Friday, June 20, 2014

And at that very moment . . .

... I hastened to wave the sign
with the index finger pointed at me;
and at that very moment
I happened to make a dreadful faux pas,
something unforgivable,
a display of human wretchedness
to make you sink into the ground in shame ... 

                                    ~Italo Calvino from Cosmocomics (1969)

"The Light Years," a story I love by magical writer Italo Calvino, is narrated by a man named Q who's lived as long as there's been a planet to live on. Q likes to look into a telescope at night. One night he discovers a sign hung from a galaxy 100 million light years away, and the sign says I SAW YOU.

Who is this I? another telescoper might think. There’s somebody out there!
Not Q. You saw me? he asks, through the ensuing paragraphs. What was I doing? What part of me did you see?

Q could calm down with a little baking
Q is unable to subscribe to the very good advice we hear sometimes: 

What other people think of you 
is none of your business. 

Instead, he does a quick calculation and check of his extensive diary. He realizes that according to his records, the sign-maker saw him 200 million years ago, at the very moment in his life when he’d sunk to his behavioral low. 
LET ME EXPLAIN, Q wants to say. He considers flashing his own sign. But a message like that risks reinforcing the earlier perception. His galactic reputation possibly ruined, Q sets about restoring it. He wants to start over. He calculates the best moment to broadcast an arrow, LOOK AWAY. He waits again. LOOK NOW. He scans the sky every night, wondering, worrying. 

At last another sign appears. THERE YOU GO AGAIN, it says. The universe persists at seeing him wrongly, at only his worst.
Undeterred, Q searches his diaries for a moment he can highlight:
              I recalled a day when I had really been myself, I mean myself in the way 
           I wanted others to see me. This day—I calculated rapidly—had been exactly 
           one hundred million years ago.

He figures the time and distance, he waits, he broadcasts this moment, hoping to be seen in his best light. Only to discover  . . . well, I won’t spoil the story!
Q wants what we all want: “. . . to be seen,” as novelist Pam Durban writes, “through the dark light of his troubles, and loved anyway.”
Calvino exits the story with a beautiful passage about “the arbitrary ledger of misunderstandings.” It’s one of the most haunting and lovely paragraphs ever. 

Track this story down if you can. Read it slowly, as you enjoy a warm drink (or the traditional orange juice) with a plate of the biscotti invented by Calvino’s country[wo]man.

Biscotti means twice-baked. Better than half-baked! Getting in touch with my Italian side.

My people come from the northern Italian province where Calvino attended university. I like to think they too enjoyed biscotti, before as well as after they left the old country for God. For the New World. For the way they chose to start over, which has made all the difference for me.

Basic Biscotti
                             cups flour
                        teaspoons baking powder
                      ¼ teaspoon salt
                      8 Tablespoons butter, softened
                      ¼ cup sugar (or a little more to taste)
                      2 eggs, beaten lightly
                      1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sift flour, baking powder, and salt in a small mixing bowl. Set aside. Cream butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl until fluffy, then add eggs one at a time, combining well after each. Stir in vanilla. Gradually add flour mixture, beating gently until combined. Dough is stiff.

Transfer dough to a lightly floured surface and shape into a long roll, about 3 inches by 12 inches. Lightly coat a baking sheet with cooking spray and transfer the roll to the sheet. Flatten slightly, then bake until golden brown, 30 to 35 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside until cool enough to handle, about 15 minutes. Keep the oven hot.

two rolls of cherry almond biscotti
the recipe doubles easily

Using a serrated knife, cut the warm roll into half-inch slices on the diagonal. Place the slices flat on the same baking sheet and bake a second time, turning once gently, until golden brown on the cut portion. It's about 5 minutes per side. I did not re-spray the baking sheet before this step.

Take care to not overbakethe biscotti should feel softer in the middle. They become crisper, even crunchy, as the cookies cool. After 5 minutes out of the oven, transfer the cookies to racks for cooling. Biscotti keep well for up to 2 weeks in a sealed container. They freeze well if you can't live with them in the cupboard (I can't!). Great for shipping to someone special. 

dark chocolate almond biscotti, ready for the second bake


lemon pistachio
Cherry Almond. Add dried cherries and chopped, blanched almonds to the dough, after the flour mixture is combined.
Lemon or Lemon Chip or Lemon Pistachio. Add 1 Tbsp. grated/zested lemon peel and chopped pistachios (optional) to the dough, after the flour mixture is combined. Squeeze in some fresh lemon juice for extra zing. I tried this with white chocolate chips, also very good.
Dark Chocolate Almond: add chopped chocolate covered almonds to the dough, after the flour mixture is combined.
Have fun with other combinations. Some popular versions: Anise Almond. White Chocolate Macadamia. Plain Biscotti dipped in chocolate or vanilla candy coating.


  1. This biscotti looks absolutely amazing, but I do have an entire lug of peaches that are begging to be made into pie. Now if only I had the perfect recipe...

    Enjoy Nebraska City. :)

  2. Thanks Kara! Updating now :) Nebraska City is gorgeous . . .