Monday, September 2, 2013


 I travel with three sets of measuring cups. More precious than jewelry (well, almost), these cups of mine are the only thing that seem to validate my ownership of dozens upon dozens of American cookbooks, my connection to my culinary heritage. From the United States through France and Italy and back again, tucked into suitcases, the last to go in, the first to come out, what would I do without my American measuring cups?

 One set is brown, the color of chocolate, the color of my morning coffee. Old as the hills, the cheap plastic cups nestle one inside the other comfortably yet are forever attempting escape, bouncing and scattering among the bowls and casserole dishes in my bottom cupboard, playing hide and seek from the cook. This set is used to measure out flours and sugars, cocoa powder and ground nuts, precision is the key to their success. Spoon lightly in and level with the blade of a knife.

 One set, the glamorous set, are all shiny stainless steel, flashy in a way only silvery measuring cups can be, better than diamonds. Beautifully shaped with their elegant curves and their saucy handles, these cups are used for holding precious cargo, the dried fruits and whole nuts, the chocolate chips, freshly grated carrots or Parmesan cheese. Sassy girls like these don’t need to be precise or rely on fussy things like exactitude. They are pretty as a picture and love nothing more than hanging around, filled to the brim with plump ripe berries, glistening candied fruit, fragrant hazelnuts or tempting chips waiting for the image to be snapped. Then happy to release the goods, freed for more interesting things to come along.

 Finally – although who can ever possess too many? - there are the imposing glass measuring cups, weighty, cumbersome; cool customers, indeed, with their rather grandiose formality, chilly to the touch. And insistent they are. To be used for liquid, of course and nothing else. Oh once in a while they will make an exception for sliced bananas or peaches, for purées or grated zucchini, yet they prefer to live on a liquid diet, don’t they? Golden honey, tangy sour cream, milk, coffee, juices. They are always up for something boozy (who isn’t?), be it rum, Cointreau, cognac or Prosecco. Maybe beer, stout or ale, need be; they are never too proud to hang out with the masses. They don’t particularly settle inside one another comfortably like those pretty little Russian dolls; my collection seem ever ready to dispute, clattering noisily each time one or the other is needed, threatening to chip or, worse, drop to the floor and shatter in so many pieces. Treasured they are with their cups, pints and quarts in this land of liters, and they certainly seem to know their worth in all of their imperiousness.

 I had two favorite cups growing up and absolutely had to drink from one or the other.

 Goofy Grape. My sister had Jolly Olly Orange, my brother Freckle Face Strawberry. There may have been a Rootin’ Tootin’ Raspberry in the house but the Goofy Grape cup was mine. For Goofy Grape koolaid, of course! But the perfect shape and size for a scoop or two of ice cream, a cupful of dry cereal to nibble on while whiling away an afternoon curled up on the sofa, my nose in a book, or even simply a cup of ice cubes to chomp on during the sweltering dog days of summer.

 My tall plastic cup in pale sea green, ridged all the way around the bottom few inches, perfect for grasping, not bad for gnawing gently around the rim when nervous or when daydreaming. This was the ideal cup for chilled chocolate milk stirred with an iced tea spoon, coca cola or koolaid in the afternoon, plenty of room for ice cubes to rattle around gaily, or a milkshake if one was so lucky. Pour in a Great Shakes (only chocolate, please) or an ice cold Yoo-Hoo or an iced tea, later, when I was older. Cold cups of milk in the morning, orange juice later in the day, I loved my cup.

 I still own my green plastic cup, have carried it with me through college, drank from it during those heady, bohemian years in New York, have kept it with me in Italy and France, a fetish, a remembrance, a link to my past, my youth.

 I take my morning coffee in the same cup every single morning or all hell breaks lose pushing one of the other to scuttle to the sink to wash one of the only two there are in the house. Yes, there are two identical coffee cups, a spare in case the first is dirty. The perfect size and shape, it nestles inside my cupped hands, not to big, not too small, just right. Its gently curving sides are elegantly ridged, curvaceous, gracious, giving traction, keeping the heat at bay. Two-thirds coffee, freshly brewed, one third milk, steaming hot, half a sugar cubed snapped in two and it does indeed make the perfect morning coffee cup.

 I have always been a woman of habit.

“Music is the wine that fills the cup of silence” – Robert Fripp

“…a handful of birdsong and a small cup of light.” - William Collins

“A cup of kindness is better than a cupboard of criticism.” – William Arthur Ward

“Life’s enchanted cup sparkles near the brim.” – Lord Byron

 Goblet, beaker, grail, chalice, mug, tumbler, cup. Which best describes you? Half empty or half full?

 A cup of joe. Not my cup of tea.

