Good Humor

Foods That Make Us Smile

“Life is uncertain. Eat dessert first,” counseled writer Ernestine Ulmer in her now famous bon mot.

What is it about desserts that can bring a smile to even the grumpiest adult? Woody Allen has even compared comedy to dessert, commenting that it is “a bit like meringue.”   Desserts are meant to be lighthearted. The very word, after all, is the exact reverse of stressed.

More than any other part of the meal, a favorite dessert instantly takes us back to treasured moments in our childhood—to a more uncomplicated time in our lives—if only momentarily. “Oreo cookies make me very happy,” confesses columnist Craig Wilson of USA Today. “I can eat a sleeve of them so quickly it even embarrasses me. Add a glass of milk, and I’m giddy.”

Dessert encourages us to engage our playful side, especially true if we are indulging in a familiar confection with a new twist:  a carrot cake cupcake; miniature ice cream sodas; a flight of tiny snow cones, each drizzled with homemade syrup; or a chocolate chip cookie you break apart like peanut brittle. (See accompanying recipes.)

“Research tells us
that 14 out of any
10 individuals
like chocolate.”
~ Sandra Boynton, author of
Chocolate: The Consuming Passion

Maybe what brings out our inner smile is the story associated with a treat. Perhaps it’s a baked apple Grandma used to make when you and your cousins visited her and managed to get into all kinds of scrapes. Most of us admit to having a sweet tooth; chocolate is such a universal craving that it’s a laughable legend.

As the late humorist Erma Bombeck reminds us, “Seize the moment. Remember all those women on the Titanic who waved off the dessert cart.”

Chocolate Crostini

So simple, yet so good.  The final sprinkle of salt makes all the difference.

Makes 16 crostini.
One 10-inch baguette
6 to 8 ounces good-quality dark chocolate, in bar or block form, cut into 16 pieces
Extra-virgin olive oil for brushing
Coarse kosher or sea salt for sprinkling

1. Preheat the oven to 375° F.
2. Slice off the ends of the bread and then slice the bread on the diagonal, ½-inch thick, to get 16 slices. Arrange the bread on a baking sheet and brush with olive oil. Bake for 15 minutes or until golden.
3. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and carefully place a piece of chocolate on each slice of bread. Return to the oven and warm for two minutes or until the chocolate begins to melt. Sprinkle with a tiny bit of salt and devour while warm.

Cookie Brittle

Like a chocolate chip cookie, but without any leavening, this dough, mixed with desired flavorings, just presses into the pan. After it bakes, break off the pieces. A shorter baking time produces a chewier cookie; a longer baking time delivers a crisper cookie.

Makes about 3 dozen pieces.
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted organic butter, softened
1 cup natural or turbinado sugar
1 tsp salt
1½ tsp vanilla extract
2 cups organic white whole wheat flour
1 cup flaked almonds, dried cherries, snipped dried apricots or desiccated coconut
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

1.    Preheat the oven to 350° F. Combine butter, sugar, salt and vanilla, beat until creamy. Stir in flour gradually, beating until blended. Fold in the almonds and chocolate chips, then press the dough into a large jelly roll pan. Bake 20 to 25 minutes.
2. Remove the pan from the oven and let cool. Break the baked cookie apart like peanut brittle.
3. Store in an airtight container.

Baked Lemon Spice Pears

The house will fill with the aromas of pear, vanilla and lemon with this dish in the oven. Serve with a favorite spice cookie.

Makes 4 servings.
4 firm pears, peeled, cored and cut in half lengthwise
¼ cup natural or turbinado sugar
1 vanilla bean
One 2- to 3-inch curling strip of fresh lemon peel
¼-inch-long cinnamon stick
1 cup water

1. Preheat the oven to 325° F. Oil the inside of a 9-inch square baking pan and set aside.
2. Place the pears cut-side down in the baking dish. Sprinkle with the sugar. Place the vanilla bean, lemon peel and cinnamon stick around the pears. Pour the water over all. Cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil.
3. Bake for 1½ hours, or until the pears are soft and fragrant. Serve garnished with the curling strip of lemon peel from the baking dish.

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