Coconut Loaf Cake

 There is a deep need for rest in these days. Rest from work, duties, manners, social constraints, voices, noises, people, crowds, rush hours, public transports, high streets. There is a deep need for empty, hilly streets at dusk, bird noises, a little apartment that smells of cinnamon and baking bread, a couch, some lit candles in every room and nothing else. A deep need for neutrality: no sound, no color. A deep need for inner peace and inner brightness when everything gets too dark too early.

I find myself longing for solitude, and pure emptiness. For much that I got to know and yes, to love this city, sometimes I ache, I feel overwhelmed, I find myself panting, reaching for fresh air and hidden corners. I try to close my eyes and blank my mind and I can see the task getting harder and harder. Am I alone in this? Am I the strange one, the outsider?

I find relief in my empty kitchen, in an empty afternoon when nobody is home and I can free myself completely. The simple gestures of gathering bowls and measuring cups, ingredients and notes, aligning them on the table, turning on the oven solace my bewildered mind. I think, not free from guilt, that I could do something else instead, perhaps something more suitable to my age or my current location. But I chase these thoughts as I focus on measuring the ingredients, on following cooking instructions. My mind blanks as I pursue my goal of simply baking something, anything, as long as it fills my mind with silence and keeps my hands busy.

A coconut loaf has been in my plans for months and I simply felt its moment had come. Its purity, its triune coconut-y essence, its perfect synthesis of flavors, its light colored nature donated comfort and warmth to a lonely, happily lonely, or w happily-in-two-maximum afternoon, a time when everybody writes, or naps, or reads and no small talk breaks this peace.

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Muscat Grape Cake

Muscat Grape CakeMuscat Grape Cake

A grape cake has been at the forefront of my mind for a bit. A while back, I found some deeply flavoursome muscat grapes in a little greengrocer in our neighbourhood. Unable to resist – for they are not too easy to come by in London – I bought quite a lot and decided to bake with part of them. This gloriously purple, slightly messy thing you see pictured was the happy outcome.

The cake is lovely, and really quite simple. Even made with spelt flour, it is moist and beautifully perfumed. Perhaps the only less-than-perfect side is that the grapes tend to fall to the bottom – the batter is quite loose – making it more similar to an upside down cake than a, well, a coffee cake. I don’t mind it, but I should warn you in case you care about presentation…it might take some imagination, or, like in this case, hydrangeas.

Finally, a note on the grapes. Unfortunately, seedless grapes wouldn’t do the cake much justice. Best would be to use aromatic red varieties such as Muscat or Fragolino (Concord). White varieties like Chasselas or Sultana would work a charm, too, but they’ll all inevitably have seeds. If you don’t like the idea of crunchy seeds in your cake, perhaps try a different fruit altogether – all sorts of berries make a fine substitution.

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Grape Must Pudding (Sugoli)

September is an exciting time of the year in Italy. The season is turning, the heat is less sweltering, and everywhere you’ll find festivals celebrating all sorts of products. Among these, the festivals of the vendemmia (grape harvest) are the most famous, widespread and fun.

Veneto has a time-honoured winemaking tradition that involves pretty much the entire region. However, in the area where I grew up, which hasn’t a particular vocation for wine, lesser varieties were planted and then turned into simple wines for everyday consumption.

In the past, the grape harvest used to employ large parts of the peasant workforce. Seasonal workers would break their back for little money, but they would at least be able to take home some bunches of grapes, perhaps the damaged ones, to eat and cook. From these grapes, thrifty countryside women (including those in my family) would then pull out a sweet pudding called sugoli – a thick, sugar laden sweet treat that was perfect to boost the energy levels of the vendemmiatori. They were what one would call a poor man’s feast.

The name sùgoli comes from the word sugo (juice). It is, in its essence, nothing more than a grape juice pudding. The recipe is as easy as it sounds: just grapes, flour and, perhaps, some sugar. The only thing you’ll need is a fine masher or, better still, a food mill. The rest will come along in no time.

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Gooseberry Clafoutis

Gooseberries and elderflower. It is all about them these days. Everywhere you see recipes for pavlovas, fools, cakes, pies, tarts, and crumbles filled with sour, greenish berries and sweetened with flowery syrup. Indeed, I found some gooseberries at the farmers’ market here in Wimbledon the other day, and couldn’t resist buying some. Then, back at home, I made clafoutis – a favourite dessert that loves berries in every form, even if they are tart gooseberries.

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