Waking up on these cold, crisp fall mornings with frost on the ground, my alarm clock begs to be put on snooze for those last 5 minutes of shut-eye. But in Convent life, that’s not what we’re called to; instead, a quick prayer of thanks to God, and our feet hit the cool ground as we dress for Lauds. I sometimes imagine God smiling at our groans, the creaks in our bones, and the selfish moments we want to steal for ourselves before spending time with Him. I’ve recently experienced the transparent love that God has for me and I think these waking moments are no different! After Lauds, we have a silent breakfast together in our refectory. Silence is essential to our spiritual life because it allows us time to listen to God’s voice preparing us for the day, and not our own. I have to admit that I battle doing my own mental checklist during this time; fragile as we are, God smiles!
The change of season also brings its own collection of recipes, both old and new. Warm custards and puddings, soups and stews, root vegetables, apples and pears. I particularly love rice pudding, and this old fashioned recipe (so similar to the one that my grandmother used to make) is lovely to enjoy warm for breakfast or with whipped cream for a cold evening’s dessert.
Old Fashioned Creamy Rice Pudding
- Preheat the oven to 300 F and grease a 9x13" glass pyrex pan or 8 cup ovenproof dish with butter.
- Rinse the rice under cold water and place in the dish.
- Place the cream, milk, sugar, and a generous grating (or 1 tsp) of nutmeg in a medium saucepan. Scrape the seeds of the vanilla beans into the milk mixture (if using) or add the vanilla.
- Heat gently until almost simmering, then remove from the heat and pour over the rice, stirring well.
- Dot the butter over the top and place in the oven for 1 1/2 hrs, stirring after the first 30 min. At this stage, you can add an extra grating of nutmeg if you like.
- If the pudding still seems very runny, return to the oven, checking every 10 min., until it is loosely creamy but not runny (the rice should be cooked, but the liquid will continue to be absorbed once you take it out of the oven).
- When the pudding is golden brown on top and has a soft,creamy texture, remove from the oven and allow to rest for 10 min. before serving.
This week at Villa Via Sacra (Mount Tabor Centre for Art and Spirituality), we’ve been hosting Gabriel V Brass Ensemble as they participate in a-two week musical exchange with the world renowned Gomalan Brass Quintet. It’s always a great privilege and joy to “be in the background” serving these groups as they work hard to perfect their art, learning and discussing the music and seeking to bring it alive through both their personal and corporate vision. Music is a wonderful communicator — even though these groups speak two totally different languages, communicating has not been a problem at all. If you are in Tuscany, following the week of study with Gomalan Gabriel V will present a free concert at the Duomo di San Cristoforo in Barga, Italy on Oct. 6 at 21,00. We hope to see you there!
Benedictine hospitality is at the heart of our mission, and we enjoy “spoiling” the artists with great food as they work tirelessly at their art day after day. Pears are in abundance now in Italy, so I made this wonderful cake for lunch yesterday. It’s quick and easy to throw together, and the moistness of the pears doubled with the homemade caramel just begs to be eaten with a big dollop of whipped cream sprinkled with nutmeg.
Caramelized Pear Upside-Down Cake
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter the sides of a 9-inch round pan with removable sides (like a cheesecake pan).
- Combine the butter, sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a small saucepan and heat to boiling, then remove from heat. Scrape the mixture into the prepared pan and spread evenly. Arrange the pears over the butter mixture and press down.
- Beat the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until creamy, about 1 minute. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat until very smooth and fluffy, about 2 minutes.
- Sprinkle in the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt, and beat 10 seconds. Pour in the milk and beat just until the batter is evenly moistened, about 1 minute. Pour the batter over the pears, then carefully lift the pan and bang back down on the counter once or twice to release any air bubbles.
- Bake approximately 45 minutes, or until a knife comes out clean. Run a knife along the outer edge of the cake to loosen it from the pan. Place a plate over the cake, then flip it over to invert the cake onto the pan. Let the cake cool completely before serving.
- Serve with a dollop of fresh whipped cream sprinkled with nutmeg.
Thank you to "Living Well Spending Less" for this wonderful recipe!
Just out the side entrance to the convent one steps directly into an orchard of fruit trees: peaches, nectarines and pears. Most of these trees were gifts to us back when the convent was being built, and what a gift they have been each year, providing us with beautiful fruit for eating, cooking, and preserving into different forms of gifts. Right now the peaches are at their peak, gorgeous to behold, and luscious to eat.
