Twisting Together – Blueberry Corn Muffins

It started with a dry wall screw in my tire.

The cause of my low tire pressure warning light

Actually let me back up. This recipe really started with me getting in my car the other day to go grocery shopping then seeing a light on the dashboard I hadn’t seen before. Some weird symbol I had to flip through my owner’s manual to figure out – which turned out to mean low tire pressure. And even though my car is computer enough to tell me that salient fact, it isn’t clever enough to tell me which tire. So I drove to the grocery store via our favorite garage – Fisher’s. They were able to figure out which tire it was, and my mechanic Jeff was able to take care of it right away, but he needed 20-30 minutes.

low tire pressure light

So I trotted across the street to Jerry’s Place, another South Deerfield institution and ordered a grilled blueberry muffin. They split a blueberry muffin in half, slather it with butter, grill it till it’s crispy golden, then top off with more butter and pop it on a plate. You can watch the butter melt into the hot muffin and know, just know, that it will be delicious. Which it was. However as I sat there nibbling bites of my muffin I thought of how I could ramp up this concept. Add a little more tooth to it.

Blueberry corn muffins for breakfast

Which is when Davis Bates came to mind. Bates is a brilliant storyteller who the kids and I would often go to see at various events, most often libraries, where he was performing. We bought his cassette tape to listen to on car rides (and what trip isn’t a car ride when you live in Whately?) and we listened and listened and listened to that tape so much and so often we finally wore it out. His stories are wonderful; and Russell, Isabelle and I could, and probably still can, speak his monologues right along with him. So what I recalled as I sat there munching on my blueberry muffin was Davis & Gramp Bates eating corn muffins up in Maine.

“I liked going for walks with my grandfather. Sometimes we’d get up early in the morning, before my parents were awake, and we’d walk down to Gilbert Brother’s Wharf and have some muffins. Corn muffins or bran muffins. Gramp would have a cup of coffee. Then we’d come back and have breakfast.”

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Keeping Things Cool

My sister is a very wise person. She is kind and funny and thoughtful and tries hard to live her life in a way which honors and celebrates all of those things. A few summers ago she taught me about this person who lives inside of me. Her name is Judy Judger. Judy is not kind, in fact I’d say she’s the queen of snark. Judy pops out especially when I am in someone else’s kitchen or home and she whispers things to me like, “Can you believe these people don’t have any books in their house? That’s just creepy, a house with no books.” Or she’ll snicker, “Oh my gosh, look at this kitchen they don’t even have a _______. How are you supposed to make meals without a ______?” Yeah, Judy is a bee-otch with a capital B.

Ever since Heather made me aware of Judy Judger I’ve kept a close eye on her. She is not to be trusted. That said, sometimes the things Judy says are frankly the bald, honest truth. And I find myself wanting to listen, wanting to voice her comments out loud. Bad Judy. Bad, bad Judy.

Since I’ve been paid to cook since I was 13 and I fell in love with cooking long before that,  it is safe to say I’ve been in a lot of kitchens, more than most people. Everyone sets them up differently and has a different definition of what is essential. There actually are a few items which it’s hard to do without. A knife, a large pot, a sauté pan. I could go on, and while it would perhaps be interesting to see what my list of essentials are, especially with two kids who will soon graduate from college and be setting up their own apartments, today’s post is not about the full list rather focusing on one of the items on said list. Below there are a few links to some food writers listing what they consider essential and I invite you to take a look.

Cooling almond clementine cake

Anyhoo, this past weekend I was out of town and I thought I’d make my niece and nephews an Easter surprise, which would then be waiting for them in the freezer the next time they visited the apartment I stayed in. I brought all the ingredients, including a cake pan and parchment paper. What I didn’t think to pack, since I figured everyone had one, was a cooling rack. Queue Judy. “What the heck! How does a kitchen not have a cooling rack?” she snipped in my ear as I rummaged through every cupboard sure there had to be one somewhere. Apparently to some folks a wire cooling rack is not an essential item. Continue reading

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Clementine Cake …. Again

Sometimes you can’t stop thinking about someone, which might be labeled as passionate, obsessive, or in the worst case scenario, as stalker-ish behavior. If that’s how we think of person fixating on another person, what do we call someone who can’t stop thinking about a recipe? More specifically a cake. Obsessive, compulsive, maybe even a little dessert crazy? Whatever you call it, let’s admit it isn’t completely normal. Which pretty much describes me for the last few weeks, making the Clementine Almond Cake again, and again, and again.

