I like to write about food because I like to connect the poignancy of certain moments with their associated flavors. The genre first came into my life when I read Molly Wizenberg's heartbreaking piece on her father's death and scrambled eggs, and I felt inspired by the combination of something so complex and universal, such as human emotion, with something so simple and universal, such as food. I took my own spin on it during a nonfiction class in my junior year of college, writing about pancakes and falling in love with my best friend. (who is now working at SAVUER MAGAZINE wearing a fancy assistant editor's hat and drinking fancy drinks on fancy rooftops!!!!) The piece was, like my adolescence, full of angst and complex carbohydrates.
Feelings of love, kinship, attraction, loyalty, butterflies, heartbreak, bravery, and a handful of other things all tango with food to create potent memories. When I think of mussels, I think of Fire Island and Uncle David setting the porch on fire. The scent of fresh scones trigger memories of Sunday mornings, Oprah, and crawling back to bed after one too many Mike's Hard from our high school camping trips. And the combination of orange and chocolate sings of hotel rooms.
Over the last 18 months, I've written a lot about hotel rooms. I like them. I like paintings of ducks, mini-fridges, and wandering down to the lobby at 10AM for free coffee. It almost feels like camp, or college. And hotel rooms have a very specific menu. Tiny boxes of Honey Nut Cheerios, delivery pizza, and microwave popcorn, to name a few. When you're living out of a hotel room, and needing to amp up your food supply, you dive into luxury. Over the past 18 months, K1 and I have ventured into many hotel rooms, and brought along many, many snacks. Salads and beer. Strawberries. Wine. Greens. Microwave popcorn. And chocolate. Always chocolate.
I recently returned from a three-night stay in Houston with K1. In addition to eating our body weight in Chuy's and attending a mead tasting (black currant mead!!! jalapeño mead!!!! ahhh!!!), we indulged in a dark chocolate and candied orange bar. It's a combination that is seldom appreciated, and sometimes shrugged off for the trendier salted caramel, or the exotic chocolate-and-chile powder. (No offense to both these flavors; we sell a pretty mean Mexican Spiced Mocha at Toms that I wouldn't kick outta bed for eating crackers.) That being said, the chocolate orange combo will always have a special place in my heart and on my palate. The candied orange adds a bit o' sunshine to the spooky dark chocolate. It reminds me of hotel rooms. And, maybe more truthfully, reminds me of K1.
I don't believe nostalgia needs to keep us locked into the past. If handled properly, it can be a wonderful tool used to express gratitude. I like sharing moments with people so special that when I return to the images I fold my hands and sigh like a princess. And I like connecting the foods I eat to the people I love. Even moving past said moments, and acknowledging that they are over and now memories, can be more beautiful than sad. They can become brownies. :)
In this recipe, I attempted to imitate that sunny and cozy chocolate-and-orange combo into a squishy, melty brownie. They are both bright and dark. They are good for late nights with red wine or early mornings with coffee. They are diverse and lasting, happy and sad.
"Hotel room" chocolate and orange brownies
3 ounces of dark chocolate
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup fresh squeezed oj
1/2 cup butter
4 tbsp cocoa powder
1 cup all purpose flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
2 tsp vanilla
1 tbsp orange zest, finely chopped
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit. Melt the chocolate in a double-boiler, and set aside.
In a separate bowl, beat the eggs and sugar until light and creamy. Add the orange juice, butter, vanilla, and cocoa powder, and stir until incorporated. Gradually sift in the flour, adding about 1/2 cup at a time. Add the baking powder and orange zest and stir. Last but not least, add in the melted chocolate and chocolate chips and mix.
Line a 9x13 baking pan with parchment paper and pour the mixture into the pan. (You can also do two 8x8s for really thick brownies.) Bake for 35 minutes.