Most of us don’t have time for a lot of navel gazing. We’re busy living life: working, taking care of others, thinking about dinner, paying bills, remembering to pick up the dry cleaning and trying to get some exercise. The busy-ness of life is wonderfully protective when it comes to facing realities we might otherwise prefer not to face. But then we all have moments when our lives are disrupted by something that pricks our busy bubble, taking us off auto-pilot and forcing us to confront what we work hard to avoid. I’m not talking about tragedies or illnesses. Obviously they cause a major rearranging of priorities and thinking. I’m talking about seemingly small issues that make a large impact. Maybe you’re dating someone who is wonderful when you’re alone but then you’re invited to a dinner party and you’re reminded of your partner’s social anxiety. You find yourself doing all the heavy lifting while he or she recedes and your friends wonder why you are together. And so do you. Have you been in denial about your other half? The world will intrude eventually, unless you move together to Walden Pond which isn’t very realistic unless your partner knows how to build a winterized house.
My busy bubble was pierced last week by the most average of incidents. My coffee maker died. Truthfully it wasn’t a complete death. More a degenerative illness that will ultimately result in a total shut-down; on the underside of the machine I discovered a rusty hole. (I’d been wondering where the puddle I found every morning was coming from!) I bought my 10- cup Braun with the non-functional “Pause and Serve” feature 15 years ago. I was having people for brunch (now you see how long ago this really was. First because I still ate brunch and second because my friends were still childless and able to enjoy three hours of uninterrupted frittata and the previously discussed Zabar’s babka) which was something I did often enough to warrant a normal sized coffee maker. I remember thinking it was so sleek and smart looking, all shiny and black. I felt like a grown up.
As we know all good things must come to an end and so I set off to Bed Bath and Beyond where my brother, who in another life must have been a barista for his way with the coffee bean, had recommended I replace Braun-y with a specific model of Cuisinart. Oh dear. It was enormous! When did coffee makers turn into bread machines? I searched the aisles but all I found were stainless and plastic behemoth monstrosities with built-in timers and/or grinders that would take up 1/3 of my minimal counter space. And then I realized something. I don’t need a 12-cup coffee maker. I don’t need even a 10-cup coffee maker. I haven’t had more than one other person for a meal in my apartment in years. And at the most I could accommodate only three quasi-comfortably.
But there it was, a four-cup baby version of the big Cuisinart mama. And I had to pause. Was this too depressing? Would buying the mini be a sign that I was giving up or would it show I was living in the moment and accepting my reality?
You know how people buy jeans a size too small to motivate weight loss? I don’t think purchases should be aspirational. First lose the weight then buy the jeans. You have to live the life you have today not the one you hope will come tomorrow. Right? I’ve been dealing with a similar sartorial dilemma. I can't stop thinking about a pair of 5-inch, platform wedge booties. I really want them. But who do I think I am? Rachel Zoe? Where am I going in my 5-inch, platform wedge booties and how do I think I am getting there? I don’t have a driver coming to whisk me downtown in an Escalade. I take the subway. And if I got stuck behind some idiot in 5-inch platform wedge booties teetering down the subway steps I’d probably shove her out of the way to get to the approaching train. But maybe there’s a part of me that wishes I did have the kind of life that would make purchasing fabulous ankle-breaking boots completely appropriate?
The coffee maker wasn’t my only "Come to Jesus" moment last week. In one day I received three pieces of mail designed to remind me that I am a singleton. First was yet another free copy of Time Out New York Kids—it went immediately into the recycling bin. Then Fresh Direct sent a solicitation to The Levenstein Family. I wouldn’t use Fresh Direct even if they’d addressed the envelope properly. When you live alone you don’t buy enough food at one time to warrant paying for delivery. And how lazy do you have to be not to walk home carrying two grocery bags? And then I got a letter from the managing agent of my building addressed to Mrs. Levenstein. And they didn’t mean my mother. What was happening?! Did I really need all this reality shoved in my face?
Well, maybe I did. You see every summer I am surrounded by people. The nieces, siblings, friends and I all descend on my parents’ weekend house on and off for three months. With all of us around there is so much busy-ness I never stop and really think about anything. It’s "What should we all eat for dinner?" And "Who's up for the beach?" And "It’s raining. Let’s take the nieces to the movies." And most importantly it is baking for all these people. The opportunity for cakes, pies, breads, muffins, and cookies lasts from my father’s birthday over Memorial Day through Yom Kippur break fast two weeks ago. That’s really when reality hits. And it hits where it hurts the most, my sweet tooth. I can't count on the leftovers from my summertime baking projects when I'm in the mood for a treat. Instead I have to face the fact that I'm on my own and anything I make will be just for me.
I have a weird policy when it comes to baking for myself. Whatever I make has to be bite-sized. Frankly I’ve never been the type to sit in bed eating ice cream out of the carton or digging a fork into a whole cake, no matter what kind of mood I am in. The dessert I want most of the time is some fruit and a chocolate chip cookie. Or three. This particular recipe is from Cook’s Illustrated and is made in an entirely different way than your average Toll House. The browned butter gives the cookies such a deep flavor and brings out the toffee of the brown sugar. They crack a bit on top and the texture combines the best of slight crunch on the outside and chewy on the inside. If willpower is an issue, the great thing about making cookies is you can portion them out and freeze them. Then bake them off when the craving hits. I just made a batch and enjoyed two with a cup of coffee from my new (drum roll please) Cuisinart four-cup coffee maker! So I’m living in my reality and enjoying it one cup at a time while I flip through the November Food and Wine looking for holiday pie recipes, wondering if I could wear five-inch platform wedge booties to Thanksgiving…
Accepting Reality Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from Cook's Illustrated, May/June 2009
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1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (8 3/4 ounces or dip and sweep method)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
14 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 3/4 sticks)
1/2 cup granulated sugar (3 1/2 ounces)
3/4 cups packed dark brown sugar (5 1/4 ounces) (see note)
1 teaspoon table salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 1/4 cups semisweet chocolate chips or chunks (I use Ghiradelli 60% Cacao Chips)
3/4 cup chopped pecans or walnuts, toasted (optional--I never use them)
Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. Whisk flour and baking soda together in medium bowl; set aside.
Heat 10 tablespoons butter in 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat until melted, about 2 minutes. Continue cooking, swirling pan constantly until butter is dark golden brown and has nutty aroma, 1 to 3 minutes.
Remove skillet from heat and, using heatproof spatula, transfer browned butter to large heatproof bowl. Stir remaining 4 tablespoons butter into hot butter until completely melted.
Add both sugars, salt, and vanilla to bowl with butter and whisk until fully incorporated. Add egg and yolk and whisk until mixture is smooth with no sugar lumps remaining, about 30 seconds.
Let mixture stand 3 minutes, then whisk for 30 seconds. Repeat process of resting and whisking 2 more times until mixture is thick, smooth, and shiny. Using rubber spatula or wooden spoon, stir in flour mixture until just combined, about 1 minute.
Stir in chocolate chips and nuts (if using), giving dough final stir to ensure no flour pockets remain.
Using Tablespoon sized ice cream scoop, drop dough onto baking sheets. (Obviously just use two Tablespoons if you don't have a scoop)
Bake cookies 1 tray at a time until cookies are golden brown and still puffy, and edges have begun to set but centers are still soft, 8-12 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through baking. Transfer baking sheet to wire rack; cool cookies completely before serving.
Yield: 35 cookies