Ciao’d with a cup of mulled cider.


Just as a rose smells sweetest before its demise, autumn flaunts its fleeting nature. This season of tailgate picnics (see you soon, CU Buffs!) and leaves crackling underfoot urges us to recognize time’s ephemeral quality and to treasure each moment.

After sending off our son to his freshman year of college with exhortations along the lines of “Best 4 years of your life!” my husband and I returned to a house resounding with silence. Rather than answering the morning (every morning) call, “Hey, mom, I can’t find my Vans/backpack/car keys,” I sit with my cup of coffee and gaze at the garden. The autumn wind rustles through the trees, their branches becoming barer with each passing day. The wind seems to have sucked the energy out of the house, too.

Teenage boys exude distinct energy. It’s all consuming, lurching from pound-my-chest masculine bravado to outright immature silliness. One evening in August, I heard Van Morrison’s Brown Eyed Girl blaring from the speakers in our yard and my son’s friend shouting over it, “Happiest song of the summer!”

Okay, let’s take a step back, shall we? Brown Eyed Girl was written in 1967. We listened to it in college, and it was throwback even then. But some things gloriously transcend time. Brown Eyed Girl is a song about youth, growing up, and okay, it’s about “making love in the green grass,” too. It is a paean to memory. It’s nostalgic. How perfect that the boys would be playing this song on the cusp of their yet-traveled adventures.

I will miss that riotous and richly textured boy energy. Thanksgiving is just around the corner, though. I can already hear their voices trilling in the crisp autumn air. I smell their weed, oh I mean chicken katsu from the Hawaiian take-out place. I feel the pleasant softness of well-worn sweatshirts when we hug, and I see them tossing lacrosse balls (and dice for beer die). I can taste their joy.

In the meantime, speaking of ephemeral, the last of the season’s tomatoes hang heavily on the vine. My friend harvested hers this week and bestowed me with a basket of red, ripe treasures. I’m a bit tired of Caprese salad and gazpacho, so I took an autumn spin and made tomato bread pudding. Layered with cheese and laced with herbs and garlic, it’s just the thing for a warm, cozy dinner.

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Bread pudding is traditionally made from stale bread. If you have it, great. If not, a fresh crusty baguette or country loaf will do just fine. If you’re the traditional sort, toast the fresh bread slices in a 350F oven for about 15 minutes.

Serves 4 to 6

½ pound country bread, sliced about ½-inch thick
3 large, ripe, tomatoes, sliced (about 1 pound)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano
3 teaspoons chopped fresh parsley
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 ounces Fontina or Gruyere cheese, grated (about ¾ cup)
2 ounces grated Parmesan cheese
4 large eggs
2 cups milk (low-fat okay)

Preheat the oven to 350F. Lightly grease a 2-quart baking dish with olive oil or butter.

Layer half of the bread slices in the baking dish. Top with half the tomato slices. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and half the herbs and garlic. Top with half the cheese. Repeat the layers.

Beat together the eggs and milk. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and pour over the bread and tomatoes. Bake until puffed and golden, about 50 to 60 minutes. Let sit 5 minutes before serving. Adapted from The New York Times.

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Ciao'd while watching the early (tennis) rounds at Indian Wells. 

The syllabus for my cooking school curriculum beaconed that on this day, we would learn "Italian Baking with Carol Field." An elegant woman with cropped hair and lively eyes stood leaning on the counter in front of the class and told stories about Italy. Carol recollected knocking on bakers' doors in the middle of the night when bakers do their baking and begging to be let in so she could watch, learn, and record recipes, some of which were centuries' old. I was riveted. But she really had me when she talked about writing, and how it important it is to share stories in ways that both inform and inspire. Indeed, in an article about Carol years later, she said that she loved to cook but it was the writing that grounded her. For this, she is my sister forevermore. 

Carol passed away a few days ago. She suffered a stroke. Her husband passed away a few weeks before her death. Married 56 years and having shared a life full of love for Italy and each other, I think she simply wanted to join him in the Italy of the afterlife. Riposare in pace, Carol. 

I am not a baker. Bread, about which Carol was an expert (check out her seminal book The Italian Baker), stung me with apprehension and fear. Many of her recipes charmed true bakers with their instructions to prepare a biga (starter) and then do this and that and more on the way to a crusty bread with spongy, chewy, airy crumb. But Carol was kind enough to include recipes that plebes like me could make successfully (and deliciously), too.

To wit, her olive bread. This recipe is from Chiavari, a town on the Ligurian coast famous for its olives. The bread is infused with olive paste which gives it an appealing richness and an interesting purplish-black hue. It smells heavenly when it's baking. The flavor is exceptional. This olive bread reminds me of the bread served in trattorias on visits to Liguria and beyond. I am always inspired by the ways seemingly simple foods make such spectacular impressions. 

My fellow novice bakers, this recipe is a can-do, I promise. Give it a try in memory of a very special woman. Carol Field, a true paisana.



Makes one loaf

8 oz. pitted black oil-cured olives
2 1/2 teaspoons dry yeast
1 cup plus 3 teaspoons warm water
3 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
12 to 16 pitted black olives, for garnish
1 egg white, beaten

Put the olives in a food processor (use a mini processor, if you have one) and process until smooth.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the yeast with the warm water. Let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes. Stir in the olive paste.

In a medium bowl, mix the flour and salt, and slowly stir into the yeast/olive paste. Transfer to a bowl of a mixer fitted with a dough hook. Mix until the dough comes together and is smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a work surface and hand knead for a few minutes. 

Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in size, about 90 minutes.

Transfer the dough from the bowl to a work surface. Punch down and shape into an oval. Place a piece of parchment paper on top of the dough, cover with a towel, and let rise until doubled, about 45 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 450°F.

Push the whole olives into the dough and brush with the egg white. Line a baking sheet or baking stone with parchment paper. Slide the dough onto the parchment paper and bake for 10 minutes.  Reduce heat to 400°F and bake for 30 minutes more. Transfer the bread to a rack and let cool. Recipe adapted from Carol Field, The Italian Baker, HarperCollins, 1995.