Cold day, warm brownies: another happy island

I’ve been writing about days filled with islands and sun. They’d have seemed like a vacation if they hadn’t been so fraught with uncertainty. When living someplace familiar (and possibly chilly), it’s easy to forget that your anchors are your buoys. Friends, family, the indelible bond between you and that sidewalk. I’ve been visiting Chicago, on and off, over the past few months since returning to the U. S. of A., and my favorite days have been the simple ones.

Like with Eliina and baby Alice.

Eliina is a friend I’ve known since we were 17, both brand-new transplants to the venerable Northwestern University. Gathered for an all-dorm meeting, 100 of us kids squeezed into the cinderblock basement lounge, crowded on blue polyester couches or seated knees-to-chin on the cold linoleum floor. The session leader instructed us to find a partner and interview each other. I’m sure there was some sort of awkward shuffle of who-will-pick-me, but all I remember is that Eliina and I somehow paired up. She looked like such a cool chick, punky short blonde hair and an eyebrow ring.

One mandatory question was: Weirdest fact about you. Eep – I felt simultaneously completely alien and totally non-descript, a kid from a farm town outside Buffalo, New York. Eliina had a cool fact. Of course she did. She’d played the sousaphone in the marching band. Me? All I could think of was the twenty pounds of candy that my parents had sent me away to college with, now the only thing stuffed in the drawers of my particle-board desk. “I’m addicted to chocolate…?” I said.

Then we had to introduce our partners to the entire group — It’s a testament to the extreme nerdiness of our dorm that no one laughed at either of our weird facts. And Eliina and I became fast friends. We lived together all through college in the dorm and then afterwards in an apartment with friends. Later, when I was thinking of moving to Chicago after two disorienting years in D.C., she sent postcards. Highly persuasive postcards. Maybe twenty of them, one after the other, so that shuffled in with student loan invoices and credit card offers, I started getting photos of the Chicago skyline and her notes on the back that all amounted to: “Get over here. Be with us.”

So I went. And this city has been the best place I could ever hope to spend so much of my short life. Now she’s married to an artist and has a sweet, tiny Alice baby. But we are still total nerds. On one lazy weekday, with the rest of the world working silly JOBS and making batches of DOLLARS we decided to bake a batch of brownies and watch the movie Adventures in Babysitting.

It’s a Chicago movie, which is partially why we picked it. But also Elisabeth Shue is a total badass. There are gang fights, a tow truck driver with a hook for a hand, sewer rats and singing the blues. (“Ain’t nobody leave this place without sangin’ the blues…”) We knew all the best lines already, so it was the perfect backdrop by which to catch up and watch Alice gurgle and scootch on her back across the shiny wood floor. (She’s already rubbed a bald patch on the back of her tiny milk-scented head. I can only imagine how awesome she’s going to feel when she can transport herself facing forward. )

So, brownies. From scratch, which Eliina whipped up such with mechanical speed that before I could take my eyes from wiggly giggly Alice, the batter bowl was ready for licking.

The only thing better than half-watching Adventures in Babysitting with a dear friend  is adding slightly undercooked brownies, right from the oven. (Really key for a still-recovering chocolate addict.) And the only thing better than that is washing them down with fizzy cocktails of wheat ale and a splash of blood-orange juice. And the only thing better than that? Narrating a fake advice column starring the characters in the movie.

Dear Ms. Manners,
What is the proper etiquette for escaping from murderous car thieves? If you accidentally scrape rust into one of their coffee cups whilst traversing an overhead steel beam, must you stop and apologize?

And the only thing better than that is doing the whole thing again, getting to the end of the movie, pressing “Play” and reaching for another brownie. Because the first time we missed a bunch of stuff. There was, as always, more.

2 thoughts on “Cold day, warm brownies: another happy island

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