Of Dreams and Cheddar Pecan Cocktail Biscotti
My hands are covered in fresh blood. My gaze drops to my wooly black sweater, it glistens in the moonlight, soaking with blood. I know what I’ve done though I have no memory of committing the act. Two knives sit in the tiny bathroom sink. Blood splashes in every direction as the water runs over them. I’m leaving too many clues; this isn’t how it’s done on TV. I’m without fear, without regret. Someone I knew, and liked, had died at my hands. I was capable of murder.
I opened my eyes surprised to be on my back. The room was dark. I felt for my sweater expecting my hand to grab hold of the cold, wet wool. Instead my trembling hands found soft cotton against my flaming skin–Greg’s worn t-shirt, my favorite nightie. Consciousness slowly washed over me, but the dream remained. There was no going back to sleep. It was 4 a.m.; my day had started. I eased out of bed careful to not wake Greg. He was probably somewhere over the Smoky Mountains on his magic carpet. I slid into my slippers and padded downstairs to fire up the coffee pot.
I stared desperately at the slowly burbling pot as if a simple cup of joe could release me from the grip of my dream. I was counting the drips when a favorite quote from writer Robert Brault popped into my polluted mind:
“Stored away in some brain cell is the image of a long-departed aunt you haven’t thought of in 30 years. Stored away in another cell is the image of a pink pony stitched on your first set of baby pajamas. All it takes to get that aunt mounted on the back of that pony is to eat a hunk of meatloaf immediately before going to bed.”
I considered the meal that Greg and I had peacefully shared the night before: Lentils with sausage and escarole. Good sausage, sweetly spiced with fennel, made on a sunny afternoon with my father-in-law. French green lentils, simmered in rich mushroom broth. Garlicky, silky greens. Lightly toasted hazelnuts. It was hardly the kind of meal that drove one to murder.
I knew it was only a dream. Still, I was unnerved by what lurked in the shadows of my mind. My dreams are often strange, sometimes frightening, and always puzzling. The plane is invariably about to crash. Sometimes we’re over water, sometimes land. A cargo plane, an MD-80, a puddle jumper, no matter, we’re always in a tail spin. My mom often has a starring role in my dreams. My dad will make the occasional cameo appearance, à la Hitchcock in Rear Window. I can never make out the face of the prowler who is climbing our stairs and will certainly find me quivering under the bed. Old boyfriends drop in every now and again. And then there was that thigh-burning dream about Angelina Jolie that for weeks had me wondering about what “team” I was really on.
What might Freud or Jung have to say about my dreams? I gave up on interpreting them long ago, happier to return the dark thoughts to the corners of my brain that they’d crawled from. Greg and I sometimes share our dreams over breakfast, but it can be downright exasperating for me. The same night I’m tussling with a faulty flotation device on a plunging Airbus, Greg is being carried on a golden throne through the cobbled streets of a medieval city in celebration of his coronation. Fortunately, when my dreams are particularly fitful, King Greg will wake from his joyful slumber and save his queen before the imaginary faceless intruder covers her eyes and mouth with duct tape.
My coffee cup was empty, and the bloody dream lingered. I picked up my notebook and opened it to the recipe I’d been working on the day before–cornmeal biscotti. My thoughts turned to Christmas and the anise and almond biscotti I’d made and devoured in mere days. Another door in my brain slid open and out came the memory of a Food and Wine Magazine article featuring Dorie Greenspan’s sweet and savory cookies. Sesame seeds. Tarragon. Parmesan cheese. Flaky salt. My mom’s giant-sized cheddar pecan cheese ball rolled out of another dust-covered place in my mind. The memory comforted me in a way that it never had before and pleasant thoughts filled my head. Sharp, rich cheddar slathered on a Ritz cracker. One. Two. Three. Last one, I promise. Happy holidays. Family. Friends. Laughter.
I turned on the oven and reached for a mixing bowl. It was still an hour before dawn, but the darkness had finally lifted.
Cheddar Pecan Cocktail Biscotti
The variations for this recipe are endless. Black pepper and Parmesan. Thyme and Gruyere. Blue cheese and walnuts, maybe some dried figs. Goat cheese and citrus with a bit of rosemary. Take these wherever your memories and dreams may take you.
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
4 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1 cup pecans, lightly toasted
2 tablespoons whole grain mustard
2 tablespoons honey or maple syrup
1-2 tablespoons milk
- Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- In a large bowl whisk together flour, cornmeal, baking powder, cayenne pepper, and salt. Stir in the grated cheese and pecans.
- In another bowl, combine the eggs, mustard, honey, and 1 tablespoon of milk. Beat until thoroughly blended.
- Add the wet ingredients to the dry. Mix until the dough is too stiff to stir. Use your hands to bring it together in the bowl. Add the second tablespoon of milk if it’s too dry.
- Form the dough into two 3-inch-wide loaves. Place about 3 inches apart on the lined baking sheet. Smooth the loaves with damp hands.
- Bake for 25-30 minutes, until lightly golden. Cool for 20 minutes.
- Reduce the oven temperature to 300°F.
- Cut the cooled loaves into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Place on baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes. Turn the cookies over. Return to oven and bake for another 10 minutes, or until golden brown.
- Cool on a wire rack. Store in an airtight container.
Makes 3-4 dozen.