This week marks five years since I rode a carousel of gilded horses somewhere in the middle of Rome. I had too much wine and the piazza was celebrating Christmas early. There were witches on strings sold for seven Euro and small keychains where the gold was peeling off. They were one Euro. I bought five for everyone in my family. Good enough. They’d appreciate the sentiment. A week later, I found all five in the trash. All the gold scratched off with fingernails and spare change.
The lights of the carousel swirled manically in my memory and we weren’t even going that fast. We all seemed so much happier than I think we really were. I think it was raining then. I think I had forgotten my coat at the bar we went to later. I think we bought roses from a beggar and gave them to a nun cleaning when we got back to the dormitory (it was attached to a monastery). I think that memory sticks with me now because I felt both so vertiginous seated on the carousel and so grounded to the holiday season. I felt like I was home in a country where I had to carry my student visa to get into any of my classes.
But it has been five years. Two of those years I didn’t celebrate Christmas. I haven’t done much of anything since I’ve come out to California. But I think about that day, that night, that moment I felt so connected to a world where I still had to nod eagerly and point to order a pastry. Not too much eye contact, ask a stranger for directions.
I still feel like a foreigner sometimes, like a fraud. There’s a personal dissonance for me when I see strands of lights wrapped around palm trees. I feel like I’m betrayal some primal Appalachian roots being in the West during the holidays. It rains in California more than it snows. So I try to make the best of it, to recreate the moments when I felt most festive. When it felt wholesome and good and I felt worthy to enjoy Christmas. I’ve felt like a necromancer, resurrecting all those memories back to the surface, those feelings of nostalgia, of carousel rides and white Christmases. This week I made hot chocolate the way my mother does—full of cream and chocolate chips melted in the microwave. I made the sugar cookies my brother likes for a potluck at work. And with the help of West Elm, I made fruitcake biscotti for that night in Rome. And while the memories keep fading away, while they aren’t as bright in my mind as they used to be, I keep trying.
Fruitcake Biscotti, makes 12-16
- 1/2 cup flavorless oil
- 2 whole eggs, plus one yolk
- 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
- 1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon molasses
- 1 cup white sugar
- 3 1/2 cup flour
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 2 tablespoons dried cranberries
- 2 tablespoon dried oranges, diced
- 2 tablespoon candied ginger, diced
- 2 tablespoon heavy cream
- Preheat oven to 325. Prepare two baking sheets with parchment paper
- In a measuring cup, measure out and whisk together oil, eggs, extracts, and molasses and set aside
- In a mixing bowl, sift together sugar, flour and baking powder
- Create a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and slowly pour wet mixture into well, mixing with a wooden spoon until it begins to come together
- Dump out onto a floured work surface and sprinkle dried fruit on top of dough. Work dough by hand, kneading five or six times until it has come together
- With a sharp knife, cut dough in half and shape each piece into an 8-inch log that is about 1 inch high. Place on parchment-lined baking sheet. Coat each log with a small amount of cream.
- Bake logs for 30 minutes, and take out of the oven. Using a serrated knife, slice both logs into ½-inch segments
- Lay all slices evenly onto baking sheet with one cut side up. Reduce oven to 300 and bake on each side for 6 minutes, until crisp
- Allow to cool before serving.
- Buon appetito!