Gift giving is an well-meaning, complicated, and rewarding obligation cultural practice here in Japan. But just sometimes, it can get you into a spot of trouble.
A month or two ago, I brought a pan-full of Ghiradelli Brownie Mix brownies to share with my Ikebana class one night, which anyone who has tasted a Ghiradelli brownie knows, was a huge success. It was/is particularly momentous for those individuals who are unaccustomed to the amazingness that is the quintessential American “brownie.” When told how delicious they were, however, I made the mistake of playing off how easy they were to make, which, obviously, 2 eggs and a 1/2 cup of vegetable oil later, they were. But, the more my ikebana ladies fawned, the more I knew I had dug myself into a deep hole. A hole filled with butter and sugar and cocoa powder. Weeks later, what had started as harmless requests for the recipe, soon turned into more forceful pleas for me to pick a date for them to come over to learn how to MAKE the brownies. And thus commenced The Month of Brownies.
Like many people I know, up until a month ago, I had never made a batch of brownies from scratch. I envisioned long recipes with fancy chocolate, thermometers, constant stirring and melting temperatures hovering just below burning. But, not to be uncovered in my lie, I made it my goal to find the perfect, most delicious, home-made brownie recipe ever made, using the easiest of tactics. (As a side note, I cook. I don’t bake. Baking generally requires a knowledge of math and ratios, which annoys me, and following recipes too exactly, which I shun on principle.) However, four recipes and six pans of brownies later, I discovered a brownie so perfect, so moist and chocolaty dense on the inside, so crackly and crisp on the crust, so balanced between the sweetness in the sugar and the slight bitter earthiness of the cocoa that all other brownies pale in comparison. I have found my signature brownie recipe. And damn, it’s delicious.
And so it came to pass that this Saturday was Judgement Day. My ikebana ladies arrived, or rather, descended upon me, hoisting far too much food (sweet, sticky rice with beans and chestnuts; hijiki seaweed salad; pork and sweet potato stew; whole marinated baby squid!) and proceeded to don their aprons and stand in my kitchen expectantly. They took careful notes as I explained measurements (which I had calculated into metric grams for them) and the order of mixing. They tasted and felt consistency and texture. They asked me what the recipe would be without chocolate. Well, it certainly wouldn’t be a Brownie, now, would it?
One of my goals for myself was to befriend the old(er) ladies in my town, and seeing them in my living room, I can say that I have been succesful in that endeavor.
In the end, I passed with flying colors, and am perhaps a better person knowing how to make Brownies from scratch. So, to add to my list of mix CDs, homemade chili and cornbread, and girls who exercise for health (more on that in another post), I’m doing my job of internationalizing rural Japan one sweet, chocolate-filled day at a time.
The magic's in the metal pan
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