Monday, May 27, 2013


 Entering Rocco’s Italian Restaurant and she stepped out of the world of strip malls and steamy Florida evenings and into a cool, dark, faraway place filled with bustling waiters and a vibrant, foreign atmosphere. Wooden tables spread with the quintessential red and white checked tablecloths and candles stuck into straw-wrapped Chianti bottles, dripping red wax, splattering on the cloth. All of the paraphernalia to make us feel as if we were eating in the kitchen of an Italian nonna, and how was a ten year old to know? Plates were piled high with mountains of spaghetti swirled with rich, dark ruby-red or generous platefuls of creamy cheese manicotti, bowls brimming with exotic, mysterious mussels, her very first, bathed in spicy sanguine Diavolo sauce. She was whisked off into another world, a place in her dreams. Dark wood paneling glowed in the candlelight submerging her in a russet warmth.

 Red sky in the morning, sailor’s warning; red sky at night, sailor’s delight. Red light, green light. Red cherry poptarts. A single icy scoop of cherry sorbet sitting atop a cone. A favorite red skirt in the color of candy apples, a single white zipper sliding up up up straight up front and center ending in a white hoop daring the boys to yank it down causing her innocent cheeks to burn deep crimson, the color of the skirt. Garlands of chili peppers strung up in the kitchen window, abandoned, drying into a deeper shade of red. Tomatoes in scarlet, rust and vermillion splotched with black lined up like punished school children, the only bounty, other than the uneaten chili peppers, from that meager excuse for a kitchen garden off of the garage. Blaringly shiny fire engine red woodwork against lemon yellow walls.

 A childhood in red

 The red of winter, deep and brooding. Garnet-hued beetroots, blood red poinsettias. Stews brightened by sharp chilis, chipotle, paprika the color of brick; heat. Apple-red peppers, roasted smoky and sweet. Exotic. Tart pomegranate leaving fingers elegantly stained the color of velvet. Dizzying swirls of a fistful of candy canes; the vibrant tang of cranberries popping one by one in the foamy liquid, bubbling, frothing, seething, redolent of orange, cinnamon, clove.

 Red cabbage, carmine radicchio, mysterious dahlias. The bitter bite of red, intriguing. An ernest love-hate relationship.

 The red of summer, sweet and saucy, cherries and raspberries and strawberries, the joyous red of picnics, red-checked cloth spread out in the sun. Handfuls of pretty little radishes, sinful red giving way to pristine, virginal white. Rhubarb, deep red melting into pink.

 A splash of color, bright and warm. Fields of poppies as far as the eye can see.

 A squirt of ketchup on a hotdog… a study in red.

Seeing red.

Romance, cupids, hearts. Roses, peonies, plump satin bows perched atop boxes of chocolates. Love.

Violence, anger, warfare. Hate.

Red is passion. Sensual. Steamy. Heat.


Power and attention. Danger. Red stirs to action and stirs up emotions. Pounding heart, racing pulse. Lust.

Flushed cheeks. A maiden’s blush.

A young girl’s first lipstick. Fuschia, magenta, cinnabar.

 Red Velvet Cake. Less red then deep dark brown, the color of the earth. From dust to dust. I pop open the jar of pickled beets, perfect round orbs the size of golf balls. A deep violet red the color of garnets, shimmering with liquid like puddles in starlight. I measure out spoonfuls of the sweet, briny beet juice and add it to the chocolate batter. The whisk whips around and around until it is thick, creamy, unctuously smooth. Red melting into darkness. My brother watches in silence. His recipe, this is his favorite recipe I am making for him, a red velvet cake he has baked for himself for his own birthday for how many years? This will be the last cake I bake for him. I scrape the batter into the pans and slide each into the oven. My brother’s fingers curl around the spatula I hand to him, a look of glee in his eyes as he licks the chocolate and mugs for the camera. The silence weighs heavily, haunting me since I came to visit two weeks earlier, his voice long swallowed up by the illness. His once already lank body has shrunken to frail and I will serve him thick wedges of Red Velvet Cake drenched in chocolate ganache, scoops of ice cream on the side in a last ditch effort to plump him up. And make him smile. Feeding him love the color of my broken heart.

Red beetroots taste as earthy as they look, that murky red-violet hue promises dark, full flavours from the parts of the world we can't see. I like red beetroots, they remind me of my mother's warm and worn hands, dirty from digging into the earth and pulling up what she had planted months earlier. I think she would have liked these cupcakes, spotty with chocolate and topped with cinnamon sweet icing.

9 big ones or 15 smaller

3 eggs
165 g/ 5,8 oz sugar
6-7 tbsp beetroot puree (I whizzed a couple of cooked and peeled beetroots in a blender with a little water until smooth)
120 g/ 4,2 oz butter, melted
255 g/ 9 oz flour
1 tsp baking powder
100 g/ 3,5 oz dark quality chocolate, chopped

red icing:
icing sugar
red beetroot puree
pinch of cinnamon

   Whisk eggs and sugar fluffy in a bowl. Add the beetroot puree and the butter and stir well.
   Sift flour and and baking powder into the bowl and mix until smooth. Fold the chopped chocolate into the batter and then fill your cupcake forms. Bake in a pre-heated oven (200°C/390°F) for 10-15 minutes, the time depends how big the cupcakes are. Leave to cool when ready.

   Mix icing sugar and cinnamon with a spoon of beetroot puree until completely smooth and of consistency you like. (It is difficult for me to give you exact measures because it depends on how liquid the red beetroot puree is.) When the cupcakes are cold, decorate with the icing.


  1. OMG .... Vibrant, Brilliant, Heartfelt. Each image, each paragraph rock my soul. Dear friends, so much more than I could ever imagine. Red speaks to me.

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  3. A beautiful ode to the color red! Divine writing, photography and cupcakes. I particularly like the third picture from the top...

    Thank you for brightening up my Mondays!



  4. I laughed; I cried. I am transported by this study in red.

    You two are brilliant.

    (Isn't it amazing that the beets don't make the cake turn bright red?)

  5. Amazing ... your photos are brilliant Ilva and your words are as brilliant red Jamie as any red in Ilva's photos.

  6. What gorgeous photos and splendid writing. This is a beautiful blog and I'm glad Jennie Field a.k.a. Pastry Chef Online tweeted about it. Thanks for the recipes and the inspiration !

  7. I just read the ending of this post, and it killed me. I lost my brother. He shrank away as well. I am so sorry, Jamie.

  8. Another lovely lovely post... how did I miss this one?! Well, actually, I have been unwell... but am delighted to be reading this now. I lost both my brothers, so I feel your loss... thank you for sharing these images and words xox

  9. Red equals energy and the power of life. Inspiring words and photography Ilva and Jamie. So very fitting with your Beetroot chocolate cupcakes.