Brownies, Blondies – and Tomboys

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Katharine Hepburn – 1941

I’ve been waiting for just the right time to use these photos – of Katharine Hepburn and of my Dunn Elementary School Brownie troop.  Andy – in Andy’s Corner – has been waiting for just the right time to tell you about his Boy Scout uniform debacle.

Originally, I envisioned a blog filled with an exciting assortment of brownie recipes, including, of course, my all-time favorite, Katharine Hepburn Brownies.   But in thinking about that I realized that once you’ve tasted a Katharine Hepburn brownie, you really don’t need any other recipe.  And we’ve already posted that one.

Should you want to know more about those brownies, here’s the PBS story behind Katherine Hepburn and her recipe.

Anyway,  I decided to blog about my favorite blondie recipe, which, strangely enough 🙂 comes from our daughter’s Picnics cookbook.  I thought it was the penultimate (whoops, a misuse of that word) absolutely perfect recipe.  Delicioso.  BUT then I did a little blondie research and came up with another recipe to try.  And now I am SO torn as to which is best.  I encourage you to try them both – recipes below – and leave your comments.

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As for my Ft. Collins, Colorado, Brownie troop, I can still identify almost every cutie in the photo – and I’m still in touch with three of them, which is kind of amazing given that that photo was taken about 68 years ago.

I’m the toothless little waif in the middle of the third row, and my friend Susan is standing on my right.  We were “country girls,” growing up on small acreages south of Fort Collins, CO.  And we were both definitely tomboys.

Did you know Katharine Hepburn was a tomboy – and was considered very avant-garde and “gender bending?”  A delightful Vanity Fair article about her maintains that she inspired “proud unpainted princesses with flaring nostrils and dungarees,” who are “startlingly frank, obviously brainy, filled with the new free ‘take-it-or-leave-it’ spirit.”  Geez, how I’d love to be described that way!

Without even knowing about that article my friend Susan lamented how her mother made her wear “girls’ jeans” – which zipped on the side – and what a relief it was when she first got to wear her first pair of Levi’s 501s (considered “boys’ jeans” back then – and still now?).  Susan was also the first girl to be allowed to deliver our local newspaper – the Fort Collins Coloradoan though she was not allowed to attend the weekly meetings with the rest of the delivery crew, since a little girl amongst all those boys would certainly have not been appropriate!

Susan was tough back then and is tough today.  She recently emailed me that “nothing really stopped me from trying and doing anything that needed to be done.”  If that’s gender bending, I embrace it!

Janeene, my very-blondie friend in the middle of the troop – just below me – reported, “Now that I think of it, maybe I was a tomboy in some respects.  I enjoyed playing with the boys more than girls.”  And – soon after the Brownie photo was taken – Janeene made a Hepburn kind of decision:  she quit Brownies and Bluebirds, because they didn’t allow boys!  Go, Janeene!  “Flaring nostrils,” for sure!

A recent article from the NYTimes, entitled Bring Back the Tomboys, got me going on all of this tomboy stuff.  The author, Lisa Selin Davis, writes that the tomboys from the pop culture of the ’70’s and 80’s “were outspoken, confident and indifferent to the silent or explicit rules of gender around them, often dressing and acting “like boys.” They stood in stark contrast to the ingénues and highly feminine characters girls and women were often restricted to.  Davis goes on to describe how by the 90’s this had changed and Jo [from TV’s The Facts of Life] gave way to Sporty Spice, Xena, Buffy — coifed, petal-lipped and sometimes baring midriff — with the message that one didn’t need to sacrifice femininity to have power.

Lots to contemplate here – but I’ve gotta run.  I’m off to pick-ax out some holes for new shrubs we’re planting, power-wash the back deck, and grind down a stain on our concrete walkway.  Andy is fixing dinner.

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Brown Sugar Blondies with Pecans

Brown Sugar Blondies with Pecans

You can easily do 1/2 this recipe, using an 8″x 8″ pan, but we recommend just freezing whatever is not eaten up.  Adapted from Sara Deseran’s Picnics cookbook.

4 eggs
2 c dark brown sugar
2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp Diamond kosher salt
2 sticks (16 T) butter, melted and cooled
1 c flour
1 c pecans, chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Grease a 9″x13″ baking pan.

In a medium bowl, beat the eggs until frothy.  Stir in the brown sugar, vanilla and salt and mix well.  Stir in the cooled butter.  Add the flour and stir until everything is just blended, then mix in the pecans.

Pour the batter into the prepared baking pan and bake for 25-30 minutes.  Cut into squares while still warm.

