Go to Home Page

some days just require improvising

August 1st, 2010 | 4 Comments »

As I write this, my boy is somewhere on the road between our home and the Southeastern USA, traveling across four states with his student leadership group from our church for a week-long missions trip to an impoverished area in the southern part of West Virginia. The road trip will take two days before they arrive at their destination.

My boy has been away before, so this is nothing new, this being gone for a week at a time. He’s been spending part of the past 8 summers away, and he always enjoys it. He has to; he was never given the luxury of having a choice in the matter. Being an only child, he was pushed away from my side by necessity. I couldn’t hover, I couldn’t at all. He had to learn to play by himself, read by himself, entertain himself and sleep by himself. And he didn’t have the advantage of siblings to soften any landing that occurred in his life. He was the baby bird on the limb, Mama coaxing him out of the nest at a tender young age and for the most part, he’s done well with those landings. He’s comfortable being away from me, and this is a good thing. Because I know that when he’s ready to fly and really spreads his wings, that he will soar mightily. And I am thrilled and excited to see where this missions trip will take him, in his walk with his Faith, and in his life. He’s had it good, this boy of mine. A dose of reality that life isn’t always kind, that homes aren’t always luxurious and comfortable and that a meager way of life happens to even the kindest people. We all need that perspective shift sometimes to keep us grounded and real.

When I dropped him off with his group and drove off, I expected some jubilation. I expected a slight sigh of relief for a quiet house and no chauffeur duties in the week ahead, meals planned for Mike and I and no one texting me to bring home ice cream as I am getting off work. What I got was something completely unexpected. I was wracked with worry. Because for now, until the team lands at their final destination, I have no clue what’s happening and I have to put an enormous amount of faith in the process. He is in good hands, the team leaders are amazing adults, with soft hearts and strong spirits. He will be safe with them. But there is a long, long and open road that they are on, one that isn’t always so friendly. Or protective. Two vans, one large trailer, and a laughing, wonderful group of incredible young men and women all in high spirits for the adventure that awaits. The thought of anything disastrous happening to them haunts me. And surprises me too. I didn’t expect this feeling, but I don’t doubt it’s validity. That’s my boy. It’s a piece of my heart on that road between here and the South. If I wasn’t worried just a little, that in itself would be worrisome. So I trust, and I remember to breathe. And to pray for them all. Especially those behind the wheel.

And so the expected excitement of sending him off and a week with my spouse has been replaced with this Mama’s heart, and a need to comfort myself. With an abundance of fresh blueberries on hand, a warm muffin seemed perfect. But like this unexpected shift in my day, my favorite recipe was lacking in one very important ingredient and for a moment I actually felt like I had no energy to punt and see what happened. Most of my recipes are sort of like Hail Mary passes, or the punt that will win the game. I close my eyes, do what needs to get done and hope for the best. It’s like craving lemonade when faced with oranges, or planning the trip of a lifetime only to get diverted to a different destination.

Or like this particular morning, wanting bran muffins with fresh blueberries, and ending up with something more like oatmeal. It’s reaching for dried cherries to add some flavor, and dumping what was left of some crushed almonds into the batter to use them up. It meant adding some yogurt to regular milk to create a buttermilk-like tang. More importantly, it meant drowning out the recurring voice in my head that left me lost and empty. The task of making a simple muffin, with necessary improvising, took away the worry. And the result was both peace of mind, with a side of oh-so-very-delicious.

Kate’s Blueberry Bran Muffins

Heat oven to 425°. Prepare muffins tins with cooking spray, or liners.

Mix together in a large bowl:

1-1/2 c. All Bran Cereal
1/2 c. whole rolled oats
1-1/2 c. buttermilk
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 c. melted butter
1/4 c. olive oil
1/4 c. maple syrup

Allow mixture to sit for 10-15 minutes, until softened.

In a separate bowl, whisk together:

3/4 c. unbleached AP flour
3/4 c. whole wheat flour
2 T. ground flaxseed
1/4 c. brown sugar
1 t. baking soda
1 t. baking powder
1/2 t. sea salt

When bran mixture is soft, gently stir in the flour mixture only until just incorporated. At this point, add a cup of frozen blueberries and gently fold them in. Scoop into prepared muffin pans and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan for 10 minutes, then remove to wire cooling rack.

