Thursday, February 13, 2014

Somebody's Bakin' Blondies

What a horrible title for that last post! No wonder hardly anyone has read it. I had to write again sooner than I may have wished, just to redeem myself as someone with at least a modicum of something interesting to say! Not that I should be raising the bar of expectation for this or any forthcoming posts.

Snow day, again! Guess who is at work today and who is not? Right, I'm at home, and Mr. E is working at the hospital. I have a pile of work to do, which I thought I was going to do because Mr. E was going to pick up my mom this morning and bring her over to watch Sprout while I worked. You know this plan goes awry because I am blogging (and baking blondies) instead of working while Sprout takes a nap babbles in his crib. The whole reason why Mr. E works one weekday a month instead of two weekend days is so that I'm not home alone on weekends with Sprout and feeling like I never get a break. So maybe today is not really like that, since I am home as a bonus, but I am so annoyed that Mr. E's workday has to collide with another snow day!!! So! Annoyed!!! There are still hours to bill, there is still shit I need to get done. Which I can't, and won't today, because my mom didn't come over at 9 like she said she would when she declined to get picked up at 7:30 this morning. Actually, I'm just really bummed that I am here and Mr. E is not. He works two days a stinkin' month! I wanted to have family day. And French toast for breakfast. (So I didn't really want to work...the truth comes out.)

No real news to report...glad I am cycling...sad I have no news to report.

I will just share what I am baking today:
Blondies from Amy's Bread. This wouldn't be my baking experience without a few modifications. I use pecans instead of walnuts. They are so much better. I served toasted pecans as a snack to my father-in-law one time and he kept saying, "These walnuts are so good. I didn't think I like walnuts, but these are delicious!" That's because they were pecans. Use them.

* Need a 12 x 17 inch pan. This is called a baker's half sheet.

4 Cups unbleached All Purpose Flour
2 1/4 TSP Baking Powder
1 TSP Kosher Salt
2 Cups unsalted Butter, melted
3 1/2 Cups Dark Brown Sugar
4 Large Eggs
1 1/3 TSP. Vanilla Extract
2 Cups + 2 TBSP Semisweet chocolate chips
2 3/4 Cups toasted walnuts pecans

1. Preheat oven to 350. Grease a 12 X 17 inch pan with softened butter or vegetable shortening. Cover with parchment paper.
2. In medium bowl, add the flour, baking powder and salt and whisk together. I never do this, I just add to the big bowl when ready.
3. In a large mixing bowl, combine the melted butter and brown sugar, stir to combine then allow the butter to cool slightly before continuing. Whisk in the eggs and vanilla. I whisk the eggs and vanilla together, then stir into the big bowl.
4. Fold the flour mixture into the sugar mixture and stir until it is almost combined then add 1/4 of the chocolate and walnuts pecans and fold them into the batter. Sometimes I put all the stuff into the batter, instead of sprinkling on top.
5. Spread the batter evenly into the prepared pan. Sprinkle the remaining chocolate chips evenly on top of bars. Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 325 and bake for 16 – 21 minutes, turning half way through front to back. This whole temperature switch never seeemed to make a difference, and I find that these have to bake way longer in your home oven than a commercial oven. Watch for golden browning on the top and edges. They are usually best baked when I think they've gone a little too long...but they haven't. If you like gooey, uncooked centers (what are you, a barbarian?), then you don't have to worry about extra baking time and the time stated in the recipe may work for you.
6. Allow the Blondies to cool completely on a wire rack before cutting into 25 bars. Cut the bars into any size you want.

Today I do not have enough brown sugar, so I am using the rest of my brown and then using white. I also use a scale to weigh instead of measure my ingredients and I highly recommend this practice!! I may not have enough eggs but I haven't checked yet. I don't have pecans, and though I do have walnuts, I think I will leave out the nuts this time. I would have walked across the street to the grocery store that is literally across the street, but I can't today because nobody came over to help me take care of Sprout and I am somewhat helpless alone with a toddler all day.

