Cherry Peach Muffins

I’VE BEEN THINKING lately about fairy tales and the stories I loved as a child.  Though this isn’t the house I grew up in — far from it, in fact, since I grew up primarily in apartments, and not in the US — most of my beloved childhood and young adult books are here with my mother.  From the Bobbsey Twins books that my grandmother insisted I read to the later discoveries of Robin McKinley, Ursula K. LeGuin, Orson Scott Card, and Patricia McKillip, they’re all here.  I’ve the chance now to dig back into those books and characters, reliving the wonder I used to feel every time I cracked a paperback’s spine.

Perhaps this was brought on by seeing Snow White and the Huntsman last week, which one reviewer criticised (rightly, I think) for reinforcing and propagating totalising ideas of goodness and purity.  In any case, I called K a few days ago and ended up on a tangent in which I was really, really distraught about how boring Snow White is as a character and how there is never going to be a good version of the tale because the story is about this incredibly underwritten and nerveless character.  All the good stuff actually happens with the wicked queen, and we all know how that goes for her.  It’s like the fairy tale is saying “don’t be interesting.  Don’t have a good back story.  Don’t be powerful, or frightened, or in control, or vengeful, or anything compelling at all.  All compelling does for you is get you killed off by someone horribly uninteresting and vapid.”  Certainly a tale to inspire.

So I’ve been thinking about the kinds of stories I remember loving as a child, and the kinds of stories I used to say I was going to write.  I wrote my first fairy tale in 3rd grade, and it was hideous.  My sense of geography was laughable (the princess, ailing from a mysterious disease, moved to England from London).  My sense of drama was questionable (she’s cured by sleeping it off).  My illustrations featured creatures with extremely long limbs and button heads.  But I loved writing it, and as I grew up I wrote more stories and more fairy tales; and eventually I ended up doing my high school senior project on Cinderella, and my undergraduate thesis was at least partly rooted in the Grimms’ tales.

Which is all to say: I love a happy ending.

But it’s not a happy ending if it isn’t interesting.  Or, at least, I want my happy endings to be tale-worthy.  The best friendships are like that — there’s the story of how you met (we were neighbors in college and I startled her on the dorm stairs and she nearly heart-attacked right there, at my feet, clutching her eyedrops and wearing really ugly PJs; we met at a screening of a lamentably awful movie on Partition, and cemented our friendship by tearing it to shreds and then going out and getting slightly drunk with strangers; she was the new kid in 8th grade, and I liked that she wasn’t too cool to wear culottes), the story of how the friendship was cemented, and then the after parts which are not always smooth going but are full of artless delight.

Yesterday, I noticed the peaches were starting to look a bit testy.  And the untouched bowl of cherries — purchased for my aunt, but now lingering forlornly in the refrigerator — seemed too tragic for words.  Feeling a little lost myself, I peeled the peaches and pitted the cherries, staining my hands a terrific shade of red.  Peeling and pitting is great centering work; while your hands work routine tasks, the mind is free to be amazed at the dexterity of thumbs or to make up new stories from bits of older ones.

I wasn’t sure about the combination of peaches and cherries, and I further tempered them with a sour cream muffin base.  But they came together delightfully, as if meant to be.  In the spirit of neighborliness and friendliness, I took a trayful of them up my mother’s street, knocking on doors and passing out teatime treats.  Not that these are necessarily friendships I’ll be converting into fantastic tales, but there’s a certain satisfaction in feeding people who’ve been in your house and know the way your space is arranged.  There’s a symmetry to it, I think, a sense of possibilities earned and returned.  And that, perhaps, is the start of a story that can go in many directions — and that’s the kind of story I’m interested in living.

Cherry Peach Muffins

  • 1/2 cup melted butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 2  1/4 c flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 c fresh peaches, peeled, pitted, and roughly chopped
  • 1 c fresh cherries, pitted and roughly chopped

Preheat oven to 350F.  While I usually don’t use paper liners for muffins, I did for these ones.  So either lightly grease your muffin tin, or line the cups.  This recipe will make 24 muffins, so plan accordingly!

