"Letter From Town: The Almond Tree" by D.H. Lawrence + Almond & Chocolate Biscotti

Chocolate + Almond Biscotti

The problem with Italian cookbooks is they make me pine for Italy. (See my infatuation with Rome from two summers ago.) July marked fourteen years since I've been back, so when I began reading page after page about tomatoes and chestnuts and garlic in Guilia Scarpaleggia's From the Markets of Tuscany, my heart simply burst before I was even halfway through. The antidote, of course, is heading into the kitchen. 

Giulia and I first became acquainted through blogging. (She even wrote a dreamy Literary City Guide to Florence.) Her Tuscan blog, Juls' Kitchen, is a favorite of mine, and when I learned her latest cookbook was set to be published in English this spring, I promised to be first in line. The cookbook is organized by market, which any traveler will tell you is probably one of the best ways to explore a new town. Giulia traversed Tuscany meeting vendors, sampling local specialties, and then took that inspiration straight to her Tuscany kitchen to bring the flavors home.  

"To every generation, the market is the beating heart of the town, pulsing with chitchat, friendly shouting and bargaining, and the aroma of roast chicken, croquettes, and porchetta ...

Traveling around Tuscany for over a year to visit its weekly, large indoor and smaller organic markets was a learning experience, one that helped me to better know and love this region I call home—my place in the world. While I was lost in small talk with local producers, buying everything from honey and local cheeses to pork fat sausages and fragrant peaches, my partner Tommaso would follow me with camera in hand, capturing what was unique about every market and how each differed in character and changed with the seasons."

Chocolate and Almond Biscotti | Eat This Poem
Chocolate and Almond Biscotti | Eat This Poem

Letter from Town: The Almond Tree

By D. H. Lawrence

You promised to send me some violets. Did you forget?  
  White ones and blue ones from under the orchard hedge?  
  Sweet dark purple, and white ones mixed for a pledge  
Of our early love that hardly has opened yet.   

Here there’s an almond tree—you have never seen        
  Such a one in the north—it flowers on the street, and I stand  
  Every day by the fence to look up for the flowers that expand  
At rest in the blue, and wonder at what they mean.   

Under the almond tree, the happy lands  
  Provence, Japan, and Italy repose,  
  And passing feet are chatter and clapping of those  
Who play around us, country girls clapping their hands.   

You, my love, the foremost, in a flowered gown,  
  All your unbearable tenderness, you with the laughter  
  Startled upon your eyes now so wide with hereafter,   
You with loose hands of abandonment hanging down.

This poem is in the public domain.

Thanks to a dusty copy of the Norton Anthology of Poetry, D.H. Lawrence was one of the first poets I ever learned about. So you can imagine my delight when searching for poems that celebrated almonds, in any small way, I came across these lines of verse that begin by revealing "early love that hardly has opened yet." When we move to the almond tree, there's tranquility under its branches throughout Provence, Japan, and Italy (perfect for the recipe to follow). For a moment we're transported, resting somewhere in the shade.

Chocolate and Almond Biscotti | Eat This Poem

By the end of the poem, there's a play on "a flowered gown" which could either be the poet's beloved, or the almond tree, with all its "unbearable tenderness" and "loose hands of abandonment hanging down." Something has changed. We're not privy to the details, whether the relationship has stalled, affection has wained, or the almond tree simply stops bearing nuts year after year. I suppose the only place of refuge is back under the almond tree that "flowers on the street," and the daily ritual of going to the fence, looking for flowers, wondering what they mean. Sometimes we must sit with our questions, and resolutions take their own time to reveal, both in life and in the poems we read to enhance our days.

Chocolate and Almond Biscotti | Eat This Poem
Chocolate and Almond Biscotti | Eat This Poem

Almond & Chocolate Biscotti

Makes 20 to 24 cookies

This recipe is lightly adapted from the pages of From the Markets of Tuscany by Giulia Scarpaleggia. Inside the cookbook, there's an entire page dedicated to the history of biscotti. Read it and you'll learn the word biscotto means "baked twice" in Italian, and that they came about in response to conservation—they'll stay fresh in a closed tin for up to two weeks. There are also notes on Antonio Mattei, who opened his first biscotti factory in 1858, in Prato, northwest of Florence, and although the bakery is owned by another family now, you can still visit there to taste these sweet little cookies.

Giulia's basic recipe is for almond biscotti, and she shares four variations to try. I combined two of the suggestions to make a dark chocolate and almond version I was so happy with it made me wonder why I hadn't been making biscotti part of my holiday baking routine for the past few years (they'll make perfect edible gifts this season!).

