So, I've been paying a lot of attention to what--and how--advertisers are trying to sell me. And things are not looking good. If I don't get a home security system, random people might break down my door. In the rain. If I don't take my calcium supplement, my ankle will break when I jump off a curb. Seriously--apparently those Sally Field commercials aren't scary enough, so now women "as young as their 30s" can fracture their ankle when they jump off a curb in red moderately-high heels. Also, if I don't take my aspirin, my heart will explode. My acid reflux disease can be managed by taking a magical pill, but it will give me constipation and gas. Frankly, I'd rather have acid reflux.
If I don't get the right insurance, either I'll be paying too much, or I won't have enough coverage, or I'll be in an accident. In the rain. My dry eyes are past the point of being managed with silly OTC drops. Noooo, I'm suffering from an Actual Condition. I need a prescription that will make me produce more tears. Of course, a stick in the eye will do that, too, but they can't charge me for a stick. Yet. If anyone in my entire family tree has ever had one of a Number of Specific Diseases, I absolutely need to find a lawyer, because I could be entitled to Compensation. I'm sorry that you had pink eye, great-great-great grandfather Eli, and someone is going to Pay.
They want me to buy lots of different medicines to make me feel better. I can take some for antsy legs, for being sad, for being fat, for having a headache, for not getting pregnant. For low cholesterol, for high cholesterol, for high blood pressure. And don't forget the ones that make me Stay Awake or Fall Asleep. No wait--here's one that's even better. It makes me fall asleep and Stay Asleep. Guess what else does that? A vase to the head. Some of those medicines will make me anxious, make me vomit, give me diarrhea or constipation. One might make me Drive In My Sleep. Most of these medicines May make me feel dizzy and groggy. You know what else does that? A vase to the head.
I need to buy poisons to kill weeds and other poisons to make my garden grow. I gotta poison all the bugs (sorry, bees. And I so used to enjoy honey)--gotta watch out for people sized termites. If regular old poisons won't work, I need to call folks who will come to my house with Tanks and Truckloads of poisons. Professional poison. Oh yeah--and I need to put poison on my vegetables to keep the bugs away so The Beloved and I can eat them. Yay for poison tomatoes.
I could go on and reach 500 words, but I'll cut it short at 468. I'll wait while you count. Anyway, all of this horror and woe doesn't even begin to touch what the news does to me. Not only has the bottom of the ocean, assisted by BP, sprung a leak, but the glaciers are melting, the oceans are rising, the deserts are growing and spring is coming earlier and earlier. And then, add in the people themselves: posturing and finger-pointing and pouting and stamping of feet and beating on chests. And a lot of cursing. And that's all on in the stands at the kids' hockey match. (Warning--woman shrieking profanities at the top of her lungs) Shudder.
All of this could make me Take To My Bed and retreat into the welcoming warmth of a vat of Homemade Pudding. But, there are still enough bright spots in the world to make me pick myself up and do something moderately useful. One of those bright spots is birthdays. I love them. Especially mine. The Beloved even got me presents for my half birthday, because I've whined about it for years and he just wants to Shut Me Up. Fine. I'll shut up. Smugly. With my presents.
Last week, my best friend, Julie, and her daughter came to visit. Shellie is Irish Dance Girl. 'Member her? Her birthday was Saturday, and she turned 16. She just got her driver's license about 2 hours ago. Yay, Shell! I first met Shellie at about 3 o'clock in the morning, just a few hours after she was born. I was with her when she went out to eat for the first time. At ten days old. At Backyard Burger. We had cobbler. Shellie slept. I watched her grow up--she's not quite done, yet--and now she's visiting colleges. It's never too early to start looking, so she's checking out her options before she starts her junior year. When I found out they were going to stay the night, and so close to her birthday, I gathered my strength and levered myself out of bed, put away the pudding and made a special dessert in honor of her 16th birthday. Shellie is a chocolate and berry person. Julie is a vanilla pudding person. Not wanting to please one at the expense of the other, I decided to go All In and make a Layered Extravaganza as individual servings.
Shellie's 16th Birthday Berry Brownie Splendor
I didn't really call it that, but I could have. I just said "Here!"
