My Main Squeeze

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‘He’s about to get squeezed a whole lot tighter.’

When folks from my former homeland, The Great American Midwest, visit me here in New York, they are apt to be amazed by how little space we New Yorkers inhabit.

“Where is the rest of it?” questioned one dearly-beloved sister-in-law, when visiting our apartment for the first time. “This is your kitchen?” exclaimed another equally-beloved SIL. (No, I am not being ironic; I do in fact love these two sis-in-laws, in spite of the fact that their homes are vastly more vast than mine.)

The Dude and I share a meal in the dining-room-living-room-office-music-room of our first apartment

I find this interesting because, on a New Yorker scale, this apartment — where I am sitting right now at my sunlit desk cum china cabinet — is considered rather comfortably large. It’s what they call, in Real-Estate-Agent-ese, a “classic six”. That means it has six rooms: living room, dining room, kitchen, two bedrooms, and a “maid’s room”. Honest. These pre-war (that’s WWII, and yet another example of colorful NYC real estate lingo) apartment buildings were built when no home was complete without its maid.

That’s my desk in the background, ready for writing. That’s the table in the foreground, ready for Christmas. This is in, ahem, the big apartment we live in right now

Well, maid shmaid. What I really want to talk about today is the, well, going-backwards-ness of our personal space. As it pertains to living arrangements, that is.

The trajectory of our married living arrangements has gone from very small to medium to large and, now, with this latest pied a terre acquisition (which I first mentioned in my bake-some-brownies post, “And Then There Were None”), back to very small again. I feel rather like Gloria Swanson in “Sunset Boulevard”: “I am big; it’s the movies that got small.” Only, in our case, our apartment — or at least the one we’ll move into if all goes according to plan — just got very very small.

Me, reflected in the make-the-room-look-bigger (hah!) mirrored wall of the 13×11 living room of the if-all-goes-well new apartment. No, that’s not any of our stuff, thank the Lord of Moving

Very shortly, if all goes well (tons of paperwork to deal with for the closing!) we will be moving from an approximately 1600 sq. ft. apartment to one that is around 350, give or take a precious foot. Adjusting to such a small space will not be a small adjustment. And not only because we won’t have room to swing a cat, but because we won’t have room for our stuff. Any of our stuff.

We weren’t always so stuff-stuffed. In fact, we started out rather spare, with thrift-shop finds and hand-me-downs. Wayne found his couch at a garage sale. And I didn’t even have one. So we slipcovered his, thinking one day we’d replace it with a “real” couch that we picked out from a real store. Well, that was more than 35 years ago.

The Dude’s slipcovered garage-sale couches in action. Want ’em? Child and cat not included

Quick note: When we lived in the one-big-room-with-everything-in-it place and were thinking about having a baby, I asked “but where will we put this baby?” and The Dude, quite reasonably in Dude Reasonableness, answered, “We’ll put the baby where the TV is.” Which is, ultimately, what we did.

That first apartment, Child added. Yes, her bed is located right about where the TV was. And the dining table and the desk and so on and so forth

But time moves on. And so did we. To this apartment of twenty-six years. And twenty-six years of gradual acquisition. Surfaces have been populated, couches have been pillowed, bookcases have been booked. Let’s face it, if you think Nature abhors a vacuum, you haven’t met a New York City apartment.

We have art books piled on top of pianos, which are, in turn, topped with hand-turned pottery, accented by silver whatnots, side-by-side with souvenir statues. Don’t get me started on the candles and their attendant holders. And, if you read last week’s post, “Sitting Pretty”, you are familiar with my crack-cocaine obsession with chairs.

Honestly? It’ll feel good to, shall we say, “de-acquisition” some of this. If you’re in the neighborhood, do stop by for a scented candle. Or five.

New York City. October 2019

 

And then there were none

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‘How to make the world’s best brownies, bar none.’

I’m seriously distracted today. The Wayner and I are considering “downsizing” from our Manhattan home of nigh-on twenty-five years to a place that just became available in a highly-desirable building nearby. It’s adorable, filled with light; all the clever original casement windows face a gorgeous private garden. And so on and so forth.

The issue? It’s so small (the kitchen is six feet by six; but at least it has a kitchen) that moving there would take a major attitude adjustment, not to mention a pruning of possessions so majorific it would make Marie Kondo‘s head explode.

Eeensy-weensy isn’t the half of it

So, what to do?

