In this season of the year, even though I wake up early, the sun is already high up in the sky and a warm breeze moves my linen curtains bringing an intense scent from the blossomed lavender bushes in the garden.
I still remember when they were planted, when my Mom – wearing one of her long Bordeaux dresses – extracted from some earthen pots the little lavender plants which became big bushes within a few years, purple in the month of July. She had just come back from one of the best journeys of her life: a long exploration of Provence, through the little villages of Southern France and immense flowered landscapes. I travelled with her, through the stories she collected in a little raw paper notebook. I read her stories, written with her untidy handwriting in upward-leaning lines of words, revealing her untamable enthusiasm and optimistic personality. Unstable, a graphologist would say. Awesome, I say.
Sometimes words are better than images to tell a story and she is very good at that. I imagine her sitting at the shadow of the trees bordering the typical French countryside, engrossed in writing in her notebook.
That summer I was in Milan, where I used to live. Now that time seems to me tremendously distant: seven years have passed but they seem many more to me.
That time was for me the period we all experience in our life, sooner or later, when we try to understand who we will become when we grow up. I am not sure that I have completely got over that period but I am sure that today I am exactly where I ought to be.
I am in front of this sheet writing words, pressing these worn-out keys with almost erased letters. If I could turn back time, I would also like to write on a raw paper notebook like my Mom’s, instead of having a folder full of files containing pages I sometimes doubtfully fixed on my laptop, during this last year.
Some white sheets made me nervous and others absorbed me, dragging me into the stories I have told you. I learnt to share much of myself with you. I tried to photograph words and the most beautiful light.
A year has passed since The Freaky Table began and, if I think about it, I feel once again my eyes tired. I demanded much from them every day – I cannot avoid watching things.
I took many pictures, some of them with my camera and others with my mind only, but both exist within myself and belong to me like a puzzle revealing – once it is completed – a window on the world around me.
I line up words, I tide up the lavender flowers scattered on the table, I stand on the chairs to look things from above. I keep silent for many many hours because this is my meditation, more than anything else.
During this year’s Nominations to the Saveur Blog Awards (still open until July 18 – I’d be grateful if you’d take a quick second to vote my blog!!) I am receiving many words: loving messages and appreciation of what has been done and shared in this space which I sometimes forget that it is virtual and so dangerously inconcrete.
That is why I want to thank you. I thank you deep from my heart, because you make this dream concrete – this dream I took refuge in.
Withering delicate flowers, the light filtering from the curtains and creating an impermanent and unrepeatable effect, traces of caster sugar on the kitchen desk: this is what I like to tell and maybe without this space I would have not understood it well enough to make it a life project and a job.
I feel enormously grateful for having allowed myself the possibility to live this way. And, at the same time, I am grateful to those who have shared part of this with me, through their words or presence.
I have always shared a lot with my Mom. She is special in a way which can be understood only by those whose Mom is also a friend. I could say so much about her, a wise woman and artist, but words would never be enough to describe the special relationship we have.
Writing has always been an intense connection between us; we have been writing many letters to each other in all these years, especially when we were apart.
Sometimes I would receive her letters by mail when I was somewhere else: they reached me in Paris, in Milan and even in Tuscany… Some other times I would find them under my pillow, before going to bed.
Carefully chosen paper, untidy lines always leaning upwards, the intense lavender scent… of the little dried flowers scattered in the envelope… that scent would always bring me back home to her from wherever I was. Scents can awaken the most subconscious olfactory memories – we all know that – and lavender is the scent that most of all reminds me of my mother, her perfumed wrists and her wooden drawers full of drawing paper.
Rubbing a lavender twig on the wrists used to be a simple way to obtain not only a nice perfume but also a well-known natural remedy with antiinflammatory, analgesic and sedative properties, among the others.
One of the pages of my Mom’s diary describes the market in Sault, a very little and colorful village in Provence. Small girls with braided hair sell home-made lavender cakes in that market.
These few lines are enough to inspire me a little celebration cake. The lavender bushes in the garden are in bloom and their very strong aroma transforms in the palate into an almost spicy taste – a nice contrast with the bitterness of dark chocolate and the freshness of coconut, which confers it a soft and wet texture.
