car doors pop open one after the other, drivers step out, some enthusiastically, wanting to get involved, others tentatively, curiously, just wanting to discover the cause of the holdup, anxious to move along.

 We stood and watched from a distance. Thoroughly amused.

 In a jam. In a pickle. In a stew. In a nutshell. In apple-pie order. In the soup.


 My legs turn to jelly, wibbly wobbly. My teeth chatter, my heart pounds. My blood runs sluggishly through my veins like jam. Cherry red. Sanguine Strawberry. Blackberry dark. My heart jammed in my throat like an old sock. Breathe deeply, slip into jammies and bake.

 Bake. Cookie dough smelling of vanilla and cinnamon, tiny bits broken off and rolled between the palms of my hands, gently, tenderly; fingers, hands buttery slick. Dough like wet sand on the beach; building castles. Line up the balls of pale yellow dough on a worn, tarnished old baking sheet silver and black, line up those balls of cookie dough spaced apart but in perfect rows. A jam jar… or a jelly glass… press carefully, rounds becoming discs, not too flat, not too fat, perfect discs. Then press the thumb into the dough, into the center of each round to make a small well, a dip, – only the thumb will do, making the ideal indentation, not too big, not too small, not too deep.

 A teaspoon of jam. Spooned into the impression made by the thumb in the center of each disc. Strawberry, blueberry, rose or lemon it doesn't really matter; we each have our predilection. A teaspoon of jam, one by one then bake. Jam thumbprint cookies.

In a Jam

 The steps from the hallway of the house down to the garage – a combination, a mishmash, a merger of garage, basement, laundry room – was steep and narrow forcing one to lean heavily against the wall for balance. It smelled of, oh, I don't know, locker room, gas station, subterranean cellar all in one, damp, musty, earthy, metallic, of petrol and forgotten boxes of clothing.

 Just at the bottom of those stairs (one reached for the light switch, groping and feeling one's way along the dusty wall until finding it and illuminating the back half of the garage in a faded light from one watery weak light bulb overhead) and straight ahead was the second refrigerator – nothing fancy, mind you, but an old thing in the family for years and years – chock full of tubs of margarine, packets of gruyere, wheels of Camembert (heavens! In the refrigerator?), a chicken or a roast beef for Sunday's lunch. Next to it was the hulking freezer, a child's treasure chest; lift the lid to find chocolate-dipped ice cream on a stick (eskimos), cones topped with vanilla ice cream swirled with chocolate, crunchy with chopped nuts, and popsicles in every color. Big plastic freezer bags were filled with summer fruit right off the trees, cherries, purple plums, peaches and apricots waiting for winter.

 But along the back wall of the garage, jammed back between extra rolls of paper towels, bottles of sugary syrup for summer drinks and cans of beans and corn were rows of Madeleine's homemade jams. All summer long when the berries were ripe from the bushes and trees, she would make jam. She made her jams much the way she made everything else. By intuition. She rarely weighed or measured anything; her one measuring cup was marked in approximations, flour, sugar, semolina, rice, liquid marked along the top and black lines up and down to show you where to stop.

 She would clean, pit and trim the fruit as needed and dump it into a large pot, eyeballing the quantity, the weight in order to add, more or less, the equivalent amount of sugar. Then she would bring it all to a hardy boil and let it all simmer, stirring and skimming as needed. She would have a row of empty jam jars (the kind that had once held store-bought jam), sparkling clean, and when she judged the concoction ready, she would ladle it out into those jars, pop on the lids and carry them down to store on those old wooden shelves in the back of the garage for other seasons.

 Fruit jammed together in jars jammed together on those old shelves.

This must be one of my family's absolute favourites, and what is strange is that they all like it. I don't know about you, but few are the times I can satisfy both my three children and my husband with one dish but this one - a cross between a muffin and a cupcake - does it. I hope it does the same for you!

