Nothing inspires as much hope as a new beginning. New job, new town, new home, new relationship, new year – they all bring with them the vision of new possibilities, a fresh outlook, a blank slate to do with what you wish. There is a renewed energy, a spring in the step. It may all lead to the same tedium, the same results because people don’t essentially change, but for that brief period of time, there is hope. You wake up bright and early on the first day of your job, spend hours choosing the perfect outfit for that first date, make new year resolutions, forgetting that as exciting as the beginning may be, it is what comes after – the middle – that really counts.
I have never been big on new year resolutions; never consciously made one. Resolutions, especially those that are announced with a lot of fanfare, I’ve noticed often come to naught. This year was going to be no different until one day toward the end of December my boss called to inform me that I had to move to Toronto for a new project. Anyone who knows me knows how absolutely in love with this wonderful city I am, so this was good news. But I had to give up my old place, close accounts such as my rarely used gym membership, find a new place in a new city, pack up all my stuff, move, unpack all my stuff, and show up to work, all within a week. While this might intimidate some people, I’ve been living a fairly nomadic existence for the past few years and I felt up to the challenge.
As always, the funnily named Kijiji came to my rescue, and I spent the first week of the new year house-hunting, calling up a score of people and viewing 9 different places in 2 days – in a different city. The first house I’d got excited about turned out to be the last house I saw, and in finding this place I turned out to be extremely lucky. I now stay in a fully furnished home with two wonderful roommates in the heart of Toronto on Queen West surrounded by parks, libraries, bookstores, food stores, coffee houses, bakeries and restaurants. Major score! (And knock on wood!)
Unpacked and settled in, I then proceeded to do all the things that I’d been resolving to do one day. Well, I told myself, that day was here. I started with signing up for French classes at Alliance Française. My first class coincided with my second day in the city but I was done making excuses. I now spend four hours every week with 10 other classmates from every corner of the globe (the beauty of living in Toronto) conjugating French verbs with a delightful teacher, who gives meaning to the phrase joie de vivre and permits absolument pas l’anglais in her class.
Not satisfied with adding my efforts towards butchering the French language, I decided to further my continuing education by enrolling at George Brown College for Culinary Arts I. Now, for four hours every Friday evening, I go back to the beginning – to French classical culinary technique. Stocks and sauces, salads and soups, roasting and braising, meat and vegetables – I cannot begin to tell you how excited I am as I begin to learn new skills. But tell you I will – I promise, nay I resolve, in my upcoming posts.
Let me see, was that all? Oh, I forgot to mention the ice skating lessons signed up for in a fit of misplaced athletic enthusiasm. I’m paying them to see me fall on my ass 20 times in an hour, but at least I’m doing it in the “correct way”. Between all that falling, the few minutes that I do glide effortlessly with the cold wind in my face and the lakeshore in my sights makes it worth it. Now if only that ugly purple bruise would go away. Needless to say, I have not renewed that gym membership.
With all this change (including 5 inches chopped off my erstwhile waist-length hair, which caused a plaintive cry from my mum on the phone) and the fact that I was returning home most nights after 10 pm, exhausted but happy, this space has been pretty silent. And it is not because I’ve ignored it or because I’ve stopped cooking. It’s because I’d rather say nothing than be guilty of lazy (or tired, as the case may be) writing. “I made Julia Child’s Beef Bourguignon. It was delicious. Recipe follows.” This is something I hope you will never find on this site.
My first weekend in the new house, as I got familiar with the kitchen, pulled open drawers and cabinets, learned the temperamental idiosyncrasies of a new oven, I got out my old cake pan that travels with me everywhere and baked brownies. They represent the very beginning, when a 15 year old girl drew out her first cake pan from the oven and marveled at her power of creation. Since then, I’ve baked hundreds of brownies, some dry, some cakey, some so rich you needed tumblers of milk to wash it down, always in the quest of perfection. A brownie with a cracked crust, a fudgy, moist interior, the deep, satisfying taste of dark chocolate, the crunch of toasted nuts. This recipe is the closest I’ve come to it. It’s so simple a child could make it. If you’re new to baking, try it and you’ll never look back. With Valentine’s around the corner, it makes the perfect gift. Half an hour after I started making them, the kitchen was filled with familiar smells. The nomad was home again.
Dark, Fudgy Chocolate Brownies
Adapted from Jamie Oliver
1/3 cup slivered almonds (or walnuts)
2 sticks (8 ounces or 225 gm) unsalted butter
7 ounces (200 gm) dark chocolate (60% cocoa)
1/4 cup dried cranberries (or dried cherries)
1/2 cup cocoa
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 large eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Lightly butter an 8-inch square cake pan.
2. Toast the nuts on a baking sheet in the preheated oven for 6-8 mins taking care not to burn them. Cool completely.
3. Melt the chocolate and butter on the top of a double boiler or in a large bowl over simmering water, stirring frequently until smooth.
4. Take the bowl off the heat and stir in the toasted almonds and dried cranberries.
5. In another bowl, whisk together the cocoa, flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Add this to the chocolate mixture and stir together well.
6. Beat the eggs with the vanilla extract and stir them in until they are completely incorporated and you have a smooth mixture.
7. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 mins. Never overbake brownies. The top should be dry and crackly but the inside should still be gooey; a cake tester will not come out clean.
8. Allow to cool in the pan, then transfer to a board and chop into chunky squares. Best with a dollop of barely sweetened whipped cream or a glass of milk.
They will keep at room temperature or refrigerated for 3-4 days (if they last that long). They also freeze well.