Pick-me-up! Tiramisu… a gorgeous creamy boozy pudding!

It’s a competitive field here in Italy! I was at a friend’s 40th birthday party recently, a gathering of over 70 people, and there was a table laid out later in the evening with 40 desserts. The theatre of the dessert event was hilarious with those candles that come back to life after you blow them out. There were all variety of sweets on the table and of course Tiramisu… the classic Italian dessert… but there were 2 different ones and everyone had to try both to see which one was best. No pressure then on bringing this dessert to future gatherings! Trouble is people have different preferences. Some like it more creamy, some prefer a more dry cakey bit… I love it but have hesitated to make it thinking it might be too complicated but, you know what? It’s the easiest thing to make. Really. I’ve made it a few times now and could easily do with my eyes closed. Also, it takes very little time to make, a simple layering job once you’ve made the cream, but needs to sit at least 4 hours, preferably overnight, in the fridge. The version you get in restaurants here isn’t usually authentic – for health and safety reasons they usually substitute the heavy cream for the raw eggs. Yes, it’s got raw eggs in it but I think the booze in some way cooks it. Perfect for an elegant dinner party dessert that you can make a day ahead but also for breakfast, especially after a hard night… with the coffee and booze it’s aptly called ‘pick-me-up’!

Servings: The quantities in this recipe will easily serve 4-6 but if you need more just double or even triple the recipe.

Prep Time: 20 Minutes

Cook Time: no cooking but leave in fridge for 4+ hours – for the flavours to soak in and infuse

Total Time: 20 Minutes, plus 4+ hours chilling time


  • 2 eggs – separated
  • 60 g granulated white sugar
  • 250 g mascarpone – Crème fraîche is an ok substitute but a bit more acidic
  • coffee – I use a 3 cup mocha machine and I use decaf because, you know, we’re old
  • booze 1 small cup – generally I do 3 parts coffee and 1 part booze. Traditionally Masala wine is used but some people use rum or brandy. Personally, I prefer a good cognac and it really makes a difference. You can even do half and half cognac and masala wine.
  • cocoa powder – preferably organic. I use one that has reishi mushroom powder and a bit of cinnamon.
  • Savoiardi (lady fingers) – home made are obviously best. I usually buy local ones that exactly fit the dimensions of my casserole dish and use 8, 4 on each layer but doesn’t matter, you can break them if too long or need an extra bit. Important thing is that they lay fairly close together and create a single layer.


  • Make the cream
    • Separate your eggs. Whites in one bowl, yolks in another. Be careful not to get any yolk in with the whites. Crack them over a glass first.
    • First beat the whites in their separate bowl until they are stiff and little peaks have formed.
    • In the other bowl, add the sugar to the yolks and beat until smooth and silky. Add the mascarpone and mix until smooth and well combined.
    • Fold the whites into the yolk mix and gently mix till just combined.
  • Layering
    • You have 3 main elements for the layering: cream, boozy caffeinated Savoiardi and cocoa
    • Spread 1/3 of the cream on the base of a square 18x18cm casserole dish.
    • Combine your coffee and booze in a shallow dish or bowl then one at a time quickly dip and turn a Savoiardi biscuit in the liquid. You don’t want it saturated, just a light wetting on each side. If it absorbs too much liquid, your Tiramisu will be very mushy. Once dipped, nestle the biscuit into the cream. Repeat until you’ve created a single layer. For me, it’s usually 4 biscuits per layer depending on the size I have.
    • Cover your first layer with another 1/3 of the cream. Smooth and even out. Lightly dust with a bit of cocoa.
    • Add another, single layer of dipped Savoiardi.
    • Cover the second layer with the remaining cream, smooth and even out, and then give a final heavy dusting of cocoa.
    • E voila! you’re done! Cover with cling film / saran wrap and place in fridge for min 4 hours, preferably overnight.

NOTE: You can use the same method to layer in individual dishes so that everyone gets their own mini Tiramisu. If you’ve got a lot of people, double or triple the recipe. Leftovers won’t last long if my family is anything to go by and it keeps in the fridge for a few days anyway.

