It seems slightly silly to be announcing that I am home more than two weeks after I actually returned home from my summer vacation. But it’s taken me this long to fully grasp the reality that the vacation has ended and that summer is waning.
I’ve said it a million times but I am so lucky. I have a beautiful family in Italy that have come to look forward to my summer trips there as much as I do. I have a house – my very own house – where I can rest my head on my pillows and step out onto my balcony and enjoy the view.
Speaking of which, I’m always slightly amazed that this is the view. Sometimes I have to shake myself and remind myself that it really is real.
Every year that I go my experience is a little bit different. As I become more independent in my time there I find myself broadening my horizons, including nearby towns and places that you’ve likely never heard of or will ever see on a map.
And every year, there are new stories. I crave the moments when my aunts or one of the older folks tell a story from the old days. While our little town lies largely empty now (except for the summer months) with townspeople having long ago moved to bigger cities, other regions and in the case of my family, another country, every summer those same people return and are united by the most incredible stories of a past that doesn’t seem real.
I especially love the stories that involve my father. This is the father that I would have never known – my father as a mischievous little boy and a daring teenager.
I crave these stories. I need them. I find myself prodding and poking sometimes, during conversations, hoping fervently that another funny and amazing story of another life will emerge.
Perhaps my biggest pleasure, though, is that I have come to be accepted by so many of the people that I love and respect. As they often say to me, “It’s like you were born here.”
I cannot tell you the pleasure that gives me.
As the years go by, I have also started to assert a bit of independence when I’m there. I have four incredible aunts but they, each in their own way, are forces of nature in the way that only Italian aunts can be.
While I was raised to always be respective and considerate of my aunts, I’m a grown woman and want to carve out my place as well.
This has led to some battles of will in the one area that is universally important to Italians, no matter where they are in the world, food.
My aunts will have me booked up for breakfast, lunch and dinner (and afternoon snack) for four solid weeks if I don’t put my foot down a bit. This is difficult both because my aunts are brilliant in the kitchen and because I would gain 20 pounds every time I went to Italy. Easily.
This year I drew a bit of a line in the sand (albeit more of a dotted line than anything else – my aunts have my number).
I did insist, though, that I wanted the opportunity to also cook and bake for myself. While this drew some raised eyebrows and caused a few waves, for the most part, my aunts let me have some space.
Still though, I miss them all desperately. While I am always happy to come home to my mother and my brother and my famly and friends here, I miss my father’s family so much.
This is probably why when I return, I have to bake something almost immediately. It’s the best way that I can think of to ease the slight sadness and to capture the happy glow of a beautiful vacation.
All of my aunts have beautiful properties with vegetable gardens and fruit trees. One of my aunts – Zia Filomena – has the most beautiful plum trees. This year, I didn’t get to try the plums, but when I returned from Italy I was on a single-minded mission to buy some Italian plums and bake a cake.
This recipe is from Rustic Italian: Simple, Authentic Recipes for Everyday Cooking by Domenica Marchetti (whom I love – great cookbook author).
This cake is everything that a cake should be: beautiful to look at, moist, flavourful, a gift from the oven. The cake is made with almond flour which gives it a delicious texture and which pairs so well with plums.
You can find the recipe reprinted here.
And so I am home. Happy, but looking forward to Italy again.