friday feast: bring on the brownies!


by A.A. Milne (from When We Were Very Young, 1924)

In a corner of the bedroom is a great big curtain,
Someone lives behind it, but I don’t know who;
I think it is a Brownie, but I’m not quite certain,
(Nanny isn’t certain, too.)

I looked behind the curtain, but he went so quickly —
Brownies never wait to say, “How do you do?”
They wriggle off at once because they’re all so tickly
(Nanny says they’re tickly too.)

Come to think of it, I’ve always had a thing for little men.

You know, those cute, industrious little sprites who do your housework while you’re fast asleep and never make a sound? They like to make mischief, but never do any harm. In fact, they’re here right now, but of course grown-ups can’t see them.

Since this is Leap Year, and we have an extra special bonus day, I thought it only fitting to give Love and Chocolate Month a proper send-off with a BROWNIE celebration.

You know, just the word, brownie, makes me feel good. It’s childhood, warm and safe, all wrapped up in one. I think of class parties, picnics, pot-lucks, teas, the special treat in a lunchbox. And nothing tops that chocolatey aroma filling the kitchen with the promise of a warm brownie to come! Mmmmmm!!

They say brownies were named after Palmer Cox’s Brownie books (16 in all), which were very popular during the late 19th century. All the stories were written in rhyming couplets, and featured hundreds of charming sprites (all male) working and playing together in all kinds of scenarios — skating, fishing, going to school, building a snowman, racing, yachting, and painting, etc.

Each Brownie had a name, but none were ever set as characters in a plot; Cox instead always featured them as a massive group. What is interesting is that Cox nevertheless drew them as individuals of different races and professions — so there’s an Indian chief, a policeman, an Irishman, German, Cowboy and Chinese peasant. This was not a time of widespread acceptance for ethnic minorities, yet somehow the Brownies managed to escape controversy.

The first Brownie story actually appeared in St. Nicholas Magazine (1883), closely followed by The Brownies: Their First Book (1887). Cox’s characters were based on the sprites of English and Scottish folklore, well known to him as a child in Quebec. Today he is considered a “pioneering artist of the Platinum Age of Comic Art.”

His highly detailed black and white illustrations are as charming today as they were in the 19th century, when it became a national pastime for readers to pick their favorite Brownie and follow him throughout the book. The little rascals race across the page, drop their fishing lines down the margin, and wrap themselves around the text (a precursor to today’s graphic novel?). The imaginative, funny verse stories are worth examining from a historical standpoint, but without central characters they can become repetitive.



THE BROWNIES AT SCHOOL (from The Brownies: Their First Book, 1887)

As Brownies rambled ’round one night,
A country schoolhouse came in sight:
And there they paused awhile to speak
About the place, where through the week
The scholars came, with smile or whine,
Each morning at the strike of nine.
“This is,” said one, “the place, indeed,
Where children come to write and read.
“T is here, through rules and rods to suit,
The young idea learns to shoot;
And here the idler with a grin
In nearest neighbor pokes the pin,

(Rest of this story here.)

In case you’re wondering, the Kodak Brownie Camera was named after the books, and Cox is recognized as a pioneer in the field of licensed merchandising, predating Disney by decades. He allowed his Brownies to appear on everything from soap to puzzles, games, dolls and figurines.

All this sales talk is making me hungry. Excuse me for a bit, while I take a batch of brownies out of the oven.

Okay, I’m back. The first mention of brownies appeared in the 1897 Sears Catalogue, but it referred to a type of candy, instead of cake. The first brownie recipes (using chocolate instead of molasses) came from Boston and Maine (1906-07). Story goes, A Bangor housewife made a chocolate cake which fell, and rather than toss it out, she cut it into squares. Thank god for New England frugality!

Here’s my favorite brownie recipe. It’s not one of those overly-rich, double chocolate chip jobs, but more of a good, basic (nuts or no) recipe for all times. If you like fudgy brownies, underbake by a few minutes; otherwise it will have more of a cakey texture. For the ultimate brownie experience, wear brown during preparation, and ask your husband or somebody to clean the house (quietly) while you’re asleep. Yay, little men (I married a Rattigan leprechaun)!


