pomegranate panna cotta

The pomegranates were ripening, falling to the ancient staircase below with a thump. The heavy fruit split apart on impact, exposing crimson seeds and fleshy insides.  There was a tree laden with fruit just outside the casale in Tuscany – the magical place where I was staying almost exactly one month ago.

The skin of these fruits wasn’t the familiar mottled, deeply red color of the ones I buy in late fall from produce bins in the grocery store; these were yellow tinged with green, looking more like extra-large Golden Delicious apples than what I’ve come to recognize as pomegranates. Pomegranates are melograno in Italian, derived from the Latin word for apple.

When I first noticed the tree I didn’t recognize the fruits; it wasn’t until I saw them cracked open on the ground that I saw what they were. The property, surrounded by vineyards, was outlined with hedges of bay laurel, rosemary and oleander. All plants that love the Mediterranean climate as much as pomegranates do. [Read more...]

italian summer country cake

I’m eating a piece of cake, remembering when my kids had birthday parties…the clearing of the table right after the cake, just before the presents, and all those paper plates with beheaded cupcakes on them.

Little cakes in paper liners with their fancy frosted tops chewed right off. I know some grown-up children who still consider cake a mere delivery vehicle for cream, fudge or frosting, but for me it’s always been the opposite.  As a girl, I’d scrape off the frosting and go all in for cake.  [Read more...]

bay laurel pound cake

When I first visited San Francisco, I was walking down a shady little avenue somewhere and looked up. I was under a fragrant canopy of trees, all with dark, shiny green leaves I recognized as bay laurel. Amazing! My whole life I’d only seen those leaves preciously packed in small glass jars in the spice aisle, and here were literally millions of them just growing wild on the street.

At the time, I had a 4-inch pot in my apartment back home containing a struggling wisp of a bay laurel plant. It was a sickly skinny stick with maybe a handful of leaves on it when I bought it. One by one, the leaves withered away and then the plant died. I tried a few more times to grow my own little tree as a houseplant, each time while living in various places that had lots of things going for them but for the unfortunate lack of a Mediterranean climate.

I’ve since learned that the plant I was trying to grow was the not Umbellularia californica I saw in abundance in that state, but Laurus nobilis – same species, different variety. Both kinds thrive in the kind of climate where olives, rosemary and artichokes also thrive (as I’m absolutely sure I would, too).  [Read more...]