Taralli – My Culinary “Mission Impossible”

24 07 2010

What’s a taralli? Well, aside from delicious, this is the definition Wikipedia gives is this.

Taralli are an Italian snack food, common all over the southern half of the Italian Peninsula. A cracker similar in texture to a bread stick or a pretzel, taralli can be sweet or savory. Sweet taralli are sometimes glazed with sugar. Savory taralli may be flavored with onion, garlic, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, fennel, pepper or just salt. Sweet and plain taralli are often dunked in wine.

I had seen some of the sweet ones a while back and finally weakened enough to go out and buy some – something I usually don’t do because they’re expensive and, given my major weakness for baked goods, they don’t last long. I had, however, gotten the image of me enjoying a of couple glazed taralli and my morning coffee so ingrained in my mind that the obvious downsides didn’t faze me. Off I went to the closest grocery store – a small independently owned place where I always, Always, ALWAYS see sweet taralli… except for when I show up looking for them. I went to the next nearest grocery store – a Stop & Shop – and still no sweet taralli. If I’d have wanted the peppercorn ones, I’d have been set, which just made the situation more annoying.

Before I go on, allow me to explain why not finding a single lone tarallo (singular form of taralli) is such a shock. I live in New Haven county Connecticut – well within the metro-area where Italian-American everything is commonplace. The town I live in does not have its own high school – it’s part of a district – but it does have not one, but two places to get good pizza. If I’m honest, I could’ve driven to an Italian bakery and bought the taralli. There are a couple good bakeries around, but they aren’t as close as those grocery stores were and I was getting sick of driving around with nothing to show for it, so I went back home to go on an online recipe hunt. I had decided to try my hand at making them.

Traditional Italian baking is usually pretty easy – it can be time-consuming sometimes, but it’s not a difficult process as a rule. There are often few ingredients and the variety comes from the addition of different flavorings and such as opposed to an entirely different process for each recipe. A perfect example is when you walk into a coffee shop and you see seven different kinds of biscotti. The difference is not in how they’re made – they are all biscotti – but in the flavoring. One’s almond, one’s lemon, one’s dipped in chocolate, ect, ect… The difficulty comes in finding traditional Italian recipes. No one writes cookbooks full of these kinds of recipes. You find books with really elaborate versions of some of these things or, more irritatingly, how to fake Italian food with things like ketchup and canned soups. That, in my opinion, is an abomination. I’m cool with all sorts of things in life, but do NOT try convincing me that Campbell’s tomato soup even remotely resembles my homemade marinara sauce. I will think less of you as a person if you do.

My recipe hunt yielded a few good results most notably an italian food blog turosdolci.wordpress.com which is full of some delicious-looking recipes as well as beautiful shots of Italy. My urge to book a flight was almost as strong as my urge to bust out the baking utensils. Baking won only on economic grounds. Anyway I found this post about taralli and this post that was my inspiration – a sweet taralli made with red wine. I gathered my ingredients and about 35 minutes later my home smelled like heaven and I had taralli that are far better than anything I could’ve bought. Me being who I am I had to fiddle with the recipe a little. I used a Ruby Port instead of a red wine and the results are fabulous. Whatever brilliant soul decided, ages ago, that wine belonged in a baked snack deserves to be canonized. I also showed my mother the site and now she’s got baking plans that stretch to Christmas after seeing a few recipes for biscotti and other treats. I have plans to attempt some gluten-free versions of these things. My cousin is allergic to gluten – a cruel fate in a family like mine – and I’ve had a fair bit of success with substituting in gluten-free flours with little to no difference in taste. It’s health food everyone wants to eat. I’ll keep everyone appraised of the results of my gluten-free experimenting.

I will close this post with a warning regarding these snacks – they are addictive. To say I’ve eaten more than my fair share is an understatement to say the least. It isn’t just me, or the rest of the humans in the house for that matter, Tosca, my shiba inu, is now a fiend for them. She will climb, jump, and do everything else in her power to get a hold of some. This is unusual because she isn’t generally one to do this… unless you leave grilled beef unattended, and then it’s over. Tosca is an accomplished taralli thief.

I will try to post more good recipes (or links to good recipes) in the future.





Old Enmities, New Violence

13 07 2010

There was violence in the streets in Belfast yesterday. It was the same old grievances being acted upon by a new generation of fighters. I just don’t get it.

As a small child, I remember watching the news as Ireland and North Ireland fought bitterly on the screen. It really upset me because the place where the fighting was going on didn’t look very “foreign” to me. The buildings and homes looked just like areas of the city in which I lived at the time. The people didn’t look very “foreign” either with their jeans and sweatshirts and baseball caps and sneakers. I asked my grandmother why they were fighting and she tried to explain the split between Protestants and Catholics and how two groups who were so similar could hate each other so much and for so long. She did a pretty good job, but that didn’t make the fighting any more sensible to me. I must have been being a pain because my grandmother finally looked at me and said “Every little boy and girl in the world is born the same. No one is better or worse than anyone else. Those people weren’t taught that.” I remember that so well I can almost hear and see her saying it.
Time marches on – I’m now an adult, or should be anyway, with a great interest in world events and foreign policy and my grandmother has been gone for several years now, but this conflict makes no more sense to me now than it did all those years ago in the kitchen of our small, old house. It’s so senseless and it’s been going on as long as I’ve been alive and for ages before that. There are plenty of conflicts that are older than me – Israel/Palestine springs immediately to mind – but, while I find it hard to justify any of them, this one strikes a particular chord with me. I’ve read about it and talked about it and learned about for years, but at the end of the day, I’m just as confused and disgusted as I was when I was following my grandmother around our kitchen peppering her with an endless stream of questions.

