Thursday, December 20, 2007

Don't Count Your Dickens Before They Hatch

"He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist..."

This is exactly the time of year when I become a philanthropist of mind and spirit. The flesh and wallet however, aren’t always so cooperative.
For those of us who are givers, we realize that nothing feels better than the euphoric high which results from the act of selfless giving.
To give of ones self, ones time, and/or ones means--with no expectation for reciprocal gratuities, is in and of itself, addictive.

In the spirit of Charles Dickens, many of us will channel Ebenezer Scrooge (in his post-spirited, reformed state) to assist us in all manners of holiday handouts.
What we may not realize, however, is that while our December efforts are noble and appreciated, they are fleeting and perhaps indulgent.
Yes, I said indulgent.

As consumers, we are sold the entire holiday experience tied up in a temporary, albeit shiny bow of noncommittal.
While we strive to recreate the wonderful life George Bailey so foolishly ignored, our efforts are as temporary as the icicle lights hanging beneath our gutters.
Ironically, George Bailey and the do-gooders whose paths we silently cross during the other eleven months of the year are the true,
unsung heroes of charitability.
They ambitiously (yet inconspicuously) serve their communities whether or not generosity is fashionably in season.

Recently, my son and I attended a holiday toy-drive sponsored by our local parish. Truth be told, our attendance was due in part, to a requirement set forth by diocesan mandate for religious education curriculum. My son needed to fulfill twelve hours of community service and I tagged along for the feel-good-fringe-benefits of proud motherhood. I anticipated a Christmas-card moment but what I received instead was a more significant (and much needed) awakening.

From my first encounter with an unassuming, fairy-esque
Sister Anne, I knew I would be humbled by my experience
(one that almost didn’t happen due to pending wicked weather and an already crammed December calendar).
Our first order of business was to sort toy donations by age appropriateness and gender. My son, being the only male presence ineligible for social security, was voted the official lifter, carrier, and convent-to-dumpster trash-hauler for the day. My favorite teenage couch potato gave one hundred-ten percent to accomplishing his mission with complete disregard for his nagging head cold and late-night-congestion-induced fatigue.

Under Sister Anne’s careful direction, we un-bagged, unwrapped and sorted toys for all ages. Overwhelmed by the generosity of one small community, I remarked that the volume of donations was both impressive and heartwarming. What I learned however, is that toy donations were down from last year, volunteerism was at an all time shortage, and sadly, some of the consistent donors upon whom the church depended, had fallen on their own hard times and thus halted donations for now, and indefinitely.
I also learned that despite all of this, Sister Anne would turn no one away.
On distribution day many parents would arrive at sunrise to form a line and patiently wait to be assigned a number. Each number would allow it’s bearer to “shop” the makeshift toy department with dignity and careful assistance. With her strong faith and undying optimism, Sister Anne would oversee the allocation of every donation, down to the last Barbie accessory.

I wish I could have attended distribution day, but employment demands beckoned. I lived the day vicariously through detailed reporting from my son and husband who attended.
My son was stationed in a tiny kitchen which served as child-care central, for the occasional, unexpected presence of tag-along children. His duty was to keep them occupied and unaware of secret Christmas happenings.
I’m told that he provided excellent supervision and even led a few rounds of Christmas carols (the same ones he refuses to sing along to- at home).
My husband was commissioned to lift Christmas tree donations from the basement to the empty, eager hatch-backs of waiting recipients. Once the tree-supply was depleted, he became the official coffee maker for fatigued, caffeine-deprived volunteers. Somehow he managed to squelch the threat of rebellion for a too-slow coffee urn and a fifty-five cup supply of ground coffee that turned out to be decaffeinated.
The images of my son and husband in such generous form gave me the warm fuzzies and a smile that lasted throughout the day.
But I was most moved by my son’s account of one woman who cried quiet, joyful tears as she discovered that every single item requested in second-grade penmanship on her crumpled list, was available to her. She gratefully embraced Sister Anne and the volunteers who assisted her, and vowed to never forget their generosity.

On this late, happy day in December, it seems an impossible notion that one would forget such an act of kindness. But sadly, most of us will.
Once the decorations are boxed and the last evidence of ripped-wrapping are discarded, the majority of us will go back to the rat race we call life, with little time or effort spent remembering or assisting those in need.
The giants among us, like my petite friend Sister Anne, will be left to their own hopeful resources to fashion lemonade from a few meager lemons.
If not for those dedicated, anonymous few who donate their precious time and resources consistently, I dare say there wouldn’t even be lemons.

