[Dad’s birthday cake, February 2011.]
Oh, St. Valentine. Thank-you for giving me yet another reason to cook, though lord knows I need little excuse. This past weekend I cooked and cooked, starting on Friday and not really ending until yesterday afternoon and today I think I will cook again? My small curse and burden! But it’s What I Do — and what I love to do. And at the end of the weekend, despite feeling a bit exhausted, if my fridge contains leftover chocolate cream pie and sweet potato gratin and my many guests have departed full and happy I call the residual fatigue resoundingly worth it
For this evening’s entertainment I plan to open a bottle of wine, wash out my new, not-yet-been-used Weck jars (!) and stir up a pot of caramel pots de creme, quickly pan sear a handful of scallops and bok choy, assemble some sort of green salad. There will be bowls of asparagus soup made from the very first (and early) spindly spears of asparagus. There will be leftover smoked salmon from the farmers’ market. Dinner will be (hopefully) simple and delicious, but as usual the company makes the meal for the most part, and tonight I will have some very fine company indeed.
[Cows, Pt. Reyes, January 2011.]
Once, I wrote poems, back when I was more naive and perhaps more innocent and because I just couldn’t not. I wrote about my mother’s hands and the maple tree in the backyard of my house growing up and about the Pacific Ocean and the way I missed it, all that blue. My teacher in workshop said to me, But this is amazing — this image of cows near the sea, because you never see cows near the ocean. The juxtaposition is exactly right. And I thought, Haven’t you ever been to Northern California? Along the coast the cows look as though they could tumble into the water they graze so close. But I took the compliment, and happily so.
From the beginning there was California: the west, the sea, the rocky mountains. And so I would say California was my first love, because you always have to have one. Also it could be my brother, but California is the easier one to say. Then I had a dog, after longing for one for most of my life; he was not a perfect dog but he was mine, and for a time there were not enough hours in the day to contain all that joy (even when he chewed through my library books and countless shoes). Then, also and always, there was reading; I stayed up late with flashlights, by nightlights, by moonlight and could never get enough. Still can’t. Writing comes next after that, because it follows in line. And then …
What is love — truly?
Love is staying up late to bake, because you promised and also because you want to. It’s sifting through piles of letters, to remember. It’s going on red-eye flights to make cross-country visits, even when you’re tired down to your very bones. It’s making a wedding cake. It’s spending the day in New Jersey and talking about the past, and all those who came before. It’s sending wee packages near and far, filled with good tidings and lemon cookies. It’s the glass of salt water I was given the night of the marathon when I was so, so sick and nothing helped except that and just you being there. It’s the way the sun fell down through the trees one afternoon in August, the cool wooden bench hard against my back and the dry grass bending in front of me in the wind, all the world gone still and silent and golden. It’s a knowing, when the rest fades away.
I cook for love, I write for love, I certainly — and on a regular basis — bake for love. My stories are never as interesting as I might like to believe, but they are mine, and on I keep telling them even so.
[Brownie, February 2011.]
So then: last week I made gluten-free brownies for a friend, and we trooped over to their house after the race in the hot, quiet afternoon laden with beer and peanut butter cookies and these rich, amazing, completely wheat-free brownies. Somehow I dragged myself up the (several flights) of stairs to be greeted by the dog and a flurry of hugs; the city spread out before us all the way to the East Bay, shining in the sun. We drank beer and watched football (sort of) and ate brownies and I sat on the deck feeling grateful for the day, for my friends, for the weather, for the earlier run.
I felt especially grateful the brownies turned out so well, though. They were damn good, even sans the flour (you just never know — you know?). I was glad my little attempt had worked out; I’ve made brownies many times in the past of course, but had not much delved into the mysterious world of gluten-free baking. Fortunately it was not nearly as scary as I’d anticipated.
On this Valentine’s Day I give them to you, because they are delicious and you deserve something delicious on this day (and every day). If you don’t need to omit gluten from your diet, use regular flour here instead but please do keep the ground almonds. Those, plus all the butter and melted chocolate, comprise a chewy, decadent, utterly blissful mouthful. Make these for your loved ones, for your particular someone, for your office, for yourself. They’re the perfect treat to have today (and yes, maybe even every day).
Today tastes of love and its promise, and chocolate, too. Out I go into the salty, wind-blown city to see for myself.
** My wish for you today is that you will always have love, and that you will always remember what it is. It is so many things, yes. But mostly it is true and right and good and kind and exhilarating and home.
And it is everywhere, if we but take the time to look.
So dearest Valentine: I hope your day is as sweet and delicious as you.
so comes love
let it go – the
smashed word broken
open vow or
the oath cracked length
wise – let it go it
was sworn to
let them go – the
truthful liars and
the false fair friends
and the boths and
neithers – you must let them go they
let all go – the
big small middling
tall bigger really
the biggest and all
things – let all go
so comes love
(e. e. cummings)
Gluten-free (or not) Brownies
7 ounces bittersweet chocolate
1/2 cup butter
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 rounded cup almonds, processed fine
1/4 cup brown rice flour (or 1/4 cup regular all-purpose flour)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line an 8×8-inch square baking pan with foil and lightly oil the bottom.
Melt the chocolate and butter, stirring well to combine.
In a mixing bowl, beat the eggs on medium high until frothy. Add the brown sugar and beat until smooth.
Slowly add the melted chocolate and butter to the egg-sugar mixture and beat well for a minute.
In a bowl, combine the dry ingredients and whisk together. Add the dry ingredients to the chocolate mixture and beat well for a minute. Add the vanilla and beat another 30 seconds. Stir in the nuts.
Spread the batter into the prepared pan. Give the pan a good shake to even out the batter.
Bake for about 40 minutes [NOTE: These took almost an hour but I think my oven is running cold. Still — check, and don’t be afraid to let them bake a bit longer if it seems necessary.], or until the brownies are set.
Remove from oven and cool for about 15 minutes. Use the foil to help remove from pan and cut into squares when fully cooled.