Posts filed under ‘Bars/Brownies’

Maple and Walnut Nanaimo Bars (Daring Bakers)

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Lately, I’ve been in a writing rut.

I’ve been in food ruts where I made the same types of desserts over and over, and I’ve had weeks where inspiration simply escaped me. I’ve had photography ruts, too, where every post would somehow have the same style of photographs. I think every food blogger has those moments where you long to shoot images of vintage cars, textured bark or copper kettles, anything but another cookie.

These days, I haven’t had any recent baking disasters and my photography can only improve. But I’ve never experienced a writing rut before, and even stringing those two words together makes my heart ache like a bruised peach. I can’t describe how stifling and disheartening it feels to have nothing to say. I have never felt speechless before, and it makes me feel cloudless and empty.

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I tried to pinpoint where it started, and I think I know. Last month the blog received more attention than usual and got some national exposure. I was out of town the week that it happened, and when I came home, I was startled by the sudden spike in subscriptions and Facebook friend requests. All my numbers had gone up, thirty times my usual number of hits, and more comments than I could read in an hour.

At first, I was exhilarated. I couldn’t wait to post again, and I was so touched that 17 and Baking meant something to so many new people. But as I started sifting through the comments, I encountered something I’d never expected to read on my site – wisps of negativity that deflated any of my short-lived joy.

I’ve never received disparaging comments before. I mean, it’s one thing when a recipe doesn’t work out for somebody or when I’ve made a silly mistake on my post. But amongst the flood of new comments were little pebbles of cruelty, a silt of snide comments and offhand criticisms. I knew those people shouldn’t matter. I knew nobody with a dream or a zest for life would write “Who cares?” on a 17 year old’s blog.

But honestly? I’m not kidding anyone, especially not myself. Those comments did matter to me.

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I remember for the first time, dreading my next post. Although only a tiny percentage of comments from the recent exposure had been discouraging, the damage was done. I considered writing about my hesitations and reservations, or about how I found the strength to move on. But nothing I wrote rang true, and ultimately, I didn’t want to display my disappointment and tarnished confidence to the world. That isn’t the kind of person I am.

I wrote a lighthearted post instead, and kept my feelings to myself for once. And somehow, inexplicably, I lost my voice for a few weeks. I was unsatisfied with everything I wrote, and I finally had the last straw when I rewrote last week’s post four times before posting, and still was unhappy with the result. I wanted to find my passion again.

Passion, not flour or sugar, is the life of this blog. I refuse to let it wilt, because this blog has truly had a tangible impact on my life. I can feel it stirring in the back of my mind when I’m home alone, making hot chocolate and trying to find matching socks. I feel it pulsing through my veins when I walk to class, wet leaves still clinging to my boots. And I feel it most of all in my heart when I read your comments and emails, because nothing makes me as happy and enriches my life as much as your words.

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Last week I discovered that I was nominated in the category of “Best Weblog By a Teen” in the 10th annual Weblog Awards, and it lifted my spirits in an unbelievable way. I felt like I was made out of thin air, or quite possibly liquid sunshine. I’m so honored and thrilled to be part of this year’s nominations!

Browsing this year’s nominees has also shown me plenty of great sites I wouldn’t have found on my own. None of the other teen nominees are specifically food bloggers, but their interests range from current issues to fashion to daily ponderings. I definitely encourage you to check out this year’s weblogs and maybe even vote for 17 and Baking! [2/28/10 Update: You might like to know that I won. :) ]

I finally feel like I have found my voice again with this post. The words came out easily once more, like the dusk I’ve been swept in has finally dissipated. When I finished writing this post and read it over in a final edit, I felt a deep satisfaction that I’d nearly forgotten.

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I don’t know if it’s the nomination, the passing of time, or the fact that this month’s Daring Bakers challenge was pleasantly easy. All I know is that I am bursting with metaphors and adjectives, I have so much that I want to say and so much I want to learn. I’m so lucky to know where my passions are and to have the means to pursue them with everything I have, and I can’t help but look forward to February with a considerably lighter heart.

The January 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Lauren of Celiac Teen. Lauren chose Gluten-Free Graham Wafers and Nanaimo Bars as the challenge for the month. The sources she based her recipe on are 101 Cookbooks and http://www.nanaimo.ca.

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January 27, 2010 at 2:17 pm 134 comments

Bacon + Chocolate = World Peace?

When I was in 5th grade, my class went on an overnight trip to a pioneer farm. We took a tour of the farm, learned about the equipment and tools, and slept that evening in a real pioneer cabin. The next morning after breakfast, we were given our authentic pioneer chores. Mine was cleaning up after the farm’s pig, Susan Bacon Anthony. I was not amused.

While some of my friends pressed apples into cider, and other classmates tried out the tools at the blacksmith house, I trudged through the mud towards the barn. Susan Bacon Anthony was a huge pig, bright pink and vivacious. My mood lightened considerably even as I raked out her pen, and by the end of the morning, I was in love. I considered the possibilities of owning a pet pig.

By the time my parents arrived to pick me up, I had an announcement to make – I was becoming a vegetarian so that I never had to eat a Susan Bacon Anthony, or any of her friends, ever again.

My parents seemed complacent enough throughout the drive home. When they started on breakfast, though, my dad asked casually, “This means no bacon for you, right?”

As a child I was passionate about bacon. I couldn’t get enough of its smokiness, its crisp and chewy texture, its salty goodness. But at ten years old I stood my ground and agreed – no bacon. I told myself it was a sacrifice I’d have to make, and I pictured Susan Bacon Anthony’s corkscrew tail and thin, floppy ears.

