Once upon a time, two people lived across the street from one another for decades. Back then, she was wild-haired and eccentric–blushing her cheeks with lipstick at the window, counting the birds feeding at the end of the drive. She was known to succumb to her own worries and whims, but he was safe–a gentle man, and a kind one, well-fed and patient. They led separate lives, though they knew one another. They had families. Their children grew up. Their spouses fell ill. They mourned. It was always a simple distance, a brief walk, if necessary, to check in on one another.
He waited an appropriate period of time after his wife passed before approaching my grandmother. One day, he and his stilt-like legs hobbled across the street and knocked on the door. The next time I saw them, they were in love. When the topic of tulips came up, she turned to him and said, “How about you press your two lips to my two lips?”
After that, he became a new family member. In the summers, we would sit and watch the world pass by my grandmother’s house–eating caramels, telling bad jokes. Sometimes, he’d drive us all out to another small town in Ontario, and we would have dinner and walk along the river. But years and years have passed since then.
Here’s how it looked the last time I saw them together: she lives in a nursing home, and he is no longer able to drive. That day, we’d arranged a feast for her. Stopping by her room to help her down the hall, my heart broke to find she doesn’t remember much anymore.
I sat across from her at the table as everybody trickled in. There were so many of us. It was overwhelming for her, and she became preoccupied with where it might be draftiest. She couldn’t keep a thing straight. I wondered how long it would be before she’d return to the quiet of her room, away from the crowd. But then, the door opened, and she looked up.
“Ed!” She proclaimed.
Finally, a face that she recognized. A safe one. He had scheduled a bus to drive him, as he does, without fail, every week. He sat down next to her, and the woman we knew returned to us for a while, lit up like the sun scatters across rippled water.
The right decision can feel different, depending on the circumstances. There are times when it makes no sense at all. There are times when it guts you. There are times when things just click into place.
Thinking of her and thinking of him, I wonder sometimes what things would look like if no one had acted. What if it never happened at all? What if the potential awkwardness of living directly across the street from each other prevented them from trying? What if all of the reasons not to were more important than the reasons to? One day, when it was right, he took a short walk to her door and said something. That, to me, is romance.
And so, an Ode. To all things pink and hearted: we have luxurious, dark, sweet brownie batter, decorated with raspberry cream cheese swirls, dazzled with cutting rivets of raspberry preserves. Because Happy Valentine’s [if that’s a thing you do].
Raspberry Cream Cheese Swirl Brownies
Adapted from Epicurious
Makes 16 brownies
6 tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature, divided, plus more
1/2 cup plus 1 tbsp all-purpose flour, divided, plus more
4 oz bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
3 large eggs, divided
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract, divided
4 oz cream cheese, room temperature
2 tbsp confectioner’s sugar
4 tbsp raspberry jam, divided
Preheat oven to 350° with rack in upper third. Grease an 8″ x 8″ pan with butter, line with parchment paper, and grease and flour parchment paper. Put chocolate and 4 Tbsp butter in a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of 2″ simmering water. Melt, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat; let cool slightly. In a small bowl, beat 2 eggs. Whisk eggs into chocolate mixture. Add 3/4 cup sugar and beat until combined. Add 1/2 cup flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir well. Stir in 1 tsp vanilla. Spread batter in prepared pan.
For the cream cheese layer: In a medium bowl, stir together cream cheese and remaining 2 tbsp butter until smooth and thoroughly combined. Add confectioner’s sugar, remaining egg, and 2 tbsp jam and mix well. Stir in remaining 1 tbsp flour and remaining 1/2 tsp vanilla. Dollop mixture onto batter in pan. Use a butter knife to swirl cream cheese mixture into brownies. Repeat with the last 2 tbsp of raspberry jam. Bake until a wooden pick inserted into center comes out with only a few moist crumbs, 35-40 minutes (check after 30 minutes). Let cool completely before slicing and serving. The brownies will keep, wrapped individually and stored in the refrigerator, up to 4 days.