My Mom’s Imperfect Apple Meringue Cake for Valentine’s Day

Apple Cake for Valentine's Day | Torta di Mele per San Valentino | Lab Noon-8

When I was four or five years old, my youngest uncle got engaged to a girl whose parents were distant cousins of my grandparents’. Nothing unusual about it, expect from the fact that my thirtiysh uncle had been living in Sweden for the past decade (or more) and the girl had never stepped out of her hometown, in Iran! It was an arranged engagement. They had never seen each other. And with no internet in the very early nineties, all they had was some low quality, expensive, occasional phone calls and some late-delivered mailed photos and letters. Only a couple of years later I feverishly stated “what the hell were they thinking?” whenever I got the chance, but at that time it was very exciting for me to be around the bride-to-be.

She was very young, barely twenty years old. And like many other girls she dreamed of being the perfect little wife, with her lovely husband, living happily ever after, in Sweden, of course. She wanted to be prepared, that’s why she took baking and pastry courses. Pity that it all ended when my uncle, whose resistance to this whole story had never been taken seriously by my grandparents, phoned her one day and called off the wedding. Naturally, it was a huge family scandal. Her family stopped talking to my grandparents and everyone else in our family. But eventually everybody moved on, had other relationships, marriages, divorces and kids. And about a decade later, her parents started socializing with my family again.

Apple Cake for Valentine's Day | Torta di Mele per San Valentino | Lab Noon-7

In the meanwhile, my mom had developed a certain interest in baking. She experimented mostly with cakes. Then she took a little step further and started making her own cookies and pastries for major holidays such as Norouz (our new year celebration, in which you’ve got to be buried under sweets or it’s not a holiday). Everybody told her she should’ve started something with her baking because she was too good, but she never did, alas. She did however organize the recipes she had gathered around from TV shows or friends in neat notebooks that now are a little worn off, with occasional spots of butter or melted saffron. 

One of her particular hits was this apple meringue cake. It was a crowd pleaser at each of her parties and women kept asking her for the recipe. You see, It’s a simple home-made cake, with a rather firm base. But that velvety sensation you get in your mouth as soon as you savor some of that spicy apple puree, immediately reminds you of some sweet, fancy cream. And by the time you get to the foamy, feather-light meringue topped with crunchy almond flakes, you’ll be convinced you’re eating a gourmet cake. Even though her meringue was never perfect. 

Apple Cake for Valentine's Day | Torta di Mele per San Valentino | Lab Noon-11
Apple Cake for Valentine's Day | Torta di Mele per San Valentino | Lab Noon-4

This is the secret of the popularity of this cake. It’s simple enough to be prepared in a long winter afternoon, yet it’s elegant enough to be served in a brunch or a tea party. My mom would freeze the leftovers, to be served later. Something that never happened, because she always found the frozen cakes with big chunks of apple cream missing from the top, because someone had eaten it off, frozen. I guess it was my unconscious revenge to the fact that she hurried to place the empty cake batter bowl under the running tap water so that I wouldn’t lick it off. (“It’s raw and it’ll make you fat!“)

Only years later, a couple of months ago to be precise, it occurred to me to ask her where she got the recipe of her famous apple cake. I had completely forgotten about my uncle’s absurd, arranged engagement, so I was quite surprised when my mom told me it was one of the recipes his long-distant ex-finance had learned in her baking course. And it got me thinking, of the bitterness she must’ve been left with after the end of that affair. I imagine she never baked that cake again. Maybe she let go of baking. Or maybe not. Hopefully some years later she did realize it was for the best she didn’t marry a man she had never met.

Apple Cake for Valentine's Day | Torta di Mele per San Valentino | Lab Noon-3
Apple Cake for Valentine's Day | Torta di Mele per San Valentino | Lab Noon-6

And I also thought about the turn of the events. The sweetness of an elegant homemade cake which everyone has loved for many years, is actually the faded memory of a bitterness. Life’s unpredictable (thanks goodness). We wish for some things and we get some other things instead. That other thing can be an apple cake. Maybe you wished for a lavish and rich chocolate mousse, with liquor and strawberries (which are so out of season in February), but that doesn’t make an apple cake any less. 

