Some of my fondest memories are wrapped up in tasty packages. In fact, not that long ago some friends of mine started listing their favorite food memories, and I quickly realized that my list was embarrassingly long. It was also wonderfully rich, though, since the items were all paired with specific people. When I dream about the Nime Chow from Apsara’s in Providence, I hear my best college friends laughing and talking all at once. I’m still amazed by the perfect walnut meringue that finished a gorgeous dinner with my husband and parents-in-law at Greens in San Francisco. When I think of favorite specific foods, they always fill my memory with favorite friends as well.
Dominating the taste memory hierarchy, however, are my childhood foods of epic proportions. These are the ones I loved, but only had on special occasions. Mind you, we had lovely things to eat all the time – kids at school would always want to trade for my homemade cookies. There was just something big about those apple pies or dinner rolls that graced the table less frequently. You can count on it that all the cousins on my mother’s side still dream about our Nana’s incomparable chocolate chip cookies. I still remember sitting at my grandfather’s kitchen table, eyeing my Beautiful Aunt Mary’s killer Irishbread and waiting for the moment when I could have a piece. These memories are interwoven with anticipation and celebration, which makes them heavy hitters.
At Easter I make some of the foods from these childhood memories, to share them with my friends and my children… because otherwise I’d eat them all by myself in about an afternoon.
Our first allstar Easter Item in today’s review is Mum’s cinnamon rolls, batting a stunning career average of .400. These rolls are crazy good. Here they are, progressing from dough to first rise, to second rise, to mostly eaten:
This year I proved to myself that you can, actually, start these rolls at 8:30 pm the night before. Something in me thinks that you shouldn’t begin working with yeast after about 4, unless you’re making pizza dough.
The second (and last) item in this year’s review: Lena’s Ricotta Pie. This treat is legendary in our family. Every Christmas and Easter morning, without fail, we would visit our next door neighbors. They were remarkable Italian cooks; when we walked in to their kitchen on those mornings, the house would be filled with the aroma of the 900 lasagnas and dishes they were making for the family dinner. It would be about 10 am, and they would place before us on those holiday mornings an arrangement of a dozen different types of cookies. COOKIES. 10 am. And as if that were not enough, people, they would ask us if we would like a glass of ginger ale. Have a heart attack.
Easter was super special, though, because they would make Ricotta Pie. It’s a pastry that really looks a lot more like a calzone than a pie, and they’d cut it into 1 inch wide slices of pure heaven. They only made this on Easter – we’d have it that morning, and sometimes they’d give us one to take home. We’d savor it, and then settle in for the long year’s wait till the next Easter. It was inconceivable to have it, say, in July. Something terrible would happen.
Here’s what it looks like in the process:
Before my first California Easter, I called Lena to ask if I might be able to get her recipe. She said sure – and within a week she’d FedExed me not only the recipe, but two of the ricotta pies as well. On the recipe she wrote out the measurements for the sweet ricotta filling, and then just wrote “use pie crust mix,” and the temperature. Well she had a little too much faith in me, because I wasn’t sure what that meant, so I used a pie crust mix and filled it, and boy! was that ricotta pie chubby. The proportions were all wrong. So I called her again and told her what I did. She nearly cried laughing and choked out, “Laura – that recipe makes 12 pies!!” Ah yes. So here’s the finished product:
Now why do I write these posts at night? I really have to go to bed, and I’m starving.