I was humbled by those, both young and old, who offered this novice some tips on sorting toys. Their familiarity with this seasonably charitable event led to discussions about their contributions to ongoing missions and food pantries.
I was embarrassed, in the presence of such habitual do-gooders, by the fact that I considered the ordinary demands of my own hectic life to be so unmanageable.
This experience taught me that my own yearly resolutions for weight loss and home improvement are sorely misguided.
As I struggle to formulate a new resolution for 2008 which will allow for an improvement of self, which ultimately benefits the greater good, I will hold fast to the notion of ordinary miracles being performed by the petite and powerful among us.

It would seem that our vision becomes a bit clearer as we view the world through Santa’s spectacles, but where, pray tell is the red suit for the other eleven months of the year?
I can say with surety, that it resides not only in convent basements but also with those who long not for the short lived Dickensian moment of giving, but for the quiet peace that accompanies an eternally generous spirit.

While Ebenezer’s transformation came late in life, and only as a result of a nightmarish visit from three ghosts, I would offer that it is neither too late, nor too frightening for any of us to answer the call.

As I recognize my own shortcomings of Christmases past, I look to Christmas present and Christmas future to guide me through the rest of the year; when although a red suit may no longer be in fashion, it will likely fit me perfectly.

Merry Christmas

Until Next Time,
Make Life Delicious
Share Your Food


I’m currently working on the perfect pound cake recipe, as I expect to share many with friends and loved ones for the holidays. I will post the recipe as soon as my efforts are successful.
In the meantime, I am posting a re-print of a well-known letter written by a child to her local newspaper (The Sun).
It’s a good read for those of us who need a little Christmas nudge.

"DEAR EDITOR: I am 8 years old.
"Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.
"Papa says, 'If you see it in THE SUN it's so.'
"Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?


VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except [what] they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You may tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Stop Throwing the Book at Me

I have never left the United States.
But I have been eating, praying and loving for the better part of my whole life.

I caution you, if you are a big fan of Liz Gilbert’s, it’s best that you
X out of this page and return for the next blog post.
It is not my intent to offend anyone, and I have nothing against
Ms. Gilbert; in fact, I think she’s one cool cat.
But seriously, you should go—especially if you’re one of those
EPL prophets.

I enjoy reading.
Cookbooks have always been my first choice material but I love a good love story too. I am also a sucker for all-things-Oprah.
She’s a good egg, that Oprah.
Sometimes, when she tells me to read something, I actually do.
Such is not the case with Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert;
well, at least not the first time around.

The book piqued my interest from first mention of its title.
Any book whose title starts with “Eat” is a book of interest to me (thank you Tyler Florence, for Eat This Book).
Add to that a visual stimulus, like the word “Eat” as it appears on the cover in its delightful edibility, and no one had to twist my arm—so I bought it.
It didn’t take long however, for me to realize that this book and I would have a relationship that remained tumultuous at best.

Truth be told, I lost interest and motivation just a few short chapters into the book. The bathroom floor episode left me feeling a bit guilty; guilty for the pity I felt for a woman (albeit one in a state of emotional distress) who really didn’t have it so bad, guilty for the money I spent on the book, and quite frankly, guilty for the fact that my own bathroom floor wasn’t clean enough to welcome my own late-night breakdown (Liz probably had a visit from her cleaning lady before that collapse).
I won’t bore you with my chapter by chapter assessment of a book that some grown women unabashedly refer to as their Bible
(I already have one of those, thank you very much).
What I will offer however, is that Ms. Gilbert deserves ownership of her experience. And while her readers may gain knowledge and insight as a result of the words bled from a painfully deep, emotionally conflicted wound, it seems criminal that others may wish to copycat another woman’s catharsis.

Admittedly, I am old school, so her entire journey was a bit of a pill for me to swallow. Where other readers suggest spiritual revolution, I see disingenuous genuflections.
But that is the beauty of the written word and the responsibility of a good book.
Eat Pray Love certainly stirs the pot and titillates the taste buds. Let’s just say it’s not my favorite meal.

Getting back to my dear friend Oprah; When I scrolled through TiVo’s Season’s Pass recordings of her show, I realized that she interviewed the author of Eat Pray Love a second time. I almost deleted
(or as I like to say “TiVorced”) the recording, but my curiosity got the best of me, so I watched it in its entirety.

Honestly, I am perplexed by Oprah’s fascination with, and undying praise for this author. For no particular reason, I made the connection early in the episode that Miss Gilbert shares the same initials (L.G.) as the manufacturer of those state-of-the-art refrigerators Oprah gave away during her “Favorite Things” episode—Oprah pointed out that LG stands for Life’s Good, and
I’ll bet it is for both LG and L.G.
(Perhaps there’s a theme here).