The warm lavender-scented breeze arriving at my window where the curtain gently flaps reminds me that everything – even the smallest and most delicate things – are in constant and continuous movement.
I celebrate this life, the journeys which transformed us and all of you who have read me so far.
- 1 coconut (I used a small/medium sized one)
- 700 ml water
- 1 little bunch of dried lavender / half cup of buds
- 1 egg at room temperature
- 80 g caster sugar
- 50 ml coconut oil + 1 tbsp
- 1 pinch of salt
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 2 tsp lavender powder
- 50 ml lavender-flavored coconut milk (instructions below)
- 100 g coconut flour (made with fresh coconut)
- 50 g rice flour
- 6 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
- 70 g dark chocolate (70% cocoa)
- A knob of butter to grease the molds
- 4 tbsp of lavender-flavored coconut cream (instructions below)
- 50 g coconut flour (made with fresh coconut)
- 2 tbsp of icing sugar
- 1 tsp of lavender powder
- Remove the lavender buds from the stems and divide them into two parts. Bring 700 ml of water to 90° C, remove from the heat and add one part of lavander (about 3 or 4 teaspoons). Let it steep for 4-5 minutes, then filter the water and let it chill.
- Open the coconut, remove the shell and extract the pulp. Rinse and cut it into small pieces using a knife.
- Place the coconut pieces in a food processor and mince them well until they become like a thin flour. Add the lavender-flavored water little by little continuing to blend the mixture until it becomes a creamy milk. Leave it in the blender for 10 minutes.
- Filter the milk in a large bowl by using a tightly-knit gauze and squeeze it very well to separate the liquid from the coconut pulp. Keep the coconut flour aside (I obtained about 150 g) to make the cake's dough and the frosting.
- Pour the milk in a large covered glass jar and place it in the fridge for one night / 12 hours. During this time the fat part of the milk (a dense cream) will naturally separate from the liquid part, raising to the surface.
- Gather the cream by using a spoon and place it in a bowl, in the fridge. (I obtained about 3-4 spoonful of cream but the result depends on the size of the coconut you use).
- Preheat the static oven to 180 C°/350 F°.
- Grind the additional lavender buds which you have kept aside in a mortar & pestle or spice grinder until you obtain a fine powder.
- Separate the yolk from the white and keep the white aside. In a big bowl whip the yolk with the sugar and add 50 ml of coconut oil until it becomes well mixed and smooth.
- Crush the chocolate and melt it in a water bath or in the microwave adding a tablespoon of coconut oil to keep it smooth. Set the chocolate aside and let it chill slightly before adding it to the mixture.
- Add one teaspoon of lavender powder and one pinch of salt.
- Add the coconut milk and stir the mixture which should be liquid.
- Sift together the cocoa powder, the baking powder and the rice flour little by little into the mixture, stirring well until it is well mixed.
- Add the coconut flour (crumbling any lump with your fingers) and mix until it becomes a uniform (and a little bit dense) mixture.
- Beat the egg white until it becomes stiff and add it to the mixture, stirring gently to obtain a homogeneous cream.
- Grease the molds very well and pour the mixture into them, in two identical parts, each one in its mold. The molds must be filled to half of their capacity.
- Bake in the oven at 180 C°/350F° for 20 minutes. Let it chill without taking it out of the oven, keeping it half-closed.
- Once they are cold, slice the mini cakes horizontally in halves and into two equal parts, thus obtaining four parts. You can cut them by using a knife or a fine cotton thread ( I obtained just 3 parts because I divided the dough ¾ in a mold and ¼ in the other, but if you divide it into two identical parts you will get 4 parts).
- Mix the coconut cream (the part which you have kept aside in the fridge) by using a whisk until it becomes smooth, removing any lump.
- Add a teaspoon of lavender powder and the icing sugar, stirring well.
- Add 50 g of coconut flour little by little until the cream thickens (If it turns out too dense you can add a little bit of coconut milk; otherwise, if the coconut cream is not enough, you can easily find a tin of coconut cream at the supermarket - a little bit of fresh spreading cheese will work, too!).
- Place the 4 layers of the cake in a tray and spread each layer with the frosting using a spatula, then put the layers back together.
- Level out the cream around the top edge, then place it in the fridge for 30 minutes.
- Garnish the mini cake with some fresh flowers to make it beautiful before serving.