Bookstores and their quiet cafes were the first things I discovered when I landed in this country. I had always loved getting lost in a book, dreaming up places and characters. I actually missed a Calculus final just to finish up a book one time (I know, bad! I had some explaining to do in front of my family, believe me!). But I had never lost myself in a bookstore in Turkey before. When my friends were introducing the surroundings of Clemson to me in early 2000, I walked into a Books-a-Million store for a short break and never left!
It became my refuge spot. My lab was 15 minutes away and everytime I needed a break, and I wanted to be far away from the lab, I went to the BAM! That was my far away, I know, not impressing… But half an hour break with a cup of coffee or mocha, thumbing through the magazines mindlessly, making small talk with strangers, looking through the new releases and old familiar books had, and still has, a calming effect for me. At the end of that half an hour, I always went back to the lab, thinking I can tackle another set of experiments.
This lasted 7 years…
Until one day, I finally realized that I was spending more time at the bookstore to get away from the lab, that the issue was much deeper, and there was something wrong with this picture. It was one of those days that I came back from the bookstore, walked into my advisor’s office and told him that I was quitting my Ph.D. I could tell he was not very pleased with my decision, but I felt like a big load was lifted off of my shoulders. (In all honesty, it took me a year to make this move, there was more to that decision, more of feeling miserable, crying, and asking myself what the purpose of my life is and what I was doing in the lab when I turned 30 etc..but let’s say a cup of mocha gave me the courage!)
Not only I made life changing decisions, but also met nice people, like Mr. Atif in that store. I saw him every single time I walked in there. He would have a bunch of different books spread out on his table, taking notes and reading. And everytime, he saw me , he had a big smile and asked me how I was doing. Of course, I always said out right “Today sucks, Mr. Atif”, “I am good, Mr. Atif”, “It has been a horrible week, Mr. Atif”… But when I asked him how he was doing, I got the same answer everytime: “Ilke, Life is beautiful… just beautiful”… For 7 years!!!
How on earth he stayed that positive, I have no idea. But he did. It was like fresh spring air to hear that once in a while, I would lift my shoulders, keep my chin up and say “Yes, isn’t it?”… Sometimes I probably just grunted something like “Yeah whatever!” and walked to the back of the store, thinking “What kind of world is he living in?”.
I only had one problem with the cafe at the store : it did not have any appetizing desserts. I tried each,then found the biscotti, ate probably thousands of them by now…vanilla, almond, chocolate… Several days ago, remembering those days made me want to try my own biscotti. There were several different recipes with butter and without butter. I settled on the one without any butter which I found in my pastry book by Bo Friberg. They were very close to store bought ones, I just need to make sure I get the shape right next time and dip it in some chocolate. This trial was just for getting the taste and the feeling right! Next one will be covered in chocolate and dipped in finely chopped hazelnuts!
We all know that life sometimes sucks big time and sometimes it is just as beautiful as Mr. Atif believed. To make the life beautiful again for the people in Japan (I know it will take some time but every move counts at this point!), I am joining the efforts of Sabrina from The Tomato Tart to do an online bake sale and all money raised will go to the Second Harvest Japan. I will be contributing with my Nutella Cake, adapted from Nigella Lawson’s recipe. The online bake sale will be on March 30th. Hope you will join her or contribute by bidding on the baked goods that day!
Let’s Make Life Just Beautiful for Others! and as Sabrina says “Let’s Raise Some Dough!”…
Biscotti (from The Professional Pastry Chef by Bo Friberg)
(The original recipe yields 90 cookies, I halved this recipe but for the sake of being true to the recipe, I am giving the original one)
- 10 ounce bread flour
- 8 ounce cake flour
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 2 ounces unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons crushed anise seeds (optional, I did not use it because I did not want chocolate taste to be masked by strong anise)
- 4 eggs
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 10 ounces granulated sugar
- 6 ounces coarsely chopped walnuts
- 5 ounces dark raisins ( you can easily substitute hazelnuts or almonds and omit raisins)
- Egg wash(1 egg lightly beaten)
1. Combine the dry ingredients and mix well.
2. Beat vanilla, eggs, sugar until all is combined well and turns into a thick mixture.
3. Combine dry and wet ingredients thoroughly and add your preferred nuts and raisins.
4. Move the dough on a floured surface and knead for 2-3 minutes. If you are using the full recipe, divide the dough into two equal portions.
5. Make a 16-inch rope from each portion and put it on a tray lined with parchment paper. Flatten the tops of the rolls slightly and brush the egg wash on them.
6. Bake the ropes at 35–degree oven for 30 minutes until they are firm to touch.
7. Cut diagonal slices (3/8 inch thick) with a serrated knife.
8. Put the slices on the baking pan, bake another 6-7 minutes. Flip the slices, and bake for another 6-7 minutes.