During this follow-up episode with Ms. Gilbert, Oprah allowed audience members to ask questions and comment on Eat Pray Love, while Ms. Gilbert sat comfortably, offering shaman-esque advice to smitten readers.
I was most disturbed as I watched and listened in horror to the viewer who detailed her recent journey to the same places
Ms. Gilbert traveled to, with the intent to find the same people, expecting the same experience.
And ultimately, she did it all.
Listen folks, as a New Yorker, I am somewhat desensitized to news headlines about car-jackings and hi-jackings. But dare I say, this is the first time I have personally experienced a sordidly detailed account of a journey-jacking by one blissfully ignorant
(albeit well-intentioned) woman.
Ms. Gilbert seemed visibly uncomfortable at the notion that a perfect stranger essentially hi-jacked her personal guru and enjoyed the same (no longer sacred) experiences of tea time and massage.
I was genuinely surprised that Oprah didn’t challenge her on such atrocities.
I was hopeful that her less-than-personable-guest-turned-
, Richard might have chimed-in, but as expected, he sat wallowing in speechless wisdom, appearing as though he’d rather be anywhere else.

The pivotal moment for me was when Liz allowed viewers a glimpse into her now, blissfully balanced life—in New Jersey.
Could irony be any sweeter?

I have nothing personal against New Jersey or its residents.
It seems however, that Bali is a long way to travel to meet a guru who will clarify your very existence (and then ultimately forget who you are and why exactly he predicted you would return), to finally end up in a once-upon-a-church residence in New Jersey.
Not to mention that Jersey has its rightful share of great Italian restaurants, churches and massage parlors.
Liz could have saved a bundle on airfare, and quite possibly uncovered her peaceful spirit while eating, praying and loving
her way across the never ending Jersey Turnpike,
with nary a concern for passports or jet lag.

Despite my cynicism, I am pleased that she found peace and was able to make sense of her own existence (it limits the odds for a sequel).
But I fail to fully understand her inability to acknowledge her original, pre-meditated life as one of validity and purpose.
We humans live our lives in constant flux. Each of us is prone to experiencing days when we feel less like ourselves, and more like the people we find unlikable.
But the cold, hard truth is that sometimes we don’t “fit” into the lives we lead because of our own foolish misinterpretation of what we thought we wanted.
Most of us have experienced disappointment, loneliness, and the painful truth of hurting someone we love, or thought we loved.
But few of us have the means, the moxie, or the ego maniacal sense to expose such sensitivities for personal gain.

I would like to believe that originally, Ms. Gilbert wanted only to tell her story. Perhaps the obsessive fanfare and spiritual dedication to her vacational-incantations, can be attributed to the inevitable Oprahfication of her amusing tale.

I have faith in Ms. Gilbert's ability to spin an interesting yarn, and those who read for leisure and the opportunity to escape an ordinary day will have their fill.
But my heart weighs a bit heavier for those less fortunate who might really be living the truths of a toxic marriage, distorted self image, or broken spirit.
In the absence of family, faith, or financial support, a posh pilgrimage to eat pasta and pray seems an impractical, if not impossible solution.

If I have learned anything from Eat Pray Love, it is that I am not alone in my occasional desire to become someone else
(anyone else) when the going gets tough.
I have also learned that Italy is definitely my gastronomic destination of choice (if I can figure out a wheels-only
way to get there
And lastly, if it’s true that the devil is in the details,
then I suppose we might expect to find God in simplicity.

Ms. Gilbert’s second meeting with her Guru in Bali offered a simple, prayerful posture with no prerequisite training or travel.
He reduced her labor-intensive spiritual quest to
his dismissive, yet brilliant suggestion that one must only
sit quietly and smile for effective meditation
(something also very doable on the Jersey Turnpike
during rush hour

While I am not a practitioner of meditation, I find this methodology especially effective on those days when I would rather be living anyone else’s life but my own.
I find that if I sit still with my eyes closed and force myself to recall my blessings, instead of my regrets, it requires little effort on my part to produce the necessary smile.
I might not have it all, and I certainly don’t have it all together,
but if a breakdown is on the horizon, the bathroom floor
is likely the farthest I’ll go.

Because Life’s Good.

Until Next Time,
Make Life Delicious
Share Your Food


In the spirit of soulful cleansing, I have decided not to post a recipe.
Perhaps some food for thought and a cup of detoxifying tea
are in order.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Faking It

Did she, or didn't she?

I am in love with a cookbook. Well, two cookbooks actually, but
for the purpose of this torrid tale, I will refer to the one which
is currently my bedside companion.
With the holiday season (and all its chaos) upon us, I haven’t had much time for night reading. When time allows and the spirit is willing, unfortunately, the eyelids grow weak and weary.
The one advantage to such spontaneous slumber is that I often dream about the subject matter appearing on the same page as my drool.
In this case, I am referring to brownies; sinful, chewy, decadent brownies.

I am no stranger to these bodacious bars. Although I prefer not to keep track, I would guess that I have produced as many brownie failures as I have successes. Perhaps it is unfair to call some of them failures because most of my experiments have been eaten with great pleasure—but not the type of gastronomic pleasure I seek; the kind that renders you either totally speechless or screaming for more.

