Last week, I attended the August Book Club, hosted by medabistro’s GalleyCat blog. Five writers, all accomplished in their respective fields, read from their books. It was an interesting mix: Jewish Chick Lit, a memoir about the effects of hip-hop culture, a dissection of what Goldman Sachs was really doing heading into the economic meltdown, a fictional tale of 8 women who pass through New York’s famed Four Seasons Hotel, and a dessert cookbook, which is the topic of this post.
Abigail Johnson Dodge, or Abby Dodge per her website, is the author of Desserts 4 Today, “four” being the operative word. As she pointed out in her talk (it’s kind of hard to do a “reading” from a cookbook), there are so many wonderful things associated with the number four: four seasons in the year, four suits in a deck of cards, The Beatles (aka “The Fab Four”), the four-leafed clover … you get the idea. In her case, “four” represents the number of ingredients in every dessert recipe in the book. Pretty nifty.
She mentioned a few decidedly easy-to-prepare desserts (a few in the form of a cocktail), some with surprising ingredients like jalapeno peppers and mint. There are Flourless Chocolate Mousse Bites and Flaky Cinnamon Sugar Crisps and Minty Melon Sorbet and Individual Blackberry Napoleons. Should you be missing one of the ingredients or want to jazz the recipe up a bit, she offers “Switch-Ins,” like brown sugar for granulated sugar or graham cracker crumbs for crushed vanilla wafer cookies, and recommendations to “Gussy It Up” and “Change It Up.”
Abby Dodge had a creative marketing idea for the book reading (probably not surprising given that this is her seventh cookbook). Each attendee received a postcard with a photo of her cookbook cover on the front and the recipe for Nutella Fudge Brownies on the back, as well as a brownie sample, which I ate, of course. And, I loved it, of course. (Mind you, I am someone who cannot keep Nutella in the house for fear that I eat the entire jar in one sitting, and who, when visiting her three lovely nieces, who also love Nutella, has resorted to eating their leftover toast crusts to get my fix.)
Desserts 4 Today will be available on Amazon in September. So get your order in now. And, to hold you over until the book arrives, I am including the recipe for brownies.
Eat deliciously well.
Nutella Fudge Brownies (makes 12)
The 4 ingredients: Nutella spread (1/2 cup); large egg (1); all-purpose flour (5 tablespoons); hazelnuts (chopped, 1/4 cup).
1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Lina 12-cup mini muffin pan with paper or foil liners
2. Put the Nutella and egg in a medium bowl and whisk until smooth and well blended. Add the flour and whisk until blended.
3. Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin tins (about 3/4 full) and sprinkle with the chopped hazelnuts.
4. Bake until a toothpick comes out with wet, gooey crumbs, 11 to 12 minutes. Set on rack to cool completely. Serve immediately or cover and store at room temperature for up to 3 days.
Switch-Ins: In place of the hazelnuts, switch in one of the following:
* ground cinnamon (1/4 teaspoon, add with the flour)
* peanuts, chopped (1/4 cup)
This is the gist of author Aimee Bender’s new novel, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake. In the book, Bender uses magical realism to tell the following tale:
On the eve of her ninth birthday, unassuming Rose Edelstein, a girl at the periphery of schoolyard games and her distracted parents’ attention, bites into her mother’s homemade lemon-chocolate cake and discovers she has a magical gift: she can taste her mother’s emotions in the cake. She discovers this gift to her horror, for her mother—her cheerful, good-with-crafts, can-do mother—tastes of despair and desperation. Suddenly, and for the rest of her life, food becomes a peril and a threat to Rose.
The curse her gift has bestowed is the secret knowledge all families keep hidden—her mother’s life outside the home, her father’s detachment, her brother’s clash with the world. Yet as Rose grows up she learns to harness her gift and becomes aware that there are secrets even her taste buds cannot discern.
