It's Passover. It's Easter. And it looks like my daughter might be celiac.  What to do?

Using a toasted coconut crust presents a beautiful and delicious dessert -- so pretty on either an Easter or Passover holiday table. And no wheat used whatsoever!

I filled it first with a sweet layer of blackberry jam then covered that with a rich key lime custard with flecks of lime zest, plenty of schlagg on top and then just pile on the blackberries!
 
 
It was beautiful yesterday. Until it turned cold again. I spotted a few patches of daffodils just ready to open along Broadway and 212th Street. And out my back window a couple of early branches of forsythia have sprung some bright green leaves. 

The Farmers' Almanac predicts it will be a unseasonably chilly spring followed by record-breaking heat come July. Though the cardinals and blue jays keep me company each morning, there's not a robin to be found. The ground is still too hard for them to find any worms. Does this all mean we'll have to wait even longer for fresh berries and rhubarb, apricots and peaches, nectarines and plums?


For my family, it is thanks to our good friend Beverly that our Spring wait is so sweet and resplendent of what's to come. Last summer, as in every summer I've known Bev, waiting until each fruit is at its peak, Bev makes an incredible assortment of jams, jellies and syrups. She knows her stuff and has the astute patience to wait until just the right moment to nab those fruits and turn them into delightful concoctions to savor. Her blackberry jam can bring me directly to summer days picking berries along the trails in Block Island.
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To make our days a little brighter, as the sun is not cooperating, I reached back into my childhood, remembering the jelly rolls my mother often kept on her pantry shelf. Using a combination of buttermilk and yogurt, I made a light yellow cake with flecks of lemon zest, then slathered it with Bev's jam, rolled it up and let it rest for just a bit. Perfect with a spot of tea while we watch Spring arrive.

 
 
As in many Italian homes around Christmas time, the kitchen was always warm and active. Christmas Eve brought the traditional feast of the seven fishes. This was my father's night where one after another of his gourmet creations would outshine the last. But regardless of how magnificent the bass stuffed with crab and scallops  or the baked oysters with mushrooms and sherry may be, it was always the gigantic platter of linguine with his lobster sauce that we all devoured with utter bliss.
Of all my ten brothers and sisters, it was one thing we could always agree on ... which meant there was a lot of elbow heaving and shoulder shoving to fill up our plates at least twice. The race for more entailed a fine balance of savoring the first serving for all its tender, sweet glory and slurping quickly enough before my brothers cleaned the platter.
As our family grew with in-laws and offspring, opinion did not change on this topic. It just expanded.
So, too, my husband and then our children grew to look forward to linguine with lobster sauce on Christmas Eve. As parents passed and traditions changed, we now spend a lovely Christmas Eve with friends who put out a huge spread with a different cuisine featured every year.
However, the craving and expectation for lobster sauce remained in full splendor. So we moved it to New Year's Eve. Even then, as our tots became teens plus and left their parents for friends and others, the lobster sauce tradition continues ... just on another night.
Last weekend, we indulged.

Pop's Lobster Sauce
modified, of course, as we all do.

4 fresh lobsters, preferably hard shelled New England ones
bay leaves
black pepper, freshly ground
lemon
kosher salt
olive oil, about 3 tablespoons
anchovies, flat in olive oil, about 4-6
herbs de provence
dried currants
2 garlic cloves, crushed, minced and made into a paste with 1 tsp sea salt
a couple of quarts of my tomato sauce
linguine or squid ink linguine, cooked al dente in the lobster water and tossed with 3 tablespoons butter

In a stock pot, bring to boil a couple of inches of water with 2 bay leaves, a half lemon, about 1 tsp black pepper and 1 tsp kosher salt. When the water is rapidly boiling, add the lobsters head down, after clipping off any bands around the claws or body. Cover immediately and keep at high temperature for 4-5 minutes. Lower heat slightly and cook for another 3-5 minutes or until the shells are bright red. Do not overcook, as the lobster meat will cook again once in the sauce.

Remove the lobsters from the water, place in a colander and spray with cold water to slow the cooking. Set aside until the lobsters are cool enough to handle. Once they are, remove all the meat. As you do, catch any juices or liquids and place into the water in the stock pot. 