2 sticks butter
2 squares Baker’s unsweetened chocolate
1-1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
4 eggs
2 cups sugar
2 tsp vanilla
2 cups nuts (optional)
4 tsp corn syrup

Melt butter and chocolate together over hot water. Cool.
Sift flour with baking powder and salt. Set aside.
Beat eggs until light. Add sugar, chocolate mixture and blend in corn syrup.
Add flour, vanilla, and nuts and mix well.
Bake in 9″ X 13″ pan coated with butter and flour in 350 degree oven for 30-35 minutes.
Cool and cut into squares. Sprinkle with powdered sugar.


Tantalizing links:

A not-to-be-missed page featuring Brownie Camera memorabilia and all the covers of the Brownie books.

All about Palmer Cox and the books.

Historical brownie recipes (scroll down).

Today’s Poetry Friday hostess is the lovely, Austenish Kelly R. Fineman, at Writing and Ruminating. She’ll be graciously serving a roundup of poems and some soulful tea!

Thanks so much for stopping in. You’ve definitely earned some brownie points!

chocolate of the rich and famous


“I don’t have to watch my figure as I never had much of one to watch. What you see before you is the result of a lifetime of eating chocolate.”  ~ Katherine Hepburn, at age 70 

thhotchocolate.png picture by jamesmargaret3rd  A big chocolatey thanks to all who voted in my Candy Bar Poll the other day!

Mars/Milky Way won by a nose, with Krackel/Nestle’s Crunch, Lindt, and Snickers tying for second.

The comments were very interesting. They proved that you can’t pigeon-hole writers. They simply will not settle for status quo, ho-hum chocolate. Ask a simple question, and you’ll get a complicated answer!

This is probably because most writers are rich and famous. 

By now, they have long outgrown their childhood favorite chocolate bars — those milky, sugary, high fat concoctions most closely resembling mother’s milk. They now have more, er, mature palates, which seek out the savoury instead of the overly sweet.

Confused? Okay. For the non-writers way up in the balcony seats, a little primer today on gourmet chocolate.

It really is the only way to go. Yes, I know. You’re thinking, gourmet? Expensive. Snooty. Hard-to-find. Gimmicky. No way.

That’s where education comes in. High quality chocolate may cost more, but with less sugar content, it will sate faster and for longer periods of time. A little goes a long way. True chocolate connoisseurs prefer bars of dark chocolate, not bonbons. Filled chocolates are great for special occasions, but if you wish to add chocolate to your daily, balanced diet, go for the high quality bars — no caramel, ganache, liquid raspberry, or praline. Like all the other food products you purchase, take time to read the labels!

General rules:

The darker the better. Look for 70% (or higher) cocoa content (percentage of total weight coming from cocoa beans)
Real vanilla, not vanillin
Sugar, not corn syrup or artificial sweeteners
No additives like lactose, malt extract, or butter fat
No other emulsifiers except soy lecithin
Be very suspicious of “cocoa powder” in a dark chocolate bar.

Chloe Doutre-Roussel, author of The Chocolate Connoisseur, and chocolate buyer at London’s Fortnum and Mason, seems to have been born with a chocolate spoon in her mouth. Her highly refined palate is the equivalent of a perfumer’s “nose.” She eats a pound of chocolate (and swims an hour) each day, and offers lots of tips for both selecting and tasting chocolate. Among the brands she suggests are:

Amedei (Italy)
Bonnat (France)
Chocovic (Spain)
Michel Cluizel (France)
Domori (Italy)
El Rey (Latin America)
Guittard (San Francisco)
Marcolini (Belgium)
Michael Recchiuti (San Francisco)
Pralus (France)
Scharffen Berger (USA)
Valrhona (France)

With any of these brands, you can be assured of strict quality control — cacao beans from only the best sources, use of less high-volume processing machinery, more time spent extracting the most flavor from the beans. These are not huge mass market companies, but smaller companies interested more in quality than quantity. Can’t find them near you? Check out For more info on some of these companies, be sure to visit this website. Even if you’re not in the market right now, it’s fascinating to see how specialized the chocolate industry has become — truly a worldwide revolution!

