Crunchy consolation for a crappy week

It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work, and that when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.

Wendell Berry

The rain on our skylights sounded like a jackhammer this morning. It was a quick deluge, fitting for how various news landed on our doorstep last week. Gorgeous, mysterious fog was replaced by a pelting downpour. Unfortunately this change was an appropriate marker. Last week can eat it.

As much as I know that life comes with death, light with dark, joy with pain (Oh no! Now Milli Vanilli is in my head.),  I never snuggle up to death and it’s tendency to pop up uninvited. There’s the obvious ways, like the passing of those we love, but there are other ways death shows up. Ways that don’t come with a memorial or expected grieving period. The fading friendship. The dissolving marriage. The termination of a job.

The only place I’m super comfortable with death is in the garden. There, it’s easy to respect that the richest soil forms through the decomposition of things once alive. There are tangible benefits at the end of the process, too. Luscious tomatoes, stunning flower beds.

Monday brought the stabbing news of friends’ divorcing. I sobbed with the intensity of this morning’s rain, heartbroken. It’s devastating to know someone you love has to push through a hurricane of grief, unsure when she’ll step out of it. I woke up Tuesday and cried more. This is one of those times I desperately want to wave a magic wand even though I know that journeying through the grief is critical for healing. I just really, really hate that part.

For someone nearing forty, I’m astonishingly unfamiliar with divorce. Only a few friends have been through it, but none with whom I was walking closely at the time. Equally amazing, none of my close friends parents’ divorced as I was growing up. Until now, my only intimate experience has been through my husband’s family, and I walked into that scenario several years after the fact. I see their scars, but I wasn’t present in the acute stage. I didn’t have to survive the flood.

Thursday, Harry came home with word that HR Guy was traveling from headquarters to the Seattle office. Since the only time he comes is to lay people off, we had a hint. The entire Seattle office was laid off Friday. Saturday evening he started to feel bad, Sunday morning he had a fever. He’s currently holed up in our bedroom suffering through the flu.

I stress baked Friday. Baking centers me. (Especially kneading dough. I forget until my hands are in the thick of it, but man, it’s therapeutic. I should keep dough rising all around the house as a preventative care measure.) Since Harry felt pretty certain he knew what was coming, I felt pretty certain my husband would return home sad. I flipped through Dorie Greenspan’s Baking Chez Moi and found her Crispy-Topped Brown Sugar Bars. My caramel-loving, sweet-toothed, out-of-a-job husband would be all over those.

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Miles claims that these are The Best Treat I’ve ever baked. After Harry commented that they were delicious, Miles corrected him. “No, Papa. They are THE BEST.” They are reminiscent of a candy bar. An extremely satisfying one. The brown sugar base tastes a little nut-buttery. The dark chocolate layer counters it’s sweetness nicely. Top that off with the awesomely crunchy caramelized crispies and you have a winner in our household. These will appear again. Hopefully in celebration instead of consolation.

I’m currently savoring each little chapter of Anne Lamott’s Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace. These words resonate with me right now:

When you’re in the dark, you have to try to remember that it’s a dance – dark, light, dark, light, dim. Or when you’re in the sun but the clouds come, of course you instantly think, Oh God, now it’s going to get cold and wet, and it’s all fucked, but then you might remember that when it was dark an earlier time, your friends shined a little thin light on it, and you remember one thing that sort of helped, one more step you can take, maybe one more thing you can try.

I see my friend watching for light. Taking great care of herself during torrential grief and looking to friends to help her navigate, to hold the light. I feel hope for our family, too. Just a few days in and we already feel buoyed by the support our friends have lended. I hate the dark, but I’ve walked this path before and the rays break through often enough to keep me steady.

If you’re walking through a storm right now, please be kind to yourself. Ask for help. Seek out your friends. Let them know you’re sad and need support. Exercise. Sleep. Nourish yourself. Hang out with people who make you laugh yet are compassionate and kind enough to know when silence and a hug is more appropriate. And maybe bake yourself and your loved ones a delicious treat.

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Crispy-Topped Brown Sugar Bars

From Dorie Greenspan’s Baking Chez Moi. Yields 16 bars

BASE

  • 4 ounces (8 tablespoons; 113 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup (50 grams) light brown sugar, packed
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup (102 grams) all-purpose flour

TOPPING

  • 3 1/2 ounces (99 grams) dark chocolate (60-80% cacao), finely chopped
  • 1/2 recipe Caramelized Rice Crispies (or alternately 1 cup rice crispies, large flake coconut, popcorn, or mixed nuts, etc… as a topper)

Preheat the oven to 375℉. Line an 8-inch square pan with parchment paper, leaving an overhang on opposite sides so you can lift the bars out of the pan. Butter the paper.

