Fair and softly goes far. Miguel De Cervantes
When I was a little girl there were Girl Scouts and Brownies (little versions of Girl Scouts). But there were also Campfire Girls and Bluebirds (little versions of Campfire Girls). I think maybe the reason I like the color blue so much is because, yes, you guessed it, I was a bluebird! It was awesome. I loved being in a club, and it was really exciting when the time came to move up and become an actual Campfire Girl – with the grown-up uniform (blue and red).
In Campfire Girls I learned to bake banana bread, make friends, sew, do crafty things, and do nice things for others. I also had my very first S’more – and in order to have that S’more I learned how to make a fire in a coffee can. We did this by tightly rolling up newspapers and coating them in melted parafin wax, and then packing them into an empty metal coffee can (do they even have metal coffee cans anymore?). It was so cool. You light the newspapers on fire and you have a fire in a can. When you’re 8 years old, that’s pretty impressive – heck, I still think it’s impressive!
Back in the 1970s the Campfire Girls morphed into the Campfire Boy and Girls. I’m not sure how I feel about that. I had so much fun learning and spending quality time with my fellow Bluebirds and Campfire Girls, and it just seems like making it co-ed took something away.
Here’s the Campfire Law:
- Worship God – Respect all people, places and things as gifts of love. Share friendship and warmth as gifts to be given to others.
- Seek Beauty – Look for the good in all people, places, things and nature.
- Give Service – Show you care. Be a helper at home, at school, in your neighborhood, in your community, for your world.
- Pursue Knowledge – Try new things. Experiment with a new skill. Learn more about something you already know.
- Be Trustworthy – Be honest, truthful and do the things you say you will do. Be worthy of responsibilities others give you.
- Hold Onto Health – Exercise, get lots of sleep, eat healthy foods, and keep your body neat and clean. A healthy person feels good and is happy.
- Glorify Work – Do the best you can with everything you do. Be proud of your work. Finish what you start.
- Be Happy – Enjoy life. Be cheerful even if things don’t always go your way. Be positive. Help others to be happy. Have fun.
Okay, I know, I’m a sap. A really sappy sap. I freely admit it. I cry when I hold newborn babies (and even sometimes older babies), I have to change the channel when the ASPCA commercials are on TV, and I’m often overwhelmed by the sheer beauty of the things around us. And don’t even get me started on puppies, it’s ridiculous. I’m a glass half full person and I believe in unfettered optimism.
Now this doesn’t mean I haven’t had losses in my life or that I haven’t suffered – because, really, who hasn’t? But what’s the point of focusing on the negative? In fact, sometimes I can’t believe the things that go through my head. And when I’m negative it almost always has bad repercussions. Case in point. One day I was at the post office and I was in a MAJOR hurry. I had my head down as I was digging through my purse looking for my wallet. The guy behind the counter was asking me questions: “How would you like this sent?” “Priority mail please”. “How would you like this sent?” “Priority mail please (said a bit impatiently). “Ma’am, how would you like this sent?” At which point I think VERY LOUDLY to myself, geez louise is this guy deaf or what? I then look up and notice a sign in front of him that says”I am deaf, please look at me when speaking”. Yup, that’s how I roll.
The Campfire Law just totally embodies what I think life should be. I know, I know, I’m a total pollyanna. I just can’t help it. But things like the Campfire Law brings back such great memories of simpler times, and I especially like the very last one – Be Happy. Makes me think of hearing the ice cream truck bell, playing hide and seek, being outside late and it’s still warm, going to bed in the summer when it was still light out (that one was my Mom’s idea), getting up early early in the morning and swinging on the swingset before anyone else got up…and not being mean to deaf people.
One thing that makes me particularly happy are brownies (not the little Girl Scouts but the cousins to cakes). And Ina Garten recipes make me really happy! Ina Garten, also known as the Barefoot Contessa, has so many recipes that are just fabulous. Most of them are surprisingly easy, and I haven’t tried one yet I haven’t loved. They’re also great jumping off points for creating your own new recipes. But her brownie recipe, called Outrageous Brownies, is truly outstanding. When I want to make someone a really special treat, particularly in the summer (for some reason), I make these brownies. Wonderful heavenly treats.
You’ll need these dry ingredients (and believe me, you’re going to use a boatload of baking powder). Anyone know the difference between baking powder and baking soda? And why they are not interchangeable? They’re both leavening agents. Baking soda is sodium bicarbonate. But baking powder is sodium bicarbonate and cream of tartar (another leavening agent). Both cause a reaction that will make the baked goods rise, but baking soda makes the goods a little airier. These brownies are very moist and we don’t want them to be cake like. So baking powder is a better choice here.
You’ll need all this stuff, too. Do you count 7 eggs? The recipe calls for 6 extra large eggs. I only had large. In most cases this isn’t an issue, but because there are so many eggs in this recipe, it was important to add an extra one to make up for the size difference. Turn the oven on to 350° and grease and 12 x 18 x 1″ jelly roll pan using baker’s grease (see the Baker’s Grease post for more info on this – http://www.chirplikeacricket.com/tips/bakers-grease/).