                              Valrhona is reportedly the world’s best

This was a real eye-opener for me. I assumed, maybe like some of you, that Godiva was high quality stuff. It sure costs enough. But just today I read the label on the back of a dark chocolate bar and discovered there was more sugar in it than cocoa! Also some undesirable ingredients like corn syrup, shellac, xanthum gum and vanillin, not real vanilla. It seems Godiva has all of us fooled with its clever marketing and fancy packaging. It’s owned by the Campbell Soup Company! To their credit, they’ve recently added higher quality bars containing just chocolate (50 or 70% cocoa), sugar, and soy lecithin. 

Chocolate has really grown up. It’s sought after and savored like fine wines, with tastings, festivals, and chocolate clubs around the world. More and more, you’ll see percentage of cocoa printed on bar labels. Some will also include type of bean(s), place of origin (plantation, country or estate), vintage and tasting notes. A far cry from the 5-cent Hershey bar I remember as a kid. But perhaps this represents a search for chocolate’s real essence and what it can truly offer us — minus the inferior ingredients that for so long made it a profitable commodity for big corporations. 

Next time you’re out shopping, look for some new chocolate brands and read the labels! Be willing to break old chocolate habits and be more discriminating. Because of the increasingly good news about its health benefits (wouldn’t you rather pay for chocolate than pain, depression, or heart meds?), the right chocolate can make a big difference in your life. But you have to do some homework, and some tasting, and rethink your relationship to chocolate. Who knows what great things may come of it?

But don’t take my word for it. Just look at all these high achievers:


Cole Porter had 9 pounds of chocolate shipped to him each month from his hometown.

In 1900, Queen Victoria sent her New Year’s greetings to the British troops stationed in South Africa during the Boer War in the form of a specially moulded chocolate bar.

Napoleon carried chocolate on his military campaigns for energy.

Jane Austen prepared chocolate for breakfast.

Paddington always shared a cup of cocoa with Mr. Gruber for elevenses.

Barbra Streisand’s favorite dessert is coffee ice cream with fudge sauce.

Samuel Pepys frequented coffee houses and strongly believed in the restorative powers of chocolate.

Thomas Jefferson loved hot chocolate: “The superiority of chocolate, both for health and nourishment, will soon give it the same preference over tea and coffee in America which it has in Spain.”

Frank Shorter reportedly eats a dozen chocolate bars for breakfast and eats several more for extra carbs on days he’s going on long distance runs.

Ernest Hemingway said, “I should have a musette full of chocolate. These I should distribute with a kind word and a pat on the back.”

American and Russian space flights have always included chocolate — both for nutritional and morale purposes, and chocolate is a standard part of army rations in times of stress.


 swears by Teuscher’s champagne truffles and Peppermint Patties.

Author Linda Urban (

) loves Lake Champlain chocolates.




, and 

 all go for Snickers.


 is in love with See’s Butterscotch Squares.

 prefers Skor, and author 

 likes Coffee Crisp.


 craves Kit Kat, 

 can be bribed with a Butterfinger,

 gives a hoot for Aero, and 

 treasures Twix.

Leaning toward Switzerland with Lindt are authors

, and


Anyone want to make it a threesome with 3 Musketeer lover and author 

For some serious Krackel and Crunch, consult authors 



, and




 are inspired by Almond Joy or Mounds.

Finally, the very rich and famous artist,

, and authors 


 can all be found on Mars or the Milky Way.

**Go forth, and get thee some chocolate!!


chocolate in kids’ books: fantasy or fallacy?


Um, some of you may have noticed that I’ve been a teeny bit obsessed with chocolate lately.