As I battled fatigue and speed-read through
the “shortbread-bars” section of
Rosie’s All-Butter Fresh Cream Sugar Packed No Holds Barred Baking Book, I entered the long-awaited, albeit short chapter on brownies. I felt an immediate connection to the author
(Judy Rosenberg), as I read about her laborious quest to develop a recipe for a “fudgy, yet not too sweet, brownie.”
I thought I had settled on her recipe for “Rosie’s Award Winning Brownies” to serve as my next kitchen conquest, until wearily, I turned the page.
My tired eyes widened as I read the recipe for what she
calls “Chocolate Orgasms.” She proudly refers to these as the most famous dessert at Rosie’s Bakery and she playfully suggests “Okay, Daddy, now you can admit it—you were wrong, this is a great name.”
Perhaps Daddy’s mortification by her mature-subject moniker for such innocent confections should have been my first clue that this recipe, like so many hopeful honeymoons, might just promise an experience it can’t deliver.
But admittedly, my curiosity was aroused and Chocolate O’s
(which I now affectionately call them to preserve my integrity as a mom serving baked goods to minors) were at the top of tomorrow’s to-do list.
Thankfully, I had all of the necessary ingredients on hand, but that little voice in the back of my head (the one I so foolishly try to ignore) told me that I should probably pick up a few more bars of quality dark chocolate.
I ignored the voice and like so many other lessons in my life, this too would remind me that a woman’s intuition is rarely ever wrong.

In my empty house on a cold Wednesday afternoon, I blasted my favorite carols and set out to make two batches of Chocolate O’s. My intent was to make one batch sinful and dark, and another, with my picky son in mind, less bitter and slightly sweeter. The recipe was a two step process, requiring the production of a chocolate glaze to be applied once the brownies cooled completely. I was intrigued by the glaze recipe because it called for evaporated milk, a product I have always considered both mysterious and vague.
When I mixed the first bittersweet batch, I knew immediately the brownie would be richer for the addition of three eggs instead of the usual two. The batter came together easily and a finger-lick test told me it had good flavor. I realize now that my instincts were correct and the addition of a few ingredients would likely have piqued this brownie’s performance, and forced its flavor meter to rise
from good to sublime.
But like the sharp instincts of my pre-marital, dating-young-adulthood, I ignored them, forcing me to suffer the unpalatable consequences of hasty decision making.

I mixed the second batch with a bit more chocolate of the milk-chocolate variety and placed both pans, side by side on the middle rack of my oven.
My timer was set for exactly twenty-five minutes.
My anticipation was nothing short of blind-date anxiety, and I needed to keep myself busy and distracted as the clock painfully ticked in what felt like slow motion.
I set out the tools and ingredients for the glaze and as I searched for my lonely can of evaporated milk, I happened upon a half-eaten bag of chocolate covered espresso beans (another dirty little
secret of mine).
An adulterous idea immediately presented itself but would remain only a fantasy until my relationship with this new recipe had its fair opportunity for success.
As the recipe instructs, I performed the toothpick test at exactly twenty five minutes and removed what appeared to be a soupy, chocolate coating clinging to the frilly-tipped instrument. Clearly, the brownies needed additional baking time and this is precisely the moment during new-recipe-experimentation when beads of perspiration form on my forehead and my right eye begins to twitch. No further instruction was offered for under baked brownies, so I was left to fly solo with little evidence of Utopia on the horizon.
After three grueling timer re-sets in one-to-two minute intervals, I finally decided to remove the pans from the oven and place them on cooling racks.
The tops appeared to have a thin crust as suggested, and the centers were no longer gelatinous. Now it was just a waiting game.
I set the timer for one hour as instructed and cleaned up all evidence of my chocolate tryst.
I was nagged by the recurring thought that my final assessment would require at least twenty-four hours worth of non-existent patience, based on the recipes recommendations that full flavor develops only after such an agonizing wait. I knew I would taste the results before then, but my judicious decision would hang over this passionate crime until the sun rose again.

When the hour was finally up, I mixed the ingredients for the glaze and divided it in half. I reserved one half for my son’s batch of brownies and I carefully administered my own rebellious enhancements to the darker batch.
In my opinion, such clandestine confections deserved a bit
of kitchen foreplay.

I poured the glaze over the un-cut brownies and
set them aside for cooling.
When I could wait no longer, and the glaze appeared to have hardened, I sliced them into meager portions (based on the written guarantee that a little goes a long way). I tasted a cut-end from the darker batch and decided that a little more creativity in the kitchen (and elsewhere) would make for a more memorable experience. I carefully wedged a chocolate covered espresso bean in the center of each dark brownie and placed half of them in my carry-to-work container, sealed it, and set it aside for tomorrow’s much anticipated unveiling.