If you read about the Clementine Almond cake last month and had your fill then you may want to stop reading now. Or pop over and enjoy some other food blogs like Molly Yeh or Sara & Hugh Forte or Beth Kirby. Of course if you want to follow me down the rabbit hole come along…

One of the things I wondered about with this recipe is the almond flour. I started with Bob’s Red Mill Almond Meal/Flour, which while yielding delicious results, was rather pricy (in my opinion) at $13/pound. In the weeks I’ve been testing and retesting this recipe Stop N Shop has the almond meal/flour on sale for $10/pound. Trader Joe’s has a version of almond flour with the skin still on which goes for around $6/pound. The skin off version is more delicate in both taste and looks, but the question remains if it is worth nearly twice the price?

Clementine Almond Cake with and without skin in the almond flour

According to two out of my three taste-testers (Dan our plumber, Bill our neighbor and Shawn) Continue reading

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Hit or Miss Valentine

Consistency is not my middle name, at least not when it comes to Valentine’s Day. Sometimes I make cards, often I don’t. Occasionally I’ll bake up dozens of sugar cookie hearts and elaborately decorate them à la Martha Stewart with enough red food dye to make your teeth pink for days. Then the following year(s) I find I can’t be bothered to dig out my heart-shaped cookie cutters, let alone root around in the basement for my box of food dyes. I feel like I’m the poster child for a hit or miss Valentine gal.

Anatomical knitted heart by Hilary Zaloom

My friends are not like me. They actually plan ahead for Valentine’s Day. Hilary’s Vday imagination seems to know no bounds and each year sees her creating something more fantastic than the year before from an anatomically correct knitted heart to  sculpted love token molded from the red wax covering babybel cheeses. Diane’s family celebrates with a meal of red & pink foods. The mother of one of my daughter’s friends goes to an annual Valentine card making party where dozens of people drink hot chocolate and eat fun food while chatting and crafting Vday cards like maniacs. Perhaps I need to wrangle myself an invitation to that soirée. Even Julia Child and her husband Paul sent out Valentine cards instead of Christmas greetings, well they did that because they couldn’t get it together in December, but still.

Valentine's Day card of Julia and Paul Child

This year I found the cake – a glorious cake – with which all Valentine’s Days (and many other days of the year) should be celebrated. It’s path to my oven came by way of Jessica last week on knitting night that she had found in the New York Times, which purports to be an old Sephardic recipe John Willougby got from Ruth Levy who had the cake made for her by a woman named Dawn Datso. Got that? Continue reading

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How Do You Relax?

The other day someone asked me what I did to relax. It’s an interesting question since what I do to relax and recharge might be someone else’s idea of landing in the seventh circle of purgatory with the flames turned on high. Still I was the one being asked the question so here are my answers:

There’s a fair amount of fluidity to what is on or off my relaxation list at any given time, though cooking and reading have pretty consistently had a spot. There’s a chance that some things may make a comeback (beekeeping), while others will decidedly stay in the past tense (running, macramé and reupholstery). It’s my list, so don’t judge.

My latest knitting project

 

While cooking is at the top of my list, I realized it didn’t have to be my cooking. I am truly tickled when someone else cooks for me. It’s honestly such a treat, and it happened last night. My husband made us a pot of his Kielbasa Stew to take the chill off.

Warm up with a big pot of Kielbasa Stew

Shawn’s been making this dish for me since we first started courting over twenty-two years ago. The first time was probably during the blizzard just after we met. While this stew is never the same, it is always delicious. Simple, straightforward food for a cold winter’s night. Serve with a game of backgammon and it’s sure to be a relaxing evening. Continue reading

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Indian Pudding as Birthday Cake

Last Friday there were five more candles on my birthday cake than there were when I started this blog. Yup, it’s that time of year. Time to sing the song, put on the birthday hat, and celebrate. Which all happened after a day of zooming back and forth across the state.

