WHIDBEY RECIPES | ‘Peace on Earth’ is missing this year

Well, we’ve certainly gotten off to a good start with the “peace on earth” season, haven’t we?

More than 170 dead in India at the hands of terrorists; a temporary employee trampled to death in the doorway of a Wal-Mart store by rampaging shoppers who stepped over his body to continue shopping; two dead from gunshots in a Toys R Us store in southern California packed with kids and moms, a 90-year-old woman knocked flat and her car stolen in a supermarket parking lot; fights breaking out among people waiting in line for early morning shopping bargains; and we’re in only the earliest days of the season of peace and love.

It’s too trite and easy to say we long for a return to kinder, gentler times, but it is nevertheless so. I don’t ever recall a time before that I felt truly endangered by my fellow man when I was in a crowded place, and certainly never when I’ve been shopping at a mall. Well, I do now.

There seems to be so much rudeness, so little consideration for each other, so much outright anger and hostility in so many people today, that exposing oneself to any large group in an uncontrolled situation is foolhardy.

Zanies come in all shapes, sizes, colors and genders, and it’s not possible to predict when someone will snap and inflict his/her hatred on everyone within reach. I don’t know whether it’s a product of population growth or radical changes in our basic value systems, or both, plus many other factors, but blame isn’t going to fix anything.

Worse yet, greed still appears to be one of the top motivating factors in people’s behavior toward each other. It’s all very well to say that hard economic times are the reason behind the long lines of unruly people waiting to be first through the door for holiday bargains, but if times are really that hard, why are so many still spending their way through the holiday season, willing to risk a fight or being injured to get the “thing” most wanted?

I have no answers to the current wave of man’s inhumanity to man, no explanation for the anger and hatred seething in the minds and souls of so many people, nor do I expect things to change just because we’ll soon have a new president.

It will take a generation to recover from such a breakdown in our civility and, yes, our morality. Children being born right now must grow up with a radically changed belief in each other and in humanity in general if we are ever to return to a kinder, more civil way of life.

Meanwhile, we who live here now are doomed to live with what we have created and, right now, it’s not a pretty picture.

Peace on earth, good will toward men indeed. Would that it were so, even if just for the holiday season.

RECIPES

Fortunately, if we stay on the island, we run little risk of being exposed to what I’ve described above. A bit of rudeness here and there, but that’s about the worst problem we’ll have.

And, for those of you who have a bit of time to spend rather than money, making a gift in your own home can say a lot to the recipient about love and thoughtfulness. There is a great deal of quiet pleasure to be had from making Christmas gifts in your kitchen, so here are some suggestions that would be welcomed by anyone.

If you can spend one rainy, chilly afternoon in the kitchen, you could have at least two, maybe three kinds of very special brownies to turn into three or four gift packages, and who wouldn’t welcome some homemade brownies? Put four of each of these in a holiday gift tin or box lined with gold or silver tissue, tie with a holiday ribbon and you’ll be giving a one-of-a-kind thoughtful gift.

If you want to kick it up a notch, accompany the brownies with a small bottle of liqueur of choice, or fine port wine or brandy.

MEXICAN-STYLE CHOCOLATE BROWNIES

6 T. unsalted butter, cut into pieces

3 oz. quality bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), chopped

2 oz.unsweetened chocolate, chopped

1 cup sugar

½ cup whole blanched almonds, toasted until golden, then cooled

2 large eggs

½ cup flour

½ t. salt

½ t. cinnamon

Butter and flour a 9-inch square baking pan (knock out excess flour). In a heavy saucepan, melt the butter and chocolate over low heat, stirring until smooth. Remove pan from heat and allow to cool for 10 min.

In a food processor, process the almonds and sugar until finely ground. Stir into the melted chocolate mixture. Add eggs (that’s why you need to be sure your chocolate has cooled

10 min.), one at a time, beating well with a wooden spoon until mixture is glossy and smooth.

Sift together the flour, salt and cinnamon. Stir into the chocolate mixture, mixing just until well combined. Spread batter into the prepared pan, spreading evenly, and bake in the middle of a preheated 350-degree oven 25 to 30 min. or until a tester comes out with some crumbs on it. Cool brownies completely in the pan on a rack; cut into 16 squares.

Note: These will keep in a cool place in an airtight tin with waxed paper between layers for up to 5-6 days. They are also mailable.

For some “adults only” brownie gifts, these have a rich coffee flavor.

ESPRESSO KAHLUA BROWNIES

½ cup unsalted butter, cut into pieces

3 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped

2 large eggs

1 ¼ cups sugar

1 t. vanilla

3 T. instant espresso powder

2 T. Kahlua (or other coffee flavored liqueur)

¼ cup flour

½ t. baking powder

¼ t. salt

25 espresso coffee beans

Butter and flour a 9-inch square baking pan; knock out excess flour. In a small saucepan, melt butter and chocolate over low heat, stirring until smooth. Cool chocolate mixture to lukewarm.

In a large bowl with electric mixer, beat together the eggs, sugar, vanilla, espresso powder and Kahlua until mixture is thickened and pale. Beat in the chocolate mixture.

In a bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add to the chocolate/egg mixture, beating just until blended well. Spread batter evenly in the prepared pan and arrange the coffee beans in 5 rows of 5 beans each. Bake in the middle of a preheated 350-degree oven 30 to 35 min., or until a tester comes out with some crumbs sticking to it. Cool brownies in pan on a rack before cutting into 25 squares (they’re small but very rich).

Note: These can be kept in an airtight tin in a cool place with waxed paper between layers for up to five-six days. These are also mailable.

TRIPLE CHOCOLATE FUDGE BROWNIES

3 oz. top quality bittersweet chocolate, chopped

1 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped

6 T. (¾ stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces

¼ cup sugar

1 t. vanilla

2 large eggs

½ t. salt

½ cup flour

½ cup semisweet chocolate chips

Butter and flour an 8-inch square baking pan, knocking out excess flour. In a saucepan over low heat, melt both chocolates and butter, stirring until smooth. Remove from heat; cool until lukewarm. Whisk in sugar and vanilla.

Add eggs, one at a time, whisking well until mixture is glossy and smooth. Stir in salt and flour just until combined, then stir in chocolate chips.

Spread batter evenly in pan and bake in a preheated 350-degree oven 25 to 30 min., or until a tester comes out with a few crumbs sticking to it. Cool brownies in pan on a rack until completely cooled, then cut into 16 squares.

Note: Can be kept in airtight container in a cool place with waxed paper between layers for up to 5-6 days. Also mailable.

Note: I’ve referred to the mailability of these different brownies, which makes them a nice gift to send to someone near and dear.

If you haven’t done this before and/or are not sure how to prepare the brownies (as well as other cookies) for mailing, please feel free to e-mail me and I’ll e-mail you back with instructions. It’s a bit long to include here.