Jude's culinary journey

The runaway

By JUDE WATERSTON
Posted 12/22/21

My dad and I had an argument while he was helping me with some arithmetic problems I had brought home from school. I wasn’t following his instructions precisely the way he wanted me to. To make …

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Jude's culinary journey

The runaway

Completed butterscotch brownies.
Completed butterscotch brownies.
RR photos by Jude Waterston
Posted

My dad and I had an argument while he was helping me with some arithmetic problems I had brought home from school. I wasn’t following his instructions precisely the way he wanted me to. To make matters worse, I was, as usual, holding the pencil incorrectly, which always irked him. In his frustration with me, he stormed from the room, but not before peppering me with some stinging words.

It took me only a moment to make up my mind to run away from home. My older sister, Janet, often took this dramatic course in an effort to teach my parents a lesson. She sometimes walked all the way to the train tracks, which at seven and 10 years of age we were forbidden to do. I wasn’t even allowed past the end of our block.

Janet’s plan was to get run over by an oncoming train, causing Mom and Dad to be heartbroken and sorry for how unfairly they had treated her. Unlike me, she never announced that she was fleeing; she simply left a note behind, explaining in detail the pain she was suffering at the hands of our folks. One of her most memorable notes was fashioned like a greeting card and made from a sheet of beige construction paper. It had both words and graphics and was titled, “My Path is Getting Shorter.” On the cover is a drawing of a path strewn with the words, “A Journey to Seek Love,” and further down the page, “Try to Find Real Love.” Inside she wrote, “Sometimes you might love someone very much, but they just don’t like you. Love is what every child wants. But sometimes you just can not get it.” In what must have been a moment of guilt, she concluded with these choice words, “Truly your parents are trying to help you. Even if it doesn’t seem like it. They know their [sic] trying to help you. But you think they don’t love you. But most of the time they do.”

After angrily exiting my room, Dad had retreated to the living room with a crossword puzzle. I stood at the top of the landing outside my bedroom and peered down at him. He whistled along to Ella Fitzgerald on the record player as though he didn’t have a care in the world. He had clearly put me out of his thoughts. I was infuriated. I returned to my bedroom and pulled out the small paisley overnight bag I used for trips to visit my Grandma Bella. I grabbed my Barbie doll, who was scantily dressed in a strapless black-and-white striped one-piece swimsuit and put her in the bag, along with a book called “Bad Mousie” and a brown-and-white stuffed rabbit named Bobo.

I flew down the stairs, throwing my dad a glaring look he totally missed, and at the front door I called out in my loudest, most emotionally filled voice, “I’m running away!”

I was fiddling madly with the doorknob when my mom appeared at my side. She put a steadying hand on my shoulder, and I turned to look up into her face, tears beginning to sting my eyes. “Do you have a minute? I could pack a banana, or would you rather have a sandwich to take with you?” she asked.

My mom knew me well. My usual scheme for running away was to walk to the end of the block, sit on the curb, and eat whatever she had handed me at the door. Usually, I accepted a banana. By the time I had finished my snack I’d invariably forgotten what had made me angry or even that I’d planned to run away, and I’d return home.

I took a deep breath, unsure whether to bolt or take a moment to listen to her. The suitcase was already beginning to feel heavy in my hand, and I saw through the front-door windows that the sky was beginning to darken.

“What kind of sandwich?” I asked.

My mother guided me into the kitchen. “Actually, I was about to bake some butterscotch brownies,” she said. “Would you like to help me?”

“Sure, I could take some with me when I go,” I said.

“Absolutely,” my mom assured me.

Together, we took the ingredients from the cabinets and fridge and soon the kitchen was filled with the sweet, intense smell of cookies baking.

“Go take your bag upstairs and empty it,” my mom suggested after we’d cleaned up. Once again the melodrama of my young life slipped from my mind and I headed toward the stairs, passing my dad in the living room, who commented, “Smells good in here.”

“It’s for dessert,” I told him.

“How about a kiss?” he asked. I put the paisley suitcase down at the foot of the stairs and threw my arms around his neck.

Butterscotch brownies

Because I’m a cook and not a baker, I can’t leave well enough alone and like to add my own touch to whatever I make. I added a little more than ¼ cup of chopped semi-sweet chocolate chips, which I tossed with a teaspoon of flour to keep them from landing in the bottom of the pan. You can also use mini-chips if you can find them.

Makes 24 bars

  • ¼ pound (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon light molasses
  • 1 ¼ cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup sifted all-purpose flour
  • 2 ½ ounces (3/4 cup) pecans or walnuts, coarsely cut or broken

Adjust a rack one-third of the way up from the bottom of the oven and preheat to 350 F. Butter a 9-inch-square baking pan.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter. Beat in the vanilla and molasses. Add the brown sugar and beat well. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition, and then beat at a moderately high speed for 1-2 minutes, scraping the bowl occasionally with a spatula, until the mixture is very smooth and light in color.

With the mixer on low speed, add the flour, pausing occasionally to scrape the bowl with the spatula. Beat just until thoroughly mixed.

Remove the bowl from the mixer and stir in nuts. Transfer the dough to the buttered pan and spread the mixture to make an even layer.

Bake for 30-32 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center just barely comes out clean.

Let cool completely in the pan. With a small, sharp knife, cut around the sides to release, and then cut the cake into quarters. With a wide metal spatula, transfer the quarters to a cutting board. Cut each quarter in half and then cut each piece into 3 bars.

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