Recipe brought to you by BigLittleMeals.com and Andy and Ann.
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Butterscotch Blondies

Butterscotch Blondies

This recipe was adapted from the American classic, The Joy of Cooking (the 1975 edition).

  • 1/4 c butter
  • 1 c brown sugar (I use dark brown)
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 c flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp Diamond kosher salt
  • 1/2 c sliced almonds (or walnuts or pecans) or 3/4 c grated coconut

Lavishly grease a 9″x 9″ baking pan.

Melt butter in a small saucepan and then add the brown sugar, stirring until the brown sugar is dissolved (it will be thick).  When the mixture has slightly cooled, beat in the egg and vanilla.

Mix the flour and baking powder and salt together, using a fork.  Stir flour mixture into butter mixture. Fold in chopped nuts (or coconut).  Spread the batter into prepared pan. The mixture will just cover the bottom of the 9″ pan.

Bake blondies on upper middle rack at 350 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes. Cool on a wire rack, cut, and serve. Makes 1 dozen bars.

Recipe brought to you by BigLittleMeals.com and Andy and Ann.

 

The Birds and the Bees – Part 2

Actually, this blog is just about bees.  Forget the birds.  Or go back and read the first Birds and the Bees, or easier yet, read today’s revelatory Andy’s Corner!

My father did not let me take high school biology.  And I never figured out why (and I never asked him; maybe I feared it would be an awkward conversation).

So I don’t know much about biology.  Not only did I not learn about “THE” birds and the bees in biology class, I didn’t even learn about pollination.  But you can teach an old dog and an old woman new tricks (mind you, “old” is not a word I really associate with myself – but it works in this context).  Physalis ixocarpa has helped me – about 60 years late – learn a little bit about plants and pollinating.  Google helped too.

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This summer – for the first time – I decided to plant tomatillos. We almost always have a few tomatillos in the fridge, sometimes kept too long and rotting, but I find them intriguing.  And they’re essential in some of my favorite Mexican recipes.

Since we don’t have a huge garden area, I put one tomatillo in a big clay pot (thanks, Swede’s Feeds, for having a great selection this spring – and for being a soothing spot to shop during the pandemic).  That tomatillo plant – with its teeny yellow blossoms – was so pretty, that about a month later I bought two more – a different variety – from Swede’s Feeds and planted them in another big clay pot.  The second plants are now gorgeous – filled with huge, billowing husks, baby tomatillos beginning to develop inside the husks, and visited regularly by the busiest of bees.  The first plant is withering.  Well, it’s got blossoms but no husks or baby tomatillos.

How was I supposed to know that I needed two plants, so that pollination could occur – unless, of course, I wanted to hand-pollinate them.   Right.  (If you think hand-pollinating is an easy option – check out this video.)

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The blossom of Physalis ixocarpa – better known as Tomatillo – and a nectar-loving bee

Just in case you’re scratching your head, not sure what a tomatillo looks or tastes like, here’s some help:

  • Like a tomato, a tomatillo is a member of the nightshade family.  But the similarity ends there.
  • Not only are tomatillos not self-pollinating (yes, tomatoes do self-pollinate), but they’re surrounded by a husk and are both tart and firm (think sour apple) when eaten raw.  And they’re usually – but not always – enjoyed more when they’re cooked.
  • The plants, native to what’s now Mexico,  were cultivated by the Mayans and Aztecs.
  • If you want green supermarket-style tomatillos, be sure to plant one of the larger hybrids, such as Super Verde.  Many tomatillo varieties are tiny – and a variety of colors.
  • Don’t be surprised if you have “volunteer” little upstarts the next growing season.
  • The genus name ‘physalis’ is from Ancient Greek – meaning “to blow up.”  Cute, huh?
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The billowing, blown-up husks of our tomatillo plants

Today we’ve got two new tomatillo recipes that are multi-purpose:  serve them as a salsa with tacos or burritos –  or serve them as a dip with chips and veggies.

And here are three of our favorite – and super-delicious – already-posted tomatillo recipes.

Chicken Pozole Verde

Chile Verde

Watermelon and Tomatillo Salad

 

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Ripe tomatillos – ready to be peeled and used

Continue reading

On Porches and Stoops: We’re Together

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A modern urban townhouse design.   No stoops.

Travis, our son who lives in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, bicycled over to Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, the other day to deliver some of his home-made sour dough bread to friends.  Without his even knowing that I had planned a blog on stoops and porches, Travis described the amazing scene to me – people of all ethnicities and ages sitting outside on that warm summer day, chatting up a storm, while easily maintaining social distance – on their Brooklyn stoops.