To peel peaches, cut an X in the bottom of each one and drop them in boiling water for about 30 seconds.  Rinse them in cold water and peel gently.  Cut them willy-nilly and set aside.

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar.  Beat in the eggs and sour cream.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon.  Add the peaches and cherries to the dry ingredients and mix to coat the fruit.  Slowly add the fruit mixture to the egg mixture, and mix together.

Fill muffin cups 2/3 full and bake at 350F for 25-30 minutes, until golden and a toothpick inserted near the center of the muffins comes out clean.

Let cool and enjoy!



Sassy Savory Broccoli Muffins

MY FRIEND A tells me that age 28 is a turning point in one’s life — a chance to make new decisions, find new directions, and explore new territories (both emotional and physical).  Astrologically, this is known as Saturn Return, a dimensional shift “when Saturn returns by transit to the place in the zodiac he occupied when you were born.”  This isn’t to say it’s a return to infancy, but instead is a chance to reevaluate, reconsider, and move forwards in new and potentially unexpected ways.

Certainly, I’m finding this year to be exactly that.  2012 has, in many ways, been a return to a very basic and humane part of myself, a part of me that has felt buried beneath the demands and expectations of graduate school.  This spring, the 6th graders I taught in Morocco graduated high school, the undergraduates I worked to admit to my alma mater graduated with their BA’s (some with their BS’s), and I earned my MA.  Not only have I seen two classes through these important milestones on their educational journeys, but I saw myself through something I wasn’t sure was going to finish — or was going to finish the way I wanted it to.  Indeed, this is the year I decided to stop halfway through a journey — something that is uncharacteristic for me, but feels completely right.  Graduate school, or at least the program I was in, wasn’t right for me. And instead of suffering through another four to five years of disillusionment and disappointment, I stepped back and am reevaluating what my next steps will be.

It’s very Whitney, I hope, this refusal to settle for anything less than the best: the best for me and the best of me.

So now, tucked into my parents’ Texas house while my mother prepares for minor surgery, I’ve taken over the kitchen.  And one of the first things I wanted to make was a sassy muffin with a surprising secret: a broccoli center.  This muffin makes you rethink muffins.  You’ll give it the fish-eye at first, but then you’ll sit back and just enjoy.  Because the surprise of it is that, despite first glance, this muffin is a miracle.

The original recipe is here, but I’ve tweaked it to be a bit healthier and a bit coarser.  Instead of a butter base, here’s a cornmeal base that provides an interesting contrast to the smoothness of the broccoli heads while giving the cayenne some interesting pockets in which to hide.  It’ll surprise you, delight you, and demand your focus.  And, while you’re at it, these are great muffins to talk major life decisions over.  Just saying.


Sassy Savory Broccoli Muffins

  • 1 cup cornmeal (I used white cornmeal, so the turmeric would have more of a visual effect)
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup white sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1 cup milk
  • 12 broccoli florets, trimmed to fit in a muffin cup with room to spare

Preheat oven to 350F.  Grease your muffin tin (this recipe makes 12 regular-sized muffins, so plan accordingly).

Bring a pot of water to boil and blanch the broccoli for about 3 minutes.  Rinse in cold water, pat dry with paper towels, and set aside.

In a mixing bowl, mix your dry ingredients.  Add the eggs, canola oil, and milk; mix well to form a dough.

Place one heaping spoonful of batter in each muffin cup; press down with your fingers to fill the base of the cup.  In each, stand a single broccoli floret.  Top with the remaining batter, dividing it evenly between the muffin cups (or else be ready for one HUGE muffin and a series of flat ones).  It doesn’t need to look perfect, but each muffin needs to have a base as well as a top.

