The other day I was channel surfing and stumbled upon “Australia” playing on HBO. The movie, starring Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman and directed by Baz Luhrmann, was released last year with the accompanying holiday epic fan fare—Oprah flirting with Hugh (because she is human), and so impressed that Nic gave such a fabulous performance despite the heat of the Australian outback and
the fact that she was pregnant! What a brave trooper she was. Then the movie opened to eh reviews and went away.
I had meant to see it because Hugh Jackman is my husband—only we’ve never met and he is married to someone else. A minor technicality. Nicole Kidman, her immobile facial features to one side, is a talented actress (don’t give me a hard time on that…remember The Hours and her rubber Virginia Woolf nose? She was great.) Baz Luhrman is a really creative and innovative director (I loved Moulin
Rouge). How bad could a sweeping adventure filled (supposedly) with romance, and did I mention Hugh Jackman be?
Pretty bad. You just can’t judge a movie by its cover. Didn’t I learn this with the Godfather III years ago? One of the biggest duds of all time and for no good reason—I & II are among the best movies ever. We still had Francis Ford Coppola, Al Pacino, Mario Puzo and sadly, Sofia Coppola. But can you really place an entire flop on one woman’s shoulders? Yes, but that’s not the point.
Now think about “Slumdog Millionaire.” To hear someone describe the movie (“an orphaned, abused, impoverished teenager becomes a contestant on ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,’ no one believes he knows the answers, they beat the crap out of him and we learn how terrible his life has been!”) would you ever have thought it was going to be as wonderful as it was?
The point is that what looks good often turns out to be bad and what looks unappealing often turns out to be good.
Take hummus. Not so good looking but very tasty.
Same goes for pulled pork. A pile of pork on a plate? Not pretty. But bite into a warm, crusty roll filled with juicy, spicy, sweet, salty and smoky pig? Delicious.
The reverse would be a wedding cake. They’re beautiful.
How many times have you, (ok, I mean me) waited till the bitter end of what
was already an endless evening of ceremony, cocktail hour and a half, four course dinner, dancing and toasts for the banquet coordinator to wheel over that gorgeous cake you’ve had your eye on all night, endure the wedding singer’s ‘the bride cuts the cake’ and anticipated the unmistakable thump as the waiter drops (it’s been a long night for him too) the piece of cake in front of you at your long- ago abandoned table? Then the rush of disappointment as your hopeful fork tries to make its way through that chewy coating of sickly sweet fondant still hoping it will hit the jackpot of vanilla buttercream, passion fruit puree and the delicate crumb of a light yellow cake only to wind up stabbing a dry, dusty flavorless white cake filled with an overly sweet chocolate-y mousse filling. And yet, I still have faith that one day the cake will be worth my wait.
One sweet that has the honest, good sense to know it isn’t pretty are “Brutti Ma Buoni” aka “Ugly but Good” cookies. These are Italian and I won’t go into the fact that there are many versions of these cookies from various parts of Italia because I am not Italian and am already anticipating being corrected by those who are. Just make them and know that they live up to their name in every way. The smell of the orange and nuts of these cocoa-y, not too sweet meringues baking in the oven is transcendent. I chose Mario Batali’s recipe because he’s a great chef and actually personifies the name of these biscotti, giving them even more cred.
Brutti Ma Buoni, Ugly But Good Cookies
Adapted from Mario Batali, 2001
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4 egg whites, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
3 Tablespoons flour
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
Zest of 4 oranges
1 Tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup chopped hazelnuts
1/4 cup chopped almonds
1/4 cup pine nuts
Preheat oven to 325
Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper
Place white in bowl of electric mixer and whip to soft peak
Add sugar steadily and beat 2 minutes
Stop machine and add flour, vanilla, zest and cocoa powder
Mix for 1 minute and stop machine
Stir in nuts quickly and place 2 inch blogs on cookie sheets, 1 inch apart
Bake 30 minutes until crisp
Remove and allow to cool on pan for 10 minutes.
Remove cookies and cool completely on rack.
Yield @ 30 cookies