Brownies are by far my favorite thing to eat and bake. I probably say this about a few different things (chocolate chip cookies, creme brulee, snickerdoodles) but let’s be real: brownies win by a long shot. I prefer them more fudge-y than cake-y, firmer and denser rather than gooey, and more bitter than sweet, usually. I could easily have made dense, fudge-y gluten-free brownies, but I’d like to learn more about how different ingredients affect the end product, and how to achieve different desired results.
The process of making the brownies gluten-free was unbelievably easy: I just substituted rice flour for all-purpose flour. At first, I made a batch using agar-agar to substitute gluten/gelatin, but when I made the second and third batches, I realized I didn’t need any gelatin. I doubled the eggs for richer, fluffier brownies, but then they were too cake-y. I ended up cutting back on the flour in the end and they were perfect. I was afraid they’d taste rice-y or weird, but I was the only person who could taste it…and maybe for the second time this year the people I gave pastries to raved about them. Like more than usual. So I guess I did something right.
I am also happy to announce that, though I’m leaving my job this year, I’ll still be somewhat involved in a very minor, and newly-formed role: the Social Media Dude for Gluten-Free JET, a special interest group within the program’s structure that was granted full membership a month ago. I’ve done social media things before, aside from blogging about my kitchen blunders, so even though I won’t be in the country, I was happy to get my hands dirty with the project. It’ll give me a chance to learn about celiac and gluten allergies, and a way to stay connected even after I’m gone (*cue helicopter sounds*.)
I started trying to learn about gluten a few years ago because my uncle has celiac disease. Unfortunately, none of the information seems to stick very well so I end up reinventing the wheel constantly. I hope that I can spend more time and effort this year on learning about the allergies, and that the information I pick up sticks with me.
makes ~2 dozen brownies (depending on how big you want to cut them)
*I used a tiny toaster oven so my own recipe is half of this. If you use this recipe, it can fit into a 9×9-inch square brownie pan. If you, like I do, live in Japan and can’t use a 9×9-inch brownie pan, use a “vat” (the half-sized pans for making roll cakes or for baking other things) and cut the recipe in half exactly.
120 g unsalted butter, melted
360 g granulated sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract (or just dump it in as you like)
120 g white rice flour
60 g cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 c chocolate chips
If using a conventional oven, preheat to 350 F/175 C. Line the brownie pan with parchment paper.
Melt the butter in a large bowl over a double boiler. Remove from the heat and mix in the sugar.
Mix in the vanilla extract.
Using a spatula, beat in the eggs one at a time, until each is fully mixed in.
In a separate smaller bowl, combine the cocoa powder, baking powder, and flour. Beat into the batter a little at a time (about 8 additions), but you don’t need to mix fully yet.
Mix in the chocolate chips and salt until there are no pockets of flour left.
Pour batter into the pan and bake/toast for 25 minutes (740 W if using a toaster oven). You can do the toothpick test but brownies are better without it. Slightly underbaked and they’ll be rich and fudge-y.
Transfer the pan to the refrigerator immediately and cool before cutting.
Elle n’est pas brune. Elle est blonde.
How’s my French?
On a whim, and because I was bored, I started studying French last December. I use an app on my phone so I can study anywhere, anytime. For a long time I’ve wanted to learn French and go to France. I’ve been once and I tried studying it a little in high school but it never took. Now, though, as my time in Japan is coming to an end, I think I’d like to pick up some more languages and see how much I can manage. I couldn’t survive on my own in a French-speaking country unless they speak English, and I can only say “I am not a cat” in Spanish (I’m also trying Spanish.)
They are both worlds apart from Japanese…and surprisingly different from each other.
“She is not dark-haired. She is blonde.”
And so are these bars.
For the longest time, I had no idea what a blondie could possibly be, even though I had seen pictures. I looked online and as it turns out, it’s a brownie without chocolate. It’s vanilla-flavored and has brown sugar instead of granulated (white) sugar.
I played around with different amounts of flour, eggs, and butter, and this recipe is what I’ve come up with. You can take this recipe and change it to make different types of blondie bars, such as vegan bars, gluten-free bars, coconut bars, and so on.
basic blondie bars/blonde brownies
*If making these in a small, Japanese oven, cut the recipe in half. It’s doubled for American ovens and tools.
