You’re Buttering Me Up, Martha! – Brown Butter Toffee Blondies! -190 eggs, 149 1/4 cups of sugar, 141 3/4 sticks of Butter, and 181 cups of flour used so far- 69 recipes to go!

February 28, 2011

Martha's Brown Butter Toffee Blondies

André's Brown Butter Toffee Blondies

My partner, Dan and I were watching Martha’s show on the Hallmark Channel the other day and she was whipping up a batch of Brown Butter Toffee Blondies. Since I knew this was one of the recipes in the book, I took her lead and headed off to the kitchen to knock this one off the list. Problem was I didn’t have any toffee bits. I was about to head out the door to the local grocers to pick up some when it occurred to me that toffee can’t be that difficult to make and I probably had all the ingredients in my cupboard.

After a quick search on the internet, I found several quick and easy recipes for homemade toffee. Toffee is simply a no-frills sugar candy that is made by heating sugar till it turns a light amber color (soft boil for those of you with a candy thermometer) with a bit of butter added to the mixture at the last minute. It’s really no different than making caramel with butter substituted for caramel’s heavy cream instead. Once the sugar is sufficiently heated to a shade of amber and butter is combined and allowed to sizzle down to a bubbly state, the mixture is poured into a jelly roll pan and allowed to cool and harden into a brittle-like consistency. You can smell the aroma of sugar and butter wafting through the air. Simply delectable.

The next step was quite easy. I covered the hardened toffee with plastic wrap and whacked the hell out of it with a hammer. Voila! Toffee bits!

The rest of the recipe is pretty straightforward. Flour, sugar, eggs, vanilla, baking powder and salt are combined with butter. The difference in this recipe is the butter is browned before it’s added to the other ingredients. This doesn’t mean that it’s burned. Rather, the butter solids are allowed to melt down and take on a bit of color. You can see little flakes of browned butter solids in the bottom of the pan. This gives the butter an intense nutty flavor. It’s really butter flavor at its best. In Indian cooking this is a common practice to separate the butter solids from the oil, ghee. Ghee, or clarified butter, is a staple in most Indian cuisine and is usually the first ingredient to go in the pan.

I folded my homemade toffee bits into the batter, poured the entire mixture into a parchment-lined, square baking pan and threw them into the oven. I am now convinced that Martha must have some sort of patent on parchment paper. I have surely gone through at least a tree’s worth of the stuff since taking on this ridiculous challenge. Once the blondies turned golden brown I removed them and allowed them to cool on a wire rack. Martha suggested I cut these into shapes but I thought that idea was just nonsense and a waste of really good blondie bits. I defiantly cut them into rectangles instead and took them to work where my co-workers “oooed” and “ahhhed” with each bite. They are buttery, sweet and nutty with just a slight punch of salt in each bite. Just delicious.

I’ve had a lot of conversations in the past few weeks around growing up Catholic and how years of Catholic schooling has turned me into one heck of a Hindu. When it comes to religion, sex and politics there never seems to be a shortage of opinions and so far my experience has been that no one, including myself, ever really gets it right. Maybe we’re not suppose to. To pull a bit of Catholic dogma out of my back pocket, I’d have to say these subjects fall under the category of mysteries. In other words, we ain’t suppose to understand them. That doesn’t mean we don’t have the right to have an opinion about them. We should have opinions. They keep our conversations interesting and spark intellectual debate. I just don’t think we should ever assume our opinions are infallible.

I am a fairly insecure person. I often assume my opinions are flawed but that insecurity has proven beneficial. It keeps me open to new ideas and seeing things from other points of view. It also helps that I have many friends with vastly different opinions who will argue their position until they are enraged. I love these debates. I learn so much from them. I rarely allow myself to get angry during a debate, though. It’s hard to be angry when you are surrounded by cookies I guess.

In my early thirties, after many years of not attending mass, I was of the opinion that there was no place for me, an openly vocal gay male, in any Catholic congregation. This is probably because the church has always been pretty adamant that homosexuality is a sin and that my kind is hell bound. I had reasons for landing on this opinion and I unflappably held onto this opinion for years.

I remember Father Braum preaching against the love that dare not speak its name to my eighth-grade class at Saint Thomas More. He called it an abomination. He said that it was a deadly defect of the soul and basically made Jesus throw up.

Father Braum was a very handsome young priest with a full head of perfectly groomed jet black hair and piercing blue eyes. He had a smile worthy of the six o’clock news and he oozed a perfectly well-mannered charm that melted the nuns at our school into little pools of black & white. My mother jokingly called him Father-What-a-Waste. I thought he was one of the most handsome men I had ever known and even though he spewed some of the most hateful rhetoric I’d ever heard, there was no denying that Father Braum was one thick slice of dreamy priestly beefcake.

My friend Matthew was a grade behind me and a veteran altar boy when Father Braum showed up. Matthew had a difficult year. He was the youngest of seven kids and was by all accounts an oops-baby born to a mother on the cusp of menopause and a father already well into his fifties. The year Father Braum showed up, Matthew’s elderly father passed away suddenly leaving Matthew alone at the age of thirteen with a grieving mother in her mid-fifties. Father Braum took Matt under his wing. He offered comfort and concern for his young parishioner and the two became inseparable. Matt was no longer available for weekend trips to the mall to catch a movie or hang out at the food court wishing we were more popular. Instead, Matt would be at the rectory helping Father Braum plan Sunday’s mass or trim hedges or set up for casino night. I offered to volunteer, too. Matthew brushed me off saying that he needed his time with Father Braum.