12-14 medium-sized muffins

2 eggs
200 g/ 7 oz sugar
3 tbsp fresh cream
100 g/ 3.5 oz butter, melted
250 g/ 8.8 oz flour 1 tsp baking powder
100 g/ 3.5 oz dark chocolate, chopped
3 - 4 heaped tbsp strawberry jam

   Whisk eggs and sugar in a bowl for a few minutes, add the cream and the melted butter and stir until smooth and then add the chopped chocolate.

   Sift flour and baking powder into the bowl and mix well. Now it is time to add the jam and when you do that, you need to be quick and careful, I fold it in with a baking spatula or a big spoon and take great care not to mix in the jam too well because I want there to be jam 'clusters' to surprise me in the finished muffins/cupcake.

  Spoon the batter into muffin/cupcake forms and bake in a pre-heated oven (200°C/390°F) for 10-12 minutes.

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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Monday, March 17, 2014

Plated Stories Wins the Best Photo Based Culinary Blog at the IACP awards!

  One year ago, sitting in a chilly, impersonal airport terminal in San Francisco, high on a weekend IACP conference, we came up with the idea of Plated Stories.

  This past year has been an extraordinary adventure, Plated Stories has brought us such joy and pleasure not only as a space that allows each of us to explore our creative urges, do just what we like, but we plain and simply love working together. We laugh and laugh together, the way we work together perfectly, every so often we are amazed at how the photos and texts enhance each other despite us not having an idea of what the other is doing - this collaboration is a constant source of happiness and personal inspiration.

 Winning the IACP Award for Best Photo-Based Culinary Blog is the cherry on top.

 Per aspera ad Astra, a rough road leads to the stars.

 Thank you to our wonderful friends and readers who inspire us every day. Thank you to the IACP for this immense honor.

 Ilva & Jamie

 PS. This Friday, March 21, join us on a live google+ hangout hosted by Jenni Field in which we will be talking about Plated Stories the blog, the Plated Stories Workshop, food photography and food writing. We will also answer your questions, so feel free to leave questions on the google+ event page. See you Friday at 10 PM EST (3 PM CET/ GMT+1)! (And if you cannot attend the actual hangout, you can always watch it afterwards when you have the time)

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Monday, March 10, 2014


Cheese Doodles 

 It was a glorious experiment, one that doesn't happen often in my kitchen. I decided to make ice cream with cheese. I had seen this mentioned in a brochure or magazine once, and it was too intriguing not to try. A local cheese with the texture of a Reblochon, a heady flavor close to but not quite as strong as a Camembert, an orange-tinged, slightly sticky crust to be trimmed off before chopping the creamy pale interior and adding it to a pot of milk and sugar to dissolve and melt.

 Cheese ice cream. We rarely have company for dinner yet this day we did. Friends in town to visit and their daughter. Once the meal was over, I pulled out the chilled concoction from the refrigerator and slowly poured it into our hand-crank ice cream machine. We took turns churning, passing the container around the table, from one family member and guest to the next, the anticipation and excitement mounting as the mixture chilled and firmed up into something thick and creamy. And it was ready.

 I unscrewed the lid and lifted out the paddle. We peered into the canister. The ice cream was oddly granular and tinged an unappetizing yellow. I spooned scoops into each waiting bowl and passed them around. We each stared into our own bowl of cheese ice cream, then nervously at each other. Suddenly a bit less anxious to try. Who would begin?

 A first taste and noses wrinkled. Odd. Weird. Sugary sweet, savory and cheesy all at once. An unexpected combination that did not quite balance out into something tasty. Mmmm no, I don't really think…. A second mouthful. Not very good, is it? A third and then a fourth. Well, it actually isn't that bad… it is, well, intriguing, curiously interesting. The bottom of the bowl, spoons clattering against glass, eyes shifting from one to the other. Um, is there enough for a second bowl? More scoops all around to buoyant, grinning guests, the second bowl of cheese ice cream going down much quicker than the first amid groans of pleasure. Cheese ice cream! Excellent! Who would have thought? Quite good!

