Mmm... biscotti!

2.27.2010


The tasty little “twice-baked” cookie you might purchase at Starbuck’s actually has an interesting past.  Long ago, before the days of Grande Triple-Shot No-Whip Non-Fat Mochas and Extra-Hot Tall Skinny Hazelnut Lattes, biscotti were made to accompany wine.  Vin Santo, to be exact - a semi-sweet dessert wine.  These crunchy little dunkables were also carried by Roman soldiers.  Their dry texture lends itself to a long “shelf life” so soldiers didn’t have to worry about moldy bread. 

Over the last year and a half or so, I’ve perfected the art of the twice-baked cookie.  Have you ever noticed that the non-homemade biscotti from your local coffee shop tend to get very soggy when you dip?  The key to great texture is no fat.  Literally.  No oil, no butter, nada.  Enjoy!



What You Need:
 2 large eggs
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. almond extract
2 cups flour
1 cup chopped almonds (toasted are the best!)
Mixing bowl
Rubber spatula
Cooking spray (Pam for Baking)
Whisk or Hand Mixer
Baking sheet

What To Do:
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly spray the baking sheet with cooking   spray. 

2. Beat the eggs, sugar, baking powder, salt, and almond extract until creamy. The mixture should look a little bit like pancake batter.

3. Lower the speed on the mixer or switch to whisk.  Add the flour and blend gently until it’s incorporated into the dough.  The dough should get pretty dry and crumbly at this point.  Then add the almonds.

4. Transfer the dough onto the prepared baking sheet.  Shape it into a log about 12-14 inches long and smooth the top.  It should be about an inch thick.  

TIP: Sometimes the dough can be sticky so it helps to put a little flour on your hands before you start to handle it.

5. Bake the dough for about 25 minutes or until it’s a light golden brown.  Remove from the oven and let cool for a few minutes (5 or 10).  Cut the log into 1/2 inch to 1 inch slices. 

TIP: Don’t use a serrated knife.  Slice directly up and down (not in a sawing motion).  Also, if you very lightly dampen the top before you slice, this helps keep the dough from crumbling.

6.  Lower the oven to about 325 degrees.  Line the slices, standing upright, along the baking sheet and bake an additional 20-25 minutes, or until the biscotti are fully cooked, crisp, and golden brown.  Eat ‘em up with some coffee, a latte, an espresso, whatever your caffeine fix desires!

TIP: This recipe makes the traditional almond biscotti but you can change it up very easily.  Sometimes I throw a little orange zest in there for tang.  You can also substitute vanilla extract for the almond extract and go from there.  I've made chocolate-hazelnut (with cocoa powder and hazelnuts), chocolate chip, dried cranberry and pistachio, etc.  Have fun with it!

Friday Foto - Ispirare

2.26.2010

Today's is somewhat simple, but I just couldn't pass up the chance to show off the amazing guitarist I saw in Madrid.

ISPIRARE 
Translation: to inspire.

Color My Thoughts

2.25.2010


I’ve come to appreciate running for the time it gives me to think.  It’s the one period of the day where I don’t feel guilty for devoting my thoughts to something other than school. A lot of the time, my thoughts are simple.  “Ew, my love handles feel jigglier today.”  “My leg itches.”  “The wind is cold.”  But, occasionally, I actually notice the world around me.  So many flowers are starting to bloom, even though it’s still technically winter.  Guess that’s the benefit of living in a warmer climate - warmer being a relative term, of course.

Today I noticed all the colors around me.  No wonder people often get seasonal depression.  Winter can be beautiful at times, but it’s so monotonous!  It got me thinking about color in terms of photography.  I’ve typically been drawn to black & white photography.  Often color in an image can be distracting – like when the geometric composition is so stunning you just want to capture the shape.  Or when the true art of the image is the interplay between light and shadow.  But color on its own can also make the image.  Some colors are so stunning, so piercing, that not capturing them feels like a sin.  The composition is in the color.  The switch to digital photography has forced me to look at things differently.  I’m starting to see color as a tool, rather than a distraction.  Can you imagine all these beautifully striped ties in black & white?  Ew.  How dull!!