Bake for 30 minutes, until golden brown and a little stiff to the touch.  Allow them to cool before eating — it’ll be hard, trust me! — but give yourself leave to eat them all in one day.


Full Complement · Recipe

A Full Batch of Breakfast: Apple Strudel Muffins, Pumpkin Butter, Baked Berry Challah French Toast

TODAY was my day to host our budding writing group. The five of us collected in the late morning, projects and literary ambitions glittering in our imaginations.  Hosting the gathering was a blessing, as it gave me the much-needed impetus to take on a food project that’s been rolling around in my head for a few days.

After a week of painful miscommunications in the office, general anxiety over life and the Future (the horror!), a spate of late nights and later mornings (which also contributed to the office snafus), I realized that what I really wanted — evens perhaps more than writing itself — was to bake.  I wanted to create a brunch feast full of seasonal flavors and baked delicacies; I wanted to brew Southern Pecan coffee and delight my friends.

I wanted grandiosity.  Über fabulousness. Worlds and foods and flavors and scents.  I wanted the hallway outside my door to be a fragrant wonderland, and I wanted my home itself to be the Gingerbread House: alluring, enchanting, lovely, and utterly irresistible.

I started last night.  If this was going to be a Production, then it was going to take time, energy, and stamina.  I knew I wanted to experiment with the two last honey crisp apples I had in my kitchen, and muffins seemed the ideal medium for their use.  But I also wanted to work with challah bread as a base for french toast, but still with a heavy oven influence.  So I started with the challah french toast, as that requires an overnight marination period.  The pumpkin butter was a well-timed suggestion from foodista, and paired excellently with the apple muffins.  Because I wasn’t sure how big the writing group was going to be, I doubled the recipe for the muffins, and (naturally) ended up with waaay more than I needed.

Baking was the therapy I needed, my friends’ awed faces the emotional panacea I needed to heal the week’s strains.

And having leftover muffins and french toast is nothing to sneer at, either!

Apple Strudel Muffins

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup butter, room temp or melted
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/4 tsp vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups apple (1/2 cup grated, 1 cup chopped) I used Honey Crisp apples, and they were amazing!

For the Streudel

  • 1/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp flour
  • 1/8 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp butter, melted

Preheat oven to 375F.  Grease your muffin pan (I have a giant 6-muffin pan, which with the doubled recipe ended up making 14 muffins; this recipe should make 12 regular muffins or 6 giant ones).

In a medium bowl, mix the flour, baking powder and soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs, butter and sugar until smooth.  Mix in vanilla.  Stir in apples, then gradually add in the flour mixture.  Fill muffin cups.

In a small bowl, mix the streudel topping.  Sprinkle over the tops of the muffins.

Bake for 20 minutes, or until your muffins pass the toothpick text.  Enjoy!  Slather with pumpkin butter for added flavor.

Pumpkin Butter

  • 1 can pumpkin
  • 1 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1/2 cup apple juice
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp pumpkin pie spices

Simmer all ingredients together in a pot until the liquid has evaporated and the pumpkin butter has thickened.

Pairs very well with apple muffins!  Store in an airtight container in the fridge.

Baked Berry Challah French Toast

For this, I pretty much followed the exact recipe.

  • 1/2 loaf of challah bread, cut or torn into chunks
  • 5 eggs
  • 3 tbsp sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 3 cups milk
  • 3 cups fresh strawberries, chopped into bite-size pieces

For the Topping

  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup quick oats
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened

Grease a 9×13 baking dish and lay out the challah bread chunks inside; they should fill about 3/4 full.

In a medium-sized bowl, beat the eggs, sugar and vanilla.  Add the milk, then pour over the challah.  Cover and refrigerate overnight.

In a medium bowl, cut together the crumb topping ingredients until a coarse crumb mixture forms.  Place in an airtight container (ziploc bag or tupperware) and refrigerate overnight.