Say Cheese

 My father had an old Brownie camera, a black plastic box, not too big, not too heavy, that created memories. His Hawkeye Brownie in shiny Bakelite sported a cute little carrying handle and an attachment allowing us to screw in tiny little bulbs that flashed with a satisfying pop like in an old film noir. A drawerful of square black & white photos is proof positive of his passion for capturing images, albeit sometimes blurry, stills of giggling children, smiles frozen in time, caught in the joyous movement of childhood or formally posed like good little soldiers. Say cheese! The flimsy, frilly-edged snapshots with the date stamped indelibly in the white edging framing the smiling – or otherwise – faces of the four of us and mom fading gently into ghosts of time past now lay strewn across my own desktop connecting me to something long gone.

 I have hazy memories of carrying dad’s Brownie to Girl Scout camp, careful not to break it, allowed to snap pictures of my friends, creating my very own memories. Say cheese! But I do clearly remember my first camera, my very own, a Pocket Instamatic. You remember the Instamatic, the slim rectangle now sporting a long, slim loop that I could slip onto my wrist, the cubes snapped one by one onto the camera itself that flashed and clicked as it turned one-two-three times. Rolls and rolls of film, piles of snapshots flipped through over and over again: camp and school parades, holidays and family vacations and one exciting trip to Israel now fill envelopes and albums in glorious Technicolor dimming to yellow.

 A Polaroid stuck away in a drawer now gathering dust was a long-ago gift, possibly high school graduation. As simple and quick to use as my old Instamatic, the Polaroid gave immediate gratification. Snap – thunk – kkksssshhhhh and out popped a fuzzy gray square of silence. Patience and anticipation and an image like magic burnished onto paper slowly revealed itself, like an exotic striptease, baring its soul.

 From one camera to the next, I grew up learning to aim and shoot, a quick squint and click and the moment was captured forever. With a simple Say Cheese!

Cheesed Off 

 As anyone who has traveled to France knows, cheese is an integral part of the country's culinary patrimony and an integral part of daily life. And an essential element of every meal. First course followed by main course, followed by salad. Always. And then the host or the cook carries out a beautifully arranged cheese platter offering each diner, each convive, a selection of hard and soft, tangy, sharp, strong and mild. Balance a fresh goat cheese with a slice of nutty, fruity Comté, a wedge of fragrant Camembert, a segment of salty Bleu. 

 When it came to guests, my husband has always taken extra special care at the fromagerie selecting the perfect cheese platter. And when my family, my mother and brothers arrived at the birth of our first son, my new husband (who had never met them before) wanted nothing but the best. And to make a good impression. 

 Sitting at the long table wedged into the tiny living room in our miniature doll's house, our first home, he served up a beautiful meal. I had married an excellent cook. He cleared the dishes and set new, of course, a clean plate, knife and fork for each guest for the cheese course. 

 And he came out of the kitchen proudly bearing a gorgeous cheese platter. And my younger brother screeched, jumped up and ran – ran – out of the house and down the street. 

 When questioned later, he claimed to have an overwhelming, an indomitable, a powerful disgust of cheese and the very stink of the thing had him running for dear life.

The Big Cheese 

 A first meeting with my future in-laws. A first impression. I so wanted to please. I could barely speak the language, floundering through a conversation in stumbling schoolgirl French, praying like the dickens that I would understand what they said to me. 

 We had invited them to the big, old communal house that we shared with a dozen other men and women, a motley crew. The others had so kindly left us in peace. Husband prepared a glorious meal, not too fancy, not too special or his humble, folksy, simple parents would have balked. And of course, a cheese platter. I have never in all my days as a member of that family once known them to skip the cheese course. 

 Near the end of the meal, a loud clatter emanates from the kitchen. Future husband jumps up and scrambles through the dividing door only to reappear with an empty cheese platter. That dog of his, scamp and rascal with the piercing, golden eyes and the personality, the cleverness of a human, had reached the counter and swallowed that cheese in one gulp. 