I’ve been dipping my nose in chocolate history and folklorepsychoanalyzing my relationship with chocolate, and trying hard to swallow my guilt. I’ve also been reading some well-known chocolatey fiction written for kids. 

Friends, I’ve detected a disturbing trend. 

Remember how I tried to figure out where my guilt came from? 

It could have been books!

Granted, I can’t remember exactly what I was reading back in the Pleistocene Period, when I was 8 or 9. But recently, I did re-read A Snout for ChocolateThe Chocolate Touch, Chocolate Fever, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It’s pretty hard to miss these titles if you’re a kid between the ages of 6 and 10, and like every other human being on earth, inextricably drawn to anything chocolate.

First off, all these books are fantasies. Makes sense. Chocolate is the stuff of fantasy, at any age. It’s also something everyone covets. Who doesn’t dream of having as much chocolate as they like, without any dire consequences? So, in all these stories, chocolate is held up as the ideal prize, the desirable object, definitely something to shoot for.

And, in all these stories, the characters with a strong love for chocolate are held up as examples of what not to do. They all have to learn their lessons about being greedy, and what happens when you love something too much.

Take A Snout for Chocolate, by Denys Cazet (HarperCollins, 2006). In this early reader (ages 4-8), Grandpa decides to entertain his poxed grandson, Barney, with a funny story about the time he was a firefighter and had to rescue obese, haughty Mrs. Piggerman, whose snout gets stuck to a frozen box of chocolates. Grandpa uses a hairdryer to melt the ice, so that Mrs. Piggerman can be pried from the refrigerator and lugged outside by five or six firemen. Grandpa says it would have been much easier to move the refrigerator.                     Cover Image

Just a funny story about a fat pig who ate too much? Or the eternal stereotype of the fat woman gorging herself on bonbons? When Grandpa first enters Mrs. Piggerman’s house, he sees candy wrappers strewn about and mutters, “Uh-oh, someone is off their diet.” Then when the firemen enter her kitchen, all they see is her huge backside. Too much chocolate is to blame for her size and predicament.

The Chocolate Touch, by Patrick Skene Catling (Morrow, 1952), and Chocolate Fever, by Robert Kimmel Smith (1972), both geared for early middle grade readers, feature similiar themes. In Catling’s book, a take-off on the King Midas legend, John Midas is greedy about all candy, but chocolate in particular. One day he finds a silver coin and wanders into a candy shop, where he buys a small ball of chocolate wrapped in gold foil. When he finally tastes it, he declares it to be the most chocolatey chocolate ever.

           Cover Image      Cover Image

But from then on, everything he touches turns to chocolate — his toothpaste, his pencil and notebook, all his food. Chocolate becomes the ultimate curse when he kisses his mother and she turns into a lifeless, chocolate statue. He rushes back to the candy shop and is told he must choose between losing his chocolate touch or his mother. Though he dreads the thought of any more all-chocolate meals, he has finally realized his selfish greed and begs for the return of his mother. 

In Chocolate Fever, Henry is similarly obsessed with chocolate, but Kimmel Smith tries to debunk a few anti-chocolate myths by stating early on:

It didn’t make him fat.
It didn’t hurt his teeth.
It didn’t stunt his growth.
It didn’t harm his skin.
Most of all, it never, never gave him a bellyache.

Still, Henry pays the price for his undying chocolate love when he breaks out in brown spots all over his body, which even smell like chocolate. The doctors are flummoxed but fascinated and treat Henry like a circus freak. Afraid and tired of being being poked and prodded, Henry runs away, is picked up by a kind trucker, and gets hijacked by some thieves, all the while learning lessons about moderation, courage, and prejudice. The cure for chocolate fever? Vanilla pills. The message? Chocolate = bad. Vanilla (or any other flavor) = good.