In the morning, stir up the bread mixture again.  Layer strawberries on top, then cover with the crumb topping.

Bake at 375 degrees for 50-55 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Enjoy your own morning inspirations!  The combination of these three are pretty much guaranteed to make your guests gasp, swoon, and then pass out in food-comas in your living room.


Full Complement

Bread Alone, NY: “We think by feeling. What is there to know?”

I HAVE been sadly remiss in joining in the documentation of The Great American Breakfast Quest. I certainly have had my fair share of amazing breakfasts in the past several months, but have not been faithful to my quester status. A shame, I say, a shame….

But no longer….

So, to re-enter the fray I will tell the tale of a breakfast brunch. There is something so special about brunch: lazy weekend days, taking our wakings slow, and tantalizing the tastebuds. For my mom, a woman who has eaten the same breakfast everyday for as along as I can remember, brunches are most definitely a treat.

We (my sister Claire, my mother, and I) decided that this year we would celebrate my mom’s birthday in upstate NY. Claire has recently moved into her first apartment in the tiny town of Red Hook and it was on a rainy Saturday that we all converged and headed out to the next town over, Rhinebeck. After some debate we chose Bread Alone over another equally tempting option (Another Fork in the Road).

The decor is a warm red and there are nice, solid wooden tables lining the walls. This is a place for fall afternoon cups of endless coffee and rainy day brunches. The heat had been unbearable the day before but the gray morning brought the wet cool of late summer showers–making the enjoyment of the brunch that more possible.

We all opted for pots of tea.  The tea was blended in the small town of Millerton by a family owned tea shop Harney and Sons. I had the simple breakfast of over-easy eggs, toast, and morning potatoes. The toast was a chewy dense whole grain smeared with fresh creamy butter and the morning potatoes has been fried with rosemary and red and yellow bell peppers to add some sweetness and earthy muskiness to your standard homefry. The eggs were done perfectly with the yolk spilling out from the thin white skin in a cascade of deep orange-y yellow. My mom had the Toad in the Hole–perhaps the more fun way of eating over-easy eggs. Claire chose the special omelette of the day: fresh scallions with melted brie. The scallions were sauteed just enough to sweeten them but not enough to take away their sharp, fresh, green bite. Claire’s boyfriend ordered the Bread Basket–a selection of muffins, scones, croissants, and toast from the bakery. The Bread Basket is an option I would love to see on more menus–there is something delighful about having a whole basket of bread, pastry, and butter presented to you.

We sat for a couple of hours lingering over our pots of tea, stories of the past several months, and snatching bites from each others plates. The wait-staff was patient and let us be.

When the last sweet crumbs of blueberry muffin and lick of butter had been consumed, Claire and I gave our mother her presents and sang a rousing rendition of Happy Birthday.

Then it was time to push back our chairs, give a big sigh of contentment and head out into the watery light of mid-morning.

So, if you are ever in Rhinebeck, NY and are hankering after simple, well-done breakfasts, turn your feet to Bread Alone.

Quest on, quest on.


Full Complement

Melt, NYC: “… but, by God, there’ll be dancing.”

MY GOODNESS, what a week! May has really flown by — I can’t believe that I’m hours away from watching the Swarthmore class of 2009 graduate! (Congrats all!)

In the whirlwind that has been the last week, I’ve scampered up to Brooklyn for some good eats, warm laughter, and the chance to introduce Win to fried oreos (a delicacy, I promise); fit in a butt-load of work; flown to San Francisco and caught up with D briefly before she a) runs a marathon today and b) flies back to Philly to start her nursing program; I’ve given two workshops in San Fran; and now I’m back on the firm ground of the east coast, waiting to go out and see off the graduates. Whoosh. Two coasts, three cities, one week. I’m a bit knackered.

Which roughly translates into an apology–last weekend in Brooklyn was amazing, and though documented pictorially ad nauseum, I somehow never wrote it up. Whoops!


