"I feel so homesick, where is my home? Where I belong or where I was born?"
- Alabama Shakes
Some of my best friends and I have something in common: We don't live where we were born. Not that this is unusual, but it is curious to me how travelers' spirits are so often drawn to one another. I was born just outside a small town in southwestern Ohio. There were corn fields and country roads and cattle. I lived there until I was sixteen. My family lives there. So many of my favorite people live there. My fondest childhood memories took place there, mostly in and around a certain clay-filled creek bed where I would play until the sun went down. But then I left, just like I knew I would. I moved to northeast Florida for college and it became my second hometown. My turf. My life was mine there and I was coming of age with the people and places that I had chosen for myself. I lived there for years after college, and eventually moved back for another go years after that. I can't imagine what would have happened to me if I had not gone there. It's in my soul. When I go back, I feel so homesick it's palpable, and it almost always comes to an all-too-soon end with my cheeks stained by tears.
So, what is it then, that makes a place your home? All I can figure is that "home" is a collection of experiences that we carry with us in our head...kind of like how the photos on your smartphone are stored as a group somewhere in outer space for when you need them. It's a feeling, a taste, a joyfulness, a front porch, a regret, a rainy day, a sense of security.
This week we are celebrating our friend Paolo's birthday. Paolo lives in New York City. He and my husband became friends many years ago while working for the same company, but I can safely say that enough time has passed, enough adventures shared, that I can happily claim him as a friend in my own right.
Last night, fifteen of us gathered together at a local watering hole to pay tribute to our friendship. I decided to try to make a cake using some of the flavors true to Paolo's home. I refuse to say the exact name of the town; I wouldn't want it to end up on TripAdvisor or anything, but I will say it is on Italy's Basilicata coast and may or may not be this stunning:
We were fortunate enough to visit his hometown a few years ago, and even more fortunate to have his mamma prepare a multi-course feast for us on our first night. It's something I will never forget. She rolled fresh mozzarella balls by hand, created a baked eggplant masterpiece, and served delicate ricotta-filled ravioli, one plate at a time, as it was cooked. At the end, she brought out a type of cake called a cassata, or "cassata siciliana" , as it is of Sicilian origin. It's quite an attention-getter. Sponge cake, ricotta filling, pistachio marzipan, candied fruit, royal icing, maraschino liqueur, and whatever else could possibly make you happy.
Since my skills and knowledge of 14th century whole fruit candying are a little rusty, I decided to tone my cake down just a smidgen. I made two pistachio sponge cakes, heavy on the pistachio, and added cherry preserves and a cannoli-type ricotta and chocolate chip filling in between. I finished it with honey buttercream, large cherries and and chopped pistachios for garnish. It was loud and much different from the simpler, minimally-decorated, delicate cakes I normally find myself making. I drove it to the venue, we added plenty of savory bites and a gaggle of festive friends and the rest is history.
"Buon Compleanno" to one of our own. My home is your home.
This recipe was adapted from Baked Brooklyn's pistachio cake recipe.