When tomorrow finally came, I shared a brownie with my husband and not surprisingly, his reaction was anticlimactic at best. He agreed that the brownies were delicious and moist but not the best ones I’ve made to date.
When I divulged the recipe’s title, rather than risk inadequacy,
he took another bite, just in case.
I weighed his first assessment, fully aware of the fact that he is not the every-man when it comes to brownie tasting. His opinion is a bit biased, based on his extensive experience-- simply because he lives with a woman who should likely spend less time in the kitchen testing recipes, and more time in…

Well, anyway, the true test for this brownie would be distributed to coworkers who would purposely be left in the dark about its original title and would be introduced to these as Chocolate O’s
(depending on subsequent reviews, that title could be upgraded to Chocolate O, O, Ohs).

As Thursday’s winds blew, I readied myself for another day of
shoot-the messenger customer-service. I carefully packed the experiment and threw in a bunch of necessary napkins for frosted-finger negotiation. I stopped at a local dairy drive through to purchase a much needed accompaniment-one half gallon of cold milk, and headed to work.
I thought it best to leave the evidence of my chocolate affair in my car until I was sure that no high ranking officers were lurking about.
When I entered the building, I expected my usual, inquisitive greeting from my greatest fan of home baked goodness. But there was no interrogation, as he was seated at his desk, deeply involved in the finances of one leopard-coat-wearing customer.
As I set up my work station, I casually mentioned to the co-workers on either side of me that a secret stash of brownies sat on the passenger seat of my car, ready for the taking.
I made no mention of their naughty name, and not-so-patiently awaited my culinary fate.

When word of my illicit goods reached the lobby, an impromptu trip to Starbucks was organized with foolish disregard for my simple, yet spot-on recommendation that these needed only a cold-milk chaser.
A short while later, when the elected employee made his return from Starbucks I seized the opportunity to exit our stiflingly hot building to retrieve the notorious container from my car.
Brownies are one of those confections that even the most disciplined dieters find impossible to resist. And so, it was only a matter of moments before the lid was off, and brownies were making their way onto napkins (some, half-eaten, found their way into desk drawers until intrusive customers finally made their exits).

As expected, there were no obvious reactions to validate the claim made by the brownie’s torrid title.
However, one caffeine-laced, sugar-high, brownie-induced co-worker, in a state of pure chocolate delirium, reacted at first bite by professing his undying love for me.
A cheap high from illicitly acquired praise allowed me to coast through the remainder of an otherwise monotonous Thursday.
This was clearly enough to put the recipe for these
brownies in the repeat file.

Which finally brings me to the oft-unanswerable, age-old question of whether or not one particular woman could be accused of faking it?

Did Rosie really seduce innocent customers at the hands of this sultry recipe, or were there perhaps, ingredients or procedures omitted from its original version for the sake of publication?
While the brownie is a good one in its own right, it hardly lives up to its promiscuous promise.
Was this tempting treat with the titillating title, merely a fake?
Dare I believe that the creator of these confections, and the author of two beloved cookbooks cheated on her loyal readers for the sake of her own gratification?

Truth be told, I haven’t yet reached my official conclusion on this recipe, simply because it is too early in our relationship.
What I can say with certainty however, is that like most women, this brownie definitely improves with age.
There was a noticeable change in texture and chewy-ness that resulted from a not-so-patient, twenty-four hour wait for the flavor to develop.
And as more time lapsed, the brownies actually tasted better.
It gives me great hope that perhaps with a bit of tweaking and creativity, the sinful possibilities of these seductive brownies are endless.

Oddly enough, I did notice that those who sampled these brownies and most enjoyed them were, by majority, tasters of the male variety.
Perhaps in this case (and others), what’s good for the gander doesn’t necessarily satisfy the goose. And so the goose must find alternatives which allow for a more positive outcome.
In my opinion, the stimulating effects of both espresso and dark chocolate made for a more memorable and more pleasurable brownie experience.
So, the next time this goose is loose in her kitchen, she just might whip up a new, improved brownie that will render her gander speechless, or maybe even screaming for more.

And I would never lie about that.

Until Next Time,
Make Life Delicious
Share Your Food


After this post, I just might need a cigarette—but I don’t smoke.
So, perhaps I will just go light a brownie.

Here is the recipe for Rosie’s Chocolate Orgasms as they
Appear in
Rosie’s Bakery All-Butter Fresh-Cream Sugar-Packed No-Holds- Barred Baking Book—one of my absolute favorites.
My other favorite by the same talented author, Judy Rosenberg, is called
Rosie’s Bakery Chocolate-Packed Jam-Filled Butter-Rich No-Holds Barred Cookie Book.
If you are lucky enough to get your hands on either of these books, don’t let go. Her recipes are that good.

