"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

Wine & Words: Notes From Santa Barbara

Riverbench Winery

In Santa Barbara they're called sundowners—hot, aggressive winds that kick up after the sun goes down and make the coastal landscape feel like a dry, inland desert. At dinner Friday night, in a restaurant without air conditioning, I sweated through my linen dress while sipping white wine and eating grilled salmon, peach and burrata salad, and baked Alaska. 

We quickly got to talking about all the meals we've shared in this dining room, and I couldn't help share how special it felt to return, book in hand, to a place that helped shaped me as a writer. I was in town for Wine & Words, a new series at Riverbench Winery. They invited me to read a few poems from the cookbook, and even served up a few dishes to pair with the reading, not to mention the selection of lovely wines being poured. 

There's no doubt about it: Returning to Santa Barbara always feels like coming home. It doesn't matter that I haven't lived there in more than a decade, it's a place that will always have my heart, and always welcome me back with open arms.

Eat This Poem Reading at Riverbench Winery

If you're looking for a more in-depth tour, head to the Literary City Guide. For today's post, I'll be focusing on what we did during the weekend. 

A few places to go:

Dune Coffee Roasters. Formerly The French Press, this outpost is one of my favorite stops. Great seating, a little off the beaten path (a few blocks east of bustling State Street), plus options for coffee and tea lovers alike. Get lost in a book while sitting on the patio, or do what we usually do—swing by on the way out of town for hot drinks and a bran muffin. 

Butterfly Beach. Our favorite beach in town, it sits just outside the famed Four Seasons Biltmore in Montecito. We got engaged on this sand, and always love to visit for a stroll and a view of the waterfront.

bouchon. We've been eating at this restaurant for the past 12 years. (And no, it's not affiliated with Thomas Keller's version.) The patio and dining room are always cozy, and the farmers' market-inspired menu serves up dishes that use French techniques with relaxed, wine country inspiration. 

bouchon restaurant, santa barbara

Jeannine's Bakery. We always have at least one breakfast here. There's an upper State Street location, but we like the Montecito restaurant best. (It's also walking distance from Butterfly Beach, if you're so inclined.) The lattes are extra large, and the menu varied enough to please everyone's morning cravings. 

Santa Barbara Public Market. From ice cream to Thai food, this little market has it all. The beer garden is loud if a game is on, but there are plenty of options for everyone, and it's a great spot to wrangle the kids if you're traveling with little ones. 

santa barbara public market

It's Eat This Poem's Birthday! | 6 Lessons From Cookbook Land

Eat This Poem Pears

Back in January I shared the photo of a gold letterpressed drawing of two pears on Instagram. They were sketched by Cat Grishaver, the illustrator and designer who took the words I wrote and turned them into a living, breathing book. This permanent piece of art is one of the ways I've chosen to mark this sweet milestone because, as predicted, publishing a book is indeed a season. It's worth relishing and devoting ourselves to, but then, like autumn leaves turning from green to crimson, they fall to piles.

But let's stop time for just a day and talk about how exactly one year ago, my first book was published! Eat This Poem: A Literary Feast of Recipes Inspired by Poetry was born on March 21, 2017. It's one! Should we throw a party? Maybe. But I'm usually pretty reflective on my birthdays (evidence here), so I thought I'd reminisce about some of the lessons I've learned this past year. 

6 Lessons From a Book's First Year


01 | Prepare for a low-key publication day

Before a book comes out (and especially in the final stretch) it feels like nothing else can possibly be as important. There's a lot to do on the marketing front. I was drafting guest posts, pitching stories to websites, creating Instagram images for National Poetry Month, and making travel arrangements for places like Seattle, Michigan, and Brooklyn.

When the 21st arrived it was sort of ... quiet. It makes sense now because even if lots of people pre-order your book, it might not arrive until later in the day, and they won't be able to read it until the weekend, say. A lot of the fun fanfare when you actually see your book in the world comes a few days later after packages are delivered. 

That Tuesday morning I went to work like usual, but refreshed my Amazon page most of the day to check the rankings. I may have stopped for donuts in the morning. I may have received a gorgeous bouquet of flowers from my publisher. But it wasn't the kind of day that felt like a parade. Instead, it felt very heart-centered. I just wanted to journal and take in the moment, especially since it had been five years in the making. 

Eat This Poem

02 | The emotional roller coaster is open for rides

Emotions run high. They're mostly good ones, but days can really bring highs and lows. There's the adrenaline rush of the first couple of weeks of publication and seeing all your efforts happening in the form of social media posts and reviews popping up on Amazon. Then you go to sleep and wake up feeling totally exhausted. This continues for months.

03 | 'Tis the season

As I mentioned, publication is merely a season on the long writer's path. This wasn't a lesson I needed to learn because I anticipated it wholeheartedly, however, when you're in it, you have to do everything you can to embrace the experience and help your book catch flight. Then you have to put your head down and start writing again.

04 | Keep talking

One of the fears I had (and I've heard this refrain from other writers) is that people will get tired of hearing about your book. Maybe some of them will (especially if they follow you everywhere), but studies have shown that people need to hear about something at least seven times before they buy, so there's no shame in telling people about the book you wrote, as long as it's not all day, every day. 

Eat This Poem

05 | Ask, ask, and ask again

Getting Amazon reviews is hard. Even if you have a team of people who fully committed to helping you spread the word, it'll still be hard to get them to write reviews. This isn't true for everyone, but I found myself having to remind various groups of people more than once, and I was afraid of sounding like a broken record or a desperate first-time author (see above). I eventually hit the 50 reviews I'd hoped for, but it took months, not days. 

06 | Your parents = your marketing team

My dad has bought and given away a lot of my books. So many, that Amazon flagged his account and didn't let him post the 5-star review he drafted. Never underestimate their reach.

What's next

Books on Creativity

I'm still blogging here, and have a few Eat This Poem events planned for later this year. But the big news to share is I'm writing another book! You can read a bit more about it here, but come 2019, I'll be doing this all over again. And no, it's not a cookbook! It's a book about embracing the ever-changing creative seasons. It's everything I've been living, preaching, and guiding fellow writers through over the past few years, and I'm so excited for you to read it. It's called Wild Words: Routines, Rituals, and Rhythms for Braving the Writer's Path, and I'm deep into the first draft right now.

So, over to you. If you've published a book of your own, did anything surprise you about the process? I'd love to hear!