Blast from the Past 2: Life in the Ring of Fire…Brownie Mix

brownie mix.001In honour of my second appearance on DNTO today telling tales from Life in the Ring oF Fire, I thought I would look back into the archive and find a few other stories to tell…this one hails from November 2004. This ring of fire challenge came from my long time friend and expedition companion, Leslie a.k.a. Mountain Momma. This story tells of the challenge of baking brownies without tasting a single bite.

Leslie has spent a fair amount of time with me. She strength trains in the mornings with me and she joined me for a Grand Canyon backpacking trip last year. She knows of my fondness for chocolate. She knows of my intense fondness for baking. She knows I would rather eat brownie batter raw than cooked. With this is mind, she treated me to a very interesting ring of fire challenge this week.

Leslie told me of the brown paper bag. She promised to deliver it at hockey on Monday. Monday came and went…no brown paper bag. Then she said Wednesday at yoga it would be deilvered. Wednesday came, no Leslie and no paper bag. My anxiety increased-just what was in the paperbag? Friday arrived with Leslie and the brown paper bag. On the front of the bag is written denali (struck through), denial, (struck through), and then Denali again in black felt tip marker. There was a brilliant ring of fire out of orange construction paper and in the center of the ring were the instructions…

Mix, bake, and give away these brownies without licking the spoon, the bowl, or eating a crumb.

“Yes indeed!” I thought. Leslie had hit the nail on the head-a true ring of fire challenge for me-one that cut straight to my heart (and belly). In the Grand Canyon, Leslie witnessed me eating brownie mix straight up and dry, mixed with peanut butter into fudge, as batter before baking on my whisperlite, and as pure unadulterated chocolate bliss once baked. Any of you have travelled with me in the field would have similar observations. A low sounding whistle escaped from my lips…I was in for a heck of a time.

I went out for my long run and knew I needed to undertake the challenge immediately upon my return. I was a tad bit nervous since I was ravenous but I knew it was then or never. I knew I needed to do it fast. Set to it. Not really think about what I was doing. Somewhat like crossing an ice fall…you know the danger is there, you know you need to move fast, and if you stop to think about what could happen, you’d never be there in the first place. I set the oven to pre-heat and jumped in the shower. I heard the oven beep and jumped into action.

Read the instructions. Pour mix into bowl. Don’t drop last bits of mix from bag into mouth. Throw bag quickly into garbage. Heart racing like a drum beat. Add eggs. Add oil. Consider tying tea towel around face to control accidental impulses. Grab wooden spoon. Begin first of 50 strokes advocated by the mix instructions. Panic as chocolate dust becomes airborne and is received by scent receptors. Increase stroke cadence. Try to get through the ice field fast. Don’t slip. Concentrate. Wipe batter from sides of bowl. Not let finger touch batter-that would be too great a temptation. 50 strokes. A huge number. Grease the pan. Pour batter into pan. Grab for spatula. Scrap bowl. Breathing hard. Will I make it through? Throw pan in oven, slam door shut. Phew. Bowl is crying out. Spoon is crying out. Spatula is crying out. “Lick me.” Thrust all three into sink…overflow with water. What a waste. Breathe deeply. A huge sigh. The first trip through the ice fall is complete.

Bake for 30 minutes.

About 15 minutes in, the smell. You know the smell. It is only a smell that sugar, chocolate and fat heated at high temperatures can make. The receptors begin to fire almost repeatedly. I’m back in the icefall. What goes up must come down. Got to make my way through it again. Visualize success. Make a platform from an old cereal box. Wrap with foil. Wait for timer to ding. Open oven-senses assaulted by the escaping heat wave. Put knife in brownies-comes out wet. Bring knife close to lips, remember I’m in the ice fall and thrust into sink with other utensils-that was a close one. Take brownies out of oven. They are perfect. Quickly slip them from pan onto platform. Run downstairs. Out the door. Around the corner. Ring doorbell. Pray Gillian is home. She answers the door mercifully quickly. I hand them over-she seems to be expecting them. I turn for home. Exhausted. Exalted. Elated. I had survived the return trip through the icefall.

I faced the denial of Denali and rose to the task. The task was great training for the 30 days of denial on the glacier…denail of color, warmth, comfort and for facing things that are hard…thanks Leslie for the brilliant ring of fire challenge.

Here’s a video to me telling the story with a few pictures to illustrate:

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