You need 6 ounces of good semi-sweet chocolate. This is my little Salter scale. You know I love kitchen gadgets, but they have to be gadgets that are truly useful. This is one such gadget. Lots of recipes (including this one) go by weight rather than measurements. For instance, this recipe also calls for 1 pound plus 12 ounces of chocolate chips. If you’re not sure how many cups that is, you can use the scale. You turn it on, place a bowl on it, and then zero it out. Then it will weigh only the ingredients and not the bowl (I know, I know, I shouldn’t be afraid of math, but why take a chance?).
Chop it up nice and fine. It works really well to shave slices off, they will then melt very quickly.
Another beloved kitchen tool. This is cool tool (yep, I’m a poet!). It’s a De Buyer (pronounced dee boy aye) double boiler. This is really ingenious. It’s double-walled stainless steel with a space between the walls that holds water. You don’t ever have to empty the water out – there’s a little gauge on the bottom to let you know when you need to add more. There’s a steam vent that prevents liquid from getting into the melted chocolate. Anyone know what happens when you get even one drop of water into melted chocolate? It turns into a big gritty nasty frozen mess. So you don’t want to be doin’ that. This pot holds a lot of stuff, too.
Put the chocolate chips, butter, and chopped semi-sweet chocolate in the double boiler. You can also make a double boiler by placing a metal bowl over a pot of simmering water. Turn the heat on low, and let everything melt.
I want to stick my face in here. I didn’t, though. When it’s done, take if off the heat and let it cool for about 15 minutes.
I know, the coffee makes it look a little scary, and I hate those white stringy things in eggs. Just try not to think about it.
Pour the chocolate mixture into the eggs and stir to combine. Let this sit until it comes to room temperature. Or, if you’re impatient like me, stick it in the fridge for about 10 minutes.
While the chocolate mixture is cooling, toast and chop some walnuts (the original recipe doesn’t specify toasting the walnuts, but I think lightly toasting them for 10 minutes at about 350° adds a lot of flavor – just my 2¢). Cool the walnuts down, and then mix them with 2 cups of chocolate chips and 1/4 cup flour. The flour helps keep the chips and nuts distributed evenly in the brownies instead of falling to the bottom of the pan.
Sift 1 cup of flour, the baking soda and the salt into a small bowl.
Okay, now add the flour mixture to the chocolate. Stir just until combined – don’t beat it.
Stir in the nuts and chocolate chips, and pour into your greased jelly roll pan. Bake at 350° for 15 minutes, then gently bang the pan on the oven rack to dispell any air. Bake for about 20 more minutes until a toothpick or straw comes out clean.
Here’s a trick I learned. Let them cool for 30 minutes or so, then pop them in the refrigerator (overnight works really well). They are very easy to cut when cold – they have a tendency to be more crumbly when room temperature.
And this is the loveliness that ensues. But we’re not finished yet. I learned something else from Ina, who is the queen of making food pretty and special.
Ina indicates the batch makes about 20 brownies. But those are huge brownies. I cut them into 36 nice size brownies. Place a brownie in the center of a piece of parchment paper (I used 12″ square pieces).
Fold the two sides together in the center over the brownie, and then fold them down flat.
Tuck the ends under.
Don’t you just love presents? People love this presentation. I think it makes a very special treat. What would be really fun would be to give them out with single serving cartons of milk with red and white paper straws.
Ina Garten’s Outrageous Brownies Recipe (very slightly modified):
1 pound unsalted butter
2-1/2 cups plus 2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
6 ounces of very good semi-sweet chocolate, finely chopped or shaved
6 extra large or 7 large eggs
3 tablespoons instant coffee granules
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
2-1/4 cups sugar
1 cup plus 1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder (yes, it says tablespoon)
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups lightly toasted chopped walnuts
Preheat oven to 350°. Grease a 12 x 18 x 1″ jelly roll pan with baker’s grease.
In a double boiler, melt the butter, 6 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate, and 2-1/2 cups of chocolate chips. When melted, stir thoroughly to combine and remove from heat. Let sit for 10 to 15 minutes to cool.
In a large bowl combine the eggs, sugar, vanilla and coffee – stirring to combine. Do not beat.
Add the chocolate mixture and and stir to combine. Cool to room temperature.
Sift 1 cup flour, baking soda and salt together and stir into the chocolate mixture – again, stir just to combine.
Mix the chopped walnuts with 2 cups chocolate chips and 1/4 flour. Stir into the chocolate mixture.
Pour into prepared pan and bake at 350° for 15 minutes. Gently bang the pan on the oven rack to remove some air. Bake for 20 more minutes or until a toothpick or straw comes out clean.
Cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes or so. Refrigerate overnight or for several hours before cutting. I find they are better when stored in the refrigerator, cover with plastic wrap to keep them from drying out after they have been cut.