Glimpses of Spring on a Dreary Day

2.24.2010

 

 

Solitude

2.22.2010


Be able to be alone. Lose not the advantage of solitude, and the society of thyself. – Thomas Browne

I visited Venice on a chilly, rainy day.  I was determined to capture the essence of the city, despite the weather.  Most shots were clicked quickly with fingers numb and trembling.  It was almost impossible to walk in St. Mark’s Square due to the severely flooded canals.  Impossible, unless you were a local.  Those who know the weather - know the rain, know when it’s coming and how to manage it – were well-prepared for their daily walks.  I loved the lantern and lighting in this shot so I clicked in a matter of seconds then turned to walk away.  As I did, I noticed this man coming around the corner.  He was walking alone.  He was carrying nothing with him.  Because of his rain boots, it was safe to assume he was a local.  By all appearances, he was out for an afternoon stroll and a little bit of water was not going to stand in his way.  For the few seconds it took to shoot this photo, I admired him.  Whatever his destination may have been, at that moment he enjoyed the society of himself.


Butternut Squash Soup

2.21.2010

Days in the kitchen are good days indeed. It’s kind of exciting when you create something delicious from random ingredients. Sometimes I follow recipes, and sometimes I experiment. Today was an experiment. I’ve made a few soups before so I just changed some things around and made my own version of butternut squash soup. I realize it’s not exactly the season for it, but it was rainy and chilly this afternoon. Perfect weather for soup!

























What You Need:

2-3 lbs. butternut squash (I used 3 packages of frozen squash)
1 medium yellow onion
1 medium potato
1-2 tbsp. olive oil
4 c. vegetable broth (or chicken, if you prefer)
1/8 – 1/4 c. brown sugar (I just grabbed a bit with my hand)
cinnamon
ground ginger
nutmeg
salt & pepper
sour cream for garnish
large pot
ladle
blender (immersion or regular)

What To Do:

1. If using fresh squash, peel and cut into cubes. If using frozen, defrost the squash.

2. Chop the onion and potato.

3. In a large pot, heat the olive oil and add onions. Cook until onions just start to caramelize but be careful not to burn them. Add the potatoes, squash, and enough broth to simmer the vegetables until tender.

4. Once the vegetables are cooked and tender, add the brown sugar and remaining spices. Puree using either an immersion blender or ladle the soup into a regular blender. Add the remaining broth as necessary for a smooth consistency.

5. Add additional seasoning, if necessary, and serve with a dollop of sour cream on top. So yummy!

Tip: I added some crushed red pepper flakes to give it a little kick. Squash also tends to take sweet very well. If you want a sweeter soup, adjust the amount of sugar, cinnamon, etc. to suit your taste preferences.

Friday Foto

2.19.2010


In my effort to learn Italian, I signed up for Italian Word of the Day emails.  The utility of these emails is still up for debate.  Occasionally, the word is one worth knowing and the accompanying sentence is one I could work into conversation (“Il tempo non accenna a migliorare.” – “The weather shows no sign of improving.”)  But every now and then, the Word of the Day writer gets lazy.  Not too long ago, I received the following:

Spaghetti
Translation: spaghetti

Um… really?  Who doesn’t know what spaghetti is?  And does it really translate to “spaghetti” or does it actually mean something?  My Italian-speaking boyfriend claims it means “many little strings.”  That makes more sense to me than "spaghetti = spaghetti."

To improve my extremely limited Italian vocabulary, I’m putting my own spin on Word of the Day.  Each Friday, I’ll choose a word – either randomly from my Italian dictionary (close eyes, point) or I’ll use the word from Word of the Day – and capture a photo that best illustrates the word.  It may be a photo I’ve taken previously or something I shoot specifically for that word.  Either way, it (hopefully) will help cement the word in this overcrowded brain. 

This week’s word is:  SGARGIANTE.  Translation:  gaudy, showy, flamboyant.