When I transitioned to High School, Matt and I fell out of touch with each other. I’d see him in his white altar boy robe at Sunday mass but we never spoke. He did, however attend one of my performances at the children’s theatre company with his young niece. He reluctantly shook my hand afterwards and told me he thought my character was really effeminate and questioned if it was appropriate for children. Matthew had changed. He was rudely judgmental and just a bit arrogant.

Fast forward to my Senior year of high school. A group of friends and I were hanging out in the French Quarter in New Orleans an hour South of Baton Rouge. Father Braum had left Saint Thomas More abruptly a few months earlier and was rumored to have left the priesthood entirely to pursue a career in anthropology, whatever that meant.

As my friends and I drunkenly walked down Bourbon and Saint Ann, I saw them- Matt and Father Braum just inside one of the pubs locked in a deep and graphic kiss. I became furious. Two people who had instilled such self-hatred in myself locked in a passionate, forbidden and illegal embrace. I couldn’t believe it. How long had this been going on? Matthew was thirteen when Father Braum came to our parish. The thought turned my stomach.

It was as though an axe fell right at that moment, severing my relationship with the mother church. The tongue that spewed such hateful and condemning words was now exploring the recesses of my friend’s underage mouth. The hypocrisy was more than I could bear.

I stopped attending mass at that point. I was disgusted beyond repair. I had developed the unwavering opinion that the church was filled with judgmental hypocrites who hid their dirty secrets in the sacristy. I felt betrayed.

It wasn’t until many, many years later, I found myself once again at Saint Thomas More speaking with a rather insightful, compassionate and unique priest. I had been in a dark place. Having struggled with bouts of depression my entire life, I always found a way to eventually worm myself out of the depths of self-pity and into some semblance of functionality. Not this time. I was stuck in a deep cloud of sadness with little will to pull myself out. My mom suggested I attend mass.  I blew her off. She spoke of a new priest in the parish. He was one of the very few Catholic priests who was married- to a lady! Back in the nineties, there was small group of 250 Episcopalian priests who expressed a deep desire and calling to join the Catholic church. In a very rare act of acceptance, fueled by a desperate shortage of American priests, the Catholic church ordained this group of men. Some were married and were allowed to remain so as Catholic priests. Such a priest was Father Jolly.

Father Jolly was a tall and distinguished-looking gentleman with a long, lanky body and a large head of full silver hair. He had a prominent nose and a laser-like gaze. His voice was deep, rich and soothing. My mother had orchestrated our meeting. I’m sure she relayed my disgust with the church even though I never spoke with her about the incident with Father Braum and Matthew. She knew that I needed to speak with someone. She knew something was festering in my soul and that I needed to chat with someone who had the ears to hear what I needed to say. She thought Father Jolly was such a person and I reluctantly agreed to meet with him.

Father Jolly welcomed me into his tiny office. I sat in a small cushioned chair and began to speak. I told him of my friend, Matthew and Father Braum. I told him of how disconnected I felt from my spiritual self. I told him of how betrayed I was by the only religious institution I had ever known. I raised my voice in anger which quickly turned into weepy wails of frustration. He listened carefully and quietly. When I finished railing we sat in silence while I wiped tears onto my sleeve. After a few moments Father Jolly spoke. He formed his words slowly and deliberately.  His words were few but they were the right ones. The ones I needed to hear.

He said-

André, God has always known you. Even before you were born he knew everything about you. He knows your joys and your frustrations. He knows your love and your disdain. He knows your very soul and yes, he knows your gay and he loves that about you. You are his creation, perfect and beautiful in his eyes.

Know that.

Accept that.

Love that.

And if anyone, and I mean anyone ever tells you anything different then the most Christian thing you can say to them is “Fuck off!”

I burst into laughter and the deep cloud around me disintegrated and never returned after that profoundly freeing moment.

I had been blessed with the F-word.  My karma had run over my dogma and I was free. Free to love and accept love.

Free to have fallible opinions, leaving me open to learn and accept new things everyday. Free from the awful sacrifices I had made on the altar of anger. Free to experience or not experience divine spirituality.

Free to use the other F-word… Forgiveness.

Finally free to forgive Father Braum, Matthew and the countless others who told me I was defective.

Father Jolly had accomplished something remarkable. He pointed me towards a new way of thinking about the world around me. While I still consider myself an agnostic (it’s easier for me to keep an open mind that way) I never felt closer to God, if he’s really there, than that afternoon at the rectory with Father Jolly.

If you think that sounds like a bunch of hooey then Fuck Off and God Bless You.




One Response to “You’re Buttering Me Up, Martha! – Brown Butter Toffee Blondies! -190 eggs, 149 1/4 cups of sugar, 141 3/4 sticks of Butter, and 181 cups of flour used so far- 69 recipes to go!”

  1. Tommy Salami Says:

    Wow. One of your best yet. I knew something was up with Father Beau Braum-mels.
    I wrote a little story on my blog called “the Last Sacrament” about something like that, a bit of wish-fulfillment.
    Father Jolly, so aptly named, is a faith healer. The real kind. What he said to you needs to be said to everyone. And I’m glad he gave you the message, no matter how late it came.

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