I've written about food as love before. It's not a novel idea. But every once in a while I'm reminded of it so strongly.
I've got a friend who is in a very bad place. He's facing the death of a close family friend. And he's really sad.
There isn't anything I can do but lend an ear and empathize. And bake him some brownies.
I don't cook but I am a really good baker. My mom is a fantastic baker, and so was my gramma Lillian.
Betty makes these North Dakota sticky buns that are like a little piece of sin and heaven all rolled up together. Seriously. They're very labor intensive, and she doesn't make them that often. I've never made them because making dough that has to rise is really daunting for me.
We always have them Christmas morning. It's the best first thing in the morning smell - think of the smell of freshly baked bread. And then add the smell of tons of butter and brown sugar for the caramel sauce that they bake in. And the cinnamon that they're rolled up in. It smells like magic.
You take the pan out of the oven and flip it over on a cookie sheet and any caramel that hasn't baked into the buns runs down the sides and pools around them in a buttery swirly mass of temptation. It's impossible not to stick your finger through it. When you cut off your sticky bun, you slide the knife across the sheet to scrape up as much caramel as you can get.
Me, when I bake, I tend to stick to cakes and sweet breads that you don't have to punch down, that don't have the precariousness of being left to rise. Brownies are one of my favorite things.
Amazing brownies, I think, are a little piece of magic themselves. Brownies make people happy. They just do.
Sometimes when Maude was down, she'd ask me to make brownies. Or popcorn. Or both. And it always made me feel good, you know? Because when someone is sad and you can't do anything to make it better, you feel powerless. But being asked for something, something you can actually do, it feels good. I sometimes wondered if that was why she asked.
Brownies aren't hard, and I suppose in the scheme of things they're not much to offer.
But when someone you care about is sad and you can't fix it, sometimes the best you can offer is words and hugs and a pan of warm chocolatey sugary love. I care about you. I want to make things better for you. Here's a little tiny bit of proof.
When I was in grad school I had a housemate from New Zealand. I adored her. We all did. She'd never had brownies before, and she was crazy about them. They were one of her favorite things about America, in fact.
Whenever I made them she'd cut the chocolatiest, softest, middle piece right out, while they were still warm. It was like a test of love, now that I think back on it. Taking the middle before they're cool and knowing that you can - that's proof that you can have whatever piece you want.
Thinking back, she used to make the best poached eggs. I love poached eggs, and I've never been any good at them. And so when I wanted a comfort food dinner, she'd poach eggs for me.
And so I've pulled out the butter and the sugar and the baking chocolate, which has my favorite brownie recipe right on the box. They turn out heavy and moist and dense, but not gooey and not cake-y, which is something I dislike in a brownie.
I'm going to bake them right before he comes over, so my entire place smells like baking chocolate, which hopefully will feel like a warm blanket.