Almond-anise biscotti

“So what are your thoughts on having children?”

She tossed the question at me, quite out of the blue it seemed, sitting as we were next to an impossibly blue ocean under a cerulean sky. With no precursor, right as I was in the act of forking a piece of crispy imperial roll into my mouth, the question hung between us for a few seconds while I considered answering with with my mouth full, lest it be thought that I was stalling.

I’ve been asked the question several hundred times before. The thing is, I was not having lunch with my mother. This was lunch with a former colleague, one I’d sat right next to for two or more years and had known for about eight years before then. Sure, she belonged to my mother’s generation, but in spirit she always seemed to have more in common with my younger sister and we’d become unlikely friends. With her Ph.D in philosophy and as Director of Marketing for a major architectural company, she was dynamic, friendly and but conventional in the two years I sat next to her at work. There’d never been a mention of anything even close to this topic before, so to say I was caught unawares would have been an accurate assessment. I struggled to find gather my thoughts while distracted contemplating the tender fried radish and mushrooms currently occupying my taste buds.

“You mean my having children, right?” I asked in a somewhat redundant fashion, while she nodded patiently. I shifted in my seat and turned to look at a hopeful seagull cautiously wandering close, hoping to take pot luck. Taking a deep breath, I chose honesty over brevity. “It’s murky. I spent a lifetime thinking kids are fine and all but had no urge to produce any of my own. Then I met and married this wonderful person. When I think of how amazing he is, it makes me wonder what a mini-version of him would be like. Also, he loves kids, but has never insisted we have any, knowing from the very beginning about my ambivalence. It’s my decision mostly and I haven’t decided how I feel about it one way or another. It’s not that we’re actively trying to have one but it’s not that we stopping anything from happening” I felt the words tumble out of my mouth in a rush while she expertly speared shrimp and manoeuvred it into her lettuce wrap. It had been a long while since I’d voiced my thoughts on the subject out loud, and for someone who rarely does so, I felt exposed. I took a quick look around us. The lunch crowd at The Slanted Door continued to dive into their noodles and pork buns without giving any inclination of having heard the serious turn our lunch had taken. I braced for the inevitable hard-sell of motherhood that I knew was headed my way. She was a product of her generation after all.

Delicately wiping her mouth on the napkin, she arranged it just so on her lap, smiled at me and said, “Well, some people say you’re never ready for that leap in your life, and some people will tell you you have to hurry or you will miss ‘the right time’ or that this is hogwash. It’s all a point-of-view, you know. And in every case, what matters is your view. As for myself, I can tell you I love being a mom, but more because of the child than because of what it means to me.”

“What do you mean?”

“It is fascinating, isn’t it, to watch this little being that you helped bring into this world grow and become their own person? In this little person, you see bits of you and you see glimpses of your spouse and yet, they are uniquely themselves. You learn so much from them, even while you are trying to teach them. It’s all a very experimental and evolving experience. I think you would enjoy it should you make up your mind in that direction. But hey, that’s just me.”

And just as abruptly, she picked up the menu and asked, “So then, this five-spice chicken sandwich sounds good. Have you thought about what you want for lunch?”

The rest of the meal and our conversation flowed along the lines of many lunches before then, but as I hugged her good bye and walked back to my new place of work, the unusual blip in our conversation stuck with me. I’ve had this conversation in many forms before but never in this blurb-esque fashion and never with that particular insight. For some reason, I couldn’t shake her words.

What she also must have been was clairvoyant because while neither of us knew it then, I was already pregnant. In all our years of knowing each other, for her to bring up the topic of children with that particular insight at this particular time, seems nothing short of that. I’d been unusually exhausted for about a month before that lunch but had been chalking it up to having started a new job just then. I’d spent ten years in my former job and it had been as familiar and comfortable as home to me. I figured the new place and responsibilities would take some getting used to, hence the tiredness. But a bright plus sign a week later told me that there was more to it than a new job. I think my first reaction was pure astonishment. In my head, I’d equated my ambivalence about possible kids with the likelihood of not having them. I’ve known people try for years with more structure and purpose to have the children they desperately wanted and meeting with failure. We had only just decided to consider this chapter in our married life. After all those lectures on moving past the correct age and the correct time, I felt like there had to be a punk’d element to all of this somewhere as I stared at that pink plus. Turns out, biology has its own warped sense of humour. And there I was, pregnant in the latter half of my 30s.

