Monthly Archives: July 2014

White chocolate raspberry brownie bars

We’ve hit the point of summer in which I must suppress my alter ego, Nighttime Ninja Harvester. On our block alone there are two huge raspberry patches covered with berries, most of which are rotting on the canes. My berry-loving, food-waste-hating heart races every time I pass them. In another decade or two I could easily find myself knocking on doors saying, “Hi, may I harvest these for you?”

We don’t have a problem eating the berries at our house, partly because my canes are young and don’t yet have huge amounts of fruit. Still, I could set Miles loose on enormous urban patches and they’d be cleared in no time. We were lucky enough to have about a cup of berries enter the house every couple of days for the past few weeks because I cared for our neighbors’ garden. There was just enough to prevent Nighttime Ninja Harvester from getting into trouble. IMG_4760Did you know that if you’re a fruit tree owner in Seattle you can request to have your fruit harvested and donated to food banks? (Many other cities have similar organizations.) The first year we moved into this place, the Italian prune plum tree was overflowing. I was overwhelmed enough by the one-year-old and four-year-old. I signed our tree up and a friendly man came to harvest the plums, leaving us a box and taking the rest to food banks. We’ve since been able to handle our harvests, but I continue to donate a hefty amount to food banks.

Knowing that we are lucky to have an abundance, I work hard to use what we have or share it before it goes bad. Nonetheless, I experience food waste guilt quite regularly. While I’m not a depression-era baby, I was raised by WWII babies who subsequently enrolled their children in the Clean Plate Club. I also blame Tamar Adler. Reading An Everlasting Meal provided countless ideas for how to use food more efficiently and economically, but it also plagues me a bit. Now I sometimes feel guilty throwing away kale stems and radish leaves. I’ve contemplated taking all our discarded produce parts around to the neighborhood chickens and goats. Looney, I know. I really am just a decade away from being that person. (Buuuut, come on! I could dump kale stems at the chicken coops and come home with handfuls of berries in a period of ten minutes!)

Since emptying our veggie CSA box completely covers my kitchen counter every week, it is an act of kindness towards myself to immediately cut off the carrot tops and say, “Not this year.” Otherwise I’d nod to them in the fridge all week, debating about what I would do with them until they rot and I, of course, feel bad. That’s the pattern. So, this year I’m declaring it Good Enough to cook the normal parts. Maybe next year I’ll make kale stem pesto and carrot top purees. Or own chickens.

IMG_8619Now, back to raspberries. I rarely bake with summer fruit because it tastes so amazing raw. Raspberries are one exception because I find their flavor is often enhanced with baking. I first made these bars for my parents’ 50th anniversary party. While flipping through Dorie Greenspan’s Baking (my desert island baked goods book), this recipe caught my eye. I really wanted to make cake for the party, but we decided in favor of finger food because of logistical challenges, so these helped scratch the pretty cake itch. Plus, my mom loves raspberries, oranges and chocolate, so I was hopeful she’d like these. (By the way, Dorie has a new book coming out and recently posted another alluring raspberry recipe from it as a sneak peak.)

While Dorie refers to these as brownies, I haven’t quite accepted them as such. They might belong in a class of their own. They are extremely moist, significantly more than a typical brownie. Also, the meringue dresses them up so much they’re like mini-meringue pies. Minus the pie crust. I still don’t know what to call them, so I’m sticking with Dorie but adding bar. Suggestions, anyone? IMG_8620White chocolate raspberry brownie bars
From Dorie Greenspan’s Baking. Makes 32 bars.

Brownie base

  • 2/3 cup (70 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup (50 grams) finely ground almonds / almond meal
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons (4 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
  • 4 ounces coarsely chopped premium-quality white chocolate (This came out to be a little shy of 1 cup of Ghirardelli white chocolate chips, which were what I could find.)
  • 1 cup (200 grams) sugar
  • 2 teaspoons grated orange zest
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1+ cup (4 to 6 ounces) fresh raspberries

Meringue

  • 3 large eggs whites, at room temperature
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup (100 grams) sugar

Confectioners’ sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 325℉, with a rack in the center. Butter a 9×13 inch pan and line the pan with parchment or wax paper so that the sides of the paper extend beyond the sides of the pan a bit. Butter the paper and dust the bottom and sides of it with flour, tapping out any excess. Place the pan on a baking sheet.

Make the brownie base by whisking together the flour, ground almonds and salt. Place the butter, topped with the chocolate pieces, in a double boiler (or set a heatproof bowl over a pan) to gently melt them together over barely simmering water. Stir frequently until they’re just melted. Watch this step carefully because they will separate if they get too hot and the white chocolate needs special treatment to not burn. Once they’ve melted, immediately remove the pan from the heat.