Finally, I looked at one of my all-time favorite children’s books, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl (Knopf, 1964). Hands down, this is THE ultimate chocolate fantasy, geared for upper middle grade readers. Dahl’s descriptions of his chocolate factory paradise never lose their appeal or deliciousness. Who wouldn’t love a chocolate river, invisible chocolate bars for eating in class, a craggy fudge mountain, or chocolate being sent to you through your television?

                    Cover Image
But in Dahl’s book, the main character, Charlie, is not a chocolate glutton. He is, in fact, a poor boy living in a small house with his parents and two sets of grandparents. They have very little to eat and survive mostly on cabbage soup. His bleak, Dickensian existence garners so much sympathy from the reader, that when he gets the final golden ticket enabling him to visit Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, we are more than overjoyed. It also helps that Charlie appears to be unselfish, mannerly and very humble.

Not so, Augustus Gloop, another golden ticket winner. He is the token fat boy in the story, whose only hobby is eating, especially chocolate bars. When he contaminates the river of hot chocolate by lapping it up like a dog, he gets sucked up a glass pipe, and does not reappear again until the story’s end, thin and repentant. Once again, chocolate gets punished.

But why not Charlie? Because he’s perfect in every way. He is the only child who does not meet an unsavory end, like Veruca Salt, the spoiled brat, who gets thrown down a rubbish chute by a hundred squirrels; or Violet Beauregarde, who turns into a huge blueberry because of her gum chomping obsession, or Mike Teavee, who gets sent out of this world by T.V., shrinks, and gets stretched a little too much.

I love Dahl’s sardonic wit and wild imagination, and understand his desire to instill lessons to be learned in the story. Though Charlie truly loves chocolate, he never had the chance to become greedy about it, since he only ate one chocolate bar every birthday. All the other children in the story are used for Dahl’s moralizing, and Charlie emerges unscathed, as he inherits the factory from Mr. Wonka at the end.

Does this mean that only deprived, humble children deserve chocolate? We get the impression that once Charlie and his family move into the factory, they will subsist on candy. No punishment for them, though, they’ve suffered enough already.

Children love these books. They laugh at Dahl’s wacky characters and can sympathize with both John Midas and Henry Green. They can see the consequences of greediness and excess from a safe distance. Those are all good things. But I wonder about the use, time and again, of fat kids being associated with chocolate, especially the image of a fat female pig. With all these satiric fantasies, chocolate is the common scapegoat, as it’s been for the last six decades. It’s very easy to internalize chocolate’s negative connotations without even realizing it. 

Women, especially, seem especially vulnerable:

I’d really like a piece of chocolate, but I really shouldn’t.
I’ve had a hard day; I deserve some chocolate.
Something this delicious has got to be sinful.
A minute on the lips, forever on the hips.

The ultimate fantasy still seems to be the ultimate punishment.

Well, I tell myself, no wonder. 

Chocolate, forgive us.


chocolate recipe archive

1. Chocolate Waffles

2. Hot Chocolate

3. Iron Skillet Chocolate Pie 

4. Chocolate Midnight Cake and Frosting 

5. Brownies

is chocolate an aphrodisiac?

Shame on you! There are children present.

But I know the thought probably crossed your mind, so let’s discuss it.

Last week, millions of women received heart-shaped boxes of chocolates for Valentine’s Day. I’m sure Godiva made a fortune, and many romantic evenings ensued. But could any of the 300 identified compounds in chocolate be held responsible?

I already mentioned in my guilty post that chocolate contains phenylethylamine, which makes you feel like you’re falling in love. Chocolate also contains caffeine, another brain stimulant. When you add these two things to chocolate’s so-called benefits as an anti-depressant, stamina builder, blood platelet thinner, anti-inflammatory, tooth decay inhibitor, stress reliever, and cure-all for dysepsia, gout, typhoid fever, dysentery, stomach disorders, chest ailments, tuberculosis, and fatigue — it certainly seems as though chocolate could do just about anything.

