Grace’s Peach Cake

Peach Cake

When I was just 13 years old, my family visited Grace, a friend of my Nana’s in upstate New York.  Grace, a very warm and charming lady, prepared a tasty dinner from scratch for all of us.  I truly do not remember the dinner, but I do remember the dessert!

After dinner, she stood in her kitchen for several moments pondering a dessert idea for her guests.  I followed her outside to her backyard, where beautiful plum trees stood full of fruit.  She filled her apron with plums, carried them into the house, and, in about 10 minutes flat, put together the most wonderful and memorable plum cake.  I wrote the recipe down as best as I could since she did not use any measuring cups or measuring spoons.  Grace informed me that I could use any fresh summer fruit, such as peaches or blueberries for this quick cake.

I’ve been making this peach and blueberry rendition ever since and want to share this delicious memory with all of you.  Here is her cake, just as she put it together, and then below, I have provided some guidelines to create a just as delicious “gluten free” version.

Thank you, Grace.  Thank you, Nana.  Each time I bake this cake, I am 13 years old standing in a beautiful arbor of fruit trees and surrounded by many people who love me.  Good reason to bake this cake over and over again!!!

Ingredients:

3 medium ripe peaches
1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 cup fresh blueberries
2 cups flour   ***gluten free tips below
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 stick butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 whole eggs
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 Tablespoon granulated sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, or to taste
Butter flavored Spray Margarine

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 10 inch deep dish pie plate with cooking spray.  Slice peaches, leaving skin on.  Toss with lemon juice and set aside.  Wash and drain blueberries and set aside.  Mix flour with baking powder and set aside.

In a large bowl, use electric mixer at low speed to beat butter and 1/2 sugar together.  Add eggs and beat until light and creamy. Add milk,  flour mixture, and vanilla; mix at low speed for one minute, scraping sides of bowl occasionally.

Pour into prepared pie plate. Arrange peaches and blueberries on top in decorative design.  Sprinkle generously with sugar and cinnamon.  Dot the top of the cake with pieces of butter.

Bake 35 to 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  When cool, cut into 10 servings.  Yummy served warm with vanilla ice cream.

***Gluten-Free Modifications:  I use a good gluten free yellow cake mix, such as Pamela’s or Gluten Free Pantry.  Cream butter in bowl, the add eggs and vanilla.  Pamela’s uses some water.  Then pour batter into a deep dish pie plate that has been sprayed with cooking spray and proceed with the rest of the recipe.  The house will smell heavenly!

Summer: Comfort Food

Most people think “winter” when it comes to comfort foods.  Everyone just feels all fuzzy inside at the thought of a big pot of simmering soup on the stove or the smell of freshly baked apple pie in the oven on a chilly winter afternoon.  Those foods comfort us.  They bring us back to the loving memories of Mom, Grandma and our favorite Aunt.  She cooked.  She baked. She hugged us.  The simmering soup was overflowing with love.  I like those foods and memories as well.

However, I must admit that I find great comfort in Summer’s bounty!  I was washing some red chard this evening for dinner, and immediately I was transported back to New Jersey and those wonderful vegetable stands on every road and every corner in the summer months.  Your car would automatically brake for vegetable stands!  Summer’s bounty in New Jersey is a cherished memory engraved forever in my heart and on my palate.  I remember my Mom getting all excited about fresh zucchini and huge bunches of basil.  I see her standing at the sink, as I did this evening, with her hands washing the chard, transferring the beautiful leaves from one side of the sink to the other to rinse off all the sand.

I remember a dear friend of my grandmother’s, Grace.  She had a plum tree in her backyard.  We went to visit her when I was just 13 years old.  She took me outside and picked plums fresh off the tree. She piled them in her apron like a carrying sack.  Then in just 10 minutes flat, she made the most amazing plum coffee cake you have ever seen.  The smell was heavenly.  I can still see her standing there in her apron filled with fresh plums and a big smile on her face.  She was a summer Kodak moment.

I bought this wonderful red chard from a produce market down the road from me called Clemons. It is a family run business. There is a real Mr. Clemons too.  It is nothing fancy, but they have the freshest produce starting this time of year.

Consalo Farms Chard

My chard happened to be from New Jersey, where else?  The tag attached to it said, ‘Consalo Farms’.  No wonder my mind took me on a trip back to my roots.

I love living in Florida.  I love Ruskin tomatoes.  Better than Ruskins, I love a tomato from Immokalee, Florida. I love Florida corn. It’s all good.  Clemons is ten times better than the supermarket, and as close as I can get to Jersey fresh.

But I must admit I am faithful to the Jersey tomato. There is nothing on the planet like a Jersey Beefsteak tomato!  I miss them so much.  When the heat of summer makes your steering wheel so hot  you can’t touch it here in the South, I find myself longing for Jersey’s Summer bounty and all the deep down comforting feelings that go along with it.

The entire memory just reels me in like the giant arms of Mother Earth embracing me.  Winding country roads with gardens everywhere.  A small stand offering you green beans, squash, cucumbers that were just picked that very morning.  My Mom’s hands cleaning the garlic and washing the vegetables. The smile of  farmer when he hands you your purchase.  So comforting.  Indeed, so comforting.

Yet, I find myself a little jealous right now, and I am not a jealous person.  Some special someone gets to eat a Jersey tomato this Summer, and it won’t be me.