 Cupped hands. Sips of water, slurping, lapping. Cupped hands, a toddler offering a tiny mound of damp dark earth, maybe an earthworm or a snail snuggling within. Cupped hands, clasping the tiny fist of a newborn or cradling the face of a child. Cupped hands holding a small heap of chocolate chips or cashew nuts or golden raisins, willing to share. Cupped hands clenched around a fistful of coins, waiting eagerly for the ice cream truck.

 My mother came home from a visit north with two old child-sized cups: one chipped white enamel edged in marine blue, the other a cup in aluminum like we used to carry with us on Girl Scout camping trips. “These two cups belonged to my uncles, Grandma Bertha’s two youngest brothers.”

 Bras, jock straps, codpiece, World Cup… Reese’s Peanut Butter… cups galore!

 Paper cups for barbecues, delicate porcelain teacups graced with blossoms, edged in gold. Supersized mega cups in thick, resilient plastic for Slurpees. Egg cups! Egg cups in white ceramic in the shape of a hen or funny wooden chicks, sticky yellow yolk dripping slowly down the side. Thick heavy white coffee cups in diners, bistros, bars all around the globe, each alike, universal, a worldwide community of cups.

 One cup sugar, one cup flour, one cup butter.

 Many a slip twixt the cup and the lips.

 The bride and groom each take a sip of wine from a Kiddush cup. The groom lifts his foot and brings it down hard, smashing the cup wrapped in a white cloth napkin.

I have always loved jelly desserts and I confess that when I was a child my favourite dessert was JELL-O pudding. I didn't get it often but when I did I was a very happy 7 year old, the stronger the colour it had, the happier I was. I have no memory of it having any recognizable flavour, the allure was it's transparency and the wobble, two aspects that still attract me but now I want the jelly taste good as well. Tea jelly is very refreshing on a hot day, not to speak of the possibilities it has, you can use any of your favourite teas and make it with or without fruit.
350 ml/1,48 cup tea of your choice, I used Earl Grey
100 ml/0,63 cup sugar
150 ml/0,63 cup water
3 tsp gelatin powder but it’s always best to control the dosage on the packet.

small grapes of the variety called uva fragola in Italy
   Add 2-3 tsp of water to the gelatin powder and leave it for a couple of minutes.

   Make the tea and add the sugar while still hot, stir until completely dissolved

   Add the gelatine and mix very well. Pour the tea into cups or glasses, drop in 2-4 small grapes in each cup and put them in the fridge for 3-4 hours to solidify. If you use glasses you can put the grapes in at different stages so that they are not all at the top: pour a finger of tea into the glass, wait until the liquid is a starting to get solid before putting i few grapes in, repeat until you have filled the glass.


  1. I cannot live without my measuring cups and I cherish my pretty tea cups...

    Perfect prose, photography and dessert!



  2. Remembering my mom had some recipes with the measurment: "coffee cup". There was one coffee cup this, and, two coffe cups that. Never really found out how much one coffee cup equaled ml. Although, we did used the same particular coffee cup for those recipes.
    I do too, drink my morning coffee in the same cup. Once I even had 3 identical coffee cups, but two broke and then I didn't use the third one, in case that one also would break.

    Love your pics (as always!), Ilva, but unfortunately - gelatin is not my cup of tea. Do you buy flour "i lösvikt"? Wish that was possible to do in Gothenburg.

  3. I'm a cup girl too. No sturdy, practical, clunky mugs for me - I've always preferred the delicate balance of fine bone china.

  4. As always, a lovely read and luscious photos. Never thought of making tea into Jello, but sounds perfect for the dog days of late summer.

  5. I feel like I have as many cups as you - maybe more. The plastic ones are a dull yellowish white. There is only one left of a set of fabulous hard red plastic cups that turned out to be oh so fragile. And there are two sets of stainless steel cups - both sets with 250ml in the cup rather than the US 240ml. But only two small pyrex cups.

    What? No loopy lime? That was the flavour I always chose.

    What a wonderful idea to make tea flavoured jelly! I just googled to find out what uva fragola look like and I'm guessing that Coronation grapes might work well as substitutes.

  6. This is a gorgeous entry. The first thing I ever bought at a flea market (when I was 7) was a pair of tea cups. We can't wait to try this jelly. Thanks for sharing!

  7. What a lovely piece, both of you. Made me realise that yes, I also tend to go for the same cup every morning and didn't even realise it. Wonderful writing and photos. Too funny - Jolly Olly Orange and Co. Happy memories, indeed!

  8. Beautiful piece and beautiful photos. I have six (don't tell anyone) sets of measuring cups myself, four in regular rotation, and two on reserve. When I was growing up, my sisters and I would always fight over the purple cup.

  9. I have American measuring cups and Australian measuring cups but I never travel with them. I will remember that. I don't have heaps of fancy cups but I do have my mother's favorite cup and saucer. Lovely story.