Before Amazon, before Santa Claus and his sleigh with reindeer, before all this there was the Befana, an old lady on a broom, a cross between a witch and a caring grandmother. She would visit your house during the night of the Epiphany and she would fill up your stocking with candy, chocolate coins, clementines, an orange and some coal for those who misbehaved during the year. My middle school Italian teacher, a woman who opened our minds with books and fascinating stories of her youth, told us to ask our parents to never forget the Epiphany, as the real gifts were due for that day: small but significant gifts.
The religious holiday of the Epiphany, on January the 6th, celebrates the visit of the Magi to the Christ child. The three Kings followed the guiding star, bringing precious gifts for the baby Jesus. In the popular folklore of some of the Italian regions, gifts are brought to children by a humble figure, a poor old woman.
For years the Befana was the day that would put an end to the Christmas holidays: it meant going back to school, no more extra hours to sleep in the morning snuggled under the blankets, no more afternoons spent on the sofa reading a book next to the Christmas lights. The Christmas tree was often mercilessly undone just in the last hours of January the 6th.
I have recently rediscovered the tradition of the Befana stocking, as Tommaso loves chocolate and jellies. I like to buy chocolate coins, chocolate eggs and puffed rice chocolate bars which remind our childhood, but I also enjoy making something else, something more personal. And so here I am, looking for quick ideas for chocolate and candy to mix with a few clementines, as grandmother taught me, and a few other surprises suitable for a thirty year old guy who still loves to play.
My friend Irene, that you probably know as Valdirose, just published a new book, I doni di Irene, Irene’s gifts, which is the perfect book to help you in this situation. I’ve kept it next to me for weeks, enchanted as always by the unique atmosphere that she manages to recreate with her photos, the combinations of colours, flowers, fabrics and backgrounds. Irene has an innate gift for beauty, it shines through everything she does, whether a book or a floral arrangement. She manages to turn the ordinary and the everyday into something beautiful, a memory or a small gesture into something precious.
Her new book is an ode to the beauty of giving, of small gestures like preparing a jar of home made jam for someone special, or visiting a friend for dinner bringing a warm cake on your lap while sitting in the car.
Chocolate barks with nuts
I found these chocolate barks with nuts leafing through Irene’s book. They are simple and straightforward, something you can prepare in a pocket of time in a busy afternoon. You can make these chocolate barks in the secret of your kitchen to surprise everyone on the Befana morning, or you can involve your kids or your friends: let them choose their favourite combination or just follow the matching colours of nuts and deep brown chocolate.
I love pistachios, because there is no other dried fruit that can beat their colour, especially if you rub them between your hands to remove their skin. I can not resist dried blueberries either, tiny and slightly tart, particularly when they are stuck to some pine nuts.
- 200 g of dark chocolate, chopped
- 50 g of nuts and dried fruit (pistachios, pine nuts, hazelnuts and dried blueberries for me)
- Melt half of the chocolate in a double boiler, then remove it from the heat and stir in the rest of the chocolate. Irene teaches this fast and easy method to temper chocolate at home. It will become my go-to method from now on!
- Spread the chocolate on a sheet of parchment paper in a 4 mm layer, smoothing it with a spatula.
- Sprinkle the nuts over the chocolate and let it cool completely before slicing. You can use a heavy knife, but also break it with your hands.
I doni di Irene
Here you can find Irene’s post on her new book, and you can even purchase the book, as to have it signed. In her words there’s the heart of this book: I find myself driving to a friend’s house with a cake wrapped in a cloth still hot on my knees. I proudly send to friends jam jars decorated with ribbons recycled from other gifts.
This is a book for those who love to show up for dinner with something home made for you, for those who love to give cakes, jars of preserves, cookies and liqueurs, for those who already love Irene’s delicate and personal style.
Link Love – What I am reading and cooking in these days
- In this moment on the stove I’m simmering Rossella’s candied citron peel. We spent two days together cooking up a storm for New Year’s Eve and driving to the seaside on the first day of the year. She gave me an idea to use those citrons I had bought a few days before at the market: I’m already thinking about how to use the candied peel.
- I bake bread, following Manuela‘s recipe and using her sourdough starter, in the meantime I plan what to grow in the vegetable garden this year. I use always the same recipe, I want to make it mine, understand how it works, create a base of trust to be able to start experimenting from that soon.
- Ruby Tandoh Just Wants You to Eat What You Love. An article published recently in The New York Times that frees the mind and silence the dogmas of clean eating. Choose what you love. Ruby Tandoh is a nice discovery in this 2017.
- Are you keen on having a new efficient routine? Have you already opened a brand new notebook? This article from Diane Jacobs’ blog gave me some some interesting insight, especially regarding micro tasking.
- On my night table in these days: Spritz! and A place called here, as Cecilia Ahern is always with me during Christmas holidays.
Have you read or cooked something interesting in these days? Do you have a tradition to share related to the Epiphany or some ideas for a last minute gift for the Befana?