Al Tranvai Restaurant-Florence, Italy

Gluten free Taglitelli with Mushrooms
Beans with shrimp appetizer-Al Tranvai Trattoria, Florence

Pinch me. Here I am with my son and husband in beautiful Florence.  This evening, we dined at a tiny trattoria that went through the trouble of cooking me an amazing and very memorable gluten free meal.  This is not just any restaurant.  This is a tiny place with about 7 tables and all the locals come, feast, chat a lot, and laugh a lot. The walls resound with the fullness of life.  The chef pictured here with our wonderful server was so very proud to prepare for me Taglitelle (gluten free) with a rich mushroom sauce.  Spectacular and so very delicous.  Oh, I almost forgot to mention the appetizer of fagioli with shrimp, vibrant with flavor and fresh herbs.  It is a dish that I have never had before.  My son took his bread and scraped up everylast bit of sauce.  My husband also had the fagioli and then followed with penne pasta with sausage and wine sauce.

Al Tranvai Chef and Assistant

The chef himself came out to serve me my “gluten free” pasta dish.  He smiled and winked at me, and we silently acknowledged the understanding that he was happy to create this special dish for me and that I was so very grateful for the effort and culinary love he put into it.

It was an evening never to be forgotten.  Delicious.  Happy.  Being in the moment. Alex, my son, my husband, Wayne, and me together across the globe from home.

I highly recommend Al Tranvai.  In fact, we shall return Friday evening, just before we go on to Rome, to celebrate the flavors of this gem hidden away in a residential

neighborhood of Florence.  And the best part-they love you gluten free and all!

My son, Alex, and me-Al Tranvai Trattoria, Florence
Outside sign

Washing The Rainbow Chard

Rinsing out the sand from beautiful rainbow chard

Wayne and I ate the most delicious rainbow chard yesterday. It is a vegetable to feast your eyes on and so nutritious as well.  It features red, white, and gold stems and large, rippled glossy leaves. All the colors make this vegetable look very magical. This particular chard came all the way from a California grower called Lakeside Organic Gardens.  Of course, I would buy it locally, if Orlando could grow chard.  Florida oranges and avocadoes are more our speed. 

Here I am at our kitchen sink painstakingly rinsing out all the sand and lots of sand there was!  I remember my Mom washing all the sand and debris out of escarole. I could hear her voice giving directives and see her hands repeatedly dipping in and out of the cold water.  She taught me to fill up a large bowl or pot and dunk and soak the greens.  Then she would say to let the leaves kind of float to the top of the water and gently remove all the leaves and place them in another container. All the sand would sink to the bottom of the pot. Then she would dump out the water and repeat the procedure until the water was free of sand. It was a lot of work, but well worth it in the end.  I sauteed our lovely chard with garlic, olive oil, touch of salt, and a pinch of red pepper flakes.  Yummy! 

Again, I cannot thank my Mom enough for all of her kitchen knowledge, but most importantly, for all the love she poured into demonstrating this knowledge to my sister and myself.  Her love of cooking lives on in “us.”

Afterthought:  The little label attached to the twisty tie on the chard had a recipe for pasta with chard, named Pasta Francine.  At the end of the recipe, it says “Molto bene!”, which in Italian means “very good.”
“Molto bene” for rainbow chard!

Summer’s End and Lady Paula

It is late August and the sun is already casting that certain nostalgic light.  There is just something about this entrance into fall.  Summer’s end and my heart recalls lovely Donna Paula.

In Italian, Donna Paula means “Lady Paula”. You pronounce Paula like Pow-a-la. I do not know why to this day, but she has left her imprint on my soul.

I remember meeting her when I was a child. She was a friend of my grandmother’s.
My mother always spoke very highly of her. My mother loved Lady Paula very much.
My mother spent summers with her away from her own mother.

Lady Paula was a typical looking older Italian woman. She was short and stout. Her hair was tied into a bun. She wore baggy cotton dresses. She had the biggest and most impressive vegetable garden that I have ever seen in my life. She lived in a small and simple house and the garden on the side of the house was almost as big as the house itself. 

My Mom and Dad would take my sister and me to visit her. She would pluck fat, deep orange carrots out the earth, rinse them off under the outside spigot, and hand them to us to eat as if they were cotton candy. Indeed, they tasted as sweet!

We continued to visit her and she grew older and older. She lived alone. It was the summer that I turned 18 and I had just earned my driver’s license. I decided to visit her on my own. I knocked on her door. She opened it and looked right at me and asked who I was. She was losing her eyesight. I announced, ” It is Geraldin-a, Donna Paula, Grace’s daughter”. Her arms were strong as she embraced me at the door. She invited me in. She said she was about to begin making her dinner. On the counter was an opened box of spaghetti half full, a bottle of olive oil, and 1 unpeeled clove of garlic.

She told me that this was an easy dish. She said you could any vegetable. “Come-a with me”, she said with her endearing Italian accent. It was dusk on a sultry August day. I recall the rich smell of the earth that is so familiar as evening approaches. She grabbed two small zucchini off the vine. I was impressed with how well she moved through the garden and back up the 4-5 steps to the kitchen with her limited vision.

She put the pasta on to boil. She minced the garlic and simmered it in some olive oil.
She thinly sliced the zucchini fresh from its source. She quickly moved the zucchini through the garlic and oil. She poured this mixture over the pasta. Then she carefully sprinkled it with parmesan and just a dash of salt and pepper.

“Come-a join me. Mangia!” She stood in front of her stove holding the fragrant bowl of zucchini and pasta and smiled.

We sat together, in silence, eating our small feast. From her kitchen window outlined with crisp white curtains, I watched the beginnings of the sunset over the garden.

Lady Paula would not have been labeled as a beautiful woman by today’s standards, but to me, she was beyond beautiful. Lady Paula possessed the “simple” beauty of a radiant spirit.

To this day, whenever I begin to sauté garlic in olive oil, the aroma brings me back to that summer day in her kitchen. I see her gentle smile. I hear the love in her voice as she says to me, “Come-a. Sit down. Mangia!”.