(Note: While typing up this recipe, I realized I accidentally used baking soda instead of baking powder, but the recipe still turned out wonderfully!) 

3 eggs
1 cup sugar, plus 2 tablespoons
2 1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
Zest of 1 orange
1/2 cup almonds, coarsely chopped
3 ounces dark chocolate, coarsely chopped

Heat oven to 480°F. Add 2 eggs plus 1 yolk to the bowl of a stand mixer. (Save remaining egg white to use later.) Add sugar to the stand mixer and beat with the eggs until light and frothy, about 1 minute. Soft flour, baking powder, and salt over the mixer, then add the orange zest and mix on low speed until dough comes together. Add almonds and dark chocolate and fold in with a spatula.

Line a baking sheet with a silpat and separate the dough into two sections. Using a small icing spatula, spread dough into logs, about 12-inches long and 3-inches wide. I tried doing this by hand at first and the spatula really makes it easier, especially since the dough is a bit sticky. Beat egg white with a fork until frothy, then brush it over the dough. Slide the baking sheet into the oven, reduce heat to 350°F, and bake for 20 minutes. (Starting with high heat will help keep the dough from spreading too much.)

When the first bake is done, the biscotti should be golden on the outside but still tender inside. Let cool 5 minutes, then transfer logs to a cutting board and slide into 1-inch pieces. Arrange biscotti back on the baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes, or until golden. Let cool completely on a rack before enjoying dunked in your coffee (or plain!).

Chocolate and Almond Biscotti | Eat This Poem

"Baking With My Daughter" by Joseph Robert Mills + Sarah's Chocolate Chip Cookies

Sarah's Chocolate Chip Cookies (Eat This Poem)

When I first met Sarah, we shared a bowl of terrible guacamole. (Here's a picture to prove it.)

I was in Minneapolis for work and in the sliver of free time I had one evening, Sarah drove to the suburbs and met me in the hotel restaurant where I was staying. It was dark and lightly sprinkling, so the whole thing felt sort of moody and cozy while we sat next to the window overlooking a courtyard fountain. There may have been a fireplace, although my memory escapes me now. 

The wild rice soup wasn’t memorable either, but the company was. We talked about blogging, about writing, about our future books, the things we had in common, and as I expected, Sarah had the same warmth offline as she projected online. 

We both wrote our cookbooks around the same time and occasionally exchanged exasperated and/or encouraging emails about the process. I’ve been eagerly awaiting this arrival because I know how hard Sarah worked on it. She was committed wholeheartedly to creating the best book possible, with well-tested recipes and thoughtful writing. Putting a book into the world is an enormous task requiring devotion, time, energy, and in Sarah’s case, pounds and pounds of butter and flour, plus grateful friends and neighbors who could take pies and pastries off her hands. 

If you followed her Instagram at all this past year, you would have seen the occasional face and frequent stray hand of her son or daughter and read notes about her family life. I love how her kids were such a part of this process, and although my own son isn't old enough to help much in the kitchen, I look forward to the day when he stands next to me adding flour to a bowl or mixing dough, and today's poem captures this special moment so beautifully. 

Baking with My Daughter

by Joseph Robert Mills

I want to do it, she says at each step
of the recipe, and I try to let her
even if it means broken eggs on the counter,
too much salt, and too little flour.

She splays the dough onto the cookie sheet,
using the wooden spoon as if it’s a combination
snow shovel and mallet. When she turns away,
I try to perform a kind of cookie triage,
finding those blobs with a chance at survival
and nudging them into a vague roundness.

After they’re finished, she holds one aloft
like a medal and tells her mother,
I did these all by myself, right Daddy?
I nod, saying nothing, and, for the first time,
wonder how many of my own victories
were smoothed into shape behind my back.

From Love and Other Collisions (Press 53, 2010). Reprinted with permission from the author.

The first stanza delicately illustrates the never-ending dance of embracing childhood impulses alongside the patience we must summon as adults. No, the counter will not always be clean. No, the toys will not always be picked up. No, the laundry won't always be folded. No, they will do it this way or that way. But it doesn't matter, does it? 

I chuckled a bit in the middle, after the girl's father comes in to try and salvage the cookie dough, to give it "a chance at survival." It's an illustration in our daily task as parents: letting go of the should, and embracing whatever comes, even if it includes misshapen cookies. 

By the end of the poem we're privy to an insight only made possible by having a child of one's own. That is, the question of how many times the father's own parents did something similar, creating small victories in the midst of chaos. It's a beautiful tribute to the magical yet complicated relationships between parents and children, and one so many of us can relate to.

