And then, out of no where, there are moments of unadulterated joy.
I had told Tony mere minutes before walking in here that he had to keep hope. Hope that there was much honest and true love coming to him. Hope that he would be happy not only for a minute or a month, but for an extended length in his life. I heard his broken heart through the phone as I crouched in a corner on Madison Avenue, huddled from the wet cold of New York City in March. As he spilled out his anguish, his pride and confusion and shock resonating in his choked sobs, I recognized myself not two years ago, when everything I knew to be true about love was destroyed in one phone call, and I ran to Great Jones Spa and French wine bars by the dozen to drown out my … yes… despair.
I promised him that there was joy to come. Even though my own heart is still crackled, and I accept that in a way I may never be as consistently happy as I was in my younger years when Tony and I drank until dawn and took another bow and fought like on the side of the road… there are moments of joy.
And, now, here I am.
I find myself, almost by mistake, in the courtyard of the Morgan Museum. Surrounding me are tables of very old people. Mostly. There are two younger couples, looking cold and serious, but otherwise cashmere and fur-clad octogenarians complain that the andouille sausage is too spicy (my eyes roll) and that the service is too slow (their eyes roll).
A tree is growing, bright and green, in this atrium. A cellist and violinist play. People complain, people smile; a white-haired woman with paper-thin skin and almost artistically-placed wrinkles smiles, her lips stained with most likely the same shade she has worn for decades. I take a mental snapshot of her face – I want to look like her in 50 years.
I came here thinking I had a ticket for a guided tour, bought through a website I’ll soon be working with. I still haven’t explored the area of the museum for the tour I shall be taking four weeks from now. Instead I sit in this courtyard, and sip a caramel-laced Cabernet, and nibble my delightfully spicy sausage, and remain as relaxed as if I were lounging in Great Jones.
I have been tired. And sick. My bones possibly match those of the grey-hairs around me in their arthritic, dehydrated state. I only took a half of a percoset today; enough to fuel me through the cold weather to an audition and to here but not enough to cloud my head or prevent me from my glass of wine. The past few months I have been taught another hard lesson about what my life is now, what it will never be and how I have to make tough decisions to command what control I do have of my future.
In the dark, quiet warmth of Piedmont Morgan’s library I gazed upon treasures: manuscripts from Balzac and Moliere; scrawled staffs and notes from Puccini and Beethoven; letters of doubt and disgust from Steinbeck. Engulfed in Renaissance art I lounged, alone. Warm, worlds away from the gray damp outside. And I felt joy.
And now I sit, wine coursing through my bloodstream, the laughter of those around me implying theirs runs in a similar fashion. I still think of him, who I wish were sitting next to me. But there is no weight in that longing. I am alone but not lonely. I have the hum of dozens, the strings of a cello, and the light of the green tree in front of me.
I order a second glass. And, for a very short moment, look at old pictures of “he who made me happy”. But then, instead of continuing down that path, I consider what I’ve built and what I’m building, and go back to thinking of me instead. I won’t go back into the exhibits; instead I’ll relish in this seated time, and give myself something to look forward to next month. I’ll take in the music, and the people, and write for myself. I’ll go spend unnecessary money on an owl perched upon a stack of books, because I’ve wanted one for a long time and my new little friend will, like the star on my hip, remind me of life’s potential.
And of joy. Because, right now, I understand joy.
The Morgan Library and biscotti relate only in the intimate moments they carved out in my week. I’d forgotten how scattered a life freelancing is. I’ve gone from 40 defined hours to countless scattered ones, full of reviewing events, interviewing chefs, exploring the city, and juggling an ever-changing schedule. It’s exhausting.
I had a fancy fundraising dinner to attend on Monday night, invited by a chef I very much admire and featuring the plates of several other chefs I’ve worked with. I wanted to bring something small to show my thanks, and for some reason always think of biscotti in these times; maybe it’s the Italian in me. So I made these and another batch (up here soon), and as I tossed flours, rolled and sliced and cooled, I felt grounded in the moment. Just as I was gazing up at that beautiful green tree with string music playing and red wine warming me.
Gluten-Free Blueberry Lemon Biscotti
Makes about 30 cookies
This process is based on the Almond Biscotti recipe from Cook’s Illustrated. I highly recommend using their recipes as a base if you’re adapting recipes to gluten-free variations. I referred to them specifically for a lightly and crispy biscotti, as my other ones (which I adore) are a bit more classic in weight and hard texture. These are perfect for light dunking into tea or coffee or for munching solo.
Ingredients: Flours are given in weight and close measurements. I always weigh my flours as they all measure differently in volume
200g (around 1 3/4 cup) gluten-free flour blend:
- 75g tapioca or arrowroot starch (1/2 cup)
- 100g brown rice flour (3/4 cup)
- 35g millet flour (1/4 cup)
- 1/4 cup almond flour or finely ground almonds
3/4 tsp xanthan gum
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 cup white sugar
4 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled
zest of one lemon
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
1 tsp lemon extract
1/2 cup dried blueberries
1/2 cup slivered almonds
Heat oven to 350°. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper or silpat.
Dust a pastry board lightly with brown rice or millet flour.
Whisk flours, gum, powder and salt thoroughly until well combined. Set aside.
In the bowl of a standing mixer with the whisk attachment or in a food processor on medium/high, beat eggs until light in color and almost doubled in volume, 2-3 minutes. Slowly stream in sugar and mix until combined, about 30 seconds. Stream in melted butter, lemon juice and extract, and lemon zest, and mix until combined.
If using a food processor, transfer to a large bowl. Sprinkle half of the flour mixture on top and fold in to combine. Repeat with remaining flour mixture, and almonds and blueberries. Fold in and mix thoroughly until the dough comes together. It will be slightly tacky by the gum will make it rather maleable.
Turn out onto floured surface and very gently toss to coat outside. Separate dough in half, and (using flour to prevent sticking), roll each half into a 10-inch log. Lightly shape into a dome.
Transfer onto prepared sheet and bake for 30 minutes, until just starting to brown and crackle on top.
Cool completely, around 20-30 minutes. Very carefully, with a serraded knife or pastry cutter, slice biscotti into 1/2-inch slices. They will want to break or crumble slightly – don’t worry, it just takes some practice. Lay back on sheet pan cut side down and return to oven. Bake 15 minutes, flip and bake 15 minutes longer, until both sides are golden and toasty.
Let cool completely before serving. They’ll get deliciously crispy but still remain light. They can be stored in an air-tight container for up to one month, and freeze beautifully.
- Gluten-free Biscotti (cookinginconnecticut.com)