Memory lane: Tunis olive love

You know, growing up, I never encountered olives and olive oil was not a kitchen staple in North America back then. As far as I can remember, my first taste of them was on an academic research visit to Germany in the late 80s when a friend offered toast topped with butter, mashed sardines and sliced olives for lunch one day. I loved it and after that often made it as a light lunch for myself but of course the olives were the bottled supermarket variety. In 1997, arriving on the day of Diane’s tragic death, I took up an overseas work assignment in Tunis and a whole new world of olives opened up!

The local market was full of barrels of olives in brine… so many varieties! It was amazing! And olives were such a staple in the Tunisian diet that you couldn’t escape them even if you wanted to. Every restaurant, which all seemed to have the same menu, always offered a little dish of olives as a starter alongside harissa with olive oil for dipping your bread and, if in season, fresh fennel. The rest of the evening menu was usually the ubiquitous finely diced tomato and cucumber salad, chips and whole grilled fish followed by seasonal fruit, dates, figs and a little dish of fennel seeds. We did find a lovely little place tucked away in a side street off the main avenue Habib Bourgiba which did a most delicious shellfish dish, prawns baked in a clay urn with a slightly curried tomato sauce. So yummy. Lunch was more often than not tuna salad with tomato and olives on a French baguette or Brik. Tuna and olives! And gorgeous pastries!!

Brik (/briːk/ BREEK; بريك) or burek is the north African version of borek, a stuffed filo pastry which is commonly deep fried. The best-known version is the egg brik, a whole egg in a triangular pastry pocket with chopped onion, tuna, harissa and parsley.

according to Wikepedia

I was only there for 8-9 months but it was a wonderful experience and inspired a love of North Africa. Although I never lived in Tunis again, I was very fortunate to have had other assignments in North Africa which allowed me the opportunity to visit frequently over the years. It remains in loving memory perhaps also because it’s the last place I saw my father before he passed. He joined me for a little beach holiday on the southern island of Djerba and then spent some days with me in Tunis exploring the old Roman ruins of Carthage. I can still feel his hug before getting in the airport taxi. Miss him every day. In any case, Tunis and Tunisia… a most wonderful place. Great people, delicious food and so many interesting things to see and explore.

Although only there for a short while, I got around a bit. I discovered it was a short journey to both Carthage and to Hammamet by train and had lots of weekend day trips to the seaside. Around Christmas, I also took a local long distance shared cab south to the desert with a friend. What an adventure! 3 Senegalese people joined our cab south and I don’t know what oils they used on their skin but they smelled heavenly and laughed the whole way wrapped in their colourful cloths. We spent some time in and around Tataouine where they filmed parts of Star Wars – incredible place and landscapes – and spent a night in the below-ground “cave dwellings” of the native Berber people, designed for coolness and protection. These were giant holes in the ground with layers of caves, maybe 3-4 stories high, surrounded by rolling hills filled with wild rosemary. Stayed a few nights in other places on the edge of the desert too, eating couscous, huddled by the open fire listening to the drums. Such a special place the Sahara desert and I’ve been fortunate to spend time in it in Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco and Egypt. I think it was also around the time that The English Patient came out which only added to the romance. The most spectacular memory though was a hot air balloon ride over the desert. This was in the late 90s so not a lot of tourism still and we just by chance got chatting to some French folks at a local cafe who said they did hot air ballooning. So calm and peaceful. It was like meditating, just floating through blue skies, across the golden dunes which stretched as far as the eye could see under the shade of the colourful canopy. We came to land on the outskirts of a tiny village and as we descended hordes of children emerged and started chasing us, laughing and calling out, surrounding us with their happy, excited faces as we landed.

One of the things I loved most about Tunisia was the blue and white architecture – lovely terrace cafes in Sidi Bou Said with views of the Med, old doors, turrets and veiled balconies in narrow cobblestone streets – and the arts and crafts. I’m not a big shopper but I do have a fondness for pottery and textiles and have collected a few pieces over the years. Of all of North African arts and crafts, the Tunisian ones have always seemed the most beautiful to me. The designs and colours seem to me just a little more delicate and fine than in other parts. Little treasures and reminders of a beautiful place!

Well… enough rambling! Thank you for accompanying me on this little meander down memory lane inspired by the olive harvest. A few photos below from my time in Tunis to add some colour.

