I have a sweet tooth, a chocolate tooth and a filled tooth. The filled tooth is a result of the sweet tooth. In order to keep the filling in its proper place, I avoid chewing sticky foods on that side. My jaw does not like this one-sided chomping arrangement. It protests. It puts up banners and waves flags. I insist that I’ve received its “overload” memo. Finally, I give in. I cut back on the chocolate input through chocolate bars and look for substitutes instead. Chocolate mousse. Chocolate cake. Chocolate ice cream. Chocolate mocha latte. You get the idea.
It is every chocoholic’s dream to find something that is rich, but not overwhelmingly so. I discovered my “something” the day I started experimenting with the chocolate in my homemade brownies. Instead of using cooking chocolate, I found that using cocoa powder gives better results and is much richer. Cocoa powder is convenient because I don’t have to melt it before using it. I also get a lot more mileage out of a good-sized cocoa box because I can’t possibly eat the powder by the spoonful as long as my bitter-detecting taste buds work.
When I finally came up with my ideal form of brownies, I went through a brownie-making binge before finally putting a mental lock on the cocoa powder. My denial meter could only take so much of knowing exactly how much sugar and oil I was eating. Store-bought brownies do not have any numbers attached to them apart from the greatly bloated price tag. Anything homemade, however, serves up a plateful of numbers along with the taste. The number of cups and ounces dances in front of my eyes. The sooner I fire up the oven after my previous round of baking, the more glaring the numbers become, and I can’t ignore the amounts of sugar and oil I’m putting into them.
If I leave a decent interval between consecutive baking times, the numbers disappear from my mind—and no, buying a brownie in the interval doesn’t help. Not me, at least. Call me cheap, but I have lost the ability to pay an excess of sixty rupees for a single brownie and enjoy it, especially when I know I can save money by making them myself. The knowledge that I can make just my style of brownie on my own, with butter if I’m feeling indulgent, and with olive oil if I’m not, and with every step of the procedure in my hands is reassuring. The ingredients for the store-bought version are goodness-knows-what and it’s been sitting on that shelf for don’t-know-how-long—all this spoils its taste for me. Add to all that the fact that the bakery brownie is only one, while I can make enough in my homemade batch to last for days and you have one seriously turned off baker girl.
Now that I wait a while before bringing out the measuring cups, every step of the process is a delight. When the idea slips into my head and makes me put aside whatever I’m doing, I jump with joy on the way to the kitchen. My brother remarked once when he caught his otherwise lost-in-books sister in the act of making an excited hop all alone in her room: “I think I wasn’t supposed to see that.” I actually like using the measuring cups. There, I admitted it, no matter how much of a “baking nerd” that makes me. I enjoy combining the dry ingredients with the runny ones, seeing them wrestle with each other before blending into one harmoniously gooey mixture. I get a nice “stirred-up cocoa powder” whiff in the bargain. The smell of brownies in the oven has a warm, homey quality to it that would make for a really fragrant air freshener.
Then it’s time to stand and wait for the brownies to cool. Or sit and wait. Or just spear a little bit on a fork to test while waiting. Ouch. That was too hot for me to taste anything, let’s try again after a minute. Ah, much better. I wonder how it’ll taste after another minute. The next thing I know, a quarter of the brownies have disappeared before the rest of the household even shows up. Oh well. In the world of cooking and consuming, there is nothing quite as wonderful as something going from just-ready to just-crumbs in half an hour. Even the most amazing gastronomic wonder loses its appeal if it takes two days of pulling it out of the fridge to even finish half of it. Then I have to freeze the remaining half to defrost at a later date, and let’s face it, there’s nothing like stuff that’s freshly made.
Putting chocolate love aside, I am able to wait until the brownies have cooled down so that I can cut them into neat pieces and store them in a lunch box to snack on when the urge hits or share with others. I store them in a lunch box, because there are no cookie jars in a house full of dieters. Sharing cuts the number of calories that end up in my system and spreads brownie love to friends who can’t or don’t work themselves up into the baking zone.
Everyone has something like this—something they can discuss in elaborate detail, something for which they can give way to temporary madness, something that gives them a high. If someone doesn’t, that just means that they haven’t found their thing yet. It’s in them somewhere, it can be more than one, and it can be on any scale. They can make the list as long as they like; there are no limits. The key is that it requires active effort. Something passive like channel surfing or Internet browsing is a peak for some, but that is because they don’t know what making a video or a webpage feels like. For me, the most thrilling part of the entire process of baking brownies is not that I get to eat something I love, it’s that I’m able to make something I love, whenever I want, and do whatever I like with it. That is a feeling of empowerment that can’t be matched by anything else.