Summer journeys to Niag'ra
and to other places aggra-
vate all our cares.
We'll save our fares!
what is known as old Manhattan
we'll settle down
right here in town!
And tell me what street
compares with Mott Street
Sweet pushcarts gently gli-ding by.
The great big city's a wonderous toy
just made for a girl and boy.
We'll turn Manhattan
into an isle of joy!
- Lorenz Hart & Richard Rodgers
I am packing for a trip to New York City. How exciting and special is this trip – the International Association of Culinary Professionals annual conference and I am attending! I’ll be hugging friends once again that I have had the great luck to have already met, meeting and spending time with others. This is a learning and working trip: meetings, appointments, introductions, and sessions. I feel like I’ve finally grown up and can join the real professionals, and that is extremely gratifying, thrilling and motivating. Yet, this will be my first trip back to New York since that visit with my brother Michael during his illness, since his death. My first time not staying with him. Daunting, to say the least. And truly bittersweet, like a thick, bitter-tinged salted butter caramel wrapped around the big juicy sweet apple.
I rush around the apartment, doing laundry, catching up on long-neglected e-mails, finishing articles and cleaning the kitchen. My suitcase lies empty and gaping, nagging me to pay it some heed. I normally begin packing several weeks before a trip, yet I can’t seem to concentrate on the task at hand. Too excited? Distracted? Feeling unorganized and unprepared? Maybe. Likely. So I do more laundry, type more e-mails, change the sheets on our bed once again and bake.
My family has not quite gotten used to my leaving for chunks of time, even as I leave more often. They get along just fine without me – shopping, marketing, cooking, laundry – everything runs smoothly with only men in the house! Yet they are sad when I leave them; my company is always in demand, whether it be for a stroll around town just to get a bit of fresh air or when errands are needed to be run. And now that we are house hunting and decisions need to be made on the spot, I leave a wide gap in that need and decisions risk being made without me. But I am more than happy to leave the three of them on their own for a week here and there, no matter how much I miss them. They do that man thing and bond – they go out for pizza, watch action films (think giant fire balls, gladiators or something military), take Marty outside of the city for a run in the great outdoors. Much time will be spent in the garage readjusting the Lambretta and taking it for a spin around the block, putting together Simon’s portfolio and sometimes I suspect that things may just run a bit more smoothly and comfortably without my female presence and point of view. And big mouth.
I'm leaving today.
I want to be a part of it -
New York, New York.
These vagabond shoes
Are longing to stray
And step around the heart of it
New York, New York.
I want to wake up in a city,
That doesn't sleep,
To find I'm king of the hill,
Head of the list,
Cream of the crop
At top of the heap.
- John Kander, Fred Ebb
What will New York hold for me? Many have such high hopes for me, yet I go with rather a large blank running through my head, quite possibly the reason I find it hard to get overly excited about something so formidable and utterly exciting before I actually step into the crowded hotel lobby. Finding myself surrounded by hundreds of food writers, photographers, editors, cookbook authors and chefs is indeed daunting, yet thrilling and inspiring. As shy and uncomfortable as I am around people that I do not know – and who somehow all seem to already know each other – I rarely have problems introducing myself. I have been promised that attendees of this conference are wildly friendly and open to random self-introductions, happy to take one by the hand and show one the way. I have a list of far-away friends to meet, a schedule written down in black on white of breakfasts, lunches and dinners organized. This will be the time to share ideas, listen and discuss while being back in one of the world’s most exciting cities. Oh yeah. And as my friend Ken says, we’ll be eating our way across Manhattan!
And so I fly away across the ocean, leaving my men one more time. They’ll be perfectly fine with my short absence, yet I do not like to leave them empty handed. And so I bake. I love to leave them a sweet treat or two to see them through my time away; a coffee cake, a tin of cookies and a pan of brownies always soothes their moments empty of me! I threw together one of our favourite snacks, a pan of Classic Blondies chock full of mini chocolate chips and crunchy pecans, flavored with a hint of cinnamon and grated orange zest. Easy to make and oh so easy going down. My men are crazy about chocolate chip cookies and this is as good as if not better.
CLASSIC CHOCOLATE CHIP PECAN BLONDIES
With a kiss of cinnamon and orange – adapted from Linda Burum’s Brownies
A long-time family favourite.
1 ¼ cups (175 g) flour, lightly spooned into the measuring cup and levelled
1 ¼ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
½ - 1 tsp ground cinnamon, depending on taste
Finely grated zest of one orange, preferably untreated, optional
2/3 cup (about 11 1/3 Tbs, 160 g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
½ cup (100 g) granulated white sugar
2/3 cup (140 g) packed light or golden brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 large eggs
2 tsps milk
½ - 1 cup coarsely chopped pecans or walnuts
½ - 1 cup mini chocolate chips
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C) and butter a 9 x 9-inch metal cake pan.
Stir or whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, ground cinnamon and finely grated zest in a small bowl.
In a large mixing bowl using an electric mixer, beat the softened butter with the granulated sugar until blended, smooth and fluffy. Beat in the brown sugar until blended, smooth and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, adding the vanilla with the second egg, just until blended. Beat in the milk.
Using a wooden spoon or a spatula, fold in the dry ingredients just until blended; fold in the chips and the nuts until evenly distributed.
Spread the batter evenly and smoothly in the prepared baking pan and bake for about 30 minutes until the center is just set; cover the pan loosely with a piece of aluminum foil for the last 5 minutes of baking if the Blondies are browning too quickly.
Remove the Blondies from the oven and allow to cool on a rack. Eat warm or at room temperature. And a spoonful of Salted Butter Caramel Sauce or two never hurt anyone. Mama says.
Take a bigger bite ...