Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Money Can't Buy You Love

My mom loves dark chocolate infused with chili pepper... I must admit to finding it pretty darn good also. The flavor kind of creeps up on you and then builds with each successive bite. It's subtle and intense at the same time. Hard to explain. It's the kind of chocolate that is best in small amounts; to eat too much of it is to ruin the pleasure of it. Besides, it's easy to restrain yourself when your mouth is on fire! Purely by chance, I recently ran into the perfect thing to satisfy our chili/chocolate needs without breaking the calorie-bank at the same time: Spicy-Hot Chocolate Biscotti. One bite and I knew I had to share these with her.

What it's really all about
Mom has always considered Mother's Day to be what she calls a "Hallmark holiday", in other words something fabricated for no other reason than to sell people stuff by playing off their guilt and good feelings. I tend to think of Mother's Day (and Father's Day, etc.) as not so much a day for the celebrated person to feel celebrated, but for the rest of us to take time during our self-centered lives to think about, in this case our mothers, and how much they mean to us. Part of me is thinking that I only believe this because I'm currently unemployed and therefore unable to lavish gifts on my mom. Maybe so, for it is precisely that limitation that opened my eyes to the retail guilt-fest all around me.

I just called to say "I love you"...
My mom doesn't want more tchotchkes or dust-catchers*. Goodness knows, she still has all the ones I've bought her before: innumerable scarves, vases and trinket boxes, clogging up her cupboards. She is unable to unload them even though she doesn't need or want them... simply because they were "a gift". They sit there unused and un-thought of. On the other hand, I still remember the day I saw her weep when I accidentally broke the little plaster hand-print that I had made for her back in elementary school. An imprint of little me, a frozen moment in time. A memory. That kind of thing makes a girl stop and think.

Honoring moms should involve more effort than money. When I moved away, I would often forget to send a Mother's Day card in time for her to receive it (I'm lame that way), so I thought "Well, I'll just call her instead". Just! As if that phone call was not as good as getting a mass-produced greeting card in the mail. Don't get me wrong... I LOVE greeting cards: I love getting them in the mail and I love sending them. But I look back and realize that a phone call from a daughter who lived (too) far away was infinitely more desirable to my mom than any greeting card could ever be.

For the mom who has everything 
Spend effort, spend time, spend... you. Make mom a nice brunch to the best of your abilities (even if it's just eggs, toast and coffee) and don't even dare let her clean up! Wrap her up in a big hug. Don't live close by anymore? You can still spend time on your mom even if you can't be with her. Make her a card this year... with your own hands. Call her. When you think about it, time is maybe the single most precious thing we can spend on another person. I spent this morning baking my mom a batch of these biscotti because I think she'll really like them (and probably all the more because I made them myself).**

I need to hurry up and pack these now or there won't be any left to send... I can't seem to stop nibbling at them! Biscotti just happen to be the perfect cookie for shipping: they're sturdy and will keep fresh for up to a month as long as they're wrapped airtight. And since they're not sugary butter-bombs, they can be enjoyed any time of day. They're really great for dunking too... if you're so inclined.

Spicy-Hot Chocolate Biscotti
Inspired by: Chocolate & Spice Biscotti at Design*Sponge.
Adapted from: Chocolate Biscotti on page 144 of Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home To Yours, 2006.

2 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder (dutched or natural)
2 tablespoons instant espresso powder
¾ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon good cinnamon
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs and 1 teaspoon of good vanilla
1 cup almonds (toasted or blanched)
¾ cup chopped chocolate chips
powdered sugar for dusting

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Sift the dry ingredients together (first eight above) and set aside. In a large bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together the butter with the sugar on medium speed until pale (no more than 2 minutes). Add the eggs and vanilla and beat for another 2 minutes.

With mixer set to low, add the dry ingredient mixture in 3 additions, mixing only until dough forms. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix in the almonds and chocolate. Turn the dough out and knead briefly.

Divide the dough in half and roll each into 12" logs. Flatten them down with your hands to about 1" high and 2" across. Carefully move the flattened logs onto the baking sheet. Just before the first baking, liberally dust the tops of both logs with powdered sugar and a small sieve.

Bake for about 25 minutes. Don't worry if they spread out and crack some. Let the logs cool for about 20 minutes on the pan. Be sure to leave the oven on for the next bit of baking.

With a serrated knife, slice the logs on the diagonal every ½ - ¾ inch. Put the slices back on the baking sheet, standing them up rather than laying them flat. Bake the cookies for 10 minutes, then rotate the pan and bake for another 5-10 minutes more. Move the cookies onto a rack to cool.

My Notes: I tried chopping up regular chocolate chips in the food processor... it was really loud. Use a knife. Slow and steady when slicing the logs if you've got nuts in there. I left out the nuts for the batch I sent to my mom and MIL. 

*...and please don't remind me about all the bad ties, mustache mugs, and beard-trimming kits that my sweet dad had to fake being excited about on "his" day! Come to think of it, Dads would like these biscotti too.

**In fact, once she tries them, I'm pretty sure she'll be as totally infatuated with these dang cookies as I am! She'll probably also say, "You know you didn't have to do that!". But then, that's the whole point: I didn't have to, I chose to. I wanted to... and here's the big secret: You get more from the giving than from the getting. Get it? Got it? Good!
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  1. The box came today and Mom couldn't wait to open it...she called me into the room and with a big grin on her face, handed me one of these perfectly-sized, delightful treats....whoa! I was not prepared for the heat, which also delighted my Mom no end...you have to know her humor :o) another success dear sister.

  2. Thanks sis! Sorry you got ambushed by a cookie... you should'a read my blog post first - I tried to warn ya! :)

  3. Hi Stephanie,
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on Mother's Day!

    I think edible home made sweets are great!

    Happy Mother's Day,

  4. Hi Beverly - Thanks for stopping by! I am in total agreement with you... home baked treats rock! I'll find any excuse I can to make them :)


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