Archives for posts with tag: baking

When I started writing a story tentatively called Reasons to be Happy I don’t think I realized I’d need to invoke that title on a personal level. It’s not about me. It’s about a fictional character whose mother leaves her when she’s 10, and ultimately, after reconciling with that, growing up with an older dad as her single parent and moving on in life, she discovers that she was adopted. So, the mother she pined over was not the first to leave her. And, now as an adult, she must come to terms all over again with the feelings of abandonment she thought she’d successfully pushed aside. At the same time, she unravels the surprising history of her birth mother and the family she might have had.

Geez.. now that I’ve written that synopsis, I feel compelled to just stop this entry and go back to that story. I’d been procrastinating on that one in a way I think is typical of writers. I just open the story and start from the top recasting sentences, editing and re-editing without adding much substance to the story.

 

That said,  Even though I have many reasons now to be sad, to be depressed, to feel hopeless — (desperately ill friends, lack of job, fear of financial ruin) — I remain unable (or should I say unready, if that is a word?) to accept defeat. Not that I’m doing anything heroic about it. I probably should be.

A lot of the blogs I enjoy reading are relentlessly perky. That’s not why I read them though. I read them because they offer me great ideas: patterns for toys or clothing or crazy objects I want to make. Most of these wonderfully cheery creative types seem to be young mothers living in Utah. Go figure! Once in a blue moon I find myself happily reading the creative blog of someone from New York, and I feel somehow more kindred spirit with that East Coaster.

Cynicism is our stock in trade out here. Maybe it’s the weather. 

And now, as Mother Nature wavers in her resolve about whether to bring on the cold or reward us with a few more sunny, warm (temps in the 50s) days, I am once again an East Coaster with a cynical attitude but an inability to really get down. I feel in my heart of hearts that something will change. We will emerge from this purgatory of joblessness. And, while we cannot fix some things we will do our best to appreciate all that is good. 

Crap! That just sounds so Pollyanna… How do I ever reconcile these two aspects? 

How about with a great recipe?

Please make these amazing brownies and feel happy!

Nick’s Brownies

with thanks to my friend Nick K.

3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa

½ teaspoon baking soda

2/3 cup butter

½ cup boiling water

2 cups sugar (you can use 1-3/4 cups)

2 eggs

¼ tsp salt

1-1/3 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350. Grease a 13x9x2-inch baking pan.

Combine the cocoa and baking soda in a bowl. Melt the butter and blend half of it with the cocoa-baking powder mixture. Add boiling water. Stir until mixture thickens. Stir in the sugar, eggs and remaining one-third cup of melted butter. Stir until smooth.

 Add flour, vanilla and salt. Blend completely. Stir in chocolate chips. Pour batter into pan. Bake for 35-45 minutes. When corners start to darken, brownies are done. Cool and then frost with Buttercream Frosting; recipe below.

 Buttercream Frosting

 6 Tablespoons butter (Nick’s recipes call for light butter in both the brownies and frosting, if you want to use it.)

½ cup unsweetened cocoa

2-2/3 cups confectioners sugar

1/3 cup milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

 Melt butter. Transfer to a small bowl and add, a bit at a time: milk, cocoa and confectioners sugar until each is blended in. Beat to spreading consistency. Blend in vanilla. If frosting is too thick, add more milk.

Cut the brownies into small two-bite pieces. They’re very rich and most people feel compelled to make a statement about how they shouldn’t eat so much or whatever, so save them the guilt. If you cut them small, they can eat more!

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Just put this photo in because I am a huge Lincoln fan and I had no photo of these amazing brownies. Trust me. Make them. They’re amazing. 

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This morning The Cursing Mommy drifted into my thoughts and I tried with difficulty to dredge up some facts about her. Doesn’t she have a video on Youtube? She was caught in one of those Paparazzi style videos that reverberate around the Internet? She is actually a self-styled product tester? A sick self-promoter with her own TV show?

