Archive for February, 2007

Brownies

February 26, 2007

You want this recipe. These are the best brownies I’ve ever made, and I didn’t even use enough or the right kind of chocolate last night when I made them. It was Oscar night, and we had four inches of snow, so what better time to have a little party in my new house with chili, cornbread, cole slaw and brownies? And these brownies were the hit of the night. Perfect consistency–crispy and cakey on top and fudgy in the middle. The New York Times food writer who I stole the recipe from calls them “Man-Catcher Brownies,” and the recipe ran in the food section right around Valentine’s Day. And if a man doesn’t fall for these, well, he probably has a severe lack of appreciation for chocolate and sweetness.

12 oz (3 sticks) unsalted butter
2 cups cocoa powder, sifted (natural or dutch process)
6 eggs
2 cups sugar
2 cups light brown sugar
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9×13 pan with aluminum foil or parchment paper and spray with nonstick cooking oil spray.

Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Remove from heat and stir in cocoa powder. Let cool slightly.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs together, then add the sugars and vanilla. Stir to combine. Add the cooled butter-chocolate mixture, then fold in the flour and salt until just combined. Do not overmix. Spread the batter evenly in the pan. Bake for 40-45 minutes or until a crust forms on the surface and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out mostly clean. Transfer the pan to a wire rack. Cool completely before cutting the brownies.

There they are. Enjoy them. Substitute mint or almond extract for a tablespoon of the vanilla for a different twist. And then catch a man, whatever that means.

Dabbling in Real Estate

February 5, 2007

I’m gonna preface this one with the fact that I hate selling things to people. Why I’m trying to get into politics with that mindset I haven’t quite figured out yet. But it’s true. I felt the tiniest bit uncomfortable every time I made a persuasive phone call in Montana. How I ended up selling condos in Washington, DC is also a bit of a mystery.

I arrived in the nation’s capitol four weeks ago, a wide-eyed and idealistic not-yet-young professional, with no job, home, and few friends. Thanks to my cousin Sandi, whose generosity rivals that of any artist’s patron, I landed a weekend job as a sales assistant at luxury condo developments.

I sit at the desk, answer the phone, greet potential buyers, and remind people that I’m new, so I can’t really answer their questions knowledgeably. When showing model units, or unfurnished ones, I can provide helpful hints such as “Room really do look smaller before you add the furniture,” or “You might want to think about a flat screen tv to go with the built-in surround-sound wiring in this unit.” These are useful life skills.

There is a glut of condos on the market in DC. The whole city seems to be rising from the ashes of abandoned neighborhoods into towers of condos with amenities and incentives. And it all seems so normal to the people involved. Nevermind that nowhere else in the country is the condo-concentration of real estate so high. Apparently the difference between a condo and an apartment is just that you own a condo and rent an apartment, but there seems to be a lifestyle difference as well.

Last weekend I worked at a building where people have already moved into a large chunk of the units. Almost every person who walked through the lobby had either a baby or a dog in tow, as if these were required accessories for occupancy. In the sales office, a picture of idealized young professionals drinking wine coolers assured potential buyers that living in this building would bring them status, friends, and loads of fun. “Buy a condo here and you’ll look this happy too!” the pictures suggest.

The sales agents are also mostly young and hip, playing to their demographic: young, sometimes hip people with money. Single male lawyers, lobbyist couples, IT workers from Virginia, whoever else makes that much money in DC. Certainly not young nonprofit professionals.

In this way, the DC real estate market is a close parallel to John Edwards’ Two Americas campaign rhetoric, except perhaps with a little more mobility. The haves buy the condos for sums that might buy a small island in a Kansas lake, and the have-nots, or have-not-yet-established-themselves, rent rooms in dingy group houses for sums that would buy only a time share on said island.

One day, the haves will sell their condos and upgrade to houses where the kids can each have a room. Then the have-not-yet-established will buy the condos created out of the old buildings that have been gutted, refurbished, and redesigned for a new generation of urbanites to inhabit on their way to suburban family bliss.

Global Flamingo Fever

February 4, 2007

Picture courtesy of Derek’s trip to the Rift Valley in Kenya. That’s a lot of pink flamingos in one place. Can be seen in the original context on his blog.

Flamingos in Africa