If you’ve re-watched Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing recently, as we did (it’s sadly relevant to 2020), you’re familiar with Brooklyn’s stoops. (note: it must have been a cold, wintry day when the photo below was taken.  That has to explain why the stoops are bare! 🙂

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Bed-Stuy Brooklyn Stoops – in bad weather 🙂

Not all Brooklyn has stoops.  A great, brief watch is the recent documentary which focuses on the “5 PM Porch Concerts” which happened daily in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn, during the first 82 days of the coronavirus outbreak.

Even if you don’t live in an urban environment like Brooklyn, maybe your neighborhood has porches.  And maybe you’ve found they promote a sense of community.  In an old All Things Considered series on porches, Michele Norris, the host, remarks “Porches, debate and democracy go together.”

Though today there’s a slight uptick in U.S. homes being built with porches, stoop and porch-sitting suffered a serious setback with the introduction of A/C and televisions.  No need to be outside to cool off; entertainment is inside…AND, if you’re in the ‘burbs, there’s a backyard – with PRIVACY!

Mending Wall,” Robert Frost’s poem about privacy and neighborliness, made Andy think about fences – in today’s Andy’s Corner.

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Welcoming flowers on the front porch of our family’s Shields Street home in Fort Collins, Colorado – and Marcus, our first Aussie; probably around 1970.

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More welcoming flowers – and another favorite porch of ours in “Old Town West,” Fort Collins, Colorado.  Go CSU Rams!

Margaret Rozga, the current Poet Laureate of Wisconsin, wrote a lovely poem about porches and stoops. Our friend, Terry, a native of the Badger state, has attended talks by Rozga and years ago marched in protests with Rozga’s husband, James Groppi, demanding Fair Housing in Milwaukee.  Terry reports that, sadly, Milwaukee still has quite a ways to go in that regard…which probably sets the background for Rozga’s poem:

Cake and Lemonade for Neighbors by Margaret Rozga

Where I want to live
neighbors gather
on front porches, watch
their children play
across multiple front yards, laugh
in Spanish, Arabic, Burmese, English, talk
about back-in-the-day, share
sweet and savory snacks, lend
each other a cup of sugar or flour, borrow
hedge trimmers, a shovel, or rake, help
with chores when need be, apologize
when need be, offer
a word of advice (not more), drum,
strum guitars, and pluck banjos, make
a little noise sometimes, sometimes bring
out a kitchen chair so everyone finds
a comfortable place to sit
on the unscreened
wide or narrow porch
or on the stoop. Some-
times just enjoy all
black brown white
golden quiet together

In the spirit of “Cake and Lemonade for Neighbors,” here’s our version of cake and lemonade – a Persian Love Cake and a Mexican recipe for both Limonada and Naranjada.

Here’s to togetherness…and sitting out front again.

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Naranjada con Soda

Limonada and Naranjada con Soda

If you want to kick these up a notch, add 1-2 oz vodka. Adapted from MexicoInMyKitchen.com

Syrup (refrigerate the extra for another day)

  • 1 c sugar
  • 1 c water

Lime or Lemon Flavor

  • 1/2 c ice cubes
  • 2 T syrup
  • 2 T lime juice (or lemon juice)
  • 1/2 c sparkling mineral water or club soda
  • 1/2 of a thin slice of lemon or lime to top it off (optional)

Orange Flavor

  • 1/2 c ice cubes
  • 2 T syrup
  • 1/4 c freshly-squeezed orange juice
  • 1/2 c of sparkling mineral water or club soda
  • mint leaf or two (optional)
First, to make the syrup, place the sugar and water in a small saucepan. Place over medium-high heat and stir until it dissolves. Once it comes to a boil, reduce the heat to simmer for 5 minutes to form a very uniform syrup. Remove from heat and let it cool.
Once the syrup has cooled, place the ice in the glasses, pour the juice (either lime/lemon or orange), then add 2 tablespoons of syrup.  Stir.
Pour the mineral water into it, stir again, add the mint leaf or citrus slice on top, and serve.

Recipe brought to you by BigLittleMeals.com and Andy and Ann.
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Persian Love Cake

Persian Love Cake

Adapted from BakedAmbrosia.com
  • 4 c almond flour
  • 1 c sugar
  • 1 c light brown sugar
  • 13 T butter, room temperature (yes, you read it right.  13 Tablespoons)
  • 1 1/2 tsp Diamond kosher salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/4 c full-fat plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 tsp ground cardamon (or substitute 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 c shelled raw pistachios, chopped
  • dried rose petals (no spray), for decorating (optional)
  • extra Greek yogurt and pistachios for serving (or substitute whipping cream)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a 9-inch springform pan.