In the base of a large mixing bowl, rub the sugar and orange zest together until the sugar is moist and aromatic. Add the eggs, beating on medium-high speed about 3-minutes, until pale and foamy. Beat in the vanilla. Reduce the speed to low and blend in the butter-chocolate mixture. Continue on low, adding the dry ingredients until they are just integrated. Do not overmix. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and place the raspberries evenly over the batter.

Make the meringue by beating the egg whites with salt on medium speed until they are foamy and just turning opaque. Increase the speed to medium-high to add the sugar in a slow, steady stream. Whip the whites until they form firm, but still glossy peaks. (I test for firm peaks by stopping the mixer and pulling away the whisk attachment up away from the whites. If they remain standing and don’t flop over, they are firm enough.) Gently spread the meringue over the brownie batter.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the meringue is browned and crackly. (In my home oven, this took 40-minutes. In a much newer and more reliable oven in Colorado, they took 30-minutes. But altitude was at play there, too, so who knows. Just watch them for some good light browning and crackles in the meringue.) The brownies will pull away from the side of the pan. Allow them to cool in the pan on a rack.

By carefully lifting the sides of parchment paper, lift out the bars and place them on cutting board. (Alternately, you can turn them out onto a rack and then invert them onto a cutting board, but I found this extremely difficult to do without squishing the meringue, so I changed course the second time I made these.) Dust them with confectioners’ sugar. Cut into bars.

Voila! Enjoy!

Here’s to independence

photo1 It’s been a few weeks, but I’m still thinking about the Fourth of July. I’m not alone. Tonight at bedtime Miles proclaimed, “Fourth of July is when I shoot Fluffy out of my bottom!” Fluffy is Charlie’s favorite stuffed animal, a white cat that survived my childhood but probably won’t theirs. Clearly, it’s going to be exciting here next year. Consider this an invitation to our potluck.

This year we decided to embrace the crowds at Seattle’s biggest Fourth of July event. More significantly, we opted to forego bedtimes. Fireworks are shot off from a barge in Lake Union at 10:15pm, while thousands crowd the shores of Gas Works Park for viewing. (My favorite comment of the night was Miles’, “Fireworks are rockets that shoot lasers!”) We forged our exit with the masses around 11, and then walked a couple miles to get home. Charlie stayed up past midnight, Miles conked out in the stroller somewhere along the way.

For years I would’ve rather gouged myself in the eye with a hot poker than keep them up late. Our exceptionally sleep-sensitive kids would undoubtedly attempt to continue partying throughout the night (the kind of partying that comes with wailing and the need to suck), only to wake at 5:30am for the day. This happened 99% of the nights they missed an hour or two of sleep. Lest you think this ridiculous night-waking would cease after one night, oh no. It would continue for at least a week, likely two, until we got them back “on schedule.”

For some perspective, these days Miles typically heads to bed at 7pm and Charlie around 7:30 or 8. They both usually rise around 6am, 7 at the absolute latest. Every time we’ve tried to push their bedtimes later, they’ve woken up earlier. So, while not worrying about the bedtime schedule was indeed fabulously freeing, the really magical part was that they SLEPT IN next morning. We considered opening a bottle of Champagne. It was 8am.

Until this year we’ve endured Seattle’s very late hours of darkness on Independence Day cringing with each firecracker that popped by our windows, hoping to Jesus that our boys would continue sleeping while simultaneously cussing (in our minds or with each other) at the teenagers setting them off at 2am. The trauma of years of significant sleep deprivation will make one a teensy weensy bit anxious about explosives detonating nearby. Even if the kids slept through the bangs, WE certainly couldn’t. No luxury of earplugs, of course. We needed to hear our babies cry! So, instead we lay in bed with deer-in-the-headlights expressions on our faces, patriotism dwindling by the second.

photo3 By the way, the next time you hear someone giving a parent a hard time about maintaining a schedule, recommend trying this:

1) Lay in bed at 9:30pm. Just as your eyelids start to droop and you fade away, have a partner yell loudly in your ear, simulating a wailing baby. They must yelp for at least ten minutes while you bounce them, pat them, rock them, or walk with them. To be fair, though, it really should be at least twenty minutes. Once they’re quiet, hold them and rock them for at least another ten. (It might feel awkward doing this with an adult. Use a dog or a stuffed animal if you prefer. Or simply remind yourselves, this is all worth it to build empathy!) Next, set them down carefully. Don’t sneeze, fart, burp, sniffle, step on a squeaky floorboard, trip over a toy car, or move your fingers away from their body too quickly as you gently lay them down. If make any startling noise or jostling body movement, start again from the beginning.

2) Repeat the entire routine again in two hours, this time taking time to warm up a bottle and feed the “baby.” (Unless you happen to be randomly lactating, which is odd enough that you should get that checked out.) Once the “baby” is asleep, set your alarm for 2:30am and try to fall asleep even though you know you’ll get two hours more shut-eye at best.

3) At 2:30 complete a half hour of simulated diaper changing, bouncing and shushing. The stuffed animal option is probably best for this.

