I can recognize the stones and count the steps down the old alley. The warm air surrounds me, changing its smell according to the wind; it is sweetish today. The little flowers are ready. I have been going up and down from the village endless times, since I was wearing yellow boots and the smile of a three-year-old child. When I grew older I took shortcuts through small and secret passages, which were hardly visible among the fields of prickly pears; each season they would disappear and I had to find another way down. It became usual for me to think that I would follow a certain direction, no matter if I found bushes, intricate brambles, cypresses and hidden nets on the way.There used to be a gate, too, and I remember staying there for a long time, alone, singing a song I invented right there for the unaware sheep which were scattered on the other side. I was sure they were listening to me! My parents heard me singing from a distance, satisfied of my early initiative and self-sufficiency. I always think about “going down” when I decide to go somewhere, because this place is like a small cake: the road ends at the castle on top of it, like so many ancient villages here in Tuscany. When I am on top of the village I can see things from above, as if I was almost flying. Sometimes swallows virtuously rear in front of me and hordes of pigeons fly very close. I discern the sea-line and much closer – only in a certain time of the year – a kind of white and soft cloud.
That’s where the sweetish smell comes from. Blossomed almond trees are a gift suspended between the little cake-shaped village and the wide valley which softly descends towards the seashore. I want to see them closer and walk on the path which collects them and gave its name to a small house. I stroll around, still wearing boots – of a different size – and raising my nose, because I like to smell the way wind turns. Now it’s the sweetish bitterness of almond trees, then it’s a eucalypt breeze, then I turn around and here comes wild garlic. I walk swiftly, while the church bells always remind me what time it is. I can also hear insistent chirping in the background and the leaves moving – their sound reminds me of long silk dresses. The wind rarely lacks and while I come closer to the path which is covered by delicate flower petals, I realize that this wonder will last only briefly and I understand why the Japanese feel the same about cherry flowers: the impermanence of things and change as the natural evolution of any cycle… The wonder of petals falling as light, un-wet and scented snow. Almond flowers, the small house of almond trees, the path of almond trees, almond trees in bloom… it is a temporary, fragile and repeated sequence when I go down. The wind makes it last even shorter. As seasons change, nothing stays the same, so I sometimes go down, sometimes go up. Sometimes I go back home, sometimes I leave everything behind, as petals which are bound to fall.
Many years have passed since my parents – who didn’t have a car, as many Venetians didn’t at the time – came down here on a cold winter day to meet some friends. They noticed that little and hidden house: a shelter for lambs with a breach on one side to see what the weather was like outside. They could not imagine how many times they would go back there during their life, which later became also my life. When they saw this small house they thought it was a small ruined church but when they entered they discovered that it was just a tiny house, like the ones in fairy tales. They found an old lady once, holding a wooden stick and sitting besides the door. She was very old and they never saw her again. Nobody in the village remembered her, so they never knew if she was a vision or a woman in flesh and blood. Later on, that almost ruined place was recovered and settled back. The rooms were very little, with a wooden rickety stair leading upstairs in two more rooms. There was a small fireplace on the corner and a black grapevine outside the main door, to cover the entrance. A tiny opening on the wall upstairs resembled a Gothic window.
My steps creak while I walk back on the path; the ground is full of branches, leaves, acorns and fallen almonds.
Sometimes I’m short of breath because I want to go up quickly. The wind took the almond blossoms away. Now other trees will bloom, all we need is patience. Raising my nose, I watch the empty windows of the old castle and the sky behind them, the big agave flower fallen down and the oleanders. I find rosemary in bloom and oranges still sticking to their branches. There are also palm trees supporting faded mimosas. Going up on the same alley, I see the giant mallow, the purple iris flowers on the short stone walls, grapefruits which nobody collects on the ground under the big tree. I could count the stones but I prefer to look up and watch my home window bordering with the clear sky. A red cat crosses my way and another one sits still on the other side. Small indigo flowers make me look somewhere else, on the step of a small stair where a lizard is warming up at the sunshine. The air is still cold and enters my nose. I walk up and find the same old writing: Medieval XIII c. door, Piazza Padella (‘padella’ meaning ‘pan’, its real name!!) number five, on sale… I walk up some more, Via Di Corte number one, two – my view embraces the valley, snapdragons in bloom over the arch of the main door. A little further up I find an arch and then a dark alley, leading up to the castle.
I go back home and take away my woolen shawl, while some petals fall from my hair. The smell of blossomed almond trees is still on me and it is so good that I want to taste it.
- 100 g Sicilian organic unpeeled almonds
- 500 ml mineral water
- 1 pinch pink salt
- 1 tbsp agave juice (*or some other sweetener at will / optional)
- 500 ml fresh almond milk
- 3 tbsp maize starch
- 3 tbsp refined sugar
- 1 organic lemon grated peel
- 1 tsp cinnamon + as needed to garnish
- Grain almonds as needed to garnish
- 200 ml whipped cream
- Peel the almonds by boiling water in a pot, pouring the almonds and leaving them in the pot for ⅔ minutes. Drain the water and remove the brown peel which should come off easily.
- Pour 500 ml of cool and clean (possibly mineral) water in a glass container and add the peeled almonds. Leave the almonds soaking in the water for about 12 hours.
- When soaking is over, rinse the almonds and keep the water aside.
- Put the almonds in a food processor and mince them, adding all the water little by little and a pinch of pink salt. Mince well until you obtain a white and mellow milk. Let it rest in the glass container for at least 2 hours.
- Filter the milk by using a tightly-knit gauze to separate the liquid from the almond pulp (*the pulp can be used as almond flour to make cookies, muffins, cakes etc.)
- Taste the milk and add agave juice, honey or maple syrup as needed. Pour it in a glass bottle and store it in the fridge for ¾ days.
- Sift maize starch in a pot with sugar and cinnamon.
- Add almond milk little by little, always whisking to avoid clotting.
- Add lemon peel and place the pot on the stove at low heat, always whisking.
- Cook for a few minutes almost to boiling point, thus obtaining a dense cream.
- Pour in small cups and let it cool down.
- Garnish the puddings with a puff of whipped cream and sprinkle with cinnamon and a pinch of grain almonds.