During the school year we live on campus at the boarding school where we work in Kingston, just over the river from Wilkes-Barre, PA. Sadly, Kingston is more a series of shopping centers than a place, but it is not without its gems. One such is Jane Leslie & Co., a small boutique shop featuring, among other treasures, soaps and perfumes from the Italian company Santa Maria Novella in Florence.
Another new gem for Kingston is Truly Scrumptious Café and Cake Studio, located on Wyoming Ave., just across the street from the Hoyt Library. The café is operated by Cathy Reppert, who has been making cakes professionally since 2003. The café is lovely and features an exquisite, antique coffee station set behind its counter and display case. In a world of thoughtlessly prepared, stale coffee shop pastries, Cathy’s offerings are a breath of fresh air and reveal her attention to detail and excellence. On a series of recent visits, I’ve had the chance to try her cupcakes, muffins, brownies, and other sweets. All have been first rate and reveal the hallmark of all good cooking: freshness, attention to detail, and personality.
Especially thrilling was a brownie which took me back six years to the two weeks Dillon and I stayed with Anna Brevini and her family on their farm, Bosco del Fracasso, near Reggio Emilia, Italy. Anna and her husband Maurizio raise lambrusco grapes for wine and small fruits for jams in addition to milking a few cows for parmigiano-reggiano production and operating a small Bed and Breakfast. Unlike most Italian cooks, who prefer to enjoy sweets at the local bar instead of making them in their own kitchen, Anna was a wizard with desserts. Every night and again every morning we were treated to countless torte: apple, raspberry, and chocolate among others. The latter, Anna’s chocolate torta, is what my mind was drawn to when I tasted Cathy’s brownie. I have no idea how Cathy made hers, but Anna’s was a flourless version, thickened with arrowroot powder and tasting something like a cross between an exquisite brownie and fudge. She was kind enough to share the recipe, and it is one I’ve made countless times, both for the restaurant and for our own family.
Though I won’t even begin to defend from a health perspective the Italian practice of breakfasting solely on coffee and sweets, I must admit that it is as deeply satisfying as any eating experience can be. I have no idea how it can be true, but at times simply a well-made cappuccino or caffelatte has been enough to carry me through the whole morning. The rich intensity of the coffee providing substance and nourishment enough for a morning of touring and sight-seeing.
As Dillon and I prepare to fly to Rome in a week, it is the coffee even more than the exquisite art, even more than the exquisite dining, which I find myself pining away for. After dropping off bags at the hotel, we’ll head straight for the Piazza Navona for a gelato and un caffè and we will be nourished indeed.