There are some articles from the BBC here, here, here, here, and here. I’m sure there will be a statement made by someone of governmental importance and I’ll update with that once I find it.





Another Great Idea That Won’t Get Me Money

10 07 2010

I received a really insensitive email from a company I was applying to work for. I had contacted because I was having some trouble finishing the application process on their website. I’m not in the mood to go into details, but suffice to say it made me furious. I will be emailing them to express this since I can’t finish my application, but I have yet to be able to draft a message that doesn’t start off with “Dear Butt-Head…” or something equally insulting (and usually more profane). I refuse to look foolish even in an email and even though their opinion of me does not weigh on my mind one bit. I am just simply better than that. I was looking for something to do that would occupy me and help me cool down because it’ll take forever otherwise. I thought about baking, but a second or two in front of a full-length mirror cured me of the desire for cake, cookies, and most other treats, so I decided to dig out some yarn and crochet a scarf. Yep, crochet a scarf in the near 100 degree weather we’ve been having. I was on Etsy looking for a scarf pattern that doesn’t look like something you’d see at an old folks’ home, when I found this.

Crochet suddenly looked a lot cooler. I bought the pattern and when out and got what I’d need… almost. I forgot the stuffing for my little stuffed ninja dude.
This morning I woke up with a mission – buy stuffing for my new little toy. It was too early to go out though, so I settled in watching BBC America’s morning news and thinking. What in the name of all that’s good and right with the world is a twenty-five-year-old going to do with a 2.5″ stuffed ninja? What had I been thinking? Why did I waste very limited resources on something so stupid? Granted, it wasn’t a lot of money – I’d probably spend more on one trip to Starbucks – but it was the principle of the thing that got to me. There was also the issue of what to do with all the extra yarn. I couldn’t justify the creation of one ninja let alone a whole army of them. Then I got an idea – donate some of my crocheted creations around the holidays. I am now a humanitarian… sort of.

I like making things, particularly scarves, but I always wind up with more than I can use and I really have no use for toys, except for the fact that making them will keep me for dwelling on how pathetic my prospects for work are, so I try to keep my crocheting to a minimum. This way I can make as many things as I want, keep only what I need and then use the remaining yarn to make more stuff that will fill a need someone has. I like feeling like I have a purpose and have long ago realized that the things I like to do will never make me any money, so, while I have no real work, I can indulge in something I like to do and simultaneously elevating myself from the category of Waste of Grey Matter. Sweet!

I will probably try to sell a few items at some point and my mother has already requested a pair of ballet-style slippers with ribbons and first pick of everything else in exchange for supplying me with yarn and other necessities, but otherwise this is about me trying to do something good and make use of my vast tracts of free time.





Another Gold Star For a Government Official

7 07 2010

I saw this video posted here and I felt it was time to give out another gold star.

Hillary Rodham Clinton is not accustomed to things not going her way. That’s not me being insulting or anything like that, it’s fact. Just look at her history. Pretty much everything she’s attempted has worked out for her with the exception of her messy marriage and she and her husband seem to have sorted that out, too. It takes two people to make or break one of those and, from what little she’s said on the subject, she’s content with what she’s got in that department. As of her appointment as President Obama’s Secretary of State, she had amassed enough money and clout to ensure that she will in all likelihood be pleased with most aspects of her life from here on out.
The one big thing that she tried and failed to accomplish was to be elected president in 2008. The fact that she’s in his cabinet is not the issue here. The issue is that wherever she goes, even out of the country (this video was taken in the Republic of Georgia) she is reminded of that failure and instead of trying to avoid the questions about what working for the man who defeated her is like, she takes on the topic with grace and, in the process manages to point out some of the finer elements of democracy and the US system of governing. That’s a lot to pack into a minute. Furthermore, this is a conversation she has had before and will continue to have over and over, probably as long as she is in her current position as Secretary of State. Four years is a long time to be repeatedly reminded about your biggest failure.

That type of grace is lacking in politics everywhere. It’s not just Republicans. It’s not just Democrats. It’s not just the tea party people. It isn’t just the US either – ever seen some of the crazy shit that goes on in the parliamentary sessions of other countries? No, well, here you go.

*BEWARE – F-bombs dropped at the end.*

And, because everything is funnier when you add the Benny Hill theme, there’s this.

Yes, CSPAN would be a hell of a lot more entertaining if our House and Senate were like this, but I think graciousness is a quality that trumps my amusement when it comes to sorting out the country in which I reside and its relationship with the rest of the world. So, for combining lessons on democracy, fair elections, duty, and not being a sore loser, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton gets a gold star