I’ve been waking up early since I returned from France. Very early. Like, pre-dawn early. I’m not entirely sure why. At first it was because of jet lag. More recently it’s probably because of too much work. Too much of that now-familiar anxiety, born of book writing and boys at war, which curls up from my toes and shoots through my spine.
In these very early mornings I enjoy watching the sun rise. There is a pear tree that grows in the yard behind my apartment building. It looks nice in the dim morning light, thick with green fruit and leaves. I’m watching it right now, in fact. It’s not morning, but that doesn’t matter. It’s raining like crazy, blustery and dark as thunder claps above my head. The pear tree looks like it's dancing in the wind: something fast and jaunty, like the four-step I learned in Louisiana this spring.
Also in the very early morning I like to bake. This morning, for example, I made zucchini bread. I used my stepmother’s recipe, which is a favorite of Matt’s. I baked a loaf and let it cool. I wrapped it up tightly and put it in a box. This afternoon I brought it to the post office. I’m not sure how well zucchini bread travels, but we’ll see. Next stop for that plump little guy: Afghanistan.
Last week I made cantuccini, a simple biscotti-like cookie, almond-studded and bronze. The recipe came from Julia Child’s Baking with Julia, which now seems fitting with all the press swirling about a certain film. They are wonderful in the very early morning, especially when dunked in a mug of coffee.
Adapted from Baking with Julia
2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon. salt
1 1/2 cups whole, blanched almonds
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Combine all the dry ingredients together in a bowl. Stir. Add almonds and mix well.
In another bowl, whisk together the eggs and vanilla extract.
Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir.
Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface and knead it for a few minutes. It’s dry, but comes together after a few minutes. Add flour if it sticks.
Divide in half and shape it into two 12-inch logs. Transfer the logs to a baking sheet lined with parchment.
Bake for 30 minutes. The logs will rise a bit, turning lightly brown on the bottom.
Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.
Once cool, cut the logs into quarter-inch slices. Lay the slices, cut side down, on a baking sheet lined with parchment.
Bake for an additional 10 or 15 minutes, or until the cantuccini are bronzed but not too dark. Let cool completely and enjoy!