Posts tagged ‘crunchy’

For the Love of Chocolate-Dipped, Almond-Orange Biscotti

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My friend A- once said to me, “You know you’re in love when you know all the little quirks about someone, and you wouldn’t change a thing.” Somewhere between whipping my first egg whites and preheating my new oven, I realized that phrase rang truest for my kitchen.

I know exactly where to set chilled sticks of butter, since I’ve discovered my kitchen’s one warm spot (between the KitchenAid and the sink.) I could organize the knife drawer in the dark. I love this room, even though the shelves are all breaking and the paint is peeling and half of the lights have burned out.

It’s the little things. It’s the way the refrigerator door swings open with a sigh and gently refuses to shut. It’s the way the silver knobs on the cabinets sparkle when 10 AM light shines through. It’s the way the walls creak when the heater turns on, the way the dishwasher churns, the way each drawer has a distinct sound when rolled open. My kitchen has a life of its own.

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Only the kitchen has this magic. Our living room, painted sage-green and brightened with daffodil-yellow couches, is rarely touched. The office is simply a storage room for photocopied recipes in manila folders and staggering stacks of cookbooks. And my little blue bedroom is merely the place where I sleep, dreaming of Tahitian vanilla.

As an only child, I spend a great deal of time home alone. I get out of school before noon and my mother doesn’t get off work until six. I finish homework, I answer emails, I bake shortbread cookies and listen to This American Life. I like to throw open all the curtains and drink chocolate soymilk all by myself in our tiny house.

It could be lonely, but it isn’t. I like the peaceful stillness and quiet, and I like getting to know the place I call home.

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In the past, I might have been scared. I was the child who didn’t ride roller coasters, screamed at the sight of spiders, and needed a nightlight and soft background noise to sleep. I was frequently teased by my braver friends for preferring Shirley Temple to Goosebumps.

I’m getting better. I’ll ride a coaster if it doesn’t go upside down. I take half an hour to trap spiders and set them free (can’t bear to kill them.) And I’ve tried watching scary movies. But I always spend the entire film with my hands over my face, pressing into the people beside me, whispering, “Is it over?” After sitting through them, I can barely muster the courage to stand up and turn on the lights.

I don’t know what I was thinking one afternoon earlier this week, when I sat on the bed home alone and decided to watch a horror movie.

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It was free on our cable. I had just put a tray of biscotti dough in the oven, the timer set to half an hour. I watched the movie with the covers drawn up to my nose and both feet on the bed (you never know what’s lurking beneath the mattress.) The lights were off in the bedroom and the hallway, so the entrancing glow of the TV was all I could see.

The main character was about to be slaughtered. I could tell by the music and the lengthening shadows, the lamb-like expression of panic and horror on the heroine’s face. I began to sweat. I didn’t want to watch, but I couldn’t stick my arm out to grasp for the remote. The music swelled, her mouth stretched into a scream, and I was paralyzed, I – BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!

The oven timer went off on the other side of the house and I nearly fell off the bed.

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But when I thought about the biscotti in the oven and the lovely scent of almond wafting through the walls, all terror faded. I didn’t linger on my fear or imagine monsters in the shadows. I leapt from the bed, ran down the unlit hallway and into the kitchen without a second thought.

The almond-orange biscotti needed to bake three times, and then get dipped in dark chocolate. That meant I had to get up and cross the cold, dusky hallway four times during the course of the movie. It was a mistake to watch that film, frightening enough to give me nightmares. But it was nowhere near as scary as the possibility of burning those light, crisp biscotti.

The things you do for love. Oh, how I adore that kitchen.

[PS: It’s been a week since I was rejected from my dream school. It still hurts, but I can’t tell you how many times I read through all 90+ comments on my last post and felt a little lighter. Thanks for your stories of rejection, heartbreak, success and hope. Every one of them helped.]

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April 11, 2010 at 1:23 pm 50 comments

Happily Ever After

Has your heart ever dropped so fast, you were too shocked and jolted to even cry?

This is Tilly. She is… indescribable. She is solid sunshine. She is warm, real comfort… friendship, beauty, and unfiltered goodness. She is the neediest, sweetest, most skittery dog I have ever met. She is family and I have loved her like family from the moment my dad brought her home, a pound puppy of unidentifiable breed, ten years ago.

I found out at work, a few hours before my lunch break. The heat wave in Seattle has been replaced by a pouring of rain, real rain – dark skies and fat drops that fall like bullets. We think something must have happened to Tilly as a puppy, something awful, because she is frightened by the strangest things… the sound of ripping paper, fireplaces, motionless soccer balls… Rain is one of her more ordinary fears. And in the torrent of rain on Wednesday night, Tilly vanished.

At first, I was so worried I could hardly keep working. But deep down, I felt certain that Tilly would come back. Dad was looking for her, and she was smart enough to know her way around the neighborhood. But the whole day passed. Dad spent hours calling her name, not even eating. He put up hundreds of posters and received two calls, both false alarms, not Tilly but unfamiliar dogs roaming the neighborhood. His calls and texts grew more and more hopeless, and as his outlook deteriorated, so did mine.

