Last week our youngest, Margot, turned 8. From the get-go she has always been opinionated with very strong ideas of how things should be, but is now perfecting the art of organizing and putting things into action in order to accomplish what she wants. She is always thinking ahead, planning and writing lists, carefully calculating what is important to her and the best way to get to that end. She does this respectfully (with the exception of pestering her older sister) and I marvel at her ability - there are times I feel she is more organized than I am.
You may recall that carrot cake is legendary in our house. There is never any question of what cake I am making for my husband’s big day in March. The story of then two-year-old Marielle (now aged 13) dragging her fingers through the frosting of his cake is told every year, and told proudly. This March carrot cake only adds fuel to the already smoldering fire of Margot’s planning as now her birthday is the ‘next’ birthday. She has been mulling her options since Christmas and with this last obstacleout of the way, the conversation always turns to "for my birthday," causing the adults to practice our "expectation management."
Fortunately she is such a thorough and reasonable planner, we have little to worry about. Friends, party favors, party games and decorations, menus and gift lists (this year she sent my mom who lives 3 houses away from us a letter via US Postal Service asking for cash), she works it all out in an astonishingly comprehensive plan. Taking full advantage of the almost four months between Christmas and her birthday, she presents the package deal at a carefully chosen time, ready with answers to any potential questions, quietly confident that she will prevail.
This year she kept it simple. No big party, simple eats, although carrot cake was being requested on two dates (sleepover and actual birthday) and there was still the need for a treat to bring to school to share with her classmates. Of course I agreed to the carrot cake - although I did negotiate that instead of two 2-layered cakes I would bake for one and freeze one of the 9" round to be thawed and frosted for the Actual Day. This made me happier anyway, spreading out all that rich, carrot-y goodness over time.
Her request for the school treat took me by surprise, though. Out of nowhere, Margot asked that I make blondies, those chocolate-less brownies that are so dense and sweet. When I asked her why she had chosen them, she patiently explained that too much chocolate wasn’t such a great thing for her and that she didn’t really want carrot cake cupcakes as she wasn’t sure what her classmates would think of that, so blondies with a few chocolate chips, please. Why certainly! How could I argue with that?
Believe it or not, I had never made blondies. As chocolate is really not a very good thing for me to be eating these days, either, I figured it was about time I learn. I immediately did a google search and came up with several suggestions (including, of course, the ‘70’s rock band that got ‘The Tide is High’ stuck in my head). I knew just who to try, though, and clicked on the Smitten Kitchen’s recipe. Deb Perelman is a great blogger, funny, accessible and with a wonderful site, and I have never met a recipe of hers I didn’t like. And I, who try very, very hard not to buy anymore cookbooks, is most certainly going to add her cookbook to my very full kitchen bookshelf.
As it turns out, this recipe is a wonder of simplicity. In fact, I even taught it to Margot, as not only is it handy to have a memorized treat recipe in your repertoire, but the easy rhythm of the ingredients and amounts might help to lull her to sleep after a crazy day, and maybe even give her sweet dreams?
from Smitten Kitchen
1 stick of butter, melted
1 cup brown sugar
1 pinch salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup flour
Butter an 8x8 pan. Mix melted butter and brown sugar together until smooth. Add egg and vanilla and mix well. Add salt and flour and mix until combined. Spread into pan and bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes, or until center is set. A bit gooey is a really good thing, really!
Of course, into this I had to add 1Ž2 cup of good chocolate chips which was definitely a delicious thing. I was also taken by some of the other add-in options suggested on the Smitten Kitchen site. Next time I will be adding dried cherries - yum! Or how about scotch? That sounded very interesting, especially for my husband, although not so much for the kids. And as an extra bonus, while making a late night dash to the grocery to pick up those aforementioned chocolate chips, I ran into a friend who told me about a fabulous browned-butter and almond variety she had whipped up for a tennis do. Add-ins or not, these blondies are delicious, couldn’t be easier, and you almost certainly have these ingredients in your pantry.
So, many thanks to a wise little girl whose strong opinions and exquisite planning not only kept me in practice with carrot cake, but has introduced a scrumptious and versatile treat that is a cinch to bake and easy to plan for. Sure to be seen at many a summer potluck this year, I’m looking forward to being creative with them!
Julie Potter is a wife, mother of two, avid gardener and passionate cook who believes good food doesn’t have to be complicated. Share your thoughts with her at firstname.lastname@example.org.