[Cherries, June 2008.]
I must confess it’s mostly the little things that make up my quiet happinesses: a week of sun, waking up every day except Monday to warmth and light and summer; my near-daily americano, an indulgence at $2/per, with organic milk and sugar; a perfect peach, cut in long juicy slices for my breakfast; a surprise lunch meet-up yesterday (and Out the Door veggie rolls — thanks, mom!); learning something new from the A.P. style guide (it’s Smokey Bear not Smokey the Bear — who knew?); an unexpected new book stumbled over in the library, in this case The Secret River, by Kate Grenville, about settling Australia, and the aboriginal conflict that resulted. I’ll take vacations to exotic locales, but give me a long, lazy afternoon with a bowl of strawberries and a good book and I’ll be just as content.
Or, throw in one of the cherry muffins I made the other morning and a day will be elevated above the ordinary.
I’ve made muffins before — heck, I’ve written about them several times in both their vegan and non-vegan permutations — so I don’t know if it was the lack of sleep on Sunday morning or the residual red wine haze that made my most recent batch just that good, but I’d almost give up sleep on a regular basis if it would make me produce such perfection. Well, almost.
It’s no secret I like to throw a party — be it a dinner, a brunch, a late-afternoon tea. When I made my semi-traditional Father’s Day breakfast last weekend I remembered other, earlier breakfasts that were far simpler but no less enthralling for me, the cook. When I hardly knew how to turn on the burner on the stove I’d assemble trays of cereal (Rice Crispies for mom; granola or Grape Nuts for dad), orange juice, sliced bananas, and, when I got a bit older, coffee. I love getting up early to surprise the recipient with breakfast; one of the first things I learned to make when I started to bake was fruit muffins, usually lightened with egg whites and non-fat milk for my dad’s low-fat diet. Over the years I experimented with versions of lower-fat coffee cakes or wheat-y apple loaves, but I think the most successful — and most delicious — were the muffins.
This weekend, because I’d bought a lot of cherries to make cherry ice cream for the birthday party, I decided to depart from my standard blueberry or raspberry muffins and make them with chopped cherries. Now, I’ve never made cherry muffins before — though I know they taste wonderful as a base for an upside-down cake — but I thought … well, why not? And they did — finer than fine, really. I’ve decided, finally, to invest in a cherry pitter because after pitting at least a pound of cherries by hand to make the ice cream, and then doing even more for the muffins, my fingers were stained and my hands a bit tired. Still, it was worth it for those muffins! We tried to figure out why they were just so good: perhaps because the fruit holds its integrity and doesn’t disintegrate into the batter like berries do? Or perhaps because of the little bit of cinnamon I added at the last minute? Or because I set the oven timer and actually paid attention for once?
I also made a frittata, a riff on the one I made last year, using the egg whites left over from the ice cream (to make the custard I only needed the yolks; yes, I patted myself on the back for not wasting anything) and a bunch of finely chopped vegetables: a portabello mushroom, baby spinach, asparagus, a red pepper. Again I left out the cheese in the interest of health, and again I was surprised at how good it was — it was better, even than last year, though I’m not sure why. That whole breakfast, really, was a bit extraordinary; this could just be my fatigue talking, but I had unprompted validation from my dining companions which, it must be admitted, the home cook cherishes more than almost anything else. Would you agree?
[Breakfast frittata, June 2008.]
A year ago today it was hot, too — I remember it clearly, because I woke up very early to sun out in Inverness and had a carrot-bran muffin for breakfast (again with the muffins!) and set out in the blazing sun (after lots of coffee) along the Tomales Point Trail from Pierce Point Ranch. I love the drive out to the starting point; the road winds through the cow fields and by Abbotts Lagoon and Kehoe Beach, the grasses rippling a bit like the sea over the hills. On that stolen day — I’d taken the day off from work — there was hardly anyone out there except the elk, and they were scattered along the trail in patches of brown and white. And then at the end, looking out over the bay and ocean, both, we saw whales in the distance, and the lighthouse.
What I would give to be out there today! The city today is warm and lovely — I can hear birds calling and chattering to themselves outside, and the breeze coming in through the open window is delicious — but I would like to be Away. My feet are positively itching to set themselves along a dirt path, with wildflowers bursting into profusion to my right and the Pacific winking and churning to my left. On this last day of spring I would like to toast my toes in the sunshine, and take a swim in the cold ocean.
Instead, I shall have to content myself with another cup of coffee, a muffin, and the knowledge that tomorrow is Friday, bringing with it two whole days off to do whatever I choose.
Cherry Muffins, adapted from the Fannie Farmer Cookbook
2 cups flour
3 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 egg, slightly beaten
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup milk or soy milk
2 cups cherries, pitted and chopped
Preheat oven to 375 F. Grease muffin pan.
Mix the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and sugar in a large bowl. Add the egg, milk, and oil, stirring only enough to dampen the flour (batter should not be smooth). Add the chopped cherries and mix lightly. Spoon batter into the muffin pan, filling each cup about two-thirds full.
Bake for about 20-25 minutes or until lightly browned.