We don’t really observe Valentine’s Day. This year we won’t even see each other during the day. But ever since our early days when this blog didn’t even exist, I made something special, something delicious for the occasion. They often involved little hearts and chocolate (never strawberries though! I find fake, winter strawberries tasteless in every way). But not this year. This year I am caught up in the unpredictability of life. So I’d like go with its flow. I opted for what I’ve got, not what I wish I had. It might sound humble, but it’s rich, it has a history and it’s perfectly in season; It’s my mom’s imperfect apple meringue cake for Valentine’s Day. Partially because I miss her, but also because her love is one the least unpredictable facts of my life. And then because, why not share an apple cake with a loved one that has a firm base and a smooth and sweet topping? A dash of aphrodisiac spices, and that’s Valentine’s Day dessert/breakfast sorted.

Apple Cake for Valentine's Day | Torta di Mele per San Valentino | Lab Noon-5

Note: This is cake for indulgence, so it’s not perfect for a diet. It does have a considerable amount of butter and sugar. I have however substituted both the flour and sugar from white to wholegrain and raw.

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Tales of Autumn, Hallowe’en, Pumpkins and a Crumble

Healthy Pumpkin Crumble Recipe for Halloween | Crumble di Zucca | by Lab Noon Do you really feel it? Honestly, all this Halloween buzz, this hue of plastic orange covering our cities. Do you really relate to all this? Specially those of you NOT living in north America, those of you who like me, haven’t grown up with Halloween.

Here in Italy (and the same in Iran) it’s been roughly a decade that Halloween has become a popular event. Of course there’s no wonder why. The target of the cheap costume shop is the kids and the teenagers. And who wouldn’t love to dress up in something freaky and spooky?Healthy Pumpkin Crumble Recipe for Halloween | Crumble di Zucca | by Lab NoonIn Italy, more traditionally the first of November is celebrated, All Saints’ Day. A Christian festivity to remember the deceased. (Halloween actually would be All Hallows’ Eve, which is the vigil of All Saints’ Day). And November 2nd is All Souls’ Day. There are some long interesting historical facts to study about this. But you know what’s more attractive than the dead? Pumpkins! Pumpkins to me are one the strangest, most beautiful, amazing edible things on earth.

Now imagine this field, covered with these huge orange (or green, or beige) balls, that are a mine of sweetness, they’re full of delicious seeds, they come in many beautiful varieties all over the world and we can cook them into endless mouth-watering types of sweet and savory goodness. Isn’t that marvelous?

There’s a very rich culinary culture of pumpkins here in Italy. I don’t know how far it goes back but I have seen many recipes with pumpkins. It sure is no stranger to the Italian palate. There are risottos, pastas, cakes, fries and many other things.

Healthy Pumpkin Crumble Recipe for Halloween | Crumble di Zucca | by Lab NoonIf you talk to me in Persian about pumpkins, the first thing that comes to my mind is a children’s story called Kadoo-Ghelgheleh-Zan which means Rolling Pumpkin Lady. It’s basically the story of an elderly woman who wants to travel to her daughter’s house across the forest and on her way she meets a wolf, a tiger and a lion. Each of the wild animals want to eat her for dinner but she convinces them to wait until she comes back from her daughter’s house, when she’ll have eaten roast chicken, eggplant stew and rice and has become fat and chubby to make a good dinner.

When she wants to come back home, she sakes her daughter to bring a big pumpkin. They empty it and she goes inside it and rolls away all across the forest towards her home. She meets all of the animals again who ask here “Hey Rolling Pumpkin, haven’t you seen the old lady?”. Naturally she gets home safe and sound after a strife with the Wolf. Happily ever after.Healthy Pumpkin Crumble Recipe for Halloween | Crumble di Zucca | by Lab NoonI experiment a lot with pumpkins. Specially in sweets, because they’re so naturally sweet that they don’t need much sugar. They’re full of fiber and it literally takes a breath to create something mouth-watering with them. Like at the moment of writing this, I’m sipping on the simplest butternut squash soup ever; Mashed roasted butternut squash, olive oil, garlic powder and chilly. Dinner is served!

To celebrate Autumn in its full glory, I have made a healthy pumpkin crumble. I was inspired by the orange and beige hues around me. It’s been only a week that it’s got colder here in Rome. The days are shorter but we’ve been blessed with sunny days that get quite warm in the afternoon. Right after the early sunset they give in to Autumn chill.Healthy Pumpkin Crumble Recipe for Halloween | Crumble di Zucca | by Lab NoonHealthy Pumpkin Crumble Recipe for Halloween | Crumble di Zucca | by Lab NoonI live close to a pine grove, and though pines are evergreen, the little dry unwanted plants and spikes have absorbed Autumn to the fullest. I had two little green Kabochas, one orange pumpkin and a beige butternut squash that embrace all the colors of October and the spikes made me choose oats.

