I am in the midst of an 80’s flashback and I’m trying my best to get back to 2010. It all started when I saw a documentary at The New Directors New Films festival about Bill Cunningham, an eccentric photographer who has chronicled the fashionable and the social at the New York Times for over 30 years. The film is surprisingly moving and in revealing bits of a specific, rather unconventional life it also captures the spirit of New York over decades. For me, I was sent back to the fall of 1980. Before or after a Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur service I was with my brother, sister and mother outside of Temple Emanu-el. We were coming or going when a strange little man came up to us waving frantically. Being 15 years old (an age few people look good in) I was mortified and tried to warn my mother of an impending creepy person attack when, rather than shielding her children, she returned his greeting with, “Hello Bill!” and the smiling, skinny man began snapping pictures of us. I wanted to die (see ‘an age few people look good in’ above) and to this day I thank the good Lord (maybe he listened to me on that High Holy day?) for the fact that the shots did not pass muster at the Times and never appeared anywhere but in a photo album secured in an undisclosed location.
After taking several days to regain my composure I was struck by another attack of the 80’s: the death of John Forsythe. I can’t begin to explain my complete devotion to “Dynasty,” that perfect video chronicle of the era of greed. I’m also not too proud to admit that I actually wanted my hair to look like Linda Evans’ winged banged do. Unfortunately, with dark, curly brown locks and blow-drying skills yet to be perfected, I did not achieve my goal until recently—25 years too late in so many ways.
Then, with only a mere 24 hours to grieve for “Blake Carrington,” I was confronted by another bit of iconic 80’s pop-culture, the news that the sequel to The Official Preppy Handbook is due out in September. You must be kidding. Do preppy people still exist? Where are they? I haven’t seen them in at least two decades. Maybe that’s because I live on New York’s West Side and no longer attend an all-girls private school. And now I’m reflecting upon my very fetching high school look—LL Bean meets a pitiful attempt at “Crystal Carrington.”
My time travel would not be complete without reminiscing over the era’s most emblematic sweets. What a treat it was when someone would bestow a David’s cookie upon me. The way the cookie bent under the weight of those Lindt chocolate slabs, so warm and melty. No wonder Chef David weighed 300 pounds! Oh, and Dove ice cream bars! The hotdog vendors fought to keep their corners while premium ice cream men tried to elbow them off their turf. There were way too many summer job lunch hours when a coffee or vanilla bar replaced my 'regular' of a Coke and a slice. But it was Mrs. Fields to whom I turned when I was feeling like I had some spare change burning a hole in the pocket of my zippered ankle Guess jeans. The chocolate chip were de-lish but the more exotic white chocolate macadamia nut usually claimed my dough (sorry, I couldn’t resist). Doesn’t the whole idea of white chocolate seem so 80’s? It’s so tacky in its over the top too-too sweetness.
With white chocolate on my brain I did something I am totally ashamed of…I bought a pre-packaged, single wrapped Mrs. Fields White Chocolate Chunk Macadamia Nut cookie at the deli on my corner. I know. I was pathetic and weak. Debbi Fields sold her company years ago and quality control, or taste, does not seem to be in the corporate interest. It was truly foul: rancid nuts, greasy chunks of what seemed to be white wax, and a fake vanilla taste that took two glasses of water to leave my palate. I took one bite, spit it into the trash and hurled the rest of the cookie and my stupidity in after it.
You’d think the experience would turn me off of the idea forever, but rather, white chocolate lingered on my brain. I knew there was a way I could erase this bad food memory so I dove into my files until I found this recipe for blondies I’d clipped from the Times magazine a year and a half ago. I am so glad I did... they're chewy, a bit crunchy from the cashews, a little salty from the Skor, with a deeper flavor that happily surprised me.
A few notes: As insurance against the above mentioned white wax threat I thought I'd use a chopped premium white chocolate bar. Who knew they all included 'artificial flavor'? Ghiradelli chips are all natural (they should be paying me something with all the props I give them, hmmn) and easier to deal with anyway. I also broke my no-nuts-in-cookies-or-brownies rule—I figured a little distraction from the super sweet combo of the “chocolate” and the Heath/Skor bar merited a loosening of my policy. The recipe called for pecans but I went with cashews since they are a dreamy combo with white chocolate. Also, you can indeed taste a hint of molasses. If that is not appealing to you just leave it out. And cross your fingers. No, I'm kidding, I'm sure they'll be fine.
These bars are just enough of an homage to the decade of excess without losing themselves completely. I’m trying to do the same but first I need to see “Hot Tub Time Machine.” Anyone want to join me? I promise to leave my shoulder pads at home.
Get Me Out of the 80's Blondies
Adapted from the New York Times, November 2, 2008
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1 stick unsalted butter, plus more for greasing pan
1 1/3 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch of salt
3/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons sugar
1 Tablespoon molasses
1 egg, lightly beaten
2/3 cup Ghiradelli White Chocolate Chips
1 Heath or Skor bar (the regular size 1.4 ounce bar), coarsely chopped (1/4 cup)
1/2 cup cashews or pecans or macadamia nuts, coarsely chopped.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter an 8-inch square pan and set aside.
In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
In a medium saucepan, melt the butter. Stir in sugar and molasses and transfer to a large bowl to cool.
When cool, whisk in the egg until slightly fluffy.
Mix in the flour mixture until just combined.
Fold in the white chocolate chunks, Heath/Skor Bar and nuts.
Scrape into pan.
Bake until golden, about 30-35 minutes and a few crumbs stick to toothpick or tester inserted into the middle.
Cool pan completely on rack before cutting into squares.
Yield: 16 blondies. Adapted from “Cynthia Barcomi’s Backbuch.”