As the pan sizzled and the house filled with the smell of bacon, I ended up going outside. I clutched a glass of orange juice and sipped it fervently, trying not to give in. Ten minutes into our breakfast, I caved, and took a piece of bacon from the center plate. We all knew the two hour vegetarianism had only been a half-hearted attempt at best, and I haven’t tried to play the vegetarian card since.

I’m not fooling anybody.

When faced with bacon brownies, I think many people are divided. Some might have seen the unusual combination of bacon and chocolate before in fancy restaurants or among foodie circles. But more commonly, I think most people think the idea of bacon and chocolate together sounds disgusting. You are not alone, but you might want to give it a fair chance.

My friend M- is very conservative about food. Once, when I was just starting to bake, I brought a cake with me to a friend’s house. We had cut the cake, transferred the slices to plates, and passed around the forks. My friends had the first bite halfway to their mouths when M- casually asked, “So what is this exactly?”

I answered truthfully and replied, “It’s a chocolate cake with a chocolate-sour cream frosting.” I looked up and saw that M- had put his fork right back down onto the plate, and my other friends followed his lead. “Sour cream?” He just couldn’t wrap his mind around sour cream in dessert, despite my protests, and not a single bite of the cake was even tried. Frustrated, I had to transfer all the slices back to the cake carrier and bring the untouched cake home.

The following day, I made a sour cream banana pound cake with sour cream frosting and brought it to my friends. With an entire cup of sour cream in the cake alone, they were truly about to eat their words. When the cake was fully consumed, M- having had his second slice, I told them the truth. Sour cream is delicious, and you’d like it if you gave it a chance.

After I made these brownies, M- happened to stop by. Since I began baking he’s become more adventurous, and he agreed to try one of the brownies even though he was repulsed by the combination of bacon and chocolate. He accepted the piece, examined it carefully, and then took a small bite. He proclaimed it “pretty good.”

Chocolate and bacon actually make a natural combination. The brownies are dense and fudgy, and the crumbled bits of bacon add a bit of texture and a hint of smokiness. In the same way that coffee provides a solid foundation for chocolate, bacon adds something special and elevates a simple brownie to something more.

And I can’t help but think that if maybe everyone gave Bacon Brownies a chance, we could all stand together on something, despite our differences. Bacon and chocolate = world peace.

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December 29, 2009 at 1:47 pm 57 comments

The Bar That Needs A Warning Label – “Dangerously Good”

I used to love the book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory as a kid. Chocolate waterfalls, ice cream that never melts, everlasting gobstoppers? It seemed almost obscene! I am a chocoholic who might need rehab, a cinnamon-sugar addict who suffers from withdrawals, a sweetened coconut junkie. I have quite the sweet tooth, if you didn’t notice.

My mom, on the other hand, does not think much of sugar. No, her vice is salt. Chinese onion pancakes, crisp ridged potato chips, pretzels, these are what tempt her. She might nibble on a cookie, but there is no real desire there. Salty, sweet… compatibility might seem impossible. But whichever you are – a sugar fiend or a salt enthusiast – you might need to sit down before you take a look at these bars.

Sweet. Salty. Nutty. Crunchy. Crumbly. Chocolaty. Caramelly. I can’t even think of something witty to say about these addictive bars. Just look at another picture.

A chocolate studded brown sugar and coffee shortbread, cooked crisp so that the edges are caramelly. Then chocolate is spread over the warm bar and the whole thing is topped with salted roasted peanuts. Peanut-Chocolate-Caramel Crunch Bars. Goodness.

They were the perfect gift for my lovely neighbor who did my prom hair out of sheer kindness. Nine thirty at night, only two days before the dance, I knocked on her door with my hair in knots and frustration pouring out of me. I’m sure my desperation was overpowering, but for whatever reason, she was sweet enough to fit me into her packed schedule. When I asked her what kind of sweets she liked, she simply said, “I like nuts.”

And oh, she got nuts.

You might remember another thing from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – the amazing television commercials that Willy Wonka was perfecting. These commercials would allow the viewer to reach into the screen and sample his incredible chocolate. I used to wish it was real so that I could taste one of those chocolate bars, letting it melt in my mouth. Well, while those commercials don’t exist yet, you don’t need them to experience these bars for yourself.

You’ve got the recipe.

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June 17, 2009 at 6:28 pm 66 comments

April Showers bring May Migraines – and Cold War Brownies


Oh, my gosh. What makes these Cold War brownies?

Maybe it’s like this. There’s cream cheese, yeah? It’s tangy and dominant. It likes to ripple through everything. Cause hey. Cream cheese will make it taste better. Cream cheese is good for you. Cream cheese demands to get its way. (It’s the US, okay?)

Then there’s the chili powder. You don’t really notice how much ammunition it’s got until you take the first bite. Then you feel it, in the back of your mouth. It’s got a bit of heat, and it wants to be there. (Clearly the USSR!)

And the nutella. You’re not entirely sure what it’s doing there. It’s a bit of a surprise, a shock. You don’t want to underestimate it, and yet, you can’t help wonder what business nutella has in your brownie. (Obviously Cuba.)

And it’s like… They’re all together, on the playing field. (Brownie = earth.) They’re marbled together, but can’t possibly mix. In your mouth, you can’t decide which flavor wins. It’s too much wonderfulness to handle.

Alternatively, maybe it’s because, as my friend G- put it, they’re bomb. !!! I know. Not funny. Sorry.

…Orrrrrrr, maybe they’re Cold War Brownies because I (sort of) studied and baked at the same time. You decide.

No matter what, they’ll make a pack of exhausted, brain dead juniors smile again.

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May 5, 2009 at 5:35 pm 45 comments

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Elissa Bernstein



I'm Elissa: a 17 (now 21) year old baker in Seattle Boston juggling creative nonfiction workshops, subway maps, and my passions for writing, baking, and photography. Photo above © Michelle Moore

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