By Frank E. Vaerewijck, “The Firehouse Foodie”
One of my favorite things about life in the firehouse is sitting out front watching life go by. We usually drag the comfy chairs out to the apron in the evening after the dinner dishes are done, the training is complete, and our evening chores are done. We sit around out there as a crew talking about life, telling stories (a few tall tales), and really connecting as a brotherhood/sisterhood. We joke with each other and sometimes even get into an engaged roundtable discussion that could count as training, if anyone ever bothered to fill out a training sheet.
About the time the early new comes on, the chairs get put up, and everyone migrates to the day room to see what bad news the world has to deliver and what the weather’s going to do. Depending on the time of the year, and if we went to the game or not, we may pay special attention to the score of the local high school game on those cool fall nights. Then, one by one, we take care of our pre-bed rituals and retire for what we hope will be a restful night’s sleep, ever vigilant.
When the alarm clocks ring in the morning, some get up, and others stay in the rack for a few extra minutes, but this is the best time for sitting on the apron. The smell of freshly made coffee permeates the station, cutting down the usual ominous diesel smell that lingers. This is the time of day that the dew lays on the leaves; the crisp air is refreshing; and, more often than not, just my engineer and I get some quality time to reflect. After working together for the past two years, we have come to be pretty good friends, and I value this time to just take in everything he has to offer. After being in the fire service for more than 30 years on the career and volunteer side, once you get past what can be construed as “The Old Salt Grumpiness” of his demeanor, he is a wealth of experience with a kind, gentle heart.
We sip from our cups, talking about what is, what was, and what will be. He lends how to be a more effective leader and praises the little things I do, in his own way, without being so upfront and brash. One thing we both really enjoy, as we talk, and say “Morning!” to the citizens that are out on their morning walks or runs, is dipping homemade biscotti and waving as someone drives by. Out of all the big fires and exciting calls in my career, I think this is what I will remember the most: just simply sitting in front of the station with a good cup of joe, a piece of biscotti, fresh crisp air, and good company. Now “That’s Bringing the Firehouse Home!”
A Lotti Biscotti
1 cup sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
3 tablespoons brandy
2 teaspoons pure almond extract
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup whole almonds with skin, lightly toasted, cooled, and
3 large eggs
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
- Stir together sugar, butter, brandy, and extracts in a large bowl, then stir in almonds and eggs. Stir in flour, baking powder, and salt until just combined.
- Chill dough, covered, 30 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle.
- Using moistened hands, halve dough and form 2 (16-by 2-inch) loaves on an ungreased large baking sheet.
- Bake until pale golden, about 30 minutes. Carefully transfer loaves to a rack and cool 15 minutes.
- Cut loaves into 3/4-inch slices with a serrated knife.
- Arrange biscotti, with ut side down, on a clean baking sheet and bake until golden, 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer to rack to cool completely.
Biscotti improve in flavor if made 1 to 2 days ahead. Keep in an airtight container at room temperature.
Frank E. Vaerewijck has had a passion for the fire service that has spanned 20 years. He has been a volunteer and career firefighter and is currently a firefighter/EMT with Smithfield Volunteer Fire Department (yes, where the bacon comes from, THAT Smithfield). He has passed on his passion for the fire service through instruction and mentorship. That same passion he has for the fire service is shared with his love of food. In 2006, Vaerewyck won an Iron Chef-style competition sponsored by a radio station in Richmond, Virginia. That is where he also furthered his education by attending a Culinary Arts Program. As the Firehouse Foodie, he has been compiling recipes to be included in a cookbook that will give others the opportunity to see their hometown heroes not just as firefighters but as the firehouse chefs they truly are.