Saturday 20 November 2010

The rain, it rains...

On and on. Fairly typically for November in Tuscany, it has to be said, and the garden looks very happy for it. Lush and green and soaking. Fortunately not so sodden that I couldn't plant several hundred bulbs in the few rain-free interludes we've had in the past couple of weeks (a couple of hundred narcissus to line the grass walk under the pine trees, to the north of which I've planted two hundred mixed alliums, around the hydrangeas; and hundreds of dwarf irises under the silver birch and on either side of the causeway that leads to the romitorio.) I even managed to cut the grass (all of it - having realised from the forecast that it would be my last opportunity for weeks) on Wednesday, and it looks agreeably soft and well-behaved as a result.

And so, we're largely housebound, either watching the rain through the windows, or else listening to it thundering overhead in the watches of the night. The four-footeds have got over their frustration at the doors to the garden no longer being left open all the time, and in fact are developing a fondness for soft furnishing, which requires constant vigilance to prevent the senior four-footed from curling up on one or other of the new sofas (which he's prone to do at the first opportunity).

It's our first winter actually living in this house - last year, it was a building site right through until April - and it turns out to be agreeably warm and cosy. The Technical Dept is pondering a construction of glass screens to enclose part of the sitting-room terrace; you'd think it would be for our convenience, as a winter sun room...but, in fact, it's because he thinks the four-footeds would appreciate an indoor vantage point from which to monitor the entrance pergola (this is the man, after all, who considered raising the china cabinets on blocks, years ago, when the previous senior four-footed was a puppy, and was dismayed when he grew too much to be able to tunnel excitedly beneath the cabinets, which had been his favourite game when he was very small!).

I'm in the middle of Miles Unger's hagiographic biography of Lorenzo the Magnificent, in between bouts of painting skirting boards (where the brazilians managed to smear them with floor grout), and the Technical Dept is doing...I don't know, really....technical things.

It's all go!

Tonight's Dinner:

Crespelle, filled with ricotta and bietole, in a parmesan bechamel sauce

Pork loin, pot-roast in milk; roast celeriac. (The four-footeds are having sausages, as a special treat in honour of the senior four-footed's eleventh birthday)

Apple sorbet.

Sunday 14 November 2010

Recipe: Apricot & Cinnamon Cake

Adapted from a recipe of Linda Collister (I found her version a little dry, frankly, so I played around with the proportions of the ingredients until I had something I liked), this is an excellent - and quick - light fruit cake. So light, that it risks being consumed all at one sitting!

This cake definitely benefits from being left for several days or so after baking, to allow the richness of the fruit and the cake itself to blend together thoroughly.

To make an 8" diameter cake:

Ingredients: 130g Butter; 130g sugar (muscovado, if you can get it, which I can't in Italy, and so I just use demarara instead); 170g self-raising Flour (again, if you can get it; if you can't then use plain flour, and for each cup of flour, add one and a half teaspoons of baking powder, and half a teaspoon of salt); 1 tsp ground Cinnamon; 30g ground Almonds; 3 medium eggs; 220g ready-to-eat dried Apricots, chopped finely; a handful of slivered Almonds.


1. Use a hand-held beater to cream the Butter, then add to it the Sugar and keep beating, until light and fluffy.

2. In a separate bowl, combine the Flour with the Cinnamon and the ground Almonds.

3. Add the Eggs one at a time to the creamed Butter & Sugar, beating to incorporate after each Egg has been added, and including a spoonful of the Flour mixture along with the last Egg.

4. Fold in the rest of the Flour mixture, along with the diced Apricots.

5. Put the mixture into a prepared cake mould (greased, if using a cake tin, or the base lined with greaseproof paper, if using a silicone mould) and sprinkle the surface with the slivered Almonds.

6. Bake for an hour at 170 degrees C. Check for doneness by inserting a knife into the centre of the cake and seeing that it emerges completely clean - if not, then bake for a fewer minutes lnger and test again.

7. Allow to rest for five minutes, before you turn it out to cool completely. Keep in an airtight container box for three days before serving.