BAKE TOGETHER FOR FRIENDSHIP
My suitcases lie open on the bedroom floor, socks strewn from one end of the bed to the other; piles of clean laundry grace my creamy carpet, begging for attention, silently crying “Me! Take me!” each time I slide through the room. We scurry around the house in preparation, counting out purchases, checking our lists, dashing to this computer or that to finish a bit of work, answer an e-mail or two. The car has been given the once, twice, thrice over, new tires installed and brakes changed. Boxes of cookies and treats both salty and sweet begin to fill the basket that accompanies us on each road trip. And the second From Plate to Page workshop hovers expectantly on the horizon, luring me with promises of excitement, adventure, learning and friendships old and new.
October means the coming of autumn, chill, crisp weather brilliant with sunshine. The leaves gently turn from jade to burnished gold and drift down lazily, elegantly from their perch, carpeting the now exposed, austere park, devoid of all greenery, nestled amid the trees. The market stalls transform from vibrant cherry and raspberry red, violet, pale apricot and bright canary to darker-hued autumn colors of garnet and aubergine, burnt orange to flame, creamy chocolate, wine to pomegranate and gold, mellowing from dazzling jewel tones to an earthier, more carnal palette. Delicate berries redolent of summer, fragrant, girlish beauties shyly baring their all to the world and curious fingertips relinquish their place to the fleshy, voluptuous, worldly women of autumn, tough old roots and gourds, thick-skinned pomegranates, figs and grapes offering teasing resistance to eager tongues or stinky, gnarled carrots, pumpkins, onions and fennel, gritty with dirt, defying tenderness.
Smirking jack-o-lanterns, pale slashes gaping across orange, eyes burning in devilish delight; ghostly apparitions gliding between houses as mysterious as graveyard silence hanging heavy as mist; noises of impish laughter drift through the darkness, strange forms flash through circles of light which drip onto the sidewalks and mischief reigns, swallowing each one of us up in some netherworld of festivity: Halloweens of my childhood come back to me as a spirit haunting. Visions of my younger brother and I treading carefully across the lawn draped in a bedsheet, coin-sized circles cut out of the white allowing us to just barely find our way come back to me with fondness and glee. Knocking on door after door, amazed at the creativity of the decorations: construction paper cats in inky black, arched backs, hissing and spitting, scarecrows of jutting straw and baggy clothes, red lights amid shadows flooding driveways, screams emanating from hidden loudspeakers; the streets where I grew up in that tiny town a joyous and terrifying carnival of surprises, children and adults alike masquerading as someone whom they were not all in the celebration of Halloween.
Young woman, I traded in the balmy evenings and warm ocean breeze of a Florida October for the foggy chill and romantic autumn season of Europe. Throughout my years in France and Italy, Halloween has taken a backseat to All Saints’ Day, the pagan festivities a far away second to the solemn religious ceremony of visiting the dead. Flowers spill out onto sidewalks and into the streets in front of every flower shop as the first of November rolls around; armloads of chrysanthemums find their way into cemeteries, brightening and soothing the sadness. In Italy, these days of Tutti i Santi and Ognissanti (All Saints’ and All Souls’ Days) are sacrosanct, families picking up the grandparents and driving miles and miles, sometimes to the other end of the country to spend a few hours at the family plot, brushing off dead leaves, discarding withered blooms and saying prayers amidst the fresh bouquets.
And bakeries are filled with seasonal treats. No candy corns nor caramel popcorn balls grace the shelves of shops, but rather Pan dei Morti: a rich, dark, earthy pastry heady with spices, infused with a multitude of flavors; cocoa, cinnamon, nuts, wine weave in and out of each mouthful, each flavor distinct yet balanced and blended together into one surprising taste, the flavor of autumn. And as you chew, the crackle of ground cookies and figs and the crunch of pine nuts remind you of dead men's bones, a sweet reminder of loved ones long gone. I miss this intriguing confection, a reminder of that Halloween period in Italy, as beloved as those long ago evenings of my girlhood spent trick or treating for a treasure trove of sweet, store-bought goodies. This is just one of autumn’s little treasures, an Italian tradition that I hold deep in my heart and which ignites memories each October.
And once again, I will be in Italy. We pack up the car, almost ready for our trip down, JP, Simon and I, heading back to our old stomping grounds, to friends who were once family, to see and breathe in the sights and sounds, the aromas and sensations that we lived day in and day out for so many years, so many years ago. They drop me off for a weekend in Tuscany where I will hug Jeanne, Meeta and Ilva once again, no doubt screaming, screeching, laughing, shedding a few tears. And then another From Plate to Page, our second, another group of eager students ready to work (no shop) for 3 full days of writing, styling, photographing, cooking, eating, talking, living. And we learn as we impart knowledge, appropriate as we share, growing together in our craft, our art, our profession during a weekend that flies by all too quickly.
And then it ends as it began, with hugs and tears and laughter and the promise to keep in touch. And my men come to scoop me up, heavy with goodies from our fabulous, generous sponsors, camera and computer overflowing with pictures, and off we go to hit the road one more time. We head up to Milan where we will visit old friends and new, stroll through this beautiful city we once knew so well and still love. We will spot changes in the décor while memories will return as shops and restaurants pop into view. And then we leave Simon for three months.
And as the temperature drops to nippy, as brilliant mornings droop to bleak afternoons, the furnace bursts to life, sweaters are tugged more closely around the body and we wander into the kitchen, pulled in, captivated by the heady scent of coffee and cajoled by the warmth of a freshly baked cake heavy with cinnamon. What better way to celebrate autumn than with a coffee cake to share with our closest friends and loved ones, simply, over a cup of something steaming hot and the latest gossip or plans for a brighter future? Abby, wonderful, warm Abby, has offered us her Cinnamon Streusel Coffee Cake for our October Bake Together adventure, an event to share with friends countries and continents apart.
Please find the recipe for this fabulous Cinnamon Streusel Coffee Cake on Abby’s blog HERE… and follow her so you, too, can join in on our monthly Bake Together! And keep posted on all our Bake Together treats and results on Twitter with the hashtag #baketogether. (Nota bene: I replaced the sour cream in the recipe with buttermilk)
And for all those who could not make our second From Plate to Page Workshop in Tuscany, you can join us live as it happens through Twitter by using the hashtag #plate2page. And for all workshop impressions as well as updates and news on all future workshops, please visit our Plate to Page website and sign up for e-mail alerts! Don’t miss anything!
And please visit the Plate to Page website blog for our latest three guest posts in our on-going series featuring fabulous, talented professional food stylists, photographers and writers. This month, Cape Town food writer and journalist Sam Woulidge, Chicago-based Prop Stylist Paula Walters and Seattle-based food stylist and photographer Kelly Cline each share their personal and professional journey as well as thoughts, insights and advice on each of their professions.