Have a beautiful week making wonderful new memories – live well folks!


Go nuts! Buttery shortbread goodness… with a nutty twist!

A few years back when I lived in Cairo for my job, I found these wonderful walnut biscuits at the deli next to my house. They were so good, perfect for my morning coffee or an afternoon break and sometimes both, and reminded me of my childhood – a kind of comfort food. Growing up with a Scottish mother, shortbread was a bit of a staple, especially in the cold Canadian winters and at Christmas. These walnut biscuits or cookies were basically just shortbread with nuts baked in. I’m not sure how they made it to Cairo but they do like their nuts there as in many parts of North Africa and the Levant. Many traditional sweets feature nuts, especially almonds and walnuts. In any case, now in Sardinia with nuts making an appearance in the winter market, I found myself missing these biscuits with my morning coffee so I recently dug out my old family shortbread recipe and did a little experimenting. Pretty pleased with the results – rolled in coarse sugar, these sophisticated nut shortbread cookies are long on nutty, buttery flavour. But be warned! They are addictive and a family favourite so will disappear fast!

Servings: 24 cookies or more depending on how you roll the dough and cut the log

Prep Time: 15 Minutes

Cook Time: 20 Minutes

Total Time: 35 Minutes, plus 1 hour to chill the dough


  • 90 g chopped nuts – any: walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, brazil nuts, pecans. Be a purist and pick one type or a mix!
  • 140 g unsalted butter, softened
  • 60 g confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • Scant ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 100 g all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 95 g almond flour
  • 1 egg yolk, beaten with 1 tsp of water
  • 50 g demerara or coarse raw cane sugar (Note: You’ll use less than this, but you need extra to roll the dough in.)
  • Optional: Spice it up with cinnamon, allspice, or pumpkin spice added to the flour! Just add 1/2 or 1 tsp


  • Preheat the oven to 175°C and set an oven rack in the middle position
  • Place the nuts on a baking sheet and toast for around five minutes, until fragrant. Cool on the baking sheet. (The nuts can be toasted and stored at room temperature.) I like to use a mix of chopped nuts but you can be a purist and pick one kind!
  • In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, confectioners’ sugar, vanilla, and salt until smooth and lightened a bit, two to three minutes. You can also just use a hand mixer. Scrape the bowl with a spatula. Add the flour (with or without optional spice) and mix on low just until fully combined. Add the nuts and mix until evenly combined.
  • Turn the dough onto a clean countertop lightly dusted with flour. Dust the dough with a little flour. Shape and roll into a squared log between 1½ to 2 inches wide and 1½ to 2 inches high, dusting with more flour as necessary. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap or parchment paper and chill for at least one hour or overnight, until the dough has gotten very firm.
  • Preheat the oven to 175°C and set two oven racks in the centermost positions. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  • Lightly beat the egg yolk and ½ teaspoon of water in a small bowl and set aside. Pour the demerara sugar into a rimmed baking sheet or shallow casserole pan. Slice the chilled log in half to make it more manageable. Working with one log at a time, brush all sides of the log with the egg yolk mixture, then roll in the demerara sugar, pressing as necessary, until fully coated. If there are any areas of the log that are bare, sprinkle with the demerara sugar to cover.
  • Use a serrated knife to slice each log into about 12 individual cookies, each about ½-inch thick. Place the cookie slices onto the prepared baking sheets, leaving about 2 inches of space between each. Bake, rotating from top to bottom and front to back halfway through, until lightly golden, 18 to 20 minutes. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets for a few minutes, then transfer to a rack to cool completely. The cookies will keep in a covered container at room temperature for up to a week.

NOTE: Freezer-Friendly Instructions – Let the cookies cool completely and store in an airtight container separating layers with parchment paper or aluminium foil. Before serving, remove the cookies from the container and let them come to room temperature. If you’d like to freeze the dough before baking, shape it into a squared log, then wrap it securely in plastic wrap and then a layer of foil; freeze for up to 3 months. When ready to bake, remove the log from the freezer, thaw it until pliable, and then proceed with recipe.

Mixed nut shortbread biscuit – comfort food to start your day with your coffee or as a pick me up with your afternoon cuppa!