 A vacation deep in the center of France, amidst the mountains and greenery. An enfant sauvage found generations ago living in the forest, raised by wolves, forever captured and immortalized in bronze. Caves deep below the earth, below the roaming sheep, damp and chilly, aromatic with mildew, corridors deep in the belly of the earth like secret passageways. Tremendous rounds of cheese lined up on wooden benches telling the tale of the passage of time. A taste of Roquefort, a deep blue-green against creamy white, salty and smooth, delicate and fluid, sharp and memorable.

Thin savoury Parmesan shortbreads that melt in your mouth, revealing the sweetness of the jam hidden inside - I can tell you it is difficult to stop eating them. I used a tomato jam given to me by a neighbour (who also keeps bees that make a wonderful honey) but any good jam would do. Come to think of it, a little of the slightly bitter but sweet chestnut honey would probably be very good as well.


150 g/ 4.5 oz wholewheat flour
80 g/ 2.8 oz grated parmesan
1 tsp dried oregano
100 g/ 3.5 oz butter
1 egg yolk
a pinch of salt

   Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl. Rub the butter into the flour and add the egg yolk. Mix quickly until the ingredients are well blended.

   Roll out the dough thinly, the easiest way to do it is between two sheets of parchment paper, and cut out the shortbread with a cookie cutter or with a knife.

   Bake in a pre-heated oven (175°C/350°F) for 8-10 minutes. Let them cool down before handling.

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Monday, March 3, 2014


Rest you then, rest, sad eyes, 
Melt not in weeping 
While she lies sleeping, 
Softly, softly, now softly lies sleeping. 
- Anonymous 

 Hushed voices, words softly whispered like the rustle of silk against bare skin, fingertips softly grazing the back of a hand or a cheek softly blushing. A prayer murmured softly to no one in particular. 

 Hushed voices broken by giggles, confidences divulged behind cupped hands, girlhood secrets, girlhood laughter. Shhhhh softly so no one will hear. 

 Tears. The rumble of low voices, softly imparting reassuring words.

Kiss Me Softly, Listen Closely 

 Soft peaks of whipped cream, snow falling softly, a light dusting of white. Whipped cream, drooping softly, or elegant sweeps of glistening meringue, thick creamy sweeps of cake batter in soft waves. 

 There is something so sensual about cooking. No, not the slicing and mincing, knife thudding against wood, rat-a-tat-tat; not the crack of chicken bones or the violent sizzle and pop of onion tossed into hot oil, seething, or the aggressive bubbling of red sauce, spattering angrily across the stovetop. 

 The tickety-tack tickety-tack of beaters against plastic as eggs whites froth and rise, the foam of a head of beer, the bubbles of champagne. Thick, thicker until opaque and glossy, snow piled up on the rooftops. Gently, softly, lovingly fold mountains of whipped egg whites – so aptly, so elegantly blancs d'œufs montés en neige in French, egg whites whisked to snow – into cake batter, softly, delicately so as not to break the white, deflate them into flatness. Fold, turn, fold until a luxurious, creamy, soft-as-velvet batter is created, almost a shame to bake it into cake. 

 Radio humming softly as I knead. I push my hands into flour, letting it gather softly around my skin, flour filtered through my fingers, softly drifting down to the tabletop. The slow, rhythmic movement of kneading, pressing fingers softly into cool, damp dough, pushing, pressing until smooth. Therapeutic, really. 

 I love pushing my fingers into flour, lentils, couscous grains, beans, softly, softly. Sensual.

Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
- William Butler Yeats

 We came together at a party. Loud music faded into the background, barely heard as little more than a reason to dance, slowly, arms wrapped around each other softly, tentatively.

 He leaned in towards me; months of doubt and yearning fell into confidence. He murmured in my ear ever so softly, his warm breath on my neck, in my ear as I listened shyly.