Happy Baking!!!! And eating. That is the real reason why I love to bake sweets.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Death and Travel

Lately on my mind is how the significant and memorable events in my life have involved death or travel. Sometimes both at the same time (my grandmother died while Mr. E and I were in Lake Placid for our honeymoon.) I first dealt closely with death when two close friends, Audrey and Jon, died in a car accident. It was Audrey's 14th birthday. Jon died the next day. He was pronounced brain dead at the hospital and his family removed him from life support. I was at the hospital that day. I saw his bloated body, practically unrecognizable, living and breathing only thanks to machines. I sat with his sister, whom I knew separately because we danced together. On Audrey's golden birthday--September 14th--she was a passenger in a car driven by her older brother, a car that crashed into a tree going 90 miles an hour on a windy country road. I always wondered what that was like for her parents. How could they not hate their son for that? Which is also a terrible thought to have.

My mom thinks I started to engage in risky behavior after Jon and Audrey died. I guess she didn't recognize that I was already starting to do that. Sometimes I agree with her though. Maybe there was a correlation, if not causation. At any rate...this is something that I remember so well. The experience of seeing death so closely at a young age, and losing friends so young as well, changed how I saw the world and how I dealt with death. Certainly I recognize how this has made me more compassionate to others experiencing the death of a loved one. I get so emotional at funerals, even if I was not close with the decedent, because I see and feel the pain their loved ones are feeling. I will never forget what it was like to see Audrey and Jon's parents after the accident. Even seeing them years later...and knowing that hole in their lives was still there.

I've noticed since Blue's death that the people who have lost a loved one are much better at witnessing and talking about death and grief and losing a child. They didn't need to lose a pregnancy or a living child themselves. But if they lost a parent or a sibling, they knew what to say and what not to say. I'm sorry for their losses and their experiences, but I am grateful for their support and understanding. Blue's death has been by far the most difficult experience I have had, and sometimes even now I can't believe I have survived.

When I think of what's happened to me in my life, the next thing that comes to mind as significant in my life are road trips and plane trips and sites and sights seen. Croatia and Peru are the two trips I've taken recently (2009 and 2010--been busy with other important things actually recently!) that were so awesome and of which I am proud. Proud for going there and planning everything on our own and making the adventures happen. In 2003 I took a road trip of the Canadian Rockies and Pacific Northwest for two months on my own. I lived out of my VW Jetta, camping and staying with friends along the way. I think that trip shaped the way I see the world today as well. I have so many amazing stories from that trip. After that I lived in the mountains in Colorado and while visiting a friend in Utah for a few days, made a new friend with whom I traveled to Hawaii for three weeks the following autumn. That too was an awesome adventure that produced great stories. I miss it!!! If I could change anything about now, it would be putting travel back in my life, even with a 15-month-old and desire for more kids. Although I think I feel more held back from traveling by having to work in a meaningful job that makes me enough money, than by having a toddler. Any advice? I don't especially love being a lawyer, but it does pay the bills better than living out of your car.

My parents are going to Africa in July to visit friends in Namibia, and they have invited all of us kids and our kids. Such an amazing opportunity but I don't think we can swing it. Damn job and billable hours requirement! For now Mr. E and I have planned a ski trip this month, just the two of us, while Sprout hangs with his grandparents. (Maybe if this hadn't already been planned before we knew about Africa, we would have gone to Africa without Sprout instead of Colorado.) I am nervous about this though! Sprout knows them well and doesn't cry when they watch him and put him to bed (unlike what he does for the babysitters). But I worry about them paying enough attention to him, being able to pull him up out of the bathtub, feeding him when he's being fussy. He's such a good little guy and he won't give them any extra trouble...but 16-month-olds are a lot of work for 70-year-olds, right?? Just for now I am regretting not having kids my parents could be younger. I'm just hoping no one ends up scarred from this experience! We are already planning on taking Sprout on the 2015 ski trip. Since 2-year-olds can ski. :)