Warm a large pot over medium heat, add the olive oil and the anchovies, herbs and currants. Cook, stirring and crushing the anchovies for about 2 minutes, then add the garlic paste and continue to cook for 1-2 minutes before adding the tomato sauce. Bring sauce to a slow simmer, stirring occasionally. While the tomato sauce is warming, cut up the lobster to good sized, bite size pieces. Once the sauce is quite warm, add the lobster and any juices that accumulated in the dish. Stir and continue at a slow simmer for about 8 minutes.

Toss with the pasta and enjoy immediately.


Okay, but I really like to use the whole lobster; and there is a ton of flavor in those lobster shells. So after I cook the pasta in the lobster water, I scoop out the pasta and retain the water.
Cooking the pasta in it gives the water a little more body, and if you use squid-ink linguine, then more flavor too. 
In the same stockpot with the lobster water, I add all the lobster shells. I break them up as much as I can, cracking them or smashing them with a meat tenderizer and then throw them in the pot. Add some water and/or light white wine (prosecco is lovely, for instance) to just cover the shells. bring it to a simmer and let it gently simmer for a good long time to really extract that wonderful sea flavor.
Strain it, pressing really hard on all the shells, especially all those legs. Toss out the shells and now you have a beautiful lobster stock. I think we'll be making a bouillabaisse for Valentine's day!
 
 
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My mother was the most elegant woman I have ever known. She would not like my referring to her as a woman, though, she was a lady through and through and she led quite a charmed life.

She met my father when she was 17 on her first trip to Europe – a high school graduation present from her uncle. It was 1932, not many 17-year-olds traveled to Europe in grand style in those days or in any style at all. My mother actually missed her high school graduation, leaving school early to “go abroad”.

When she was introduced to my father, a medical student at the University of Rome and an officer in the Italian Army, she was not swept off her feet, as she wasn’t fond of the way he combed his hair. I can’t imagine not being swept away by my father, for he was the most charming man I have ever known.

Three years later, he moved to America, settled in Providence, my mother’s home town, learned English while a resident at a local hospital. Once established, he courted my mother, asked her to marry him three separate times until she finally said yes when he kissed her. 

Theirs was a love from storybooks. They were devoted to each other and bore eleven children together. That was some kind of love! Oh yes, can you imagine! Eleven. I’m the only one of my siblings who never saw my mother pregnant. I am their youngest.

A few weeks ago a lovely lady from the Upper East Side called me to place a pie order for Thanksgiving. I was thrilled, it was my first order. She had seen my ad in MUG (Manhattan Users Guide), this online e-newsletter and called to order a pie. As we were chatting, she mentioned that Thanksgiving this year falls on November 24.

My heart stopped. I had to hold back the tears that suddenly welled in my eyes.

Today is my mother’s birthday, she would be 97 years old. And not a day goes by that I don’t miss her.

Every time I pick up my rolling pin I can feel my mother close. And with each round of dough I rolled this past month, I saw my mother sitting in the family kitchen at the long wooden table by the window. She wore that nutmeg brown cashmere polo sweater and a camel-color A-line cashmere skirt, her hair in a bun at the nape of her neck, the diamond earrings she always wore and high heels. She sat on a stool with her legs crossed and a crisp, fresh dish towel impeccably draped over her lap. In front of her on the table was her pie board with a handful of flour.

It’s an image that is crystal clear and always makes me smile and cry at the same time.

We kids would climb up on the table or on the nearby dishwasher and sit and talk to her while she made her pies and rolling out the dough with seemingly little effort. She was known for her ultra-thin, very flaky pies, amongst many other things.

When I roll my pie dough, I usually get some on my face and somewhere else. Not my mother. I’m not sure how she managed to do that, but she never had a spot of flour or anything else on her.

For Thanksgiving she would always make 2 apples and 2 mincemeats.

It wasn’t until my mother was in her 80s that I found out her favorite pie was pumpkin. Why don’t you make that, I asked her. Oh your father never liked pumpkin, she said. From then on, I’d make her a pumpkin pie for her birthday.

Over the last two days I must have made about 97 pumpkin pies sweetened with Vermont maple syrup and spiced with freshly grated nutmeg, cinnamon, and a touch of ground cloves. In my heart I made each one of those for her.

Happy birthday, Mom.


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