Ciao’d with a slice of cinnamon streusel coffee cake.

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When fall arrives in Northern California, those of us from the Northeast go wild for the snippets of autumn color that illuminate the Japanese maple, ginkgo and persimmon trees. These trees are diminutive in size but they carry their voluptuous colors well.  “We finally have a season!” we exclaim to fellow Nor’easters at the market, in the gym, around the neighborhood. As if the back of the year, punctuated by glittering rain, luminous sunlight, shawls of fog and salty bay breezes, was hard labor. 

As our East coast friends prepare for the first frost, removing screens from porches and doors, mounding decaying leaves around the hostas, and ensuring that the plow man has them on his schedule, we bask in the pumpkin glow of a generous, warm autumn. No cold or rain in sight – so far.

From where I sit and watch from the Adirondack chair on the terrace, the Japanese maple stretches its slim limbs, reaching for the autumn sky and the waning sun. The lower branches dip and drip their color but it’s the ruddy red leaves hanging on the new-growth branches at the top of the tree that catch my eye.  When the breeze ruffles through, bringing the leaves to life, they shimmer like ruby earrings when a head tips in laughter.   The finches and wrens chirp and bob from branch to branch. 

Soon a billowing wind or weighty rain will send the leaves to the ground where they will mulch the grass until the gardener comes and blows them away. The summer birds will take flight to warmer climes. The crows remain though. Sitting heavily on the bare branches, they are camouflaged in the inky morning light. 

I don’t mourn the falling leaves. Their fleeting lush green and then riotous rush of color leave behind a broad, fresh view of the western horizon. November rain will slick the branches. The tree will stand stoically in the thin light. The hummingbird feeders will sway silently.  Once the woodpeckers return, they’ll visit – and rule - the suet feeder, scattering the nuthatches and brown creepers with their raucous laughing calls. 

Japanese maples do not produce sap, as I am sure you know, but the change of season gets me thinking about maple syrup and the sugar maples from whence it comes. While sugaring season occurs in the spring, maple syrup enjoys its beyond-pancakes moment in the fall.  It caramelizes roasted acorn squash, slicks bacon (you’ll never go back), glazes holiday ham. It’s a natural complement to other sweet flavors. Hence these Maple-Chocolate Chip Blondies. I gave a batch to my college son at Family Weekend. “They’re the bomb, mom,” which means he thoroughly approved. I think you will, too.

Note: if you’re looking for an alternative or a complement to Thanksgiving pie, these blondies are just the ticket. Make them now and freeze until the big day.

🍁. 🍁. 🍁


Makes sixteen 2” blondies

1 1/4 cups unbleached flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1/3 cup maple syrup
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup bittersweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350F. Lightly grease an 8-inch square pan.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and baking powder.

Melt the butter and brown sugar together in a saucepan over low heat or in a heatproof bowl in the microwave. Remove from the heat and stir in the maple syrup. Transfer to a large bowl, let cool, and then add the eggs and vanilla and stir to combine.

Fold the flour mixture into the butter mixture being careful not to over mix. Stir in the nuts and chocolate chips.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake until the top is golden brown and shiny, about 20 to 25 minutes. Do not overbake. A bit of a jiggle in the center is okay. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack and cool to room temperature before cutting. Recipe slightly adapted from King Arthur Flour.

Note: Store the browning at room temperature for up to one week, or in an airtight container for up to 3 months.


Ciao'd with a cup of hot cocoa.

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Holidays drift upon memories and traditions. We hang baubles on the tree and a holly wreath on the door. We collect pine cones and make pomanders. We sing carols and stuff stockings. Well, maybe "we" don't but you may. Amongst the flurry of holiday activities, I am willing to bet that one tradition reigns supreme: baking cookies. If you are a holiday cookie baker, chances are you harbor a favorite, must-have, it's-not-Christmas-without cookie recipe. I know I do.

My Italian aunts called them simply Chocolate Christmas Cookies. In reality, they are sweet, rich bites of Puglia, the Italian region from which my family hails. The cookies are spiced with cinnamon, cloves and allspice, studded with toasted walnuts, chocolate morsels, and raisins, and spiked with a healthy dose of bourbon that knits the ingredients into rich and complex goodness. You can't help but swoon.

I published this recipe last December but I have had so many people request it again that I'm sharing it once more. For the recipe as well as more about my aunts who bestowed this holiday ritual upon me, simply click here

Buon Natale. May you have a happy and delicious holiday.  

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Ciao'd with the scent of hyacinths in the air. 

Let's toast to the moms. The moms who cooked dinner every night and shared it around the table. The moms who weren't comfortable in the kitchen but managed to put food on the table anyway. Let's toast Marcella Hazan, a mom herself who, let's face it, cooked us all under the table with dishes she prepared for her husband, Victor, and her son, Giuliano. Iconic dishes like her tomato sauce with onion and butter, roast chicken with lemons, and white bean soup with garlic and parsley. I know, the recipes sound so simple. They are. It's the finesse with the ingredients (always fresh and kept to a minimum) and the clear, straightforward instructions that jolt the recipes to remarkable. 

So it is with this chocolate dessert. It's called spuma which translates loosely to foam. A heavenly concoction of semi-sweet chocolate, eggs, and cream, with a spark of rum and coffee, spuma alights between a thick and rich French mousse and a soft and floaty British fool. The middle is the miracle. As Goldilocks taught us, that means spuma is just right. 