In 1624, Johan Franciscus Rauch, a professor in Vienna, condemned chocolate as an inflamer of passions and urged monks not to drink it. Madame du Barry, courtesan and mistress of Louis XV, always served her lovers a cup of chocolat before they entered her bedroom, and of course you may know that both the Marquis de Sade and Cassanova seduced their victims with chocolate.

Let me torture you with chocolate.

In 1631, Colmenero de Ledesma wrote that drinking chocolate incited love-making, led to conception in women, and facilitated delivery. Dr. Henry Stubbes (1632-1672), a widely respected and quoted English authority on chocolate, was convinced that chocolate was an aphrodisiac. After all, the Aztec emperor Montezuma drank 50 cups of chocolate every day before entering his harem. And if it was good enough for Montezuma . . .

Chocolate was worshipped and revered from its early days as a bitter drink spiced with chili peppers in ancient Mayan and Aztec civilizations, both for its curative and spiritual powers. It wasn’t called “food of the gods” for nothing. After Cortez brought cacao back to Spain, its immense value was kept under wraps for nearly a hundred years. Only Spanish monks knew the recipe for making chocolate and they weren’t telling anybody (those rascals also worked wonders last month with soup).

Then an Italian visited Spain, a Spanish princess with chocolate as part of her dowry married a Frenchman, and chocolate frenzy hit Europe big time. Coffee houses and salons proliferated in France and England, where chocolate became the favored drink of the elite. By this time it was sweeter, smoother, and milkier, thanks to lots of refinement in chocolate making techniques. Chocolate’s status soared, as did its reputation as a great aphrodisiac.

That’s just it. Chocolate has always had a reputation, a mystique, a loyal following. When someone gifts you with chocolate, you are already brimming with anticipation. All the pleasant choco memories of the past flood your thoughts, and even before a molecule of the stuff touches your lips, you’re in la la land. Chocolate’s melting point is the same as human body temperature. Once it reaches your tongue, it excites your taste buds, which then release all kinds of endorphins. No other food in human history has been capable of as much euphoria. It’s emotional, sensual, and totally irresistible. The reaction is the same as it was thousands of years ago, even in its crudest form.

An aphrodisiac? If you want it to be.

In honor of the lunar eclipse last night, here’s something so delish it’ll make you howl at the moon. It’ll take a little time, so consider trying it over the weekend. Lovingly mete out the ingredients, tenderly caress the batter, inhale the choco aroma with all your heart. Fall in love. At precisely midnight.



1 cup butter
2-1/2 cups sugar
4 unbeaten eggs
2 tsp vanilla
3 cups flour
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3 (1-oz) squares Baker’s unsweetened chocolate

1. Melt the chocolate in 1-1/2 cups hot water. Set aside to cool.
2. Cream butter and sugar well. Add eggs and vanilla.
3. Sift dry ingredients 3 times and add to above; stir in melted chocolate.
4. Grease and flour two 9″ round cake pans or a 9″ x 13″ pan.
5. Pour batter in pan(s) and bake for 25 minutes at 350 degrees, then for 10 minutes at 300 degrees.


2 (1-oz) squares Bakers chocolate
1-1/2 cups sugar
1/4 tsp salt
6 T cornstarch

Melt chocolate in 1-1/2 cups hot water, add sugar and salt. Mix cornstarch with a little water to make a thin paste, then whisk into the chocolate mixture. Stir gently over low heat, if necessary, until mixture thickens. Cool thoroughly.

OPTIONAL:  Make a box of Jello instant vanilla pudding to spread between cake layers before applying frosting over the whole. If using 9″x13″ pan, remove cooled cake from the pan, then carefully slice through entire cake crosswise, and spread pudding over cut surface before reassembling and frosting the whole.

NOTE: The frosting will be glossy and softish — not stiff enough to make peaks like canned, prepared frosting. Cook and thicken it to spreadable consistency.

TIPS: For a total death by chocolate experience, wear black and consume with 50 cups of coffee, tea, or milk.


“Love is like swallowing hot chocolate before it has cooled off. It takes you by surprise at first, but keeps you warm for a long time.” ~ Anonymous