Biscotti (including tozzetti, cantucci)

25 Jan

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There are many ways to make biscotti. The defining characteristic is that they are cooked twice (bis = twice; cotti = cooked), first baked in a loaf, slices of which are then gently toasted to dry.

They go by various names, and with many variations, in different parts of Italy. The almond and lemon ones here are similar to the tozzetti or cantucci dunked into Vin Santo, especially in central Italy. Some of my favourite biscotti are lightly flavoured with anise, though I haven’t tried to make these (yet). For tozzetti, cut the slices thicker than what you see here, up to 1cm thick.

Here I give the recipe for two different flavours – almond- lemon or hazelnut-chocolate. The almond variety are best suited to dunking in Vin Santo, or with a cup of tea, while the the hazelnut and chocolate go better with coffee or darker liqueurs. For special occasions I like to make a batch of each.

I will occasionally bring these to meetings when it’s my turn to bring the snacks.

You get a clearer sense of how to make biscotti with the visuals, I think, so this recipe has an unusually high number of pictures. The specifics of getting the skin off hazelnuts, and the shaping and cutting of the pastries is better conveyed in photography than in verbal description.

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Friend Your Enemies

27 Dec

 Unfriending culture and the dumbing down of debate

Information technology is argued to have brought the world closer together and exposed all those who partake in its gifts to a broader range of information and opinions. This, in turn, should have increased diversity and tolerance. What I see, however, is the opposite: fragmentation and self-righteousness.

The clearest examples of it are to be found on my facebook feed and in the behaviour of my (facebook) friends. While it might be easy to think of what happens on facebook as a rather shallow and fluffy (cats) manifestation of cultural trends, it is a manifestation of cultural trends nonetheless, and what it reveals about what’s happening in culture more deeply is profoundly disturbing.

I have deliberately chosen to remain facebook friends with a number of people whose political and social views differ greatly from my own. Some of these are old high school friends whom I haven’t seen in years, some are former teachers, others are people whom I have known socially. These people often post opinions or statements with which I disagree. Occasionally I like to challenge these opinions or statements, in the hope of engaging in some kind of debate, and of having the chance to refine or even change one another’s views. This is rarely (but sometimes) the outcome. On a couple of occasions, I have been unfriended or even blocked. Thankfully this is rare. On many more occasions, I have had other friends suggest that I unfriend a person for their opinions, because I “don’t need friends like that.” On the contrary, I believe I do. I believe we all do.

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Tiramisù – booze and caffeine, what could possibly go wrong?

21 Dec

As I’ve mentioned before in my recipe posts, desserts were not a big part of my upbringing, but some events call for something a little special. One such event that has become a tradition within the Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble over the last handful of years is the final official meeting of the Core Ensemble, (the major artists in the company) in any given calendar year. We come together to reflect on the year that was, to dream on the possibilities of the year to come, and to share food. It is a potluck dinner, each artist brings a plate, and over the last three years I have always contributed what is fast becoming my signature dessert – Tiramisù.

Here is my recipe, cobbled together from many different traditional and contemporary versions, but trying to remain true to the origins of the dish. No berries, no jelly, no bells or whistles. You can add those, if you must.

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Image credit: <a href=’http://www.123rf.com/photo_21917811_italian-tiramisu.html’>lsantilli / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

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New Pope, New Hope?

9 Dec

I’m an atheist (and a reluctant Buddhist), but that doesn’t mean I don’t take an interest in religion –  I’m keenly interested  in human psychology especially as it relates to political and social movements. I like to kid that I was raised lapsed (Catholic), because my family went to Church twice a year, but they were very disappointed when, at age fifteen, I refused to take Confirmation. Mainly because of what the neighbours might think.

I am also a great believer in the teachings ascribed to Jesus in the New Testament gospels, and do my best to live by them. They are hard. I don’t call myself a Christian, however, because I don’t believe that Jesus, if there was such a historical person, was any more divine than you or I (take that as you will). I also don’t call myself a Christian because I have only met two or three people who identify as such who actually live in accordance with these teachings – love thine enemy, turn the other cheek, camel and needle’s eye, the sermon on the mount, and so forth.

But I still sometimes dip my fingers in the holy water and cross myself when I enter a cathedral.

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So I am really fascinated by the early days of the papacy of Francis I. He made a good start in my eyes by taking the name of my favourite Catholic Saint, and showed further that he might break with tradition when he became the first pope in 1100 years not to choose a name already chosen by a previous pope (the previous was Pope Lando in 913, who of course named himself after a character from Star Wars).

