Posts Tagged ‘Blondies’

Is that sand between my toes or are you happy to see me?

Banana Walnut Bread

Banana Walnut Bread

I’ve decided to build an iPhone app that will help people answer the question, “What did you do on your summer vacation?” The twist—the gimmick—will be that you can’t write a word until Summer has receded into memory, your flip-flops have been thrown under the bed for the winter, and you can’t leave the toasty warmth of your kitchen without wearing something made of wool.  Yes, friends, this will be “The Procrastinator’s Guide to Summer Scrap Booking.”

I’m sure I’ll get around to this…eventually.

Following that general timeline, I’m just getting around to jotting down a few poetic thoughts about what came out of my kitchen during the warm weather. Hint: I could fit these thoughts on a cheap postcard of Ocean Grove, New Jersey.  Why Ocean Grove?  It’s a really nice summer place, but I’m scared to go there because John Quinones and the crew from ABC’S “What Would You Do?” keep popping up, documenting people’s bad behavior. Hey, I’m an angel, but with the wrong editing I may come off badly. And as Nora Ephron said, “Lighting is everything.”

But I digress…

The kitchen of my expansive New York City apartment (with views of Central Park, the Hudson AND East Rivers—framed) gets very hot during the summer. I find it interesting that something grown in tropical climates, the common household Banana, cannot survive a 90-degree New York City apartment kitchen without becoming the botanical equivalent of road kill.  Yet, stored in the refrigerator they begin to resemble the pods from “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”.

Predictably, I gave in to the common solution of using dying bananas to make Banana Walnut Bread.  I used the recipe in Craig Claiborne’s version of “The New York Times Cookbook” which dates back to 1961.  As with most things from that era, it has a bit more charm (hello), although this is due to Claiborne having called it, “Banana Tea Bread”.  That name conjures up the vibe of a different era, but I don’t own a tea service or a doily, so this Banana Walnut Bread—with canola oil replacing the recipe’s shortening—was purely a weekend snack.  Toasted, then topped with a little cream cheese, it also made a really good high carb pre-workout breakfast. (I make no claims about this being health food, but it certainly is wholesome.) Using Canola Oil means you can eat it straight from the fridge without it being like a big, cold, brick, but toasting it brings out its earth tones.

Pumpkin Blondies

Pumpkin Blondies

A few weeks ago, one of my treasured yoga teachers, Kyle Miller, decamped to Los Angeles.  All of my teachers are amazing, but yoga seems to waft from Kyle’s pores like the scent of patchouli from a burning incense stick.  I started practicing yoga at a fairly late stage in life, and am about as flexible and graceful as a “two by four”, so I consider myself lucky to have had someone as skilled, enthusiastic, and spiritual as Kyle to get me enthusiastic about returning to the mat.  Kyle has teamed up with some colleagues to start a business called Yoga for Bad People.  I hope someday she’ll return to New York and start “Yoga for Good People who are Bad at Yoga”.  I’ll be there.

Kyle’s final New York class was a packed, emotional (and sweaty) treat to attend. She is beloved. My Bon Voyage gift to her was a short stack of Pumpkin Blondies. I was hoping that the pumpkin and maple flavors would give her a little taste of the Northeast to savor in Sunny LA.  These were based on a simple Blondie recipe I found on line; the pumpkin, maple syrup, and chocolate chunks were my addition. (I struggle when it comes to making things without chocolate. The Banana Walnut Bread mentioned above almost succumbed.)

Mixed Berry Crisp with Pistachio Crumb topping

Mixed Berry Crisp with Pistachio Crumb topping

This past summer I found myself craving the delicate richness of home-made ice cream…often.  Perhaps too often. My excuse was that I was experimenting with using the same base to make different flavors.  Really. It was for the greater good. My favorite flavor remains Peppermint Stick. I tried adding chocolate to it, but the chocolate gets too cold, which blunts its flavor. I had better results adding finely chopped chocolate to the top of the scooped ice cream.

To accompany one particularly silky batch of Vanilla Bean, I made very simple, little Berry Crisps.  These make suitable baking subjects during the hot weather because the berries are (relatively) cheap and plentiful, and because you can throw them in the oven and retreat to the air conditioning while they bake.  The zaftig smoothness of the ice cream cuts the spiky, almost vinegary sweetness of the berries.  And the cold / hot “thing” is my second most favorite food juxtaposition, after “salty / sweet”.  So, there may have been the odd salted pistachio in the crumb topping.

Eenie. Meenie. Meinie.

Blondies? Hermits?

Blondies? Hermits?

I can’t decide if I think indecision is a good thing or a bad thing. Ah, the irony.

Recently I went to dinner with my Mom. She ordered skirt steak, but then sat with a cloud over her head wondering if she should change her order to lamb chops. I berated her (gently) with a huffy, “Once I make a decision I move on…always listen to your first instinct.” (Don’t worry: she still has plenty of ammo in her belt to cut me back down to size.)

What I forgot were my own—frequent—moments of indecision that usually occur before I do something. So for those keeping score: Mom, hand wringing after. Me: hand wringing before. Tie ball game, folks.

My brand of indecisiveness reared its ugly head a few days ago when it began to feel like fall and I decided I wanted to revisit my old recipe for Hermits. Hermits are the old-fashioned bar cookie that usually have a heavy jolt of molasses, spice, and raisins. These were a neighborhood bakery standby when I was a kid, but it occurred to me that they were, perhaps, a bit too intense for the uninitiated: some people hate raisins baked into anything, others can’t abide molasses, yet another group would pass on both. Hermits have another potential problem: no chocolate. Oh-oh.

What I couldn’t decide was whether to stick with tradition, or trod my own path and risk them not being Hermits but Blondies.

Nothing against Blondies.

Okay, something against Blondies: I always felt that their whole raison d’etre was to be the anti-Brownie, assiduously avoiding chocolate in order to present an overly sweet, bleached face to the world. The trouble with that is that they never assert any identity of their own.

I feel it is important to pause here for a moment and reflect on the fact that I just applied some kind of psychology to a bar cookie. Psychologists out there are having a field day. How did that make you feel? Our time is up for today. Feel free to take the Kleenex with you.

Uh-huh, so, back to the cookies.

My Hermit recipe had already made some allowances for modern taste. I lessened the amount of molasses and substituted tiny Zante currants for the raisins, a choice which preserved the “raisiny” flavor minus the goo of baked raisins. Would the earth open and swallow me whole if I went even further? What would be so bad about a mashup of all the best things from Hermits, Blondies, and Brownies? I know I’d be happy.

The special guest star—not usually seen on this stage—is chocolate. But I am not abandoning the molasses bite either, just reducing it to a “note” along with the vanilla. I was reluctant to retain the spice—in the form of cinnamon, but a friend’s excellent Chocolate-Cinnamon icing inspired the courage to leave it in.

Nuts seemed like a prerequisite, but I am weary of walnuts, therefore pecans were nominated, both chopped into the batter and used whole as decoration on top. The chocolate was chopped by hand too; chocolate chips seem too uniform for a cookie that has such a rough—dare I say—artisanal quality. (Call me “home on the range”…or should that be at the range?)

You can see from the picture above that I ended up with bars that slightly resemble Blondies or smaller, fatter Hermits. They’re not as sweet as Blondies, or even Toll House bar cookies. They’re less aggressive than Hermits. Blondies for Chocolate Lovers? Hermits for the 21st Century? I can’t decide what to call them. How about EenieMeanieMeinieMoes?

Last decision: do I eat them all myself or give some away? Hmmm…

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Here’s the recipe for EenieMeanieMeinieMoes

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