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Home is where the heart is

Heart-shaped patriotic cheesecake with raspberries, blueberries and mini marshmallows

Heart-shaped patriotic cheesecake with raspberries, blueberries and mini marshmallows

Today’s post is not about food or recipes. It is not about one of my silly stories either. Today’s post is about something important that recently happened to me.

You see that little blue book with the golden eagle on the cover? Yup, it is mine and the big news is… I’m proud to say that I’ve recently become an American citizen!

We have called the East Coast of the United States home for many years now and it has been a wonderful, caring and nurturing home to all of us. I’m very excited that I can now fully take part in the country’s political life by exercising my right to vote and give my contribution, no matter how small.

My family and most of my friends are very excited for me. A handful of friends who have never lived here asked me what all the fuss is about since there are so many other beautiful countries (including my native one) where one can live in.

Oh well, let me tell you in a few words what all the fuss is about.

I think that every country is beautiful in its own, unique way.  Every country has wonderful things to offer and each one has its own, peculiar problems and issues that need to be fixed. Italy is not an exception and neither is the US.

Patriotic cheesecake with raspberries, blueberries and mini marshmallows

Patriotic cheesecake with raspberries, blueberries and mini marshmallows

However, speaking of the US, the following are two of the most important reasons that, in my view, make this such a great country.

Firstly, this is a country where you feel and are truly free to be whoever and whatever you want to be without being judged or categorized. This is a country where freedom in terms of religious beliefs, sexual orientations and race are not just beautiful words on an historical piece of paper preserved behind a sheet of glass! Of course, this is a generalization because for starters the US is a huge country and your mileage may vary depending on where in the US you live. Also, there is no country on earth that is immune to intolerance and ignorance. Those are vicious diseases that afflict the entire humanity and it is up to any decent human being to give their contribution to contain them as much as possible. Let’s just say that, since we moved to the Eastern Coast of the US, we have been lucky enough to live in places and communities where human beings peacefully coexist and respect one another no matter where they come from, what they do for a living, what their religion or shade of skin is and regardless of whether they are straight or gay and – this – my friends, is a true blessing.

Secondly, the US is known as a land of opportunity. This is not just a promotional catchphrase. It is the sacrosanct truth. This is a country that values and fosters talent and skills above all and whose educational system and work environment are based on meritocracy and reward intelligent, honest and hard working individuals. If you are smart and willing to work hard and with integrity, the Star-Spangled Banner’s land will give you an opportunity and then it is up to you to seize it and make the best of it. Of course, this is once again a generalization, but I can talk only from experience and so far ours hasn’t proved me wrong.

Patriotic cheesecake with raspberries, blueberries and mini marshmallows

Patriotic cheesecake with raspberries, blueberries and mini marshmallows

Now, bear with me a little longer, if you will, and let me give you a brief account of the oath ceremony, which is the last step in the process to become a United States citizen at the end of which a judge of the competent local court hands you your certificate of naturalization. It is a very beautiful and touching ceremony.

That morning Stefano, Her Majesty and I along with 55 other people and their respective families showed up in court in a state of excitement mixed with mild apprehension since we didn’t know exactly what to expect.

The court staff was professional and courteous and the “check-in” formalities were carried out in an organized way. Once we were all accounted for, the judge showed up and gave us a beautiful speech about this country which made me feel proud to be about to become one of its citizens. After reciting the pledge of allegiance and being sworn in, each of us was called and delivered their certificate of naturalization. The judge was cheerful and patient and at the end of the ceremony he took the time to pose with each family for multiple photographs.

During the ceremony, I kept looking around me and I saw people of I don’t even know how many nationalities. At the beginning, I thought I had absolutely nothing in common with most of them. However, by the end of the ceremony, I realized I was wrong. All the people in that court room had something in common with one another. Not just something, but a dream that was about to come true for all of us and our families at the very same time.

Later that morning, I grabbed a cup of coffee with a friend. She is relatively new to my life (even though letting new people into my world is not exactly my forte) and she had been supportive all the way – she is the one who gave me the beautiful white, red and blue flower bouquet to celebrate the outcome of my English/History interview that I previously published photographs of.

That morning she surprised me with the work of art that you see in the last photograph of this post. It’s a heart-shaped map representing the three places on earth that I love the most: Rome, my hometown, New York, where it all began, and Fairfield, the place I now call home. It was so unexpected. And so thoughtful that it left me speechless and, believe me, it doesn’t happen often. I love this present more than I can say and I will always treasure it – along with the heartwarming thought of the friend who gave it to me.

I wish you and your families a wonderful and happy holiday season.

