Banana Fudge Brownies (low-fat, but sh! don't tell) and a Blogger's Dilemma

Sit down, pull up a chair, and grab one of these deceptively healthy Banana Fudge Brownies. Take a bite and join me for a little Thursday evening edition of Floptimism: The Soapbox Edition. The topic of tonight's conversation? Google's new Recipe Search Tool, and the implications it has for the everyday, small-time blogger.

The early days of Floptimism consisted of a lot of lonely ramblings, a chronicle of my cooking adventures for little more than posterity's (and my own finicky memory's) sake. I had lofty dreams of becoming as revered as Smitten Kitchen or Annie's Eats, with my little blog's renown and my own skills in the kitchen maturing together. Over time, though, I settled into a more modest complacency. I knew that I was the only person who read my entries, and it was in that moment of that realization, that coming-to-terms-with-the-facts, that I resolved to keep on keeping on. I enjoyed this blog, and it sure beat loose-leaf papers all over the kitchen full of scattered notes and marked-up recipes. I began this with the hope of gaining readers, but that wasn't my sole aim. A failure to garner a swift audience was not going to collapse my project altogether.

Then, over time, something happened - people started to pay attention. My pictures improved, I started updating more frequently than once every 3 months, and I learned a few of the more easily adapted ins and outs of the blogosphere. One day, I even got my first follower, and cannot tell you how ecstatic I was over that. I still get a little giddy when I spot a new follower has flattered me by hopping on this small and cozy Floptimism bandwagon. I'm certainly no Deb or Annie, and I have my doubts that I will ever reach their level of success, but I now have a fairly steady flow of traffic and a handful of readers who make my day every time I see they've stopped by.

Today I read an article on a new addition to the World Wide Web of which I was previously unaware. Google is, apparently, revamping their search prowess by adding a recipe feature. Any time you go to google and type in something that it perceives to be a recipe search, it will provide you with a fancy side tab of refinement options. With this tool, you can search for recipes by ingredients, cooking time, calorie information, reviews - you name it. That sounds great, right? Maybe not for bloggers. Basically, in Google's Plan to Take Over the World, you need to encode all of your entries as a food blogger to be compatible with Google's new system. The coding, like most HTML/web jargon, is daunting to say the least, and for any non-programmer attempting to manually bring their recipes up to snuff, requires an immense amount of work just for the input of several ingredients, much less a full recipe or all of those archived ones we have from posts past.

What this means is that once this "improvement" to Google is implemented, small-time food bloggers will have to choose between taking the time to change their posts to fit Google's cookie-cutter frame work, or losing otherwise-prime spots on I would say The Premier Search. Now, if people just Google Search, our entries will still show up, but as soon as they opt to switch into the new refined system, we will be trumped by the big, professional recipe sites and the more successful blogs who can hire people to translate their entries for them.

When I read this, I wasn't sure what to do. Clearly, I do not have time to efficiently transfer all of my archives, and it already takes me a good half-hour to write and format the simple entries I produce now. It wasn't realistic to say I would take the plunge with Google, at least at this point when Blogger doesn't have a way of supporting the new search; but at the same time, I struggled with the thought that Floptimism would, once again, disappear into the vastness of the internet. A lot of my site hits come from google - not all, but a lot.

I will not be making the switch. I started this blog with just one reader - myself - and I firmly believe that the benefits I receive and enjoy as a result of this creative, semi-documentary outlet will not be diminished, even if I never attract a single new reader. I will not stop growing as a cook; I will not stop loving sharing my stories with you and reading the stories that you put out, either via your own entries or your wonderful comments. The glamor of becoming respected and well-known in the world of Food Blogging is, of course, tempting, but I don't even know if I could handle - or would want to handle - the responsibility of such a title, even if I were to ever achieve it. It's a fantasy, a day dream - but this, right here, is a reality. I have a small group of fairly loyal readers, and I have family members who make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside when they have nice words to say about my entries. And I still have myself - this was created as a space for me to document my journey through learning to cook and bake better, and no fluctuation in site traffic can change that. (How's that for a sappy, borderline-Halmark statement, huh?)

I'm only disappointed that the world seems to be moving toward one-dimensionality, where codes and formats are the air we breathe. As a life-long perfectionist, even I have come to believe that just because an improvement can be made, does not mean that it should be made. I'm sure that this new recipe search will take a lot of the guess work out of desperate Google searches for a last minute recipe, and will be the saving grace to the person who just found out that their In-Laws will be arriving in 10 minutes, and the soup thawing in the fridge is no longer a viable dinner option. But cooking doesn't fit into an HTML code, and I have a very strong feeling that the general public is about to lose touch with some of the truly beautiful recipes out there.

What was that? Brownies? I mentioned something about brownies, and after reading this entire novel of my thoughts you want some kind of reward? Well, alright, if you insist...

You bite into these and taste banana, so don't be caught off-guard. It was an attempt at healthifying a regular brownie recipe for a Brownie Bake-Off on campus, but when the banana flavor came through so strongly, I threw in the towel and added Banana to the name, feigning intention from the start. They are whole wheat, reduced-fat brownies, but don't get hung up on that - more than that, they are fudgy with a light banana flavor, and if you somehow managed to stick a peanut butter swirl into them you may even be able to woo the titans at Google to give your blog entries number one status on all of their searches. You'd certainly be able to woo me.

Banana Fudge Brownies, adapted from Cooking During Stolen Moments
Yield: Approx. 15
(printable recipe)

The Ingredients
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon banana*
2 cups chocolate chips
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon baking soda

The Method
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease a 9x13 inch baking dish. Place the sugar and butter in a small sauce pan over medium heat, allowing butter to melt while stirring often. Add the banana whisk vigorously to get as many lumps out as possible (but don't get too fanatical!). Remove the pan from the heat and stir in 1 1/2 cups of the chocolate chips until they melt into the mixture. Set aside to cool to room temperature.

Lightly beat the eggs in a small-medium mixing bowl, then add a few tablespoons of the chocolate mixture for tempering. Pour the remainder of the chocolate into the eggs and mix well. Finally, stir in the flour, vanilla, and baking soda until fully incorporated.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 18-22 minutes. Remove from the oven when done and immediately top with the remaining 1/2 cup of chocolate chips, pressing them lightly into the top of the brownies. Cool completely in the refrigerator (even though every ounce of my Food Safety knowledge screams against this).

*For this recipe, I encourage you to use a previously frozen, thawed banana, not just an overripe one that you mash fresh. This gives you a much more liquidy, malleable banana.

p.s. during this particular brownie-bake off, I encountered The Ultimate Brownie - it was thick, chocolatey, decadent, and so fudgy you had to wonder if it's even been cooked all the way through...even if you get a corner piece. I found what I have been searching for, for so long. Imagine my euphoria, considering one of my good friends on campus was the one who baked them! I immediately sent her a text message: "I just died and went to heaven eating one of your brownies." I asked her for the recipe. Flattered though she was, this was her response: "I don't know! I just did a random search online and chose one." Really? Really? I spend time combing through the endless brownie recipes online, only trying the ones that claim to be The Best of the Best, and she picks some recipe at random and hits the jack pot? And then doesn't save the recipe? Alas, my search for the Holy Grail of Brownies continues...

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