chopped kale salad with hot smoky dates

I would love to eat a fresh date, preferably right now while taking in the sight of an azure Mediterranean sky through a spray of palm fronds. Today, instead of that, I have muted gray winter light (a chance of snow, they say) and some dried dates.

In Miami, where I once lived, huge majestic date palms were planted all around the grounds of fancy hotels and private homes, and at one of my favorite public spaces anywhere, the Fairchild Tropical Gardens. I’m pretty sure the clusters of brilliant yellow fruit that would sometimes appear on the trees were not good to eat. Date palms are natives of hot, dry desert places.

They’re grown in the humid zone of South Florida, often dug up and imported there from other places at huge expense. But while they can flourish on South Beach like sunbathing debutantes, it’s not their ideal climate for fruit-bearing.

I’ll have to wait until I’m in a place like California in winter to bite into a fresh date, an experience that Alice Waters describes in Chez Panisse Fruit as “soft yielding flesh, with a mildly sweet, rich flavor entirely different from that of the hard, wrinkled and cloyingly sweet dates in the package.”

Medjool dates are dried dates, but far from hard and dry, I think. They have a rich quality – kind of luscious really – plump and tender inside. And you can find them in almost every well-stocked market in the produce section at this time of year.  [Read more…]

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…]