These past couple of weeks have been tough. (deep breath) Not just tough; these past couple of weeks have been challenging, and there were moments where I questioned my sanity, my purpose, and my well-being. It was a hassle to pull myself out of bed, to focus throughout the day, and I even struggled to drink water. Yes, water, the true essence of life. It was that bad, people. I reached an all-time low.
I came to terms with my addiction. Caffeine. Well, coffee, really. I can’t remember the last day I went without a 4-cup pot of coffee, or large Starbucks, Corner Bakery, or Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, depending on the day and my exact location. But two weeks ago, this changed. I awoke with the need to do something crazy. A need to rid myself of this ball-and-chain once and for all. Even if it killed me. And boy, it was a close call.
While the decision was made abruptly, the process was long and gruesome. I tapered off, 1/2 cup by 1/2 cup until finally there was none left. And one week ago, my first moments at work became empty – aside from a cup of oatmeal, water, and a few blog reads and emails. And let’s not forget the occasional cup of decaf, which is no substitute for the rich, decadent taste of its caffeinated ancestor. And the headaches, day in and day out, every day. I thought PMS headaches were bad. Yikes! Withdrawal symptoms – aches, fatigue, listlessness – they make you question your true core. And they make you want to give up. I get that, now.
But I made it. Now in my second week, I have turned over a new leaf. I’m not a zombie anymore, and I’m free. Free to wake up and go about my day without perseverating, without worrying, without scrambling to ensure a mug of coffee begins my day. And without fear of the monster I’d become without it.
Laugh all you want. Go ahead. But I urge you – think of your greatest addiction – and then tell me it’d be easy to let it go. By sheer choice alone.
And in the midst of my own personal battle with caffeine, the announcement of the death of the biggest pop icon (ever?) was nothing short of gut-wrenching. Michael Jackson is my generation’s Elvis, to be quite honest. MJ’s first solo hit dropped when I was 3 – and I grew up listening to him, trying to dance like him, wearing a red leather jacket with zippers to the grocery store, and playing Thriller on my Fisher Price radio. I remember it like yesterday, my imaginary show-and-tell in my bedroom with yellow shag carpeting, records strewn across the floor, each assigned to a specific “student”. I, as the “teacher”, got first pick, and I always chose Thriller. That white suit against his (then) dark, milk chocolate skin – he was something else.
And so now, with him gone, despite his recent exploits and bad press, our generation has lost a part of our childhood. A part of our identity, and that sense that, when listening to him, we still felt young at heart, reminiscing about the good ol’ days when we tried to moonwalk across the kitchen floor or get scared by our sisters forcing us to watch Thriller in the dark. All we have are those memories, and how they’ve shaped our lives. And how Michael Jackson, how he changed music for the better.
So yes, the food. In honor of severing my ties to caffeine and overcoming my silly ol’ pathetic addiction, I give you a recipe for some lovely cappuccino brownies I made a few weeks ago. The taste is to die for – just enough espresso powder to give these fudge-like brownies a rich, coffee taste that’s topped off by covering them with a white chocolate ganache to mimic the foam on a cappuccino. And as you might with the real drink, a sprinkle of cinnamon to finish it off.
Adapted from Bon Appetit, July 2009; Makes 20-24
non-stick vegetable spray (Pam)
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, diced
3 oz unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
1 T instant espresso powder
1 1/2 t vanilla extract
1/4 t salt
3/4 c AP flour
white chocolate ganache
6 oz white chocolate (I used Lindt), chopped
5 T heavy whipping cream or 1/2&1/2
1/4 t fresh ground cinnamon
Preheat oven to 325°F. Fold 16-inch-long piece of foil to 8×16-inch strip; place in 8x8x2-inch metal baking pan, leaving overhang on 2 sides. Repeat with another sheet of foil in opposite direction, lining pan completely. Spray foil with nonstick spray.
Stir butter and chocolate in heavy large saucepan over very low heat until chocolate is melted. Remove from heat; whisk in sugar, then eggs, 1 at a time. Whisk in espresso powder, vanilla, and salt; sift flour over and stir to blend well. Transfer batter to prepared pan.
Bake brownies until puffed and dry-looking and tester inserted into center comes out with some moist batter attached, about 35 minutes; cool completely in pan on rack.
Place white chocolate in medium microwave-safe bowl. Bring cream to simmer in small saucepan. Pour cream over chocolate in bowl. Let stand 30 seconds, then stir until chocolate is melted and smooth. If necessary, microwave on low power in 10-second intervals until white chocolate is melted completely. Chill until ganache is thick but still slightly pourable, about 25 minutes.
Using foil as aid, lift brownies from pan. Turn over onto sheet of parchment paper; peel off foil.
Pour ganache onto center of brownies; spread to edges (some may drip over). Sprinkle with cinnamon. Chill until ganache is set, at least 2 hours. Cover and keep chilled.
Cut brownies into 4 strips. Cut each strip crosswise into 5 or 6 pieces, or cut each strip into 6 triangles. Arrange brownies on platter and serve.