It may or may not be true that I’ve opened up a bag of the Easter chocolate I bought for Frances and Oliver last week and now, well, they’re history. So this past weekend I decided it was time to make something super chocolatey for Sam and I to share when the kids are (finally) in bed and we can settle into our night a bit.
Brownies are not new territory around here – I’ve shared a rye brownie recipe, a gluten-free brownie recipe, a very poorly photographed classic recipe. And I’ve said it before: while technically quite humble and common, I always judge a new bakery on how good their brownie is. It takes some work to make a very good brownie.
This particular brownie journey started when my friend Janet sent me an article on chewy brownies. I was intrigued with the discussion of temperature and shocking the brownies in the fridge after they’re baked (or in a cold water bath).
For these brownies, I tried the trick of putting them in the refrigerator for an hour after they cooled and it definitely made them super simple to cut and I quite like eating them cold. That said, I’m not sure in my case if it upped the chewiness factor. At the end of the day, these turned out to be a fabulous brownie for people who love chocolate: very dense and chocolatey without being oooey gooey. They’re a brownie you can take on the go. We all could use more of that in our lives, no?
As for things beyond brownies, I wanted to leave you a quick little list of what I’ve been reading and watching lately in case your weekend needs a little jumpstart. Hope you’re all well – it’s spring and the vaccine is coming (or, for many of you, has already come). The horizon is bright.
Breath – James Nestor: So good. Doesn’t read like a science-heavy book and makes you think twice about our breath and how to deliberately use it to serve us better.
Writers and Lovers, by Lily King – My dad got me this book for Christmas, and I’m blazing through it. Easy read, set in Cambridge, MA and beautiful writing.
Quit Like a Woman by Holly Whittaker – I could write a whole post on this book, so I’m not sure how to recommend it in a few lines, but if you’re curious about cutting back on alcohol or curious about how the industry itself has become so insidious (or are a health nut and want to learn more about its effect on our bodies and brains), I can’t recommend this book enough.
Bridgerton – Finished it last night. NEVER would’ve guessed the identity of Lady Whistledown.
I Care a Lot – You can find this psychological thriller on Netflix. I don’t even know if that’s how you categorize this film, but I typically fall asleep at 9pm while watching anything and stayed up until midnight watching this last night. That’s saying something.
You don’t have to worry about the type of flour you use for these brownies too terribly much. I love oat flour and it has such a nice, soft texture but you can certainly use all-purpose flour if that’s what you have on hand. I didn’t use nuts in these, but you certainly could. I’d start with 3/4 cup and see how you feel about the ratio, adding a few more if you’d like.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line an 8-inch-square baking pan with parchment paper (or spray the pan well with nonstick cooking spray).
In the top of a double boiler set over barely simmering water, melt the butter and chocolate together. Stir often, and remove from heat when it’s smooth.
In a larger bowl, whisk together sugar, cocoa, espresso powder and salt. Pour in the melted chocolate mixture and stir well. Whisk in eggs one at a time, followed by the egg yolk and vanilla. You want to stir the batter pretty vigorously here to make sure everything’s incorporated.
Carefully fold in the flour and stir until no dry bits remain.
Scrape batter into prepared pan and bake 20 minutes, or until the center seems set (doesn’t jiggle; be careful not to overbake – they firm up as they cool).
Allow brownies to cool completely in pan, then refrigerate until bottom of pan is very cold, at least one hour. Slice and enjoy!
Healthy Comfort Food
People describe raising young kids as a particular season in life. I hadn't heard this until we had a baby, but it brought me a lot of comfort when I'd start to let my mind wander, late at night between feedings, to fears that we'd never travel internationally again or have a sit-down meal in our dining room. Would I ever eat a cardamom bun in Sweden? Soak in Iceland? I loved the heck out of our tiny Oliver, but man what had we done?! Friends would swoop in and reassure us that this was just a season, a blip in the big picture of it all. They promised we'd likely not even remember walking around the house in circles singing made-up songs while eating freezer burritos at odd hours of the day (or night). And it's true.
