Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike.
~ John Muir, The Yosemite
I knew, but I didn’t really know, just how much I need the wide-open and empty spaces until I moved away from them. When I lived in Washington, DC, I always felt itchy, unsettled. Part of this was because I missed California, yes, but part of it was also that there wasn’t easily accessed nature — or at least, the awesome, soaring kind where you can get lost in mind and spirit for as long as you please. Getting ‘lost’ (though perhaps not actually lost) in the wilderness – and liking it – is my reset button. Now that I live in a crowded city of 6 million with a lack of green space I need a reset button even more regularly.
I still miss California but fortunately for us Morocco has lots of wide-open and empty places. Maybe not in Casablanca itself but close enough so that you can sort of rest your eyes on views other than the traffic that so often crams the streets here and finally take some deeper breathes. We explored just a bit this past week when we went about five hours south down the Atlantic coast. The landscape varied from green fields punctuated here and there by cows (“California cows” according to DW, and he would know) and sheep, to more arid, red-rocked plains hemmed by snowy mountains and punctuated here and there by the occasional mosque and goats nibbling on low-growing trees. We stayed right by the sea and woke up to the sound of the waves in the early morning when we opened our windows. It was warm, but not too, and with a wonderful breeze. The air was so fresh, the ocean so blue. We will definitely be back.
Home in Casablanca I should be ashamed and/or embarrassed to admit that one of the first things I thought about last night when I made dinner — healthy-ish with whole grain pasta, lemon juice and zest, olive oil, and sauteed garlic + arugula — was how soon I could make another round of the chocolate-coconut blondies that recently graced my kitchen table. And yet. I am not ashamed nor am I embarassed. These are good enough to trump any self-criticism about how I’m not running nearly enough to counter all the good sweets-eating I’ve been doing. In fact I may make a batch this evening just to ‘fine-tune’ (read: ‘because I feel like it’) before presenting them at a little event we’re hosting this weekend …
Blondies should not be confused with brownies, and in fact both of those monikers do not truly do justice to either sweet. But brownies and blondies they have been dubbed and so they shall remain and rather than analyze I shall simply continue baking both and enjoying the results for as long as I am able. I do love chocolate but don’t always want the dark decadence a brownie imparts so a blondie, marked by brown sugar and a smattering of nuts and chocolate chunks, is just what I crave.
This recipe is simple enough that it takes no more than 10 minutes to put together but complex enough with the addition of toasted walnuts, semisweet chocolate, and threads of coconut that it rarely fails to satisfy. The first time I made it, on a Friday afternoon, the batch was gone less than 24 hours later. In my opinion a blondie or two are absolutely vital as a mid-morning snack with a cup of coffee.
I’ve used my standby whole wheat pastry flour again here, which makes for a fine sturdy crumb. You might consider subsituting 1/4 cup spelt flour for 1/4 cup of the pastry flour; of course all-purpose flour may be used in place of either of those. I also encourage you to play around with the type of nut — toasted and slivered almonds? chopped pecans? — and type of chocolate if that is your wont.
During the past few days I had moments where I almost felt as though I was on a camping trip even though I slept in a bed and didn’t have to filter my drinking water. I think it was because we were staying so close to the ocean and thus I was reminded of Wildcat Camp in the Point Reyes National Seashore, the first place I went backpacking at 14 (with DW and my brother), and which spot remains my absolute favorite to camp (though the back country of Yosemite/environs is nearly its equal).
What is so special about Wildcat is not the 6+-mile hike in — though that is pretty spectacular — but the campground’s proximity to the water — it’s about a 2-minute walk away. If you’re very lucky you can obtain the campsite on the bluff high above the Pacific and when there’s no fog the ocean stretches out and away before you for miles. But wherever you throw down your pack you’ll sleep with the sound of the waves as a constant backdrop and the whole experience is just … sea-saturated. Quiet except for birds and errant raccoons attempting to ransack your food stores. The beach mostly empty because of the necessary journey to get out there. Life pared down to sun and surf and sand and breathing the salty air.
This weekend was vastly different from my camping excursions along the Northern California coast, sure, but some of the same essence remained. This summer maybe we’ll get out there.
’til then, blondies.
Blondies are sort of the anti-brownie in color and philosophy yet they are still brownie-like in their essential makeup. Except to me — I prefer my brownies fudgy and dense and my blondies cakey. Thus I use two eggs in my blondie rendition and am thoroughly satisfied. I cut my blondies small, so this recipe makes at least one dozen. I think maple syrup swapped for all or part of the brown sugar would be wonderful here.
Makes 12-16 blondies
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
1 cup packed light or dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup unsweetened flaked or shredded coconut
1/2 cup chopped semisweet chocolate
1/4 cup toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped
Note: reserve a small handful of each of these last two ingredients to sprinkle across the batter before baking
Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter an 8-inch square baking pan and line with parchment paper, leaving two flaps hanging over the edges of the pan. Butter and flour the parchment paper.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the melted butter and brown sugar. Whisk in the eggs one at a time and beat by hand until mixture is slightly pale, about 2 minutes. Whisk in the vanilla extract.
In another medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add all at once to the butter and sugar mixture and stir until just incorporated. Fold in the coconut, chocolate, and walnuts.
Spread batter into the prepared pan and smooth with a spatula. Scatter the remaining chocolate and walnuts across the top. Place in the oven and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Blondies will be golden brown.
Remove pan from oven and allow to cool for at least 20 minutes before removing blondies from the pan. Slice into pieces lengthwise and crosswise, making them as large or small as you like.