We’re pretty much all in the thick of summer fun right now, so I’ll get right to the point. Sometimes I have a recipe making and eating experience so transcendant, it haunts me for weeks. These Dream Bars from Mindy Segal’s Cookie Love fall into the category of Insanely Haunting Recipe. Like, say, even after two solid weeks where I ran off to my hometown of Chicago and chewed-and-sighed through the world’s best hot dogs and Italian beef, new-to-me bakery visits, beer and pizza and a burger so smack-the-table good that it probably ruined every burger experience for the rest of my life, I was still thinking about these cookie bars.
Although I realize I may still be “young” in the grand scheme of things (I am, right? RIGHT?!), lately I’ve become increasingly more satisfied with my Old Lady Tendencies. Soup for dinner? Love it. A cup of tea and an 8:30 bedtime? The stuff of dreams. I’ve even invested in a brand-new pair of glasses that are decidedly more statement-making than any pair I’ve ever owned, and have made good on my commitment to better my ocular health by getting my contacts out as close to sunset as possible. I also think more about things like “ocular health”, and am now somehow old enough to be the parent of a very clever first-grader, who upon being asked for her opinion about my new glasses immediately responded with, Excuse me, can you tell me where I can find the non-fiction section? Kids these days, I tell ya.
I don’t know how many of you out there are all woo-woo when it’s comes to astrology, but for me, I’m a–let’s see, what would be the opposite of “fair weather fan”? Sucky weather fan?–let’s just say that I can get into astrology and like to take a peek/read way too much into cosmic forecasts when it feels like life is throwing hard things at me, machine-gun-style. Apparently Mercury was retrograde up until this past weekend, and sweet baby Jesus, I was feeling alllll of that retrogradeness, from stupid mistakes to flat tires to blah health and the list goes on. Don’t even get me started on the multiple cake failures I had going. Tragic all the way around.
I had really wanted to tell you about said cake today, but it’s still not quite ready for you yet, and since three misses is my self-imposed limit for the early stages of recipe testing lest I hurl myself off the roof, I decided to shelve that dang cake for now until some other groovy planetary shift can perfect it for me. In the meantime, I say we go with some chocolate and salted caramel because even in the face of otherworldly forces, those two items, even just eaten off a spoon, will never let us down.
In my last post, I raved about my love of the one-pan wonder at dinnertime. Which, of course, immediately got me thinking about one-bowl/one-dish wonders when it comes to baking. As much as I love pulling out every crazy baking pan and gadget and really getting into it in the kitchen, after months and months of recipe development and testing (and an appalling amount of dishwashing), there’s nothing better than the feeling of a throwing together a recipe that feels as easy-breezy and dump-and-stir as a boxed cake mix, but isn’t…a boxed cake mix.
There are a few one-bowl, minimal dish-dirtying favorites in my arsenal that I go back to time and time again, like these brownies, or this banana bread, that are so simple and satisfying, it’s as though you can feel your all the scraggly edges of your weary soul fusing back together as you stir. In a busy life that sometimes make you want to punch yourself in the face from all its pressures, that’s the good stuff, right there. They’re the kind of recipes that remind me why I love to bake. I just dump everything in and stir, stir, stir my way back to sanity.
Maybe it’s because I’m a late February baby, but I’ve always had a thing for Valentine’s Day. Abundance of twee notwithstanding, I just sort of love the idea of a Love Day. Granted, there have been years when I was Valentine-less, but even then I guess it was the hope that one day I would have a Permanent Valentine that buoyed me, along with a legit excuse to get chocolate wasted. These days, I still get chocolate wasted on Valentine’s Day, and this year in particular I’m pretty excited about celebrating some Big Love with our Little Family. There’s a lot that’s happened in the past several months, plenty of ups and downs and stressing until I think I might lose it (and on a couple of occasions I totally have). But we might (maybe? Please, universe?) be entering a bit of sweet spot right now, a little calm before the next inevitable storm. And so I say, bust out the chocolate. Turn dessert into breakfast, or vice versa. And good grief, don’t forget the Champagne.
Ooh-whee, are you feelin’ the Fall, people? We are, even in San Francisco. As per usual, the sunshine and blue skies have finally joined us just in time for temperature to drop, which I can never quite get used to. You know what else I can’t get used to? Daylight savings time. Before children, this used to mean an extra hour of sleep, and feeling even cozier in the late afternoon as the sun dropped out of the sky earlier and earlier. Kind of dreamy. But all this means now is that my kids’ sleeping schedules are even more terrible than usual, and I have less hours in the day to try and get a decent photograph of some really great hot chocolate for you (I give up; see above). Bah. Luckily I’ve had a few fun things going on that have buoyed my mood and kept me from jumping off the roof in a premature Seasonal Affective Disorder tirade:
1. Our big Kindergarten girl has really started reading and writing and generally blowing us away with her hilarity. She’s started lamenting the fact that she can’t walk to and from school alone like all the “collegers”. “Collegers” meaning the older kids in her school. Invented, earnestly delivered words are the best words.
2. My baby boy is still very much a baby, but is now eight (!) months old. Which means that we are officially in the Very Best Stage with him, the stage that makes people have babies in the first place: squidgy, babbling, present, funny, lovable, crawling, sitting up, and getting into things that I didn’t even know were in my house. Never mind that I still haven’t had a full night’s sleep since February, right?
3. Honeyed Hot Chocolate, which I will get to in a bit.
4. I’m actually back to work–teaching a class here and there, doing all kinds of recipe development with exciting new ingredients (more on that soon), and realizing that the importance of having some kind of creative project going can’t be overstated, especially for moms. Even within the madness of mothering two small people, making my own creative life a priority has supercharged me in a whole new way. I feel like a better version of myself, a better mother, generally just more excited to be in the world. I can’t help but wonder what the world might be like if every mother took the time to nuture her creative self as much as she does her children. With the way we mothers can multitask, can you imagine the results? We could start a revolution! And here is where I get a little Oprah on you for a sec.
So here we are, careening towards the holidays. Please stop the train, I need to get off.
Fortunately, there is something to look forward to in all this calendar-flipping madness. The good part is that the best of high baking season is coming up soon! Let’s make it great this year, friends. Let’s break out our best tried-and-true recipes and magazine clippings that we shoved away and haven’t gotten to yet. Stock up on flours and sugars and pounds of butter. Finally buy a dang candy thermometer and get to some old-fashioned confectionery magic (you can do it!!). Wrestle the baking sheets out from under the everyday pots and pans and fire up the oven. And hey, even let your kids get into the fray! (I’m speaking for my Type A self here–it’s not my favorite thing to bake with little ones underfoot and under armpit; there I said it.)
But here’s a top tip that I think has changed my baking for the better: Reach for the bittersweet chocolate this year, even if your recipe calls for semi-sweet or milk. I’m talking at least 60 to 70% cacao, nice and dark. Because nothing balances out a sea of sweet quite like it. In the same way that a good hit of salt or acid (like lemon juice or buttermilk) makes sweet things all the more craveworthy, a slight bitter edge can also add the kind of balance that makes you unable to resist taking just one. More. Bite. Tastebud trickery! Plus, if you really love chocolate, bittersweet is just that much more chocolaty, because it’s got more cacao power AND it has less fat and sugar, both of which can coat and confuse the tongue and keep you from getting the ultimate chocolate experience.
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