Beat the butter, brown sugar, sugar and salt together on medium speed until smooth, light and creamy. Beat in the vanilla. Add the flour all at once and pulse the mixer about five times to beat in the flour. If it doesn’t completely blend in, mix on low speed until it disappears.

Scrape the sticky, thick dough into the lined pan and spread it over the bottom of the pan to make an even layer. I used my fingers, wetting them down a bit to counter the dough’s sticky nature.

Baker for about 22-minutes, until the base is golden brown and puffed up a bit.

Immediately top the bars with the chopped chocolate. Sprinkle it evenly over the base and return the pan to the turned-off oven for a couple minutes, or until the chocolate is melted. Spread the melted chocolate evenly using the back of a spoon or an offset spatula.

Break off pieces of the Caramelized Rice Crispies (or whatever topping you choose) and lightly press them into the chocolate until the top is completely covered. Cool to room temperature on a rack. Once cooled, put the pan in the fridge for 20-minutes to set the chocolate if it’s still fluid.

To serve the bars, remove the cookie out of the pan by using the parchment overhang and place it on a cutting board . Cut them into 16 squares.

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Caramelized Rice Crispies

  • 1/2 cup (100 grams) sugar
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 2 cups (53 grams) rice crispies

Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper. Have a pastry brush (silicone preferred, but not necessary), cold water and a spatula standing by.

Sprinkle the sugar over the bottom of a large saucepan or a wide skillet that gives you enough space to stir comfortably. Sprinkle the water over all the sugar. Turn the heat to medium / medium-high and bring the sugar to a boil. Dip the pastry brush in cold water and wash down the sides of the pan if any sugar spatters. At the first sign of color, remove the pan from the heat and add the rice crispies.

Using a heatproof spatula or wooden spoon, stir until the syrup disappears. You will see cakey white streaks on the bottom of the pan as the syrup gets absorbed and sugar hardens on the bottom of the pan.

Return the pan to medium / medium-high heat and stir without stopping. (Be careful, it’s incredibly hot.) As I stirred, the white cakey bottom of the pan liquefied again, helping to coat each grain of cereal with the caramel. I stopped stirring and took it off the heat once the entire pan’s white cakey bottom was reabsorbed into the crisps. You want the cereal to be a deep caramel color. (It’s alright if the sugar smokes. That flavor will be nice, too.)

Immediately scrape the rice crispies onto the lined baking sheet and spread them out into a single layer. Work fast, because they’ll harden quickly. Allow to cool. Use half of these to top the bars and the other half to snack on or throw on ice cream.

(Cleaning your pan will be significantly easier if you throw it back on the heat with some water in it. Bring it to a boil to soften the hardened sugar.)

 

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6 thoughts on “Crunchy consolation for a crappy week

  1. jenj40

    Oh Kathleen, these days are just so hard. Thank you for writing honestly and providing encouragement through Anne Lamott and food. I can’t think of a better combination. I will be attempting these in the near future for myself or others or both. Much love to you, friend! Jen Jepsen

    Reply
    1. kathleenbeanblog Post author

      Oh, Jen. Whenever I hear from you I wish we could share a moment as neighbor’s again to talk about Anne Lamott, relationships, and spirituality over afternoon treats. xoxo

      Reply
  2. peasantwoman

    Kathleen, I’m sorry to hear this about Harry’s job and also about your friend’s divorce. I so very much appreciate your writing about death and endings and also for including Anne Lamott–I haven’t yet read that book but love her and look forward to reading it. Have you heard of Elizabeth Lesser’s book, Broken Open? Another beautiful and amazing resource on death and endings–

    On that note, there was an obit in the paper today for a local woman whose last name was Love, and I wanted to reach out and see if you we’re related. If so, my deepest condolences–

    Even if you weren’t, I’m still sending you a big hug and much love in the midst of all this intense change. Please reach out if you ‘d like to chat or if I can help in any way.

    Much love, T

    The Rhythm of Grief http://www.therhythmofgrief.com

    Reboot This Marriage Two adults. Two kids. One year to reboot this marriage. http://rebootthismarriage.com

    >

    Reply
    1. kathleenbeanblog Post author

      Thanks, T. I am thankful I don’t know that woman, though my brother-in-law just lost his dad today. Ugh. I feel so bad for him. I really appreciate that resource. I haven’t read it but will check it out. I owe you an email- it’s not forgotten. It just deserves a very lengthy, thoughtful response (or maybe a call!) and I’ve put it off during the craziness of the past weeks… I hope you are well. xoxo

      Reply
  3. Marta

    Kathleen, we are sorry to learn about Harry’s situation. We hope he feels better soon and things will work out for the better. I might try the recipe you posted – looks delicious. I even have Dorie’s book too.

    Reply

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