226 g unsalted butter, melted
360 g all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
200 g brown sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp kosher salt
If using a conventional oven, preheat to 175 C/350 F. Line a square brownie pan with parchment paper.
Melt the butter in a large bowl. Using a wooden spoon/spatula, mix in the brown sugar, vanilla, and eggs (one at a time.) You don’t need to beat fully but just until almost incorporated.
In a separate medium bowl, combine the flour and baking powder.
Mix the dry ingredients into the batter until fully incorporated, but don’t beat too much. Last, add in the salt.
Spread the batter in the pan and bake for 20 – 25 minutes until done. You can take out early for gooey, fudgy bars, or leave in longer for cake-y bars. If using a toaster oven, toast at 740 W for the same amount of time. Move pan to the fridge.
When fully cooled, cut and enjoy!
Au revoir a bientot!
Categories: bars and brownies
And finally, two months later, here is part two of the travel blog. And because I got terribly sick during the second week, this is also unfortunately the final part of the Indonesia episode (though I hope the TravelKlutz can continue in the future.)
After a fitful and humid night of (not) sleeping in the hostel in Ubud, I got up before dawn on a Saturday morning to catch a ride to Sanur, near the airport, so I could get the fast boat to Gili Air. The Gili islands are a trio of islands in Lombok, east of Bali. The ride was about 1.5 hours, and as we all learned the hard way, exactly the length of the new Fast and Furious movie. A movie that I don’t recommend to anyone. Fast cars, excessive explosions, tacky Hollywood, and bodybuilders…no thank you.
The first island, Gili Air, was the smaller of the two I stayed on. It took me around half an hour to walk the perimeter. This I learned as I was killing time before the yoga class that I never went to because I got lost in the jungle. I gave up 20 minutes before the class started and crashed through the brush to get hammered at the first happy hour I could find. Not a difficult task: every single bar on the island, of which there were dozens, was having happy hour right at that moment.
They also, I was elated to discover, all had wifi. Something my hostel was apparently too good for (“We don’t have wifi. We have friends and conversations.” Not from what I witnessed, you don’t.) The first thing I learned from this trip, and I think a very important thing, was how difficult it is to truly disconnect. It was nice not having 3G for two weeks and occasionally being forced offline, and I did certainly take advantage of the retreat. But at least twice a day, I would seek out wifi and stay glued to my ass. I may be ashamed of how often I stayed connected to wifi, but I will never be ashamed of all the cocktail photos I took. Getting drunk in Indonesia is cheap, y’all.
I intended to get some reading done on the island, and that I did. I finished a book, drank on the beach, slept on the beach, slept in the hostel, drank in the hostel, went to a cooking class, watched the sun rise through apple-flavored cocktails, and bought a mask made from a coconut shell. Aside from yoga, that is all basically what one does on the island. It was a beautiful place and I could even have stayed an extra day. I never get tired of happy hour and $2 beef rendang (I ate far too much on this trip.)
Since living in Los Angeles, I’ve found that one of my favorite things to do is walk. Just walk around and see my area. I do it a lot in Japan. I’ve been to 8 of the 10 largest cities in the country and whenever I plan a domestic trip, people ask me what I plan to do in that city. My answer is usually “walk…and eat.” For a long time, I’ve been a solo traveler, not having the energy to deal with planning trips with other people (if they plan the trip and invite me along then I’m all for it.) I was nervous about traveling alone in Indonesia, but a part of me was also excited to have a chance to just walk around another country and see things at my own pace. The Gili islands, all three of them, are perfect for that.
I also like to read. I end up reading pretty slowly in the long run…because I only read on the weekends. Sometimes I sneak a peak at my kindle when I’m at work (I would feel more guilty if I weren’t unbelievably productive during most of the day, and if I didn’t stay an extra 2-3 hours at work most days of the week.) I like to read non-fiction books but I can’t process so much information in a short period of time. Those tend to take 2-3 months for me to finish, because I’ll read about ten pages at a time and only twice a week.
Being in Indonesia and either not having the energy or the health to do all the amazing things every moment of every day meant working on my books. I probably read more in those two weeks than I ever have in my life, including college.