I’ve seen lost dog posters before. Everyone has. You look into the dog’s eyes a moment, read the phone number, tell yourself that you’ll keep an eye out. “Poor thing,” I always think. “His owners must be so worried.” But unless your own dog has ever gone missing, without a collar or chip or source of identification, it’s impossible to understand how worried you really can become. How guilty and pessimistic.

I imagined Tilly slinking, still frightened, in dark alleys and shady neighborhoods. I imagined her streaking through the rain between speeding grey cars, barely avoiding them. I couldn’t bear to imagine her hit by a car. I thought about Tilly injured, scared more horribly than she’d ever been in her entire life and never so alone. It was physical pain to want to hold her and I tried to remember the last time I’d hugged her, whispered to her.

Suddenly, for no reason at all, I thought about an image that I’d always wanted to photograph. After dinner, we always clear the table and mom washes the dishes, humming. Tilly stands at her side, ears perked, tail wagging like a metronome, waiting for the moment when a scrap might accidentally fall. I love the way Tilly looks at that moment and every time I think to myself, “I ought to get a photo.” But I never do. Driving back home, as I realized I might never get that photo, I started to cry for the first time.

It was late, maybe 9 PM, when I felt my phone vibrate. It was a text from my dad – “I have Tilly!!!!!” And the relief was so overwhelming that I sat down and nearly cried again because I was so happy.

When I saw Tilly again, I just wanted to hold her and never, ever let go, to make sure she was really there and really just fine. Tilly seemed to know too that she was the luckiest dog in the world, because she had been rescued by the nicest people.

We don’t know what happened to Tilly the whole night, but at one point she was seen by a family driving by in the rain. They said Tilly looked terrified (understatement) and “out of place.” Amazingly, they decided to turn around, go back, pull over and pick her up. I mean, I am a compassionate dog person, and I wouldn’t have done that for a strange dog.

Tilly was so freaked out and distrusting that she turned and ran. They chased her into an open garage, where she tried to claw through cement to escape. They scooped her up and took her home. They even gave her a bath, so that when I hugged her for the first time, she smelled good. They were planning to take her to the shelter the next day when they saw one of my dad’s posters. And just like that, it was a happily ever after, after all.

I’d wanted to make dog treats for a while. In fact, I’d thought about blogging them so I’d have an excuse to show you  my dogs Tilly and Otis. But I never did, and it might have never happened. But with Tilly in my lap, I knew today would be the end of stalling. The first thing I’d do was make some yummy dog biscuits and the second thing I’d do was bake a killer cake for the family who took care of Tilly.

And tonight, after we polished off the bread and meatballs and cucumber salad, as mom began to tackle the mountain of dirty plates by the sink, Tilly took her place by the dishwasher. And me? I took out my camera.

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August 15, 2009 at 11:08 pm 44 comments

The Bar That Needs A Warning Label – “Dangerously Good”

I used to love the book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory as a kid. Chocolate waterfalls, ice cream that never melts, everlasting gobstoppers? It seemed almost obscene! I am a chocoholic who might need rehab, a cinnamon-sugar addict who suffers from withdrawals, a sweetened coconut junkie. I have quite the sweet tooth, if you didn’t notice.

My mom, on the other hand, does not think much of sugar. No, her vice is salt. Chinese onion pancakes, crisp ridged potato chips, pretzels, these are what tempt her. She might nibble on a cookie, but there is no real desire there. Salty, sweet… compatibility might seem impossible. But whichever you are – a sugar fiend or a salt enthusiast – you might need to sit down before you take a look at these bars.

Sweet. Salty. Nutty. Crunchy. Crumbly. Chocolaty. Caramelly. I can’t even think of something witty to say about these addictive bars. Just look at another picture.

A chocolate studded brown sugar and coffee shortbread, cooked crisp so that the edges are caramelly. Then chocolate is spread over the warm bar and the whole thing is topped with salted roasted peanuts. Peanut-Chocolate-Caramel Crunch Bars. Goodness.

They were the perfect gift for my lovely neighbor who did my prom hair out of sheer kindness. Nine thirty at night, only two days before the dance, I knocked on her door with my hair in knots and frustration pouring out of me. I’m sure my desperation was overpowering, but for whatever reason, she was sweet enough to fit me into her packed schedule. When I asked her what kind of sweets she liked, she simply said, “I like nuts.”

And oh, she got nuts.

You might remember another thing from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – the amazing television commercials that Willy Wonka was perfecting. These commercials would allow the viewer to reach into the screen and sample his incredible chocolate. I used to wish it was real so that I could taste one of those chocolate bars, letting it melt in my mouth. Well, while those commercials don’t exist yet, you don’t need them to experience these bars for yourself.

You’ve got the recipe.

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June 17, 2009 at 6:28 pm 52 comments

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Elissa Bernstein



I'm Elissa: a 17 (now 21) year old baker in Seattle Boston juggling creative nonfiction workshops, subway maps, and my passions for writing, baking, and photography. Photo above © Michelle Moore

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