NEW YORK CITY, for me, is a land of enchantment. I don’t think I could ever live there — it’s too noisy and messy, and the spell is broken if you see it in the harsh light of daily life. But as a destination, for museum-hopping and culinary tours and bookstore hours, it’s a magical realm of possibility. Win, of course, helps out tremendously by knowing all sorts of in and outs and creating a whimsically enthralling experience whatever she does. And so my trip to Brooklyn last week took on the glamour of a fairy tale and the pricelessness of a perfectly executed weekend away.

I got in Friday night, the Bolt Bus ably defending itself against Memorial Day weekend traffic, and met up with Win for a ginormous seafood dinner. Stuffed but sated, we wandered back to Brooklyn and somehow — somehow — managed not to be completely comatose the next day.

And for the next day, Win had planned a doozy! Ginormous muffins and iced coffee from the Blue Sky Bakery in Brooklyn (we ordered the pumpkin-cranberry-apple muffin and the zucchini-chocolate muffin, mmmmm), which we ate on a nearby stoop, started our morning. From there, we wandered around Brooklyn a bit, taking in a couple of sidewalk sales before hopping on the subway to Union Square. There, we dashed in and out of shoe stores, pausing only to consider the crafts and farmers’ market at the Square; I bought a pair of delicious silver earring, oxidized to look aged and discolored in funky, delicate stripes.

We had decided beforehand to take the day slow. We knew we wanted to end up at Barnes and Noble, curled up around iced coffees and books, but we didn’t really have a plan for the interim. So we ate Venezuelan arepas at Caracas; munched on fried oreos at a street fair; dined on South Indian fare; and ended up in Little Italy for cannolis and cappucinno. Meanwhile, we tried out various scents at Fresh and Sephora, and did make our way to a bookstore, where we rested our well-walked feet and people-watched.

It was a magical, enchanted New York day: the sun was bright, the air was filled with laughter and the delighted shrieks of children, and we ate lightly but satisfyingly, filling our souls even as we pleased our bellies. As we made our quiet way home, we were happy, tired, and so content with the world.

And Sunday! Ah, Sunday, you did not disappoint. Calling together the New York crowd, we met in Brooklyn for brunch at sun-drenched Melt and sat down to the task of decimating a table full of food.

The wonder of it is that we were able to eat all of it: french toast, baked eggs, tofu BLT, shrimp and grits, mushroom omelette, more eggs… It was just what the weekend needed as a wrap-up. All we were missing was a sing along. Nevertheless, we made do with reminiscing, telling tall tales, making plans (Nan, I am totally taking you up on the bread-baking offer), and settling into the company of long-missed good friends.

And this is why New York is so special to me: it’s a place to gather, to create memories, to evoke lost thoughts and whims, and to create the magical moments that can define seasons and years.



Ultimate Blackberry Muffins

I LOVE muffins.  I love making them, I love unwrapping them, I love decapitating them and eating the top first, I love eating them period.  And when I found myself in my local grocer’s, faced with a box of delicious blackberries, I immediately knew what I wanted: blackberry muffins.  I toyed with the idea of scones for a bit, but ultimately returned to the congeniality of muffins.

Muffins are, by definition, a comfort food.  They’re moist, they’re warm, they level all of us to child status, and yet their form feels somehow more mature than that of the cookie.  These babies take work–you sculpt them in a way you don’t need to sculpt cookies (I’m all about the drop-cookie versus the palm-formed ball).  They’re a bit more elemental than scones, but they pack a powerful self-sufficient wallop that crusty scones can’t.  And while pancakes and waffles and other traditional breakfast fare may lay claim to hearts and nostalgic imaginations, the muffin is a here-and-now type of food that goes down perfectly well at any time of day.

And as for blackberries, well, you simply can’t go wrong with those.

Ultimate Blackberry Muffins

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 tsp milk
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 8 tbsp (1 stick) melted butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 11 oz fresh blackberries, halved

Preheat oven to 400F. Grease/line muffin pan.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt in a large bowl.