If you are inclined to whip up a dessert for your mom next Sunday, perhaps consider Marcella's Spuma di Cioccolato. It's complex yet familiar, sweet and just a bit bitter, and unabashedly authentic. Just like our moms. 



6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
4 large eggs, separated
1/4 cup strong espresso coffee
2 tablespoons dark rum
2/3 cup very cold heavy cream

In a 250 degree oven, melt the chocolate in a small saucepan. Alternately, place the chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl. Heat on medium-high for 1 minute. Remove and stir. Continue heating in 15-second increments until the chocolate completely melts and has a smooth consistency.

In a large bowl, combine the sugar and egg yolks and beat until pale yellow. Stir in the melted chocolate, coffee, and rum. 

In a medium bowl, whip the cream until it is stiff. Fold it into the chocolate-and-egg-yolk mixture.

In a medium bowl, beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks and then fold into the mixture. When all the ingredients have been gently but well combined by hand, spoon the mixture into goblets, custard cups, or any other suitable and attractive serving container. Refrigerate overnight. (The dessert can be prepared 3 or 4 days ahead of time, but after 24 hours it tends to wrinkle and lose some of its creaminess.) Recipe by Marcella Hazan, The Classic Italian Cookbook,  Ballantine Books, 1973. 

NOTE: Don't exceed the recommended amounts of rum and coffee, or you may find a liquid deposit at the bottom of the dessert.


Ciao'd while catching up on Big Little Lies.

Buccellato is a Tuscan cake that accompanies the ritual of a child's confirmation. Confirmation is the sacrament that completes the process of initiation into the Catholic community. Marcella Hazan's recipe comes from Lunigiana, an area nestled between the mountainous districts of Tuscany, Emilia-Romagna, and Liguria. She calls it "a good, simple cake." And it is. I like to serve the buccellato in the spring as an alternative to shortcake, with the first, sweet strawberries and poofs of whipped cream.  Marcella's recipe calls for mixing in a food processor. I used a mixer. 


Makes one 9-inch round cake (serves 8 to 10)

3 cups flour, plus flour for dusting the baking pan
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted, plus butter for greasing the pan
The grated peel of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 cup whole milk

Turn the oven on to 350 degrees.

Smear the inside of a round 9- by 2-inch cake pan liberally with butter, sprinkle all over with flour, then turn over the pan, tapping it against a work surface to shake off excess flour. 

In a small saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Do not let it simmer. 

Combine in a mixing bowl, the flour, baking powder, and a pinch of salt. 

In a large bowl, beat the eggs and sugar until the pale yellow and fluffy. Beat in the melted butter, grated lemon zest, and the lemon juice, and continue beating. Beat in the flour mixture in three batches, alternating with the milk, beginning and ending with the flour until the batter is smooth.

Pour the batter into the pan; give the pan a shake to level off the batter; and bake in the upper middle level of the oven until the top of the cake has become colored a deep gold and a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean, about 50 minutes. 

Cool the cake in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes, then turn out onto the rack to cool completely. Adapted from Marcella Cucina, Marcella Hazan, HarperCollins, 1997.


Ciao'd with a beer and chili. It's the Super Bowl, y'all.



Marcella Hazan said, "This is so modest and elementary a cake it could almost be called naive." She's right that it's a simple, rustic dessert. It is also soooooo #dolcevitadelish. When I made the recipe, I was skeptical as the ratio of fruit to batter tipped to fruit. Would the cake be sticky and/or soggy? I should not have questioned Marcella's genius. The baked cake delivers layers of sweet pears with a custardy filling in between. It is honest and light. Serve the cake with a dollop of whipped cream and raspberries, if you wish, but it is truly perfection on its own. 

Serves 6

2 tablespoons butter, plus more for greasing the pan
1/4 cup dry, unflavored bread crumbs
2 pounds fresh pears, such as Bosc or Comice
2 large eggs
1/4 cup whole milk
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
A pinch of salt
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 350F. 

Grease a 9-inch cake pan with butter, and sprinkle the bread crumbs on it. Turn the pan upside down, and tap it or shake it lightly to get rid of the loose crumbs. 

Peel the pears. Cut them in half, and scoop out the seeds and core. Cut them into thin slices, no more than 1-inch thick.

In a medium bowl, beat the eggs, milk, and vanilla extract to combine. Add the sugar and salt, and continue beating to mix. Add the flour, mixing it thoroughly with the other ingredients. Add the pears to the bowl, and gently stir to coat with the batter. 

Pour the cake batter into the prepared pan, leveling it off with the back of a spoon or spatula. Dot the surface with the two tablespoons of butter. 

Bake the cake in the upper level of the oven until it is set in the middle and the top is lightly browned, about 45 minutes. Remove the cake from the pan as soon as it is cool and firm. Recipe adapted from Marcella Hazan, More Classic Italian Cooking, Knopf, 1978. 


Somebody once told me that regret is a wasted emotion. It was most likely a therapist, back in the day when I believed I could be something I am not. While regret has guppied through my head and heart more than I would care to admit, it does have a pale sunny side, too. Regret is a reminder to embrace the present. And Autumn wants nothing to do with regret.

So, let's embrace the present. Let’s peer out the kitchen window through the morning mist.  Let’s consider the leaf riding the window wiper on our commute. Let’s bake an Apple-Rosemary Crostata...

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