Tuesday, September 5, 2017

A Brownie's Brownies

Mary and I would listen to these 45's for hours!
 Picture it; Sunnyvale California, 1962.  Ray Charles could be heard crooning I Can’t Stop Loving You, on the radio.  The Four Seasons told us Big Girls Don’t Cry, some of us were doing the Twist to Chubby Checker’s Let’s Twist Again (like we did last summer) while others were perfecting the Wah-Watusi.  And though we were only seven years old, Mary and I busied ourselves lip-syncing to every Beatle song we knew, with wooden spoon or stick in hand to mimic our stage microphones. 
Who among you still has this LP (long playing)?

     Life was so simple back then.  Our only concerns were being first out on the playground.  Mary and I were the four-square champs, consistently eliminating the other players until she and I were the only two left in the over-sized paint-faded boxes.  We then, joyfully competed to see who was really on her game that recess.  After months of beating all the other kids out at four-square, Mary and I moved on to tether-ball. That took us a bit longer to master, but master it we did.  By mid-October, Mary and I found ourselves bored to tears with the few options available to second graders.

     As autumn leaves crunched beneath our feet walking home one afternoon, Mary announced her intention to join a Brownie Troop.  “You want to join Brownies?  What’s Brownies?”  I had been feeling worried about our close friendship, lately.  Mary was my best friend, my only friend really.  And in my painfully shy and quiet demeanor, characteristic of skinny, homely girls, I had somehow given in to thoughts that Mary wanted more out of life than me.  I was certain she was yearning for prettier friends, friends with more money, friends who were as smart as she was.  This announcement of wanting to join something called Brownies brought those fears and insecurities to the forefront.

    “Brownies are Girl Scouts, silly,” Mary responded.  “Miss Stone told us about it today before we were excused from class.  She said, girls our age come together and do fun things.”
Mary had pretty red hair - mine was a mousy brown-auburn.

     “Do they make brownies?”  Though I felt socked in the stomach at the mention of “other girls our age,” I was intrigued.  I had always wanted to learn how make brownies.  I loved them. 

    “I don’t know about making brownies. But she said they do arts, crafts, they do learn some cooking and they go on field trips to help people.  I’m going to ask my mother if I can join.”

     “Can I join?”  Not lifting my gaze from the tops of my black and white saddle shoes, noticing my white bobby socks had once again slipped down inside my shoes, I waited for Mary to answer. 

     “Yes!  That’s why I’m telling you about it, Deborah.  I want you to join with me!  We do everything together!”

    Somewhat relieved, I took on a new worry as we turned the corner onto our street: will my parents let me join?  Money was always a concern in my household even though both my parents worked.  Mary’s mother stayed home. 

     My parents did let me join.  Surprisingly my mother didn’t balk at the weekly dues or the cost of a uniform and sash.  She was happy I wanted to do something that put me with other little girl and involved activities she deemed far more useful in life than singing Beatle songs.  I stressed to my mother my intention of learning how to make brownies.

     After three months of weekly meetings, Mary and I had learned how to make spiral lanyards using plastic lace, how to disinfect every corner of our kitchens and bathrooms and how to make wallets.  We would sew squares of felt together by using a large upholstery needle, a hot glue gun, and small remnants of felt  along with spare buttons.  This was one of my more creative escapades as a Brownie.   Every adult in my family, who carried keys, was awarded one of my handmade lanyards while all my babysitters were given wallets. Both Mary and I earned our Good Housekeeping badges by having our mothers keep track and record the number and type of household chores we did for an entire month.  I still keep the cleanest garage and closets in the land.  But to my chagrin, we had not yet been taught to bake brownies.  I was soon distracted from this let-down, when our troop leaders announced it was officially Cookie Season. 
I think I'd like to make these popular again!

Still so cute

And fully functional!

     Cookies sales for Girl Scouts (GS) go back as far as 1917.  By 1933, the now famous tradition of selling cookies was typically a young girl’s first exposure to any kind of real business example.  The tasks of setting financial goals, planning and predicting labor hours, familiarizing oneself with reading and understanding demographics, and of course how to express herself courteously and succinctly were all achieved through the cookie experience.  There was a short  interruption of cookie sales in 1944 when eggs, milk, sugar and other staples were in short supply due to the World War II.   But after the war, GS troops nation-wide were back selling those famous Sugar Cookies along with, Chocolate and Vanilla Cream Sandwiches, Shortbread and Cooky-Mints (now known as Thin Mints).  The newest addition was the “Do-si-Do” or Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookie.
         After that afternoon’s meeting all the girls in our Troop # 831 gathered their order forms and the manila envelopes in which we would place the money we collected.  We were instructed to walk around our respective neighborhoods, dressed in uniform and explain how the selling of cookies help GS all over the country learn important things, like cleaning, cooking, organizing and most essential, how to be helpful and productive young women.  The money also helped send us on field trips to interesting places and for those lucky enough to have troop leaders who did that kind of thing, camping!  Of course we were encouraged to talk about how delicious each type of cookie was.  Armed and ready, each little girl headed home eager to earn her proficiency badge for selling the most cookies.

