Thursday, September 30, 2010

The creative schedule (and a biscotti recipe)

I've been having a really hard time getting into the writing groove after I shove the critters out the door wave fondly to my departing progeny. Being yelled at by two uncooperative beings who don't want to get up, don't want to get dressed, don't want to eat breakfast somehow ruins the mood for coherent, much less creative, thought. (Who'd of guessed?)

But for about the last week, my fiction ideas have been flowing fast and furious when I get up at 6 am. I used to read while I drank my coffee, taking 45 minutes or so for myself before the morning chaos began. But lately, I haven't been reading, I've been grabbing the laptop and pounding out what feels like really good plot solutions while I sip my black brew. But 45 minutes is not enough time--7 am comes around and I feel like I'm just getting going and that makes the process of bed-extraction and school-preparation even more unpleasant because it is tinged with resentment.

So what to do? Do I continue to return to the writing desk after the critter departure time and attempt to drag myself back to the ideas and inspiration that was flowing so well before all the morning stress and drama began? Or do I do something that sounds a little sick at first: get up at 5 am and add an hour to my creative me-time before anyone (except for the furry hair-balls) is conscious?

Yeah, it sounds kind of sick when I write it but I'm trying the 5 am thing. In my favor I have the fact that I'm a morning person. I won't be skipping down the stairs at 5 am, mind you, but I will adjust to and accept being awake at such an hour much better than my night-owl husband. But this creative schedule presents me with a problem: I still need to be functional in the afternoon and evening and I don't want to go to bed shortly after the bed-time critter-wrestling takes place.

I've decided to try a three fold approach: nap, tea and baked goods. I'm not much of a napper but I'm going to try and get myself to lie down and quiet my brain a little in the early afternoon before I have to collect the critters from their scholarly pursuits. I'll follow this forced break with supplemental caffeine consumption and a snack that might help provide enough sustenance to allow me to function (relatively) normally in the evenings.

The caffeine part I've got down: my sister got me hooked on a new tea supplier, The Tea Trekker. A pot of their Ceylon Fancy Silvertips tea should do the trick. The snack part just came to me as I was preparing for my Dad's 75th birthday this week. As a part of his birthday celebration he requested a batch of biscotti from a recipe my friend Lea gave me; I made these for him a couple of years ago and did not realize how much he liked them. Or maybe it's just that when you turn 75 you get a strong desire to break your teeth!

These are real biscotti, not the kind that have been prettied up with butter added to make the dough more tender. These babies are hard and substantial and, as I was making the recipe, contain a pretty good quantity of protein thanks to the copious quantity of almonds in there.

Yesterday afternoon I found myself snacking on the ends and crumbles of the batch I made for him with my cups of strong tea and I didn't have too much trouble functioning like a grownup that evening. So these babies are going into regular rotation in the baking plans--I might try and add some whole grain flours to the next batch to see if I can make them healthier.

Lea's Biscotti di Greve in Chianti (Orange-Flavored Almond Biscotti)

2 C all-purpose flour
1 C sugar
1 tsp baking soda
pinch of salt
2 eggs and 1 yolk (reserve the egg white for an egg wash)
1 t vanilla
grated orange zest from 1 orange
1 and 1/2 C almonds, skins on, toasted

  • Preheat oven to 325.
  • Put the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse several times to mix.
  • In a 2 C measuring cup, or something with a good spout, mix together the 2 whole eggs, 1 egg yolk, vanilla and orange zest. 
  • With the motor running, pour the egg mixture down the feed tube into the dry mixture. Process just until the dough is a shaggy mass--not collected into a ball. (Depending on your egg size you might need about a Tablespoon of water to get the dough to stick together. Drip it in a few drops at a time if needed.)
  • Pour half the nuts down the feed tube and pulse several times; repeat with the remaining half. (If you have a smallish food processor, like I do, you'll need to take off the top and scrape down the sides/break up the big lumps with a spatula.) Don't over grind the nuts--you still want some recognizable chunks of almond in there.
  • Turn the dough out onto a baking sheet lined in parchment paper and start to squish/shape it into 2 long loafs, each about 2 inches wide and situated 3 inches apart on the sheet. This is much easier to do if your hands are damp (the dough is super sticky) so keep a bowl of water to dip your hands in while you are shaping.
  • Take the reserved egg white, add a dribble of water to it and brush the tops of the loaves with the egg white wash.
  • Bake for 25-30 minutes until pale gold. Remove them from the oven and leave until they are cool enough to handle. Using a serrated knife, cut the logs diagonally into 3/4 inch wide pieces. Lay them cut side down back on the parchment and bake for about 12 minutes longer. Then use tongs to flip the slices and bake the other side for about 12 minutes. If your dough was a little on the damp side, you might need to increase the second bake time by a few minutes--the centers of the slices should be dry and not sticky.
  • Cool on racks.

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