Francesca Xx

Home is where the heart is

Home is where the heart is

Chocolate Cake

Francesca's Chocolate CakeMy parents will be arriving today from Rome to spend the holidays with us. They will be at our house at around 4 pm and the first thing my mother is going to ask for is an espresso macchiato and something sweet to eat. She is chocolate crazy like my daughter. I truly believe that the sweet tooth skipped a generation with me! 🙂 Am I the only one who would choose pizza or nachos with cheese cream (for the record, I go totally crazy about those that are sold at movie theaters) over a slice of cake or a little chocolate without even thinking about it? Anyway… since Christmas is upon us and at Christmas anyone should be on their best behavior, I decided to bake a chocolate cake to make her happy and celebrate her arrival.

Before we talk ingredients and procedure, let me just thank my mother-in-law, Laura. This delicious recipe comes from her and she was gracious enough to share it with me. Thank you, Laura! 🙂

Ingredients:

4 eggs
3/4 of 1 cup, sugar
11 Tbsp, butter, softened
6.5 oz, dark chocolate
1/3 of 1 cup, flour
Powdered sugar for dusting

Directions:

Fill a medium-sized pot with hot tap water and put it on a very low heat on the stove. Put the chocolate in a small pot or a heatproof bowl (if you are using a chocolate tablet, reduce it to small pieces). When the water is about to boil, fit securely the small pot or the bowl over the larger pot. Let the chocolate melt, stirring occasionally and being very careful not to let the water come into contact with the chocolate, until you obtain a smooth sauce.

In the meanwhile, separate the egg yolks from the whites and put the latter aside in a separate bowl.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, place the sugar and the egg yolks and mix until they are perfectly blended. Add the butter and beat until the butter is completely blended with the egg mixture. Add the melted chocolate and mix for a few minutes. Add the flour and mix until well blended. Stop and scrape the bowl.

With a hand mixer, start beating the egg whites that you previously set aside. Start at a low speed and gradually increase the speed of the hand mixer until you obtain a thick and foamy mixture.

With the help of a spatula, slowly add the foamy mixture to the chocolate mixture, moving the spatula from the bottom to the top.

Pour the mixture into a greased and floured 10-inch round baking pan. Bake for 25/30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Let the cake completely cool and remove it for the pan. Put the cake on a big round serving plate and dust its top with the powdered sugar.

Enjoy! 🙂

Francesca's Chocolate Cake

A Heavenly Cake

I’m NOT a morning person! Never have been and never will be. Anyone who knows me (teachers, bosses, friends) can vouch for me. I think that the last time I got up early was when I was breastfeeding and, let’s be honest, I was not happy. If asked, I don’t even think I would be able to tell you exactly what is the color of the sky in the early morning. In the place where I live, this is such a big no no, but I can’t help it. That’s just who I am.

I no longer work in an office, but I still have a teeny problem: my daughter has to go to school. Every morning, after I manage in a way or another to send my daughter to school, my only neuron awake wanders across my mind begging only for two things: caffeine and something sweet. All the years I spent in the United States have not changed my breakfast habits: my palate loathes cereals and any kind of proteins and craves croissants, pastries, cookies or… a slice of cake.

The recipe I’m sharing with you today is of a cake that was one of Stefano’s favorites in his childhood. Growing up in Genoa, he loved to eat this cake on any occasion he could lay his hands on one. When we happen to be there visiting his family, we always make sure we stop by a pastry store called “Bar Magenta” where they make a version of this cake that is really to die for. So, if you are planning a trip to Genoa, just drop us an email if you need the address and then pay them a visit: you won’t regret it!

By the way, I wish I could take credit for this recipe! Although (please forgive my modesty) I do take credit for a pretty good execution of it 😉 Well, anyway, the recipe comes from lovely Patrizia, the daughter-in-law of the wife of my father-in-law… does this sound too complicated to follow? Yeah, it probably is, but the thing is – we are a pretty complicated family which found its own way to get along… but this is another story 🙂

Too much digression. Back to the recipe.

Ingredients:

1 ½ cup, powdered sugar
¾ of 1 cup, blanched almonds
4 eggs
12 and ½ Tbsp, butter, softened
½ cup, flour
⅓ cup, potato starch flour
1 pinch, salt
1 Tbsp, baking powder
½ Tsp, almond extract
Powdered sugar for dusting

Directions:

Put the almonds in a food processor or a blender and blend them until you obtain a smooth powder.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, place the sugar and the almond powder and mix until they are perfectly blended. Add the eggs and mix until the mixture is creamy and smooth. Add the butter and beat until the butter is completely blended with the egg mixture. Add the flour, the potato starch flour and the salt and mix for a few minutes. Finally, add the almond extract and the baking powder and mix until well blended. Stop and scrape the bowl.

Pour the mixture into a greased and floured 9-inch round baking pan. Do NOT preheat the oven. Bake at 350 F for 30/35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Let the cake completely cool and remove it for the pan. Put the cake on a big round serving plate and dust its top with the powdered sugar.

A few more words: I happen to have a sweet tooth only in the mornings. I usually finish my other meals with fruit (that’s what most people do in Italy). That does not mean that you cannot eat or serve this cake at dinner time. If you would like that Stefano suggest you a wine to go with it, just leave a comment below or drop him an email and he’ll be glad to!