“You have a little something on your cheek.,” an affable customer mentions to me as our paths cross outside the bakery. “You might want to, you know,” she indicates wiping her face with her hand. “Just in case you’re going somewhere…” she calls after me. “It’s not bad- it looks like, maybe butter, or cornmeal…?”
I toss a “thank you” over my shoulder and wave.
The side view mirror of my car confirms it is indeed cornmeal with a hint of butter and a smudge of brown sugar. Rummaging through my bag for my car keys, I stumble upon a small ziploc bag of cherries formerly known as fresh. Earmarked for a snack, only to be replaced by a handful of day old potato chips, the poor cherries deserved better. As I explain to the cherries, I am a creature of convenience, nibbling on cake scraps and bottom of the bowl pieces of fruit, occasionally stale potato chips. Bakers can’t be choosers.
Cavalierly tossing my water bottle and car keys on the dining room table, I can’t help but wince at the not-so-subtle olive oil stain on my recently repaired dining room chair. A Google search encourages me to apply a small paste fashioned out of baking soda and water to the stain. Cautiously optimistic, I do as Google instructs. What Google doesn’t tell me is that the bag of cornmeal in front of the baking soda has a slight hole in it. My sneakers crunch all the way to the dining room and back again. I need a vacation.
Inspired by the trail of cornmeal and the ignored cherries, in less than an hour, a tray of oven roasted fruit and a cornmeal olive oil cake have whisked me off to the tiny village of Radda in Chianti. No passport required, no long line at TSA, just some fruit, a good jug of olive oil, and a 9” cake pan.
Radda in Chianti is known for superlative wines and olive oils. It is a medieval village with haphazard architecture, local shopkeepers torn from a page out of Central Casting, and local restaurants sharing space with grocery stores. One constant during my stay in Radda was an olive oil and cornmeal cake spiked with salt and served with fresh fruit. It was both gritty and moist, a little bit savory, just sweet enough. I consumed triangles of it with morning espresso, and kidnapped slivers of it to combat mid-afternoon hunger. When you travel, some of the best souvenirs are the food memories that you tuck away and revisit. Recreating a travel experience through a recipe is indeed a mini vacation. As tempted as I am to stay, I’m due back in the dining room to check on the progress of the baking soda paste. I fear the olive oil is winning.
Professional Pie-isms & Seasonal Sarcasm