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Brownies of gratitude

By Ann | July 1, 2013

brownies 2

A few days ago, I tried to wash some dishes and noticed there was no water. I had seen no announcement of a water cut in my apartment building’s lobby, received no letter from the Syndic. Without warning, the taps had, quite simply, gone dry. This being France, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of foreboding, but I convinced myself I was being ridiculous.

An hour or two after the water disappeared, the building’s gardienne knocked on my door. “Do you have water?” she asked. “Pas du tout,” I responded. “Do you know why there’s no water?” she asked. My heart gave a little flutter. After all, if anyone knew why the water had been cut, wouldn’t it be her? The sense of foreboding loomed.

The minutes ticked by. It was a hot Friday afternoon and everyone seemed to be crawling towards the weekend. A plumber arrived in the courtyard and I spied on him through my living room window as he poked around the pipes below ground. I hoped fervently that the water would reappear. It did not.

At five o’clock, we had news. Thanks to a problem with the city’s pipes, a lack of pressure had caused the water cut in the building. Alas, no one could reach Eau de Paris — they had already closed for the weekend (remember, this is France) and their emergency hotline number was out of service (again — this is France).

Yes, my friends, I was looking at an entire weekend without water.

Saturday morning dawned parched and aggravated. After spending a good twenty minutes ferrying bottles of water from a tap in the courtyard to the reservoir of my toilet, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I called the Mairie, the pompiers, the police. I pleaded. I told them I was pregnant. None of them could help. “You need to speak with Eau de Paris,” they all said.

Finally, I did what any hopeless, frustrated, 21st-century netizen would do: I posted about the situation on Facebook. Within an hour, my luck had changed. My friend, Oscar, came to the rescue.

As you might remember, Oscar helps expats in France solve their administrative woes. (I think of him as the “fonctionnaire whisperer.”) He made a few phone calls, spoke to a few of his key contacts and, an hour after my despairing Facebook post, Eau de Paris workmen descended through a manhole cover across the street to repair a leak. Soon, our taps began flowing again with sweet, clean water. I have never been so appreciative of this basic necessity of human life.

prep 2

To thank Oscar for his time and kindness, I decided to bake him some brownies. But not just any brownies — I made him a pan of the “absolute best” brownies from David Lebovitz’s brilliant cookbook, Ready for Dessert.

chockie 2

mixing 2

The recipe doesn’t have any secret ingredients, but it does have one secret step — you have to beat the batter for at least a minute until it turns smooth and glossy. (I outsourced this task.) With a generous scoop of nuts (I’m American so I used pecans) and a king’s ransom of melted dark chocolate, these brownies are decadently moist and rich, almost fudgy — succulent, as they say in French. Packed in a sturdy plastic box, they travel well — even via La Poste — making them a perfect gift of gratitude.

in pan 2

You can find the brownie recipe here. I recommend keeping it on hand for those moments when you need to express your appreciation.

Topics: Paris | 17 Comments »

17 Responses to “Brownies of gratitude”

  1. Emma Says:
    July 1st, 2013 at 2:27 pm

    You poor thing! I have to admit I take things like water and electricity for granted until we don’t have them and it really drives home how it must be for people in developing countries. The longest I haven’t had water was only a few hours so I can’t imagine a whole weekend stretching out in front of me without it.

    and thank god for social networking also! It has it’s good points in emergency situations.

    Oh and, lovely lovely brownies. They are my weakness and you can never go wrong with DL :D

  2. CK Says:
    July 1st, 2013 at 3:38 pm

    Reminds me of my Moscow days, when the hot water used to go out for three weeks every summer, sometimes with a few days of totally dry taps. Sure could have used Olivier back then. I’d’ve named a salad after him. Oh wait …

  3. Lindsey Says:
    July 1st, 2013 at 3:51 pm

    The pompiers are NEVER helpful, I can’t believe they wouldn’t come help you when you mentioned you were pregnant!BUT even better that Olivier saved the day (yet again!). And what a fantastic thank-you gift. Glad the water flows again!

  4. Lindy Says:
    July 1st, 2013 at 5:31 pm

    Bravo Olivier, a true knight in shining armour.

  5. Lindy Says:
    July 1st, 2013 at 5:32 pm

    Ah yes, those happy Moscow summers when the pipes were repaired and each quarter of the city lost its supply for three weeks at a time. Never was networking with friends more important. And never was there any shame in bringing your laundry and wash bag to dinner parties. It added a whole new meaning to a liquid lunch.

  6. David Says:
    July 1st, 2013 at 5:47 pm

    Glad the brownies were a hit (and helpful!)

  7. parisbreakfast Says:
    July 1st, 2013 at 6:07 pm

    Oliver of Excuse My French saves the day!
    And Bravo for social networking

  8. Kristin Says:
    July 1st, 2013 at 6:37 pm

    On my way to discover Olivier and Excuse My French. I just love the happy ending here–and am so impressed! And what a lovely, comforting gift, Ann. Hope to try David’s recipe. Thankful for water!

  9. Gillian Says:
    July 1st, 2013 at 8:43 pm

    I love hearing about the expat family helping each other out in times of trouble. I need to find who the Oscar of Rome is! David Lebovitz’ brownies are one of my go-to brownie recipes.

  10. Jeanne Says:
    July 2nd, 2013 at 1:41 am

    Thank goodness for your determination, for social networking and for resourceful acquaintances. The thought of no water for even 1 day is almost too much to consider. I think your choice of thank you gift is perfect. I have the book but have not made the brownies yet… today might be the day.

  11. Voie de Vie Says:
    July 2nd, 2013 at 3:26 am

    Well thank goodness for O! A whisperer indeed. I know I would have enjoyed that thank you. :)

    Just think of all the fun stories you’ll have to tell le bebe.

  12. Loulou in France Says:
    July 3rd, 2013 at 10:24 am

    Is there anything Oscar can’t fix? :) I’m sure the brownies were greatly appreciated.
    So glad you didn’t have to survive the weekend without water!

  13. Heather in Arles Says:
    July 3rd, 2013 at 4:29 pm

    I loved this post–yay for the power of connectivity! :) Now I want those brownies. RIGHT NOW.

  14. Adeline Says:
    July 3rd, 2013 at 6:44 pm

    Alas! We had the same problem when we arrived in our flat in London. Not sufficient water to run our washing machine. Unfortunately, we don’t have an Oscar to solve our problem so, after one week, our washing machine still does not function.

  15. katy Says:
    July 8th, 2013 at 6:55 pm

    There’s something to be said for the power of Facebook–not to mention, that of brownies and gratitude.

    Glad everything was fixed quickly; when I lived in Moscow, we had no hot water for 4 weeks. While this is standard Russian practice in the summer when they “work” on the pipes, it was nevertheless miserable. But, in hindsight, at least we had water!

  16. Shut Up and Cook Says:
    July 13th, 2013 at 9:45 pm

    These look utterly fabulous. Pair with a glass of red wine or cup of coffee…magnifique!

  17. Pat Says:
    July 15th, 2013 at 1:22 pm

    What a lovely gesture, Ann! I wish I had an Oscar to solve all our problems. Regardless, a good brownie recipe is essential to have in your back pocket :)

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