That is the job of the poet, and the role I like best of all: To make the mundane meaningful. Time stops, if only for the twelve minutes or so it takes for a tray of cookies to bake. And whether they are perfectly round or thick blobs on the sheet pan matters little. They will be eaten and loved because they were made by a father and daughter.

Sarah's Chocolate Chip Cookies (Eat This Poem)

When it comes to dessert, I tend to be a purist. You won’t find me adding avocado to brownies or making vegan birthday cakes. My sweet tooth isn’t strong, so when I do have a craving, I want the real deal. I can’t think of any circumstances under which chocolate chip cookies are not appropriate. It’s one of my favorite things to make, and I’m known for saying things like “It feels like a cookie day,” or “I just need a chocolate chip cookie” around the house. No one ever complains.

So, of course, this chocolate chip cookie recipe was the first treat I made from her beautiful cookbook. I’ve also bookmarked lots of goodies for the future. And as someone who occasionally feels daunted by the task of baking anything elaborate, Sarah actually makes me feel like I can do it. Her photos are beautiful yet welcoming, her voice is encouraging, and I might have found my absolute perfect birthday dessert, in the form of her raspberry cream cake which I’ll be making next May. 

But back to the cookies, which remind me of two things. 

In high school, I usually brought a packed lunch, but once a week I bought lunch from the cafeteria. It was always the same: a personal cheese pizza and a cookie. The cookie was slid into a brown bag made translucent with oil remnants seeping through, and like Sarah's cookies, it was a size that could comfortably feed a family of three. That's the first thing. These cookies also remind me, strangely, of my French bulldog's wrinkles. I know, it's a stretch, but if you happen to have a French bulldog of your own, you might understand why. 

Sarah's Chocolate Chip Cookies (Eat This Poem)

Now, a few baking notes.

First, read the recipe. It requires some freezing, several baking sheets, and whatever you do, DO NOT bake the cookies close together. They spread. 

If you, like me, have a side-by-side fridge/freezer situation that won't accommodate a large sheet pan, use a half-sheet pan instead. I possess only one, so I cooked two cookies at a time. It will take longer this way, but if you have a relaxing afternoon at home, not to worry. You can also bake them in the usual way (without freezing in advance, which I tried), by scooping rounds onto the baking sheet with a cookie scoop and baking for 14 minutes. They won't be as craggy, but as Sarah says, they will still be quite good.

Sarah anticipated readers' reservations about lifting up the tray and slapping it down, but it works. You'll see the bubble flatten out, and after three or four times of this, those edges will push out and get wrinkly, which is a very satisfying sight. 


Barely adapted from The Vanilla Bean Baking Book by Sarah Kieffer

Makes about 10 extra-large cookies

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 large egg
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons water
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped into bite-size pieces (not chips)

Preheat the oven to 350°F and line 3 baking sheets with aluminum foil, dull side up. (If you don't have this many sheet pans, or a small freezer, do this one at a time with a half-sheet pan instead.) 

In a small bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, and salt.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle, beat the butter on medium until creamy. Add the granulated and brown sugars and beat on medium until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the egg, vanilla, and water and mix on low to combine. Add the dry ingredients and mix on low speed, then add the chocolate and mix until just combined.

Using a 1/3-cup measuring scoop, place balls an equal distance apart (2 cookies for a half sheet pan; 4 cookies for a regular sheet pan). Transfer to the freezer for 15 minutes. After you put the first baking sheet in the oven, put the second one in the freezer.

Place the chilled baking sheet in the oven and bake 10 minutes, until the cookies have puffed slightly in the center. Lift the side of the baking sheet up about 4 inches and gently let it drop down against the oven rack once or twice. This will feel strange, but you'll see the cookies flatten out, and the crinkly edges begin to form. 

After the cookies puff up again in 2 minutes, repeat lifting and dropping the pan. Repeat a few more times to create ridges around the edge of the cookie, baking a total of 16 to 18 minutes. Repeat with remaining cookie dough.

"Banana Trees" by Joseph Stanton + Nutty Whole Grain Banana Bread

Banana Bread via Eat This Poem

As we've discussed, the last weeks of pregnancy require you to wait. And rest. (And hopefully get massages, read books, and put your feet up while watching movies and drinking iced tea.) I've been enjoying it immensely.

Naturally, I haven't been able to keep completely still, although I have found myself limiting each day's expectations. I might only have energy for one or two activities. One load of laundry and one yoga class, perhaps, or one movie and one pedicure, for example. If I have more or less energy, I accept that, too. 