Ultimately I recalled that she is a fictional character I’ve been reading about now and then in a New Yorker column by Ian Frazier. She is amusing. And I only have to spend a few minutes with her. I don’t have to commit to following her on Twitter or a weekly show. I don’t have to fret that she’s ruining her life and her fictional children’s lives. Precisely because she is fictional. And also because I can choose not to read her now. But of course I do. It’s just one page.

Sometimes it’s like that. Sometimes I think that free-associating is a wonderful thing; sometimes it’s a devil. That’s good fiction for you: It’s sticky. When you are not consciously thinking about it and it leaps at you – when it inhabits your thoughts, moves in and hangs out, overtaking the important stuff in your real life that you have to remember and keep track of; when it gets in the way. That’s when you know it’s good fiction.

I like to think there are cozy niches in my brain inhabited by the characters I don’t want to let go. It’s a comfort sometimes to imagine they are living with me. That they haven’t disappeared just because I have not read them into life lately.

And even though you and I may both love, say, The Little Prince or Heathcliff or Conor Larkin (See “Trinity” by Leon Uris), my Conor is mine and your is yours. Right?

Sometimes knowing The Little Prince is close by is comforting, even to an adult.

Just now, I hunted down my copy of “The Little Prince” to re-read it and make sure I am still sympatico with the winsome fictional prince. I am. And happy, too, to be reacquainted with him and with Saint Exupery, his creator.

A few digressions:

Inside the book, between pages 30 and 31, I found an index card bookmark. On one side I had written: Hat Day, Pizza Day. The other side was addressed to my daughter, in her own handwriting, and said: “bring invatiteions (sic) to school and don’t forget.”

My copy of the paperback was marked 75 cents. As an aside to this aside, my Macbook Pro keyboard does not have a visible cent-sign marked on any key.

I also keep a companion copy of the book in French. I must have read it in its original language once upon a time, possibly for a course, and it’s nice to see myself in my mind’s eye struggling over it in French, turning to the English version for translation. For the record the cover price on this one is 95 cents.

But back to the original topic: digressions. I had intended this piece to be about how I’ve been baking up a storm lately and how one recipe has led me to another to another and how I’ve made the following things, one after the other: Fruit cobbler, spicy brownies, ice cream, meringue cookies, frozen yogurt, corn muffins with strawberries.

But I’ll save all that for another time. I think Ian Frazier has a new installment of The Cursing Mommy. Image

Another thing to love about September: cooler days = baking weather.

Summertime baking is a challenge. Not that I won’t labor over a cake in 90-degree heat. I will. Sweating and baking in a house without air conditioning is not the worst thing in the world. Especially when you imagine yourself working off ounces in advance of putting on pounds.

This Sunday was perfect baking weather, though. Summer’s on the wane. There’s just a hint of fall in the air. It’s nothing more than a feeling, a cast to the daylight and the sense that time is moving forward. Daytime feels more precious because there’s just a little bit less of it.

It’s a wordless feeling. Something that’s so familiar – this prelude to the change of seasons. And, so, like I said, it’s baking weather.

Bruised peaches from the farmer’s market at $1 a pound, so big that a few bruises hardly put a dent in their beauty. And, from the grocery store, blueberries – already out of season here and now expensive. Raspberries somehow on sale! These I mixed up in a fruit cobbler and set to bake and bubble in my oven.

But it was baking weather again so I could not be content with just one dish. I turned to Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s “Vegan with a Vengeance” thinking to find a cookie recipe that would somehow be a little more morally uplifting than say your standard Toll House. Even though most of her recipes are complicated, and even though I am not a vegan, still I knew I’d find what I wanted here. I have never made anything from her cookbooks that was not great. I just adapt the veganism as I want.

I found her Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe right beside her Sparkled Ginger Cookies recipe that I’ve made before and which is out of this world. But this time it would be chocolate chip. She starts the recipe with a disclaimer that it is in no way healthy. OK. Fine. I just wanted to bake something yummy after all.

It was!

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