KATE’S NOTES: If you don’t have All Bran cereal on hand, you can use all oatmeal in the first step. Another option to use would be a commercial multi-grain hot cereal mix like Bobs Red Mill 7-Grain or 10-Grain for the All-Bran. I’ve done this both ways and the results are always delicious. The ground flaxseed is my addition. Leave it out if you don’t have it on hand. And you can use all white flour, or all wheat flour for these if you wish.

To sub for buttermilk, you can use the lemon juice/vinegar option (1 t. either juice or vinegar per 1 c. liquid, stir together then allow to sit for 10 minutes to curdle) or you can mix about 1/3 c. of plain or vanilla yogurt into 1-1/2 c. of plain milk, or even soy milk. I use soy milk, and love how the added yogurt gives it some extra moisture.

Some dried fruit is a nice addition to these; you can use apricots, cherries, figs, dates or prunes. Mince about a 1/2 c. of your preferred fruit and add it to the cereal mixture in the first step. The soaking in buttermilk softens it greatly, and it almost melts in the oven leaving tiny, tangy sweet pockets in your muffins. And adding in 1/3 to 1/2 c. of your choice of chopped nuts also makes for a fine addition.

Yes, it's those Sugar Plums

December 20th, 2009 | 14 Comments »

Those Sugar Plums, the ones that dance in the head during the long winter slumber in the most familiar Christmas story that’s likely ever been written. How did I get to be this age, with a teenager and a husband, long gone away from treasured annual reads of that classic story each year, the retelling of Santa’s magical visit, and not have any clue what a real sugar plum entailed? I want to kick myself.

Because, I’ll tell you something, and this is no small truth. Had I known about these delightful, sweet and simple little treats prior to this past week, how easy they are to put together and how eager and surprised everyone looks when you pull out a container and say “These are Sugar Plums. Yes! THOSE Sugar Plums!” I’m telling you, it would be all I need and I’d have been cranking out these nutty fruit-filled, orange-scented orbs the moment the calendar page flipped over to the month of Christmas.

My hope now is that I don’t go so far into overkill that I never want to see a dried apricot again. The delight and flavor and simplicity of these might possibly have that effect on me. Good thing Christmas is just a few days away. It’s a bit embarrassing, really, to be so interested in food of all kinds, the history of it, the stories it can tell and not be aware of this confection. But that’s what we have friends for, isn’t it? To enlighten us? To share the wealth?

And little could be simpler than combining rough-chopped nuts and dried fruit in a food processor along with honey and orange juice and whirring it all into an utterly fragrant crush of flavor. Even the rolling of the mixture was contemplative, as the sun warmed my backside and Miles Davis kept me company with his sultry trumpet. A late afternoon of putting together a Christmas fiction and ballet classic that I know I will love for years to come left me feeling a lot more festive than I have been lately. With the addition of a fragrant tree, dragged through a snowy wood, and boxes filled with a lifetime of memories and nostalgia also added some much-needed holiday spirit to my life. If all I need to do that is a few packages of dried fruit and some bags of nuts, then holidays from now on could become much more simpler. One can only hope, anyway.

Sugar Plums

Recipe from Field Guide to Candy by Anita Chu; Quirk Books, 2009    (and Susan)

2 cups almonds, toasted and roughly chopped
1 cup dried apricots
1 cup pitted dates
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons grated orange zest
2 tablespoons orange juice
1 tablespoon honey
Unsweetened flaked coconut for rolling

1. Line a baking sheet with parchment or wax paper.

2. Combine almonds, apricots, dates, cinnamon, and zest in a food processor and process into a finely ground mixture.

3. Add orange juice and honey, and combine until the mixture becomes a sticky ball.

4. Pinch off pieces of the mixture and form into 1-inch balls. Roll in coconut. Place on the baking sheet and chill for about 1 hour until firm.

I used two cups equivalent of nuts, utilizing pistachios and pecans as well as almonds. It’s my holy trifecta of nutty favorites.  I might have used figs in place of dates, and on another go-round of this recipe, I probably will do just that along with dried cherries. The possibilities are endless for substitutions. Use raisins both black or gold, dried cranberries, currants, pineapple, mango. Other nuts like peanuts, walnuts, brazil nuts. Try it with lemon juice and zest for a different background of flavor.

I also added a teaspoon of ground nutmeg to the mix. Cinnamon and nutmeg are culinary best buds. They really get along so well together that it’s a shame to leave one out when the other is present.

I added a bit more honey and orange juice, as the amount in the recipe didn’t seem to be enough to make the mixture as sticky as it needed to hold together. Adjust it according to your taste preferences.