Friday, April 18, 2008

The Pope + My Heavenly Nutella Panini

It's an understatement to say that New York is abuzz with the arrival of Pope Benedict this week; honestly, it seems as though the moment he stepped on U.S. soil, the skies turned pure blue, the thermometer rose to a heavenly 80 degrees, and our collective spirits rose. It's also my birthday week, and it's refreshing for a change to have something positive going on during it. I unfortunately share the same birth date as Adolph Hitler, so I usually brace myself come my birthday for events such as Columbine, and Oklahoma City, and Virginia Tech. So, I can't tell you how satisfying it is--for the first time in as long as I can remember--to be walking around this week feeling positive energy, and electricity in the air, instead of fear, and dread.

Last night I joined some male friends from my gym for early cocktails in town. None of us knew each other very well, but we decided since it was a lovely, summery-feeling evening, that it would be a perfect night to get to know each other better. So we sat on the side porch of an old, renovated Victorian-turned-wine bar, sipping lusty reds, telling bawdy jokes (which of course got more and more bawdy with each lusty red), laughing too loud, becoming fast friends. The moon was ripe and round, so there was a lovely silver glow being cast across the porch as we drank our wine, told our stories, nibbled on warm panini sandwiches, and briny olives; I couldn't have art directed a more perfect setting, or a more beautiful evening. At the three quarter mark, our waiter surprised me with a nutella panini, lit up with two birthday candles stuck smack dab in the middle, and the entire porch, filled with Thursday night revelers soaking in the warm evening, sang Happy Birthday to me. I can honestly say that I was filled with more joy than I've felt in some time; new friends and complete strangers, with no agenda, sharing a happy moment. Life rarely gets any better than that.

2 cups chopped hazelnuts
3/4 cup to 1 cup powdered sugar

1/4 cup unsweetened dark cocoa powder

1/8 to 1/4 cup canola oil

Process hazelnuts in a food processor fitted with a metal blade until nuts start to clump together and form a ball (approximately 5 minutes). Add the powdered sugar and cocoa powder, and process for another 2 to 3 minutes, or until the mixture turns dark and the ingredients are well combined. Finally, slowly drizzle in the oil to form a thick spread.

Store spread in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 4 to 6 weeks.
Makes approximately two cups.

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