Sometimes it's easier to skip the hard stuff. Maybe you know what I mean. Maybe you never read Marley and Me because you saw your friends (or in my case, students) feeling weepy towards the end. Maybe you switch off the sad songs, avoid the poignant movies. Maybe you make a joke in the difficult moments to defend yourself from the truth of your emotions, but also keep a secret stash of tissues in your purse for when it doesn't work.
Some things you can't skip, though. Some trials are ordained for you. God has known them -- and you -- since before the foundation of the world, and when He says you're going through and not around, it's the right path. Go.
One of the things I can't skip is the fact that Mike is no longer a Charlottean. Wonderfully and sadly, he moved to Raleigh at the beginning of August to start his graduate program in math.
Mike and I have been together for 11 and a half years now. He saw me complete my first year of high school, get my license, graduate, enroll at Davidson College. He sat with me the morning before my Teach for America interview, picked up the pieces with me as I quit my first real job and moved on to my second real job, and shared my joy when I found Woodlawn, where I teach now. He saw the demise of my first website, the beginning of my blogs, the constant ebb and flow of my poetry. He's been there.
During my difficult high school years, I'd sometimes drive straight to his apartment after school and play housewife, making Hamburger Helper and eating it on the couch with him while watching Star Trek. On a trip to Charleston in 2003, he bought me flowers that I still have dried in my closet. I saw him eat his first funnel cake in Gatlinburg. During our relationship, I've been the girlfriend of a cable guy, a dental technician, a programmer, a mathematician, a college student, a college grad, and now a graduate student. I can't explain how his transition has inspired me.
What with all that "being there" we've done for over a decade, it was particularly difficult to see him pack up his things and move at the beginning of August. While I haven't been able to ignore the fact that he now lives three hours away and can't pop over as needed, I have been able to skip talking about it much, so instead I've been talking about popsicle molds and Piers Morgan. I know you understand.
The week before he moved, Mike came over and we made going-away brownies. He loves brownies, but I'd never made him any -- something I felt I had to remedy before he moved. We mixed and baked together, another thing I'd always meant to do with him, and the final product was sweeter for it.
These brownies were a great choice -- they're indulgent and fudgy, with the gorgeous tang of cream cheese that I love. The marbling on top looks fancy, but is extremely easy to accomplish. In half the pan, we embedded funsize Snickers in the batter, which added a superb nutty, caramelly crunch to the brownie base. Naturally, knowing he was moving in a week made each bite a bittersweet experience, but the brownies themselves were the perfect treat for us to enjoy together.
Marbled Chocolate Cheesecake Brownies
Recipe by: adapted from Joy of Cooking
Yield: 9 large or 16 smaller brownies
Brownie Layer Ingredients:
1/2 cup (113 grams) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
4 ounces (115 grams) unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 1/4 cups (250 grams) granulated white sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1/2 cup (65 grams) all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
funsize Snickers (optional)
Cream Cheese Layer Ingredients:
8 ounces (227 grams) cream cheese, at room temperature
1/3 cup (65 grams) granulated white sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 large egg
Directions: Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (160 degrees C) and place the rack in the center of the oven. Prepare a 9-inch square baking pan: Spray pan with nonstick cooking spray. Create a foil sling for the pan by cutting two 16-inch lengths of foil and fold them to widths of 5 inches each. Fit foil pieces into baking dish, one overlapping the other, pushing them into corners and up sides of pan; allow excess to overhang pan edges. This creates a sling that will help you remove the brownies after baking and cooling. Spray foil lightly with nonstick cooking spray.
Place a heat-proof stainless steel bowl over a saucepan of simmering water to create a double-boiler. Place the butter and chocolate in the bowl to melt. Remove from the heat and stir in the sugar and vanilla extract. Add the eggs one at a time and beat well with a wooden spoon after adding each. Add the flour and salt and continue stirring with the wooden spoon until the batter is glossy, smooth, and pulls away from the side of the bowl (about one minute). Reserve 1/2 cup of brownie batter for topping. Pour the rest of the batter carefully into prepared pan (here, you can stud the batter with rows of funsize Snickers if desired.
In a separate bowl, use a hand mixer to blend the cream cheese until smooth. Add the sugar, vanilla extract, and egg and blend just until smooth. Spread this mixture carefully over the brownie layer, and then place dollops of the 1/2 cup reserved brownie batter at even intervals over the top. Use a table knife or wooden skewer to carefully marble the dollops through the cream cheese, careful not to mix the batters.
Bake for about 25 minutes or until the brownies just begin to pull away from the sides of the pan and are just starting to brown. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack until almost cool. Then, chill the brownies in the refrigerator for about two hours, until they're firm enough to cut into squares. Once chilled, remove the brownies from the pan by lifting the ends of the foil sling carefully. Transfer to a cutting board and cut into 9 or 16 squares as desired, cleaning the knife with a warm, damp cloth between cuts. You can store leftovers in airtight container in the refrigerator for several days.
P.S. - Some people are experiencing even greater trials right now. Erika of Ivory Hut just lost her house and all her possessions in a horrific house fire. Would you consider donating to help her through this difficult time?
P.S. 2 - In the midst of a trial, there is great blessing. We received news recently that my dad is still cancer-free!