In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, sugar, butter, vanilla and sour cream.

Combine the two mixtures, using a few light strokes until the dry ingredients are moistened.  Add in the berries.  Do not overmix–the batter should not be smooth!

Fill muffin cups about 2/3 full.  Bake for about 17-20 minutes until done.  Let cool before removing, especially if you are using a greased muffin tray instead of lined cups.

Enjoy!  Perfect for breakfast, brunch, or as an afternoon snack with tea.



Pumpkin Butter Muffins

DAVE, a friend from college, and his girlfriend Megan were in town this past week, and I took their visit as an opportunity to experiment with flavors and places I had yet to try.  First up on our list was Longwood Gardens, but as this was a reintroduction to the city of Brotherly Love, I also introduced the pair to Honey‘s.  (Really, I was craving one of Honey’s signature omelets or french toasts, so it was actually a self-serving agenda.)

From NoLibs, we drove out to the Gardens.  Now, it’s recommended that you spend at least 2 hours at Longwood, or else you’ll feel gypped.  We figured we could do it in 2 hours, maybe 3 if we felt like pushing it…but ended up staying there for 5 hours!  We could probably have done more, too, but the sun had set by the time we left and the Topiary Garden was closed for winter revitalization.  Regardless, here’s our suggestion:  go to the Gardens about 2 hours before sundown, taking that time to see the tree houses and the Italian Garden and catch one of the Fountain Shows.  Stop in for some Vegetarian Chili at the Terrace Restaurant; the chili is surprisingly hearty, and does a body good on a chilly day.  From there,, it’s a straight shot to the Conservatory where you will spend the bulk of your time.

Also on the agenda was quizo, the South Street Challenge (never heard of it? neither had we) and a visit to our old college diner.  And after that, I must have been feeling very frisky because I decided to try out a new recipe…but pretty much modify everything but the essentials in it.

The original recipe on therecipelink called for apple butter, applesauce, raisins, and only half a teaspoon of ginger.  Instead, I substituted pecan pumpkin butter for the apple butter and organic vanilla yoghurt for the applesauce + 1 tsp vanilla.  I also decided not to throw in raisins and upped the ginger content to a full tsp.  The muffins have a little bit of kick this way, and (as promised by Jenni Miller, the original poster) they fill the house with the delightful aroma of autumn.

Pumpkin Butter Muffins

  • 2 cups flour
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar*
  • 1  1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 3/4 cup pumpkin butter
  • 1/2 cup vanilla yogurt
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/4 cup milk   [personally, I like 2%]
  • 3 tbsp honey  [I like the heady taste of forest honey]
  • 1/2 cup raisins (optional)

Preheat oven to 400F.  Line your muffin cups or grease with cooking spray.

In a large bowl, combine all dry ingredients (the first 7 ingredients). In a smaller bowl, combine the wet ingredients.

Pour the wet mixture into the dry; stir to combine.  [If you’re going to include raisins or nuts, fold them in at the end.]  Spoon batter out into muffin cups and bake for 20-25 minutes.  I baked mine for 20 minutes, and they turned out perfectly, if a little browned on top!

* If your brown sugar has hardened, follow this simple plan: eyeball what you think is 3/4 cup and break that off the block of brown sugar.  Wrap in a wet paper towel and place in a microwave-save bowl.  Cover tightly with saran wrap and microwave for 1 minute.  Remove paper towel and saran wrap (be careful; it’s hot) and break up the sugar with a fork.

I recommend you don’t spend too much time separating the chunks. I left a few of them in pretty solid form, figuring I’d break them down a little further when I mixed everything together.  This worked perfectly (and serendipitously), as the chunks never quite broke down, which mean that in the baked muffins were nestled little pockets of moist sugary goodness.  Little boons, if you will, for the holiday season.