Good Reads | What the Dog Saw

2.17.2010

Books have always been vital to my wellbeing. As a child, I learned very quickly the meaning of “pleasure reading.” There were books for school, and there were books for me. Books allowed me to travel to faraway places and experience adventures I could only dream of. Books were a form of therapy. They provided balance for me as a child and they still serve that same purpose. I’ve made a very concerted effort to continue pleasure reading throughout law school, but it hasn’t been easy.

Quite a few of my Christmas presents were books and, of course, I was elated. I don’t think I could ever get on the Kindle bandwagon. Part of the pleasure in "pleasure reading" is the book itself – the texture of the pages, the artwork on the cover, the unique smell of both old and new books. These characteristics are sometimes overlooked in the Digital Age.

This week, I just finished reading What the Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell. The book is a collection of various essays Gladwell has written over the last decade and a half with The New Yorker. It’s divided into three sections – the first dealing with minor geniuses, the second with flawed ways of thinking and the third with how we make predictions about people. Gladwell’s essays are brief, with a smooth and easy flow. If you have fifteen minutes to kill, you can easily finish one, maybe two, and have something new to think about for the day.

Gladwell has created an art form in the way he views the world. He tackles mundane subjects such as hair dye, flavored ketchup, or dog training, and transforms them into human stories. He forces the reader to view the world from a new perspective. Not necessarily through the eyes of another – though that is one technique he employs – but just from a different angle. After many of the chapters (most, actually), all I could think was, “Hmm. Interesting.” And often, a few days later, I found myself still thinking about what I read and the effect it has on how I view things now.

Gladwell is one of the most creative and thought-provoking non-fiction writers I’ve read. I highly recommend What the Dog Saw.


Catholic Guilt Never Dies

2.16.2010

Lent begins tomorrow. Traditionally, the purpose of Lent was to prepare for Holy Week, which culminates in Easter. It may seem hard to believe based on the inordinate amount of brightly colored plastic eggs and chocolate bunnies with beady little sugar eyes, but Easter was once a religious holiday. Lent, the forty days preceding Easter, represents the forty days Jesus spent in the desert enduring Satan’s temptations.

As a young girl in Catholic school, we were taught to give up something tempting for Lent. Theoretically, this practice was to help us understand Jesus’ suffering in the desert. Jesus slept in sand, went without food and water, and had daily conversations with the Prince of Darkness. That kind of thing can seriously mess with your mind. As a young girl, I typically resisted the temptations not of Satan but of chocolate, soda, pickles, pizza, etc. Not quite the same, but challenging in its own pesky way.

I'm not much of a practicing Catholic these days, but good ol’ Catholic Guilt has, of course, forced me to carry on the tradition into adulthood. For any non-Catholics, trust me – “forced” is absolutely the best word to describe this. Last year, I gave up all sweets/desserts for Lent. My boyfriend’s wonderful grandmother didn’t know this and she served me a piece of tiramisu in late March. I didn’t want to be an ungrateful guest or offend her generosity so I had a few bites. I didn’t even come close to finishing the piece yet I felt like I committed the Ultimate Sin. After a while I figured God knew my true motivations – I wasn’t actually giving into temptation, I was being kind - so hopefully He’d forgive me. That whole “omniscient” thing is rather convenient sometimes.

This year, I decided to spice things up a bit. I’m still observing Lent but rather than forcing myself to resist temptation by refraining from something I will resist temptation by doing something. I’m going to train for a 10K race. I know 10K = 6 miles and that’s not a whole hell of a lot. But let me tell you, I hate running. I hate it with a passion. I can maybe run about 1.5 miles before I decide it’s not worth it and just start walking. I much prefer something low impact like spinning or the elliptical. I don’t consider myself fat by any means, but, like most people, I have a few jiggly bits. Running makes those bits jiggle even more and I hate feeling like Jell-O.