I was on Gili Air for two nights before I moved onto Party Island, Gili Trawangan (“Gili T.”)
I’m not a very outgoing person and sometimes just the thought of socializing saps what little strength I have left. I didn’t expect to do any real partying while I was abroad, but promised myself I would be open to the opportunity. Regardless, it was nice to be on this island. Gili T has a very different energy than Gili Air. It’s much larger (about 2 hours walking around the perimeter, which I never actually got to do), and louder. It’s far more popular as a tourist destination than the other two islands.
Despite my introverted solo-traveler nature, I loved it. It was gorgeous, weird, eclectic, exciting, energetic, but still casual. 10/10 would visit again.
After hostel-hopping in the last two places, I treated myself to luxury here: a private bungalow at $70 a night for 3 nights, with a restaurant and bar. It was run by a lovely French woman who knew everything about the island and Indonesia. If I had more time and energy I would have wanted to party with her. As soon as I arrived I pestered her for recommendations and she gave me a map marked with her favorite sunset spot (accomplished) and snorkeling company (also accomplished.) Thank you, Nathalie.
Merci beaucoup pour vos faveurs.
I got up at the buttcrack of dawn (again) on my first morning on the island and found my way to the snorkeling company. I don’t remember the name. Masjid something-something. Their storefront was a plank nailed to a tree and they operated out of the side of a Buddhist craft shop (from which I bought many souvenirs for my family.)
I’ve been snorkeling one other time in my life but it was not what I would successful: When I was in high school, my parents took me to Antigua, an island in the Caribbean. We tried to do all of the tourist-y things we could, but we couldn’t go sailing because…it was too windy? (We did eventually go sailing and all I remember is my dad yelling, yelling, yelling at me like Rachel at Joey in the episode where she teaches him to sail. Thanks, dad.) We tried snorkeling at the beach but the water was too murky so that didn’t last long.
That being said, there was one moment I will always remember positively about that trip: swimming with manta rays. Or, more specifically, getting a hickey from a manta ray. They are smooth bastards, those slippery rays.
When Nathalie mentioned I could do some world-class snorkeling within walking distance of the villa, I nearly jumped out of my swim trunks.
I wasn’t prepared to take any photos during the snorkeling trip but it really was an amazing opportunity and a perfect second chance. I got to see a coral reef for the first time in my life, I watched the instructor dance with a turtle larger than himself, I swam in whatever sea surrounds the Gili islands, I pet a pufferfish (frightened out of its mind, naturally), and I learned exactly what it’s like when your breathing pipe isn’t fully screwed onto your mask. And I bumped into people a lot.
But most importantly, I got diarrhea that lasted nearly a week.
I did manage to finish my souvenir shopping and watch the sun set from Paradise Sunset Lounge (complete with a fire dancer and in-house DJ.) I walked through the forest to get there and ended up covered head to toe in mosquito bites. I’m not sure which is worse, the rear-end problems or the welts making me queasy.
I also made it to another yoga class and managed to survive the whole hour. It was by far the most peaceful yoga class I’ve ever been to. It was a small class somewhere in the woods, the studio was small, and there was a bar/restaurant just below us. Clearly not the most popular tourist destination so I wasn’t ashamed of how much strength I lacked compared to the handful of other people there. And it rained the whole time, but because we were under a roof, it provided a nice backdrop and soundtrack to the practice. I don’t like going out in the rain but I like doing yoga when it’s raining. It’s a conundrum and there is only one solution: become a yoga teacher so I can do yoga on my own at home and never have to set foot outside.
It may not have ended as pleasantly as it started but the trip was well worth everything I paid and all the poops I made. I would go back to Indonesia again in a heartbeat and I would even leave the tourist areas next time. I’d give anything to have a chance in Borneo or Sumatra, if I thought I could physically manage it. I didn’t make any friends or hold onto any connections but I at least learned how to recognize them. I know what to do in the future.
Connect, connect, connect.
I learned more about my limits: where they do end and where they don’t end. I may have taken it too slowly but at least I didn’t push myself to the point of exhaustion. I didn’t learn anything about the country per se, I made a really f***ing huge step in my own life. I know that I’ll have to capacity to expand my horizons more from now on, and to start learning more about the world around me.
But I’m probably gonna take it easy on the traveling for a while.