There are many “firsts” in our lives— our first word, our first step, our first day of school, and our first date. Even in advanced age we encounter firsts. Earlier this year, I tasted kudzu— in the form of jelly prepared from the kudzu blossom— for the first time.
Most firsts occur organically over the course of a lifetime. One has to begin with a single word before he or she can eventually form sentences. One step is taken and then the next, before a series of steps begin to take us where we want to go.
I remember changing my child’s first diaper but I don’t remember the first time I fed my children.
Feeding babies is a routine procedure and each child is unique. My daughter, our firstborn, was a dainty eater— neat, measured, and refined. At 18-months old she sat in Commander’s Palace in New Orleans and was perfectly behaved as she ate. At the end of our meal, there wasn’t a crumb on the floor, nothing on the table, and not even a smidge of pureed carrot on her face.
My son, however, was a messy eater. He ate fast, he ate aggressively, and he ate a lot. Food was scattered and splattered within a six-foot radius of his high chair. At the end of a feeding session (they were much too barbaric to be called “meals”) he was covered in food— hair, cheeks, hands, and clothes— and whoever was doing the shoveling was usually covered in food as well. I am sure there was a first time he ate neatly, but I don’t remember it.
Inherent in firsts is that they are ultimately finite. Once a first is over that’s it. Forever.
There is one first that is on my mind today and it is one of the most wonderfully entertaining and heart-warming firsts a parent will ever witness. I don’t remember my first in this category, but I will be eternally grateful that I was there to witness the first time my daughter ever tasted chocolate.
Yesterday I saw a photograph of my great niece, Chandler St. John, taken immediately after sampling her first taste of chocolate. It was an expression that I remember well.
Chocolate is a beautiful thing— rich, creamy, sweet, with a melt-in-you-mouth consistency not offered by any other food. Chocolate is unique. Therefore it is a monumental event the first time a baby ever eats chocolate.
In December of 1998 my daughter was 18-months old. Her mother and I had been typical overprotective and older parents of a first child. She had spent the first year and a half of her life eating a perfect diet.
One Sunday afternoon we were making brownies in the kitchen and, instead of keeping the bowl of remaining chocolate batter for myself, I placed it in the lap of my daughter who was sitting on the butcher block in the middle of the kitchen. She picked up the wooden spoon, took a taste, and her world became a better place to live, instantly.
There are many adjectives I could use to describe her expression and demeanor in that moment. She was immediately surprised, then ecstatic, and finally overcome by a feeling of— what can only be described as— pure joy.
She licked the spoon. She licked the bowl. She ran her tiny hands and fingers around the inside of the bowl capturing all of the remaining chocolate. The perfect, neat eater was gone. In her place a new child, one who had just discovered chocolate, obviously the most amazing creation on the planet.
The chocolate was in her hair, on her cheeks, and smeared on her clothes, though most was making its way to her mouth. In a split second, fueled by sugar and cocoa, she raised the wooden spoon high in the air in a triumphant celebration of this new discovery. All hail chocolate! In that instant I snapped a photograph and it became our Christmas card that year. Joy to the world? Absolutely.
Over the years our family has continued to encounter firsts. Yet as we all grow older they are few and far between. She attended her first homecoming dance a few weeks ago. Gone was the chubby cheeked toddler in red pajamas covered in chocolate. In her place a beautiful, smart, and charming young lady in an evening gown— breathtakingly stunning.
Do I miss the toddler? Some days I do. Though I am trying to soak in every moment at every stage of my children’s lives. This weekend I think I will make brownies. She and I will sit and talk about the beauty of chocolate and life ahead. Maybe I will even let her lick the bowl.
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream, heated
In a small, heavy duty saucepan, combine the sugar and water. Bring the mixture to a slow boil, stirring very often. Continue to cook until the mixture reaches a deep caramel color, about 10 minutes. As soon as this deep color is achieved, use a wire whisk and quickly stir in the warm cream. Return the caramel to a medium heat, and cook for 2-3 more minutes.
Remove keep warm while preparing the brownie batter.
6 ounces Unsweetened Chocolate
1 cup Unsalted Butter, cut into small cubes
1 cup All-Purpose Flour
1/4 cup Cocoa
1 tsp Double Acting Baking Powder
1/8 tsp Salt
4 large Eggs
2 1/2 cups Sugar
2 tsp Vanilla
1 1/2 cup Pecans, chopped (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Butter a 9×12 inch baking dish
In a small heavy saucepot, melt chocolate and butter over low heat. Stir constantly until the mixture is smooth. Remove from the heat and allow the mixture to cool completely.
Sift together flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt into a large bowl.
Using the whip attachment of an electric mixer beat the eggs on medium speed. While still beating, add the sugar, a little at a time, and continue to beat for 2-3 minutes until the mixture becomes thick and pale. Add in the chocolate mixture and vanilla and mix well. Add the flour mixture and blend well using a rubber spatula or wooden spoon. Stir in the chopped pecans.
Pour the batter into the prepared baking pan and smooth the top. Drizzle the caramel in rows lengthwise on top of the batter. Drag a pairing knife back and forth through the caramel lines. Bake the brownies for 25-30 minutes, or until the brownie pulls away slightly from the sides of the pan. Let brownies cool completely before cutting.
Yield: 16 brownies