Combine the almond flour, granulated sugar, brown sugar, butter, and salt. Using an electric mixer, beat on low speed until crumbly. Press about half of the mixture onto the bottom of the prepared pan.

Add the eggs, Greek yogurt, cardamon, and vanilla extract, to the remaining mixture. Beat on medium high speed until all of the ingredients are fully incorporated and the mixture is slightly fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Pour the mixture over the bottom “crust” and sprinkle pistachios around the edges.

Bake the cake in the preheated oven for 35-45 minutes, or until golden brown. Let the cake cool completely in the pan on a wire rack.

Once the cake has cooled, carefully remove it from the pan.

Before serving, top the cake with dried rose petals and serve with extra Greek yogurt and pistachios.

Recipe brought to you by BigLittleMeals.com and Andy and Ann.

The Birds and the Bees

First, a disclaimer: I don’t want you to be disappointed.  This blog has nothing to do with (wink wink) “THE birds and the bees” but it has lots to do with birds and bees.

We collect bird art – and we didn’t even know that we collected bird art until spending the last 3 months isolating in-house because of the coronavirus.  A quick survey indicates that about half of our art work focuses on a bird of some kind or another.  Mind you, we’re not collectors of fine pieces by well-known artists, but we do love the funky/fun pieces of art we pick up here and there.  We have some abstract pieces, a few landscapes, numerous depictions of couples…and birds.

We’ve been thinking about birds because one bird in the hood is about to drive us both bat-shit crazy – or crazier than we already are after months of singular togetherness.  Andy reveals all in today’s Andy’s Corner.

Even if we’re not enamored with every bird “song,” there’s something very soothing about having the time to just sit and appreciate birds – especially as they enjoy a bird bath. Jennifer Ackerman, author of The Bird Way: A New Look at How Birds Talk, Work, Play, Parent, and Think wrote a nice piece for the NY Times about bird-watching during COVID-19.

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Am I a bad person for having a favorite bird? 🙂  Acorn Woodpeckers at our birdbath.

While bumble bees and honey bees may not be quite as vocal or colorful or as amusing as birds, it’s fun to spot them in our flower gardens, knowing how badly we need to be encouraging and helping them.  While native bloomers are better than hybridized plants for attracting bees (here’s a great article with more suggestions), we’ve had an amazing number of bees AND hummingbirds on this ‘Kudo’s Gold’ agastache.   Note – you shouldn’t just plant one or two bloomers and be done with it; you need a lot, blooming at various times, to do your best for these little pollinators.

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A bee on our agastache ‘Kudos Gold’

There are about 4000 bee species just in North America, but only a few species make honey.  And don’t we love them for it?  To honor those bees, we’ve got three sweet little recipes to share: a Bee’s Knees Honey Cocktail, Honey Challah, and Honey Brownies.  Then continue your love affair with honey by trying our previously-posted 20 Minute Honey Garlic Shrimp, Deb’s Granola, and Pork and Brussels Sprouts with Chile Lime Sauce.

While you cook up a honey-heavy storm, I recommend listening to Judy Collins’ 1973 “Cook with Honey.” And enjoy the amazing Sweet Honey in the Rock.  I’ve loved that group ever since 1988 when I got their album Breaths.  A song from that album, “Ella’s Song” could have been written about today’s world.   This isn’t the original rendition, but it’s lovely.  Be sure to read the all-too-relevant lyrics, too. Continue reading

Don’t Chicken Out

Seems lots of us have been in “fowl” moods off and on lately, so I’d like to return to my pet rooster, Pecker, for the final time.  You’ve heard about him before (here – and here).  Sorry for the blurry photo of me and him and our turkeys, but it was taken about 55 years before iPhones and their amazing cameras were invented.

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I must have been about 8 when we had him as “our” pet.  My brother – to this day – claims that Pecker belonged to him.  Right.

I have no idea how long Pecker was a part of our family, but I do remember the tears – and more tears – I shed when my dad solemnly announced to me one morning that Pecker had died that night – defending his flock.

The website “ScoopfromtheCoop.com (“insights for a happy, healthy flock”) indicates “Most chicken losses occur at night when raccoons, skunks, opossums, owls, mink, and weasels are most likely to prowl.”  I remember my dad thinking it was a raccoon.

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Lovely rooster we photographed who was meandering – a bit-  around Sayulita, Mexico.  Hope there aren’t raccoons there (or skunks, possums, owls, mink, or weasels).  Note the two wandering cuties behind him.

Why didn’t Pecker’s flock defend themselves – or at least help him out?  My respect for hens has been diminished.  They “chickened out” at the worst possible time.

