Left unattended, our house smells a little musty. Old wood and brick with a basement prone to flooding contribute. Also, all those boys. And dogs. (Hopefully my boys won’t be offended by my grouping them with the pups.) I grew up in a house where the girl/boy ratio was 2:1. My father and grandfather were affectionate and loving, but quiet men. Their smells were alfalfa and oil. The smoky scent of welding rods when they came in from fixing a broken plow. Sometimes manure from the lot where we kept and fed the cattle. But I don’t remember musty. Maybe it was their staunch Mennonite roots. Cleanliness and godliness were on par with one another. I still get the two confused.
All of that to say, that when we have guests I like to have something cooking. I don’t particular enjoy the urgency I feel to dust and clean bathrooms and vacuum floors, but I like the baking. Baking soothes my soul. Concocting a big pot of soup generates another sort of pleasure (the smell of onions sauteing, mmmmm), but not quite on par with a tray full of flaky scones, a pan full of chewy brownies or freshly baked bread with real butter, hot from the oven.
G and I had some trouble getting along this morning. Nothing personal, just different agendas. His was the standard charge of “ow-si! dir! gig!” (translation: Outside! Dirt! Dig!), while I was insistent about getting the upstairs bathroom clean before my parents arrival. I’d rather not go into how many times I lost my temper or my patience; we both were tired, as his sleeping habit of waking and escaping continues to affect all of our sleep quotas. By the time nap came around, I was drifting to sleep myself, outside of his room. But the drive to bake got me into the kitchen, and within an hour, a dozen whole wheat pumpkin chocolate chip muffins were coming out of the oven. See the recipe below, from The Minimalist at the New York Times, Mark Bittman.
I came the closest to meditation I’ve been in weeks when the dishes were done, G was still asleep, and I had a few minutes before J had to be picked up from school. The house was silent, save for a simmering pot of chipotle pinto beans. Silence and nourishment and prayer all wrapped up in one steaming kettle of legumes.
1/2 cup melted butter, more for greasing tins
2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour, preferably pastry flour
3/4 to 1 cup sugar, depending on sweetness of fruit
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup mashed or puréed banana, sweet potato, apple, zucchini, cooked or canned pumpkin, or other fruits or vegetables
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 to 1 cup chocolate chips, depending on your fancy
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees and grease two 6-cup muffin tins or fill with liners. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In another bowl, whisk together the melted butter, banana, egg and buttermilk. Fold wet mixture into dry mixture, add chocolate chips and stir until just combined.
2. Fill muffin tins or liners; bake for about 25 to 30 minutes, or until muffins are puffed and turning golden brown on top. Serve warm if possible.
Yield: 12 muffins.
Note: This recipe makes Big Muffins. You have to fill each cup of the muffin tin to near-overflowing to use up all of the batter. If you want slightly smaller muffins use two tins, and the recipe will make about 16.