December 4, 2011

Being Glad You're Alive

I recently celebrated a spate of birthdays, including my own. I'm not really one for getting worked up about how "old" I'm getting, as I think that there's something to celebrate about pretty much every age. But something about 28 made me itchy and forlorn. Maybe it's because I'm in the middle of a transition period, or something.

But then I remembered what I like to tell other people about birthdays: they should be one of the most important celebrations of the year because they are a celebration of your life. It's a day not about turkeys or relationships or past presidents, but a day about celebrating everything that you have been and everything that you are. When someone says "happy birthday!" aren't they also saying "I'm glad you're alive"? This past year has been one of my most tumultuous, but I've seen and done some amazing things amidst the chaos: I hiked in Tasmania, something I'd been wanting to do for ever and ever. I finished book #2. I worked hard at my writing and finally, finally, started feeling like I could call myself a writer. I taught university kids about grammar. I got to spend Thanksgiving with my family for the first time in five years. And now, because life is funny and strange, I find myself teaching creative writing to bright-eyed high school students who look at me like I actually might have something to teach them.

Birthdays give us a chance to reflect and be grateful for the fact that we're alive, which in itself is a small kind of miracle.

And an excuse to make some magnificent brownie treats. These are from Donna Hay, Australian Queen of Desserts. They were so good I made a second patch and gave them to friends and family, who ate them with eyes full of baffled awe. These are glorious treats - if you like chocolate and peanut butter, you should probably make these right this second.

(You can get the new Donna Hay Magazine app for the iPad: November's issue can be downloaded for free.)  
From Donna Hay Magazine, Nov/Dec Issue 2011

Peanut Butter Brownies
from Donna Hay Magazine

(if you don't have a scale, it's easy to find butter conversion charts online. Just Google it.)

v dark chocolate, chopped
v 40g butter
v  2 eggs
v 2/3 cup (150g) caster (superfine) sugar
v 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
v ¼ cup (35g) plain (all-purpose) flour, sifted
v ¼ teaspoon baking powder, sifted
peanut butter frosting (*)
v 1 cup (160g) icing (confectioner’s) sugar 
v 1 cup (280g) smooth peanut butter
v 80g butter
v 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and a pinch of cinnamon (because I put it in everything)
v cup (80ml) pouring cream

(* The second time I made these I cut the frosting recipe in half, because the first time I ended up with way more than I needed. Of course, because I can never stand to waste something so glorious, I used it all and ended up with sandwiches you could barely fit into your mouth and discovered that there IS such a thing as too much peanut butter frosting.)

Preheat oven to 180°C (350°F). Put 200g of the chocolate and the butter in a small saucepan over low heat and stir until melted and smooth. Set aside. Place the eggs, sugar and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer and whisk for 15 minutes or until pale and creamy (mine didn't take nearly that long). Stir through the flour, baking powder, chocolate mixture and remaining chocolate and allow to stand for 10 minutes. Spoon tablespoonfuls of the mixture, at a time, onto baking trays lined with non-stick baking paper. Bake for 8–10 minutes or until puffed and cracked (watch them carefully, they don't take long). Allow to cool completely on trays.

To make the peanut butter frosting, place the sugar, peanut butter, butter and vanilla in an electric mixer and beat for 6 minutes or until light and fluffy. Add the cream and beat for a further 2 minutes. Spread half the cookies with the peanut butter frosting and sandwich with the remaining cookies. Makes about 12.

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