Since Isabelle needed to pop over to Hanscom Air Force base to tie up some AFROTC stuff the celebratory birthday eating began at Sofra in Cambridge with their Turkish style breakfast and a pistachio pop-tart. Ana Sorten’s flavor combinations are truly five-star. If you ever are in the greater Boston area I would highly recommend you make time for a detour to check it out. Of course if I, like my sister, lived a few miles from Sofra’s front door I might stop cooking all together.Breakfast at SofraOn our drive back to western side of the state Isabelle asked what I wanted for my birthday dessert, since it’s a tradition in our family that the birthday gal or guy gets to choose the meal and dessert*. Jokingly I told her I wanted, “all the deserts associated with Massachusetts – Boston Cream Pie, chocolate chip cookies, and Indian Pudding.” It wasn’t clear who was going to make the birthday dessert(s) but I knew that somehow there would be something sweet to fill the bill. Honestly I would have been happy to make my own cake/dessert since being in the kitchen is so relaxing; I just didn’t have the time.

When everyone had reconvene back at the house in the early evening we popped over the bridge to the Blue Heron Restaurant for cocktails and hors d’oeuvre. Shawn had a fabu dinner planned at home for later, but I wanted a little bit of an adult beverage sparkle as well as a few foods I was unlikely to cook at home. Their hand cut french fries with homemade truffle mayo are swoon-worthy, as are their chickpea coated fried calamari.

With my birthday bookended by visits to two of my favorite eateries, followed by hubby grilling up some lamby chops, it was a pretty sweet day in the food department. The proverbial cherry on top was Isabelle directing Russell (via text) to stop by Paul & Elizabeth’s restaurant to pick up a few servings of their Indian Pudding. My 55th birthday was complete.Indian Pudding a la ModeIf you didn’t grow up in New England, or spend some time here, it is likely that you have no idea what Indian Pudding is. Continue reading

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Backgammon and the Twelve Days of Christmas

This year one of my Christmas presents came with a warning written on the tag –

“Please insert ear plugs now!!!”

Immediately my son, daughter, and husband stuck their fingers in their ears as I opened the package. And yes, as anticipated by the man I’ve been married to for nearly twenty-two years, I let out a very loud, very high-pitched SQUEEEEEEEE of joy. He’d gotten me a little red squirrel by Elizabeth Radysh, a local artisan who repurposes old sweaters into small Waldorf style animals and dolls. I have been collecting her bunnies, kittens, and chicks for several years now and Shawn had found the tiny squirrel at the North Quabbin Garlic and Arts Festival last fall. He was positive I had seen him buy it, but I hadn’t. I’d been too busy watching the flying feet of the Irish dancers, standing not-too-close to the raw egg toss, and marvelling at the winner of the raw garlic eating contest who chomped down 19 cloves of garlic in less than ten minutes, all while wandering around nibbling various garlic-flavored foods. Clearly I was in too much of a garlic haze to notice Shawn doing any secret Christmas shopping. What struck me was how well he knew what I’d love – even down to how I would react when I opened it up. Decades of living together can do that.

Elisabeth Radysh's little red squirrel

Pink bunny by Elisabeth Radysh

That much time together can also give a couple funny little habits. Our most recent couple quirk has been nearly nightly games of backgammon during dinner. We’ve played various board and card games over the years, but our new the-kids-are-away-at-college tradition is to eat dinner while we simultaneously play two to four games of backgammon. Not so much because it matters who wins (it doesn’t), rather just for the fun of playing. Though I will note for those of you who do play the game there have been several gammons this fall and even one backgammon. With the kids home from college for their winter breaks these dinner & game nights have been mostly curtailed since to be frank, as much fun as it can be to play backgammon, it is not a spectator sport.

Backgammon

With backgammon somewhat on the back burner what I’ve enjoyed most this holiday season (aside from the kids being home and my red squirrel) have been the twelve days of Christmas. Continue reading

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