It was a ridiculous mission.
My husband, brother, and a few friends decided to climb Mt. Shasta in a day. It’s a big mountain, to put it mildly, and it was only when Jim dropped me off in Portland, where I was to spend the weekend with my grandmother, that I realized how scared I was about having two of the men I love most in the world being up on that mountain together. Individually, they’re both smart, fit, and snow-savvy; together, they’re . . .well, you know how boys can be.
People ask me what I’d want for my last meal with a regularity I find stunning. I rarely think of my own morbidity, and, frankly, I think the concept of picking just one meal to cherish is a little ridiculous. Yet, when Jim was packing for the trip, I found myself flipping through recipes in my head, trying to think of the perfect thing for either he or my brother to have, should one of them find himself stuck on the side of a 14,000-foot peak, awaiting care.
I’ve been awfully heavy on the sweets here recently, but of course, I had to make brownies – a whole wheat, espresso-laden version of the ones in the back of June’s Gourmet. Jim is hopelessly addicted to the (coffee) bean, and over the last few years, my brother has been steadily working his way through one fudgy, dark chocolate brownie recipe after the next, hoping to find The One.
If you don’t count the hours I spent lying awake in bed, worrying, I had a lovely weekend. (Really, I was only there for 36 hours.)
I took my grandmother to the Portland farmers’ market for the first time, and we sat on a bench together, our knees touching, with a barbecued pork sandwich balanced nicely between our four kneecaps. We browsed at Powell’s, and took our purchases into the Anthropologie across the street, because really, what’s a book without a good couch? (No one seemed to mind.)
I read The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, which was excellent, except it made me think of people having freak accidents and dying. Poor timing, I guess.
While we wandered and ate, the climbers slept for 3 hours, hiked and skied for 14 hours (up the red, down the blue), and summited with enough altitude sickness to prevent them from planning the next trip before they said their goodbyes. (In my opinion, this constitutes a perfect outcome.)
By the time they hit Portland, they were exhausted. I drove them home in the early, early morning to the sound of a full snore-chestra. There was a drummer behind me, playing a slow, low beat on a set of Timpani drums, and a much more delicate sleeper, whispering a soft rhythm, in and out, like those little brushes drummers use on their symbols. Behind me, I honestly couldn’t say who made which noise, but in the front seat, my husband honked out a most unmusical bleat. He was sitting upright, in the position one uses when one needs sleep in the most desperate way but would like to appear awake: shoulders hunched, chin pushed forward, spine bent awkwardly forward, like a flower toward the sun. Every once in a while, he would have a limb spasm and fall against the dashboard or the window, and I would giggle, there in the drivers’ seat, happy to have laughter replace chewing on my fingertips as the best means of keeping myself awake.
The best way to stay awake at 2 a.m., of course, is food. I ate Swedish Fish, which I hate, as a rule, but when I asked Jim for candy at the gas station, they were the only thing he came back with.
I’m so glad he’s home, but I haven’t quite forgiven him for not telling me there were brownies left in the backseat.
Whole Wheat Bittersweet Espresso Brownies (PDF)
This recipe is adapted from Ruth Cousineau’s recipe for Deep Chocolate Brownies, in the back of the June 2008 issue of Gourmet magazine. She called for chocolate no stronger than 60% cacao, but I used Trader Joe’s 72%. I used white whole wheat flour exclusively for this recipe – even for preparing the baking pan – and the results were sensational (especially if you’re looking for brownies with two sources of caffeine). For the prettiest results, do allow the brownies to cool completely in the pan before cutting and transporting.
TIME: 20 minutes active time
MAKES: 30 good-sized brownies
2 sticks (1/2 pound) unsalted butter, plus more for the pan
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate
1/4 cup espresso beans, very finely ground
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
5 large eggs, room temperature
2/3 cup white whole wheat flour, plus more for the pan
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and center a rack in the middle of the oven. Butter and flour a 13” by 9” baking pan, and set aside.
Melt the butter and chocolate in a 3-quart heavy saucepan over low heat, stirring until smooth. When the chocolate has melted, add the ground coffee, and let sit until lukewarm.
Whisk in the sugar and vanilla, then add the eggs, one at a time, whisking between additions until the mixture is thick and glossy.
Whisk together the flour, cocoa power, and salt, and stir into the chocolate mixture, just until the flour is combined.
Spread the batter in an even layer in the pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few crumbs attached, 30 to 35 minutes. Cool completely, then cut into squares.