     Instinctively knowing we were stronger together, Mary and I decided to pool our efforts and sell cookies as a two-some.  It made sense; I had nearly three times more relatives living nearby than Mary.  But her mother was active at their church and the Women of Foreign Lands group (she was Hungarian) giving her access to a great number of people outside our neighborhood and general school population. 

    Within one week, we had sold three times as many cookies as any other girl in our troop.  When co-leader Miss Stone made her announcement to the troop as to whom among us was projected to earning the much coveted proficiency badge, she was astounded to see both Mary and I had turned in far more cash compared to the other girls.  Swimming in kudos and cheers, Mary and I went home feeling like the Brownies of Wall Street, well on our way to skipping along streets lined with proficiency badges along with accolades from our peers.

   By the time the weekend arrived, Mary and I were pumped and ready.  It was my mother, always up for a good competition, who innocently and off-handedly came up with the idea.  Moaning we had already worked our way through the neighborhood and those within walking distance, Mary and I had run out of customers.  Mother’s comment was something about lemonade stands and cookie stands.  With our cookie supply replenished Mary and I realized we needed a better plan.  One that didn’t involve walking around and bugging people we had already visited and sold to, twice.
     “What about setting up a cookie/brownie stand?  Kind of what your momma talked about,” suggested Mary.  Believing Mary was not only prettier than I, but smarter, I immediately agreed to the idea.  Running across the street from my house to hers, we charged into the kitchen where Mary’s mother was busy preparing some Hungarian dish.  I smelled cabbage and ground lamb, tomatoes and something else unrecognizable.  The dinner smells at my house included Kentucky Fried Chicken, Rice-A-Roni (the San Francisco treat) and spaghetti.  Though Mary and I were now on our third year of best-friendship, I still had not grown accustomed to the heavy scents of the foods constantly cooking in her house.  Trying my best not to breathe too deeply, I stood by, chiming in only when appropriate, as Mary proceeded to explain our wonderful idea.  She finished by asking her mother if we could use the card table her parents unfolded every Wednesday  night for their pinochle game with their grownup friends.  Mary then added, without hesitation, that her mother, please drive us to the nearby shopping center so we could sell to more people.  Mary was the apple of her mother’s eye.  No was a word Mary rarely heard. 

     The next morning, telling my parents how Mary’s mother gave us permission to sell in front of the shopping center and how many boxes of cookies we would be selling it only made sense that I too be given permission: which I was.  From nine o’clock in the morning until noon that day, Mary and I had sold every box of cookies issued to us the day before. 
Those are cookies embroidered on this badge 

     By the time the Girl Scout Cookie Selling Season had ended, Mary and I had not only earned our proficiency badges for sales, we were mentioned in the Girl Scouts of America Newsletter as the top salesgirls in the state!  We were thrilled.  This was more positive attention than I had ever remembered receiving.  My flat-chest was so full of pride, it practically exploded.  Mary and I were honored in a special ceremony before our families and other troop members.  But we didn’t stop there.
And when I was a GS Leader for my daughter's Brownie troop - I insisted we make denim Sit-Upons

  Weeks later our Troop leaders began preparing us for outdoor activities for the coming spring.  We would be making “Sit-upons” so that we could sit comfortably on the ground as we ventured into the realm of plants, flowers and nature: botany.  Ordinarily this would have made me quite excited.  My love of flowers and birds has been with me for as long as I can remember.  However, I couldn’t keep my feelings inside; “Mary, when are we going to learn how to make brownies?”  I lamented, “We are, after-all Brownies, so we should know how to make brownies.”

    “Have you asked Miss Stone about teaching us, Deborah?”

    “No, I’m too scared,” I mumbled.

    “Fine, I’ll get my momma to teach us how.  She’s a great cook!
     “Does she make brownies?”

     “I don’t know, but she can make anything!”

   Oh dear, I thought.  But Mary’s mother did teach us how to make brownies.  The best I’d ever tasted, chewy, chocolaty and moist.  They were so easy. I was genuinely astonished.

