That pretty much sums up my Saturday. And goodness knows I needed a good weekend, after last week. Cue lots of time spent listening to Pink Floyd (hence the prog-rock aspect of this post. I can never decide whether Wish You Were Here, The Dark Side of the Moon, or The Wall is my favourite Floyd album – all I know is that I love them all greatly) and cooking, my ultimate method of relaxation.
So my first proper week of lectures was definitely varied, I’ll say that much. From fun and exciting to stressful and panicky, I think I went through the entire emotional spectrum over the course of the last seven days.
My first dissertation tutorial was decidedly less than helpful; it left me feeling even more pressured than I already was, which is not good. My first “Intersections of Elite and Popular Music” lecture was more like a seminar, with a lecturer who likes to pick on people to answer questions. Now, if you know me, you will more than likely know that I don’t respond well to that kind of attention and generally manage to sit in awkward silence, trying to think of something to say whilst waiting for the lecturer to get bored and choose someone else. (I’m currently reserving judgement on that particular class.) In contrast, I absolutely loved my “Philosophy and Aesthetics of Music” class – it’s a way of studying music that is totally different to all my other classes and forces you to look at culture and art from a different perspective, rather than the traditionally dry, analytical view of a musicologist. It reminds me of the old days when I used to study Classics and I love that whole way of learning and thinking about things; I still occasionally think that I should have taken a Classics degree instead. (I think that Philosophy is shaping up to be one of my favourite units so far.)
Of course, this week meant the start of all the extra-curricular activities too. Symphony Orchestra is in full-swing once more, and it’s nice to be back in an ensemble environment; I have always been an orchestral, not a solo musician, so to be involved in my final year is a nice way to end things. On the other hand, I made a promise to myself at the beginning of this last academic year to branch out and get involved in some non-music-related activities. For my entire university life, everything I’ve done has been music-based and I felt that for my final year, it would be nice to do something new while I still have the chance. Enter LeRoc, the university’s modern jive society – that’s right, I’m taking dance classes this year and I survived my first-ever dance lesson without making a total fool of myself! (At least, I hope I did. You can never really tell with these things, since you can’t actually watch yourself dance.) At any rate, I had a good time and that’s the important thing, right?
But a busy (and largely stressful) week took its toll and come the weekend, all I wanted to do was not think about work. I figured that a break from my dissertation could only be a good thing, giving me time to gain some distance and come back to it later with a fresh perspective, so I decided to devote my Saturday to cooking. (I must say, it’s been a good two weeks since I last baked and I was definitely starting to experience baking-withdrawal symptoms. Maybe it’s a sign that my baking obsession is starting to become unhealthy?)
Now, a yearning for chocolate (normally when I’m feeling stressed out or under pressure) always leads me to want chocolate cake and what could be better than a dense, fudgy chocolate brownie with pecan nuts and caramel?
I was originally going to make S’mores Brownies, but one of my housemates is vegetarian and therefore can’t eat marshmallows, so I decided to experiment. I kind of view brownie batter as a blank canvas, a rich chocolate base into which many other flavours can be incorporated – from dried fruit and nuts to other kinds of sweets, your personal taste and imagination is really the only limit to what you can do. Now, I’ve recently become a big fan of caramel, so I chose to add chopped up Mars Bars – the sweet milk chocolate coating, soft, sticky nougat and smooth caramel just add a little something extra to the dense cake. And pecan nuts, my favourite kind, a classic brownie ingredient – I couldn’t resist. Baked up into a rich, fudge-like cake with that delicate, papery top and soft texture, they were just perfect – just the thing to satisfy a serious chocolate craving!
Now, I like my brownies to be very fudgy and sometimes I deliberately reduce their oven time in an attempt to get them that way, and I only recently found out that in actual fact, the bake has much less to do with their final texture than I originally thought. It’s really the mixing process which determines if your brownies will be rich and dense or fluffy and cake-like, and for brownies the way I like them, it’s important not to over-mix; as soon as the flour and other dry ingredients are incorporated, you stop mixing. It took me several years and many batches to get it right, but now I know the secret!
Anyway, there you have it – chocolate and caramel brownies, perfect accompanied by a large cup of tea (or my personal preference, a tall glass of cold milk) and Pink Floyd turned up loud. Try it sometime, I guarantee that it’s a great combination…