Healthy Pumpkin Crumble Recipe for Halloween | Crumble di Zucca | by Lab NoonHealthy Pumpkin Crumble Recipe for Halloween | Crumble di Zucca | by Lab NoonThe recipe for this healthy pumpkin crumble is really simple. I must make a confession though; the pictures are not from the perfected recipe and the crumble in the photos turned a little dry. I adjusted the doses and made it again but since it was already dark (barely 5 pm), I didn’t take any new pictures.

Healthy Pumpkin Crumble Recipe for Halloween | Crumble di Zucca | by Lab Noon

There’s little gluten and fat in this recipe. The topping is not excessively sweet, because I like to get the sweetness directly from the pumpkin. When served hot, it’s perfect for chilly mornings as breakfast, or with a hot tea in the afternoon. The sweet combination of cardamom, cloves and cinnamon would make sure the heat lingers in you. I served my pumpkin crumble with semi skim Greek yoghurt with a shot of espresso, a drizzle of honey and a sprinkle of cinnamon. If you want to keep it vegan, you can do the same with a vegetal yoghurt or ice-cream. Continue reading

Healthy Granola for an Energizing Breakfast

Healthy granola recipe | ricetta di muesli | دستور گرانولا | by Lab Noon

Hello hot summer days, we’re in the month July. In Italy it means everything is about to end. Not in a bad way though. August is the national month of vacation and traditionally all works end, shops close, and all of the projects finish for that big parenthesis. In years before the economic crisis marked hard the lifestyle of italians, people used to close literally everything and go on vacation for the whole month of August. In some small towns people still do that. That’s why most exciting events in Italy happen around mid May; right before the beginning of the end. They call it the social year, which starts in September and ends in June/July. So usually these days are the days that you need to run, to end deeds, to enter in deadlines, to finish projects and think of new ones (if you already haven’t, which means you’re late), to start right in September. It’s hot, (though not particularly this year), you crave for the beach, but you’ve still got work to do. And there’s one question everybody keeps asking you at this time; “Where are you going in August?”

Healthy granola recipe | ricetta di muesli | دستور گرانولا | by Lab Noon

Well, I am going to a new house! I am starting a new life, which is not only a big change but also very demanding. Although it’s exciting to fly from preparing boxes to ending projects (one of which I’m particularly proud of, was participating as the special jury for the 20th edition of Medfilm Festival), late in the evening I feel as if somebody pushed my Off button, I kinda pass out. But when the alarm clocks rings early in the morning, no matter what I have done and what I’m about to do, my first thought is: Breakfast! Glorious, hearty and energizing. Turn that button back On.

Healthy granola recipe | ricetta di muesli | دستور گرانولا | by Lab Noon

I love breakfast. I think it’s my favorite meal of the day. I have been a faithful breakfast-eater only for a couple of years though. That was right when I changed my lifestyle and my eating habits. Italians are not big fans of big breakfasts. The fabulous Italian breakfast is without any doubt Cappuccino e Cornetto al Bar. Which is great, awesome and delicious. But you can’t have breakfast at bars every single morning, no matter how buttery the croissant and how creamy the cappuccino. The reason? Too much sugar, too much fat, too little fiber and way too little protein.

Healthy granola recipe | ricetta di muesli | دستور گرانولا | by Lab Noon

A good breakfast is one that kick starts your metabolism and balances up your blood sugar during the day so you wouldn’t crave too many sweets. For this you need a protein rich breakfast. There are too many ways of making protein-rich breakfasts, especially when they’re savory. But I usually have my savory breakfast when I travel, (in Iran for example, we’ve got some dead serious savory breakfasts such as Kaleh Pacheh and Halim.)

Healthy granola recipe | ricetta di muesli | دستور گرانولا | by Lab Noon

One of my favorite ways of having sweet breakfasts with a decent dose of protein is using oats. Oat is a unique grain because of its distinguishing protein amount comparing to other grains such as wheat or rye. It’s also full of fiber, so it’s a super good for breakfast. That’s why they say oatmeal/porridge is good for you.
Unlike Anglophone and most north European countries, In Iran, and also in Italy, we don’t have a culinary tradition about oats. Although we can find famous oat products such as granola and muesli on supermarket shelves.

healthy_granola_lab noon (10 of 14)

Granola was invented in the US in mid 19th century and it’s made of baked oats with seeds oil and honey, and occasional dry fruit or nuts. While the much healthier muesli was invented right in the beginning of 20th century by a swiss doctor for his patients. It’s simply raw rolled oats, ground/chopped nuts and dry or fresh fruit and it’s usually eaten with milk or yoghurt. Continue reading