Meet Georgia Pellegrini, a new monthly contributor to the Minnetonka blog. Today she shares her approach to finding adventure in every day life, along with a delicious Rose Petal Hazelnut Cake recipe from her new book “Modern Pioneering.”
Because of my Great-Aunt Gray, I have always liked to get dirt under my fingernails. I can still picture her standing in her gardens, hunched over with shovel and trowel, her white hair puffing out from below the brim of her baseball hat, her floral skirt falling just above her oversized muddy sneakers.
She opened my eyes to what it means to be a fearless girl, the last of a generation that knew how to kill a chicken in the backyard for dinner, that wasted nothing, that made the best of what they had and never pointed out what they didn’t. Thanks to her, I learned to cook with economy and respect for simple ingredients.
For her it wasn’t about survival, it was a way of life, and she taught me to stop and smell the rosemary and to look for purslane in between the sidewalk cracks, and turn it into a tangy healthy salad. I also learned to wear a little homemade beet juice tinted lip-gloss while doing it.
There was comfort and strength to be found in the deliberate churn of Aunt Gray’s ice cream maker, which set the day’s tempo. Aunt Gray was famous for her rustic cornbread and her homemade ice cream, which she prepared with the bare minimum of sugar in order to accentuate the other flavors. She probably would have eliminated sugar from their recipes altogether if she could have gotten away with it, such was their disdain for added sweetener.
In the years since my time with Aunt Gray, I have spent countless hours in the outdoors, but I have also traveled constantly, and have lived in small urban spaces without the luxury of lush land around me. Yet I still have the desire to feel the dirt slip between my fingers, to stir ruby-colored jam in a pot and watch it grow thick. And I have come to realize that Aunt Gray’s generation got more than a few things right and there are still ways, both large and small to “get back to the land,” even if the “land” is only a fire escape or a patio planter; even if the land is a parking strip where you are picking wild dandelion greens for a salad.
Even in my urban Austin home, I can still mark the seasons by the scents of the herbs growing on my windowsill and the rose petals blooming in the parks. Yes, Aunt Gray taught me that those pale pink rose petals that grew on her arbor were edible too, and make the most festive party presentation on a cake.
Thanks to her, I’ve realized that we can all be both modern and a pioneer if we seek out new experiences with a sense of fearlessness. Sometimes stepping outside of our comfort zone is a reminder that the lost world we seek can be within arm’s reach.
It is empowering ourselves to find adventure in new experiences and in a little self-sufficiency that is what makes us feel truly full. And sometimes it can be as simple as scattering a fistful of rose petals onto a hazelnut cake on a warm sunny afternoon.
Rose Petal Hazelnut Cake
This is a simple, nutty cake good for afternoon tea. Because it is flourless and not too sweet, eating it any time of day is suitable. You can of course dress it up with whipped cream or frosting if you would like.
Tip: If you whisk the whites by hand, use a large, heavy whisk for efficiency and make sure the whisk and bowl are very clean and dry so that your whites form stiff peaks.
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Total time: 40 minutes
Unsalted butter for greasing the pan
1½ cups hazelnut flour (or finely ground hazelnuts)
2 teaspoons baking powder
4 large eggs, separated
½ teaspoon almond extract
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ cup heavy cream
½ cup fresh organic rose petals
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. butter an 8-inch fluted tart pan with a drop bottom and set aside. You may also use a cake pan, but if you do, be sure to use a toothpick to check for doneness.
2. In a medium bowl, combine the hazelnut flour and baking powder and set aside.
3. In a large bowl, combine the egg yolks and sugar and whisk vigorously until pale yellow. Add the almond and vanilla along with the cream and whisk again until fully combined.
4. Add the dry ingredients to the yolk mixture and mix together until uniform.
5. In a large bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff peaks form.
6. With a spatula, fold a third of the egg whites into the batter, then incorporate the rest of the whites all at once.
7. When the batter is uniform, gently fold in the rose petals.
8. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Place the pan in the oven on the middle rack and bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let the cake cool for 10 minutes, then remove the cake from the pan and let it cool to room temperature.
9. Sprinkle the cake with powdered sugar, slather it with whipped cream or frosting, or leave it be, whatever you please. It will keep for about 3 days, and should be stored in an airtight container or wrapped in plastic.
About Georgia Pellegrini:
Georgia’s taste for simple food and outdoor adventure evolved as she grew up in the Hudson Valley. She followed her passion to the French Culinary Institute and then to Gramercy Tavern, Blue Hill at Stone Barns, and La Chassagnette in France. Georgia is the author of “Food Heroes,” “Girl Hunter,” and the new book “Modern Pioneering.” She has appeared on Today, Jimmy Kimmel Live, Iron Chef, and much more, and her outdoor Adventure Getaways have been featured everywhere from the New York Times, to the Wall Street Journal, to HBO. She lives in Austin, Texas and chronicles her adventures on her wildly popular website GeorgiaPellegrini.com and her Facebook fan page.