After standing in line for what seemed like an eternity, I’d finally made my way up to the very front. The sounds of men, women, and children shrieking in delight were ringing loudly in my ears, and I had a momentary flashback to the last time I stood in this exact spot, the front of the line at the famed Vortex roller coaster. I was 11 then. This time, I was 27.
“Ma’am? Umm, excuse me, ma’am? Are you going to ride? Are you okay?” The ponytailed, teenaged boy stared at me as I stood there, too nervous to push through the metal turnstile and take my seat in the car.
“Actually, on second thought,” I muttered, “I think I’ll just sit this one out, or something …”
Excuse me … pardon me … coming through … sorry! Excuse me …
My lengthy wait had produced an unexpected result. Rather than boarding the car and enjoying the 2-minute ride of death, I meandered my way back through the curvy line of eager roller coaster enthusiasts, trying hard to avoid making eye contact with anyone. What a chicken! I thought to myself, embarrassed by my choice to retreat at the last minute. I could ride this thing when I was 11 but apparently I’ve turned into quite the scaredy cat at my ripe old age of 27. That, or it was the brownie I ate in the car on the way. Yes, that might have been it. I should have never taken a bite of those things. Stupid magic brownies …
The Vortex had long been a legendary ride at Ohio’s King’s Island amusement park, a coaster so great and impressive that it’s reputation traveled far and wide … even down to my small hometown in Kentucky. Growing up, Summers came and went with local kids chattering excitedly about their various trips, plans, and family vacations that were scheduled for the precious few months ahead. For many, a trip to King’s Island – a mere two-hour drive straight up I-75 – was always a fixture on the season’s grand itinerary. I went a few times as a kid, and was excited to make the trip up to Cincinnatti again as an adult with some friends, one sunny Saturday afternoon in May.
After a welcome stop at Dunkin Donuts for coffee and “fuel” we made the drive up to King’s Island, making a collective mental note to stop at Skyline Chili for 5-ways on the ride home. If you’re unfamiliar with the cinnamon-spiced specificities of Cincinnatti-style chili, and/or what makes up a classic 5-way, here’s a quick glimpse –> (http://www.skylinechili.com/ways.php). After a quick two hours in the car, we started seeing signs for the park – a place so well marked you could probably find it without directions, a map and/or the ability to read. You can’t miss it. The drive always seemed so much longer when I was a kid, proving yet again that time travels at a very relative pace.
The parking lot of a large, Summertime American amusement park is not for the faint of heart, to be sure. What with their overwhelming size, seemingly endless number of aisles, and rows upon rows of glimmering hot vehicles full of chipper, colorfully tank-topped patrons. I can almost feel the heat radiating off of the asphalt now as I write this. Yes, the King’s Island parking lot is probably the least amusing thing about the amusement park. But we came, saw and conquered it; a worthy price to pay (in addition to the actual price we paid) for a day of good old-fashioned, thrill seeking fun.
My decision to take a bite of that “magic” brownie, to which they are famously referred, wasn’t really a decision at all. Some of the guys in the car on the way happened to mention that they’d thought it would be hilarious and amazing and the best idea ever to whip up a batch and nibble on them prior to going to the park. Having literally zero clue as to what they were talking about, my experience with magical brownies – or magical anything for that matter – being non existent, I took them up on their offer and took two measly little bites. What can I say? I love brownies.
I can’t say with 100% certainty, but I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that those two bites of brownie had something to do with my sudden wave of fear and anxiety as I inched closer to the front of the Vortex line, which was the total opposite of the intended effect, I believe. I stood there in line, contemplating my own mortality and also how great the hamburgers and hot dogs and nachos at the concessions stand next door smelled, and just totally bowed out. Done. Finito. I chose LIFE! Because I was sure, had I opted to ride the giant roller coaster that day, that something would most certainly go dreadfully wrong and I’d be a goner. A technical malfunction! An explosion! An inexplicable yet inescapable tornado! Darn you brownies. How dare you ruin my day of fun? I should’ve known better, I suppose. I’d like to say that I knew better, but alas, such was not the case. I guess I can chalk this experience up to … well, experience. Life is full of them, I hear. Little learning opportunities. What did I learn with unquestionable certainty that day? I’d say it’s obvious at this point:
Friends don’t let friends eat magic brownies before going to amusement parks.
It was almost impossible for me to resist posting this, my favorite brownie recipe of all time (and also Oprah’s, apparently). The famed Baked brownie hails from Baked NYC, and has legions of adoring fans. I tweaked the recipe to suit my own tastes, as I tend to prefer semi-sweet chocolate as opposed to using only dark and I like a bit more brown sugar in the sugars ratio than the original recipe calls for.
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons dark, unsweetened cocoa powder
11 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (the original calls for dark chocolate, if you prefer)
1 cup unsalted butter, cut into 1″ pieces
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup dark brown sugar
5 eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Butter the sides and bottom of a 9″ X 13″ glass or light colored baking pan. Line the pan with parchment paper, leaving some hanging over the edges as a “handle” (this allows for very easy removal).
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and cocoa powder.
Place the chocolate, butter and espresso powder in a large bowl (glass or metal) and set this over a saucepan of simmering water (this creates a water bath that will gently heat and melt the ingredients together without burning). Tip: the bowl should be bigger than the saucepan, so it can rest on top. Stir the chocolate mixture occasionally as it melts, until the butter and chocolate are totally melted and smooth. Turn off the heat but keep the bowl over the water. Add the sugars and whisk until completely combined. Remove the bowl from the pan and let it sit for a few minutes, if needed, until the mixture is room temperature.
Add three eggs to the chocolate mixture and whisk until combined. Add the remaining two eggs and whisk until combined. Add the vanilla and stir to combine. Don’t overbeat, or you’ll have cakey brownies.
Sprinkle the flour mixture over the chocolate mixture. Using a rubber spatula, fold the flour mixture into the chocolate until just a bit of the flour mixture is visible.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth out the top. Bake in the center of the oven for 30 minutes, rotating the pan 180 degrees halfway through the cooking time. Test with a toothpick for doneness, ensuring that the center of the brownie coats the toothpick with a few moist crumbs. Let the brownies cool completely, then lift them out of the pan using the parchment paper. Cut into squares and serve.
You can store at room temp in an airtight container for up to three days.