Olives a-go-go

Olive season has begun! Yay

We collected a bunch from the tree next to our house and now have olives for the winter.

Easy peasy! It really is but it does take a little time, about 2-3 weeks, so patience is a key ingredient in making confectionary olives.

1. Harvest the olives from a tree or buy fresh, raw from the market. You can use any kind of olives for this really. The quantity is up to you and doesn’t really change anything in terms of process.

2. Wash the olives, remove all twigs and leaves, strain and then crack individually. I used the bottom of a glass to press down on them until they cracked. You can also knick them with a knife to break the skin but allowing them to crack by crushing gives a better result, I think, in terms of flavour. Just be careful not to crush too much so that you break the pit and/or end up with a mush.

3. Put them in a clean container. I use a large plastic measuring jug so it’s easy to empty the water. Cover with water making sure all are under water. You can put a little saucer or muslin cloth on the surface to keep the olives submerged. Then let sit them in water 1 to 2 weeks till the bitterness goes. You’ll have to change the water daily! After a week, nibble one and if it’s bitter, carry on for another week. Mine went from a bright, verdant green to a darker, more earthy green over this period.

4. Rinse the olives and cover with brine (basically salt water) for a week in a cool dark spot. Again, they need to be completely submerged. For the salt water, I filled a separate pot with water, enough to cover the olives, and added spoonfuls of salt to water. There is no exact measurement, I just tested it with an egg (raw in shell!) – as soon as the egg floated it was ready. Weird but true.

5. You can eat them straight out of the brine and they are yummy but I prefer to have them ‘sotto olio’ (under oil) for a more delicate taste. Transfer small batches to another container, rinsing the salt water off first. I used a small mason jar which I could close and layered the olives in with good olive oil, whole peperoncino (chili), cracked garlic cloves and bay leaves. I only take out what I think we’ll eat over a week and leave the rest in the brine.

And that’s it really! Ready to eat with a chunk of fresh crusty country bread and slices of pecorino cheese. The best part is dipping the bread in the oil!

NOTE: Here in Sardinia, olives like this are a key element of the charcuterie board, usually served on cork slabs. Lot of cork trees here still! I’ll do another post sometime on how to prepare a charcuterie cork board! It’s a typical appetizer or antipasta before a meal, served with a little wine, and even sometimes just something on its own, to have as nibbles for an aperitivo – happy hour, sunset cocktails session – usually aperol spritz, campari, wine or beer. Italians typically like to eat when they drink. When life gives you olives, make a martini!

and so it begins…

a seed, a little citrus tree, a dream of a beautiful life, an infinite love reanimated, a search for a place to call home… our querencia!

In 2015, my husband Ale and I bought a little piece of land with a dream of creating a new kind of life for ourselves; a life seeking beauty and creating joy, living in harmony with the seasons. The land was untamed, overgrown with wild olive trees and indigenous shrubs, maccia mediterrania, and in a perfect location – a little south facing hillside with views of the Med. We dreamed of having a citrus grove and for some years now have been nurturing and curating this wild land of ours. We don’t want to tame her completely. The indigenous plants are beautiful, especially when they are in flower, and the base for so many healthy seasonal remedies and foods, and also for the little bee families that we’ve adopted to produce the most exquisite wildflower honey. We are, I guess you could say, sculpting some parts to make a few vegetable patches and flowery terraces for meditation and gatherings of family and friends. It’s taking its time. When we started, the soil was poor, battered by the rain and wind, trampled by years of use by local cattle farmers and shepherds, and wild boar but a gem to be polished. Fencing, terracing, planting and replanting, and irrigating has been a big and ongoing focus. Ale is working his way round, trimming the wild olives to give them more space to grow and has started producing oils, wild olive oil and lentische oil, and, last winter, also started some mushroom farming. Baby steps and slow progress but moving forward. We currently live a short drive away but, one day, we’ll build a home here and, for the moment, we have a little caravan at the land, tucked behind a pond amongst the wild olives, as a base. When we get disheartened, we hike up to the top and sit with the view, breathe the clean air, feel the sun on our face and let the peace and beauty of the place reenergise us. It’s a wonderful adventure! 

Paolo Fresu ~ Blue in Green