My notes and recommendations appear after the recipe, but follow your own inner voice to create a brownie that works for you.

Chocolate Orgasms

3 ½ Ounces Unsweetened Chocolate
12 TBS (1 ½ Sticks) Unsalted Butter at room temperature
1 ½ Cups Sugar
¾ tsp. Vanilla Extract
3 Large Eggs at room temperature
¾ Cup plus 2 TBS all-purpose flour
½ Cup plus 2 TBS chopped walnuts (optional)

1) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease an 8 inch square pan with butter or vegetable oil.
2) Melt the chocolate and butter in the top of a double boiler placed over simmering water. Cool the mixture for 5 minutes.
3) Place the sugar in a medium size mixing bowl and pour in the chocolate mixture. Using an electric mixer on medium speed, mix until blended, about 25 seconds. Scrape the bowl with a rubber spatula.
4) Add the vanilla. With the mixer running on medium low speed, add the eggs one at a time, blending after each addition. Scrape the bowl with a spatula after the last egg and blend until velvety.
5) Add the flour on low speed and mix for 20 seconds. Finish the mixing by hand, being certain to mix in any flour left at the bottom of the bowl. Stir in ½ cup nuts if using.
6) Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan (if using nuts, sprinkle the remainder atop the batter)
7) Bake the brownies on the center oven rack until a thin crust forms on top and a tester inserted in the center comes out with only a moist crumb, 25 to 30 minutes.
8) Remove the pan from the oven and place it on a rack to cool for 1 hour before cutting the brownies. Serve the next day (it takes a day for the flavor to set).

1 ½ Ounces unsweetened chocolate
¼ Cup evaporated milk
1/3 Cup sugar

Melt the chocolate in the top of a double boiler placed over simmering water.
Pour the evaporated milk into an electric blender or small food processor and add the sugar and melted chocolate. Blend the glaze on medium low speed until it thickens—about 50 seconds (the sound of the machine will change when this process occurs).
Using a frosting spatula spread the frosting evenly over the surface of the cooled brownies allowing them to sit for at least an hour before cutting. The glaze will harden a bit and will be less shiny when set.

My Notes:
For starters, I am a firm believer that a small pinch of salt in any baked recipe helps the flavor pop. So, the next time around, I will likely add about ¼ tsp of kosher salt.
As I mentioned, I added espresso to the glaze mixture. I believe the brownie itself needs a bit more punch as the flavor is great, but not spectacular. So, I would add about one teaspoon of instant espresso powder to the melted chocolate mixture, before adding it to the rest of the ingredients. I’m inclined to believe that more dark chocolate is always better so, I would add at least another ounce or two of good quality (60% cacao or more) dark chocolate. Adding more than that might alter the density of the batter and thus throw off baking time, so be cautious if you are adventurous.
While I am a fan of nuts, I don’t believe they have their place in such a decadent brownie, so I chose to omit them for this recipe.
I would consider adding a bit of Kahlua or other coffee liqueur to the glaze mixture if these were being served to adults only.
I used my mini food processor for the glaze. The mixture seemed a bit too thin so, I added a bit more sugar and an ounce more of unsweetened, melted chocolate. It set up nicely once it cooled but these brownies would not fare well as individually wrapped snacks. A good, airtight container will allow the flavor to develop while preserving moisture.
The thought occurred to me (because I’m still dreaming about last weeks blondies) that brown sugar might have its place somewhere in this recipe.
Since the vanilla extract did little for this brownie recipe, I might consider splitting the sugar measurement between white sugar and brown sugar for depth of flavor and increased moisture.
Where baking time is concerned, you are on your own. Since ovens differ greatly, I encourage you to pay close attention during the last five or ten minutes of baking time. In my opinion, an under-done brownie is far better than an over-done brownie (under-baked always offers the opportunity for an overnight refrigeration which makes them passable for fudge). You don’t want to take the pans out of the oven when the centers are still soupy but a moist crumb on the tester is essential. They will continue to firm up as they cool.
The addition of chocolate covered espresso beans was a big hit with co-workers. I’m not sure these would fare well if baked into the actual brownie, but placed on top of each brownie just before the glaze set, made for a flavorful addition.
Have fun with these. They are most definitely worth your time and a bit of kitchen experimentation.
Be patient, as they really do improve over time.


Tuesday, December 4, 2007

You Can Catch More Flies with Honey...

And Candy Canes and Cupcakes.

I have always been a firm believer in that saying about catching more flies with honey than vinegar. It not only makes sense but personally, I think rudeness requires more effort than kindness.
And I’m all for reserving what little energy and effort I have left-- for the good stuff.

Recently, on a particularly busy day at work, it seemed as though I was the proverbial messenger at which customers were compelled to take aim.
Having lived through several positions in banking, customer service, and retail, this is a role I am used to playing. But there is always the potential for that one customer, for whom there are no sufficient words, who will find his or her way under my skin and park there until an actual rash erupts.