Most recently, because I had the energy and ingredients and was needing to make room in the freezer for food to sustain us in the weeks after baby arrives, I made three loaves of banana bread. 

I've been hoarding bags of peeled bananas in my freezer for the past several months. Maybe hoarding is the wrong word. Forgetting is more like it. These bananas never made it into smoothies or on top of pancakes, and the only way to save them was to peel their black speckled skins, place them inside a bag, and wait for an opportunity. Between several different bags, I discovered about thirteen bananas.

My afternoon was off to a tremendous start when I forgot to add baking soda to the first batch. I realized my error two minutes into baking, quickly pulled the pan from the oven, haphazardly poured the batter into a bowl, and stirred in the leavening agent. Then came the task of gracefully adding the batter back to the smeared pan and straightening the parchment paper as much as I could. It was the worst loaf of the three, as I'm sure you can imagine.

Luckily, the final two loaves were perfection. Nutty from brown butter and a combination of sugars, somewhat wholesome from a variety of whole grain flours, and moist from plenty of bananas and yogurt. Even though the sad first loaf didn't rise as much as the other two, I still couldn't wait for it to cool before cutting a thick slice off the end and slathering it with currant jam. 

I tried to eat slowly, hoping that concentrating on a new poem might help, and it did, briefly. You might want to read this one twice over, as I did, because the descriptions are so beautiful.

Banana Trees


They are tall herbs, really, not trees, 
though they can shoot up thirty feet
if all goes well for them. Cut in cross 

section they look like gigantic onions, 
multi-layered mysteries with ghostly hearts. 
Their leaves are made to be broken by the wind, 

if wind there be, but the crosswise tears
they are built to expect do them no harm. 
Around the steady staff of the leafstalk 

the broken fronds flap in the breeze
like brief forgotten flags, but these
tattered, green, photosynthetic machines 

know how to grasp with their broken fingers
the gold coins of light that give open air
its shine. In hot, dry weather the fingers 

fold down to touch on each side-- 
a kind of prayer to clasp what damp they can
against the too much light. 

from “A Field Guide to the Wildlife of Suburban O’ahu,” Time Being Books, 2006

I love when a poem doesn't ask too much of you, except to marvel a little. This poem does exactly that. Banana trees might not be something we consider very often, if ever. But for two minutes, we stand at the base and look up, mesmerized by "multi-layered mysteries with ghostly hearts."

We feel the wind on our skin, and really listen to it. We offer up a little gratitude to the beauty found in a single fruit. The poem ends with an offering, not only to the banana tree itself for sustaining "gold coins of light," but an offering to the reader in the form of remembrance, because now you might never be able to peel back the skin of a banana again without thinking of the act as a kind of of prayer, and thinking of the banana tree as a steady force swaying in the breeze, able to sustain the weight and provide sustenance against the elements.

It's just beautiful, really, to the point that a humble loaf of banana bread almost feels inadequate. But cooking is about intention, no? Approaching the ingredients, the method, the baking, with care and reverence and enthusiasm. If we arrive with these traits, whatever we make in our kitchens will rise up to be worthy.

Nutty Banana Bread via Eat This Poem


I've adapted this recipe liberally from Molly Wizenberg via Luisa Weiss. I've never actually made Molly's ginger and chocolate version, but instead have used the wet and dry ingredients as a guide to develop my own version.

I use three different flours and three different sugars because I tried it one recent afternoon and loved the results. But if you'd rather not, just know you need 2 cups of flour and 3/4 cup sugar, and define those how you will. I also tend to believe that if you're planning to melt butter for baking, browning it is always a good decision. 

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup spelt flour
1/2 cup buckwheat flour
1/4 cup turbinado sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3 ripe bananas
2 eggs
1/4 cup plain, whole milk yogurt
3 tablespoons coconut oil, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a loaf pan and/or line it with parchment paper. (As you can see from my rustic photos, I didn't take the time to perfectly measure my parchment.) 

Melt the butter over medium heat and cook until it begins to brown and smells nutty. Remove from heat and let cool while you prepare the remaining ingredients. 

In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients. In a medium bowl, mash the bananas, then add the eggs, yogurt, coconut oil and vanilla. Whisk with a fork until well combined.

Add the wet ingredients into the dry and stir with a wooden spoon. Slowly drizzle in the melted butter and add the walnuts. Continue stirring until no traces of flour remain; do not overmix.

Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 50 minutes.