4) You’re not done yet. Treat yourself to a final wail at 4am that continues until 5. At this point your mind will be racing because you know that you probably only have a half hour left to sleep. You’ll battle with yourself for awhile as to whether or not you should try to sleep more, thus wasting precious time. Eventually, you’ll convince yourself that this will be the day they’ll sleep later, and just as you close your eyes, your partner must babble loudly and immediately demand breakfast. (You now have two children. Just so this this experiment is highly effective.)

5) Repeat this routine nightly until you experience deep compassion for parents of babies who don’t sleep well. If it takes you more than a few nights, borrow someone’s kids to care for during the daytime hours, too. All screentime is off-limits. Grocery shop, do laundry, and cook at least once.

Now you probably get why I’m still thinking about the holiday. My husband and I gained a little independence this Fourth of July. It feels like we just might’ve made it through.

Summer PSA: My scariest parenting moment to date

Generally one of the best ways for me to process a horrible event is to share it with friends and write about it. This particular one was witnessed by a friend, and I was comforted to have her immediate empathetic, non-judgmental response as my first. When I told my husband he also responded lovingly and graciously, understanding how this could happen. That’s the only type of response I can handle right now. Here, I’m requesting virtual hugs while simultaneously providing a PSA.

While visiting a friend’s pool today, a common summer event for us, I did as I usually do: walked into the courtyard, placed our gear and food on a table, and turned to help get the boys ready for the pool. But this time I turned around and my youngest was bobbing up and down, silently drowning. (I can’t yet write this without crying.)

I jumped into the pool, cover-up dress still on, and placed him on the side. I held him, kissing him and holding him for a long time while my hands shook. He was breathing. Thank God. He didn’t cough either, so I suppose he did a decent job keeping his mouth closed each time he went under.

I don’t know how long he was in. Probably just a few seconds, certainly no more than a minute. He had to walk down a couple stairs to get to the deeper part and he was already a few feet away from the stairs when I got to him. Given the outcome, it doesn’t matter. I can replay it all I want but I’ll never know exactly how it happened. I just know that he got in over his head.

For the past few summers he’s worn a puddle jumper to swim “independently.” He’s never tried to get in without me holding him or wearing that. I assumed, after several years of safe behavior, that he understood he could not float without assistance. Obviously, there was some cognitive shift in which he no longer understood that he wasn’t floating by himself. Or he simply didn’t understand the consequences. Even immediately after the incident he tried several times to get in the pool without me or the puddle jumper after we’d removed it for bathroom breaks and lunch. Having learned my lesson, I was vigilant at that point and didn’t allow him out of my line of sight, but I was surprised that he tried entering again so quickly.

I simply want to add to the chorus of water safety PSAs, specifically to remind parents of young children that our little ones may demonstrate safety over months of time, even years, and then immediately disregard the rules. (I certainly could’ve used a gentler reminder.) After it happened I recalled that my oldest tried to cross the street without me when he was four, also after years of always waiting for an adult’s hand. There just might be something about this age, as they shift from babies and toddlers to more independent little kids, that they overestimate their own skills. Don’t assume a history of consistently safe behavior will continue.

We will now establish a routine that prevents accidents. I will be putting his puddle jumper on prior to entering the pool courtyard. Or I will hold his hand until it’s on. Or I will not take my eyes off of him. But even writing that idea feels dangerous. Another kid falling or crying can be a big enough distraction to take my eyes off of him, just long enough for a him to get in the pool. So, I think I’ll stick with putting it on the minute we have access to the water.

Right after it happened I would’ve spent a thousand dollars for amazing swim lessons to get him 100% water safe. I’ve talked myself down a bit, but I feel increasingly horrible about it. I will never forget the look on his face. I couldn’t be more thankful that this ending wasn’t different.

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Carkeek Park

As the tides are at their lowest, Seattle schools go on summer break. Kids flood the beaches searching for sea stars, lifting rocks to pester crabs, and poking at anemones. Moats get built, feet get sandy, hands smell like seaweed.

One of my hopes for our summer is weekly beach visits and hikes. The boys will pick Carkeek nearly every time if I let them and I find few reasons to negotiate. With a wide flat beach that looks out over Puget Sound to the Olympic Mountains, it is hard to beat. My boys adore watching trains from the bridge over the railroad tracks, and the salmon slide is irresistible to the younger crowd (also sure to elicit at least a few poop jokes from all kids five and up).

When we first moved back to Seattle, I experienced a solid six months of “pinch me” moments. I’d visit a favorite bakery and squeal with delight. I’d hop on a ferry like a kid in a candy store. While I remain thankful that we moved back, those highly salient moments of gratitude have tapered off. Mostly I feel deeply anchored, gently swaying in the comforting knowledge that we’re home. Yet Carkeek, especially when the sun is shining and the clams are spitting and the boys are happily digging, always seems to return me to a more conscious level of thankfulness for the city I love.

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