- The Best Brownies Ever--Swirled with Raspberry/Blackberry/Black Currant Jam
- Melted Jam
- Homemade Vanilla-Maple Pudding
- Lightly sweetened sour cream topping
For the brownies--based on a recipe from Cook's Illustrated
- 6 oz. unsweetened chocolate
- 6 oz. butter (12 Tablespoons)
- 3/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
- 16 oz sugar
- 5 oz cake flour
- 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 tablespoon extract(s)/liqueur
- Swirl in(s)/mix in(s) of your choice
The original recipe calls for some nuts. Use some if you want. Toast them first.
Melt the chocolate and butter together over low heat--or use a double boiler or the microwave on medium power. Let it cool to warm--maybe 85 degrees or so.
Whisk in the salt, sugar and flavorings. I used vanilla and a bit of maple flavoring because I had some lying around. I knew I was swirling in some jam, and I thought that the maple would be lovely with it. It was. Very.
In a small bowl, whisk together the flour and baking powder. Fold into the chocolate mixture.
Line a 9" square pan with nonstick foil (very useful stuff, that). Pour in some of the batter and tilt to cover the bottom of the pan. Blob on some jam. Add some more batter. Blob on some more jam. Add the rest of the batter. Swirl a knife through the whole shebang. Bake at 325F until risen, firm around the sides and mostly firm in the middle--about 45 minutes. Let cool. Cut out circles of brownies to fit in the bottoms of whatever size glasses/dishes you're using. Shove them in there.
For the jam
Melt jam. Stir. Pour some on top of the brownie layer. Let cool in the fridge.
For the pudding
For each cup of whole milk, you need:
- 1 tablespoon corn starch
- salt, to taste
- sugar, until it's as sweet as you want it. Start with 2 tablespoons and go from there. Use brown sugar, if you want.
- 1-2 egg yolks (depending on how rich you want it)
- vanilla extract to taste (I used a touch of the maple, too, just for fun)
- a couple of tablespoons of butter
Put the butter and vanilla in a bowl that's big enough to hold your pudding. Put a fine mesh strainer in the bowl.
Heat the milk, corn starch, salt, sugar and yolks in a heavy-bottomed pan. Taste for salt/sugar, and adjust to your liking.
Whisk constantly over medium to medium-high heat until the mixture thickens and boils. You might need to reduce the heat a bit, but let it boil (still whisking) for about a minute to cook off the raw starch taste.
Pour through the strainer and into your waiting bowl. Press the custard through the strainer with a rubber spatula. Stir until the butter is melted and the flavorings are incorporated. Taste again. You can still adjust the sugar/salt at this point if you need to.
Carefully spoon in the pudding on top of the jam layer, leaving about 1/4" at the top. Refrigerate until set. If you have leftover pudding, good for you--it'll be ready the next time you have to take to your bed in despair.
For the sour cream topping
Use as much sour cream as you think you need to top each of your desserts by 1/4". Put that amount of sour cream in a bowl. Sweeten with some brown sugar--to taste. Add a wee pinch of salt and maybe a tiny splash of vanilla. Let sit for about 15 minutes, or until the sugar has dissolved completely. Stir again, and then top your desserts.
Just for fun
I took some of the jam, melted it again, and dripped three drops on top of each dessert. Then I ran a toothpick through the drops in a circle, making 1980s-style haute cuisine hearts. It was her Sweet Sixteenth, after all. To have made perfect hearts, I should have strained the jam. I didn't, so some of them were lumpy. You will, though, so your hearts will be perfect.
Refrigerate the whole deal until time to serve. Stick a candle in the center of the birthday one and sing. Shovel into your face. These things take about 14.7 seconds to eat, just so you can schedule your time appropriately.
I'm off to the beach on Thursday afternoon to stay with Julie, Shellie, the rest of her family and some of the other Irish Dancing friends. Should be a great time. I intend to post again before then, unless another commercial scares me back into bed. If that happens, enjoy your Fouth of July. Whether or not you celebrate it as Independence Day, I hope you have a wonderful 4th!