It was a cold, windy Friday and as I entered the drab building, I was immediately met by one hopeful employee and his inquiry into the whereabouts of my home-baked contraband. I was solely responsible for supplying my junkie-friend with a consistent supply of uppers, in the form of cookies, bars or cupcakes. I was feeling both guilty and a bit under appreciated, realizing that my own baking obsession created the assumption that supply would regularly meet demand.
As I unveiled the coveted Tupperware, I wondered for how long I could, in good conscience, continue enabling such a familiar addiction. I allowed myself to reap the free-coffee rewards with blatant disregard for the consequences.
Any rehabilitation would have to wait for another day however, because my supply, on this chaotic day, would serve as a belated birthday gesture to our friendly boss—complete with lit candle and song.
I left the anticipated container in his care and headed to my workspace with the first evidence of a tornado-force migraine brewing.

I greeted my coworkers and began my ritual set-up and sign on. Customers entered as bitter as the wind, realizing the long line and painfully-drab-musicless-clockless-dateless-decorationless wait ahead of them. As I rushed to ready myself to call my first customer, I noticed that the coworkers on either side of me, both without customers, feigned interest in completed paperwork—an uncommon occurrence for two conscientious employees.
I called the next customer in line, a well dressed man (and I suspect one of means), sporting an expensive, albeit backwards, Kangol cap, and a freshly grown goatee. Fooled by his new façade, as soon as I read the name on his card, I knew immediately that it was him. When I first heard about his belligerent nature, it saddened me that a man with such a pleasant name, reminiscent of my favorite caffeinated beverage, could be so unpleasant. Clearly, the clever antics of my coworkers were both admirable and maddening at the same time.
When I greeted him with a smile and inquired about his well-being, he seemed genuinely surprised. He responded with an offhand comment about employees usually running in another direction whenever he enters the building.
I seized the opportunity to inform him that I was a new employee and I looked forward to a chance at a fresh start with an unfamiliar (albeit infamous) customer. I nervously completed one transaction after another, all the while making small talk. He was neither talkative nor amused and I sensed that, beneath his reluctantly calm exterior, a volcanic eruption threatened, and was awaiting provocation.
If ever I called upon my ojas to guide me, it was at this vulnerable moment.

In the spirit of Murphy’s Law, a computer glitch brought his last transaction to a screeching halt and I was forced to call upon my coworker for assistance. I am thankful to call this woman a friend because at that moment, if looks could kill, I would surely be dead. She sauntered over to my station and with minimal eye contact, greeted him less-than cordially, and manually corrected a poorly timed technical error. Not surprisingly, she immediately exited the building for a much-needed cigarette break.
As I counted out his change, I wished him a nice weekend and to my astonishment, he offered small talk about an upcoming vacation. I took the bait and learned that he would be cruising to an island somewhere near Honduras. It would be his fifteenth cruise to date. He assumed I would be familiar with the island and when I mentioned that I had never been outside the U.S. and would be satisfied to see the coast of Maine, he almost chuckled. As I gathered his final paperwork, I added a shrink-wrapped candy cane for good measure and wished him a lovely vacation. At that moment, he paused and sincerely thanked me for my well wishes. As he exited the building, I performed my (poor excuse for an) end-zone victory dance, and announced that moments ago, out one institutional lobby door, had walked one formerly disgruntled-now almost happy customer, due in part, to the absence of vinegar and the welcome presence of honey (or in this case, candy canes).

For the remainder of my shift, I purposely gave candy canes to the most persnickety, unfriendly customers, some of whom actually refused the gesture.
For the most part however, my inclination to believe in the power of kindness served me well.

Perhaps I was just lucky on this day to have encountered Mr. Angry in his rare, dormant-volcano, form. I’d like to believe however, that I have afforded him the opportunity to change his relationship with our valued employees, who so often bear the burden of being messengers of unfavorable company policies.
A pipe dream? Perhaps.
But I have made a mental note to ask about his vacation (and maybe even request he share photos) upon his return from an island I know nothing about. Undoubtedly, I will ask first about the islands cuisine.
Who doesn’t love to talk about food?

And speaking of islands, the cupcakes hidden inside my coveted container finally made their way to the back counter. Their banana coconut flavor recalls a favorite island-inspired libation.
Available employees were called to join the festivities and a candle was lit in honor of our hard working leader. Coworkers commented on the snowy coconut frosting and its resemblance to the snowball snacks of our youth (only in my opinion, much more delicious—as I have never been a fan of anything about those cakes but the coconut topping).
If only for a moment, a few all-business, furiously focused employees, let their hair down long enough to enjoy a
creamy coconut moustache and some lighthearted banter.
The experience forced me to recall my original intent for sharing baked goods at work.