I have been longing to see some of them turned into a dessert. I love peach pie, peach cobbler or crumble, but my heart was set on something cool, light and summery, so I set about to make this happen. Here’s what came of my efforts which were quick and easy — just as I wanted them to be.
Summer Peaches and Cream Supreme
- Press one sheet of phyllo into 9 inch pie plate. Shape and crimp
edges to form a crust pour beans into shell and bake
according to directions on wrapper until golden brown. About 10 minutes. Remove and discard beans. Let cool completely.
- Into a medium saucepan cut up 6 peaches. Add ½ cup water, ½ cup sugar, juice of half a lemon and cook until it begins to thicken into a syrupy sauce. After 20 minutes (approx.) add zest, amaretto or extract. Let cool. Add the four remaining peaches, nicely sliced.
- Soften ice cream and spread half into cool shell. Spread a layer of peaches and syrup across this. Then spread remaining ice cream over peaches. Finally swirl remaining cool whip over entire top and freeze till serving time.
- Cut into wedges, spoon remaining peaches and sauce over each serving and sprinkle with toasted coconut.
This week took me back to serving at Villa Via Sacra, the home of the Mount Tabor Center for Art and Spirituality in Barga, Italy. What a blessing to be back in this verdant and beautiful area of Tuscany. This is the peak of Tuscany’s summer season when tomatoes, eggplants, cucumbers, peaches and nectarines are all in abundance. After a busy summer of offering hospitality to various groups, the villa household has quieted down for a wee bit. August 15th is a national holiday for the Feast of the Assumption. We felt it was only right to celebrate this special day in true Italian style, which means pack a picnic and head for the cooler air of the mountains! We did just that: a simple meal of homemade bread, cheese (pecorino stagione, ricotta and parmigiano), meats (mortadella, sopressata and prosciutto cotto), some garden vegetables of cucumbers, tomatoes and olives, a bottle of red wine and a fresh fruit salad.
We enjoyed this fresh French bread with our picnic. Delightful to eat with cheese and meats or just a little olive oil, it requires little rising time, so it’s a wonderful go-to bread recipe that you can make and bake within an hour.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees
- Activate your yeast by sprinkling it over the hot water in a bowl and whisk with a fork until dissolved and add 1 Tbsp of the sugar - let sit until foamy - about 5 min.
- Add the remaining sugar (3 Tbsp) and then the flour a cup at a time, mixing in as you go (you can use a stand mixer with a dough hook for this step, if you'd like). Add the salt at some point along the way. Stop adding the flour if your dough is no longer sticky.
- When the dough no longer sticks to the side of the bowl, turn the dough out onto your counter and divide into two balls.
- Using the palm of your hand to kneed out any air bubbles, roll the dough into two long loaves.
- Let rise slightly (about 10 min.) and brush with the egg-wash.
- Bake for 25-30 min, or until golden or reaches an internal temperature of 190 degrees.
- This recipe can also be used to make nice breadsticks.
Every year after school is out, our young community teenage girls have a 3-week “summer camp” with several of our Sisters. This year they went to New Hampshire for the event.
They were very excited and eagerly looking forward to the many activities ahead of them: lots of time out of doors, hiking, swimming, boating and gardening. I knew that nature crafts would be a part of their learning experiences, and also that there would be indoor activities such as housekeeping and of course, some cooking. I made them promise me that they would surprise me by making something new and different from any of their old standbys. They did not let me down, but kept their promise and came up with this scrumptious, raspberry peach upside down cake, inspired by a raspberry picking event that none of us knew would be happening before they went to camp. I could not have been more pleased!
Raspberry Peach Upside-down Cake
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Slice peaches. Sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt and set aside.
- Place 6 tablespoons butter in a 10-inch cast iron skillet over medium heat until melted then add brown sugar and cook until both are combined and melted, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon. Approximately 8-10 minutes. Turn off the heat.
- Arrange peach slices in a circular pattern (overlapping if needed) in skillet on top of sugar. Add raspberries in areas not covered with peaches. Set aside.
- Cream together vanilla, 6 tablespoons butter and 1 cup sugar until creamy. Add eggs and beat until the yellow disappears. Add sour cream and blend.
- On low speed, add flour mixture and beat just until combined stopping to scrape the sides a few times. Pour batter onto peaches and smooth out to the edges.
- Bake 40-45 minutes. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes.
- Run a knife around the edges to release and invert onto a cake plate allowing the cake to cool another 10 minutes.
Serve with fresh whipped cream.