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Lady Sybil and Tom Branson go public

Valentine’s Day. In keeping with the spirit, Masterpiece Classics served up a double helping of Downton Abbey romance last night. A great pre-Valentine’s Day date night in our home which we enjoyed, even though we had seen these episodes before. Love gained, love lost, wedding bliss, wedding cancelled, attempted elopement, a funeral, an arrest. Yes, Downton Abbey has it all, and it is all good.

The sad news is that there is only one episode left (the Christmas episode) and North America will soon join the UK in the count down to September for the anticipated launch of Season 3. To keep my spirits up I am still spending some time playing a little game of matching Downton Abbey couples with my Valentine’s Day favorite sweets.

Lady Sybil and Tom Branson: The idealistic romantics

Lord Grantham is now regretting the day he hired Tom Branson, a “revolutionary chaffeur”way back in Season 1. He discovers that his daughter plans to toss aside her life of privilege for the love of an idealistic and live the life of commoners. After much posturing, he finally concedes that she is leaving for love with or without his blessing, while the Dowager Countess processes how to best spin this news to those who matter.

Sybil and Branson finally kiss

This was a long simmering romance. Tom Branson patiently waited 14 episodes for Lady Sybil to decide that he was “her ticket to travel”. She gives him permission to kiss her, but “that is all until everything is settled”. A great example for young viewers to follow: think before you act. If he loves you, he will wait for you. While this is very much an idealistic pairing of young love from two different worlds, it is not improbable. I recall the love story of a similarly matched couple from my childhood: beautiful privileged British maiden meets handsome school teacher and they run away to Canada to raise 9 children. I remember that it was “literally” a house full of love.

Young love like a brownie

For some reason I seem to be stuck on choosing brownies for this couple. I was trying to think of a dessert that evokes innocence, youth; this tasty treat is a mash up of two separate existing sweets. I got thinking about brownies since they are a cross between cake and cookie, triggered by a post from Foodimentary that Friday was National Have a Brownie Day. Foodimentary (http://foodimentary.com) is a great blog which celebrates food with a featured food, history and fun facts. All in a convenient take away container.

Brownies, like young love, come in a variety of forms. They are either fudgy or cakey, depending on their density, and they may include nuts, frosting, whipped cream, chocolate chips, or other ingredients. All goodness.

History of the Brownie

Brownies are period appropriate, but like many dishes, it appears to have evolved, and not necessarily invented. Some believe that brownies are an Americanization of Scottish cocoa scones, a scottish relative of the Orkney Broonie (which has oats). Foodimentary mentions a connection with the Palmer House Hotel during the 1893 Columbian Exposition (The largest World’s Fair of it’s time). Food historians look for printed recipes to determine a time line, and verification. American Fannie Farmer published the first known brownie recipe in 1896. In any case it has long been a particularly popular treat in North America, so look for Cora’s mother to be asking Mrs. Patmore to make them in Season 3.

I enjoy the sweets, but always look to find a way to make healthier versions. Here are a couple of options. This also allows you to do “girl math”: eat twice as much since they have less calories. So bake a batch for your Valentine, your kids, your foodie friends as a Downton Abbey viewing party treat.

Ultimate Guilt Free Fudge Brownies

all the taste, none of the guilt


  • olive oil cooking spray
  • 2/3 cup honey
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • ½ cup whole-wheat flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • ½ cup semi-sweet/carob chocolate chips (optional)
  • ½ cup chopped walnuts (optional)


  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C/Gas Mark 4
  2. Spray an 8-inch square pan with olive oil. Set aside.
  3. Place the honey in a large glass measuring cup. Microwave on high power until the honey is runny and just bubbling, 45 to 60 seconds. Add the cocoa and stir with a fork until well combined. Let cool to room temperature (15 minutes).
  4. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, place the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Whisk until well combined.
  5. In a large bowl, combine the applesauce, egg, and vanilla. Whisk together until well blended. Add the honey-cocoa mixture and whisk until smooth. Add the flour mixture to the liquid mixture and stir until no traces of flour remain. For some texture you can add some mini chocolate chips and chopped walnuts. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan.
  6. Bake until the surface looks dry around the edges of the pan and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with moist crumbs clinging to it, about 25 minutes. Do not overbake.
  7. Place the pan on a cooling rack and let cool completely before slicing into 16 squares.
  8. Freezes great or store in airtight container. They won’t dry out!
  9. Makes 16 (2-inch) brownies

Yummy and Healthy Black Bean Brownies

A great way to enjoy your veggies

Here is another healthy version of a brownie, using black beans to replace flour. Great for the gluten free crowd and to sneak veggies into your kid’s diet. My foodie friend Barb, who blogs at Profiteroles & Ponytails just posted this recipe, and I have adapted her adapted version.


  • 1 15.5 ounce can (2 cups) black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 tbsp unsweetened applesauce
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder, sifted
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • ¾ cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp instant coffee (optional)
  • ½ cup semi-sweet/carob chocolate chips (optional)
  • ½ cup chopped walnuts (optional)


  1. Preheat oven to 350°.
  2. Lightly grease an 8” x 8” square baking dish.
  3. Combine all ingredients except chocolate chips in a blender and blend until smooth.
  4. Pour mixture into prepared baking dish.
  5. Sprinkle chocolate chips evenly over the top of dish.
  6. Bake in preheated oven until top is dry and edges start to pull away from the sides of the pan, about 30 minutes.
  7. Makes 16 (2-inch) brownies

*Refer to the “handy conversion chart” above to give you measurement conversions for your part of the world.