Being annoyed with hens led me to googling species which have females in control.  It turns out there aren’t many…African Lions, Killer Whales, Spotted Hyenas, African Elephants, Orcas, Lemurs, and – Bonobos, according to New Scientist.   I’d explain why I have a new appreciation for Bonobos – which are considered one of human’s closest relatives – but we consider this a family-rated blog 🙂  Suffice it to say that “She had him by the balls” is literal as well as figurative for Bonobos.  If you want to explore this further, here’s a great article from Scientific American.

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One of our closest relatives – the Bonobo; I feel like this is the look I give Andy sometimes 🙂

Even if dogs are not included in that list, I came across this analysis of canine females and males from the “Honey Hill Aussies” website (yes, I’m still in search of a puppy).  It may be surprising to know that “bitches” usually rule the roost –  but read it,  inserting “human” instead of dog – and I bet you’ll find it as unintentionally and hysterically funny as I do!

In the dog pack makeup, females usually rule the roost, determine pecking order and compete to maintain and/or alter that order.  The females are, as a result, more independent, stubborn and territorial than their male counterparts. Most fights will usually break out between two females.

Males on the other hand are usually more affectionate, exuberant, attentive and more desiring of attention.  They are very attached to their people. They also tend to be more steadfast, reliable and less moody. They are more outgoing, more accepting of other pets, playful for more years and take quicker to children. 

Most boys are easily motivated by food and praise and are so eager to please that training is easy. However, males can be more easily distracted during training because of their playful nature. No matter what age, he is more likely to act silly and more puppy-like, always wanting to play games.

Boys are fun loving until the day they die.

Females tend to be more reserved or dignified as they age.   

Doesn’t that say it all? 🙂

Speaking of Aussies and females dogs and bravery, Andy has an even deeper look into that in today’s Andy’s Corner.

To conclude:  Hens may be wimps – and they clearly don’t “rule the roost” – and aren’t as aggressive as female dogs or as in control as female Bonobos – but everything and everyone deserves SOME credit.   And hens deliver one of our favs…eggs.

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Our eggs from neighbors Sandy and Stacey

Those adventurous chickens we saw in Sayulita, Mexico, make me think of our new “breakfast especial.”  Try it – as well as some of our other egg-enhanced recipes:

Zucchini and Mint Frittata
Tuna Nicoise Salad Bowl
Breakfast Lunch and Dinner Fried Rice
Scrambled Egg Muffin Sandwich (we’ve actually got 3 simple egg recipes there)
Japanese Cheesecake
Moonshine Cake

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Tostadas de Frijoles con Huevos

Tostadas de Frijoles con Huevos (tostadas with beans and eggs)

We really like homemade tostada shells, and baking them is so much easier than frying them…and almost as satisfactory. As for refried beans, we recommend Goya Traditional Refried Pinto Beans – either vegan or not – or Bush’s Best Cocina Latina refried black beans.

2 corn tortillas – about 6″ in diameter (or 2 packaged tostada shells – we like the Guerrero brand)
olive oil or vegetable oil
Diamond kosher salt
2 eggs
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 c refried beans (figure about 2 T of beans per tostada)
salsa of your choice
1/4 c crumbled cotija cheese or feta cheese
cilantro, for garnish (optional)

Preheat oven to 425˚F.

If you are making your own tostada shells, brush or spray each side of the tortillas with olive oil and season with a bit of salt. Bake for about 10 minutes, turning the tortillas over after 5 minutes.  They should be golden brown and crispy when you take them out of the oven.  If not, leave them in the oven a few minutes longer.  Watch them closely; they will easily get too brown!  And note: tortillas vary in thickness and width, so you have to adjust the baking time accordingly.

Meanwhile, heat a small skillet over medium heat and add about 1 T olive oil. Add beans and heat until warm (or stick the beans in the microwave for about 1 minute).

Heat another small skillet (8″ works) – which has a lid – over medium high heat.  Add 1 T oil and when the oil is hot, crack each egg (carefully) into the pan.  Salt and pepper to taste.  When the whites have begun to crisp up on the very edges – about 30 seconds, add about 1 T water to the pan, cover, turn the heat down to low, and cook until the layer of white over the yolks is barely opaque.  We estimate about 1 1/2 minutes – and more if you like the yolk to set up.  When checking the eggs for doneness, lift the lid just a crack to prevent loss of steam should they need further cooking.

To assemble, spread the tostada shell with a thin layer of beans; add salsa to taste, a fried egg, a sprinkle of cotija cheese, if you’re using it, and cilantro.

Serve with a fork – but you’ll find it easier to eat if you just use your hands.  Have a napkin nearby.

Recipe brought to you by BigLittleMeals.com and Andy and Ann.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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