Things to say + Elizabeth Bishop's Brownies

My birthday was on Wednesday, and as these things tend to go, I spent the day flexing my sentimental muscles a bit. You see, this is one of those milestone birthdays where you leave one decade behind and enter another, so the time is even riper for reflection. And there are things to say. And there are brownies from one of my favorite poets.

In the past 10 years, I finished college, graduate school, and waded into the world of professional work. I stood under an oak tree and married my best friend. I traveled to London, Ireland, Italy, Greece, Nepal, Romania and Hawaii, among other places. I joined wine clubs. I left a city I loved for a city I didn't know I could love. I hauled a queen-size mattress across the street from one apartment to the next for the promise of more bedrooms, a dishwasher, and a laundry room. I drank a Singapore Sling in Singapore. I held a 2 week old French Bulldog in my hands and knew she was mine. I drove up and down the California coast. I sat in a hospital waiting room while my dad had surgery for prostate cancer.

I had to work harder at friendships, because we have scattered. I learned how to cook. I learned that my grandmother wrote a monthly recipe column for a 1960s magazine encouraging mothers to make healthy meals for their families. I learned the deeper reasons why I love food. I learned how to use the Adobe Suite. I realized how young I actually was when I met my future husband (18), and how we've spent our entire adulthood together. I became friends with my parents. I stopped reading poetry, but then it found me again. I stopped worrying about what I should do, and focused more on what I needed to do.

So my little bit of wisdom is this: Your twenties are about keeping your head above water. Not as if you were drowning, quite the opposite in fact, but you'll spend a lot of time floating around in the salt water. It's a time to figure out who you are, what you care about most, and what you're unwilling to compromise on. These are important lessons that can only be learned by moving and changing jobs, making friends, losing friends, taking risks, and keeping yourself afloat. And the best part is it's only going to get better (or so I've been told).


For a more detailed look at the original recipe from her archives at Vassar, visit Paper and Plate

I don't want to be misleading, because while these are very much brownies inspired by and adapted from Elizabeth Bishop's recipe, I did change some of the original measurements, mostly because 2 1/2 cups of sugar and 2 cups of walnuts seemed a bit excessive. I should also say a word about baking times. It will likely vary depending on the reliability of your oven. I baked mine at approximately 350 degrees for 35 minutes, resulting in slightly dry edges with a fudge-like interior.

6 ounces bittersweet chocolate
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup sugar, divided
4 eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup flour
1 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Melt the chocolate, butter and 1/2 cup sugar in a glass bowl over a double boiler with a couple of tablespoons of water added. When everything is just about melted, bring bowl off the heat and add the remaining sugar. Whisk until mostly dissolved, then add eggs, slowly and one at a time, and whisk vigorously until well incorporated. Whisk in vanilla. Sift flour over the bowl and stir with a wooden spoon until very well combined. At the last moment, stir in the walnuts.

Pour batter into a parchment-lined 8x8 baking dish and spread evenly. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until slightly puffed and a toothpick comes out clean. To be safe, I'd check them at 25 minutes and then in increments of 5 minutes after that.

Resist the urge to dig into the pan with a fork and let them cool a bit before cutting.