     So it was, on a warm, Saturday morning in late spring, Mary and I found ourselves complaining about our perpetual state of not having any money.  B & J’s Market across the street was our favourite hangout.  The place we’d go to buy a variety of candies.  We had gone weeks without a Sugar Daddy or chew of Bazooka Bubble Gum.  I ached for a Black Cow or better, an Abba Zabba.  Our parents said no to each and every one of our requests for money.  We searched with zeal in the cushions of both sofas in both households.  Mary went so far as to creep into her parents’ bedroom and wriggled her fingers into the pockets of her father’s trousers looking for loose change.  Not even the payphone next-door to B & J’s had change sitting in the small slot.  That was the one place we could always count on to find a spare nickel or dime. In the early ‘60’s that was plenty of money for two little girls to revel in.  Then Mary, the genius between us, re-visited that wonderful idea.
    Together we scurried through our respective kitchens, gathering all the ingredients needed to bake brownies.  Using Mary’s kitchen and her mother, we prepared two dozen.  Then, again, Mary’s mother doing as Mary directed, we changed our clothes and set up the card table along with our make-shift sign in front of B & J’s Market and began selling our wares.  We sold every one of those brownies!  Leaving our post and making our way into the market, we shopped for candy to our hearts’ content.  The following Saturday we did it again, this time making four dozen brownies.  We made so much money we gave some to our siblings so they could go buy candy.
Armed and ready!

      It was on the third Saturday, I was merrily chipping away to a prospective customer about how delicious our brownies tasted when we both heard the voice: “Mary, Deborah, is that you?” 
Though the voice sounded familiar the tone was less than warm and friendly.  It was Miss Stone.  “What are you girls doing?”  Miss Stone loomed over us like a gigantic shadow as though we were doing something wrong.

    “Um, we’re selling brownies,” answered Mary. 

    “I can see that.  And you’re wearing your Brownie uniforms.”  Miss Stone’s tone was still clipped and her eyes narrowed.  I had never seen this look on her before.

    “Well of course we are,” replied Mary.  Her voice now more firm.  How she could’ve sounded so calm was beyond me.  I was shaking in my flip-flops.  “We’re Brownies and we’re selling brownies, so we have to wear our uniforms.”

    Just then a customer made their way over and purchased four brownies.  My hands trembled as I did my best to hurriedly wrap each chocolate treat in wax paper and take the twenty cents.  “Hope this goes to good use for the Brownies,” the customer said as he walked away.  Our handwritten sign read: Help Your Lokal Brownies Buy Home-made Brownies Made by Two REAL Brownies!!!

    “Do you girls know what you’re doing?  Do your parents know what you’re doing?”  Now, Miss Stone sounded downright angry. Mary and I looked at one another.  Finally I spoke, “Yes,” I replied meekly.  That was the best I could do.

    “They know you’re mis-using and mis-leading people?  They know you’re taking money under false pretense?” 

    Neither Mary nor I were quite sure what false pretense meant exactly, but we sensed we were in trouble.  After explaining in seven year old detail how we were giving some money away, not keeping all of it, Miss Stone insisted we break down shop.   Giving Miss Stone our earnings for the day to apply to Troop # 831’s field trip fund we walked home to get Mary’s mother so she could help us with the card table, sign and the now, empty money box. 
     That was a few lessons well learned!   Though no one can say we weren’t industrious and entrepreneurial.  I still prepare those chewy, chocolaty, moist brownies.  And I do sell them, openly and honestly, for profit and on behalf of my personal chef business.
What can I say?  I'm still a GS at heart.

  Because I still, "Promise to do my best . . . to help other people.  And to do a good deed everyday," I’d like to share Mrs. Berg’s recipe for brownies; with my own updates and adaptations.
Nuts inside

No nuts, but chocolate ganache and a cherry on top


8 Tblsp unsalted butter - melted                                               1 1/3 cup granulated sugar
¾ cup good quality unsweetened cocoa power
1/8 tsp salt                                                                                1 tsp espresso powder
2 whole eggs                                                                            ½ cup all-purpose flour
1/8 tsp baking powder
½ cup chopped nuts + some for garnish if desired

Process                                                                                       Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees
In a large mixing bowl, combine melted butter, sugar, cocoa powder, with a whisk.  Add salt and espresso powder.  Add eggs, one at a time, stirring between additions.  Gently fold in, salt, flour and baking powder.  If desired add nuts.
Pour batter into a well greased and floured 8 x 8 square baking pan.  Bake for 30-40 minutes until firm in center.
Allow brownies to cool completely before cutting into individual squares.

                                                                                 Makes about 12 brownies