Today is the first day of training. On my calendar, “1.5 mile run” is circled in pretty bright orange highlighter. If I have to couch it in terms of “resisting temptation,” the next 8 weeks will be a lesson in resisting the temptation of laziness. I MUST workout 6 days a week (running on 4 of those days) if I expect to run 6 miles any time soon. I know I’ll dread it every step of the way but I also know crossing the finish line will be awesome. Who knows? Maybe this will lead to a passion for running. Maybe there are half-marathons and marathons just waiting for me to sign up. Doubtful, but I’m open to the possibility. Let the games begin!

Everybody Needs Beauty

2.15.2010


Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.  ~John Muir

 
Tree in bloom at the San Francisco Arboretum 


I love how the shapes within the little spider webs mirror the shapes of the lantern door.

Little Mario Finds a Mushroom

2.13.2010


I’m no fool. I know there are approximately four people who read this. But in my mind, there are 400 … or 4,000. So for the remaining (invisible) 396 or 3996, I will explain the title.

It happened the summer after my first year of law school. I was a shell of the person I once was, with all my casebooks serving as horcruxes for my splintered soul. I decided that summer I would not turn down an invitation to revive my spirit – just say yes. With that motto in mind, I agreed to go on a hike in Middle Earth (a.k.a Northern California; a.k.a. NorCal). While on this hike, a few friends and I used what little breath we had to chat for a bit. We quickly realized that there was a distinct Super Mario Bros. analogy to law school.  Law school drains you. Any motivation you once had is channeled into studying and nothing else. You get mushy from lack of exercise. Your sole sustenance is Lean Cuisines and coffee. Your skin is pale, your hair is dry, and everyone, including your mother, thinks you look “tired.” Anything could hurt you at this point – even a turtle. And it was then The Big Mario Theory was born.  In essence, law school makes you Little Mario.

Now, perhaps I should explain this a bit more just in case you don’t see it. Little Mario is a puss. I mean seriously, how can you call yourself a man if a turtle can kill you? Little Mario needs his mushrooms. The mushrooms make him big and strong. The flashing stars of invincibility and fire power are even better. All these extras mean a stupid turtle can’t kill him so easily.

I quickly came to realize that focusing on any one thing in life will demote you to Little Mario. Balance is essential to success and, for Mario, mushrooms provide that balance. So I’m seeking out the mushrooms life has to offer. These can be different for anyone – cooking, running, photography, candle making (don’t knock it till you’ve tried it). The important thing is that you find your own mushrooms and stay Big Mario. So when I was thinking of a name for this little blog, Big Mario seemed appropriate. After all, the blog itself is kind of a Big Mario thing – why not call it what it is?

The Quest

2.12.2010



I’ve been toying with the idea of starting a blog since this past summer. The idea came to me while reading other, mildly interesting, posts. I thought, “If so-and-so can do it, why can’t I?” (This is generally my attitude towards life so it’s no surprise it came up in this context.) The one hitch was – who the hell would want to read what I write? I don’t even know if I would want to read what I write!

After months of bouncing the idea around, I decided to give it a shot. Before law school, I led a much more artistically enriched life. I had loads of free time to explore photography and work in the darkroom (yes, I actually used a non-digital camera at one point in time!). I had time to study foreign languages. I was doing theatre. But the logical, more academic side of me was not being challenged as much as I wanted. Honestly, it’s partly why law school was so appealing – crosswords and Jeopardy! can only do so much. It was time for a new challenge.

But now, after three years of learning the law and applying it to the facts, my creativity is stifled. This “new challenge” has presented many sub-challenges: namely, how do I balance my creative desires with a severely limited schedule filled with reading case law and prepping for exams? Don’t get me wrong – I’ve found that I really do love studying law and I cannot wait to be done with school and actually practice. But to achieve balance in life, there has to be something on the other side of the scale. My life has been consumed by law school and with the bar coming up and work starting this fall, there must be balance to ensure I become/remain a well-rounded adult. There is some room for this in legal situations. For example, there are occassions where the law is clearly not in your favor and you really need to assert some creative, Fox-News-style spin to make it work. Usually, though, it’s a pretty ambiguous situation that really could go either way. My creative self has been suffocated by legalese and I need to resuscitate it.

I think I’ve found my next new challenge.
 

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