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…]

lemon ricotta cake with mascarpone

lemon ricotta cake with mascarpone

I’ve been in my basement sorting through boxes of books; hundreds of them.

Which ones are keepers and which go bye-bye? My mission is to downsize and it’s no time to get sentimental…

I’m approaching the task as if purging a closet – keeping the classics and moving on from the rest: if a cookbook hasn’t been cracked open in more than 3 years, out it goes. It gets tricky though, when the temptation to browse strikes. There was a reason a book made it into the pile in the first place; all it takes is a little reminder — hold on, don’t I need this recipe for Double Chocolate Angel Food Cake…that food memoir of the British Raj, those well-researched words on the world history of wine??

lemon ricotta cake with mascarpone

It seems easier to resist volumes that speak loudly of culinary moments in time, the ones that turned into passing trends. Like a pair of high-waisted jeans, books that call for blackening Cajun-spiced fish Must Get Donated.

The Julia Childs, Marcella Hazans, Elizabeth Davids — stay. They’re the equal of a vintage Chanel handbag you hand down, timeless and essential. I don’t have a Chanel bag, but I have a pair of faded Levi’s jeans I wore in high school — high-waisted and all —  that my teenage daughter now wears. She thinks they’re the coolest thing ever.  [Read more…]

chocolate almond caprese cake

The lingering snow and frigid cold blanketing New York and  New Jersey finally started to thaw this weekend. Visible pavement on the sidewalk meant my little dog could complete her daily walk without immediately limping pathetically, paws encrusted with ice pellets and packed snow after a few steps. But today it’s snowing again; another day off for the kids and me one step closer to buying Alpine booties for the pooch.

I actually love it when a serious snowfall forces us to stay home — it  looks quietly beautiful through the windows of a warm house and there’s none of the dropping off, picking up or driving to and fro required on every other day.

It means that I have a few minutes to catch up here on this blog, something that’s been a challenge lately as I still work on getting my family settled into a new home – it’s been an enormous change in my life, to say the least. Nonetheless, there’ve been things percolating in my head foodwise, and as always, anything chocolate is a welcome solace and a motivation to bake something.

I bought a stunning new cookbook, Wild Rosemary & Lemon Cake. It’s a compilation of recipes and gorgeous photography from the Italian Amalfi Coast. Looking at the pages in the dead of winter and imagining myself on a cliffside patio in Positano sipping limoncello has a warming affect on my insides, not to mention my entire well being. [Read more…]