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Sakura Panna Cotta #FoodieReads

I have long been a fan of Isabel Allende since I read The House of the Spirits when I was in high school. But her recent works weren't on my radar until one of my best friends suggest The Japanese Lover* for our Lit Happens book group.

On the Page
This is a beautifully written story of love. Love attained. Love lost. And everything in between. Since historical fiction is always my genre of choice, I devoured this book.

At the center of the tapestry is Alma Belasco, a wealthy widow who has recently taken up residence at Lark House, a retirement home of sorts, and Irina Bazili, a employee at Lark House who takes care of Alma. And, though those are the two main threads, there are dozens of interwoven stories with characters from both those women's lives. We learn that Alma was a Polish Jew whose parents sent her to live with American relatives, the Belascos, in San Francisco. It's revealed that Irina, whose identity was carefully crafted to hide her from her past, is actually the child of Romanian immigrants.

But, the titular storyline revolves around Alma's life-long love affair with her childhood friend Ichimei who was the son of her American family's Japanese gardener. I am not going to reveal too much because it's a wonderfully written story that you should read, if you have the time, especially if you like historical fiction. Oh, and true to Allende's magical realism, a ghost makes an appearance!

I will give you a sense of Allende's prose though, with a foodie bent because this is a kitchen blog!

"The two women ate peacefully, savoring Asian dishes and ordering more popovers. A second glass of champagne loosened Alma's tongue, and on this occasion she talked about Nathaniel, her husband, who was nearly always part of her reminiscences..." (pg. 99).

"Before the first course they were served, courtesy of the chef, a spoonful of blackfish foam that seemed to her like it had been vomited by a dragon. Irina tasted it suspiciously..." (pg. 111).

"Instead of going out on excursions, which involved traveling, looking for somewhere to park, and having to be on their feet, they watched films on television, listened to music in their apartments, or visited Cathy with a bottle of pink champagne to go with the gray caviar that Cathy's daughter, a Lufthansa flight attendant brought back from her trips" (pg. 168).

And one quotation about Alma's tragic love... "Passion is universal and eternal throughout the centuries, she said, but circumstances and customs are constantly changing; sixty years on, it was hard to understand the insurmountable obstacles they had to face back then. If she could be young again, knowing what she now knew about herself, she would do what she did all over again, because she would never have dared reject convention and commit herself fully to Ichimei; she had never been courageous and had basically abided by the norms. ...At the age of twenty-two, suspecting their time limited, Ichimei and she had gorged on love to enjoy it to the full, but the more they tried to exhaust it, the wilder their desire became..." (pg. 263).

On the Plate
My creation for this post was inspired by this passage: "One Saturday, Nathaniel blindfolded her and told her he had a surprise for her. Then he led her through the kitchen and laundry and out into the garden. When he removed the blindfold and she looked up, she found she was standing beneath a cherry tree in blossom, a cloud of pink cotton" (pg. 46).

Actually, that a passage, first, had me watching video clips on how to make hand-pulled cotton candy. And even though I had my boys work out the match on the twists required to end up with over 10,000 strands - and the math works - I wasn't confident that I wanted to try to hand-pull cotton candy.

That led me to actual cherry blossoms and cherry blossom tea. Or so I thought - with the tea. It turns out that the 'cherry blossom' tea I ordered was really green tea with rose petals and cherries. I used it regardless.

Sakura Panna Cotta

I decided to make a coconut panna cotta with a cherry blossom gelée on top. And I suspended the blossoms in the gel to mimic the wispy clouds of pink cotton from the book. I will admit that the boys all complained about "the weeds in their dessert." Really, guys?!? 

Ingredients makes 4

Coconut Panna Cotta
  • 2 T water
  • 1 packet powdered unflavored gelatin
  • 1 C whole-milk plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 C coconut cream
  • 1/4 C granulated sugar
  • 1/2 t pure vanilla extract

Cherry Blossom Gelée

  • 1 C steeped cherry blossom tea, strained
  • 1 to 2 drops natural red food coloring (I get a vegetable-based dye at Whole Foods)
  • 1/4 C granulated sugar
  • 1 packet powdered unflavored gelatin


  • pickled cherry blossoms, approximately 8 or 2 per serving


Coconut Panna Cotta
Have four ramekins or glass dishes ready. I place them on a small baking sheet that fits in my fridge. Set aside.

Place the cold water in a small bowl and sprinkle the gelatin on top. Let soften for 5-10 minutes.

In the meantime, combine coconut cream, yogurt, sugar, and vanilla in a medium saucepan. Heat gently until the mixture just comes to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar. Remove from heat and add the softened gelatin. Return pan to the stove and heat gently until the gelatin is completely dissolved, approximately 2 to 3 minutes.

Strain through a fine mesh sieve into a large measuring cup with a spout. Pour about 1/2 C into each dish. Let stand until cooled to room temperature, then  place in the fridge for 3 hours to chill until set. In the last hour of chilling, prepare the gelée.

Rinse the pickled cherry blossom in a fine mesh sieve under cool running water for 1 to 2 minutes. Then soak them in clean water until you need them. Set aside.

Cherry Blossom Gelée
Place strained tea and sugar in a small saucepan. Sprinkle the gelatin on the top. Let soften for 5 to 10 minutes. Place the pan on the stove and heat gently until the gelatin is completely dissolved. Remove from heat and stir in food coloring. If you are using chemical food dye, you can probably add it sooner, but the natural red turns purple when heated; it's made from beets! Strain through a fine mesh sieve into a large measuring cup with a spout.

To Finish
Remove the panna cotta from the fridge and pour a layer of cherry blossom gel over the top. Gently place a blossom or two in the gel. It will naturally spread its petals. Return the dishes to the fridge for another hour.

Serve chilled.

*This blog currently has a partnership with in their affiliate program, which gives me a small percentage of sales if you buy a product through a link on my blog. It doesn't cost you anything more. If you are uncomfortable with this, feel free to go directly to and search for the item of your choice.

Click to see what everyone else read in April 2019: here.


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