Perhaps it is the same in other homes, other cultures: There is a place in Italy where it does not matter how old I am, but every time my mother sees me, the first thing she will say is: "Have you eaten?" And there was a moment when this question was the sweetest sound I ever heard.
Last summer my mother was so tired. Every little daily action had become an obstacle. After a doctor’s visit, the word "cancer" entered our lives. It seemed like the word resounded incessantly within the walls of our home. The house that I associated with the aroma of my mother's orange cake now smelled sour. Nothing made sense.
Doctors told us that my mother must have surgery to remove the tumor, that there were risks and perhaps bad consequences. I was terrified, but my mother never stopped smiling and promising that everything would be fine, all the while cutting vegetables for dinner as usual.
On the day of the surgery, I stood next to her antiseptic white bed, the smell of the hospital room as far removed from that orange cake as in our house. I clasped her hand, and she stroked my face. When she got on the gurney, she looked at me with bright eyes and said, “Clara, see you at the Oscars." She sought strength in the hope of seeing my greatest dream come true.
I did not cry. I tried to find the courage for waiting in the memory of the smell of the orange cake, of her beautiful hands gently buttering the pan, of her smile every time I stole a bit of dough with my fingers. I spent eight hours of waiting that had the taste of infinity.
When I opened the door to her room, she was already awake, her face showing exhaustion. I took her hand and started crying. After a few seconds, she said in a faint voice, "Have you eaten?"
Let me tell you something: If there's anything that Italians love more than food, well, it's Mom.
Clara Grecuccio is a university student in Casarano, Italy, studying literature, cinema, and dance. She can be found @claragrecuccio/ and on Twitter.
Orange Olive Oil Cake
1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil
2 c. all-purpose flour
1 1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
dash of salt
4 large eggs
1 1/2 c. granulated sugar
powdered sugar to garnish
Preheat oven to 350 F. and lightly grease a 9-inch springform pan.
Cut off a small slice of the thicker top and bottom parts of each orange, discard these pieces, and then cut the rest of the oranges into chunks.
Place them in a food processor, and puree until blended but with some texture left.
Add the oil to the oranges, and pulse until blended.
In a large bowl, mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
In another bowl, beat eggs until light and fluffy.
Slowly add sugar to eggs.
Add egg mixture to flour mixture in three parts, alternating with the orange mixture, stirring just until combined.
Pour batter pan and bake for 50 minutes.