Oliver is turning two next month, and those all-encompassing baby days feel like a different time, a different Us. In many ways, dare I say it, Toddlerhood actually feels a bit harder. Lately Oliver has become extremely opinionated about what he will and will not wear -- and he enforces these opinions with fervor. Don't get near the kid with a button-down shirt. This week at least. He's obsessed with his rain boots and if it were up to him, he'd keep them on at all times, especially during meals. He insists on ketchup with everything (I created a damn monster), has learned the word "trash" and insists on throwing found items away on his own that really, truly are not trash. I came to pick him up from daycare the other day and he was randomly wearing a bike helmet -- his teacher mentioned he'd had it on most of the day and really, really didn't want to take it off. The kid has FEELINGS. I love that about him, and wouldn't want it any other way. But, man it's also exhausting.
I just finished washing out Oliver's lunchbox and laying it out to dry for the weekend. My favorite time of day is (finally) here: the quiet of the evening when I can actually talk to Sam about our day or sit and reflect on my own thoughts after the inevitable dance party or band practice that precedes the bedtime routine lately. Before becoming pregnant for the second time, I'd have had a glass of wine with the back door propped open right about now -- these days though, I have sparkling water or occasionally take a sip from one of Sam's hard ciders. Except now the back door's closed and we even turned on the heat for the first time yesterday. The racing to water the lawn and clean the grill have been replaced by cozier dinners at home and longer baths in the evening. You blink and it's the first day of fall.
I'd heard from many friends that buying a house wasn't for the faint of heart. But I always shrugged it off, figuring I probably kept better files or was more organized and, really, how hard could it be? Well, I've started (and stopped) writing this post a good fifteen times which may indicate something. BUT! First thing's first: we bought a house! I think! I'm pretty sure! We're still waiting for some tax transcripts to come through and barring any hiccough with that, we'll be moving out of our beloved craftsman in a few weeks and down the block to a great, brick Tudor house that we wanted the second we laid eyes on it. The only problem: it seemed everyone else in Seattle had also laid eyes on it, and wanted it equally as much. I'm not really sure why the homeowner chose us in the end. Our offer actually wasn't the highest, but apparently there were some issues with a few of them. We wrote a letter introducing ourselves and describing why we'd be the best candidates and why we were so drawn to the house; we have a really wonderful broker who pulled out all the stops, and after sifting through 10 offers and spending a number of hours deliberating, they ended up going with ours. We were at a friend's book event at the time when Sam showed me the text from our broker and I kind of just collapsed into his arms. We were both in ecstatic denial (wait, is this real?! Did we just buy a house?) and celebrated by getting chicken salad and potato salad from the neighborhood grocery store and eating it, dazed, on our living room floor. Potato salad never tasted so good.
If your house is anything like ours, last week wasn't our most inspired in terms of cooking. We're all suffering from the post-election blues -- the sole upside being Oliver's decision to sleep-in until 7 am for the first time in many, many months; I think he's trying to tell us that pulling the covers over our heads and hibernating for awhile is ok. It's half-convincing. For much of the week, instead of cooking, there'd been takeout pizza and canned soup before, at week's end, I decided it was time to pour a glass of wine and get back into the kitchen. I was craving something hearty and comforting that we could eat for a few days. Something that wouldn't remind me too much of Thanksgiving because, frankly, I can't quite gather the steam to start planning for that yet. It was time for a big bowl of chili.
Porridge is not the sexiest of breakfasts, it's true. It doesn't have a stylish name like strata or shakshuka, and it doesn't have perfectly domed tops like your favorite fruity muffin. It doesn't crumble into delightful bits like a good scone nor does it fall into buttery shards like a well-made croissant. But when you wake up and it's 17 degrees outside (as it has been, give or take a few, for the last week), there's nothing that satisfies like a bowl of porridge or oatmeal. It's warm and hearty and can be made sweet or savory with any number of toppings. The problem? Over the years, it's gotten a bad rap as gluey or gummy or just downright boring or dutiful -- and it's because not everyone knows the secrets to making a great pot of warm morning cereal. So let's talk porridge (also: my cookbook comes out this month! So let's take a peek inside, shall we?)