Although the need no longer existed to acquaint myself with unfamiliar coworkers, I felt compelled to continue a tradition which would allow for a much needed humanitarian break, in a day that was otherwise cold (windy), and technologically dependent.

I am forced to recall that timeless and true saying by John Donne;
“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent…”

The small piece I claim will continue to lure unsuspecting
flies with the temptation of honey,
and yes, even candy canes and cupcakes.

Until Next Time,
Make Life Delicious
Share Your Food


The recipe I am about to share with you is almost sinful it’s so easy.
I found this years ago during a wishful online search for an easy recipe using almost-rotten bananas. While they shouldn’t be black, the best results will come from using bananas that are soft, sweet and spotty. A white cake mix is the secret ingredient in this recipe, but if you won’t tell, neither will I.

On the subject of coconut, I can’t stress enough the benefit of seeking out the same unsweetened coconut I used. The standard baking coconut will work, but you won’t achieve that powdery, snowy coating and the frosting might just be a bit too sweet. If you use the sweetened variety, I would cut back on the amount of powdered sugar in the frosting.

My recipe is adapted from one which appears on for Moist Banana Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Snowy Island Cupcakes

3 Small Ripe Bananas
4 Heaping TBS Sour Cream
1 White Cake Mix
3 Large Egg Whites
2 TBS Canola Oil
1 to 1 1/3 Cups Whole Milk
1 tsp. Coconut Flavoring
½ Cup Unsweetened Organic Coconut (shredded and dehydrated)
**I purchased an inexpensive bag at our local health foods store—the flakes are very finely shredded—if you can’t find it like this, I suspect a food processor would easily solve this dilemma—but not for the sticky, sweetened variety.

1 8 oz. Pkg. Philly Cream Cheese softened
1 Stick Butter softened
½ tsp. Coconut flavoring
3 to 4 Cups Powdered Confectioners Sugar (depending on the sweetness you prefer)
½ to ¾ Cup Marshmallow Fluff (adjust to the thickness and spreading consistency you prefer)
1 ½ Cups Unsweetened Organic Coconut finely shredded

In large bowl, blend bananas with mixer, adding sour cream until well blended and not lumpy. Add cake mix, egg whites, oil, coconut flavoring and mix. Slowly incorporate milk and add as much needed to produce a thick (and only slightly pourable) batter. You might not need the whole 1 1/3 cups of milk.
Use your judgment as bananas differ in size and moisture content. Fold in half cup of coconut.

Using standard cupcake tins with paper liners, fill to 2/3 full (alternatively, you may use jumbo cupcake/muffin tins and recipe will yield approximately 12). Bake at 350 degrees on center oven rack for about 18 to 20 minutes (check half way through for doneness—you must not over bake—a tester inserted in cupcake should come out with only a few slightly moist crumbs).
Cake will spring back in the center when touched, if done. Remove from oven to wire rack and allow to cool completely before frosting.

To maintain moisture while cooling, gently place a sheet of wax paper over slightly cooled cupcakes (do not press down on top of cupcakes).

Mix cream cheese and butter together with a mixer, add powdered sugar and coconut flavoring. When mixture is smooth, add marshmallow crème and blend to combine—you might not need all of the marshmallow crème. Frosting should be stiff enough to hold peaks but soft enough for spreading.

***Frost cupcakes immediately before serving and place shredded coconut in small round bowl. Dip each frosted top of cupcake into coconut to cover. Make sure entire top surface of cupcake is covered with coconut-snow.

**My Notes:
Sometimes I want these cupcakes before my bananas have completely ripened (let’s face it, I don’t call the spots). As long as the bananas are somewhat ripe and not green or firm, you can cheat a bit by adding two tablespoons of babyfood-jarred bananas or two tablespoons of applesauce. Keep in mind that you must watch milk as you add it to mixture to avoid a soupy batter. The added babyfood or applesauce will replace the texture missing from the not-so-ripe bananas.

**These cupcakes do not refrigerate well because they dry out, but the dilemma is that the cream cheese frosting needs refrigeration. I have added the fluff as a stabilizer (and for great marshmallow flavor) but I still wouldn’t leave this frosting at room temperature for too long. It is best to frost these just before serving.
Truth be told, a few leftover cupcakes sat out over night and they were consumed the next day with no adverse reactions and I’m told they tasted fine. But you’re on your own here.

If you’re not in the mood for an island adventure, this recipe makes for a great basic banana cupcake. Simply replace the coconut flavoring with vanilla, omit the shredded coconut altogether and throw in a few chopped pecans or walnuts for good measure!

**This recipe also makes for a great frosted cake. Instead of using cupcake tins, pour batter into a 9 x 13 cake pan and bake for about 25 minutes. When cooled, slice cake into layers and frost accordingly.