My astonishment turned to full-blown panic in a matter of days. Sure, I was going to have a child but hell, that poor child was going to have me. Me as his or her *double gulp* mom. I am not mom material. Becoming an aunt at the age of 18 to an adorable young nephew who I love to death, but could only deal with so much, had me convinced of that fact. I was the aunt who had little patience with horsing around, the one that brooked little nonsense. I bet given a choice, he’d pick my younger sister as his favourite aunt (or maybe not, that child is a born diplomat, but that’s what he’d think). I look at my selfless, loving husband and know he’s going to earn that ‘World’s best Dad T-shirt’ like he’s owned it all his life. Me, I’m more likely to earn that ‘My mom is crazy’ coffee mug. What, you say they don’t make anything like that? Oh, you can bet they will soon.

But here we are, at the eve of that crossroad. And it is why I’ve been away from this space for a while. Please bear with me as I adjust to my changing life. Things have been a bit crazy so I have a recipe but no photo. But in the meantime, I have for your these delicious biscotti. I meant to share them with you a while ago, but as you can imagine, what with life having other plans for me, it hasn’t been possible. These biscotti bake up to just the right balance of crisp exterior to a firm, dense-almost-cake-like interior without shattering all over you and are a wonderful snack or addition to your tea. I used Odense almond paste which comes in a thick tube-like roll, so I grated it to make it mixable. They take a little work but just like my new venture in life, I’m seeing that everything worthwhile in life does

Almond-anise biscotti

Almond paste – 7 0z, grated,
Anise seeds – 2 tsp, cracked lightly
Butter – 8 tbsp, very cold, cut into small pieces
AP flour – 1-3/4 cup
Sugar – 1/2 cup
Baking powder – 1 tsp
Sliced/ Slivered Almonds – 1 cup
Salt – 1/4 tsp
Egg whites – 4
Vanilla extract – 1/2 tsp

-Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking tray with parchment paper.
-In a large bowl, combine almond paste, butter, flour, sugar, anise seeds and baking powder. Mix together with a pastry cutter or fork until mixture is crumbly.
– In a separate bowl, mix together the egg whites and vanilla extract. Whisk by hand or with an electric mixer until the egg mixture is very frothy.
– Add the egg whites into the flour mixture. Stir together wit a wooden spoon until combined to form a dough. Cut into two halves.
– Lightly dust the counter or a rolling surface with flour. Roll each half out into a log of about 10-inch length. Flatten each log to about 3/4-inch thickness.
– Bake for about 30 to 35 minutes, until golden brown. Take out of the oven and allow to coool on cooling rack for 10 minutes.
– Cut each log into 3/4-inch thickness pieces at a diagonal.
– Lay pieces back down on the baking sheet and put back in oven. Bake for 8-10 minutes on one side, then turn over and bake 8-10 minutes on the other side to finish.

* I wrote this post a long time ago and kept hoping I could get a pic for you with the next batch I baked. But that batch never came. Instead came my adorable l’il tyke, Nikhil, born last week.*

12 comments

  1. Nupur

    Congratulations- Nikhil is adorable! Good luck with the whirlwind that is to come- it is a fun and exhausting and exhilarating journey (say I with my sample size of 1)

    • Sharmila

      Thanks very much, Nupur! I realize I’m only scratching the surface of what this is all going to be about given the short time he’s been around, but yes, it’s been very tiring so far, so I’m beginning to see what you mean :)

  2. Shvetha

    Congratulations, Sharmila and Amey!! I was just going to remark that this is one of the loveliest birth announcements; I’m glad I read through the entire post! Best wishes to the three of you. Your friend’s take is wonderfully true, as you’ll soon discover!

  3. Gayatri

    Congratulations! Being a parent is not easy, with a lot of ups and downs, but I think in the end it is worth it – the highs are more than the lows in the long run!

  4. Pooja

    Congratulations Sharmila! Nikhil looks adorable :)
    I can totally relate to your feelings on parenthood and all of the apprehension associated with it. I’m looking forward to reading about how it goes. Good luck!

  5. Priti

    Congratulations Sharmila and Amey!!! I am so happy for you. Nikhil is so adorable. I really enjoyed reading this post.

  6. Manisha

    Congrats, Sharmila! And what a beautiful post!

    Your friend is wise! And I can relate to so much of what she said. Parenting has been the toughest thing I have ever done in my life, yet it has also been the most rewarding and most joy-filled journey. No regrets! I can also relate to your feelings about your kid being stuck with you as a parent because that’s exactly how I felt and still feel. But, you know, you will be the best mom you can be (yes, you will make mistakes. Who doesn’t?!) and your child will love you unconditionally, no matter what.

    Much love to you and Nikhil! He’s adorable! Enjoy him and this journey!

    • Sharmila

      Aww Manisha! Reading this made me tear up (don’t worry you didn’t make me sad, it could just be the hormones. I cry when I see toffee these days.) But I very much appreciate what you wrote, and reading it does make me feel a bit better. I look at this little guy and realise that this fear I finally put down is words is still very much with me. Reading something like this gives me hope.