In less than a year since his election, Francis has made some extraordinary statements and undertaken strong symbolic actions which set him aside from his two immediate predecessors, John Paul II and Benedict XVI. However, many critics argue that thus far, he has offered many words but not done much if anything to change the church. I would like to present the view here, gleaned largely through recent discussions with leftist atheist Italian thinkers and artists, that these critics may be mistaken – in their understanding of how both the church the papacy work.

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Green Turkey

4 Dec

I know, there are thousands of recipes for roast turkey available in books and on-line, what makes mine so special? Nothing, except that it’s green. And if you make gravy from the pan drippings, you get green gravy! It’s delicious. The coating and basting, as well as the quick temperature change at the beginning, helps to keep it dry so that both the white and dark meat cook fully without the white meat drying out. My wife, the American, loves it so much she insists that I cook the Thanksgiving turkey each year.

This recipe also avoids having to turn the turkey over, which can be dangerous. Apparently more cooking fires are started in the USA at Thanksgiving than at any other time of year.

It also belongs in the “recipes of love” section because I make it for a celebration that our family has adopted – thanksgiving. Although we live in Australia and it’s not a holiday there, and it’s generally thought of as a specifically American celebration (though it started in the UK, slightly earlier in the year), we have adopted it as a secular ritual centred around gratitude. Every year we invite a number of our closest friends to our house to feast, and engage in a ritual where each person says at least one thing from the previous year, or in their life currently, for which they are grateful. And there’s plenty of fare for the vegetarians. But here, just the turkey recipe. And you can make it for Christmas, or any other damn time you please.

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Kicking it down the line

25 Nov

“The oppressed, instead of striving for liberation, tend themselves to become oppressors… The oppressed find in the oppressors their model of ‘manhood’… The oppressed want at any cost to resemble the oppressors.”

– Paolo Freire, The Pedagogy of the Oppressed

It has happened in every revolution in history, one oppressive class is replaced with another. But this is a story of how I have seen it happen in the space of two generations, and of how we can stop the cycle.

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My parents came to Australia from central Italy in the early 1950s. They arrived on ships. My father arrived in Fremantle, Western Australia, on New Year’s Day 1952, and my mother and three year old brother followed eighteen months later. None of them could speak a word of English when they arrived. I am often asked why they came to Australia, and it is a question I asked of them myself several times in my life. Like most big life questions, the answer is somewhat complicated. And in this case, there is an official and an unofficial story.

My parents were born in Italy, and grew up in small farming communities near the border of the Marche and Romagna regions, just inland of the Adriatic coast. They both started going to school, but neither were able to complete their schooling because they were needed on the farms on which their respective families worked. My mother made it into, but did not complete, the third grade. She was the top of her class. My father made it a few years further.

They were teenagers during the second world war, and lived near the Eastern end of the Gothic line, the final line of defence for the Axis forces in Italy once the Allies began their attack.

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Silence is Violence

22 Nov

One of the things I do with my time is to work with prisoners on performing Shakespeare. In the project I direct, this leads up to the prisoners at Southern Queensland Correctional Centre performing a Shakespeare play for audiences of other inmates, families, staff and invited guests from the community. At the moment I’m travelling in the United States and Italy, exploring and working with a few similar projects. I spent a month in Michigan working with Shakespeare Behind Bars on both an adult men’s and a juveniles’ (mixed) project led by Curt Tofteland (his TEDx talk is here). After that, I took part in the first Shakespeare in Prisons Conference at the University of Notre Dame. For the last handful of days I’ve been in Kentucky with the original Shakespeare Behind Bars project that Tofteland founded, now run by Matt Wallace.

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As a result of this, I have made valuable connections with many other Prison Shakespeare practitioners, as this can be fairly isolated work. The QSE project is the only Prison Shakespeare project in Australia, and one of only two in the southern hemisphere (the other being by the Independent Theatre Movement of South Africa). I’ve been steeped in the practice and philosophies of this kind of work (and pretty much nothing else except beer and bourbon) for the last five weeks.

I’m not going to write about the details of the process night about the benefits and challenges. You can read all about that in the final chapter of Teaching Shakespeare Beyond the Centre. Instead I want to explore here why arts work of any kind is important for marginalised populations. This is basically the written version of a short talk I gave at Women in Transition‘s open mike poetry night,  ‘Silence is Violence‘ held at the Rudyard Kipling bar in Louisville on November 21, 2013.

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