Let’s make a batch of brownies, by gum! Nothing is easier — or more soothing. I have a foolproof method (it’s so simple, I hesitate to call it a “recipe”) that I’ve used even longer than The Dude and I have lived in this (sniff) apartment. It’s sort of adapted from an old Maida Heatter cookbook I have lying around somewhere (and will soon be donating to some library or other).

Here’s the recipe written down for somebody-or-other. Don’t worry; I will “translate”

Oh. Before I forget. The picture at the top of this post is not of anyone making brownies. Believe it or not, no one has ever “captured” me working my brownie magic. (I guess because it all happens so fast.) No, that picture was taken in the “old” kitchen of the Amagansett house. That thing on the wall behind The Child’s head is a stereo/radio gizmo with a flip-down turntable. The veritable epitome of Seventies hi-tech! (That and the faux woodgrain cabinetry are no longer with us.)

Another shot of us crafting cookies. Because why not?

Anyway. Enough with the Habitation Talk. On to the brownies!

Now let me start by saying that if you are a fan of fat cakelike brownies, stop reading right now. Just run out and grab yourself a box of Betty Crocker Brownie Mix. I’m sure it’s “perfectly good”, as my Mom would say.

But if dense, dark, and delicious is your brownie thing, you’ve come to the right blog.

Let’s jump ahead to the finished product, shall we? You will never see your brownies pictured this way — they will be gone too fast

So here’s what you do. Plop 2 ounces of unsweetened chocolate into a bowl with a stick of butter. Put the bowl into a saucepan with some water in it. (The pan, not the bowl.)

Butter and chocolate happily merging in the saucepan of simmering water, eggs and vanilla at the ready

Note: 2 ounces of unsweetened chocolate used to be 4 squares. Then Baker’s got all cost-cutting and decided to reconfigure the bar. So now you need to use half the bar, however many squares that is. I always forget.

Easy to remember: “Bakers” chocolate. Cause you’re “baking”, get it?

While you’re melting the chocolate/butter stuff, prepare the pan. I use a square glass one, but really any similarly-sized pan will do. Turn said pan upside down, mold a square of foil over the back, then flip the pan over and place the molded foil inside. (You do this because it’s easier to get a good foil shape that way.) Then use the wrapper from the stick of butter to butter up the inside of the pan. (You probably will need to use a bit more butter; so have two suitably-softened sticks handy.)

The prepared pan. Not pretty, but pretty darned effective at keeping those brownies from sticking. Oh, those flowers in that teensy vase are intentionally dry, okay? And hey! That vase just might fit in the new apartment!

Once your mixture is melted and you’ve stirred it so it’s smooth (yum! I’m salivating all over my laptop!) you remove it from the pan of water and add one scant cup of sugar. (The original recipe calls for a full cup, but my peeps like them better not so sweet.) After that, stir in a teaspoon of vanilla.

By now the mixture should have cooled down enough that you can beat in two eggs, one at a time. (If you add the eggs too soon, they cook. And who wants chocolate scrambled eggs?)

After that, stir in half a cup of flour. Scoop this delicious smelling concoction into your prepared pan and pop into a 325 oven. Use the middle rack. The recipe says to bake for half an hour to 35 minutes, but I start checking at 25 minutes. How do you know when they’re done? Well, when they look like this:

The brownies are done when the middle is puffed up like this. Or, if for some reason, they don’t puff, they’re done when a toothpick inserted near the middle comes out clean

Now, Pro Tip. Here’s the other reason you line the pan with foil. As soon as you can after removing the pan from the oven, carefully slide the brownies, foil and all, out of the pan and onto something heat-proof like a trivet. It’s not essential to do this — trust me, those brownies are going to taste great — but this does stop the brownies from continuing to “cook” from the heat retained by the pan.

When you’re ready to serve them, take a long serrated knife and cut the pan’s worth of brownies in half, then half again, till you have a bunch of squares. You might need to wiggle a knife under each one to release them, because no matter how well you pre-butter that foil, they’re so chewy-gooey they often stick.

Serve with ice cream, or not. If you have any left over (hah!) they freeze pretty darned well. I hope you have as much fun making these brownies as I have; they’re guaranteed to please.

You give the brownies; you get the gifts!

Oh — one more thing. And it’s very very important. Do not wash that bowl. There is sure to be at least one person around who will want to “clean” it for you.

The best part. Or at least The Child seems to think so

Okay. That’s all she wrote. For today, anyway. If you’ll excuse me, I need to go off somewhere and obsess about maybe-moving. Note that no offer has been made on this particular apartment — much less accepted. But the downsizing cat has been definitely let out of the worry-wart bag. Or something. Gulp!

New York City. September 2019