Category Archives: grandma

Brownies, for a mission

Bittersweet espresso brownies

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.)

pulled pork sandwich on our knees

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.

Leftover brownies

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.

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Filed under dessert, grandma, husband, recipe

Hot Dog!

March is the best-named month. Back when Rome was in diapers, and all the months got nice Latin names, the first month of the year (in Rome, anyway) got named after the god of war. They were right, whoever picked “March.” (Good job. A+ in month-naming class.)

They were right: It’s an action verb, this whole month, all about forward progress, and doing, and conquering, and in Seattle, growing. And right now, it’s marching right over me. I can’t seem to keep up with any of it: the garden, or the sun, or the rain, or the lists. I’m always a half-step behind. There are fourteen magazines on our coffee table, which is the spot reserved exclusively for Things We Must Read Soon. (Normally it’s two or three.) I’ve spent most of March so far being sleepy, but I hear the rest of the month coming, far off in the distance. Clomp, clomp, clomp, clomp. It soldiers on without me.

And so far, I’m okay with that. So far, I like my pace. Yesterday a friend called from back east, smack in the middle of the afternoon when I was busybeeing over a story. My first instinct was to arrange a time to call back. But my hands hurt from typing, and I was actually a little ahead of my deadline, so I couched myself and had a nice chat. I came back to the story twenty minutes later, refreshed.

I, for one, am not going to march. I’ll just walk, thank you. I’m going to stop and smell the flowers, and not think about how much more productive they’re being this month, with all that bud-forming, petal-pushing energy.

My grandmother came to visit earlier this week. (Being with an eighty-year-old sure helps slow the pace. Thanks, Grandma.) We drank tea out of the peacock cups and examined the buds on the bushes around our house.

tea in a peacock cup

June calls this The Grumpy Season, because there’s nothing to do. She divides her attention between the plants and the news, and being in my house – without a television – was a little disarming for her, I think. She doesn’t use a computer, so I relayed the news to her a few times a day, when we weren’t listening to the radio.

“Hillary won Ohio and Texas,” I told her early on Wednesday morning. We were heading out the door for a walk.

She whirled around at the bottom of the stairs, a huge grin spreading across her face. She loves Hillary.

“Really?” she asked. I nodded. “Yup.”

Hot dog!” she exclaimed, with her hands spread out at her sides, fingers splayed and wiggling like she was rehearsing for FAME. “Hot DOG.”

Why did that expression go out of style? I think it’s the best. I’m going to make an effort to use it more. It also makes me wonder why certain foods get picked for certain sayings. I mean, hot dogs and wieners are basically the same thing, right? But you don’t hear people going around shouting “Wiener!” when things go their way.

Anyway. When grandma was here this time, we cooked. Not my food, but the food she remembers best, the food of my father’s childhood.

It was a sunny day, so we made picnic food. Baked beans with sausage and onions, to be exact.

I wonder if my father remembers eating it.

Baked beans with sausage and onions

We cut and seared up two fat, fresh hot Italian sausages, and mixed them in a bowl with a big can of baked beans (the kind with extra brown sugar). We added a 10-ounce bag’s worth of brown pearl onions, boiled and peeled, along with a dollop of Dijon mustard, a big squirt of ketchup, and two swirls around the bowl of dark molasses. No salt. No pepper. Just mixed it right up, dumped it into a dish (I didn’t have her Corningware, but we made do), and baked it at 325 degrees until bubbly, about an hour.

I did cringe a little, dumping cans and bottles of things into a bowl and calling it dinner. It’s not quite my style. But I’ll admit I loved the way the sweet, sticky beans mingled with the spicy sausage under the pudding-like skin that formed across my casserole dish. I’ve been heaping it into a small bowl for the last few days at odd hours, enjoying it straight from the fridge. It’s like eating an old secret.

Baked beans with sausage and onions 2

We had Jell-O salad, too. Lime Jell-O, with cream cheese and pineapple mixed in.

Not for dessert. For salad.

I didn’t like that too much.

Oh, how times have changed.


Filed under grandma, pork, recipe