 All that remains of that night is a black and white photograph taken in a softly lit room, early morning. My profile against the blank wall, a smile dancing softly on my lips; my knees are pulled up to my chest (sitting on that old, worn mattress on the floor) and I feel delicious (no other word). Noises from deep in the house, voices, footsteps on the wooden floor, clattering down the stairs, noises of people preparing and eating hurried breakfasts filtered softly into the room, our private haven. None of that, no one existed apart from us at that moment.

 The filtered light softly illuminating my skin, my dreams.

 One last hug, one single "you drive me crazy" spoken softly, lips pressed against my shoulder. "Will you come back tonight?" expectation lighting up his face, briefly hidden behind the camera. "Will you stay?"

Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick

 Parenting. Words softly spoken, lullabies crooned, tunes hummed gently, softly. Admonitions yelled, fists clenched, holding back. Angered threats slipping softly, guardedly, between pinched lips. Parenting is a complicated balancing act. Utter delight and perfect joy slip into anger and frustration with little explanation.

 A tiny bundle of joy wrapped up, swaddled softly in a cuddly blanket, the sleep of a newborn, smelling sweetly of milk. Two parents leaning over to watch, breath held so as not to wake him. Tiptoe softly from the room, voices held in check, muted whispers not to break the peaceful silence.

Softly…. Laugh, Rain, Thunder, Touch

 I loved watching my father bake. With the precision of the engineer that he was, with the attention usually reserved for working under the hood of a car, he would make cakes and puddings, gorgeous, delicate choux puffs and luscious prune and apricot compote like jewels shimmering in the moonlight. 

 His big, strong, rough hands – I remember slipping my tiny hand into his, him softly taking mine and holding on, secure, safe and warm - would softly fold beaten egg white into batter, creating what would be the perfect sponge cake, light and ethereal. Those hands would softly and precisely pipe out dough, which would puff up crazily in the oven, puffs which he would later fill to overflowing with pastry cream. Those hands would ladle out perfect rounds of batter onto the old pancake griddle to sizzle and set, piles placed before four hungry, happy children.

 His movements as he baked or cooked were as soft and gentle as the manner in which he would gather me in his arms for a hug or cradle my face between his warm hands. Softly. A father's hands are full of magic and fascination; gardening, tightening bolts, boarding up plate glass windows against hurricane winds, taping cartons for mailing, handing out quarters for straight A's or lunch money.

Definitely not "stewed prunes" which evoke images of cold, harsh diningrooms in senior residences straight out of the 1960's, seltzer water and rye bread. My father made pots of gorgeous prune compote, prunes and apricots slow simmered in water spiced with cinnamon and magic until the dried fruit softened and plumped up, shimmering jewel-like in a rich sauce. This is a sumptuous adult version in which prunes are simmered in a gorgeous red dessert wine and water with just a hint of orange and cinnamon. Serve these delicate, wine-infused prunes warm in small bowls topped with whipped cream or ice cream or use them as a topping for almost any dessert. 


For 250 g moist pitted prunes (weighed without pits, about 35 - 40 prunes)
1/4 cup (50 g) granulated white sugar
2 cups (500 ml) total liquid = water + red dessert wine (or a fruity red wine or port wine) - (I used 1 1/2 cups/375 ml water + 1/4 cup/125 ml red wine but you could use less water + more wine, up to 1/2 cup, for a stronger hint of wine)
Pinch ground cinnamon
Thick slice (about 1 cm/ 1/2 inch) orange (with peel and all)

Place everything (prunes + sugar + water + red wine + cinnamon + orange slice) in a saucepan, bring to the boil, lower to simmer and simmer 10 - max 15 minutes until the prunes are plump and tender but have not exploded. Carefully remove the prunes from the liquid to a bowl and continue to boil the liquid with the orange slice until slightly thickened, maybe another 10 minutes or as desired.

Serve the prunes warm in a bowl with some of the liquid/syrup and topped with whipped cream or ice cream.

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