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake is a luminous tale about the enormous difficulty of loving someone fully when you know too much about them. It is heartbreaking and funny, wise and sad, and confirms Aimee Bender’s place as “a writer who makes you grateful for the very existence of language” (San Francisco Chronicle).
After finishing this, I went to Amazon.com and found that it was indeed a book into which I could “Look Inside.” I started reading, and from the first bite (pun intended), I was hooked. On page 10, Rose describes her first experience tasting the emotions of the cook – in this case, her mother, who has prepared her birthday cake:
I could absolutely taste the chocolate, but in drifts and traces, in an unfurling, or an opening, it seemed that my mouth was also filling with the taste of smallness, the sensation of shrinking, of upset, tasting a distance I somehow knew was connected to my mother, tasting a crowded sense of her thinking, a spiral, like I could almost even taste the grit in her jaw that had created the headache that meant she had to take as many aspirins as were necessary, a white dotted line of them in a row on the nightstand like an ellipsis to her comment: I’m just going to lie down. … None of it was a bad taste, so much, but there was a kind of lack of wholeness to the flavors that made it taste hollow, like the lemon and chocolate were surrounding the hollowness. My mother’s able hands had made the cake, and her mind had known how to balance the ingredients, but she was not there, in it.
I could go on, because, while reading the excerpt, I did. But now, I need to run off to the bookstore to buy it – sorry Amazon, but I just can’t wait – so I can devour the rest.
There is a saying in Italian, “Meglio spendere soldi dal macellaio che dal farmacista,” which means that it’s better to spend money at the butcher than the pharmacist. In other words, eat well.
The Italian saying is found on front flap of Douglas Gayeton’s fabulous book, Slow: Life in a Tuscan Town, published late last year. Which also happens to be when I came across it, browsing the bookstore as I have a tendency to do much too often. It’s large, and it stuck out from the shelf, or at least it stuck out to me. If you’ve read other posts on this blog you’ll know that’s probably not all that surprising given my love of food, and Italian food in particular (although I do have a French bistro fetish, but that is another post altogether).
Douglas Gayeton is a filmmaker, photographer, writer, and now organic farmer in Petaluma, California, who was sent to Italy by PBS to make a documentary. The film never did get made, but the photos he took were arresting, and PBS posted them on its web site. Gayeton’s genius was the concept of a “flat film” image created by combining multiple photographs captured over a period of time into one photo which portrays a meaningful representation of the event, and then layering each with “handwritten notes, anecdotes, recipes, quotes, and historical facts and that cleverly bring context and color to the subject of each sepia-toned image and draw us deeper into this romantic, rewarding, and progressively rare way of life.” He describes the process, which he discovered one afternoon during a long family lunch, in a short video.
As you page through the book, a narrative unfolds, slowly. Just as it should. Each photo tells a story. You’ll have to turn the book around to read many of the quotes and sayings. You’ll want to meet Marino who makes marble funeral stones with his two sons, Fiziano and Luca, and Guiseppina, the egg lady who knows her chickens (Conosco i miei polli – I know my chickens). You’ll want to learn a few new Italian words, like una scampagnata (an outing) and i funghi (mushrooms) and la moglie (the wife). You’ll want to eat, well. This gem of a book is an homage to a way of life that, even in Italy, is disappearing.
There’s a reason so many of us flock to Italy. Almost anyone I know, after returning from a trip, says it’s the food, it’s the quality of life. It’s about the pleasure of carefully choosing, preparing, and eating real food, and taking the time to appreciate it and those with whom we’re eating. In America, this is known as “Slow Food.”
If we choose, we can incorporate elements of “Slow” into our lives here. We can make an effort to know where our food comes from, and, whenever possible, opt for produce grown close to home or meat from animals raised in humane environments on small, local farms (more on this in an upcoming post). We can cook and teach our children to cook. We can sit down at the table, together, and enjoy a meal (A tavola!). Douglas Gayeton reminds us of this, and that sometimes:
“Il troppo stroppia”
More than enough is too much.